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“Might is right”

Stanley Fish is rightly getting a lot of heat in the internet for his brazen assertion that it is okay to adopt double standards in terms of the kind of language used to describe women so long as the person using such terms holds the “right” views and is, in some more general sense, on the side of the intellectual “good guys”.

David Henderson, over at EconBlog, has what I think is the most devastating take-down of this character, all the more devastating for doing so in measured tones. The associated comment thread is well worth reading also.

“Might is right”. For heaven’s sake.

22 comments to “Might is right”

  • Paul Marks

    At least Fish admits that leftists use nasty words about women (although he tries to claim it is less bad because…..)

    If one just had BBC reports to go by – one would think that only conservatives use nasty words.

    The latest “Point of View” speaker (yet another establishment leftist – who thinks it is wrong for newspapers to camaign against the E.U. and the British Council and ….. well do anything that leftists do not approve of) denouced Rush – but ignored leftists who use similar harsh words.

    Just as he denounced News International for hacking – but ignored the fact that the Mirror groups newspapers and the GUARDIAN, do the same thing.

  • buwaya

    Fish is slippery.

    The other side of the coin is that he can say his piece can be seen as a satirical takedown of the liberal attitude on the subject, and we are too unsophisticated to comprehend it.

    If pressed on that, from the other side, he can make it out to be some sort of subtle musing on the complexities of language, etc.

  • manuel II paleologos

    It’s unusual to see the lefty world view expressed so succinctly, and Mr Fish deserves some praise for at least being honest.

    “My friends and I all agree with this, so if you disagree with me, you must not understand, and if you do understand and still disagree, you must be evil”.

  • pete

    ‘Liberals’ can see the good in bad people too.

    Roman Polanski is an example of this effect.

  • Laird

    “It implies finally that might makes right. I can live with that.” quoth Prof. Fish. I suggest that if that’s true he won’t have to live with it for very long; someone mightier than he will see to that.

    I can live with that.

  • Myno

    Fish’s arguments are the moral equivalent of taqiyya.

  • David Gillies

    Fish made a clown of himself in the wake of the Sokal/Bricmont hoax when they showed “Social Text” to be the content-free bit of question-begging anyone with half a brain knew it was. He made a silly and weak defence of social constructionism in the New York Times which came across as nothing more than a post-hoc argument along the lines that the authors of the hoax had misunderstood what they were trying to do and that everything was hunky-dory in the world of po-mo LitCrit or deconstructionism or whatever the modish label du jour was. We see the same Procrustean attempt to torture the facts into fitting the narrative here. Question-begging seems to be the stock-in-trade of this type of over-promoted Leftist intellectual. Note he’s not even saying that “all’s fair in love and war”. That would not be a double standard. He is saying that since he is right, he gets to live according to a different set of rules than his opponent. This is petitio principii of the highest order. The logical corollary is if if he is wrong then not only may his opponents hold him to a different standard of behaviour than they would apply to themselves, but that they are right to do so. Is that what he actually wants? He assumes he and his cohort will have the whip hand for ever more. Woe betide him if he’s wrong.

  • veryretired

    I guess I’m mostly amused by the whole thing.

    Firstly, all collectivist outrage is faux outrage, drummed up only in specific situations against certain people or ideas of which they disapprove. They’ve demonstrated this over and over again. It’s the way they are.

    Secondly, collectivists have always claimed the moral high ground because the inverted moral system much of the human race follows allows them to do so.

    Thirdly, might makes right is the standard that has prevailed from time immemorial in human affairs. Why is anyone so surprised that this creature finds it attractive?

    The only revolutionary doctrine that has ever truly challenged collectivist theory and practice is that of natural human rights and individual liberty based on self-evident truths, and protected by a limited government deriving its just powers only from the consent of the people.

    None of this little fishies dreams of utopia, in which he and his friends can simply tell everyone else what to do because they are so wise and morally pure, can ever come true in a land dedicated to individual rights and liberties.

    Over and over again I hear the shock and surprise from so many that collectivists hate and despise anyone who affirms the dignity of the individual person.

    When are you going to understand—it is because the rights of man threaten and deny everything they desire, everything they dream about, and everything they would do in an instant if they could.

    Collectivists understand the fundamental nature of this conflict, and they have been devising one scheme after another to deny, disestablish, and delegitimize individual rights and human liberty since the moment they were declared.

    We must all grasp, finally, completely, viscerally, that this is not about some words, or some property, or some policy disagreement, or some alternative viewpoint, or lifestyle.

    It is about your mind, and your life, and your right to exist at all as an independent being, living your own life for your own reasons, as you see fit.

    A house divided against itself cannot stand. The world cannot continue half slave and half free, it must become all one, or all the other.

    Which will it be?

  • Sam Duncan

    It implies finally that might makes right. I can live with that.

    Tell us something we don’t know, Stan.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Veryretired, that is an odd argument to make at the end, about being wholly slave or wholly free. Isn’t that a quote from the US President Lincoln- the one who denied that States had a right to secede? And took the country to war to stop them, with slavery a secondary reason? What are you saying?

  • mishu

    When I read it, I thought it was a parody of Nixon. “When a leftist does it, it is not unacceptable.” Cognitive dissonance can be so ironic sometimes.

  • veryretired

    I borrow allusions from well known sources all the time, Nuke. It means exactly what it says—the world cannot continue indefinitely divided between systems in which people are reasonably free over here but cattle over there.

    The ranchers will never stop trying to increase their herds.

    We must decide without reservation that we will accept life as human beings, nothing less.

    (If you are trying to engage me in a debate about Lincoln and the Civil War, look elsewhere. I find absolutely nothing legitimate in the Confederacy or its “peculiar institution”, and nothing improper about destroying either, for any reason.)

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    But, in fact, nations have been living in different states of freedom for centuries, and, in the long run, the freer states win out. (E.G., the total-slavery Soviet Union only lasted seventy-two lousy years.) I think that cold wars are better than hot ones.

  • bgates

    From the Fish…wrap:
    If we think about the Rush Limbaugh dust-up from the non-liberal — that is, non-formal — perspective, the similarity between what he did and what Schultz and Maher did disappears. Schultz and Maher are the good guys; they are on the side of truth and justice. Limbaugh is the bad guy; he is on the side of every nefarious force that threatens our democracy. Why should he get an even break?

    One often sees the Right drawing contrasts between a miscreant in the Army (a uniformed legal combatant who can be prosecuted under the UCMJ) and, say, bin Laden (a foreign terrorist and war criminal who apparently got shot in the face, and good riddance), making the point that there are clear differences in the legal status of each. A common lefty response is along the lines of, “Osama is the bad guy, why should he get an even break, is that it?”

    In other words, Fish isn’t just making a bad argument, he’s making the bad argument that his audience likes to use as a straw man because it’s such an indefensibly bad argument.

  • ErisGuy

    It is widely held if not widely acknowledged that a thing is right or wrong depending on who does it, not upon the quality of the thing itself.

  • Snorri Godhi

    […] a thing is right or wrong depending on who does it, not upon the quality of the thing itself.

    I note that this is not a view that ErisGuy endorses himself. Still, it strikes me as a good satirical description of virtue ethics, in as far as I can make sense of it.

    I myself have a realist, Machiavellian view of right+wrong: an action is wrong if I am willing to endorse violence to prevent it; an action is the only right action under the circumstances, if I am willing to endorse violence to compel it.
    There are various degrees of violence I am willing to endorse, of course.

  • Laird

    I (provisionally) agree only with the first half of your definition, Snorri. As to the second part, anything which is not “wrong” is by default “right”. No compulsion necessary.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Laird: thank you for your feedback.
    Independently of the definition of “right thing to do”, it is useful to make a distinction between what one “can” do (without incurring my wrath) and what one “must” do (to avoid incurring my wrath).
    Hence I talked about “the only right action”, rather than actions one has a right to take.

  • Sunfish

    There are various degrees of violence I am willing to endorse, of course.

    Of course.

    Bear in mind that, on the micro scale that we all live in, non-compliance with the lesser level of violence that you endorse, escalates. An offender can always turn “Hey, stay there, I want to talk to you” to a 23-year-old panicky college grad, who had a plan all the way up until he got hit, applying about five pounds of pressure with his right index, by not submitting to the threat of the lesser level of violence.

    Whether that’s right or wrong is a topic for a different thread.

    However, I submit that it is a fact beyond dispute, that the alleged bad guy also gets a vote in how the confrontation works out, and in fact has veto power over a peaceful resolution.

    As for the original subject, I wish that mouth-breathing psuedointellectual horse’s ass would go get his shine box and quit sullying my name. And is his contention seriously that, if someone half his age were to feed him feet-first into a woodchipper, it would be okay because they’re stronger?


  • Snorri Godhi

    Sunfish: please keep in mind that i was giving nothing more than my definition of “right” and “wrong”; my meta-ethics, if you wish.
    This meta-ethics needs to be fleshed out with some specifics on the circumstances in which i would be willing to endorse violence.
    Then it needs to be fleshed out some more, with the sort of practical considerations that you suggest, about who is going to apply the pressure, and whether this pressure is likely to lead to a desirable outcome.

  • Laird

    Snorri, I’m not convinced that your decision as to whether you would endorse violence in a particular instance provides any valid basis for a universal definition of “wrong”. In fact, I think you have it exactly backward: only if something is objectively “wrong” is there any reasonable justification for violence.

    Your “definition” fails, either because it assumes the answer or because it simply asserts that your personal definition of “wrong” is applicable to everyone else. It might be a workable definition when you’re deciding whether to get into a barroom brawl, but is sorely lacking in most other applications.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Snorri, I’m not convinced that your decision as to whether you would endorse violence in a particular instance provides any valid basis for a universal definition of “wrong”.

    As I said to Sunfish, you have to distinguish between my definition and the specific circumstances in which i would be willing to endorse violence. I am not interested in convincing others that these are appropriate circumstances: i might, if the task were not hopeless, but being a realist, i am not interested.

    I mentioned Machiavelli, but perhaps my view is closer to Hayek’s essay: “Individualism: True and False.” I interpret that essay in my own way, but i find that unavoidable with Hayek.