Tuesday, March 3, 2009

ABC Redux

The news that DW's ABC jihad cost at least 80k has sparked an ABC Redux that raises the type of questions with which Orwell struggled. Does it matter if words get twisted beyond all logical meaning, if people get called traitors just for opposing a government, or if people make assertions for which there is not a shred of evidence?

I hope it matters, though some days I'm left baffled by the sheer unthinking spectacle of politics in Danland. I made the perhaps unwise decision to post a comment to challenge a polemically paradoxical commentator to explain why ABC was such a success. You can read the sad results for yourself: http://www.polemicandparadox.com/2009/03/81000-was-good-investment.html

So here's my 2 cents on ABC Redux:
Like many people across this country, I despise Harper -- so if ABC had actually succeeded in preventing him from forming a government, then things would be entirely different. But ABC failed to keep Harper from forming a government. Not only that, but it's highly doubtful whether it contributed significantly to preventing the federal Tories from winning a majority in the House of Commons.

I'm still trying to understand Whittle's statement, "thats not a bad thing considering what he attempted to do in December." I assume that he's referring to the Shaft, which Williams also called the Sledgehammer.

Two facts to consider. First, the shaft wasn't attempted, it succeeded. Despite symbolic votes by NL MP's, Iggy's Liberals supported the budget; the rest was smoke and bile. Second, Williams is on record as claiming that the Shaft was payback for ABC. Thus, if one follows Williams's logic, ABC was a necessary cause in the chain of events that eventually shafted NL.

In terms of actual policy, the one thing ABC accomplished was precisely what it was supposed to prevent: worse treatment for NL. However, I recognize that policy often matters little in politics. In term of provincial politics, ABC did accomplish much. It gave the public a sense of payback and provided a way to vent populist anger towards Harper.

Most significantly, ABC gave Williams the opportunity to accomplish three things important to him: personal revenge; a platform for national media attention; and a diversion from local problems, such as the ongoing health care crisis, the ongoing MUN crisis, and the ongoing decline in oil prices, et cetera. My objection to calling ABC a success and to touting its accomplishments is based on the fact that it served the interests of Danny Williams rather than the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The CBC web site -- which now has a rather unfortunate Coliseum-style thumbs up/down feature -- is bursting into flames again, as wingnuts and wingees poke each other's eyes out:

The sad fact, as I tried to point out on Geoff Meeker's interesting forum, is that not only are such debates largely devoid of facts, but the ad hominem fixation has veered dangerously into democratic authoritarianism. Even sadder is the fact that Whittle still sees nothing wrong with calling Manning a traitor. When one of the commentators on Meeker's forum threatened a lawsuit, it was hard to know whether to laugh or wretch:

In judging whether Williams's latest outburst is acceptable, it is important to distinguish between quotidian trash-talk, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, defamatory accusations that violate the constitutional conventions of a liberal democracy. The problem with Williams's outburst is not only that it's politically intemperate and morally repellent, but also that it's constitutionally dangerous and legally reckless.

As Geoff Meeker pointed out last fall, Williams is on public record as equating betrayal with treason. Here's what he said in The Telegram in June 2007: “I can't control traitors. People who betray their province, I have no control over that."

Unless I'm mistaken, treason is still a criminal offence under section 46 of the Criminal Code of Canada. Here's a thought experiment: imagine what would happen to such traitors if Williams were president of an independent republic rather than a provincial premier constrained by federal law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

When wingnut, of all words, gets people threatening lawsuits, you know that we're in an ugly and unfortunate place. Not that such a lawsuit would have a snowball's chance in hades.

However, in the spirit of semantics, let's look at the word itself:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (Redirected from Wing nut) Jump to: navigation, search Wingnut may refer to:

1) A wingnut or wing nut, a nut (hardware), with a pair of wings to enable it to be turned without tools.

2) Wingnut (plant) (Pterocarya), a genus of trees bearing winged nuts.

3) Wingnut (politics), a derogatory American slang term for a person who holds strongly right-wing political beliefs, shortened from right wing nut.

4) Wingnut (slang) an term originating in East London in the early 1980s amongst 'alternatives' students, artists and bohemians to refer to uneducated violent working class young men - esp skinheads.

I leave it to readers to decide which definition fits (my vote is for the plant). But for those who want to read the Wiki-entry themselves, it's interesting to note that some conspiracy theorists in the US have proudly embraced their wingnut status.

The descent into ad hominem trash-talk on Meeker's online forum is regrettable but not unexpected in the current political climate. For those of you who still have an open mind, ask yourself what role the Williams administration has played in this coarsening of public discourse.

And, though it's hardly worth responding to, I'd like to point out that it matters not a whit whether some of the commentators to this forum may have voted Liberal. So what? Some of them may have voted Green. Some of them may be left-handed, too.

It's the power and persuasiveness of an argument that matters in a liberal polity, not the identity of its proponent. In On Liberty, J. S. Mill's central concern -- the driving force behind his passionate advocacy of free speech -- was the protection of minority rights. He warned gravely against what he saw as the tyranny of the majority. The last time I checked, we're still free, if we so choose, to disagree with Danny Williams, to engage in free speech, and to take spirited exception when a sitting premier publicly accuses his critics of treason.

A word for all you wingnuts out there: just because you say it does not make it so: http://www.fallacyfiles.org/bandwagn.html

And for those interested in re-reading Mill:

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