The Steelwool Scrub – A Fallacy

by John Holbo on May 7, 2019

This case is picture-perfect for making a simple point in debates about religious liberty: ‘sincere religious belief’ is not a ‘get out of bigotry free’ card. It is no carte blanche defense (legal or moral).

The man is nothing if not religiously sincere. Anyone who wasn’t would have kept his mouth shut, not blurted the following:

I’m a Christian and my Christian beliefs are you don’t do interracial marriage. That’s the way I was brought up and that’s the way I believe … I have black friends, I hired black people. But when it comes to all this stuff you see on TV, when you see blacks and whites together, it makes my blood boil because that’s just not the way a Christian is supposed to live.

Shocking, but unsurprising. If there’s something you want to believe, and you are a sincerely religious person, it won’t be too surprising if you end up believing whatever-you-want on sincerely-held religious grounds. (If it weren’t for the human power to deceive ourselves, after all, lots of people wouldn’t have nearly so many sincerely-held religious beliefs.)

There’s a common ‘religious liberty’ trope I’ve been meaning to critique in connection to this. It’s an invalid variant on a Steelman-style argument. Steelman arguments enjoy relatively good reputations. They have their uses – raising the bar, elevating the tone. ‘Ideal’ theory has its place. Utopia is filled with Steelmen. Of course, we also have an instinct that utopianism has limits; ‘ideal’ theory can get a bit head-in-the-clouds. Yet, even so, how much harm can it do, experimentally reinforcing some belief in the solidest possible way, just to see?

Quite a bit of harm, is what. The Steelwool Scrub is quite bad. (That’s what I’m calling it.) Take same-sex marriage (more recently, trans issues): you can always rustle up some Ryan T. Anderson-type to spin up some Thomistic-ish natural law (Christian anthropology etc.) argument. Even if this is weak ‘steel’ (I would judge), belated scholasticism, wandering the modern world, looks ornamental – harmless, innocent, unassuming. At worst, a curious mooncalf; at best, considerably more academically polished than old-school fag-bashing. Now comes the bait-and-switch (indulgence-by-proxy, steelman-to-absolve-all-sins.)

If anyone now says ‘opposition to LGBTQ rights is bigotry and irrational animus’ – the response comes quick. ‘Unfair! Will no one think of poor Ryan T. Anderson! Of his elaborate, perhaps failed yet earnestly-exposited, to-all-appearances sincere arguments! Is the world so unable to tolerate a little [insert squirrel gaze GIF] DIFFERENCE? Can all this be dismissed as mere, base homophobia! Mindless bigotry! Surely not! Surely, then, it is those who call it ‘bigotry’ who must be [squirrel GIF again] the REAL BIGOTS!’

Intellectually, it IS unfair to strawman a position by conflating it with its least thoughtful, most irrational, animus-afflicted exponents. Yet descriptively – sociologically – it’s absurd to steelman a socio-cultural order-or-group by conflating its practices and norms with unrepresentative, intellectual outliers. If you think the reason trans people struggle for respect, recognition, rights is that they are surrounded by well-meaning, rationally-convicted neo-Thomists, you’re nuts. Trans people struggle and suffer because they are members of a despised, oppressed minority group. SSM was a fight because gays face irrational animus, not a thicket of para-Aristotelian arguments. Spinning actually-existing bigotry as, ideally, the better angel of some natural law argument, is just a weird way to excuse what’s right there in front of you.

[At this point it might be useful to insert a sidebar about legal arguments – rational basis tests, so forth. Reason being: the legal bar can go pretty low. Often all you need is some hypothetical reason that could be reasonable. It doesn’t even need to be anyone’s real – psychologically-motivativing reason – let alone characteristic of the population as a whole. But let’s skip it. Fact is: Ryan T. Anderson-style arguments couldn’t pass the lowest basis bar. Not because they are so pathetically illogical; just too religious, despite attempted spin to the contrary. Also, they would have to be applied in pretextual and capricious ways to do all – and only! – things social conservatives would want. That’s a no-no, rational basis-wise. I leave it there for legal argument purposes, for post purposes.]

But isn’t it awfully mean, ad hominem and unfair if thoughtful Christian philosophers and theologians, Thomistic would-be anthropologists, get lumped in with bog-standard bigots?

Rod Dreher thinks so. Damon Linker thinks so, too.

There IS an element of unfairness. But now we come to the tell. Who should Ryan T. Anderson-types be indignant with, by rights, for unfairly trashing his reputation? Well, that would obviously be, first and foremost, the bigots he is consistently mistaken for.

You have a society in which certain forms of bigotry are endemic. You have, by hypothesis, a few rare eccentrics who exhibit outwardly similar attitudes, allegedly on a completely alternate, inwardly entirely bigotry-free basis of rather outré philosophical argument. These eccentrics should fully expect to be mistaken for the bigots. How not? Therefore, they should rail first against the bigots whose bigotry is not merely dragging down their reputations but surely serves as the single greatest obstacles to the spread of their allegedly good teachings.

It’s almost Kierkegaard’s birthday – just two days ago. So here’s a Kierkegaardian thought: nothing harder than being a conservative Christian in a conservative Christian culture! Reason: if everyone accepts for cultural reasons, they accept for bad reasons. The barrier to conservative Christians adopting the right, conservative, Christian view of homosexuality is not, say, Mayor Pete, it’s conservative Christians. You shouldn’t disapprove of LGBTQ folks just because it’s the way your tribe marks itself off as superior and virtuous. But that’s obviously what’s actually going on. (Not some Thomistic secret sauce.)

Now, who am I to lecture Christians about how they should have faith, to be good Christians – or whether they should read more Kierkegaard, or whatever? I am no one. But I am, all the same, someone permitted to notice psychological dynamics, and draw reasonable conclusions from them.

Within the ecosystem of Christian cultural politics and belief, the role of someone like Ryan T. Anderson is not to scourge conservative Christians for having something in the neighborhood of right attitudes, but only as a culturally bigoted, hence surely spiritually poisonous inheritance of animus. Rather, his role is to apologize for bad attitudes as defensible and righteous – to ensure no one can call bigotry ‘bigotry’, by inserting himself in the line of fire as a model, steel-reinforced unbigot.

This is, to shift metaphors once more, belief laundering. Not money laundering, but the same principle. Someone takes in ill-gotten goods, of a sort, and sends them back out with a counterfeit (counterfactual) paper-trail of legit provenance. (This is a harsh thing to say but it seems to me fair.) A money launderer does not help criminals go straight. A money launderer may do that, but mostly helps criminals appear to go straight, while not doing so.

So this is what I call the Steelwool Scrub. Somehow, if there is one steelman – or even if there just could be one – everyone actually gets scrubbed clean by proxy.

But that can’t be right, can it? So what presents as intellectualizing, aspirational, uplifting ideal moral theology betrays itself, psychologically, as culturally stubborn refusal to admit fault. Refusal to admit fault translates into unwillingness to face, hence redress real wrongs.

This is a lot to spin out of one dumb guy’s racist blurt. He’s sure to find no defenders. But the very clear contours of his case can make something clear that may not be so clear in other cases.

1) Sincere religious belief can still be plain old bigotry.

This obviously means you can’t take sincerity as a mark of spiritual ‘goodness’ – not because it may be false; because it’s so likely to be real-as-real.

Slightly more elaborately and less obviously:

2) The fact that someone can come up with an ingenious philosophical defense of a view that most people, who hold something like that view, hold for plain old bigoted reasons, is not a good reason to treat those who are, actually, bigoted, as if they are, instead, ingenious philosophers – just of a closet sort.

One steelman can’t scrub away the sins of a community of non-steelmen. Doesn’t work that way. So it seems to me.

{ 57 comments }

1

Dr. Hilarius 05.07.19 at 5:05 am

Addressing the city of Hoschton case, they don’t even have their own argument. If the city had an opening for a custodian, being black would not have been a problem. The problem wasn’t race mixing, it was having a black man in a position of authority. Dick Gregory summed it up in his stand up routine back in the 60’s: “In the South they don’t care how close I get so long as I don’t get big. In the North they don’t care how big I get so long as I don’t get close.”

2

Dipper 05.07.19 at 6:03 am

Surely the point about religious belief is that it is not arrived at through discussion of what is reasonable, but through faith in a text as the word of god no matter what that text says. If it wasn’t so, it wouldn’t be a religious belief, it would be a considered opinion.

Lots of religions and religious communities have similar views about marrying out, or opinions about other people who don’t belong to their faith or don’t openly practise what they believe in. You’ve decided to take down a white male christian espousing racist views. Well that was brave. How about you have a go at some other religious figures to make your point? Maybe some of those Islamist hate preachers? Or are there some fundamentalist religious groups you’d prefer not to be seen attacking?

3

John Holbo 05.07.19 at 7:23 am

“Surely the point about religious belief is that it is not arrived at through discussion of what is reasonable, but through faith in a text as the word of god no matter what that text says. If it wasn’t so, it wouldn’t be a religious belief, it would be a considered opinion.”

Oh, Dipper, you sweet summer child. You want the government to step in and start grading religious beliefs for quality?

4

Dipper 05.07.19 at 7:41 am

“You want the government to step in and start grading religious beliefs for quality?” err no. What gives you that impression? You’re the one who appears to be grading religious beliefs for quality.

5

John Holbo 05.07.19 at 8:03 am

Perhaps I have misunderstood. I was arguing that the ‘if it’s sincere it’s a-ok’ standard is not good. What are you arguing? I thought you were hinting that since there’s nothing in the book about ‘no whites and blacks marrying’ we could kind of discount that as religious? Now I realize that I just don’t get where you are coming from.

6

Chetan Murthy 05.07.19 at 8:19 am

I don’t think Dipper has properly grasped your point, John. He pretends that this mayor’s “religious objection” is, merely because the mayor says so, an unassailable objection. But this is *poppycock*, because (as Dr. Hilarius noted) the black applicant didn’t want to *marry* the mayor, but merely *work with* her. If the applicant had been for a janitorial position, I’m sure the mayor would have had no problem. Or hey, stocking shelves in the grocery store she shops at.

Contra Dipper, *even if* we accept some Biblical prohibition on interracial mixing [poor Sally Hemings sure would have benefited] this mayor is just one of those “the bigots he is consistently mistaken for”, in John’s words. I mean, this “mayor” clearly can’t be bothered to even -invent- a passable justification for her bigotry. She just mumbles “hurr durr Christianity hurr durr interracial marriage”, and expects that that’s enough.

Really Dipper, not your best outing.

7

Chetan Murthy 05.07.19 at 8:23 am

Oh, and the mayor is on-record (in the quote in the OP) as being 100% OK with -hiring- black people. Just not …. one presumes, for supervisory positions (again, as noted by Dr. Hilarius).

8

John Holbo 05.07.19 at 8:42 am

Hilarius is right, of course. I was not really addressing that part of it because there isn’t even a pretense that it’s un-Christian to have a black mayor. So that’s just a weird ‘it’s just not done’ argument.

9

Hidari 05.07.19 at 8:48 am

As is often the case with John Holbo’s pieces I don’t understand the point being made here (my problem, doubtless).

There’s lots of bad stuff in the Bible. (Lots of good stuff too! But lots of bad stuff). It seems weird, therefore, to go out of your way to pick out something that the Bible does not, in fact, say. It is not, in actual fact, true, that the Bible, at any point, forbids ‘race mixing’ or ‘interracial marriage’ or anything like that in any sense that we would understand.

When Joe McBigot, or whatever his name is, says: ‘I’m a Christian and my Christian beliefs are you don’t do interracial marriage’…it’s the word ‘my’ that’s important. This is not a mainstream Christian belief and hasn’t been for many decades. Indeed, I believe that almost every modern Christian church, of any persuasion, would condemn these beliefs unequivocally, and as I say, if you look for Biblical support, it ain’t there.

So this seems like a bizarre example to pick, when there’s plenty of objectionable stuff that really is in the Bible (mainly about sexuality) and which modern day Christian churches really do believe.

This guy is a racist nutjob, and whether he’s ‘sincere’ in his racism is irrelevant. I would also argue that his Christian beliefs are probably irrelevant too. If he were an atheist he would doubtless find some other meaningless half-assed argument to justify his racism.

10

John Holbo 05.07.19 at 8:57 am

Hi Hidari, apologies for confusion. The simple version of the point would be this: sometimes people say ‘we have to respect everyone’s sincerely held religious beliefs’. The point of citing the absurd guy is that no one seriously thinks he gets some special dispensation to not be called a bigot – or some special ‘you don’t have to follow civil rights law’ – religious exemption for that belief. And he’s real (albeit dumb). So: the rule people often propose is wrong.

11

nastywoman 05.07.19 at 9:28 am

@
”This case is picture-perfect for making a simple point in debates about religious liberty: ‘sincere religious belief’ is not a ‘get out of bigotry free’ card”.

It shouldn’t be – but it could make somebody who spend a half year in Egypt – explaining to tourists from teh homeland – that ‘sincere religious belief’ – has to –
if not being ”respected” at least being ”understood” – especially if you are visiting the country where ‘sincere religious belief’ might leads to… something – what in other countries might be considered ‘bigotry’… Ups – where am I? –
oh yes – I remember approaching the problem from a… a more ”anthropological perspective” where I actually… have to confess that I kind of… smiled -(shame on me) – about ‘sincere religious belief’ – which supposedly made me -(as a woman) the target of really terrible bigotry?

But how do you explain to a (truly charming) ”Beduin” -(or an ”American Religious Nut) that we should solve this problem for once and all by – please not being ”bigot” anymore?

12

Orange Watch 05.07.19 at 9:40 am

jh@10:

If the point of the exercise proposed by the post is to undermine this sourt of claim, the simpler and more readily available counterexample to claims that sincerely held beliefs should always be respected is what Dipper points to with childlike naivete @2; the crowd that proclaims sincerely held religious beliefs must be respected really only need some sincerely held fundamentalist minority religious beliefs to suddenly come to Jesus re: the problem with their claims.

13

SamChevre 05.07.19 at 10:55 am

Somehow, if there is one steelman – or even if there just could be one – everyone actually gets scrubbed clean by proxy
Isn’t that how reality works, though? If there is a good reason for something, you get the benefit even if you don’t understand the reason well. If 99% of people avoid swamps because they have miasmas, and only 1% because they have mosquitos, all of them still don’t get malaria.

It seems you are starting with the premise that swamps don’t cause malaria, and pointing out that most people think that they cause malaria because they have bad air, and some ingenious scientific test (staying in a screen tent in a swamp doesn’t cause malaria) shows bad air doesn’t cause malaria. But the whole argument depends on the premise–that swamps don’t cause malaria, or that active homosexuality doesn’t cause any harm to society; otherwise, the one careful thinker explaining how it does would be more important than the 99 confused people who remember that it’s harmful but are not clear on the mechanism.

14

nastywoman 05.07.19 at 11:14 am

– or is it just that one doesn’t expect such ”silly sincerely held religious beliefs” somewhere in America – while in the (white or black) desert of Egypt… -(where there is no WIFI) – it could be… ”tolerated”?

15

Gabriel Conroy 05.07.19 at 11:33 am

I certainly agree that something is not right or even excusable just because it’s a sincerely held religious belief. I also recognize that steel manning (steel personing?) is a thing.

Where I see it differently is that most bigotry seems, to me, to be a mixture of (for lack of better words) animus pure and simple, “sincere” but misguided* beliefs about the way the world is and should be, and maybe something like a steel manned objection, based on more nuanced and possibly decent reasoning. Perhaps I’m too optimistic, but I don’t see people as only bigots, and I don’t see bigotry as only or purely bigotry, except in perhaps some very extreme cases.

I think we forget those complications (as I see them) at our peril. If we need to build anti-racist coalitions or need to engage in dialogue for rights for transgender persons, or whatever, we need to recognize the common humanity we share with the bigoted person.

I don’t offer this as a criticism of the OP, but an elaboration on it. Maybe the linked-to article qualifies as such an extreme case. I also realize it’s easy for me to adopt the position I do in this comment because I only rarely am the direct target of anything that can be called bigotry.

*By whatever standard we’re measuring “misguided.” One possible standard is “conflicts with other supposedly held beliefs.” For example, most people in the US claim to believe in equality. I suspect that the people in the linked to article probably claim that they also believe in racial equality. We even see a hint of that in the article: in addition to the ridiculous claim that race-mixing goes against Christianity, we also see the argument not that the black candidate was unqualified because he was black, but that the town “wasn’t ready.”

16

SusanC 05.07.19 at 12:10 pm

The mention of Kierkegaard puts me in mind of Abraham’s “sincerely held religious belief” that he ought to sacrifice Isaac. (cf. Fear and Trembling).

In the original post, John seems to be implying that a religious belief needs some kind of philosophizing behind it to be “respectable”; the objection is to folks who hold the same belief for non-philosophical reasons taking advantage of the respectability accorded to the person who holds them for philosophical grounds.

But if the freedom we are talking about is freedom of religious belief, surely it is a freedom to hold beliefs on crazy, or a least non-philosophical, grounds?

17

bianca steele 05.07.19 at 12:35 pm

I like your metaphor of money laundering, and I like the idea of a human wall that prevents the blame from getting through even more!

But I think “sincere belief” may actually have to be a get out of jail free card, because it was designed to be. However, it’s in a way a declaration that one shouldn’t be taken seriously, that the real world is all too much for one, and one would prefer to live quietly and let someone else make the important decisions.

In other words, I’m not sure there are any (defensible) defenses of “sincere belief” that don’t amount to a patronizing explanation that the person holding the belief doesn’t really matter and can’t have a real effect on the world. People like Linker aren’t proponents of democracy! They’re not even, as far as I can tell, proponents of public reason, or people who think “logic” and “rhetoric” are opposed and people have a right to know what principles their society runs along. People like Linker like to oppose the assumed white Christian majority to everyone else—who presumably are either elites or have rights only because the elites see fit to grant them rights—and thus have an obligation to be more responsible and charitable than the majority. The majority aren’t bigots because the majority set the definitions, and the majority ought to set the definitions as proved somehow by Thomism.

(This may be overthinking but I think it’s important because Linker’s reasoning is a temptation for a lot of people.

18

Mike Huben 05.07.19 at 12:38 pm

The basis of Christianity, that JC died to wash away our sins, is fundamentally a steel man scrub.

19

Salem 05.07.19 at 12:38 pm

This is true up to a point. I certainly agree with your two end-points.

But I don’t think it takes us very far. Everything you write is generically true of politics. Most political opinions held by most people do not have supporting reasons that would withstand proper scrutiny. We mostly come by our political beliefs lazily, with a generous helping of self-interest and conformity bias. Why should the religious be held to a different standard than the rest of us? Or should we view all participants in large socio-political movements as malign? It’s not obvious that this would be helpful.

And it’s not clear why theorists should be angrier at their badly-motivated supporters than their opponents. Why is it more important that people have good reasons for their opinions, than that they have good opinions? And aren’t good acts more important than both? Don’t you want to win, and isn’t that more important than social opprobrium among your opponents? You rarely win political battles by rejecting supporters because they aren’t pure enough.

Successful political movements need to exist on multiple levels. You need some people writing academic papers. You need others drawing popular cartoons. The arguments will probably not be the same in both. You might argue that academics are laundering popular prejudices. You could equally argue that the ordinary people are providing popular heft to the academic ideas. Ultimately, what matters is (1) whether it was a good idea and (2) whether you were successful.

20

Pat in Iowa 05.07.19 at 12:51 pm

Dipper at 2

The problem for social conservatives and bigotry isn’t this:

“Surely the point about religious belief is that it is not arrived at through discussion of what is reasonable, but through faith in a text as the word of god no matter what that text says. If it wasn’t so, it wouldn’t be a religious belief, it would be a considered opinion.“

It’s this:

“…sell all you have … and come follow me.”
https://kingjbible.com/m/mark/10.htm

Whatever is going on in Georgia, it’s not about following the text. Which is what I take the OP to mean.

21

FeepingCreature 05.07.19 at 1:22 pm

Treating bigoted beliefs as sincerely held reasoned opinions does no harm to the anti-bigotry cause. We can accuse them of making a mistake of reason just as easily as we can accuse them of possessing the moral flaw of bigotry. In any case, expecting the reasoned man to first rail against the bigots is to ask of him a severe strategical blunder. If he does so, he will get eviscerated for bigotry all the same – except he will have driven away any bigot who, believing him to be a kindred soul, would have supported him. The ideological climate of the day has greatly diminished – with articles like this one! – the opportunity for being a respected, well-treated opponent. If the punishment for being wrong is the same as for being evil, then why not make bedfellows with evil? At best you can force a ceasefire and be left in peace; at worst, you won’t die alone.

22

LarryM 05.07.19 at 1:23 pm

Well argued and absolutely correct, yet unlikely to be convincing to the people who need to be convinced. Dreher, in response to your two points near the end, would say “I’m not #1 , and I don’t engage in #2.” That is, he gives lip service to condemning “actual” bigotry. He’s at least somewhat full of shit about point one, but never mind that. The real problem is with point 2 – the scrub is implicit, not explicit. There’s always a bit of (not very) plausible deniability involved.

23

BruceJ 05.07.19 at 1:57 pm

Dipper is merely engaging in standard “whataboutism”, an all too common response when someone’s ox is adjacent to goring.

Also you’re supposed to be “brave” and “edgy” and take on those eeevil Mooslems. “Then you’ll see the real bigots, amirite??” Especially when said bigots are far away, not white, and demonstrably more evil than the nearby, white bigots we’re discussing.

So apparently we cannot criticize them for using their “religious” belief as a weapon to dehumanize people here until we storm abroad and deal with the more evil ones there

There are examples of that precise argument everywhere, along with the puffed-up indignation when the perpetrators get called upon it.

(Also, the entire basis for the Religious Right’s rise to political power in this country centered on racial animosity and the desire to maintain Jim Crow.

It’s hardly surprising that in this day of greatly emboldened open white supremaacy that this is coming out like this )

24

Phil 05.07.19 at 2:05 pm

There is (I think) (apologies if this is just too far off-topic) a Social Media Disinhibition Effect thing going on here, too. If a friend had clued me in to (say) John Finnis’s views on sex and sexuality twenty years ago, I would have felt no compunction at all about calling the esteemed professor a bigoted old Tory, or perhaps something even stronger and less charitable. But I wouldn’t have dreamt of writing to the TLS to let the world know I considered Finnis a b. old T., and I would have been mortified at the thought that my views might somehow be relayed to Finnis himself; the idea of deliberately telling him or his employer would have struck me as deranged.

It’s not so much that we were more civil back then – or that we were more hypocritical for that matter; it’s more that there was a space to kvetch and moan, and a space to make assertions we’d stand behind, and the two seem to have collapsed into one. (If I tell a friend Professor X is a bigoted old Tory now, the chances are those words are going to sit there in the aether indefinitely for anyone – including X – to seek out.)

Getting back on-topic, what do we do with the careful, thoughtful Thomists and neo-Aristotelians whose conclusions seem little different from a Sun leader-writer’s, even though the supporting argument is vastly different? Do we call them bigots? Among ourselves, probably – everyone needs to have a moan sometimes – but what if there is no ‘among ourselves’? Do we assert that they are bigots? I don’t think that can be right – if only because the denunciatory logic involved is something along the lines of

– [hateful people] believe [X] because [they believe hateful things]
– you say you believe [X] because [different reasons]
– you are a hateful person

which is loose enough to capture just about anyone, if wielded by someone other than us (“but, Professor, what if this rhetorical weapon fell into the wrong hands?”).

25

reason 05.07.19 at 3:12 pm

Orange Watch @12
“… really only need some sincerely held fundamentalist minority religious beliefs to suddenly come to Jesus re: the problem with their claims.”

Firstly, every fundamentalist religious belief is a minority belief (fundamentalism is a peculiar view of the relationship of words – words being inherently ambiguous and temporally unstable in connotation – to reality). And this defense of the rights coming with this belief are essentially justified as minority protection. The point is more that there must be a distinction in law between the right to hold a belief and the right to act on that belief. We cannot allow people the right to act any belief or we have no laws at all, since everybody can be exempt.

26

steven t johnson 05.07.19 at 3:24 pm

In the Cecil B. Demille part of the Old Testament, God praises Phineas grandson of Aaron for hurling a spear through an Israelite and his Midianite woman at the same time, for the crime of going to a sacrifice with her. Given that generally animal sacrifice included distribution of the meat, that tends to resolve to going to dinner with an alien. (That’s why Paul in the New Testament advocated going to pagan sacrifices and buying the [subsidized by pious charity] meant unless it shocked more straitlaced members of the congregation.)

Also, the extensive boring prophet Ezra ends with a prayer condemning marriage with outsiders, and list people who don’t count as Jews for that crime.

Paul of course tells his pagan converts they are the new Israel. The notion that intermarriage with outsiders is forbidden is not conjured up from nowhere.

It is customary to draw distinctions between religious and racial bigotry. I remember when people were careful to specify they were talking about racial bigotry. But this is word-chopping. In practice, religious bigotry, racism, sexism and jingoism are all mixed up.

27

Patrick 05.07.19 at 3:49 pm

Given the diversity of political opinions out there I kind of have to hedge this a lot because I can’t comment on “what people REALLY think” without dozens of counter examples being instantly located.

Additionally, the thesis of this post is a little murky. Is it just a claim that it’s ok for a Holbo to privately think that religiously motivated beliefs are bad? Surely that’s easier to make- there are zero religious people who think otherwise when considering their own religions versus others. Is it the claim that racist actions in hiring for a public job are still condemnable even if religiously motivated? I think very few religious people truly believe otherwise. Some might claim they think otherwise but switch religions and watch them howl.

TLDR the biggest problem in discussing whether we should “respect” a point of view is defining the terms of that respect, and I’m not sure how OP means that.

So… interpreting this sort of generally as a discussion of HOW FAR we ought to do in prosecuting the culture war against religiously motivated bigotry… I do think that there’s an aspect to this that isn’t getting addressed, and that’s the different approaches people will want to take to the existence of bigotry based on their overall view of how society works and how bigotry works.

A lot of liberals have essentially accepted a sort of Dark Satanic Organic Society Conservatism in which everything is interconnected and evolved and touching one thread of society vibrates countless others including ones we could never have predicted in advance. But unlike conservatives who think this evolved web evolved for success and is great and we shouldn’t fiddle with it without great caution, the Dark Satanic version preaches that the web evolved to preserve and further power relationships between social groups that exist on axes of oppressors and the oppressed. And so we should start tearing it up as fast as possible, typically by changing the terms of privilege preserving discourse into privilege undermining discourse.

So the thing is, if you think the entire organic society model is dumb no matter which political spin you put on the construct… it kind of changes the terms of this debate. The idea of creating a sort of carve out detente for religiously motivated bigotry is at least plausible, because we have a lot less reason to care about other people’s privately held religious beliefs in the first place, and some reason to value the social calm that we can have if we lower hostilities in this way. This isn’t the same as approving of religiously motivated bigotry…

It’s just a sort of social secularism.

I accept that there’s a church down the road that preaches that eternal cosmic justice requires that I suffer maximal unending agony, and that the Muslim guy I still know from school goes to a mosque with conservative attitudes about gender and sexual orientation, and I leave them alone anyways so long as they leave me alone. And we accept that privately thinking or even saying that each other’s beliefs are vile still counts as leaving each other alone.

Detente still needs policed. The differentiation of public and private is a key component of a secular world view in which we live and let live, and the linked news article shows a violation of that detente. But OPs post seemed to go beyond that and it’s worth noting that how we think of these issues really does affect the question of “is this bigotry (of the sort we ought to battle)”, dramatically.

28

politicalfootball 05.07.19 at 3:51 pm

Who should Ryan T. Anderson-types be indignant with, by rights, for unfairly trashing his reputation? Well, that would obviously be, first and foremost, the bigots he is consistently mistaken for.

Leo Strauss* has your rebuttal: Ryan T. Anderson** is communicating on a level that the hoi polloi aren’t sophisticated enough to fully grasp, but they are still Anderson’s allies, and they benefit from his salutary influence.

I suppose there is also a realpolitik rationale: It’s counterproductive to denigrate your political allies.

*I don’t actually know anything about Leo Strauss.
**or Ryan T. Anderson.

29

PatinIowa 05.07.19 at 4:39 pm

Dipper at 2

1. “Surely the point about religious belief is that it is not arrived at through discussion of what is reasonable, but through faith in a text as the word of god no matter what that text says. If it wasn’t so, it wouldn’t be a religious belief, it would be a considered opinion.”

No matter what the text says, huh? Go read Mark 12:10, where the text clearly delineates what a Christian should do with their property and tell us how social conservatives in the US follow the text to the letter.

2. When Islamic or Hindu or Jewish fundamentalists are elected officials using their authority to discriminate in hiring, mandating that physicians lie to their patients, and depriving Americans in the United States of their fundamental rights, I’m sure Professor Holbo will take them on.

3. For example, given the religious bigotry evident in Saudi Arabia and Israel, I recommend that we cut US military assistance to them immediately.

That do ya?

30

Hidari 05.07.19 at 4:44 pm

‘The simple version of the point would be this: sometimes people say ‘we have to respect everyone’s sincerely held religious beliefs’. ‘

FWIW I put this phrase in to Google. Zero hits.

Again FWIW I have never heard anyone say or imply, in any context, ever, ‘We have to respect everyone’s sincerely held religious beliefs whatever they might be.’*

Indeed, the broader implications of this statement would seem to go against the general thrust of the Abrahamic (non-syncretic) religions, all of which are predicated on the idea that ‘we possess the Truth, and other religions do not.’

*I have heard people say ‘You have to respect my religious beliefs’ but that’s a very different statement. Arguably the opposite.

31

Heshel 05.07.19 at 5:34 pm

Yes, the US government offering this kind of steelman cover on behalf of corporations is one of the reasons Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was such an unfortunate decision.

I keep trying to track down this ticklesome quotation which I think I first saw on pharyngula at least a decade ago, something to the effect of: Just because you think your misogynistic and homophobic views are commanded by god doesn’t make you not a misogynist or homophobe.

Anyway, the argument puts me in mind of some questions. Like, what are we to do with/think of the belief launderer oneself? Whether or not the beliefs are sincerely held and the arguments are used by others to wash themselves of their guilt, does the launderer (whether Ryan T. Anderson or some academically idealized stand-in) get to be judged separately (and perhaps less harshly) for trying (perhaps not very hard, but we’re all learning, right?) to subject the articulation of one’s own bigoted beliefs to analytic methodology. Perhaps not intentionally to provide cover for the would-be closet Thomists, and perhaps not even to sleep well at night with one’s own bad beliefs, but because one values the methods of analytic philosophy and wants to practice and apply them wherever one can.

I’m trying to construct the most sympathetic character here even if there is no such specific instantiation on this earth because I want to then figure out how to think about the more realistic cases. For example, when one’s arguments are (or, murkier still, could be) used by others to launder their beliefs completely independently of the original intention of the author. In other words, I have an intuition that Ryan T. Anderson is in some sense a bad actor but Rebecca Tuvel is not in any sense a bad actor, but it seems both could claim a laudable commitment (even if executed more or less skillfully) to practicing philosophy (writ very large).

32

Orange Watch 05.07.19 at 10:33 pm

reason@25:

You’re over-parsing. Or maybe under-parsing. That phrase meant fundamentalist beliefs of a non-majority religion in the US. I.e., fundamentalist beliefs of a non-Christian religion. Re: the rights, it’s not about preserving or denying rights to practice their religion; it’s about finding a model of religious-conviction-as-get-out-of-jail-card that will demonstrate the problems of such to the person arguing that their sincerely held beliefs should exempt them from otherwise-applicable laws and regulations. PatinIowa@29 summed up the overarching idea better than I did while being both more succinct and less general.

33

William Berry 05.07.19 at 10:46 pm

bianca @17 has it right, I think.

I mean, if your profoundly sincere beliefs render you dysfunctional in civil society, you would probably be better off just staying home and taking your medications.

34

EB 05.07.19 at 11:38 pm

The retreat to religion as an argument against gay rights is often an unconscious (or sometimes conscious) resistance to anything that threatens an individual’s or a community’s sense of stability. If one of the things that enables a person to feel that there is predictability to life is the continuation of social mores about sexual relations, then people will cling to those mores. I find it hard to vilify people for wanting some predictability in their lives, and my conversations with people who are afraid of these kinds of changes tend to emphasize that the fact of some variations on the usual, does not mean that the usual is being displaced into a whirlwind of chaos.

35

Tyler 05.08.19 at 12:12 am

Seems relevant to Harry’s post about teaching applied ethics, where the goal is to give students the best possible arguments for views they may disagree with, which seems like it would have similar steelwool scrub issues in practice.

36

politicalfootball 05.08.19 at 12:32 am

Just because you think your misogynistic and homophobic views are commanded by god doesn’t make you not a misogynist or homophobe.

Similarly, to Charles Murray we can say: Even if your racist views were supported by science, that doesn’t make you not a racist.

37

J-D 05.08.19 at 3:20 am

Sincerity is over-valued.

The existence of the expression ‘sincerely held beliefs’ illustrates the point. The addition of the qualifier ‘sincerely held’ is not to distinguish from insincerely held beliefs, because, by definition, there are no insincerely held beliefs. There are such things as insincere statements of belief, but what makes them insincere is precisely that they are not backed by belief.

If I affirm that people like you are vermin who should be exterminated, it doesn’t make things better (or my position more worth of respect) if I am profoundly sincere; if anything, it makes things worse.

Statements do not become any more worthy of respect solely because people believe in them, no matter with what depths of sincerity.

It’s people who deserve some default minimum of respect; you should exercise some care in how you express your views about a person’s religious beliefs not out of respect for the beliefs but out of respect for the person who holds them. That extends even to some respect for people who express bigoted attitudes; but that respect should not outweigh (among other things) respect for the people who are the targets or victims of that bigotry.

Take same-sex marriage (more recently, trans issues): you can always rustle up some Ryan T. Anderson-type to spin up some Thomistic-ish natural law (Christian anthropology etc.) argument. Even if this is weak ‘steel’ (I would judge), belated scholasticism, wandering the modern world, looks ornamental – harmless, innocent, unassuming. At worst, a curious mooncalf; at best, considerably more academically polished than old-school fag-bashing. Now comes the bait-and-switch (indulgence-by-proxy, steelman-to-absolve-all-sins.)

In my experience, sophisticated theological arguments are not steelmanned versions of crude ones, but rather the reverse: they depend on weasel words for the usual function of weasel words, disguising the absence of clear meaning.

But isn’t it awfully mean, ad hominem and unfair if thoughtful Christian philosophers and theologians, Thomistic would-be anthropologists, get lumped in with bog-standard bigots?

Rod Dreher thinks so. Damon Linker thinks so, too.

There IS an element of unfairness.

I disagree. Bigoted positions dressed up in fancy language deserve no more respect than bigoted positions plainly avowed. In this instance, Rod Dreher and Damon Linker are defending positions which deserve no respect or, if you prefer, they’re full of it.

Thomistic theologians, as people, deserve the minimum default respect that all people deserve, but then so do bog-standard bigots.

Who should Ryan T. Anderson-types be indignant with, by rights, for unfairly trashing his reputation? Well, that would obviously be, first and foremost, the bigots he is consistently mistaken for.

You have a society in which certain forms of bigotry are endemic. You have, by hypothesis, a few rare eccentrics who exhibit outwardly similar attitudes, allegedly on a completely alternate, inwardly entirely bigotry-free basis of rather outré philosophical argument. These eccentrics should fully expect to be mistaken for the bigots. How not? Therefore, they should rail first against the bigots whose bigotry is not merely dragging down their reputations but surely serves as the single greatest obstacles to the spread of their allegedly good teachings.

Those who lie down with dogs can expect to get up with fleas; but should they blame the dogs, or themselves?

Dipper

Surely the point about religious belief is that it is not arrived at through discussion of what is reasonable, but through faith in a text as the word of god no matter what that text says.

I may be veering off-topic to make the point, but this is not correct. I could illustrate the point with multiple examples from various religions, but I’ll confine myself to one for now. The people who wrote (and/or compiled) the New Testament were Christians: therefore there were Christians before there was any New Testament, and those Christians, at least, did not arrive at their faith by reliance on the New Testament.

38

SusanC 05.08.19 at 6:42 am

A complication in the case of trans rights (which John briefly mentioned): in the main, both sides are atheists. There are some Christian anti-trans campaigners of course, but the position that for want of a better term we are calling TERF is basically an atheist one. Despite which, the argument takes on a perplexingly metaphysical character, rather akin to a debate between Christian denominations over the nature of the Trinity.

So: how do we conceptualize metaphysical disagreements between rival groups of atheists?

39

reason 05.08.19 at 8:36 am

J-D @37
I’ll go further than you. This “…. but through faith in a text as the word of god no matter what that text says” is further wrong because no Christian actually believes the New Testament is the word of God, but only that it is inspired by God – Paul wrote the epistles as a letter to existing congregations and the letter was specifically a letter from him (Paul) to the addressed congregation. Paul never claimed to be speaking for God directly (even he wasn’t so arrogant).

40

Saurs 05.08.19 at 9:14 am

Dipper@4

Surely the point about religious belief is that it is not arrived at through discussion of what is reasonable, but through faith in a text as the word of god no matter what that text says. If it wasn’t so, it wouldn’t be a religious belief, it would be a considered opinion.

What is the “text,” presumably Christian, that both forbids “race-mixing” and defines “race-mixing” as allowing a black guy to apply for a job that obviously belongs to whitey?

Secondly, while it’s extra-cute that a standard for judging true “sincerity” necessarily precludes reason or rationality (some beliefs are arrived at by weighing facts and talkin’ an’ shit, but these aren’t afforded the special protection given to Christian racism), it seems like maybe you don’t know anything about doctrine, it’s evolution, and textual analysis and quite lively, often anorak-y and learned discussions across centuries involved therein or whatever? I don’t want to sound like the introductory throat-clearing of a hurried term paper written only hours before being shame-facedly submitted for grading, but Webster’s dictionary defines “theology” as [here is where Dipper does his homework before dropping a low-energy deuce belowthread]

41

bianca steele 05.08.19 at 11:30 am

FWIW, my personal experience online is that steelman arguments are often received as strawman arguments if the contribution isn’t felt to be welcome. No sincere populist believer wants a Jewess from the big city using big words like Thomist at them. They want to hear that they’re right and it’s wrong to make them feel otherwise.

42

SusanC 05.08.19 at 12:45 pm

The people who wrote (and/or compiled) the New Testament were Christians: therefore there were Christians before there was any New Testament, and those Christians, at least, did not arrive at their faith by reliance on the New Testament.

I’m not sure that argument works. The Christians who existed before the New Testament was written down got their faith by hearing Jesus say (allegedly) much the same things as he was later reported as saying in the New Testament.

Christ himself, of course, cannot arrive at his faith by reading about it in some book. (Though taking a peek at the Torah might give him a hint about the kind of things a Messiah is expected to do). There’s a whole bunch of Christian theology on how the system can be bootstrapped…

43

SusanC 05.08.19 at 12:50 pm

On the other hand, if I’m roleplaying a Buddhist I’m probably going to avoid making my argument critically rely on the assumption that Nagarjuna or Siddharta actually historically existed and said the things that they are reputed to have said. I might have dreamed the whole thing…

44

Mrmister 05.08.19 at 1:09 pm

“Who should Ryan T. Anderson-types be indignant with, by rights, for unfairly trashing his reputation? Well, that would obviously be, first and foremost, the bigots he is consistently mistaken for.“

This seems to me unfair. Compare with Peter Singer. Peter Singer has been misrepresented as a Nazi eugenicist and as being motivated by thinly cloaked personal animus against the disabled. He may be wrong, and dangerously wrong, but it is clear to fairminded and moderately sophisticated observers that he’s neither a Nazi nor operating out of thinly cloaked animus. In his deep soul there may ultimately be animus, I guess, who can tell—but just because no one can tell about those things. In the realm of argument he acts as a mostly consistent Utilitarian, and even Harriet McBride allowed that he was mostly considerate and decent to her in their debate (which she found upsetting in a different way).

It seems to me that Peter Singer can, of course, be indignant with Nazis and bigots. Everyone is allowed to be. But he also has a valid complaint against hostile observers who are sophisticated enough to discern that he is not actually a Nazi but still represent him as one out of either laziness or opportunism, to win their broader arguments with the public.

To the extent that Ryan T Andersons case seems different, I submit that it is because of a pre-existing judgment that Anderson not only sounds like, but really is a bigot (and quack, whose arguments lack anything like Singer’s strengths). But if that’s the only point of the example it is less exciting than what I read into the OP. If the thought starts from, and requires, the prior judgment that the opponent’s Steelman has intellectual scaffolding that amounts to little more than bigoted quackery, then it doesn’t cut much dialectical ice.

45

Chris (merian) W. 05.08.19 at 7:35 pm

Your post gave me an odd case of cognitive double vision. I wasn’t familiar with the term Steelman argument, but I was familiar with the thing via a text by Daniel Dennett that used to float around on the ‘nets (reprinted in the Guardian) but disappeared when some sort of limited copyright term expired. He advocates precisely this process, under a slightly different spin: attacking the strongest point of your opponent rather than the weakest. Because everyone is bound to have a weak point, and personally I get annoyed by people pulling out, say, a feminist who says something stupid and then use her as a case study to discredit feminism.

But there are limits. I don’t think it’s by chance that the example in the link ends up being a *man* using the Steelman style effectively to take apart #gamergate. I find it a lot harder to follow down this path when I’m not only a debate participant, but also an exhibit to be debated on. “Should incarcerated people vote?” (being that I’ve never been incarcerated, a topic whose outcome won’t directly affect my own rights) or “how should we act in the face of climate change” (a topic that, more or less, affects all participants in similar ways” carry much less threat to my psychological and physical integrity than “should same-sex couples be allowed to marry” (being that I’m married to another woman) or “are women just as apt as man to make good scientists, engineers, intellectuals, musicians etc.”.

John lays out the argument against giving points for sincerity very well. I’d add that quite obviously a racist may be sincerely outraged at the idea that a black person is of equal dignity, intellect, and rights. Or that a homophobe is sincerely offended by seeing a gay couple hold hands or kiss.

Moreover, a lot of the so-called religious stuff is actually just *Christian* stuff, or even particular strains of Christianity. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg had a very good Twitter thread on Judaism and abortion the other day (https://twitter.com/TheRaDR/status/1125877688877625347 ) . People who want legal accommodations for sincerely held religious beliefs frequently would get into conflict with other just as valid religious beliefs from other religions… if Christianity wasn’t so dominant that, at least in the US, it is often considered synonymous with religion.

The problem doesn’t just affect practitioners of Christianity. Many proud atheists look to me like people whose notion of what religion is has been deeply tainted by Christianity, to a degree that I think of them less as atheists rather than of people who construct their attitude towards faith in opposition to Christianity. They have no mental tooling for religions that aren’t primarily based on faith in a deity or a set of beliefs.

None of the insight into the overratedness of sincerity, however, should justify out-of-hand dismissing, or condescending treatment of, all opponents in matters of ideology or opinion. I’d still want bars raised.

Also, since when is knowing what makes your opponent/enemy tick a bad thing?

46

Kiwanda 05.08.19 at 9:29 pm

I agree with the OP that religion does not give anyone an excuse for unethical action. I’m less clear on the idea that a fancy argument for bigotry is somehow worse than thoughtless bigotry itself, by making it easier for the thoughtless bigot to claim justification from the fancy argument. After all, the “bait and switch” aspect wouldn’t matter if the action or attitude was something that right-thinking people agreed was good: the couples with the right to marry include those of same sex or mixed race; if some philosopher somewhere has come up with a first-principles ethical argument for this, it doesn’t make the person who believes in equal-marriage rights “from their gut” any less correct.

Anybody has a right to their beliefs, religious or otherwise, but sometimes only up to the point that those beliefs affect other people. Someone who believes same-sex marriage is against God’s law has the right to that strongly held belief, but not to act in a discriminatory way. If an adult has been chromosomally, anatomically, hormonally, and socially male all their life, they obviously have the right respect for their strongly held belief that they are a woman, but there is at least some judgements to make when considering their participation in women’s sports, or their presence in prisons, homeless and domestic violence shelters, sleeper cars, or changing rooms, or whether the lack of desire of a lesbian to have sex with them constitutes transphobia. Anyone has the right to the strongly held belief that a public speaker makes them feel unsafe, but that belief cannot constitute a veto over the speaker’s rights.

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John Holbo 05.09.19 at 3:50 am

Mrmister: “This seems to me unfair. Compare with Peter Singer. Peter Singer has been misrepresented as a Nazi eugenicist and as being motivated by thinly cloaked personal animus against the disabled. He may be wrong, and dangerously wrong, but it is clear to fairminded and moderately sophisticated observers that he’s neither a Nazi nor operating out of thinly cloaked animus.”

This is a good point. I have to think about this. The obvious difference with Anderson is that he isn’t saying – as Singer is – I’m NOT like all these bigots. I’m doing it differently! Anderson is, rather, using his own allegedly non-bigoted thoughts as an argument others aren’t bigoted, after all. If Singer were arguing that maybe the Nazis were just groping towards his own, correct consequentialist philosophy, we would suspect Singer of being Nazi-curious (and rightly, I think.) But good analogy.

48

J-D 05.09.19 at 4:52 am

reason

This “…. but through faith in a text as the word of god no matter what that text says” is further wrong because no Christian actually believes the New Testament is the word of God, but only that it is inspired by God …

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-year-of-biblical-womanhood-a-review

First, as a Christian woman who adheres to Reformed doctrine, I believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, written by men, inspired by God, infallible in all that it teaches, sufficient for all of life and doctrine, and the very words of God, words from God.

SusanC

Arriving at your position through faith in a person is not the same thing as arriving at your position through faith in a text.

49

Z 05.09.19 at 7:44 am

@JH Intellectually, it IS unfair to strawman a position by conflating it with its least thoughtful, most irrational, animus-afflicted exponents. Yet descriptively – sociologically – it’s absurd to steelman a socio-cultural order-or-group by conflating its practices and norms with unrepresentative, intellectual outliers.

Furthermore, there is a distinction to be made along the same lines between academic discussions of a given topic, and public interventions in a topic of political interests. As the two have different functions and purposes, follow different norms and obey different standards, it is disingenuous to (implicitly) switch from one to the other e.g to require academic style standards of rigor in the discussion of arguments, but reverting to public intervention standards when passing to concrete questions of implementations (and vice-versa, of course). For instance, even if there are sophisticated, not obviously flawed arguments against same-sex marriage (something that, like J-D, I actually doubt), I bet they operate at a level which is systematically considered inadmissible when discussing for instance laws against stealing or against public littering. So I’m happy to be proven wrong about their non-existence, and to engage in a long discussion of the relevance of Aquinas theology to the question of whether two women can marry – a discussion that I will try to consider with the usual standards of rigor and fairness -, but only insofar as my interlocutor is equally happy to discuss the relevance of Peter the Venerable theology on whether actual buildings to congregate are required to pray or if it is admissible to pray at home, and with exactly the same impact on actual policies.

50

Birdie 05.09.19 at 9:09 pm

From the link on steelmanning:  “Then Bob takes her place, but before he can present his counter-argument, he must summarize Alice’s argument to her satisfaction — a demonstration of respect and good faith.” That’s formal debate where the real goal is to convince the judges/audience; in interpersonal relationships it is precisely what we used to call Active Listening. It seems the only plausible way for the hypothetical Men of Good Will to resolve serious conflict by themselves. But in real life it never happens because the speaker has been granted the right to demand Ultimate Nuanced Understanding and the floor is never yielded. “Utopia is filled with Steelmen”, amen.

Not sure how that fits the OP point, but while I’m here let me also suggest that the proper use of religion is to provide a language in which various moral, cosmological, and eschatological themes can be discussed and resolved. Actually yes, texts are produced as a result of people trying to respond to actual stuff in a considered way. Naturally it is possible to state counterfactual, oxymoronic, and bigoted premises in any human language, such is debate. The problem is that humans absolutely insist on casting everything in concrete, and always, There Can Only Be One.

Nobody thinks that but me, fine.

51

reason 05.10.19 at 8:51 am

J-D
The passage you quote is internally inconsistent (as well as being absurd). Yes, I was always thought that Homo Sapiens is a misnomer – it should be Homo Credulus.

52

reason 05.10.19 at 8:57 am

J-D
Of course I could use the no true Scotsman defense here. Are fundamentalists Christian (since a Christian is supposedly a follower of Christ and the Christ of the Gospels was clearly not a fundamentalist)? The answer is not clear.

53

Andy 05.10.19 at 1:41 pm

Hidari @ 30:

“Sincerely held beliefs” is a term of art. For example.

Not “all” beliefs must be accommodated, but there’s very little pushback on their sincerity.

54

SusanC 05.11.19 at 9:29 am

It’s an interesting point that faith in a person is different from faith in a text … though I’d be tempted towards some Jacques Derrida inspired counteragrument, possibly making reference to the sermon on the mount scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

55

Moz of Yarramulla 05.11.19 at 10:40 am

Oh Birdie, you and me both. Steelmanning words admirably when there is a moderator whose word is as unto the word of god, but outside of that context it is an invitation to the bigot to expound at length and never yield the floor. In meetings the honest form goes “this is more of a statement…” but in my somewhat exasperated experience it goes “since you have failed to accept what I say at face value, I will restate my position first in slightly different words and then again in the original form, before going off on a tangent and finally settling into a string of anecdotes until the audience goes away”.
It is also incredibly vulnerable to bad faith arguments, at worst of the Trumpian “I did not say {statement of record}” variety.
I think it’s excellent practice to critique the best form of someone’s argument rather than the worst, but I prefer to phrase it as the obligation of generosity. In other words, this is something I choose to do because I am a nice person, not something I owe you merely because you’re present. I specifically don’t phrase that as “because you are human” because that veers close to talk of human rights, and those are not universally accepted or recognised. And specifically, if someone refuses tom acknowledge my humanity I feel no obligation to respect theirs (this includes killing in self defence, because as implied by Chris above, there exist people who will happily kill me “out of sincerely held religious belief”).
The “respect mah religion” nonsense is IME easily revealed as bigotry by mentioning Rastifarians. Just as Christians must be exempted from laws banning discrimination, Rastifarians must be exempted from laws banning cannabis cultivation and use… oh boy and now watch the “relgious freedom” Christians get all excited. (you can get similar results using biblical marriage*, peyote, corporal punishment for adultery etc)
* biblical marriage comes in two broad forms: old testament marriage where a man was allowed as many wives as he could support (also concubines and sex slaves), and new testament marriage which is monogamous, ideally celibate and definitely childless. Neither is practiced by any major christian denomination I am aware of.

56

Barry 05.11.19 at 12:28 pm

Patrick: “A lot of liberals have essentially accepted a sort of Dark Satanic Organic Society Conservatism in which everything is interconnected and evolved and touching one thread of society vibrates countless others including ones we could never have predicted in advance. “

You have noticed the last two years? This was also obvious beforehand, for anybody who cared to look (e.g., the cooperation between right-wing religious leaders and God-shunning rich elites, racists, and those who just wanted the Empire for killing).

Trump has shown that in the end they do worship in the same church, and that all of their allegedly differences were just style preferences.

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steven t johnson 05.11.19 at 3:04 pm

Reminded of Karl Popper in another thread . He had his own version of steel manning, which was on display in the work that made his reputation in the English speaking world, The Open Society and its Enemies. The amazing thing was how his version of the best arguments of the enemies of the open society were not easily recognizable as their arguments at all. Not sure why steelmanning has a good rep. But then, Popper is very much the Ryan Anderson of right wing politics, isn’t he?

The notion that a Ryan Anderson has demonstrated some moral proposition, like the wrongness of same-sex marriage, is a possibility means that the proposition of the moral rightness of same-sex marriage has not been proven as a logical necessity in all cases. And nothing can prove empirical inductions (See…Poppper!) Therefore the practical opposition cannot be dismissed. As the OP says, such steelmanning is about defending the practice.

The thing is, as near as I can see, the OP’s argument that abstract principles aren’t real motivators kind of does away with philosophy’s relevance, in favor of common sense. We know where that goes. Aristotle uses common sense to see the inferiority of women and slaves. A Stoic like Seneca is the millionaire servant of Nero. A Berekley or Hume go to bed relying on common sense in order to wake up as Tories. Popper is a cofounder of the Mont Pelerin Society. The real problem seems to me to be a defective conception about the role of tested experience (which is not common sense!) in philosophy.
Common sense isn’t good enough for science (hence measurement etc.) I don’t think it’s good enough for anything but complacency.

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