The Fascist Octopus Pipes Up from the Gamma Quadrant or the Region Surrounding Cygnus X-1, Depending

by Henry Farrell on June 18, 2006

OK, it’s “dumpster-diving”:, but I was quite taken with the writing style of this post on the “Arrogance and Evil of Crooked Timber”:

bq. I’m reading through more and more of the comments now, and the hideous intellectual dishonesty of the leftists continues to alternatively make my blood boil in anger, and run cold in fear of the kinds of totalitarian “reforms” they would make if they ever seized control of society.

The boiling blood running ice cold and then boiling up again makes for quite an arresting metaphor. But then, don’t watery liquids simultaneously boil and freeze in the vacuum of deep outer space? (perhaps the author is trying to tell us something about where he’s dialing in from).

{ 1 trackback } » Blog Archive » wherein I am put in my place by “intellectuals”
06.22.06 at 8:21 am



gr 06.18.06 at 11:43 am

You left out the best part…

“It’s a good reminder that the fight against evil did not end when the Allies took Berlin, or when the Iron Curtain fell; muddy thinking and incipient totalitarianism will be with us always, and we have to fight against it always.”


jim 06.18.06 at 11:57 am

I assume he meant “alternately” rather than “alternatively”.


abb1 06.18.06 at 12:15 pm



Anatoly 06.18.06 at 12:31 pm

I dunno. The rhetoric is overblown and the clashing of metaphors is hilarious, yes. But groupthink does tend to get pretty bad around here.

There’s this guy ‘walt’ who’s especially fond of crawling out and declaring how “we” aren’t interested in what this or that commenter has to say. This is always met with tacit approval from the crowd. I think of ‘walt’ as a symbol of groupthink at CT; of course, it happens all the time without him, too.

It could be much, much worse. CT is infinitely more civilised than, say, LGF. But it could be much better, too.


Zeno 06.18.06 at 12:31 pm

Now you have your own bloggy nemesis. Oooh, scary! (Or should it be “blogistic nemesis”?)


parse 06.18.06 at 12:34 pm

It’s a good reminder that the fight against evil did not end . . .when the Iron Curtain fell. . .

According to Winston Churchill, the Iron Curtain fell when “the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them” were subjected to control from Moscow.

It’s amusing to see a conservative fondly recalling the ascendancy of Soviet communism as a landmark in the epic struggle against evil.

I am also somewhat heartened by the revelation that though the fight against totalitarianism will be unending, the threat posed by totalitarianism will be eternally incipient.


engels 06.18.06 at 12:38 pm

The Iron Curtain “fell” in 1945. It was lifted in 1989 (when the Berlin wall fell). Evidently metaphors aren’t his strongpoint.


engels 06.18.06 at 12:40 pm

(As parse has just pointed out.)


abb1 06.18.06 at 12:43 pm

Well, I was just wondering about that. I googled it and, apparently, a lot of people say “Iron Curtain fell” meaning “Berlin Wall fell”. Go figure.


Anatoly 06.18.06 at 12:45 pm

He was just quoting Clinton: “And at last, through the efforts of brave men and women determined to live free lives, the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain fell.

Get serious. It’s a common way of saying it, albeit imprecise.


Kelly 06.18.06 at 12:52 pm

*rubs eyes*
It’s too early in the morning for stupid.


abb1 06.18.06 at 1:01 pm

It’s not that common: “Iron Curtain fell” returns 26,000 hits and “Berlin Wall fell” 150,000.


bob mcmanus 06.18.06 at 1:09 pm

“I think of ‘walt’ as a symbol of groupthink at CT; of course, it happens all the time without him, too.”

Walt Pohl. With Dan Kervick and howard and cranky and abb1 and so many others, comment sections become reassuring, inspiring, a comfort in these difficult times. I thank the lord there are people around like them.

Has there been “groupthink” at CT? Golly. Emerson seems to be becoming active again, that might help. I can barely think, let alone keep up with a group, but ankle-biting of my superiors is within my capacity. Love to take comment sections in directions anatoly-types would not approve.


a 06.18.06 at 1:40 pm

It’s a joke site, isn’t it?


Brendan 06.18.06 at 1:44 pm

Christ! Looking at the whole post…..when I die, on LGF and these other loonbat sites, It’s going to say ‘guy who said questioned the taxi-driver/meatpacker statistic died, and good riddance’ isn’t it?


Walt 06.18.06 at 2:38 pm

You realize, Anatoly, that you’ve just made my day.


krishna 06.18.06 at 2:51 pm

I must say the mixed metaphor is worthy of the Rt. Honourable Jim Hacker himself. :)


Anatoly 06.18.06 at 3:04 pm

Walt: I aim to please.


abb1 06.18.06 at 4:07 pm

Anatoly (nice name!) appears to be a guy in Israel who reads a lot of poetry, likes Bach cello suites and considers Palestinian Arabs congenital murderers. Oh well, sadly it doesn’t surprise me anymore.


engels 06.18.06 at 4:33 pm

Of course, thinking that people outside of one’s group are all mindlessly driven by “group think” is itself one of the surest symptoms of group think.

By the way, Anatoly, on the subject of metaphor, you are wrong, and you are tedious. Saying exactly the opposite of what you mean is not merely “imprecise”, it’s confused, whether or not Clinton (at whose altar, incidentally, not everyone here worships) said it too.


will uspal 06.18.06 at 4:33 pm

My first thought was to google epithelial thermal stress. How much of an engineering dork does that make me?


Anatoly 06.18.06 at 4:52 pm

abb1: You got three out of four right, which, I guess, isn’t half bad.


Anatoly 06.18.06 at 5:13 pm

Engels: I don’t think that “people outside my group are all mindlessly driven” by groupthink. CT commenters, however, often are, and that’s not hard to see whether you’re in the group or not, if you’re willing to look. I pointed out one example, and you can find many others.

It’s all relative, however. It’s not black-and-white. CT is one of the best group blogs out there. A lot of diverse and fascinating material (and a bit of entertainment when Louis Proyect comes in). I love reading CT, yet can’t stomach sites like Atrios or LGF (I was banned on LGF a few years ago basically for suggesting Rachel Corrie was a human being, and sticking with it against their groupthink, and fighting back).


jonathan weinberg 06.18.06 at 5:23 pm

Argh. Long post just got eaten. Long story short: agreement, even freqent agreement, is just not evidence of groupthink. Groupthink occurs when individual judgments are driven by the desire for agreement, and must be distinguished from reasoned consensus, which occurs when agreement is reached on the basis of (mostly) independent judgment. Groupthink is bad, and tends to lead away from the truth. But reasoned consensus is generally truth-conducive, and a sign of a healthy intellectual climate.


Daniel Nexon 06.18.06 at 5:28 pm

I find the mental conflation of “Iron Curtain” and “Berlin Wall” extremely interesting, whether in the words of Clinton or fascist octopi. The potent symbol of the wall reconstructs the metaphor “Iron Curtain” such that both “fall” at the end of the Cold War. Surely there must be a technical term for this kind of linguistic drift?


Steve LaBonne 06.18.06 at 5:44 pm

Think that tjic post was good? You ain’t seen nuthin’. PZ has just given us a truly stunning example of the intellectual level of contemporary wingnuttia, one of which I would otherwise have been unaware given that I would not so much as pick up one of that woman’s books without wearing gloves.


engels 06.18.06 at 6:02 pm



Daniel Nexon 06.18.06 at 6:11 pm

Engels: thanks!


Simstim 06.18.06 at 6:16 pm

I can see “the Iron Curtain fell” working as a phrase. Bear with me here. Remove or unfasten a curtain from the top and the fabric will fall, revealing what’s behind it. Sure, you say, but it’s made out of Iron and this, combined with the ripples naturally found in curtains, will cause it to merely stand in a obstructive manner. However, bear in mind we’re talking about the end of the Cold War here. It’s no longer Cold, it’s warm, maybe even very hot. Thus, the Iron in the Curtain heats up sufficiently to a point where its rigidity is unable to maintain structural integrity. Thus, “the Iron Curtain fell”.


Jon H 06.18.06 at 6:26 pm

I would just like to point out that a curtain can fall, and when it does so it’s usually at least semi-permanently down because it’s damaged. A curtain that rises is one that is still functional and can go up and down at will.


Randy Paul 06.18.06 at 6:33 pm

Good God. This is a guy who blogrolls Alec Rawls. Enough said


parse 06.18.06 at 6:42 pm

I find the mental conflation of “Iron Curtain” and “Berlin Wall” extremely interesting,

One thing that’s especially interesting about this metonymy is that when using a “the curtain falls” as a metaphor, the usual sense is in “the end of something.” The structure that experienced the literal fall was a wall–and speaking about a wall falling misses all those “end of s story” associations you get when the (theater) curtain falls. So “the Iron Curtain falls” offers itself as a more felicitous substitute to describe the end of the cold war.


Walt 06.18.06 at 6:51 pm

Anatoly: I’ve been musing on it, and I really can’t figure out what you’re talking about. I like freewheeling discussion as much as the next guy, but what I don’t like are people who are trolling just to annoy liberals. I’m not sure what it is about Crooked Timber that brings it out, but CT has commenters who clearly are working out some issues they have with liberals. It’s the kind of behavior that makes the internet a worse place than it needs to be. I would say the same thing about someone trolling conservative sites, or libertarian sites, or Marxist sites, or whatever.


Adam Kotsko 06.18.06 at 7:41 pm

Does it seem to anyone else that Crooked Timber always manages to draw a lot of libertarians out of the woodwork?


Henry 06.18.06 at 9:18 pm

Walt – fair enough – but I’d much prefer dealing with the occasional bout of trolling than to have an ideological monoculture dominating the conversation. And certain, limited forms of trolling (provocative and annoying arguments) can surely have their place in forcing people to figure out what they really believe. Where I get annoyed is when I think people are deliberately being dishonest, or else are being personally offensive for the sake of being personally offensive (I’m more inclined to give the latter a break if they’re being personally offensive in a funny way). Doubtless, people’s mileage on this differs – and some incidents that seem to me to be egregious trollery are perfectly fair arguments to others. Different CT posters have different degrees of tolerance on this which is reflected in how they deal with their own posts and comments sections – we don’t have any real agreed policy beyond a collective willingness to ban people for certain kinds of dishonesty (e.g. sock-puppetry), and for obviously offensive and vicious comments (anti-Semitic, racist &c&c).


Kenny Easwaran 06.18.06 at 11:19 pm

Libertarians seem to be overrepresented in academic circles, and especially economics circles. CT appeals to academics, and has at least one economist on board. So it’s not surprising that lots of libertarians would come here.


Down and Out in Sài Gòn 06.19.06 at 12:22 am

I think it’s standard English for “fall” + city = conquering of said city by (assumed maelevolent) armed force. So we have the “Fall of Sài Gòn” (1975), “Fall of Berlin” (1945), and “Fall of Paris” (generally 1940, although I’ve seen the odd reference to 1871).

Parse: Churchill’s exact phrase was an ‘”iron curtain” descending over Europe”. “To descend”, unlike “to fall”, does not assume a quick and destructive journey downwards, and the iron curtain could have floated down as slow and carefully as one (Stalin) liked.

Finally, it’s hard to see the “Fall of the Iron Curtain” as anything but its destruction. Firstly, there’s a linguistic precedent going back to the “fall of the walls of Jericho” some 3000 years ago. (Yes, it was originally in Hebrew, but now firmly entrenched in the English lexicon.) Secondly, many people here would have seen or known people who saw the wall actually fall in real life. Physical experience often trumps the original meaning of a metaphor.


Gary Farber 06.19.06 at 1:17 am

I was wondering why I was suddenly getting hits off an old CT post.

Funny, I’d completely forgotten having written the post Ted linked to originally. Well, looks like my little crusade got pretty much nowhere, didn’t it? Even I forgot I’d started it.

Seems rather a lost cause now, though still not a half-bad point I had, looking back. I’ll stand by it, regardless.


Gary Farber 06.19.06 at 1:21 am

I probably should note, though, Henry, that the frown (“dumpster-diving”) was at trolling comments threads for things to cluck at, not at finding posts on a blog people read. (Since the linked site seems currently unavailable, I can’t otherwise speak to the conten there.)


bad Jim 06.19.06 at 3:26 am

The comments to this post do illustrate the sort of group behavior which gives CT its flavor: a moderately serious post gives rise to a mildly frivolous discussion, in an academic vein, of a completely peripheral issue.

When the curtain falls after the temple falls at the end of Saint-Saën’s Samson et Dalila, one wonders why the curtain itself wasn’t incorporated into the stage scenery.


RickD 06.19.06 at 4:12 am

Check out this groupthink about “the Iron Curtain fell”!

There’s no winning with some people. If everybody on the left agrees on some issue, the criticism will be that we’re mindless zombies engaged in groupthink. If the left disagrees on some issue, the criticism will be that we’re conflicted and cannot make are minds up. Or that we’re chaotic, or perhaps hypocritical. In any case, weak and stupid.

Personally I find the “groupthink” accusation to be insulting. It’s a simple ad hominem attack.


Anatoly 06.19.06 at 4:49 am

Walt: I’ve been musing on it, and I really can’t figure out what you’re talking about.

OK, I did a search to confirm my vague recollections and came up with these recent quotes from you in CT comments: “Yes, Steve, you have a lot to teach us about wisdom.”; “Raw Data: I’m sure that this will come as a blow to your surely-inflated self-esteem, but the fact that you don’t approve of the post doesn’t mean we give a shit what you think.”; “It’s not your irrationalism that bothers us, Seth. It’s the monotony of your grudges.” I’ll stop at three, but there’s plenty more, actually.

You seem to have this weird compulsion to speak for everyone at CT, and, by the way, I haven’t noticed any other CT regulars (blog authors or frequent commenters) doing that. Think you could explain that to me?

If you want my opinion, here it is. I understand the feeling of irritation at someone you think is just trolling to annoy the community. In other forums and on other occassions, when I was a part of the core group or felt an affinity to the core group, I, too, found myself itching to tell someone off in the name of everyone around, all the “good people”. After a few false starts, I learned to restrain myself from doing that. The atmosphere of groupthink, the false and positively LGFish picture of all of “us” united against an “intruder”, is much more poisoning to the “freewheeling discussion” you like so much than anything that seems to you like trolling (and may, just may, appear to some others as questions worth asking or challenges worth answering).

My point is not to demonize you or anything like that. My real point is that in a somewhat healthier blog atmosphere, after having used once or twice the kind of rhetorical device exemplified in quotes above, one of the blog authors or another regular commenter would have politely asked you to refrain from speaking for everyone. That this doesn’t happen, that pronouncements of this kind are met with tacit approval, is in my mind a symbol of the atmosphere of groupthink at CT. Not that it’s an especially severe atmosphere or anything; could be much worse – but I seem to repeat myself.

Hope I’ve helped you understand what I was talking about, as concerns specific details. In general terms, meanwhile, I strongly identify with Henry’s #35 and couldn’t possibly say it better myself.


Sandals 06.19.06 at 5:06 am

These guys just say we groupthink because they went to some training seminar and it was on a list of generically insulting words.

I mean, that’s baseless, but I think everyone here understands my point.


john m. 06.19.06 at 5:12 am

I generally prefer groupthink to groupnonthink on the grounds that there is at least one thought involved.


abb1 06.19.06 at 6:16 am

Anywhere there’s a group of like-minded people there will be some conformism, but all things considered, this particular group ain’t too bad at all. They rarely behead anyone for deviating from the party line, they’re very polite here.


Belle Waring 06.19.06 at 7:32 am

I’m frankly just excited that someone thinks I am part of some sort of league of super-villians hell-bent on taking over the world, and then taking a chainsaw to all that is good and decent in human life so that it can fit on the procrustean bed of my radical social engineering…in space!!! space, where no one can hear you scream “damn you wonky mildish lefty types interested in the social sciences and literature! from hell’s heart I stab at thee!!” steve is free to complain about my free-associative ways at this point, but I’m going to spoil the joke my explaining that I’m making fun of the blood boiling guy. see how easy that is? I’m setting up a round of interpretive charity for the house. it’s on me.


jonathan weinberg 06.19.06 at 7:42 am

I’m having trouble seeing what’s supposed to be groupthinkily bad about those quotes… do you mean that any & every snarky deployment of the 1st person plural is evidence of groupthink? I’m at a a loss to see how that, by itself, is evidence that anything is going epistemically awry.


Barry 06.19.06 at 7:47 am

Note that tjic has not one, but four snarling ‘anti-idiotarian rottweilers’. Meaning that he’s an idotarian^4.


Oskar Shapley 06.19.06 at 8:33 am

The fight against the Liberal Hitlers of the world will never end…


Anatoly 06.19.06 at 9:57 am

Jonathan, not every snarky 1st person plural is evidence of groupthink, only those coming from a purported member of a group and directed at dismissing the outsider (who’s engaged in arguing with many members of the group) in the name of the group. And even then, it’s not the plurals themselves which are evidence of groupthink but the group’s tacit acceptance of their deployment. That’s my argument, more or less.

I write a blog (in Russian) which frequently sees spirited discussion in comments; on some issues most of my readers and I share roughly the same opinion (though I’m lucky enough that often this is not the case). When someone from the opposite “camp” of whatever issue’s being discussed comes in and argues against the consensus, I never allow myself to mock them with a first person plural, and would censure any of my commenters if they did that.


Jason Kuznicki 06.19.06 at 10:00 am

A commenter at another site recently noticed the marked tendency of the wingnut blogs to display mean-looking dogs as their logo. I note that this site does that fad one (err, four) better, by having the world’s most amateurishly photoshopped four-headed rottweiler as a logo.


LowLife 06.19.06 at 10:30 am

Perhaps you get a better quality of troll in your Russian language site, Anatoly. I would expect most like-minded people to think like-mindedly yet I’ve noticed no short of detail-oriented folks debating details here.


LowLife 06.19.06 at 10:47 am

“the marked tendency of the wingnut blogs to display mean-looking dogs”

Wingnuts are making a lie of the old canard that in the internets no one knows you’re a dog. They put it in their masthead. We shouldn’t disparage their single deference to the truth.

In the spirit of anti-groupthink I dispute Belle, whom I always considered to be part of the League of Extrordinary Babes, for her space quote. Doesn’t it go: “in Myspace, no one can hear you moan”? I may be wrong so apply chainsaw as needed.


jonathan weinberg 06.19.06 at 11:09 am

Anatoly, I think you’re conflating two things here, one of which is basically fine, and the other of which isn’t. That there is a group identity of some sort, which may be expressed & defended in not-infrequently snarky ways, just shows that there is an intellectual community here of a snarky flavor. There’s nothing wrong with that, and likewise there’s nothing particularly wrong with an individual snarkifying in the name of the group when would-be interlocutors are making annoyances of themselves, e.g. by persistent threadjacking. I think there is evidence of this kind of benign (modulo the snarkaliciousness) community behavior here at CT.

But this is not the same as what you describe in the second part of your comment: a party-line that is enforced by refusing, as a group, to consider alternate viewpoints, and to snarkily eject any who would attempt to express such viewpoints. That’s just not generally the case here; or, at least, I have yet to see any evidence that it is so.


brooksfoe 06.19.06 at 11:31 am

Do the people who think CT posters are totalitarians not understand the meaning of the reference “crooked timber”? What more do you have to do to show you’re not a totalitarian than plaster Isaiah Berlin to your forehead?


Walt 06.19.06 at 12:24 pm

Would anyone seriously argue that Steve is anything other than a troll? Raw Data is trolling 80% of the time. Seth isn’t exactly trolling, but it’s clear that he has a enemies list that includes all scientists, all engineers, and all analytic philosophers. If Steve and Raw Data never posted again, no one would miss them. If Seth never posted about how he hates 20% of the human race, no one would miss that either. Shit, if that’s groupthink, then sign me up.


Gary Farber 06.19.06 at 2:33 pm

“And even then, it’s not the plurals themselves which are evidence of groupthink but the group’s tacit acceptance of their deployment.”

The traditional response on Usenet when someone deploys a “we,” when an election hasn’t taken place electing the speaker as group spokesperson, is to ask a variant of “do you have a mouse in your pocket?”


Anatoly 06.19.06 at 4:22 pm

Walt: whether those particulars posters are trolls or not is not the point, but I’m tired of repeating the point so I won’t anymore.

Jonathan: you may be right. I agree with you that CT is nothing like the second option you describe, but I see its comment section atmosphere as worse than the first option you describe.


Walt 06.19.06 at 4:40 pm

But how is that not the point? A troll post is the equivalent of a rock thrown through your front window. I’m sure the first few times it’s a great conversation starter, but after a while all you’re doing is shoveling broken glass. I am a liberal. I know that liberals are supposed to never defend themselves, but if someone attacks liberals in a content-free manner, then I am going to respond in kind. This isn’t groupthink: it’s self-respect.


Scratch 06.19.06 at 5:48 pm

He wants to get that dog seen to.


Anatoly 06.20.06 at 6:29 am

Walt, I think the first two sentences of Henry’s #35 answer your question. I would add to that my own belief that creating a groupthink atmosphere (even if originated as a response to someone you consider an undesirable commenter) both invites stupidity and repels thoughtful dissenters.


Gary Farber 06.20.06 at 10:56 pm

“A troll post is the equivalent of a rock thrown through your front window.”

Nah. A troll post is an attempt to get attention. The entire point is to get enraged responses. The only way to deal with a troll is to deny the troll what the troll wants, and ignore the troll.

This has been the common online wisdom for well over fifteen years now. Don’t feed the troll. (Too bad that blog comment threads don’t allow for killfiles, but one can do it mentally easily enough — so long as people aren’t feeding the troll, in which case the best idea is to quit reading the thread that people have ruined by responding to the troll.)


abb1 06.21.06 at 1:19 am

A troll post is an attempt to get attention.

And a non-troll post?

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