I am, on occasion, critical of certain aspects of capitalism. I am, on occasion, accused of being motivated in these criticisms by two defects of character. The first is being envious. The second is being a Marxist. Or if not red, at least pink. And if not pink, at least a fellow traveler. If these were attacks aimed only at me, they would be of little general interest. However, accusing critics of capitalism of being motivated by envy and/or Marxism is a common tactic and hence worthy of assessment. I will begin with the accusation of envy.
One stock attack of those critical of capitalism is to accuse them of being motivated by envy. While this attack is generally not presented as a developed argument, the idea is to refute the criticism by attacking the critic’s motive. That is, their critical claims are false because they are envious of, one assumes, those who are winners under the existing version of capitalism. As should be obvious, this reasoning is fallacious and can be regarded as an ad homimen. I have addressed this fallacy in the past and decided it was worth naming it. I ended up with Accusation of Envy or Refutation by Envy. This fallacious argument has the following form:
Premise 1: Person P makes critical claim C about X.
Premise 2: P is accused of envy (typically relating to X).
Conclusion: Therefore, claim C is false.
This is a fallacy because whether a person is envious or not has no bearing on the truth of the claims they make. Even if a person were entirely motivated by envy, it does not follow that the criticisms they make are thus in error. The following example should nicely illustrate that this “reasoning” is flawed:
Sam: “When tyrants oppress their people and commit genocide, they are acting wrongly.”
Sally: “Why you are just envious of tyrants. So, you are wrong. They are acting justly and morally.”
Another, absurd example, involves math:
Cool Joe: “2+2 = 7.”
Mathematician Mary: “That is wrong; 2+2=4.”
Cool Joe: “You are just envious of my being so cool. And rich. And handsome. So, you are wrong. 2+2 =7.”
Cool Cathy: “Oh, Joe, you are so right, and Mary is so wrong. Work through your envy and maybe you’ll get a man someday. Or whatever you are into.”
Even if Mary seethed with envy towards Joe, it would hardly follow that she is wrong about 2+2 adding up to 4. The example is intended to be absurd, because its absurdity lays bare that this reasoning is fallacious. If this logic was good, it would be easy to “disprove” anything—be it basic truths of math or criticisms of capitalism.
As such, accusing me or anyone of envy does not refute any claims made by the target of the accusation. Since it is a fallacy, it might be wondered why someone would use this tactic.
One possibility is that the fallacy is the best the person has; they have no argument against the claim and are resorting to fallacies because of this. A second possibility is that while fallacies are logically flawed, they can be very powerful persuasive tools. As a practical matter “winning” an argument has nothing to do with truth or the quality of the logic; it is about persuading the target audience that you are right. Whether you are right or not. Ad hominems are very effective psychologically, so this tactic can be a winning one.
It might be wondered whether a person’s envy (or lack of envy) can be relevant. While it is, as shown above, irrelevant to the truth of their claims, it could be a relevant factor is assessing someone’s bias. It must be noted that even if a person is biased, it does not follow that their claim must be false. It is to the matter of envy and credibility that I will turn in the next essay.
You should read this, Mike. And then ask yourself: have I ever actually viewed “the opposition” in an accurate way?
It’s written by a left wing Democrat PHD who has decided to leave the Democrat party.
Studies by Haidt indicate that conservatives judge motivations and likely future behavior of liberals far better than liberals do the same of conservatives. I think you are envious and hateful toward Trump supporters because you think they’re something they are not. Just as the writer of this article did.
I consider myself a classical liberal. As such I very much like most but not all Enlightenmnent ideas. One of those ideas is to never be afraid of truth and also knowing that I do not have a monopoly on truth. Thus avoiding ideaology. On other forums, particularly YouTube comments sections and formerly on Twitter, I’ve had many verbal wars with the alt-right. The left calls me fascist on YouTube, the alt-right calls me a shill for Abraham. This is what attempts at nuanced thinking get you: attacks from all sides. I don’t consider myself a “moderate”. The truth is not always perfectly in the middle of two ideological arguments. If I agree With Charles Murray that human diversity is a real thing, I’m a racist. If I agree that Israel has a right to exist I’m a neocon warmonger under the control of zionists. But then if I admit I believe that left-wing Jews in America have had an extraordinarily destructive role through academia and media of America’s social harmony, I’m an anti-Semite. Then, when I argue to the alt-right that I will always treat individuals as individuals, well it’s back to being a Zionist. If I believe that war can in fact have a positive impact on an individual, just as any very difficult thing, and as the ancient Greeks also believed I’m yet again a fascist.
Point is, where is your nuance? And which side do you fear more, the left or right? I like the fact that I have enemies on both sides but: Which side holds institutional power and is more likely to punish you for Wrong Think? The left has had a monopoly on the institutions of academia and media for all of my life. Through these instruments they also gained power in science and politics. If I say Nazis are a threat, I’m in no real danger of losing anything. If I say that Islamo-fascism is a threat though stealth-jihad, influence Operations and terrorism, I may damage myself. Do you ever get attacked by leftists?
You pick on one side. You pick on the weaker side. You misjudge the character of conservatives and Trump supporters, whom largely see themselves as being overrun by powerful, rich leftists who claim to have some affinity for the middle class and poor. Liberal elites mock white people am deathly Christianity, “bourgeois values” openly and aggressively. There is really no right wing equivalent to balance what the left has done and is doing over the last 50 years in America.
You’re envious of a fiction.
Exactly what I’ve seen as well. Once in college in a morning discussion about the invasion of Grenada I said something prompted someone to call me a fascist. In the afternoon, discussing the situation from a different angle, I was a communist…or more accurately, a communist sympathizer. But such is the academic world. They don’t have to deal with the real world situations, the objective realities that smack you in the face when your ideals are instantiated in a more static environment. Which is why I’m constantly beating the drum for less academic indoctrination and more real-world experience. Yes, experience informed by education, but young people need more hands-on. But similar to what you say here, the mere suggestion that the academic world needs some push back and you’re figuratively thrown into the pit with the Luddites and philistines. Never minding that many, many academics, especially in economics, are some form of Luddite.
As to (Mike,) Do you ever get attacked by leftists? In the woker than the last wokest woker that runs thick in academia, I’m sure he does. For him it’s a feature though. Gives him the false satisfaction that he’s actually quite moderate. There are many Overton windows.
Michael LaBossiere says
Wait, are you claiming that rich, white conservative Christians are powerless victims of the cruel left in the United States?
Well this guy was.
Keep fighting for justice, Mike. Just keep fighting.
It’s not possible to have a good-faith discussion with you on these things. Your party is going to get punched in the face again in 2020, and you and others will blame it on the rise of Nazism and white supremacy all the while ignoring the fact that white supremacists and Nazis are very disappointed with Trump because they never got the death camps the Left promised them Trump would bring to fruition. Cognitive dissonance must be assuaged at all costs.
Winston, 1984: “Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4.”
As a professor, I’d think you’d side with those whom support true freedom of expression and thought. When leftist professors become victims of the system they make, then they leave the tribe. As the Russians say: “When it happens to you, then you will know.”
This is the primary driver for Trump’s legitimacy: being unable to say 2+2=4, as Professor Weinstein and Peterson have discovered. instead, the tyranny of the Woke trope rules and many in academia and the media are its commissars.
The rallying cry of the Left is “Bake the cake. Bake it now.”
Winston, 1984: “Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4.”
I’d take that further. Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=5. Tyranny is regulation demanding that you accept whatever your “betters” tell you what 2+2=.
Say it with me:
African Americans are not oppressed in the US.
Women are not oppressed in the US.
Muslims are not oppressed in the US.
Feel a bit uneasy writing those things?
There is hardly a “white oppression” industry in the US. Can you say the same for the above groups? But there are huge double-standards and they don’t favor whites. Find an equivalent expression against nonwhites from a journalist working at a major news outlet:
Tell me about how racist America is, how bad it is, how oppressive capitalism is, how terrible white people are and I’ll ask: Comrade to what? Whom? Where?
Still not voting for the party of race baiting neurotics. They should get some sunlight and exercise and stop making activism their job.