Thursday, January 16, 2014

How To Destroy An Argument in One Move

The debate about the wars of the past decade are heating up.  In the US, there has been much heat between Marcus Luttrell (the Lone Survivor) and Jake Tapper about whether the SEALs and others died in vain [see this very direct piece on this question].  In Canada, Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail and Terry Glavin have been going at it over a piece written by Sean Maloney.  And to prove the stereotype that not all Canadians are not polite, Glavin needlessly cites Maloney as referring to "fop intellectuals."  This one move makes the entire piece seem even more strident, more pedantic and less credible that it already was.

I don't really know which "fop intellectuals" that Glavin/Maloney are referring to.  The key issues are that both "fop" and "intellectuals" are being used here as slurs.  The funny thing is that fop seems to be about clothing and not being effeminate (according to the online dictionaries), and that fops are " incapable of engaging in intellectual conversations, activities or thoughts (Wikipedia)."  Which makes the joint term an oxymoron.

So, I am confused about fop.  I am not so confused about intellectual.  Ah, yes, those folks who argue and think and research but do not "do".  When it is used as a slur, as it clearly is here, it attempts undermine those who engage in critical thinking.  Glavin is upset that people are asking the serious question (more than a meme): was it worth it?  It meaning Afghanistan.  A serious question that I am currently addressing in the final chapter of my next book (which I would be writing if I was not writing this).  It is more than a meme--such as an angry cat.  I actually think "it" was "worth" "it" after carefully considering how that question is constructed, so you would think that I would be on the same page as Glavin.  But no, I am not.

Any credibility he had popped as soon as he invoked fop and intellectual as slurs.  He may think this is less important than the rest of his argument, but whatever importance his argument might have had is covered by a particularly bitter distraction sauce--gamey squirrel?  I am not sure.  All I do know is that if you want to make a good argument, either come up with better ad hominen attacks or leave them out entirely.


Terry Glavin said...

Steve: Please do me the favour of not instructing me or anyone else in what it is I actually think. I am not "upset" at anyone asking any question, although I am bored to tears with the "Was it Worth it?" question, I admit - only because anyone with a lick of sense knows it's a) too early to say and/or b) too late to answer except but infinite variations of "it depends." So sue me. If I am "upset" it's when reputable newspapers publish outright falsehoods, and falsehoods of the most toxic variety, in such a way as to enfeeble and infantilize the debates and manipulate public opinion in the most irresponsible sorts of ways. The author of the AJPSR study told me (and told Saunders, separately) that the his study found nothingof the kind that Sunday's Globe claimed. And that is just one instance of what I will call "bullshit" in the Globe article. I set out in this vocation as a reporter more than 30 years ago, and I admit I'm old fashioned. When I see bullshit, I call bullshit. So sue me.

kellie said...

I was unsure what to make of the term ‘fop intellectual’ but found your exploration helpful. The definitions you give of fop actually result in quite a clear meaning for the term.

If a fop is incapable, according to the definition you quote, of engaging in intellectual conversations, then a fop intellectual must be a category of intellectual, specifically a faux intellectual. Not only that, but fop gives additional detail beyond faux as it invokes fashion, therefore a fop intellectual is a faux intellectual for whom their intellectualism is an assumed fashion, an affectation, a costumed imitation of the real thing.

Steve Saideman said...

Kellie, I think you are giving this too much credit. I can see that interpretation, but I tended to see the accusation as: x is both a fop and an intellectual. Intellectual is often used as a slur. Was the speaker really thinking about faux intellectual when thinking of fop? I have no idea, but I lept to the same interpretation as Doug: fop -> dandy -> metrosexual -> effeminate and all that. Anyhow, the key is this: throwing this stuff into a column shifts the focus. A bad move.

kellie said...

Intellectual may often be used as a slur, but not that frequently by history professors with PhDs I’d have thought. The fellow behind the comment seems to have displayed a high degree of commitment to the academic life, so it seems reasonable to expect that his target is not all intellectuals, and that therefore ‘fop’ is a modifier indicating a subset of those identified as intellectuals. The question then must be what kind of an intellectual is a fop intellectual?

Your own research points away from Doug’s claim of homophobia, towards an indication of fashionability and lack of intellectual rigour. The picture painted by the Professor’s succinct term then is quite clear: a poser whose beliefs follow fashion rather than being arrived at via tested argument.

Blair said...


I think a bit more reading into literature would aid in this discussion and much less dependence on tools like "Wikipedia". Fops in literature were recognized for being superficial, caring more about appearance (in costume and behaviours) than content. Fops in literature were not homosexuals, rather they typically were represented as predatory males and the nearest comparison to modern literature would be Metrosexuals.

As such using the term “fop intellectual” does an excellent job of describing the characters being discussed. A fop intellectual would have the intellectual horsepower to actually come up with a reasonable argument but would lack the desire to waste time actually informing themselves of the arguments depending on superficial presentation.