Seeking for Righteousness

The Personal Blog of Kaimi Wenger

A new low at Volokh.com

Alas, Dan Drezner, one of the guest conspirators at Volokh, has used the term “idiotarian” in a post. I’ve never understood the glee that some bloggers find in throwing around terms like “idiotarian.” (This is, as far as I can tell, the first time Volokh.com has stooped to that level, though the term does also appear in one direct quote from Reynolds).

Why don’t I like “idiotarian”? The word (if it can be so considered) is either incapable of definition, or so loosely defined as to be nearly useless. I believe the accepted working definition, such as it is, is a “top 10 list” style post on LGF. But that list, with its lengthy recitation of cliches and bumper-sticker slogans, is not really a helpful definition. In fact, I would argue that the only possible definition of “idiotarian” — based on my reading of a large number of blog posts using the term — is “someone who disagrees with the speaker.” In addition, the term (1) appears to be used exclusively by right-of-center bloggers, and (2) is clearly derogatory. When these factors are combined, the term “idiotarian” expresses the sentiment “this is someone who disagrees with me [generally in a right / left political setting] and who I therefore equate with an idiot.”

Do I really need to explain how poor a form of argument that is?

In case the problems are not self-evident to some readers, here are some reasons this is a problem. Invoking this term is a rhetorical shortcut which immediately labels the subject’s arguments as unworthy of addressing. This is known as “name-calling” (conclusory labeling of one’s opponent as something the reader finds undesirable) and is generally not considered a proper type of argument for adults. This does nothing to address the other person’s points, and indeed tries to draw attention away from those points. In place of nuance, this technique can serve to cluster all of the speaker’s opponents into the same camp (“idiots” or “idiotarians”) which then obscures any attempt to actually weigh the merits of their arguments.

I realize that it is usually harder to carefully address another’s argument than it is to simply call him an idiot. There are a limited number of weblogs who have been able to do so. They include real gems like Volokh, Crooked Timber, and Discriminations. I greatly enjoy reading intelligent discussion of interesting topics without the mudslinging that too often accompanies such discussion. That is why I sincerely hope that the appearance of “idiotarian” on Volokh is only a momentary aberration.

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July 31, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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