And now, the first in a new series that will last as long as I feel like it -- the inaugural "Dumbass of the [insert arbitrary time period here]." And our very first recipient is "Proud Canadian" Rebecca Hagelin, for this mind-boggling contribution to intellectual discourse:
The right way to write about right
“Of course I dislike the Nazis. But who is to say they’re morally wrong?”
Whoa. If that statement floors you as much as it does me, then you probably can understand the need for “Christian Ethics in Plain Language,” an eye-opening book by Kerby Anderson that brings a biblical perspective to a variety of ethical issues, from abortion and euthanasia to drugs and gambling.
The statement above was spoken by a student at Hamilton College in New York. “Professor Roger Simon … said that he has never met a student who denied the Holocaust happened,” Anderson writes. “But he also reported that 10 to 20 percent of his students cannot bring themselves to say that killing millions of people is wrong.”
If this isn’t an indictment of how modern society has deified “tolerance,” nothing is. What could illustrate the dangerous folly of moral relativism more perfectly than a student who can’t admit that mass murder is wrong—not because of his feelings but because it’s a fact? A society of people who cannot condemn the Nazis is a society courting moral anarchy.
Holy shit! A disturbing number of students who can't even take the position that genocide on the massive scale of the Holocaust is even morally wrong? How frightening! How horrifying! How ... just plain weird, actually. I mean, does that claim even make any sense when you look at it closely?
Let's first consider this claim at nothing more than face value, shall we? Is it really believable that up to one person in five doesn't see anything morally wrong with the Holocaust? Is that even remotely plausible? After all, when it comes to the relative comparisons of evil, the Holocaust is typically the defining standard, isn't it? When it comes to discourse, it's universally accepted that the most extreme thing you can do is to compare your opponent to Hitler, so how does it make any sense whatsoever to think that up to 20 per cent of the population doesn't even think the Holocaust was wrong? But the weirdness doesn't stop there.
Remember, this isn't just up to 1/5 of the general population. This is allegedly up to 1/5 of a population of college students of one Professor Roger Simon of Hamilton College in New York, which makes the claim even less plausible. If you were less than charitable, you might grant that the average person could be a raving, anti-Semitic dingbat, but it's a bit harder to hold that thought when you're talking about college students, who you would expect should know better and have a more fully-developed sense of right and wrong -- at least to the extent of thinking that slaughtering millions of Jews is, in some ways, a bit uncool. So Hagelin's position is becoming more untenable by the minute, but it's here where the real weirdness begins.
Notice author Kerby Anderson's claim as reproduced by the irredeemably-gullible Hagelin: "But [Simon] also reported that 10 to 20 percent of his students cannot bring themselves to say that killing millions of people is wrong." Don't you notice something just a wee bit suspicious about that claim? Why, yes -- yes, you do.
"10 to 20 percent?" That's quite a large window, isn't it? Why wasn't Professor Simon more precise than that? One would think that, if you're making a claim as surprising as the one made by Simon, you'd be very careful to do precise polling, have a valid methodology and post your results with an exact figure, plus or minus whatever. So what was the actual percentage based on Simon's survey? Was it 10 per cent? Was it 20 per cent? Was it somewhere in between? And why was that value so maddeningly vague, anyway? However, the serious strangeness is only starting. It's only when you try to track down the original source of this claim that Hagelin's dumbass wankery becomes painfully obvious.
As a start, let's Google on that opening phrase, "Of course I dislike the Nazis," where we find (at least at the moment)
92 hits, all of which, of course, seem to be conveniently similar. Let's look at this one, by right-wing wank Jeff Jacoby, where we read:
In The Chronicle of Higher Education a few years back, Hamilton College philosopher Robert Simon described the inability of his students to condemn great evils. "Of course I dislike the Nazis," one pupil told him, "but who is to say they are morally wrong?"
Hello, what's this? It's not "Roger" Simon of Hamilton College, it's "Robert" Simon, which means that dumbass Rebecca Hagelin is obviously quoting a sensational claim from a book she's read without even going back to check the original source. In short, Hagelin is being nothing but a stenographer, dutifully repeating this delightful right-wing talking point while making no effort to check it out herself. That's generally considered a fairly tacky thing to do, but here's the best part.
One would think that, the way Hagelin writes about this alleged incident, it's a fairly recent thing -- a symptom of our declining moral standards or something. But when did this actually happen? The original article is from the Chronicle of Higher Education which requires a subscription to view the archives, but it's simple enough to get an approximate date by looking at some other article that covered it. Say, this one, dated September of 1997. Not exactly current events, if you see what I mean.
(By the way, make sure you appreciate the inherent dishonesty of that last link, which reads in part:
According to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, between 10 percent and 20% of college students cannot even bring themselves to condemn the Nazis as morally wrong, as opposed to aesthetically distasteful. 'Of course I dislike the Nazis,' began a typical student response, 'but who is to say they are morally wrong."
But the original article never made any claim about college students in general, it referred exclusively to the students of one Professor Robert Simon of Hamilton College. Naughty, naughty -- generalizing like that.)
In short, Hagelin's basis for her emotionally-charged column is a claim, containing fuzzy and implausible numbers, from a single professor whose name she couldn't even get right, that allegedly happened almost a decade ago. None of which, naturally, stops her from breathlessly postulating that "A society of people who cannot condemn the Nazis is a society courting moral anarchy."
Rebecca Hagelin: Your "dumbass of the week."
INTERESTINGER AND INTERESTINGER: Apparently, there's even more to this story. Also from 1997, we have right-wing dumbass John Leo, opening with:
In 20 years of college teaching, professor Robert [At least he got the name right. -- CC] Simon has never met a student who denied that the Holocaust happened. What he sees quite often, though, is worse; students who acknowledge the fact of the Holocaust but can't bring themselves to say that killing millions of people is wrong. Mr. Simon says that 10-20% of his students feel this way. Usually they deplore what the Nazis did, but their disapproval is expressed as a matter of taste or personal preference, not moral judgment. "Of course I dislike Nazis," one student told him, "but who is to say they are morally wrong?"
(As an aside, it's curious how, given that an alleged 10-20% of Simon's students don't see anything "wrong" with the Holocaust, it's that same student who keeps coming up again and again. One might, if one were skeptical, begin to suspect that what we're dealing with here is a sample size of exactly one. But that would be just cynical, wouldn't it? Onward.)
But what does the above in Leo's article even mean? How exactly does one "usually deplore" something while simultaneously not finding anything "morally wrong" with it? How does that make any sense at all? And, at this point, do I really care enough about it to spend any more time on this idiocy?
FLOGGING IT TO DEATH: It's amusing to see how a Wankerville "journalist" will find a meme and just plain ride that baby into the ground. Take, for example, hack and Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, a reliable right-wing stenographer of the first order.
Once Jacoby latched onto the Robert Simon myth like a rabid wolverine, well, the sky was the limit as we can read here, here, here, here and here, among others. Jacoby can't even write a fucking book review without dragging this thing out and parading it around. And like good little intern stenographers, the minor players in Wankerville just slurp this stuff right up.
Mark Twain once wrote:
There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
Twain had no idea just how much conjecture one could get out of so little fact. Twain never met Jeff Jacoby.