The Sandbox Philosophers
Young children, in the view of scholars like Piaget, do not engage in logical thinking while conducting their sandbox polemics. And young children are also prone to employ crude expletives. As any parent knows, this pre-logical behavior is part of every childhood. But sometimes, alas, we encounter it among adults, at which point it becomes noteworthy.
The prodigiously-financed website Intercept, conducted by Glenn Greenwald but moneyed by the billionaire Pierre Omidyar, has been a frequent topic on this blog and others, for its blatant anti-Americanism, its virulent anti-Semitism, and its multiple violations of journalistic ethics. My purpose today is different: I now wish to point to its astounding mental primitivism, truly rare, I believe, among adults.
In a posting dated June 21, 2014, Greenwald quotes Netanyahu out of context, then quotes Goebbels out of context, and suggests thereby that Israel is akin to Nazism. I have already discussed this posting by Greenwald here. What I have failed to do before, however, is cite Greenwald’s reasoning, if it can be called that, of the logic of making such comparisons:
To compare aspects of A and B is not to posit that A and B are identical (e.g., to observe that Bermuda and Bosnia are both countries beginning with the letter “B” is not to depict them as the same, just as observing that both the U.S. in 2003 and Germany in 1938 launched aggressive wars in direct violation of what were to become the Nuremberg Principles is not to equate the two countries).
Just how smart is that ? The similarity between Bermuda and Bosnia, their common initial letter, is significant ? Of course Goebbels and Greenwald also share a common initial letter … oh never mind.
Sandbox logic is also prominent in a posting of October 22, 2014, again signed by Greenwald, that blames Canadian foreign policy for an Islamist attack in Ottawa last fall. Defending himself against criticism that he justifies terrorism, Greenwald writes:
One more time: the difference between “causation” and “justification” is so obvious that it should require no explanation. If one observes that someone who smokes four packs of cigarettes a day can expect to develop emphysema, that’s an observation about causation, not a celebration of the person’s illness. Only a willful desire to distort, or some deep confusion, can account for a failure to process this most basic point.
But how does one establish causation to begin with ? Greenwald won’t say. The “causation” that he alleges for the Ottawa attacks is established by his simple say-so, together with a sandbox-level (false) analogy.
Here is a very recent sandboxism in the Intercept of June 24, 2015, signed Greenwald and Josh Begley, which maintains that the number of victims of Islamist terror in the US is very low compared to other hazards. The posting has an elaborate graphic which states that, among other things, there were 48 people killed by right-wing extremists in the United States since 9/11, but only 26 people killed by Muslim extremists since 9/11. All that may very well be true, but nowhere on this posting are we told that on 9/11, 2,996 people were killed by Muslim extremists, including 19 perpetrators, right here in the US. Who but a three-year old will be impressed by this sleight of hand ?
Sandboxisms abound in the Orwellian world of Omidyar-Greenwald, and my posting here can make no claim for a complete survey of the site. But one additional topic must be mentioned because it is so common in the O/G publication: name-calling, a form of ad hominem abuse. “Neocon,” which Greenwald uses mainly to describe Jews whom he does not like, occurs frequently as a derogatory epithet. Or, when Greenwald discusses Christian groups favorable to Israel, these groups are described as “religious fanatics.” (For comparison, those interested in the use of name-calling in the actual sandboxes may wish to consult the old article by David J. Winslow, “Children’s Derogatory Epithets,” Journal of American Folklore, vol. 82 (1969), pp. 255-63.)
The Omidyar-Greenwald style of personal vilification closely resembles that of Greenwald’s ally and co-conspirator, Noam Chomsky. Greenwald has falsely claimed that “far from being some sort of brutal, domineering, and angry ‘alpha-male’ savage, Chomsky – no matter your views of him – is one of the most soft-spoken and unfailingly civil and polite political advocates on the planet. ” The fact is that Chomsky’s juvenile name-calling is legendary. Here is his correspondence with me, in which he calls me a “liar,” a “coward,” a “liitle Fascist.” No, not exactly “unfailingly civil and polite.”
One questions remains. Both Omidyar and Greenwald are college educated, and since the kind of logic displayed on Intercept would cause one to flunk out of high school, let alone college, their sandboxism must be a ruse rather than an authentic mental condition. But why the ruse ?
As it happens, even the most primitive agitators of the Nazi era generally had perfectly conventional higher education, but yet, in their public agitational work, they relied on non-logical tropes, epithets, and hate speech. The truth seems to be that the rules of logical thinking, useful for rational discourse, are not very useful in the emotional appeals of hate politics.
Omidyar and Greenwald may not have much influence in mainstream America, but it is obvious — from reading the comments on their site and other indicators — that they have a certain following on the hate-prone fringes of this country. These fringes look for the flames of hate speech rather than the light of rational discussion. I see this style as a mobilizing tool for the haters of this world.
So — do Omidyar and Greenwald know what they are doing with their sand box philosophizing ? I think they do.