Pavlos (pavlos) wrote,

  • Mood:

More adventures in New England

So, today I did manage to get the commuter train (a lumbering beast able to carry 50 times more people than its actual passengers) and go to Boston. It was another pleasant day, that is until the evening.

Hancock tower by I M PeiThe train let me off at Back Bay, so I walked around the southern, very quaint and relaxed districts of the city. The area soon became full of healthy eating places and flags that (I surmise) are still gay-friendly flags and not peace flags as they are in Italy. Who would display a peace flag in America nowadays?

Wanting to get back to the centre of town, I passed this brilliant piece of modernist architeture by I M Pei. The building is actually slanted (its plan view is a parallelogram with two notches cut off) and so, from wherever you look at it, it looks much more slender and light than it actually is. Your eye interprets the shape as false perspective, so the building appears to be rooted in a different place than it is too.

After a brief stop at oh-so-subversive Newbury Comics buying historical rock/alternative CDs (American stores actually keep things that are more than 3 years old) I crossed the river to get to MIT, and try to find the MIT press bookshop. Wandering around the campus, past what is possibly the world's neatest power station (yes, they seem to have a research power plant on campus), I stumbled across this brilliant piece of Frank Gehry architecture, unfortunately sponsored and thus recorded in history under the name of Bill Gates...

Stata centre

I finally found the bookshop and spent about 3 hours in it total, until closing time. I was delighted with the high quality of the scholarly books, which for the most part contained too many Sigma symbols and data plots, and also with the low quality of the non-scholarly ones. To put it another way, if the non-rigorous books from MIT press are not a great deal more informative, concise, or persuasive than a good rant, then we should produce more rants, and also I don't have to carry so many books. I ended up with the obligatory two Chomskys and a book on information design.

But how did the day go bad then? I was walking around the campus once more to get back to Massachusetts avenue, and I got sort of trapped into a big [-shaped building with no easy way to cross other than through it. MIT buildings have signs at every door saying "MIT private property - do not trespass", or something to that effect, but I figured they probably haven't installed badge-access, metal-detector at every door paranoia, and I look vaguely academic, carrying a bag full of MIT Press books, so I'll have a wander through.

As I was walking through the main corridor, I noticed a sign advertising a talk by Orson Scott Card, on something to do with Palestine, starting in 15 minutes. At that point I did not remember exactly who OSC was, other than he was some famous author and I'd heard mention of his views on something or other before. Only after I sat in the lecture theatre did I recall that it was a rabid conservative who was pissing off yonmei with his views on same-sex marriage. But I thought OK, I'll hear a right-wing debate, but let's stay and see how the MIT audience reacts.

I must confess that I was... shaken by his debating skill. OSC put forward an extremely reactionary, scaremongering view, but he did so with remarkable skill at manipulating an audience. Briefly, his point was that Arabs want to kill the Jews and to prevent this Israel and America must use constant force. To support this otherwise unconvincing view he used the following emotional tricks:

  • Starting by placing Israel as the central concern
  • Also at the outset making accusations of left-wing bias
  • Making vague introcutory comments about something terrible that might happen and "it would be our measure" to prevent
  • Going on to explain that Israel would be destroyed and the Jews (everywhere?) exterminated if it weren't for the status quo
  • Pausing to let emotionally charged words affect the audience
  • Claiming that he has facts to support his case, while the other side is fantasy or lies (but not supporting either claim)
  • Describing one side's violence as a necessary business, and the other with emotiive words
  • Describing one side as inherently good, and the other as deranged and fanatical, without actually stating those terms.
  • Making the "they said it, so they will do it" assumption of guilt only on one side
  • Arguing that the distinction Jews/Israel is a pretence to hide anti-semitism
  • Claiming the Western press is either corrupted by liberal journalists or strictly controlled by corporate editors, as it fit the argument
  • Arguing that at some point Arabs hit Israel so Israel must "defend" without limit and perpetually.
  • Justifying conquest as the result of overly effective defense.
  • Evoking Hitler and other cases where appeasement proved disastorus.
And other such transparent tricks. However, he used one more trick, really masterfully. He appeared to start with a liberal and tolerant position that the listener would intuitively agree with, and then, mid argument, he would deliver his viral payload of bigotry attached to the end of the syllogism. He used the following at least partially true and agreeable statements as vectors:
  • That Capitalism ought to be fettered, otherwise it creates huge injustices
  • That we should conserve oil as a material and switch to other forms of energy
  • That the other Arab states used the Palestnians from the outset to stir hatred of Israel for internal political reasons.
  • That the other Arab states acted in ways that amplified the problem
  • That Palestine was a mess before Israel and the Jews in many ways improved it for everyone (in the early days)
  • That Jews may once have been willing to live alongside the Palestinians in a two-nation state, but were forced to defend.
  • That Israel ought to not build the fence where it does, and that it ought to give back the settlement territories

The last one actually threw me to such a degree that I'm, not sure if he's really consciously evil or just deeply misguided. Obviously if that happened most of the problem would go away. OSC's use of demagoguery is very lucid, but you can never tell with fanaticism. I conclude that he's evil because he used the argument that he voted Bush even though he was a Democrat and hated Bush's economic plan, because "the war must go on", when in fact the war is the pretext for the propertification plan. I think he fancies himself as some kind of Anti-Chomsky of the establishment.

In any event, he was effective. The very first questioner pointed out his unsound techniques, as best she could, but he expertly handled the question. When he could not deflect it factually he adopted the view of "the other side uses propaganda and so do I". In the end, I think he may have sounded quite convincing to a lot of the US audience.



  • On Myth

    Hey! I'm mostly living in my shell these days, but here's a long-overdue essay from my other blog. Paul and Alison in particular have been formative…

  • Chomsky on Gaza 2009

    Everyone should read Chomsky's excellent article on Gaza 2009. Usually, Chomsky on the…

  • New blog

    Hi! This is just to let you know that I exist, although I don't really feel that blogging about my life is very interesting any more. I still live…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.