A Directory of Answers For the “Instalanche” on “Funny! But Wrong: The “Harry Reid Is A Pederast” Rumor”

Ethics Alarms just isn’t constructed for large waves of angry commenters, as are occasionally generated when I touch on some interest group third rail. I try to respond to as many coherent comments as possible, but when too many of them arrive on the same topic, my “civilized colloquy on ethics” model breaks down, and I find myself spending too much time writing dangerously hasty responses to trolls, fanatics, web terrorists and others who have as much interest in ethics as I have in stamp collecting. I also have to individually green light every new commenter, and this alone takes up time that could be better spent researching and writing new posts.

Legendary conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds generously linked to my recent post on the “Harry Reid is a pederast” campaign online, and that’s generally a good thing, one that most bloggers would give their right arm for,since his blog Instapundit is one of the most popular (and professional) on the web. This, in turn, triggered the so-called “Instalanche” at Ethics Alarms, which has resulted in this blog getting the equivalent of two weeks of typical traffic in 24 hours. Sadly, the vast majority of the comments following the Instalanche are examples of the kind of thinking this blog was established to combat, and as a whole, the group is a graphic example of why political discourse, and indeed the political system itself is so toxic and dysfunctional. This is no knock on Prof. Reynolds, whose blog I read most days, and who is almost always rational and fair. It is a knock on the majority of his readers (not all) who chose to leave comments here.

The comments were, in addition to being non-ethical in nature, brain-meltingly repetitious in their fallacies and themes. It’s bad enough having more comments than I can keep up with; having to read nearly identical sentiments over and over again is more than I can stand. And since it is clear that most of the commenters aren’t  bothering to read the thread, never mind the links in the posts they are railing about or the rest of the blog, this is not going to cease anytime soon. Yes, I know that most of this breed of commenter doesn’t want a response, because their comments are seldom thought through or carefully crafted, and they are shocked to have their sloppy reasoning called so. (Then they accuse me of ad hominem attacks.) Too bad. This isn’t a bulletin board or a graffiti wall.

So I’m no longer going to answer individually the vast majority of the comments on the post in question, “Funny! But Wrong: The “Harry Reid Is A Pederast” Rumor,” just as most of you will not have the time, stomach or stamina to wade through all the comments to it. What I offer for the convenience of everyone concerned, but mostly me, is this, a directory of the most common comments from the current Instalanche, and my answers to them. I will direct all future commenters on the original post here, and the odds are that they will find their reply waiting for them.

Comment I: “All is fair in love and war.”

First of all, that has never been true. Second, American politics is not a war. Those who degrade it treat it is as one, but until politics stops being a treated as a war, and the objective continues being to crush the opposition rather than doing what is best for America, the nation will continue on its downward spiral. No doubt about it, the purveyors of the “Harry Reid is a pedophile” attack, as well as Reid himself, have jettisoned ethics and are waging war. But that is an indictment, not a justification.

Comment II: “Liberals always fight dirty and conservatives are expected to take the high road. It hasn’t worked.”

Of course, liberals say the exact same thing, reversed, and in both cases it’s self-validating fantasy. What really hasn’t worked is the increasingly dishonest, uncivil, mean-spirited vilification of both sides that has characterized national politics since Clinton took office. The result: a total breakdown in trust and respect for government institutions—in my view, a greater threat to America’s vitality than the debt or the economy. And the defenders of Reid-libel think the solution is more of the same. Madness.

Comment III: “Tit-for-Tat is a proven effective tactic for discouraging cheaters and malfeasors”

Yes, and so is shooting them. This is merely “The ends justify the means” in sheep’s clothing.

Comment IV: “You have a double standard, and only condemn this tactic when practiced by the Right.”

Discovered!!! Yes, it’s true, I’m really a left-wing, Obama-worshiping, MSNBC-cheering, conservative-bashing partisan! Right, loyal readers? Here we have the peril of rationalizing all criticism as biased. Come on Barry, blameblakeart, tgt, Ethics Bob, and my other readers with solid liberal leanings…tell these perceptive folks how I’m in the tank for your favored positions, policies and politicians.

Comment V: “Oh, NOW you’re against what the Left did to Rick Santorum! Where were you before?”

I was writing about how the denigration of Rick Santorum was wrong, that’s where I was, and I was there over a year ago. But by all means, don’t let reality get in the way of a cheap hypocrisy accusation.

Comment VI: “What’s good for the goose…”

The classic unethical fallacy. This allows the most unethical party in any relationship to set the standards of conduct, guaranteeing a race to the gutter.

Comment: VII: “You are claiming a false equivalency between the slander of private bloggers and elected officials.”

No, I’m not. I wrote that what Reid said was despicable and wrong, and I wrote that the pederasty meme was wrong. They are both wrong. I didn’t say that one was more wrong than the other, but obviously the standards are far higher for a man in Reid’s position than a random blogger or private citizen. So what? So what you are advocating is less wrong than what Reid did—that doesn’t make it right.

Comment VIII: “Reid has an obligation to the nation to prove he’s not a pedophile.”

Uh-huh. Suuuuure he does. It’s impossible to tell if the people writing this and similar comments are just carrying through on the charade or genuinely practicing the Big Lie. And at a certain point, the distinction vanishes.

Comment IX: “What gives a self-appointed ethicist the authority to say this is wrong?”

Everybody has an obligation and the authority to call wrongful conduct wrongful. It happens that I do it for a living; I practice it and work at it; and I’m pretty good at it, but that doesn’t mean I have a monopoly. I do know that anyone who can’t see that it is unethical to spread lies about a public figure as revenge for a scurrilous charge is unqualified to discuss ethics with anyone, not just a professional ethicist.

This is the ultimate non-argument always leveled at me by those who have no genuine arguments to make; it’s the equivalent of “Oh, yeah???” I’m pretty sick of it, to be honest. In this thread, the short-hand approach was to mock me as “Mr. Ethics.” I suppose this is clever to someone who thinks “Harry Reid is a pedophile” is the height of wit, which brings me to…

Comment X:  “It’s a joke! You have no sense of humor, and don’t appreciate satire!”

Yes, “Harry Reid is a pedophile” is a real gut-buster; people just roll in the aisles when they hear that funny, funny sentence. The wit! The originality! The cleverness!

It’s not a joke, obviously. It’s not a joke to call anyone a child molester, especially these days, in the wake of Penn State. Bill Maher claims it was a joke when he called Michel Bachmann a slut, too—after all, nobody really believes she, of all people, really is a slut. Why weren’t all the red state types LOLing at that witticism? Or when MSNBC boor Ed Schultz called straight-arrow Laura Ingraham a slut? Hilarious, right?

“Harry Reid is a pedophile” is funny to people who hate Harry Reid. It’s playground, name-calling, bullying humor, which is to say it’s not truly humor at all. Kids used to think it was funny calling some skinny kid with glasses and a lisp a “homo”—in the 6th grade. That wasn’t a joke…that was someone with malicious intent laughing at hateful conduct toward a victim, and so is this. It isn’t satire. Name-calling isn’t satire. One commenter compared the smear to Jonathan Swift. Wow.

That’s it. If someone has something new and different to add, I’ll probably respond, but mostly this has just been a depressing demonstration how partisan fervor extinguishes ethical judgment, and how rationalizations rather than ethical analysis rule the conduct of a large and vocal segment of society.


Graphic: John Lund

34 thoughts on “A Directory of Answers For the “Instalanche” on “Funny! But Wrong: The “Harry Reid Is A Pederast” Rumor”

  1. Well I am liberal Canadian which, for many, is probably worse than liberal American. I have been reading awhile here now and can honestly say that you are usually so far away from me on the left/right curve that I would need binoculars to even see your Greek part from here.

  2. Jack, I nearly choked, laughing so hard at the thought of you as a lefty liberal. It has to be the funniest thing I have read in your blog. This entire episode, though, has reminded me of the time you renewed your driver’s license back in the 80s, wearing a shabby baseball jacket, with an unshaven face and dark circles under your eyes…

  3. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to get into the fray on the other thread…but probably for the best anyway. I read a few of the comments, and the idiocy was off the charts…but not on your part. This follow-up post did a good job of highlighting the common stuff and giving it appropriate replies. Good job!

    • Thanks, Tim. I found the overwhelming self-righteous nastiness of the responses profoundly depressing. Special thanks are due to Barry Deutsch and Julian Hung, who brought some much-needed sanity to the thread in the midst of the deluge. Could it really be that this is typical of Instapundit’s readership?

      • Thanks, mate. I sometimes wonder if I should just stop commentating, but it’s nice to see that I occasionally say something useful.

  4. In regards to those who say “It’s war”:

    Okay, let’s stipulate that it IS “war”.

    Is that what you want?
    Is that what’s best?
    Do you actually benefit from it being “war”? How?
    Who DOES benefit from it being “war”?
    Do you want those people to be benefiting?

    Even if it is war, I know I don’t want it to be, and so it is irresponsible of me to take actions that will have the effect of keeping it that way. If that makes me a liberal, then today I’m a liberal.


  5. “Liberals always fight dirty and conservatives are expected to take the high road. It hasn’t worked.”

    Of course, liberals say the exact same thing, reversed, and in both cases it’s self-validating fantasy.

    The big question is- what price do we, the public, demand for “fighting dirty”?

    If we fail to demand a high-enough price for fighting dirty, the fighting will only get dirtier and dirtier. I believe I had mentioned this before.

      • I should also add that the high price for fighting dirty should be imposed consistently if it is to have any deterrent effect.

        • Going on a tangent off of that thought; whenever a politician has proven themselves to be incorrigibly unethical, we need some system to help highlight challengers who share similar political positions, but not the dirt. Hey, I can dream a bit, can’t I?

      • What is the high price? It sounds like a good idea. But just what is this mythical penalty you all are going to impose?

        Perhaps (and probably) it is wrong to call Reid a pedophile. But at least he actually paid a price.

        I saw the Washington Post gave Harry Reid 4 Pinocchio s. I bet he is quaking in his boots and terrified to slander anybody again.(lol) Oh yeah …. and you scolded him severely. Did you write him an angry letter and tell him you were willly willly angry with him and that if he did it again you would write him another angry letter telling him you were willy willy angry with him. (credit to Hans Blix in Team America).

        • So you think lying about him is more effective? Really? It makes him look better, because his adversaries are proving they are no better than he is, which also means he’s no worse than they are. The truth took down Joe McCarthy—someone with good timing essentially said he was an asshole on TV, and everyone said, “Hmmm..you know, he’s right!” That will happen to Harry, just like it happened to Newt, to Bachmann, to Grayson.

          • He’s only been acting like an asshole while he made himself rich with political self-dealing for about the last 30 years. When is this punishment going to happen?

            • He would have lost in 2010 if the GOP hadn’t run a fool against him. Conservatives have only themselves to blame for Harry at this point. Nevada is dying to dump him, but they have to have an option.

  6. The ones that don’t even read a thread, but come over (to any blog) and just start dumping nasty comments because someone told them to drive me the craziest. How smart is that, really? I’m sorry to hear that you had to wade through a ton of insane comments, you don’t deserve it!

      • That I can do. I’m actually glad I wasn’t around to comment on the previous thread. My brain went into “Destroy horrible arguments mode”, and then I realized there were probably more than 100 horrible arguments, and I forced myself to run away.

  7. Jack,
    I have been trying to say the same thing to people on other issues. I just heard about this one, which is what led me to your blog. It is truly disheartening to see that so many people want to continue on a dichotomous, adversarial path. You have gained another reader. I hope I can take some ideas from you to help bring those in my community back to more civil discourse rather than a constant “us vs. them” battle.

    Regarding whether or not this is typical of the Instapundit readership, I think it is typical of many large readerships today. I know you realize that IP has a large readership and that in any large group, there will be a measurable percentage of people who do not demonstrate any adherence to acceptable behavior (catholic priests, football coaches, politicians, teachers, military members). I also know it doesn’t make it feel any better when the trolls come out from beneath their bridges. But keep doing what your doing. Spread the word on behalf of civility and eventually folks will come around.

    From what I’ve briefly read, I look forward to hanging out around here.

  8. Mr. Marshall,

    I appreciate your responses to these points of argument, but I think your reply to Comment III on tit-for-tat is a bit of a strawman. As a strategy it is supposed to be proportional (shooting them is far out of bounds unless they’re shooting you), and it requires forgiveness when the other party responds properly.

    Now, I may concede in a narrow sense the Reid thing satisfies some definition of being unethical, but there is the question of what is optimal or practical in the real world. If everyone were considerate of ethics like you, such a strategy would not be necessary — reasoned argument would work fine. But how does society handle bad actors, especially when they wield power?

    If a strategy can create, in the real, imperfect world that contains people who only respond to painful stimuli, a stable social equilibrium, and produce in the end some optimally-achievable level of ethical behavior, would it not in the long run be more useful than a more purely theoretical ethical approach that failed to reign in unethical behavior from some subset of the population?

    The issue may be a distinction between theoretical ethics and practical ethics, as measured by the net real-world change in ethical behavior in the aggregate.

    Finally, I think you said this strategy violates reciprocity. Does it? Wouldn’t I want to be proportionally (i.e. fairly) punished if I broke the rules, to help me stay in line, and forgiven when I went back to following them? Especially if I observed that this creates a society where most people don’t break the rules to harm me because they would suffer that same fate? Wouldn’t this clearly be for my own good?

    PS as a fellow blogger I can relate to the exhaustion and frustration of standing against a tide of disagreeing commenters — hang in there (even if I’m not yet convinced this was the wrong thing to do!)

    • 1. Please call me Jack. You make me feel old. I AM old, but I don’t generally FEEL old.
      2.I wasn’t arguing that shooting someone was “tit-for-tat,’ but rather that the “it works” argument has nothing to do with whether conduct is ethical or not. Islamic justice “works.”
      3. Tit for tat is inherently contradictory: it posits that behavior is wrong, then uses the wrongful behavior in response. All this does is validate the wrongful behavior.
      4. Threatening tit-for-tat can work, fear of tit-for-tat can work…and that’s because on some level the “tit’-monger recognized that a line has been crossed. If not, then tit-for-tat just leads to gradual escalation of wrongful conduct. It doesn’t work.
      5. It’s also absurd to argue this particular example meets any threshold of value to justify it. It’s defenders argue that it’s a joke (meaning that it shouldn’t cause any real harm) and in the alternative, that it’s deserved punishment, in which case it clearly isn’t a joke. The reality is that the ethical violations of honesty and civility afar outweigh any imagined benefit. It fails any ethical test I’ve ever seen.
      6. Ethics that aren’t pragmatic are useless. I’m no theoretician–theory is swell only to the extent that it has real world applications. Meanness for the sake of meanness is just emotional gratification. What it accomplishes is to make the culture less conducive to accord and compromise, and uglier to boot.
      7. I have no problem with jousting with anyone. What was depressing is so many commenters without any ethical compass whatsoever.

  9. Great blog. I’ll be back. It’s nice to find some sensibility and civility in the political arena.
    I wrote the following words 20 years ago and they’ve never been more true than today. Here is my description of American politics in a nutshell. Which, as luck would have it, is an appropriate receptacle.
    My way is right, your way is wrong. My candidate will save us, yours will destroy us. I will relentlessly ridicule and criticize the absurdity of your beliefs at every turn but at the same time you damn well better respect my opinions!

    Sums it up nicely IMHO

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