I think this is an informative tweet dialogue on a handful of levels. For one, it reveals some informal fallacies that inevitably ruin any discourse and are especially ruinous tendencies in any summarized forum (which twitter represents the extreme end of the spectrum). It also reveals what I think is the fundamental problem with the discussion [on Ethics Alarms.]. I think we’re operating on two different meanings of “mainstream”. Simultaneously this reveals two different attitudes regarding the Overton Window.
As for the term “mainstream”, Almaqah below seems to mean it as “anything someone is willing to hear another person discuss.” I presume [commenter Chris’s] friendliness toward Almaqah’s opinions implies [he] generally believe the same. When I use it, and I think when most others use the term, we use it as more of a quantitative assessment, where “mainstream” means “anything that a sufficient percentage of people believe”, to which it might be effective to add “that it holds enough weight to begin to sway policy discussions” …but that’s not essential.
I think Almaqah’s subsequent side-bars reveal a somewhat concerning attitude towards diversity of opinion as well as tolerance of that diversity. He seems to think that acceptable discourse should be extremely narrow and that anything outside of that window should not be tolerated one bit.
Cast of Characters (mostly from their twitter profiles):
Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) – “Oklahoman. Attorney. Contributor at @FDRLST, @dcexaminer, and other places. Keep reminding me that I’m supposed to be rising above.”
@Elwampito – “petty bourgeois”
Mollie Hemingway (@MZHemingway) – “Senior Editor, @FDRLST”
Katherine Mangu-Ward – Editor in Chief of Reason Magazine
Fyodor – Possibly a libertarian & probably anti-Trump… (judging from a quick scan of tweets)
@MsBaileyGurl – “fundamental human rights and fast wifi. So easy to please.”
Mark Hemingway (@Herminator) – “Senior Writer @WeeklyStandard. Husband of @MZHEmingway”
Jacob T. Levy (@jtlevy) – “Tomlinson Prof of Political Theory, McGill. RPF http://amzn.to/1osWYDC Niskanen http://tinyurl.com/gpu3rzw Opinions here are mine not McGill’s.”
Alexandra DeSanctis (@xan_desanctis) – “Buckley Fellow at National Review. Co-host of “Ordered Liberty” with @DavidAFrench. @NotreDame alum. ”
Bre Payton – “the culture and millennial politics reporter for The Federalist”
@JackFromAtlanta – possibly a conservative & possibly an Eastern Orthodox Christian (judging from a quick scan of tweets)
@UrbanAchievr – probably a leftist, most probably anti-Trump (judging from a quick scan of tweets)
Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) – “senior media reporter, @CNN. writing at the intersection of media & politics.”
Kirsten Powers – “USA Today Columnist / CNN Political Analyst / Cohost of @thefaithangle podcast”
Here’s the opening salvo, as Almaqah responds to Gabriel Malor (which “El Wampito” rapidly jumps into).
@gabrielmalor – “The man just lost his job because of his political beliefs. The people celebrating it, particularly the ones who work in media, are trash human beings, not to mention completely unself-aware morons.”
@_Almaqah (two combined tweets) – “Stop convincing me “executing women who have abortions” is a conservative belief, I’m trying to be generous. Also he’ll be fine, NR will take him back. Most prolifers say they don’t want to punish women who have abortions, so it’s odd to see some of them conflate KW calling for execution with normal conservative beliefs. Which is it?”
@Elwampito – “it’s the latter”
@_Almaqah – “I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt!”
@Elwampito – “i mean, if you believe abortion is murder and support the death penalty, it would seem to fit unless you think women lack moral agency or something”
@_Almaqah – “This is true, most of them get around having to reach this conclusion by just saying women are victims of abortion too. KW was willing to say he takes their agency seriously and thinks they should be held culpable”
Here, Almaqah subtly shifts the accusation. The topic is the specific stance that women who kill their unborn children should be executed. Almaqah expands this to “Punishing women who seek abortion.”.There’s a significant difference here where his latter use of “punish” compels the person he’s arguing with to either agree or disagree to a general assertion which may or may not reveal an actual attitude towards the specific assertion. This isn’t rhetorically responsible dialogue.
@MZHemingway – “In only article pubbed @ Atlantic before being fired for being pro-life, NeverTrumper Kevin Williamson wrote enemy was @VDHanson.Interesting”
@_Almaqah – “Another person who equates ‘prolife’ with ‘wanting women who have abortions to be executed’. I’ll take your word for it!”
Molly Hemingway, is playing the typical journalist role of saying something triggering to her base, “Fired for being pro-life”, when she knows he was fired for having a stance about how to enforce those who have abortions. She isn’t being responsible with her tweet, and Almaqah capitalizes on this. But in reality, we know he wasn’t fired for being pro-life, but standing up *for* him and his right to hold opinions, is not an endorsement of those opinions NOR is it a claim that the opinions are “mainstream” (unless you insist on the Narrow Overton window definition of mainstream).
Here, Almaqah quotes the same Reason article, by Katherine Mangu-Ward, which [Chris] referred to and is linked in Jack’s piece.
@_Almaqah (two combined tweets) – “Kevin’s defenders would’ve been better off just saying ‘yes, punishing abortion w/execution is completely reasonable conservative belief, what of it?” instead of “he was just trolling, of course he doesn’t believe that horrible thing!” I mean, once you concede it’s a terrible thing to believe it, kind of hard to get mad when there are consequences for actually believing in it”
@Fyodor32768 (three combined tweets, bold is what Almaqah responds to) – “I think that conservatives probably believe that say the median viewpoint should be outright illegalization and that Williamson’s execution position is on the right side of the spectrum but not crazy. So by saying that his hanging position puts you outside the spectrum you are saying something about what the “baseline” opinion is that they dislike. Sort of like how a lot of mildly racist conservatives didn’t fully agree with Trump’s more forceful racism but didn’t feel it should be condemned as outside the pale because they though of their own more mild racism as the midpoint for views on minorities.”
@_Almaqah – “Yes, to them punishing abortion by execution is just a policy difference to be debated politely among friends. It’s not like Williamson called for something truly offensive like an 80% estate tax”
Almaqah, relying on the narrow, intolerant view of the Overton Window, again shifts the term from the specific “execution” to the broader term “punishment.” Fyodor does a great summary rebutting him here. Almaqah’s reponse is to belittle the notion of tolerating an individual, who while generally in agreement with most actual mainstream opinions, holds one or two more extreme ideas. This is problematic. If Almaqah’s attitude is to reign, we cannot tolerate individuals having anything other than exactly the same lock step views on every opinion we grant “mainstream” status…we must, upon discovery that one of our “orthodox” fellows, when holding even a single “out of whack” viewpoint, must be shut up and sent out of the camp.
@Herminator – “Kevin Williamson was Never Trump *and* one of the most talented writers of his generation. They still wouldn’t let him work for a a venerable liberal institution. Let that be a lesson.”
@MsBaileyGurl – “The lesson is…don’t advocate for the murder of women. Seems pretty easy for the ‘law and order’ party to get behind.”
@Herminator – “Adovocating for the murder of women who murder others is the issue at hand. This is misdirection.”
@_Almaqah – “”he doesn’t want to murder all women, he just wants to murder women who have abortions” might’ve sounded better in your head” Continue reading →
This is an epic Comment of the Day using an unusual approach. Michael West explores aspects of public discourse that is at the core of ethical misunderstanding and ethics malpractice by focusing on a multi-party twitter exchange regarding an issue discussed on Ethics Alarms, the firing of former National Review writer Kevin Williamson after he doubled-down on an extreme position regarding abortion: he believes it is murder, and therefore believes that capital punishment is a fair punishment for what should be considered a crime. Moreover, he said that because of the violent and depraved nature of the crime, a violent execution, like hanging, would be appropriate for the women who allowed their fetuses to be aborted.
Michael also used his comment to highlight a concept we have not used on Ethics Alarms, at least by name, “the Overton Window.” That is defined as “The spectrum of ideas on public policy and social issues considered acceptable by the general public at a given time.” Of course, what the “window” is can be tricky to determine. Donald Trump broke the alleged window repeatedly. My preferred approach to this “window” is to challenge it, and to try to expand its boundaries, consequences be damned. I equate the Overton Window with de facto censorship and thought-control.
I am especially glad that this comment again raises the Williamson firing and the related ethics issues. These are rich topics, and yet the matter fled the blogs and commentary sites quickly, paved over by successive outrages of the day.
Here is Michael West’s Comment of the Day on #2 in the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/7/2018: “Ruggles Of Red Gap” And “Williamson No Longer Of The Atlantic’.” This is a bit challenging to read, but worth the effort. For clarity, Michael’s commentary is in bold italics.