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An Open Letter to Betsy Speicher

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Dear Betsy,

I'm very grateful for your July 19 post on The Forum for Ayn Rand Fans, in which you absolutely nailed my position on people criticizing other people's ideas. If you recall, you linked to my July 18 post on Objectivism Online, and you paraphrased my argument thusly:

One post argued that if you say Mr. X has a wrong idea, you are saying Mr. X is a bad person.

Betsy, I can't tell you how glad I am to finally find an opponent who understands me, and who has the courage to accurately represent my view. Normally, my opposition hopelessly misrepresents my arguments, and they frequently attack ridiculous straw men rather than deal with my actual statement.

That really bugs me.

By the way, in case you forgot, these were my actual words: "[Mr. X's] statements represent his beliefs ... [His] election statement represents the lifetime of knowledge and thinking that went into making that statement. To call it foolish and embarrassing is to call [Mr. X] foolish and embarrassing."

I can see now that, from those words, most people would mistakenly conclude that I believe that accusing someone of having a wrong idea is to accuse them of being wrong. After all, I did use the same exact words (foolish and embarrassing) in both the first and second parts of my sentence. It would therefore be quite understandable if most people, in the process of describing my view to others, also used the same exact modifier (wrong) in both parts of their sentence.

But, Betsy, you are not like most people. You instantly saw through my inexact, confusing language, and you knew what I truly intended to say: that to call someone's idea wrong is to call that someone a bad person. Somehow you knew that, despite what I actually wrote, those modifiers were, in my mind, not meant to be the same, but they were meant to be different; hell, they weren't even meant to be the ones I used.

Betsy, you knew what I really meant to say. You knew. And for that I thank you sincerely.

Edited by MisterSwig
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Swig, though I agree you were misinterpreted, I also think that responding with sarcasm highlights a key reason why neither side in this fight is going to see the other's point. Folks who're in a quarrel and who assume the other side is dishonest, will generally misinterpret the other side, and read nothing with empathy. At the same time, both parties bristle at what they consider are evasive misinterpretations by the other. As a result, tone escalates and even an observer who supports the underlying position of one side, may well throw up his hands at the futility of the whole process.

As a moderator, I'm not sure I like to allow yet another thread that is likely to spiral into another sub-fight; at the same time, I can understand that you wish to defend yourself. And, that is the quandary in such disputes really.

A little after your post was mentioned on The FORUM, I sent a member a PM defending your position. This is an edited version:

I will not defend Mr. Swig's entire line of reasoning, but I think can explain its meaning is a less negative way. One can draw the wrong conclusions about his meaning if one starts with a negative assessment of where he is coming from. I understand this is difficult to do when one is in the middle of a heated argument. However, giving him the benefit of doubt, and assuming that he is a rational person, I arrive at a different interpretation.

I can also see that one might read the first sentence of Swig's post as a summary, stop at that point, and "fill-in-the-blanks" from there to extrapolate what he "must" mean. On the other hand, if one reads further, one finds that the first sentence over-generalizes and does not precisely summarize the examples later in his post. In that sense, the summary statement may be flawed, but that's not the point. The real question is: what is the poster saying?

If one steps back and reads his post with empathy, then here's what I get...

1. Saying Peikoff's idea is foolish or that his idea is embarrassing is different from saying it is wrong. Calling his idea foolish or embarrassing does go "through" the idea, so to speak, and target the man. I think, the point that Swig is making is that terms like "foolish" and "embarrassing" are not neutral idea-evaluating words. If we want to tell someone that their idea is wrong, and if we want to do so politely, we do not say their idea is foolish and embarrassing.

2. Swig does not excuse the "senility" remarks. He is not implying that those remarks were not rude. He is not commenting on the relative attack implied merely by the terms "foolish" , "embarrassing" and "senile". Rather he is comparing two types of rudeness, two forms in which the attack is expressed.

What he is saying is that the person who said "Peikoff is senile" is expressing it as an open insult to the person. OTOH, if the person had said (instead) "Peikoff is great, but this idea of his is senile", then it would still be a personal attack, but this time it would be masquerading as an attack on an idea. Swig's "compliment" (if one may call it that) is about the honesty of the blatant attack. This does not imply that Swig sanctions that attack. An analogy would be if someone stated that communism was more honest than fascism, because it was blatant about it's evil motives.

Finally, Mr. Swig makes a closing statement in that post. In my judgment, that is an opinion which he has not attempted to support in the rest of the post.

In summary, if you drop the first and last sentences, the post becomes clearer. I don't think Swig implied that saying Peikoff was wrong was equivalent to calling him a fool.

BTW: I think Betsy read the first sentence and misinterpreted your meaning; that's all.

If any other moderator thinks that this thread is inappropriate, please feel free to remove it.

Edited by softwareNerd
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As a moderator, I'm not sure I like to allow yet another thread that is likely to spiral into another sub-fight; at the same time, I can understand that you wish to defend yourself. And, that is the quandary in such disputes really.

Yes, I do wish to defend myself. If my post is left untouched, I promise to leave it at that. If this thread is deleted, I will find another place for my letter.

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Swig, though I agree you were misinterpreted, I also think that responding with sarcasm highlights a key reason why neither side in this fight is going to see the other's point.

I hope Mr. Swig will tell me whether his opening post was sarcastic or not. When I first read it, I couldn't tell and, not knowing for sure, I tend to assume people are saying exactly what they mean.

A little after your post was mentioned on The FORUM, I sent a member a PM defending your position. This is an edited version:

I sure wish you had sent that PM to me. If I got Mr. Swig's position wrong, I want to be set right.

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Anyone who cares about this issue can see which statements have been taken out of context by whom by following the relevant links.

Such as viewing what is claimed to have been said by person X here in contrast to what was actually said by person X, here.

Let the intellectual obfuscation continue!

Edited by Liriodendron Tulipifera
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Anyone who cares about this issue can see which statements have been taken out of context by whom by following the relevant links.

Such as viewing what is claimed to have been said by person X here in contrast to what was actually said by person X, here.

Please do!

Let the intellectual obfuscation continue!

Please don't. Please don't omit the corroborating evidence for my second quote that I included and that can found here.

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Anyone who cares about this issue can see which statements have been taken out of context by whom by following the relevant links.

Such as viewing what is claimed to have been said by person X here in contrast to what was actually said by person X, here.

Let the intellectual obfuscation continue!

I don't understand - how are Ms. Hsieh's words taken out of context in Ms. Speicher's post?

One might argue about the accuracy of Ms. Speicher saying that Ms. Hsieh "attacked a FORUM member and my friend for saying something he never said and she made up," but the outcome of that that would depend on the accuracy of Ms. Hsieh's claim that Mr. Oliver's original post was "[a claim] of irrationality and ludditism on the part of Dr. Peikoff."

However, that doesn't matter to the post I'm replying to here, because what I've quoted from Ms. Speicher are her own words, while Liriodendron Tulipifera is saying that Ms. Speicher took Ms. Hsieh's words out of context. Ms. Hsieh's words were quoted literally, with a link to the full post provided for reference and no additional comment on them made.* How could context have been "kept more" than that?

For context purposes in this post, the above quoted post by Liriodendron Tulipifera and the links in that post (plus the further links in those posts) provide all that I believe is necessary. Also, please read carefully the notes below.

(This post is soley about "What constitutes 'out of context?'" I'm not commenting either way about what either Ms. Speicher or Ms. Hsieh said, the validity of their claims, the nature of their dispute, the tone of the argument, or whether anyone anywhere is a good Objectivist or not. I'm also not attacking Liriodendron Tulipifera in any way. I've edited this post at least ten times in an attempt to eliminate anything that might be considered offensive. I apologize if my effort has been insufficent.

I'm just trying to clarify how Ms. Speicher's post can be interpreted as taking Ms. Hsieh's words out of context, in the interests of understanding what standards are used for determining whether sufficient context has been provided in a post like Ms. Speicher's. Don't take the particular example used here as anything other than a source for examining that question. I would have used a different example if one were at hand. Also, it's a shame that I need to include all these disclaimers, but the current discussion environment involving the individuals mentioned here demands them.)

* The closest thing to an additional comment is "others do not hold the same values as I do," which doesn't bear directly on Ms. Hsieh's words and is almost not a judgment at all (no one holds all the same values as anyone else).

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I find this recent 3-part exchange puzzling. Monica points to Betsy's FORUM post about Diana's statements and also the NoddleFood entry. Let's skip the links, and use cut and paste. Betsy says, just one sentence, 'I wish that were so, but Diana attacked a FORUM member and my friend for saying something he never said and she made up ("Phil Oliver's claims of irrationality and ludditism on the part of Dr. Peikoff"), she called the discussions on THE FORUM "pointless bull sessions," and members of THE FORUM "fleas" (here).' In the NoodleFood entry, Diana says, in part, "I want nothing whatsoever to do with the fleas who attack me on that forum -- or the people who sanction such attacks by participating in the pointless bull sessions with the fleas on that forum." Monica contrasts these two -- 'Such as viewing what is claimed to have been said by person X here in contrast to what was actually said by person X, here.' Betsy then points to a quote by another person ("Flibbert"), which was also contained in Betsy's post on THE FORUM, saying 'Please don't omit the corroborating evidence for my second quote that I included and that can found here.'

In my opinion, mentioning Flibbert's post has no probative value. Since Monica was comparing what X was claimed to have said versus actually said, we have to assume that Monica was talking about one and only one person, and that has to be Diana (and not Flibbert). So I don't see any way in which that quote from the comments of Diana's blog has any cash value in this discussion.

The implication of viewing what was claim to be said versus what was actually said is that they are different. Well, the difference is that in that NoodleFood post, Diana referred to "fleas who attack me on that forum" and "the pointless bull sessions with the fleas on that forum". In addition, the line about "Phil Oliver's claims of irrationality and ludditism on the part of Dr. Peikoff" is not in the NoodleFood entry. I don't know whether Monica intended to make that point. However, when you structure a sentence as "A, B, and C (here)" and you chose not to structure it as "A (there), and B and C (here)", you are suggesting that A, B and C are to be found in that one location. The statement on THE FORUM is misleading in implying that all three statements are found on the blog, which they are not.

It is an unreasonable interpretation of Diana's words to think that she is saying "All members of THE FORUM are fleas" -- I would venture to say that she is saying that some members of THE FORUM are fleas, specifically, those who are attacking her. Her wording in the "bull session" clause is, in my professional opinion, open to either reading as to whether all threads on THE FORUM are bull sessions, or just those involving the aforementioned fleas.

In representing Diana's statement by paraphrase -- not by verbatim quote -- Betsy rendered Diana's 'nothing whatsoever to do with the fleas who attack me on that forum' (where there is a clear association of "those who attack" and "those who are fleas") as the at best ambiguous 'she called... members of THE FORUM "fleas"', eliminating the crucial modifier and opening up the possible interpretation that Diana said "all members".

I suggest that when representing another person's position, that people use sufficiently long verbatim quotes (as well as links).

[ed: or, you could just read Monica's much shorter answer posted 2 minutes earlier. Sheesh]

Edited by DavidOdden
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