Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Tom Shippey Tells it Like it is

From here:

Q) Why do you think Tolkien has been so popular with readers?

A) He opened up a new imaginative space. He would have said it was an old imaginative space, which had been walled off, that of traditional legend and fairy tale, but I would say that he did something new with it, which was to provide the world of dwarves and trolls and elves and wizards with a map, with a consistent history and geography, which feels as if it is infinitely extendable. That's why there have been so many successors to Tolkien, writing fantasy trilogies or sequences of the same type, maps included.

The other and deeper reason is that he answers questions that have deeply preoccupied ordinary people, but that have not been answered by the official (or self-elected) speakers for our culture — writers, politicians, philosophers. The most obvious one is, Why was the twentieth century so unremittingly evil? The nineteenth century was looking forward to moral progress and freedom from want. Where (in Tolkien's lifetime, and mine) did it all go wrong? I think his images of evil, like the Ringwraiths, are at the same time completely original, highly contemporary, and mythically timeless. What they say is that anyone can turn into a wraith, and you can't be sure when it will start. Nor can you deal with evil just by being a nice guy yourself. It may force itself on you. Tolkien's images of the good are similarly mixed, complicated, and satisfying. His work has great emotional depth.

Q) So why has Tolkien been so unpopular with the critics?

A) They sense a challenge to the dominant literary orthodoxy of the past century, which has been ironic and self-doubting. I see this as a legacy of World War I, the Great War, which destroyed traditional certainties and traditional authorities. Tolkien was himself a combat veteran of that war, and I would regard him as one of the rather large group of "traumatized authors" writing fantasy (Orwell, Golding, Vonnegut, etc.), but his experience made him want to restate traditional images rather than throw them away. In particular he wanted to find a new way to represent heroes and heroism. He knew the old ways very well, and he knew they wouldn't work anymore, but he did not want to abandon the effort. This essentially positive and optimistic view of humanity (and nonhumanity) has been dismissed as shallow and unthinking, but that is a bad mistake. Tolkien knew much more about irony than any of his critics, and about war.


  1. Good find. I presume the re-use of the cover picture from JRRT's own "The Monsters and the Critics" was intentional.

    They sense a challenge to the dominant literary orthodoxy of the past century, which has been ironic and self-doubting.

    That's arguably the crux of it. Writers like Tolkien found worth in traditional attitudes, values and literary models; whereas the hegemonic school of thought in 20th century literary (which reached a nadir in "the death of the author", "all interpretations are equally valid" nonsense of post-modernism) was devoted to debunking such things.

  2. Shippey's book is a good read, and it made me appreciate JRRT much more than I had beforehand. It is perhaps no surprise that I largely agree with his arguments in the interview; I can't abide some of the snobbery directed towards the fantasy genre in general, particularly towards JRRT, who seems to have been punished simply because his cleverness was less overt (and not coincidentally, less annoying) than those of "proper" authors.

  3. From Orson Scott Card's How Tolkien Means, found in Meditations On Middle Earth, (a book y'all should get), p. 157:

    "The only meanings Tolkien cares about are the meanings within the story, not extraneous to it. These devices are within the story for the story's sake. There is no Freudian imperative to put new names on them in order to understand them. Tolkien has given them their right names from the start; and when he does switch names, it is for practical, not literary, reasons - Aragorn is also Strider, Saruman is also Sharkey, and Smeagol is also Gollum - because their role in society changes in the process of the story, and the revelation of identity is meant to revise the meaning of the story to its participants as well as to the readers. Those revelations change the meaning of the story within the story, and not just in English class.

    "There are literadors who recognize this, but regard it as a reason to treat Tolkien's work as 'subliterary.' Because it does not lend itself to the [modernist] tools of the trade, Tolkien's oeuvre is not worthy of treatment as serious literature. And, apart from the value judgment inherent in this attitude, they are correct. If by 'serious' literature, you mean literature whose meaning is to be found upon the surface of the story like an exoskeleton, to be anatomized without ever actually getting into the story itself, then Tolkien's work is certainly 'serious'."

    Don't worry - Card goes on to argue that Tolkien's work is actually better literature than what is considered 'serious' literature today. It's a heck of an essay.

  4. Is b) true? I would have thought he was unpopular with his critics because his work was fantasy, and thus "unserious." All genre fiction gets a pretty hard rap, and fantasy is generally viewed by critics as being little better than Mills & Boon, even if it's as original as Tolkien.

  5. The Humphrey Carpenter biography mentions JRRT as having what would today be called Post-Traumatic Stress disorder, he was invalided out of the Western Front when he kept developing (presumably psychosomatic) physical symptoms that the quacks couldn't find a physical cause for.

    For me, the Dead Marshes sequence in Two Towers (dead faces looking up from puddles in the mud tempting the viewer to come down and join them in sleep) clearly portrays a man with quite horrific survivor guilt.

  6. Aw, frickin' SWEAR words, man! I just noticed that I left a word out of my quote by Card in the last sentence. It should read:

    If by 'serious' literature, you mean literature whose meaning is to be found upon the surface of the story like an exoskeleton, to be anatomized without ever actually getting into the story itself, then Tolkien's work is certainly NOT 'serious'."

    Damn it. Hate when I do that.

  7. Chris: While the excesses of some postmodernist thinkers annoy me, and while I think the whole thing was mostly a repackaging of what everybody knew already, I think some of the perspectives of people like Barthes and Baudrillard are genuinely interesting. The problem is that it mostly works as a form of literary critique, and once you start applying it outside of literature you get yourself into a whole world of meaningless wank.

    kelvingreen: I think fantasy in general speaks to the human condition in a much more interesting way than "contemporary literature" does, and this has something to do with the power of fairy tales. Of course Tolkien himself made this very point.

    Cameron: Thanks for the recommendation - I'll definitely try to track down a copy. Or just look it up on Amazon.

    faustusnotes: Don't forget when Tolkien's work was first published there was no fantasy genre for critics to be snooty about.

    Also, I think you're looking at one level of the issue (fantasy is looked down upon) whereas Shippey is looking at another (fantasy, specifically Tolkien, is looked down upon because the modern literary world favours irony and self-doubt). I don't think there's a disagreement there.

    Coopdevil: I hadn't heard that - I read that it was trench fever that he was invalided with. I'll have to read that biography.

  8. Maybe Noisms, but I suspect it was seen as even more childish 50 years ago than it is now (fantasy used to be classed as children's literature, after all). I think claims about self doubt and irony are all tied up with the shibboleth of post-modernism, and you know I think that a lot of people overstate the importance of that brand of art criticism, and its influence in academia, let alone literary criticism.

    That Orson Scott Card quote, for example, is largely meaningless. No-one defines serious literature as "literature whose meaning is to be found on the surface like an exoskeleton," (although isn't OSC a transparent libertarian pamphleteer?) and large branches of modern literary criticism are all about reading meanings within the story, not extraneous to it.

    I suspect a simpler description of the critical response to Tolkien would be "modern critics see some things wrong with Tolkien but his fans get obsessed by anything except adulation."

  9. faustusnotes: It's difficult to argue that British literature in particular but English language literature more generally has not been characterised by a high level of irony and self-doubt since WWI, especially in comparison to the moral certitude of the Victorians. That isn't to do with postmodernism, by the way, but modernism - Hemingway, Dos Passos, Stevens, Carlos Williams, Stein, Pound, etc. Postmodernism came a lot later and was built on the foundations the modernists had laid out - which very much relied on irony, self-doubt, and the rejection of traditional centres of authority.

    The idea that critics just "see some things wrong with Tolkien" isn't the point. Critics also just "see some things wrong with" Faulkner, T. S. Eliot, Twain and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but those writers get taught in university literature classes and discussed on swanky arts programmes, where Tolkien doesn't - partly because of his associations with the fantasy genre but also partly because he asserted a worldview which the modern day literati have decided is not to be taken seriously.

    Re: Orson Scott Card's political views - he's no more a "transparent libertarian pamphleteer" than Ursula Le Guin is a "transparent feminist pamphleteer" or Terry Goodkins is a "transparent objectivist pamphleteer" or that old bugbear China Mieville is a "transparent Trotskyite pamphleteer"; you can still enjoy the books if you blank out the politics.

  10. I don't want to give the impression I dislike modernism, by the way. The modernists were the pinnacle, and the zenith, of Western "literary fiction" - it's mostly been shit ever since that generation disappeared.

  11. gaah, blogger ate my post.

    Noisms, various comments in response to your comments...

    First, I don't have a problem with OSC being a transparent pamphleteer. It's funny though that he criticises people for thinking a novel is only "serious" if the meaning is on the surface "like an exoskeleton" because that's what pamphleteers do. He must take himself very seriously.

    Second, I don't think Mieville is very transparently pamphleteering in his work. I found The Scar and Perdido Street Station more punk (in the steampunk sense) than political. I'm interested in claims that his books are transparently political, because I don't see much in the way of screeds at all. I think he keeps that for his non-fiction work. In fact, the only thing I can think of that was "transparent" was his short story about the bonedigger, but it was only political after he added a postscript with references to explain it. But, if he were pamphleteering, wouldn't he be a leninist pamphleteer? It's important to get these things right if one wants to avoid the icepicks.

    I think your argument about the literati and Tolkien fails on the examples you give of the current canon. Do you really think the literati are more comfortable with Coleridge's worldview than with Tolkien's? There are a lot of authors from the Victorian era in the canon, and speaking with British friends who studied lit at university there, the British system is heavily loaded in favour of modernist and pre-modernist "classics", including the morally certain Victorians in abundance. Australia, on the other hand, is more slanted towards post-colonial fiction, i.e. non-British, 20th century.

    I really think the reason Tolkien isn't in mainstream literary studies is that a) he just isn't that great and b) even though he's better than some of the crap those poor kids study, his genre kills him. I mean, you'll be hard-pressed to find leGuin in a feminist studies lit course, and she's a genuinely sublime writer compared to most of that field and all of the fantasy genre. So what chance has Tolkien got?

    It's just classic British conservatism (and your academia is very conservative). Can't let anything low-brow or new into the academy!

  12. You're missing the point about OSC. What I'm saying is that he, like Mieville, Le Guin, Goodkind etc. is an author who you can read without thinking about politics at all - he is as much a transparent pamphleteer as they are, which is to say not much of one at all. The politics are there if you want to look for them, but otherwise you're free to just enjoy the story. (For example, you can just read Mieville for all the fun and interesting ideas that he comes up with, but if you're of a certain frame of mind you can read The Scar as a kind of Utopian Socialist analogy, Iron Council as a Paris Commune analogy, etc. etc.)

    (FWIW China Mieville stood for parliament as a member of the SWP, which is probably the trottiest of all the trot parties in the UK. There's an icepick coming your way probably - you'd best flee to Mexico.)

    Re: Tolkien's worldview and Coleridge... well, Coleridge was a radical of his day, which is to say somebody who the modern day literati (who like stuff that attacks tradition) will naturally admire. This is true of most of the writers who are studied in English Lit classes at British universities.

    There are only one or two exceptions to this that I can think of, for example James Fenimore Cooper, who is generally held up as an example of all that is bad in literature with a conservative bent. (I'd agree that Cooper is awful, but mostly because his books are criminally dull.) Shakespeare may or may not be another example, but as you probably know Shakespeare's plays can mean anything you want them to mean.

    Tolkien, as somebody who didn't buy-in to the dominant paradigm, and who isn't 'lucky' enough to be an exception like Cooper, doesn't really get a look in.

    Re: Tolkien's quality... It's all very well to say he "just isn't that great", but that's true of many writers in the canon. Harriet Beecher Stowe writes like a 12-year-old on laudanum; Nathaniel Hawthorne makes me want to strangle myself he's so unutterably boring. William Blake wrote some of the most dreadful tripe ever committed to manuscript. Quality is not the arbiter of who enters the canon - it boils down to three things: a) "influence", b) politics and c) complexity. You don't have to have incredibly high levels of all three, but you certainly can't go in the wrong direction on any of them. So while Tolkien definitely wins on a) and in my opinion c), he goes 100% the wrong way on b) for the literati, so he's out the door.

    You make an interesting point about conservatism in British academia - this is probably the reason why you don't get much Le Guin at universities (although I personally always found her writing pretty 'meh'). I'm not arguing that snootiness about fantasy doesn't play a part in all of this. But 'the literati' is wider than the academie - I'm also talking about the literary establishment which elevates stuff and nonsense like the writings of Ian McEwan and Zadie Smith to some sort of art form.

  13. Noisms: Tolkien was indeed invalidated with trench fever, according to the best account we have of his wartime years, John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War (which I highly recommend). Not sure where the PTSD claim derives; I don't recall reading that in Carpenter's biography, either. Still, it's not much of stretch to say that Tolkien was pretty traumatized by his WWI experiences, and that the LOTR and The Silmarillion were a direct consequence of that (Shippey is dead-on in his classification of Tolkien as a traumatized author in the company of the likes of Orwell, Golding, and Vonnegut).

    As for the claim that "Tolkien isn't that great," well, Noisms has linked to a book which provides a preponderance of evidence which unequivocally states that in fact he was great, one of the greatest authors of the 20th century in fact. The ball is back in the critics' court to answer Shippey's books. I'll also note that Tolkien is beginning to appear on more and more college syllabi these days. It's been a slog but the literati are coming around.

  14. I think the question of whether everyone on the canon is better than tolkien is probably not hard to answer - I'd much rather read Tolkien than a lot of them. But the idea that the people currently in the canon (or even being admired outside of academia) are not conservative is just way out. If the literati love radicalism for the sake of it, how come any of the Victorians are in the canon? All that chick lit is classically reinforcing the dominant victorian paradigm; yet Thomas Hardy, whose work is vastly more feminist than all those women blended together (ugh!) and whose prose is just as good, is generally rejected - yet he's far more radical and was banned in his time. Robinson Crusoe is in - there's not a sentence of Crusoe that would pass muster in the modern age. But almost all the post-colonial critical works (Jean Rhys, Catherine Brumby Innes, Elizabeth Harrower(?)) are out, but the insufferably boring Naipaul is in. If the literati are so engaged with radicalism, why is a brilliant post-colonial woman like Brumby Innes out but a tedious bore like Bronte (pick a first name) is in? What about that horrid insipid American poetess? Or George Eliot? Or Dracula?

    I really don't think claims of radicalism sit well with the actual behaviour of the literati, and they're like claims that conservatives aren't welcome in academia - easily refuted by looking at the composition of the field supposedly denuded of conservatives. Tolkien would be well-suited to the cannon and the literati's tastes, except that his books are awfully long (and let's face it, we can't expect the booker prize judges to read that much), and the first one terribly boring, and in the wrong genre. You'll note there's no crime literature in the canon either.

    I haven't read OSC so can't comment further, but from what I've heard he fits his own definition of serious.

    When I read The Scar I knew nothing of Mieville's politics, and I didn't notice any kind of socialist thought in that boat, I was reading it as more of a reconstituted pirate story or something. I think one of Mieville's great points (like Iain M Banks) is that he has strong politics but he keeps it from dominating his books - reading them without knowing his politics you can't guess he's a trot. But I won't comment further 'cause I'm fleeing to Mexico.

  15. crawling into bed last night something was bugging me until `i realised that "catherine brumby innes" should be "catherine susannah prichard" who wrote "brumby innes." which is what happens when you try to remember books you read 20 years ago, under the influence of beer.

    Made me think I should blog about my first year literature course though. I really liked it.

  16. Faustusnotes: All that Victorian chick lit was radical at its time, you know. For starters it was women writing novels for the first time. For seconds, the major authors were all associated with Romanticism, which was a very radical movement. (And one which gets more and more fashionable nowadays thanks to the rise of Green politics, because Romanticism was all about the rejection of industrialism and science and a return to the simple life; perfect for the kind of middle-class Radio 4 listener who wants a "greener" society). You have to place these things in context.

    As for the literati and conservatives... well, I don't know what Australia is like, but I'd estimate 95% of English Literature lecturers in British universities are exactly the kind of bourgeois, parlour-chamber, chattering-class, Guardian-reading, Israel-boycotting, got-their-politics-off-the-back-of-a-cornflake-box leftists to whom 19th century radicalism appeals like nothing else. Their relationship to the literature is complex, because in many ways, though they would never admit it, they are themselves conservative (in the sense of wanting to preserve the status quo, especially of the canon but also of their own social class, which is to say middle- to upper-middle class); they prefer their radicalism at an arm's length, which is why the 19th century is perfect for them.

    Tolkien absolutely isn't suited to their tastes; he wanted to restate the power and authority of religion and traditional institutions, which are precisely what (vicariously) English literature lecturers want to be thrown down. They don't want to do it themselves, because they have rather a nice life, thankyouverymuch, but they get a thrill when they read somebody from the distant past advocating it.

    True conservatives are as rare as hen's teeth at universities these days. In my current department, Law, which is traditionally one of the most conservative disciplines, I can think of one classical liberal and one typical one-nation tory among an academic staff of about 30 - everybody else is either a labour voter or even further to the left.

    As an undergrad I studied English lit and History. In the English department I don't think there was a single non-Marxist; History was a bit more varied because there were still a few dusty old professors here and there teaching things like Roman history, but I suspect that generation is dying off now and being replaced by historical materialists.

    Going even further off tangent, this is why conservatism nowadays is viewed by most people as anti-intellectual; it's because conservative intellectuals just aren't taught at universities, because their views are so out of kilter with what the staff think. This creates the false impression that there are no conservative intellectuals and conservatism itself is not an intellectual enterprise.

  17. Noisms, conservatism these days is viewed as anti-intellectual because it rejects evolution, atmospheric physics, and post-religious moral theory. It takes its political philosophy from a transparently self-contradictory and teenage libertarianism, and denies basic facts about history. American conservatism denies large slabs of its own history and the common history of the continent, and British conservatism has still failed to come to terms with the Empire or the pre-war barbarity of British foreign policy; in Australia they're still desperately denying genocide. These are not the big thinkers of the intellectual world.

    As for the academy, the notion that there are no conservatives in university is as wrong as the idea that the sciences are denied funding in favour of the arts (a trope I heard a lot in my departments from proselytising scientists). I'm willing to bet I could check the publication history of the legal scholars at your university and find your theory wanting. Want to bet me a grote?

  18. also, i suspect that once one has a phd in literature the idea that books are radical just because a woman wrote them gets to be a bit passe. You'll have to do better than that! And as for reinstating victorian values - Algernon Charles Swinburne and CS Lewis are both in the canon, and I think your interpretation of the romantics is a little over-enthusiastic. Nor do I think that the chick lit has much to do with the romantics - it came much later, and was very much about retaining the status quo. Jane Eyre finishes her story in the black through her daddy's slave plantation, FFS.

  19. Noisms, conservatism these days is viewed as anti-intellectual because it rejects evolution, atmospheric physics, and post-religious moral theory.

    It doesn't do any of those things, and the fact that you think it does rather makes my point for me, I think. You're exhibiting the classic symptoms of somebody who's been spoon-fed by an education system and hence media profession that is dominated by the bourgeois soft left and goes out of its way to rubbish other viewpoints. I doubt in fact whether you could even name, let alone claim to have read, a genuine conservative philosopher, political scientist, or legal theorist. You're probably familiar with the lunatic fringe - Pat Robertson and that ilk - but describing such people as "conservative intellectuals" is like calling George Galloway a "left-wing intellectual". You don't judge a belief system by its crazies.

    You're also on a hiding to nothing with this idea that the canon is non radical. Once again with you I get the feeling I'm arguing with somebody who is reading what he wants me to be writing, rather than what I actually am. I never said those books were radical just because women wrote them - I said they were radical in their time and context because women wrote them. That's what appeals to the literati - the fact that these books were the "progressive" ones of their day. (Which they undoubtedly were - even where they were ambivalent on matters such as slavery.)

    I'm not sure what point you're trying to make about Swinburne and CS Lewis. Swinburne was hardly the picture of conservatism as the Victorians understood it (he was a social radical) and anyway he's very much out of fashion these days. And CS Lewis is studied almost as rarely as Tolkien at universities.

  20. oh come now, Noisms, spoon-fed is hardly a nice way to describe someone. I wasn't actually thinking of Pat Robertson, but the public intellectuals I am thinking of in Australia are risible. It's a little easier in the UK of course because even UK leftists are conservative, but your genuine conservatives are still mad as cut snakes.

    I think you're the one reading what you want me to write - I meant that lit academics don't see a book as radical "for its time" just because a chick wrote it. They might see this fact as radical, but contra Orson Scott Card, people do tend to analyse the book in terms of its content, not the politics of its writer (this blog's grumpy obsession with Mieville's politics excepted[1]).

    Looking at the Oxford lit dept for example, I see a lot of people with a focus on mediaeval lit, and the boss is all over Milton. Do you really think these peoples' preferred field of study is morally incompatible with Tolkien?
    fn1: and that's an obvious cheap shot for which I deserve a kicking

  21. So I just did a search, and found that Oxford University has a JRR Tolkien chair of English, two academics who have written a book on Tolkien, and two more who list him in their research interests. Royal Holloway has a course on Tolkien and Mediaevalism, Southampton has a Dr. David Glover in the English faculty who has written a book chapter on Tolkien. Liverpool has a quite robust looking course on speculative fictions which includes Tolkien and there appears to be a course on female science fiction writers at Cambridge which includes Tolkien and Dunsany, presumably for their canonical relevance to all science fiction.

    I searched 5 unis in the UK for this, 2 of which (Cambridge and LIverpool) appear to have broken search engines. Southampton has 4 or 5 faculty staff into modernism, who probably have a passing knowledge of Tolkien.

    I don't think having a chair of english named after you at Oxford is a sign that you haven't achieved critical acclaim, or that you are rejected by the academy. You might argue that this is because he was himself a professor of philology at that uni; but CS Lewis doesn't have a chair, neither does Helen Gardner or Terry Eagleton. Presumably Tolkien got it because he was better liked.

    This is classic conservative persecution angst. Tolkien is so well-respected that he is studied outside of speculative fiction courses, he even has his own courses named after him and senior staff in one of the world's top universities sitting in professorial positions named in his honour.

    I think this means you owe me a grote.

  22. Faustusnotes: It's a mysterious thing how your goalposts have shifted from agreeing that Tolkien is sneered at by the establishment but for different reasons (because he's a fantasy writer and writes long books, but not because the establishment favours irony and self-doubt), to arguing that Tolkien isn't sneered at at all. If I'm wrong about the sneering then you're just as wrong as me, and you owe yourself that grote! ;)

    Notable British conservatives of the past decade or two (I'm thinking of people ranging from politicians like Michael Portillo and Ken Clarke to philosophers like Roger Scruton and Kathy Wilkes to academics like David Starky and Phillip Blond) are hardly "as mad as cut snakes" and I doubt many Australian ones are either (though some undoubtedly are). The myth that all conservatives are either bigoted and/or insane is the equivalent of the myth that all left-wingers are limp-wristed and purile - it's a nice way of never having to engage with the arguments in anything like a meaningful manner.

    I meant that lit academics don't see a book as radical "for its time" just because a chick wrote it. They might see this fact as radical, but contra Orson Scott Card, people do tend to analyse the book in terms of its content, not the politics of its writer

    But the reason they analyse the content at all is because the mere fact of those books' existence was radical and progressive. You can't tell me it's because of quality - as you yourself have admitted, those books are horridly tedious, except perhaps for Austen.

  23. no, Noisms, this isn't "shifting goalposts." You made (in conjunction with this book you've posted) an assertion about Tolkien's critical reception which I took on face value. It turns out your assertion was wrong, so all our previous argument about why your (wrong) assertion obtained is irrelevant. Me checking your bold claim is not "moving the goalposts."

    Your conservative "thinkers" are an interesting lot. Michael Portillo may be a good and reasonable politician, but a great thinker he is not - he's a supporter of Thatcherism, which I'll return to at the end of this comment. Ken Clarke is also a politician and hardly a great thinker. These aren't sterling examples of the kind of intellectual qualities that get one recognised in academia.

    Your "philosophers" include a woman with no apparent conservative politics of any sort, unless one counts working behind the Iron Curtain as certain proof of this (but that would make John Pilger conservative, I think). Then we have her mentor, Scruton, who wrote a 60 page document for the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) claiming that the WHO was trying to institute transnational government, and who works for the AEI. The IEA and AEI both strongly oppose global warming. Also, Scruton was paid 4500 a month by Japan Tobacco, money he never declared when writing articles for the Times, nor listed on his cv in connection with any political or opinion-making activities. I think I can join the dots there, can you?

    David Starky is listed in wikipedia as a known leftist who has recently shown some anti-immigration and anti-devolution views. This would put him in accord with a large portion of the British left.

    Philip Blond may be an interesting influence on the Tory party (or at least the Bullingdon club), but a great thinker he is not, nor does he exactly qualify as an academic. The stuff of his I've read certainly qualifies him as an influential conservative thinker, but it wouldn't qualify him for university. It's pretty funny reading his attempts to write unionism out of a tory definition of a strong community.

    Finally, I'll finish this little review with an example of great conservative thinking from the leading British conservative theorist of the latter half of the 20th century:

    I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand”There is too much crime in my community, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or”I have been burgled, I will go and get the police to cope with it!” “The miners’ union is picketing my mine, the Government must break the strike!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing!

    Does anything about that strike you as a good example of why conservative thinking is vacuous and meaningless?

  24. Faustusnotes: Come on now, in faustusnotes land it may be the way to win a debate by pulling a rabbit out of the hat which proves both your own position and your opponent's wrong, but that's not how it works in the real world. If you took me and Shippey at face value then more fool you; it doesn't make your initial position any less wrong.

    And yet more goalpost moving goes on in the rest of your comment! The names I put forward were not examples of "thinkers" or "intellectuals" - they were examples of conservatives, cited to refute your assertion that British conservatives are all as mad as cut snakes. The fact that you seem to at least somewhat respect Portillo and Blond supports my own case and undermines yours - but that's okay, because you've already moved the goalposts and turned the issue into a question of who qualifies as a "thinker" or an "intellectual". Well done!

    David Starkey was a leftist at one time but hasn't been for ages, despite what wikipedia might or might not say.

    Who Roger Scruton works for is entirely irrelevant to whether his views are correct or incorrect, or whether or not he's as mad as a cut snake. You're just poisoning the well. Even if he's a climate skeptic that hardly qualifies him as "mad as a cut snake" - there's nothing wrong with informed skepticism about any issue - in fact it's an essential bulwark of democracy.

    With that Thatcher quote you seem to be conflating an opinion that you happen to disagree with with "vacuousness" and "meaninglessness". If you can't see how unspeakably arrogant that is, Lord help you. I don't agree with many people (Thatcher included) but that doesn't automatically cause me to label their ideas vacuous and meaningless. Whatever you think about Thatcher, her position was a very coherently thought-out one.

    In any case, even if her statement was vacuous and meaningless, it's no more vacuous and meaningless than "If you are asking did I support the Soviet Union, yes I did. Yes, I did support the Soviet Union, and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life" (George Galloway) or "Had a long talk to the Chinese First Secretary at the embassy — a very charming man called Liao Dong — and said how much I admired Mao Tse tung or Zedong, the greatest man of the twentieth century" (Tony Benn).

    But the fact that the lunatic fringe of the British left say such things doesn't make all leftists mad as cut snakes, or vacuous and meaningless, or even necessarily wrong. Do you see my point?

  25. No Noisms, I haven't shifted any goalposts. I responded to your assertion and the (wrong) assertion of this post in good faith, then checked it; I'm happy to throw out my suggestion that Tolkien isn't popular with critics because of his genre because, well, I checked your claim about this.

    Secondly, I was clearly making the claim that conservatives don't enter academia because they hold mad views and can't handle critical inquiry. Your examples prove my point - you come up with some politicians, two people who work at think tanks, an anti-immigration leftist (?!) and someone who can't be described as a public intellectual.

    Where Scruton works is relevant to what his political views are and what political views he supports. He wrote a prominent pamphlet for a lunatic right-wing organisation, claiming that the WHO is trying to impose world govt. He works for two thinktanks which deny global warming. This isn't "informed skepticism," which in the case of AGW has been done by scientists for 30 years and which he as a "philosopher" (at a think tank?) is not qualified to comment on; it's shilling. As is writing articles for major newspapers opposed to smoking control, while being paid substantial amounts of undeclared money (more than an academic's wage!) by a tobacco company.

    This is the public ethics that your vaunted conservative "philosopher" subscribes to? That might explain why he is working for a corrupt american thinktank.

    You've clearly completely missed the vacuousness of a quote from Thatcher in which she links her central philosophy (govt should not assist people with their private needs) to a refusal to break up a miners' strike, just months before she broke up a miners' strike. Her philosophies are so internally incoherent that in one of the most important pronouncements on her own political ideology, she contradicted her most important political legacy.

    This is conservative "thinking." And this is why people like Blond have to run away from uni and set up their own think tanks to get their ideas out - because their ideas aren't good enough for undergraduate work at a university.

  26. Faustusnotes: Your first two paragraphs aren't material and I'd just be repeating myself to point out why; you can think what you want to think, but I'm reasonably sure I can tell what a neutral observer would see (if anybody is insane enough to have read this far).

    Re: Scruton - It really isn't relevant what organisation somebody may have worked for in this debate (it's ad hominem) but let's entertain the idea:

    a) The IEA is not a "lunatic" organisation - unless you're arguing that it's possible for a lunatic to win the nobel prize in economics, as 12 of its alumni have done... Which, okay, you may be arguing, but which I would submit makes you a bit of a lunatic yourself.

    b) I very much doubt you have read the pamphlet in question, but I'm willing to be proved wrong: what exactly does it say about world government? Because I think it says something more like "the WHO is trying to impose a legislative anti-smoking agenda on the entire world, even though it has no democratic mandate to do so, and even though it would be better off fighting communicable diseases which affect the young in the third world, and this sets a dangerous precedent which could threaten democracy", which is arguably true and not the same thing as "the WHO is trying to impose world government". He doesn't even question the WHO itself, and indeed supports the existence of the institution.

    It also says, among other things, that tobacco smoking outside of cigars is "repellant", "addictive" and "harmful" but that if it is to be made illegal it should be through lawmaking by a democratically elected body - so much for being in the pocket of the tobacco industry.

    What it says on SourceWatch and wikipedia is not an adequate substitute for reading what you're critiquing.

    Re: Thatcher - There is no incoherence or contradiction whatsoever in the view that people ought not to expect the government to act on their behalf, but have to expect it to do so if they do not themselves act - which is precisely the argument Thatcher made. In her view, the government should not have had to break up the miners' strikes, but was forced to do so precisely because of the tendency towards public inaction that she was bemoaning. There is no inconsistency in that whatsoever - and I'm by no means a Thatcherite. I think she was deeply wrong. But her philosophy was not incoherent.

    Your attack on Blond is silly - while think tanks are often corrupt and ideologically biased, they're the place where most cutting-edge practical thinking goes on nowadays, certainly in Britain, where university lecturers are mired in administrative work, poorly paid, living in ivory towers, and handcuffed by the absurd notion that 50% of school leavers should enter further education. Comparatively little if any non-scientific research of value goes on at UK universities nowadays. University lecturers certainly have very little impact on public policy in comparison to think tanks - so if I was interested in changing the world, I know where I'd be.

  27. Noisms, you have posted up an article which makes a claim that is wrong, you have defended the claim against a speculative alternative suggestion, and the person making the alternative suggestion has dropped it in favour of pointing out that the original claim was wrong. Where is this shifting the goalposts? I certainly know never to trust your assertions on face value again.

    What organisation an individual works for is relevant as a sign of the politics they support. You won't see Trotskyists working at the AEI, and you know why. If Scruton chooses to keep company with a bunch of AGW-denying shills, then it says something about his politics and his public ethics - and, unsurprisingly, it turns out that he is a paid shill himself. Which is why when he states his position on smoking in that document I "haven't read," he doesn't mention that in addition to smoking cigars he is paid 4500 pounds a month to defend cigarette companies. Funny sort of public ethics, that. He characterised the revelation of his personal finances as a "deliberate smear campaign," which also indicates the kind of public ethics well at home in the AEI.

    You are aware that the claim that the WHO should focus on "communicable diseases" (as if it's not) is a coordinated tobacco company line put out in the 70s and available for scrutiny in the tobacco papers? What a coincidence that a "philosopher" who is paid by Japan tobacco should happen to be writing that claim in a document critical of the WHO for an organisation known to host paid hacks. And if my attention on scruton's pay from JT is an issue for you, note he doesn't shy away from mentioning WHO staff salaries while failing to disclose his own.

    He also shows no understanding of how the WHO works, and I'm sorry but if you think claims like "the organisation has been politicised by activists who have seen it as an unassailable summit of power over national legislatures" is not a claim of intentions to world government, perhaps you're being a little too charitable.

    He also claims that smoking is less harmful than promiscuous sex, and implies that attacks on smoking are part of a feminist agenda.

  28. faustusnotes: Noisms, you have posted up an article which makes a claim that is wrong, you have defended the claim against a speculative alternative suggestion, and the person making the alternative suggestion has dropped it in favour of pointing out that the original claim was wrong. Where is this shifting the goalposts?

    Okay, I get it - is this the point where you reveal yourself to be in fact Jeremy Beadle?

    My friend, the above is the very definition of what shifting the goalposts is.

    The rest of your comment doesn't make much of attempt to deal materially with what I posted (you've dropped Thatcher now, even through you're the one who brought her up, and Blond too - not to mention the fact that the IEA is not composed of lunatics), and to be honest I can't be bothered doing the broken record thing and restating it. Especially since all you're really doing is posting a tissue of ad hominem attacks which don't even have the saving grace of being true (Scruton may be in the pay of JTI, but he's hardly "defending cigarette companies" - again, see my above comment). Are you familiar with why ad hominem attacks are a logical fallacy? They're not only fallacious; they make you seem unreasonable and angry, so they're best avoided all round.

  29. I couldn't post the remainder because the comment got too long. I had comments on how Thatcher's political "theory" conflicts with her most explicit political actions, and why that might be taken as a sign that her theory is a little self-serving and incoherent; and I had further points on Blond's poor level of political thinking. But I'll leave it.

    Shifting the goalposts means changing the terms of the debate halfway through. It does not, however, mean the same thing as pointing out that the original assumptions of the debate were wrong.

    Your original post is at least 50% wrong, in both the fact it addresses (completely wrong) and its explanation.

    I don't think you understand what ad hominem is. Repeatedly quoting someone's malicious ideas to point out that they're mad as a cut snake is not ad hominem. The only ad hominem in this thread is telling me I've been "spoonfed" media lies and your ridiculous characterisation of academics (which you did in defense of an underlying assertion about Tolkien that isn't even true). Pointing out the nasty techniques Scruton uses in a document you defended is not ad hominem.

    I'm happy to leave it there! But I certainly hope I never again read any silly accusations that Tolkien is not popular with critics and not respected in academia; perhaps if you were a little less willing to be spoonfed by people who confirm your conservative persecution angst wouldn't have made the mistake in the first place.

  30. Yep; an unreasonable and angry conclusion to leave it on. Rather than admit you were just as wrong as I was, you continue to harp on about my wrongness. Are you aware how daft this makes you look?

    You weren't "pointing out nasty techniques" - you were calling Scruton a "shill" and trying to insinuate that because somebody is funded by a certain organisation, his opinions must be wrong. I'm sorry, that just doesn't cut it - you prove somebody's opinions to be wrong by arguing with them sensibly, not by questioning their moral character. (To turn the matter on its head, would you consider a scientist funded by Friends of the Earth to be "wrong" if he believed in man made global warming? Of course not - that would be just silly, wouldn't it?)

    The amazing thing is, you keep bringing up this issue of "conservative persecution angst" as if you think I'm a conservative myself. I don't consider myself to be one and have never said I am; I just prefer to keep my options open and get irritated beyond telling by the arrogant assumption on the part of the left that nobody outside of their clique is anything but a "lunatic". Closing off innovative political thinkers like Portillo and Blond, not to mention genuine conservative philosophers like Scruton (and the real heavyweights like Oakeshott and Burke), by dismissing them as "lunatic conservatives" who are "as mad as cut snakes" and not to be taken seriously, is utterly silly, blinkered, and hubristic.

    I don't have "conservative persecution angst"; I have "arrogant leftists with their narrow world view really piss me off angst".

  31. Faustusnotes: Calling you "daft" was a bit rude in retrospect; sorry about that.

  32. I can't fathom this, Noisms. I quote you an example of Scruton criticising people's ideas on the basis of who they work for ("an activist organisation" that is trying to subvert national governments, no less) and how much they are paid, and you accuse me of being nasty when I point out that his ideas are suspect because he works for a loony organisation and is paid secretly by a tobacco company to write pro-tobacco screeds. Is it okay for him to do this, but not for me?

    You do understand the reason that people are expected to declare their interests in public life, don't you? I know it's a common conservative/libertarian trait to deny that this matters, but do you really think that Scruton is going to jeopardize his salary from JTI - it's as much as a senior researcher in a university in London! - should he happen to stumble on an idea that contradicts the theories they prefer? Do you really believe that he presents all the information available, and honestly, with 50k a year at stake? And do you believe that JTI would have agreed to his request for a pay rise if he wasn't willing to say things that please them? You seem to pride yourself on cynical interpretations of peoples' real motives (that rather uncharitable interpretation of academics is a good case, I suppose, being as it was an awesomely cynical attack on a whole class of people on the basis of where they work), but you don't seem to be very cynical at all when someone you admire is being funded up the wazoo by an industry which has been shown without a shadow of a doubt to have thrown enormous amounts of money into the corruption of public faith in science and regulation - primarily through the organisations Scruton works for. Why the lapse of cynicism?

    This is about public ethics, Noisms, very simply, and one would have thought public ethics would be something that a philosopher would understand (he certainly appears to in some sense, since he made sure the payments were hard to trace by routing them through a front company); and something that "real" conservatives are meant to respect above ideology. Fat chance of that.

    You also know full well that I would consider work by a scientist funded by FoE lower than one funded independently, by the govt. Why even bother asking? But I would know who they were funded by because scientists have self-regulated themselves to the extent that it's impossible to publish without declaring your funding sources. Not so if you're a conservative philosopher though, eh? You get your payments secretly and accuse people of smearing you when they point out that you sell your opinions for money.

    And oh, what opinions they are. Over at the AEI, Scruton is claiming that heavy metal is immoral, that the music itself demands submission, and that if it is not banned it will decay public morals.

    I suppose he'd know all about that, wouldn't he?

  33. faustusnotes: We're not talking about "conservative/libertarian traits" here, we're talking about the rules of logic, more specifically what a logical fallacy is. Scruton could be funded by an organisation called "We Want Everybody To Die of Lung Cancer" for all I care; it doesn't necessarily invalidate his arguments in this instance. The only thing that would do this would be showing him to be wrong or putting forward a more persuasive argument of your own. All you're doing here is what's called the "appeal to motive", a genetic fallacy.

    Note that there is a crucial distinction to be made here, which I don't think you're taking account of, between statistical/empirical research, where the nature of funding is important (because that can and does skew results) and public debate. Normative arguments in the public sphere like the position Scruton is taking do not rely for their persuasiveness on questions of what is empirically true or false, but on what is or is not the right public policy. He's not talking about the empirical question of whether or not smoking is bad for you (he even says he knows that it is); he's talking about how a democratic society should treat the issue of smoking. For that type of argument, motive is irrelevant - the only thing that is relevant is whether or not we find his normative assertions persuasive.

    Personally, I do, because I believe that the individual choice on the part of smokers to do what they want to do with their own lungs, and the individual choice of publicans and restaurant owners to permit smoking on their own premises if they want to, and the individual choice of non-smokers not to go to pubs and restaurants where there might be smoking going on, should all trump the well-meaning meddling of unelected beaurocrats. It's not just about smoking; it's a key argument about the politics of globalisation and the purposes of the UN.

    Now, you may not find any of that persuasive and you may believe Scruton to be profoundly wrong, but the fact that he takes money from JTI has, and should have, absolutely no impact whatsoever on that. You need to explain why his normative arguments are not persuasive on their own merits.

    Let's use some other examples to illustrate this point:

    1. A philosopher who is funded by a train company publicly states that people should make less use of planes for journeys of distances where it is feasible to take a train, in the interests of cutting down carbon emissions. Do you agree or disagree?

    2. A philosopher who is funded by a manufacturer of wind turbines publicly states that renewable energy is a better alternative to nuclear power, because in the long term uranium supplies will deplete in the same way that coal and oil do. Do you agree or disagree?

    The answer in both instances, broadly, should depend on whether you find the normative aspects of their arguments persuasive or not. The fact that they are funded by who they are funded by should be immaterial to whether or not we agree that their opinions on policy are worth following. I happen to agree with the first fictional philosopher but not the second; however, this is only because I find the first argument normatively persuasive while the second is not.

  34. By the way, to deal specifically with this point: I quote you an example of Scruton criticising people's ideas on the basis of who they work for ("an activist organisation" that is trying to subvert national governments, no less) and how much they are paid.

    How much people who work for the WHO is paid is important, because it is indirectly your, and my, taxes which pay their salaries. Scruton is not saying those people are wrong because they are paid a lot. He is pointing out that there is an accountability problem at large (WHO officials are paid by us, but are not accountable to us in any way whatsoever; again, that politics of globalisation thing again).

    Otherwise, it simply isn't true that Scruton is criticising people's ideas on the basis of who they work for. He is criticising people's ideas, materially and at length, with his entire article.

  35. By the way, if you can point out where I accused you of "being nasty" I'd appreciate it. These misreadings are getting silly.

  36. normative statements don't come out of thin air, Noisms, or the imagination (unless one is an aesthetics prof discussing heavy metal, apparently). They are built on a base of facts and theories, and in cases like this these facts and theories aren't at all clear to the lay reader, and are very easily misrepresented or misused by the cunning propagandist, which is why it is important to know for which paymaster a normative claim-maker works. For example, in his attack on WHO policy, Scruton references a non-peer-reviewed, tobacco-company funded report on the WHO's finances which misrepresents both the purpose of the organisation and its governance structure. At no point does he reference the counter-arguments against the claims in that paper, which were published in the BMJ. In fact, you'll notice a general absence of peer-reviewed work in his article. It's as if there's a whole body of peer-reviewed work by public health experts and scientists which disagrees with his opinions, and which he has cheerfully failed to report.

    He also misrepresents the nature of the WHO's governance structure, so that someone like you, spoonfed right wing lies, is able to talk about "unelected bureaucrats" with a straight face, knowing nothing of how the WHO works or what it is even for.

    Further, he has failed at any point to mention passive smoking, which was a well-established health risk at the time of his writing, when talking about "choice" in health.

    For a public health expert like me these misrepresentations and omissions make his normative claims seem silly, but to someone from outside the field, or to a lay reader, such a basket of lies and misrepresentation can seem like a compelling case. It is by this means that the shill lies and deceives people like you into believing, for example, that unelected bureaucrats and not your own government are responsible for the framework treaty on tobacco control; or to think first and foremost in terms of property rights rather than, say, the game theoretic problems a bar owner might face, when discussing smoking bans. You've been misled by a cunning propaganda machine, and you would have been less likely to believe these liars' lies if you knew from the start who was telling them what to write and how to write it.

    Or, in fact, if you had been given all the facts, and exposed to all the ideas underlying the WHO's mandate, or the tobacco control movement, instead of just half of them.

    Because we aren't all experts in every field, we need information on which to judge the qualifications of the experts we read. I would have thought you would understand this aspect of mass communication ethics, and the difference between high school rhetorics (with their talk of fallacies) and real life textual interpretation (with its nuance of judgment and imperfect knowledge).

    Scruton obviously understands this matter of public ethics to at least the extent that he knows he needs to subvert it in order for people to believe his mesh of lies. Tollison and Wagner knew even better, which is why they lied about their qualifications and carefully hid the nature of their income.

    ... to be continued...

  37. This conservative "thinker" is a clear-cut case of a shoddy researcher (only uses non peer-reviewed work, only uses work that supports his case), a lying shill (hides his income sources from the public, against the policy of the media organisations where he publishes), and mad as a cut snake (believes promiscuity is more harmful than smoking, and heavy metal music demands submission from its fans and should be banned).

    So far you've called me silly, utterly silly, blinkered, spoonfed, unreasonable and angry, and said I'm making ad hominem attacks when I'm doing the opposite (I'm using Scruton's public record to prove he's a bad person). If you don't mind, I'll wrap all that up in the phrase "being nasty."

  38. faustusnotes: You know what? I was going to write out a long response to this, but the fact that you accuse me of knowing nothing about how the WHO works or what it is for, despite knowing fuck all about my background, working life and education, just about says everything. Life really is too short to discuss anything with someone like that.

    No doubt you'll see this as your victory; you're more than welcome to do so.

  39. taking into account your life experience, work and education would be a logical fallacy. Even if you worked for the WHO, it would apparently be utterly silly of me to credit your arguments on that basis. I can only judge your arguments as presented, and "unelected bureaucrats" is ad hominem, not argument.

  40. faustusnotes: Are you being deliberately obtuse here? Calling somebody an unelected beaurocrat is not an ad hominem fallacy if the very point at issue is democracy within the UN. The argument is not "they are unelected beaurocrats so they are wrong about smoking" (which would be a fallacious ad hominem, and is analogous to what you're doing to Scruton), but that "they are unelected beaurocrats so their democratic mandate is questionable". Can you really not tell the difference between these two things?

    Apparently you can't, because in your recent comment we have you making statements like this: "[you've] said I'm making ad hominem attacks when I'm doing the opposite (I'm using Scruton's public record to prove he's a bad person)."

    This isn't the opposite of what ad hominem is; it is what ad hominem is. You could prove that Scruton is satan if you wanted; that still wouldn't let you off the hook with dismissing the argument. I hate to bring up the obvious example, but proving that Hitler was a bad person doesn't necessarily mean he was wrong about vegetarianism, for instance.

    It's funny that you bring up mass communication ethics in light of this; a misunderstanding of what is and is not fallacious is probably that which has most damaged mass communication ethics in recent decades. It's the reason why public debate has degenerated into the laughable talking shop that it has become, and why almost all public debate these days constitutes people talking past each other and refusing to properly engage with each other's arguments. You can see it in everything from debates on the Iraq war to climate change to European integration; it has almost nothing to do with textual interpretation and almost everything to do with a lack of understanding of what is or is not a fallacious argument.

    For what it's worth I share your annoyance at adolescent obsession with logical fallacy on the internet. That doesn't mean logic has to be thrown out of the window. It's of crucial importance.

    You've ignored most of my illustrations so far, but here's another one. Let's look at an Islamic fundamentalist organisation like Hamas, which advocates the execution of gay people. Imagine how pathetic and useless it would be if our only argument against that was to say "Well, they're bad people so they must be wrong", rather than "They are wrong because of x, y and z." The former is not persuasive because it depends on the audience buying into the view that Hamas members are bad people (ad hominem is, ultimately, a fallacy of petitio principii); if they don't, the rest of the argument falls down. This is why logic is important. It's not about adolescents arguing on the internet, it's about a deep understanding of what qualifies as proper argumentation that dates back to ancient Greece.

  41. except, Noisms, my claim was that "conservatives are mad as cut snakes" and "conservatives are bad scholars." In order to prove this I simply need to prove that Scruton misrepresents facts, only presents partial cases, doesn't cite peer-reviewed sources, hides his true funding sources against the policy of the organisations which employ him (i.e. lies), maligns his opponents, and has kooky views. I think I've shown this pretty clearly. Note I didn't know this when you presented me with a list of conservative "thinkers." It just so happened that of the list you gave me, immediately one fell out as a bad sort, consistent with the original claim.

    In the process, I have presented a wide variety of arguments, not ad hom in any way, about his sources and the way he spins and lies opinion on the WHO. The only part of my argument which could be misconstrued as "ad hominem" is my claim that he deliberately subverts principles of public ethics by hiding his funding sources while making claims supportive of them. You have claimed this is ad hom but I've pointed out why it is not, because knowing someone's sources is an important tool for the lay reader to judge veracity and reliability in fields outside of their expertise. This is also why, although argument by authority is an ad hom, trusting what you read from trusted authorities on a topic is not an error. It would be madness, for example, for you as a law student to try and analyse the claims made by quantum physicists; your entire judgement of the veracity of the issue is based on a claim to and acceptance of authority.

    The tobacco companies and their lying shills have specifically and deliberately used these simple facts of mass communications to their advantage over the years, through all the means that are well established in the literature. Scruton is a part of that, and this means that his work is prima facie untrustworthy to a lay reader and his public ethics are prima facie suspect.

    It is not ad hom to say that someone's public ethics are bad if they act in a way which does not accord with accepted standards of public ethics. It is simply a statement about their behaviour, with ramifications for how much you can trust their work. I would rather believe the work of Simon Chapman on tobacco control - or, indeed, the specialists at the WHO - because they come with the imprimatur of a respected organisation, and their ethical practice is generally respected.

    Whether or not that means I will bother engaging directly with Scruton's shallow, fallacious arguments is another issue entirely; and when I do (as I have done here) then I will, unsurprisingly, find them to be shallow, fallacious, mendacious, and disingenuous. In the process I will point out, repeatedly, that he is also unethical.

    This is why I don't like the endless recitation of these fallacies on the internet. They're more of a distraction than Godwin's law, and the ad hom argument (you're wrong because you're bad) is almost always, as here, confused with the general character conclusion, "you're bad because you're a lying shill."

  42. Noisms, I just wrote a long response to your philosophy train company and hamas examples, but blogger ate it. So here's the short response.

    1. I don't trust philosophers paid by companies or industry associations, regardless of their politics, and if I have any interest in the topic will google their argument to see if its been smacked down elsewhere. Publicly funded scientists writing in reputable journals or newspapers I am much more likely to take on faith.

    2. everyone does this due to not having infinite time to kill on checking every news source (though judging by my activities here, I don't have this excuse).

    3. Before the internet this was absolutely the main way in which people could judge the reliability of claims in specialist fields, because they couldn't check the veracity of sources, the authority of citations, etc. themselves.

    4. For example, global warming denialists (AGW deniers) routinely spruik papers published in second rate or non-reviewed sources. Before google you couldn't check these simple facts from your armchair, and couldn't check at all if you weren't connected to a uni - plus they could tell any lies they wanted about how much "concensus" there was, because you couldn't check the journals

    5. For example, AGW deniers also routinely exaggerated or lied about their own and their sources qualifications to imply their argument has more weight in an environment where the authoritativeness of writers is not easily checked.

    6. It is well known that the tobacco companies ran a concerted AGW campaign, through AEI and other institutes, that was touted to them and organised by those institutes (I think AEI) and they largely used these tactics

    7. Before the internet this campaign was inscrutable to the lay reader, precisely because the responsible parties used methods exactly like those used by Scruton to hide their deception. This is why he was sacked from his newspaper columns when the truth of his funding came out

    In the absence of a good, easy way of checking facts and sources, the tobacco companies made hay while the sun shone in a variety of diverse areas - malaria control, anti-WHO screeds, AGW denialism, and anti tobacco control - through secretly-funded faux-authoritative commentators like Scruton. In short, they manipulated opinion in a deliberately deceitful manner. Anyone who partook of this money and this process to any significant extent both knew what was going on and trampled over all the accepted standards of public discourse of the time. Their arguments have been shown to have been deceitful and wrong, and their behaviour is therefore reprehensible.

  43. faustusnotes: Sorry for the late reply.

    I think I've shown this pretty clearly.

    All you've shown is that you personally have a problem with people who don't share your views on the tobacco industry and the WHO.

    It would be madness, for example, for you as a law student to try and analyse the claims made by quantum physicists

    This sentence is really the crux of the matter, because it demonstrates that we're not even in agreement on the terms of the debate...or perhaps even what a debate actually is. You're right that I wouldn't try to analyse the claims made by quantum physicists, at least about quantum physics, but that's because (again) quantum physics is about matters that can be empirically verified (except when people start postulating empirically unverifiable bullshit about the nature of the universe), where this is a normative issue.

    You're acting as if we've settled this issue (normative vs. empirical); we haven't.

    It is not ad hom to say that someone's public ethics are bad if they act in a way which does not accord with accepted standards of public ethics.

    No, it isn't. You're absolutely correct about that. But it is ad hominem to say that someone's public ethics are bad and therefore they are wrong.
    Can you really not see this?

    The point at issue was never "Roger Scruton is a really nice guy." It was "Is Roger Scruton worth taking seriously/not as mad as a cut snake?" Nothing you've written here has really even addressed the latter question.