James Poulos Clarifies

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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  1. Avatar Patrick Cahalan
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    says:

    I hereby christen this week, “Foot in Mouth Week”.Report

  2. Avatar sonmi451
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    says:
    This is one reason why embracing agnosticism on the whole question might be such a civilizational leap forward — there may, practically speaking, be no other way to avoid a fundamental crisis of governance that Americans won’t be able to successfully recover.
     
    How do you practice agnoticism on questions like abortion and birth control, though? As a conservative, I doubt by agnoticism he means no laws should ever be passed to restrict abortion, for example. Every single time the federal government or a state government passes a law about the subject, they’re making a judgment call coming down on one side or the other – agnoticism out the door. Same with the courts.
     
    The wave of anger and condemnation that has come from some quarters is dramatic evidence that the column’s central contention is right.
     
    Yup, this is entirely predictable. I KNEW if he was going to post a clarification, a sentence like this will be in there somewhere.

    Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to sonmi451
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      says:

      So, one could say that I dont know that abortion should be legal. And so not kick up a fuss when laws start restricting or expanding access to abortion facilities. Or, we could semi-fiercely advocate for the status quo.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Murali
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        says:

        But the laws restricting access to abortion facilities for example probably comes from somewhere right? Pro-life activists lobbying the lawmakers. I think Poulos is imagining a world where if one side just relents and stop kicking up so much fuss, the other side would do so too, and we’ll all live happily ever after in magical fairy land of agnoticism. Fat chance.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to sonmi451
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          says:

          I didnt see him as positing any kind of causal mechanism of how we could get to the agnostic paradise so much as saying that being there would be good.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali
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            says:

            My sense is that to the extent postmodern conservatism is a thing, it’s an aesthetic sense that the conservative way of life might be beautiful, if we do it in certain ways.

            It’s not a political program, and its failure on this score is part of the beauty of it.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to sonmi451
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      says:
      Yup, this is entirely predictable. I KNEW if he was going to post a clarification, a sentence like this will be in there somewhere.
      I have to admit, I chuckled at that sentence too.   Grimly.

      Report

  3. Avatar David Ryan
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    says:

    I think people are pretty agnostic about speed limits and traffic laws generally.Report

  4. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto
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    says:

    I’m pretty agnostic about the Daily Caller, I must admit. It seems it provides a nice outlet for overrated, wordy, contorted writings to be published.Report

  5. Avatar Christopher Carr
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    says:

    Here is my first comment to Erik’s post:

    Actually, I think you’re all being conspicuously uncharitable. I read the piece as a criticism of the very idea you’re all attributing to Poulos and then crticizing.

    Of the excerpt, in paragraph one, Poulos references the inconsistencies of modern feminism. Then, in paragraph two, he points out that this inconsistency springs from the failure to answer the question “What are women for?” Then, in paragraph three, he suggests that perhaps our failure lies in assuming that this is the very question to be answered, that seeing as civilizations of men have failed spectacularly, perhaps it is men that should be treated as “other”.

    At least that’s how I read it.

    And then my last comment:

    Because I read him as dismissing the question entirely.

    Here’s what Poulos wrote in his clarification:

    It’s easy to see how such high stakes can lead to large-scale anger. It’s more difficult to understand how the most measured invocation of some important social contributions by women drawn from the functions of the female body can produce shock waves of horror and derision — especially from a column that points out that a society which rejects the premise of a question about sex, gender, and natural purposes might very well have achieved a great leap forward in the progress of human civilization. (emphasis mine)

    It’d be rather ungentlemanly to say I told you so here, so I won’t do that. I will instead gently point out that Poulos’s clarification is exactly what I’ve been saying his argument was clearly from the beginning. As such, in my increasingly-solipsistic world, this is not at all an accurate description of what actually went down:

    The charitable interpretation will be that he took the marbles out of his mouth and made some sensible points about how biology sits in tension with every major faction in the culture wars.

    The less charitable interpretation will be that it’s one of the biggest walkbacks you’ve ever seen.

    Unless your (speaking to the entire group now) incorrect interpretation of Poulos’s original piece is to be privileged over my totally correct interpretation, nothing was actually walked back or changed. It’s like Poulos’s original piece entitled “I like dogs.” was met with widespread scorn at his disgusting and inhuman hatred of cats, so he followed it up with a piece called “I like DOGS.”Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Christopher Carr
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      says:

      I’m sorry but…

      Much good would come from a broader recognition that women have a privileged relationship with the natural world. That’s a relationship which must receive its social due — if masculinity in its inherent and imitative varieties (including imitation by quasi-feminized males of quasi-masculinized females!) is not to conquer the world.

      Does not square with:

      especially from a column that points out that a society which rejects the premise of a question about sex, gender, and natural purposes might very well have achieved a great leap forward in the progress of human civilization.

      The only section where he even comes close to making this argument is “well it might be progress, or it might not be, but it’s what scares social conservatives” in his second paragraph. There’s no actual argument there that he thinks it might actually be a leap forward, much less a “great leap” forward.

      It strikes me that this is more a post hoc rationalization, particularly when we regard statements like:

      despite pretty much universal recognition across the political spectrum that a civilization of men, for men, and by men is no civilization at all, a monstrously barbaric, bloody, and brutal enterprise. A few inherently meaningful implications about what women are for flow naturally from this wise and enduring consensus, but no faction of conservatives or liberals has figured out how to fully grasp, translate, and reconcile them in the context of our political life.

      Overall, I’m really not sure what he even was trying to do with the original column. I can’t find a real thesis statement in it, and it seems like a very muddleheaded ramble about gender roles.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Christopher Carr
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      “I like dogs.” was met with widespread scorn at his disgusting and inhuman hatred of cats, so he followed it up with a piece called “I like DOGS.”

      At the very least, his first column was more like “J’aime les chiens,” and his second was “I like dogs.”  It was willfully confusing to his audience.

      But the first piece was not only obscurantist, it was deeply misleading.  It consistently produced an impression that the author perhaps didn’t want to have produced — in people all over the political spectrum.

      I am favorably inclined toward James, and I was left with a negative impression too.  I am still unsure how to square the two pieces of writing, as Nob mentions above, and also in a few other areas.

      At this point, it’s not worth my time.  The whole affair serves very well as an example of the perils of not writing clearly, regardless of what conclusions might arise from a few more hours of close reading and keyboard pounding.

      All writing will be interpreted, and that’s work for your reader. Make sure it’s as easy as possible for him.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Christopher Carr
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      says:

      Unless your (speaking to the entire group now) incorrect interpretation of Poulos’s original piece is to be privileged over my totally correct interpretation, nothing was actually walked back or changed.

      Right, but (speaking to you) if your interpretation  the original piece wasn’t correct, but rather ours was, then things were walked back.  So that statement comes down to the simple claim that the clarification reflects the actual meaning of the original piece rather than an attempt to adjust his claims in the face of blowback (while denying that is what is being done), which is what we’re contesting.  They’re mutually dependent claims; the reality is undetermined absent proof one way or the other.  I have yet to see the passage in the original piece that leads me to see where I missed a rejection of the question.  I try not to hold headlines against authors, but in this case I think it is fair to demand a high bar for evidence that the meaning of a piece is a rejection of a question that is posed without  additional context in its title.Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Certainly, that is correct, but, let’s look at the meta-narratives here.

        1.

        Me: Poulos said X

        Poulos: X

         

        2.

        “Everyone else”: Poulos hates women.

        Poulos: X

         

        I guess it is possible that Poulos really does hate women and that he is a liar. I just think it’s more possible that people around here fell full bore and inadvertently into participating in a witch hunt that I didn’t fall into since I don’t read any other blogs and I’ve been ridiculously busy over the last week or so.

        I’d really love to continue discussing this actually since I think a huge injustice is being done to a man’s reputation even if the original perpetrators of that injustice don’t think it’s worth their time.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Christopher Carr
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          says:

          As we went over on the other thread, I don’t agree that your X and his X were at all the same.

          I came to the original piece because Poulos tweeted it, and I follow him.  Aside from this blog, I haven’t read any of the other reactions to it.  I imagine they must be pretty harsh, and they could even — very easily — make some wrong conclusions.  That’s also wholly irrelevant.

          What I think happened here was not that he momentarily let the mask slip, letting everyone see his true, misogynist nature.  I think he’s just a guy too in love with his own prose and too unconcerned about what implications might arise from his pretty phrases.

          He was sloppy as hell in the first piece, but that does not mean the sexist reading was wrong.  If I were sloppy in my writing, and if I were to write “I adore the Ku Klux Klan,” that would still be a racist sentiment, albeit an unintentional one, if what I meant to write was “I abhor the Ku Klux Klan.”

          Words do have meanings, even if they are not necessarily the ones we intend.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            says:

            Right.  There is a paragraph that says something like ‘no faction of the right or left has given satisfactory answers to this question.’  That leaves the door open to the conclusion that the question was wrong from the start but it’s just not the case that he went through that door in the original piece.  It’s not there.  And, “What do women want?” remains the title of the piece.Report

          • So which do you think happened, then?

            (1) James Poulos tried to “test the waters” for his idea that we should go back to pre-Mad Men notions of the roles of women in society and clouded it in obfuscation as a safety net, saw that in fact, no, this idea did not gain much traction, and then walked it back in – coincidentally – the exact fashion that I imagined his argument being made in the first place.

            (2) James Poulos tried to “test the waters” for his idea that we should go back to pre-Mad Men notions of the roles of women in society and clouded it in obfuscation as a safety net, saw that in fact, no, this idea did not gain much traction, scoured the blogosphere for an escape route, came to the comments at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen, saw mine, and thought – excellent! I have found my escape! – and then adopted my ridiculous interpretation of his argument as his own clarification without giving me proper credit for it.

            Mike, I think that your comment above is exactly wrong. The sentence, “no faction of the right or left has given satisfactory answers to this question.” means exactly that we should stop asking the question, title aside (sometimes people use titles to invite reflection in some mode and not just to summarize). He went fully through that door, and he says so himself in his clarification.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Christopher Carr
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              says:

              Wow, we read that sentence very differently, CC.  My reading was that overall the piece was a statement that we can’t really escape it, even if we have to transform it.  I hate to go back to his headline, but it framed the piece way too much to ignore.  I realize he didn’t write it, but at some point you need to be responsible for what goes under your name, and above it.  If his purpose was to smite that question, he needed to mmove heavan and earth to make sure it wasn’t the title of his piece.

              That said, at this point, my energy to be ungenerous to him has run out.  I’m content to let him speak for what his meaning was – there’s no getting around the fact that his original piece was unclear to the point of incoherence, so I’m not going to say that my initial interpretation was off-base, but I’m willing to accept what he says he meant.  As if he cares what I say about it.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Christopher Carr
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          says:

          I muddled through an attempted explanation of what I thought he was trying to say too, Christopher, and I didn’t come up with “Poulos hates women”. I don’t think what he said in the first piece was quite what he says in his walkback either. There, a lot of swipes he makes at the left in his first piece turn into, “what immoderate people tend to say about the left in our political discourse”, which I think is bulldada. If you’re going to be a provocateur, you’d best expect responses from those people who aim to be provoked.Report

          • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Rufus F.
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            says:

            I certainly am not going to make the argument that the original piece wasn’t partisan nor will I argue that it wasn’t intended to provoke, but the witch hunt is more than ridiculous.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Christopher Carr
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              says:

              There wasn’t any witch-hunt – the piece was right there on the screen.  What you mean is that the reaction was out of proportion.  But if someone intends to provoke, how can we say he’s been wronged when he manages to get a strong a reaction?  Clearly this piece was a poke in the eye of the left, so we can hardly be surprised there was a reaction there, so is the issue that the reaction was so widespread beyond that quarter?  Or was the problem that people actually said they thought he wrote something offensive and backward?  But why would they have anything to say at all abotu a conservative who says some blandly derisive things about the left?  In order to provoke, he needed to cross some line or other; if he got stronger reaction than he wanted, that’s just his miscalculation.

              What is the nature of the witch-hunt you see?  What about the reaction has been more than ridiculous?Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                Yeah, I don’t think I’ve approached anything like a witch hunt as of yet. I’m not even sure that my criticisms of the piece are particularly critical. Similarly, Kain’s post bends over backwards to engage Poulos’s argument in a charitable way, and Kain’s (currently) more of a liberal than I am. Some of the comments we got about Poulos the hatemonger were pretty silly, but it’s pretty ridiculous to lump the response of this site in with the witch hunt, wherever that was going on. Also, it’s pretty silly to assume that Poulos didn’t write the way he did with no intention of provoking those angry responses that only serve to establish his bona fides as a conservative commenter and, as he claims, prove that he was right all along.Report

  6. Avatar Ellinoz
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    says:

    http://m.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jan/20/first-sexual-revolution?cat=books&type=article

    This piece from The Guardian is an easier read. James, like most folks writing on the net would benefit from interaction with an editor.Report

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