Ad hominem attacks are easy but counterproductive and best ignored

June 12, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog, Freedom, Leadership

I’m following the story of the government spying more closely than most issues and writing about it here because I see it as a failure of leadership in many ways, most importantly that the system seems to be out of control with the person in charge — the President of the United States — exercising little accountability if not outright lying.

Yesterday an opinion piece in the New York Times ignored the issues and attacked the character of the whistle-blower, using malevolent tones to insinuate problems. Today the New Yorker challenged that piece, still respecting the Times writer, as if the piece deserved respect.

I don’t think the piece deserved respect of serious consideration. Instead of addressing it point by point, as the New Yorker did, I just did what he did. I posted the following on a discussion board at Hacker News. While I’ve read the Times writer’s stuff before and seen him on TV, what I wrote really only came from reading his Wikipedia page. I was surprised to see the comments to my post, copied below say how accurate my post was. I guess this ad hominem technique works well, at least rhetorically if not logically. Click the link to the New York Times piece above and see for yourself how similar they came out even though I only glanced at that piece yesterday for a minute — enough to realize it wasn’t worth reading.

Anyone can write what David Brooks wrote, dodging anything of importance about the situation. Here, I’ll do with David Brooks what he did with Snowden — avoiding looking at the situation, slighting someone’s character without knowing anything important. I’ll just work with his Wikipedia page.

Here goes…

David Brooks sounds like an intelligent guy, but if you look at his background you see his true colors. Raised in suburban Philadelphia’s ultra-wealthy Main Line, he started and has never wavered from an ultra-elite, insider status, leading to today living literally inside the Beltway, the quintessential system man, his status-quo “opinions” on every issue a foregone conclusion.

His intelligence sadly belies his consistent conclusion-first-supporting-argument-second reflexive responses. What else would you expect from someone so ingrained in the establishment — Yale, Duke, University of Chicago, Wall Street Journal, New York Times? This man may have never said a single word to someone who didn’t know where their next meal might come from, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil with a creme fraiche brulee.

This nation could use discussion of important issues, debate, thoughtful exchange. He delivers rubber stamp answers. We as a nation lose out. While he can’t single-handedly deserve credit for our slide into partisan bickering and bureaucracy, he proudly contributes more than his share. And why not, with lucrative speaking fees and book options paving his way?

If you want a pundit to unthinkingly deliver a preconceived notion supporting keeping things the way they are, David Brooks is your man. Sadly, if you want thoughtful consideration of complex issues, he’ll stand in the way of whoever would deliver.


There, how was that? Can I have a job as the knee-jerk conservative guy at the New York Times now?

One person responded

I think you’ve actually described David Brooks pretty accurately.

Another responded

Well, that’s a laser accurate description of Brooks, so maybe not the best example…

Yet another:

Cripplingly demonstrative.

I confess I’m flattered even though I was half playing around.

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