Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Satire and the "tu, quoque" argument

I enjoy clever satire. One of my favorite blogs (now dormant) was Brother Causticus at Titus One Ten. I thought it brilliant to use the lesser-known follow-up to Titus One Nine as a place to skewer, among other things, both sides of the Anglican ideological spectrum (his motto: "It is our intention to speak the truth in love; failing that, to speak the truth; and, when neither of these are possible, to speak. Unless things are perfectly unspeakable.") He was visited by both "reasserter" and reappraiser" alike. He was clever, and usually managed to poke fun without resorting to ad hominem malice.

Today I read two fairly random posts on two very different blogs: a long exchange of comments between Alcibiades and others at
Caliban's Dream about the company we keep and the extent to which we are responsible for the comments of those who frequent our blogs, and a long series of reponses to a very clever satire on the role of women in intellectual life. Both made me think about the prevalence of the "tu, quoque" argument.

In one oft-repeated analogy, our blogs are our living rooms, and we claim the right to escort those who misbehave out the door (i.e. ban/block/delete comments). We see this almost exclusively done, however, with those with whom we disagree. To be sure, some sites have elves who screen out the most egregious unpleasantness, but for the most part, the blogosphere is a free-for-all where things can get most unpleasant indeed. My question is, at what point do we escort our friends to the door?

In the case of the
vulgar joke, the racist remark, in "real life" these would be punished at the very least by the frozen stare. Perhaps even a stronger statement of disapproval. A guest who became quarrelsome or belligerent would be shown the door.

We have reached the point in the Anglican blogosphere where communication has virtually (pun intended) come to a standstill between those who find themselves on either extreme of the "current unpleasantess." And the epithets fly. And fly. "Why must you be so nasty?" each side asks as it prepares the next barrage. "You started it!" cries the other. "Pot, kettle, black!" both exclaim.

The tu, quoque argument (in essence, "you did/do it, too!") has become the justification for all sorts of spiteful attacks. However, it is a fallacy--a faulty argument. One cannot justify injustice with injustice, two rights don't make a wrong...etc.

we can push the analogy even further: if we truly mean it it when we say, "all are welcome in this place," whether it be our house or our blog, then we have a responsibility to make sure that our guests behave civilly to each other. No sniping over the sherry. No cruel digs over the dessert. And show them the door if they cannot play well with others, never to be invited back.

By the same token, (and this is just as important, I believe) if one is an invited guest in someone's house, one needs to be civil. But if I crash an intimate party, I might expect to receive less than a cordial welcome, and if I insult the host or the invited guests, I really can't complain if I am insulted in return.

Most of us know by now what to expect when we visit Mad Priest or Stand Firm or Father Christian Troll or VirtueOnline. Some of these blogs may be to your taste, some not. You get what you pay for. But (to crank out just one more analogy) if you show up to McDonalds looking for escargots farcis à la bourguignonne, you have two choices. Order a Big Mac, sit down, eat and enjoy, or walk out and find yourself a French restaurant.

And instead of "tu, quoque" perhaps, "Ego, quoque. Et mea culpa."