Culture

Fish Wrapper

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Via Instapundit, I see that everyone's favorite postmodernist law professor Stanley Fish, the speech-code loving author of There's No Such Thing As Free Speech, and it's a Good Thing, Too, has shown up in the most improbable of places, offering an effusive blurb for Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity (note the missing question mark). After the vile Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, it's a miracle D'Souza wasn't forced to recycle Bill Bennett blurbs from his previous books. Says Fish of D'Souza:

"The great merit of this book is that it concedes nothing. Rather than engaging in the usual defensive ploys, D'Souza meets every anti-God argument head on and defeats it on its own terms. He subjects atheism and scientific materialism to sustained rigorous interrogation, and shows that their claims are empty and incoherent. Infinitely more sophisticated than the rants produced by RichardDawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, What's So Great About Christianity leaves those atheist books in the dust."

Skeptic Magazine editor Michael Shermer, himself an ex-christian, also blurbs, calling D'Souza "a first-rate scholar whom I feel absolutely compelled to read," despite his own atheism. (Doherty on Shermer's book Why People Believe Weird Things)

Thumbing through an old copy of There's No Such Thing as Free Speech, I came across the following passage, which might explain Fish's enthusiasm for D'Souza, whom he often debated in the early 90s:

[D'Souza and I] dined together, traveled together, and played tennis whenever we could. (When his serve was on–and it was on more often than I liked–Mr. D'Souza would always win.) After the formal sessions we would continue the conversation in a bar or restaurant, and on one occasion, when we ended up in a Hardee's (the only place open in town), a few students wandered in, and for twenty minutes or so we did the whole thing over again. In May I danced happily at his wedding…"

Bonus nuttiness from Fish: When the ridiculous Jim Gilchrist, president of the Minutemen, was invited to speak at Columbia, students rushed the stage and, according to the Columbia Spectator, "sparked a chaotic brawl involving more than 20 students, other attendees, and guests." Writing at his New York Times blog, Fish argued implausibly that such political theater shouldn't fall under the rubric of "academic freedom" or "free speech":

Once one understands the true nature of the event, one understands too the scope (and limits) of the university's responsibility. In the context of what is essentially a piece of entertainment, Columbia, or any other university, does not have the responsibility to protect free speech or encourage democratic debate or stand up for academic freedom. These resonant phrases, invoked at the drop of a hat by parties on every side, are simply too large for what is going on.

Cathy Young on D'Souza's The Enemy at Home.

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  1. Michael Shermer’s quote surprises me. On the other hand, he is not an atheist and is polite almost to a fault. I doubt he has much love for Dawkins and Hitchens.

  2. I’m trying to understand Fish’s argument in the last citation here. It seems to be: Once you’ve involuntarily been made part of a piece of street theater, you become an actor in the play. As an actor, you no longer have free speech because you must follow the script. Never mind who’s imposing the script on whom.

  3. Oooh, a God thread! This is bound to be an intelligent debate between opposing views!

  4. Who is this Stanley Fish fellow, and why does he warrant a blog post?

  5. Shame on you, Michael. By now you should know better than to start a post without getting the ok from joe first.

  6. I’m sure if the government outlawed Mr. Fish’s books and ordered them burned in public he would be screaming bloody murder for “free speech” and such.

  7. fish’s argument in “ain’t no such thing” is a bit more nuanced than that; in fact i really only take issue with all the points he makes after his initial analysis. his conclusions are really wiggy, but his analysis is pretty spot on.

    how that happens i know not.

  8. Michael:

    Thanks. There is a crucial quote D’Souza in that Cathy Young article that reads “There is probably no better way to repel traditional Muslims, and push them into the radical camp, than to attack their religion and their prophet”. Remember my concerns regarding the stupidity of the cartoons? 😉 But in any case, that was a good post. Thanks.

  9. I am also surprised by Shermer’s comments.

    If D’Souza “meets every anti-God argument head on and defeats it on its own terms” then what makes Christianity the obvious alternative? An argument pitting Christianity against Atheism commits the same logical fallacy as Pascal’s Wager – false dichotomy. It assumes that the only alternative to non-belief is, by default, Christianity.

    If he addresses Atheism as straightforwardly as is claimed – which I seriously doubt – then “a first-rate scholar” such as D’Souza could have just as easily made the same argument in a book titled, “What’s so great about Hinduism.” I suspect that these are just more of the same old, tired apologist arguments lacking any substance other than “How could thousands of uneducated, ancient Palestinian sheepherders be wrong?”

  10. Fish’s argument rests on an absurd division between free speech and free conscience. He says that speech only begins with exclusion, does this include the thoughts themselves (speech is only the physical manifestation of creations of the mind).

    I say we get this over with it quick and denounce him to the thought police, though Obrien might have problems with him because he already thinks 2 and 2 make 5.

  11. See, Miggs doesn’t know, either.

  12. Theists,

    I’m not going to change your mind. I accept that. I don’t walk the streets handing out pamphlets extolling the joy and virtues of freethought, and I don’t invite you to all those really cool atheist meetings so that you may “See the Light”.

    PLEASE behave similarly.

    V/R
    J sub D

  13. I don’t walk the streets handing out pamphlets extolling the joy and virtues of freethought, and I don’t invite you to all those really cool atheist meetings so that you may “See the Light”.

    Well, why shouldn’t/couldn’t you?

    PLEASE behave similarly 😉

    (And not I do not do that myself at all!)

  14. J sub D,

    If you don’t want to be judged by the example of the assholes amongst the atheists, you might try not judging all theists based on the behavior of the most annoying and/or offensive.

    Do unto others, blah blah blah.

    M’kay?

  15. I, for one, always find it refreshing when people opposed to each other intellectually can have a cordial relationship. Duke it out in the arena of ideas, but have a mutual respect for one another. Kind of conjures up in my mind the founding fathers debating in old paintings.

    I’m sure my perception is tinted with nostalgia for a time that never really was, but it does seem to me like we’ve done a complete 180 as a society. Going from substantive, reasoned debate without stupid emotional appeals or ad hominem attacks to a climate of personal smears and sappy emotional appeals completely lacking substance.

  16. Fish’s argument rests on an absurd division between free speech and free conscience. He says that speech only begins with exclusion, does this include the thoughts themselves (speech is only the physical manifestation of creations of the mind).

    well, what he says in that essay (i do not know if it was updated recently or whatever) is that the distinction of the zone of “free speech” begins by creating exclusions: incitement, libel, etc.

    he furthermore goes on to a fairly bog standard routine about how many boilerplate arguments that cry “free speech” end up implying that words have no real consequences. and that the very notion of free speech is an ad hoc historical creation that tends to change with time.

    where me and him part ways is that he does not acknowledge the division between speech and action, and specifically those actions which cause physical harm, injury to person or reputation, etc.

  17. I saw a Fish / D’Souza debate in college. It was all during the height of Multiculturalism anxiety. In retrospect, I don’t know that they were really arguing over much.

    Until his last book, I thought D’Souza’s head was more or less screwed on straight, too. Color me skeptical that he has refuted athiesm. I keep hearing that about lots of books, starting with Lewis’ Mere Christianity. That was a disappointment. I’ve never seen an argument that Hume and/or Russell didn’t already address.

  18. If you don’t want to be judged by the example of the assholes amongst the atheists, you might try not judging all theists based on the behavior of the most annoying and/or offensive.

    I try. I will add that I’ve never, been bothered by an atheist while walking down the street, reading a newspaper, minding my own business, etc. Sadly, Those things have occured from various flavors of theists. They often continue after I explain my atheism.

  19. “[D’Souza and I] dined together, traveled together, and played tennis whenever we could. (When his serve was on–and it was on more often than I liked–Mr. D’Souza would always win.) After the formal sessions we would continue the conversation in a bar or restaurant, and on one occasion, when we ended up in a Hardee’s…”

    I would describe that as “dating”.

    I wonder who pitched and who caught?

  20. J sub D:

    Those theist handing out pamphlets do annoy me too. I try to avoid them usually, including those of my own faith. I do not know, something is wrong about it. What is more annoying are those who come knock on my door.

  21. I actually don’t mind the recent upswell in books discussing the rise in atheism and whether it is right/wrong. I disagree strongly with D’Souza, but at least the “conversation” is happening. Even ten years ago there was almost no discussion about atheism in the mainstream. I’m not going to dig too deeply into the meaning of that, but I would venture that the other side is starting to see atheism as a threat (a good thing in my opinion, but reasonable people can differ).

  22. Per wiki, D’Souza was born in Bombay and moved to the US when he was 16-17 before going to Dartmouth. Was he raised as a Christian or did he convert after moving?

    Miggs,

    I heard you were dead. That you’d swallowed your tongue or something. What did you whisper to Clarice again?

  23. I keep hearing that about lots of books, starting with Lewis’ Mere Christianity.

    yeah, i don’t really know why people recommend that to people who don’t believe as they do. it’s not very convincing, the writing is kinda shit and the jacket design tends to be lame-o.

  24. de stijl,
    I believe he is a convert.

    mm

  25. the distinction of the zone of “free speech” begins by creating exclusions: incitement, libel, etc.

    This defines the zone; it does not speak to its legitimacy.

    he furthermore goes on to a fairly bog standard routine about how many boilerplate arguments that cry “free speech” end up implying that words have no real consequences.

    Some of the people arguing for free speech are idiots. This too does not speak to the legitimacy of the concept of free speech.

    he does not acknowledge the division between speech and action, and specifically those actions which cause physical harm, injury to person or reputation, etc.

    Any competent post-modernist can dink around with any distinction and make it look arbitrary. That, however, does not necessarily mean that the distinction is not real or should not be the basis for policy (too often, your post-modernists seem to assume that “arbitrary = illegitimate”).

  26. Fluffy,
    It hardly matters, they’ve both lost their marbles. Or fumbled the balls, as the case may well be…

    hugs,
    Shirley Knott

  27. Well, why shouldn’t/couldn’t you?

    A proper upbringing. Good manners. Things like that.

    Those theist handing out pamphlets do annoy me too. I try to avoid them usually, including those of my own faith. I do not know, something is wrong about it. What is more annoying are those who come knock on my door.

    iih, being a Muslim, I would imagine that you get that a lot of that from Christians, especially in the U.S. The Jehovah’s witnesses are the worst when it comes to knocking on your door and disturbing your peace and quiet.

    BTW, I am friends with numerous theists who accept me for what I am, i.e. don’t try to enlighten/convert me. Of course, I do the same. Live and let live.

  28. iih, being a Muslim, I would imagine that you get that a lot of that from Christians, especially in the U.S. The Jehovah’s witnesses are the worst when it comes to knocking on your door and disturbing your peace and quiet.

    What annoys me is their (Muslim, Christian, whatever) sense of superiority.

    You have me as one of those friends, I hope.

  29. Some Jehovah’s Witness reps came by my parent’s house one day before I was born.

    My Southern Baptist father spoke with them for some time and as they were getting no where with him, they asked if they could speak alone with his two daughters, then in grade school. My dad noticed they had a couple of children out in their car. My dad told them they could speak to his daughters if they would allow him to speak alone with their children.

    Needless to say, the Jehovah’s Witnesses did not take my dad up on his offer.

  30. I will add that I’ve never, been bothered by an atheist while walking down the street

    Actualy I have. I have been accosted by ideologically atheist communists in Berkeley and San Fransisco. They were very hostile toward religions, particularly those religions practices by white European males.

    So far I haven’t been accosted by ideologically atheist Objectivists, but I think that’s because they’re so damned rare now.

  31. My uncle Barry did such a good job pitching Catholicism to two Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on his door that the bishop of their temple came back and yelled at him the next day.

  32. My uncle Barry did such a good job pitching Catholicism to two Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on his door that the bishop of their temple came back and yelled at him the next day.

    I was raised Catholic and was considering the seminary in a former life, so I’ve studied a fair amount Catholic theology. That said, if you accept the initial premises, Catholicism has a pretty rigorous logical structure to its teachings.

    That “accept the initial premises” is a real kicker of a detail, though.

  33. Actualy I have. I have been accosted by ideologically atheist communists in Berkeley and San Fransisco.

    I hope you told them to “Mind your own business.” or “Go fuck youself.” I consider both to be acceptable responses.

  34. My uncle Barry did such a good job pitching Catholicism to two Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on his door that the bishop of their temple came back and yelled at him the next day.

    joe, I have used “I’m a Roman Catholic, the one true church, founded by our Lord Jesus, through Saint Peter.” I’m not, of course, but it does work.

  35. if you accept the initial premises, Catholicism has a pretty rigorous logical structure to its teachings.

    sigh… those annoying “initial premises.” I say this without any sarcasm, because I’ve been really interested in Catholicism for a number of years, even talked to a couple priests, read some of the Catechism, etc. It’s just the whole “believing in God” thing I can’t get down. If not for that hurdle, I could probably buy it.

    I keep hearing that about lots of books, starting with Lewis’ Mere Christianity.

    I was disappointed with this one, also, after hearing a lot of great reviews. As an alternative, I recommend G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. It’s not an apologia, like Lewis’s book, just a wild ride through one (brilliant) man’s religious growth. It does a great job of making rigid (Catholic) orthodoxy sound like the most radical, liberating heresy out there.

  36. Re: the home visits:

    I was reared a baptist and along the way memorized a verse that I’ve found helpful:

    Ephesians 2:8-9
    For by grace are ye saved, through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast.

    Seems to work better at getting the JW’s down the road than simply telling them I’m an athiest. Fyi, it really seems to spoil their day.

  37. and I don’t invite you to all those really cool atheist meetings

    Y’mean I’m not *sob* welcome here?

  38. My trick is to simply look through the door eye hole first. Old fashioned but simple.

  39. A friend in France said she once let some Witnesses into her home, who, unprovoked, lambasted the Catholic Church so indiscriminately, crudely, and for so long that she finally exploded at them with hauteur that “I am not Catholic, but if it weren’t for the Catholic Church, there would be no Jehovah’s Witnesses,” which she said gave them pause.

  40. and I don’t invite you to all those really cool atheist meetings

    Y’mean I’m not *sob* welcome here?

    Well, I used to do that, (invite deists to the meetings) but y’all got squeemish about the virgin sacrifices and puppy stomping, so I stopped.

    I hope you understand.

  41. iih | October 15, 2007, 6:51pm | #

    My trick is to simply look through the door eye hole first. Old fashioned but simple.

    Actually, iih, I’m too short to do that. I have to stumble around for a minute and a half in my underwear trying to answer the door. All this to get the new pamphlet with the picture of the racially diverse group of people hanging out with jungle critters on the back.

    Wow – that pamphlet sounds a lot cooler the way I described it than it actually is.

  42. if you accept the initial premises, Catholicism has a pretty rigorous logical structure to its teachings.

    I fail to see the logic behind transubstantiation. Also, stepping back for a wider view, I don’t get how Catholics can worship such an immensely anti-authoritarian figure such as Jesus, yet subject themselves to the grotesque and overarching authority of the church.

    I find it far more logical to believe that if Jesus was God in the form of man, then his message was that we are all God in the form of man. I guess that has something to do with how I tend to think of God, though.

  43. Re: the home visits:

    I have a Mayan calendar as a souvenir from Chichen Itza. If I see some nicely dressed people at my door, I usually grab it and say I worship Quetzlcoatl.

    They don’t come back.

  44. Baked Penguin

    My parents were UU. When the Mormons or the JW’s came to the door, they were ready with their UU pamphlets, offering to read the JW or Mormon pamphlets if the proselityzers would read the UU pamphlets.

    They didn’t come back, either.

    I once had a summer job as a janitor in a hospital and had the Operating Room station. I glanced at the OR schedule one night and was surprised to notice that the patients’ religious denomination was noted. The head nurse explained it was so the appropriate clergy could be summoned if necessary. I pointed out that some were labelled “Protestant”, which seemed rather ambiguous. The head nurse explained that they were JWs, but didn’t want it on the record. That way, if a blood transfusion was needed, it would be done. I gather they were willing to sort it out with their coreligionists later.

  45. Well, it looks like my Shermer’s books are going to be used for kindling this winter.

    Hell, what doesn’t Shermer give an actual blow job to that theist pile of shit while he’s at it? He’s already fellated him in print.

  46. Skeptic Magazine editor Michael Shermer, himself an ex-christian, also blurbs, calling D’Souza “a first-rate scholar whom I feel absolutely compelled to read,” despite his own atheism.

    I guess I’d like Shermer to flesh this statement out a little bit.

  47. Aresen – I don’t get religionists, but I really don’t get JW’s.

    Gambler’s logic – JW’s say that only 144,000 will make it to heaven. Well, there have already been over 4,000,000 people in the JW faith since it began. Why join a religion where you have, at best, a 30 to 1 shot?

  48. I am quite “skeptical” of the Shermer blurb. I can’t imagine Michael Shermer actually tolerating Dinesh’s drivel for more than a nanosecond.

    For an interesting non-polarizing take on atheist spirituality, see http://atheistprayer.blogspot.com

  49. dpottsy, or anyone else: for me, most religions have to be thought about in the context of their time. I have no doubt that if there really was a fellow named Jesus who was crucified by the Romans, he was an enlightened individual for his time. He had some good lessons to teach humanity. But he was mostly concerned with his own people, he probably wasn’t thinking over 2000 years in advance and would probably be surprised so many people “worship” him.

    I figure that, as far as we know, we’re the most powerful consciences in the universe. All the highly metaphysical stuff in Hinduism, Christianity, etc has not manifested itself in the highly technical time, and so I’d need proof of things of that “nature” before I could buy the whole thing.


  50. Any competent post-modernist can dink around with any distinction and make it look arbitrary. That, however, does not necessarily mean that the distinction is not real or should not be the basis for policy (too often, your post-modernists seem to assume that “arbitrary = illegitimate”).

    the essay is a bit deeper than that and worth reading. like i said his analysis is pretty spot on.

    and i think the distinction is real, even though insults and hate speech can cause genuine physical distress and physiological changes. i just don’t think they’re of the same magnitude or really in the same ballpark as fish may be willing to evaluate.

    and yeah yeah pomo yeah yeah the academy yeah yeah blah blah blah disclaimer whatever.

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