Another lesson in civility

A reader of Hugh Hewitt’s Weekly Standard “Tough Guy” column writes Professor Sleeper:
“I read your column this morning (as well as seeking out the column of these young students on, in order to be sure I had heard ‘both sides’). You refer to the ‘belligerence’ of these students who subject their professors to ‘baiting, ridicule, and ad hominem attack’…and then you proceed to ridicule and attack the students with phrases like, ‘little flying squad of…hitmen…descended like flies,’ as well as calling them ‘neo-Stalinists’ and ‘Fedayeen Uncle Sams.’
“Doesn’t the irony of your own words in this column strike a chord with your (supposed) sensitivity to and for civility? Evidently you do not hold yourself to the same standards to which you hold freshman students…what ‘learning curve’ do you propose to instill through this sort of hypocrisy? That only tenured professors should be excused for resorting to ridicule and name calling???”
Professor Sleeper responds:
“I’m sorry to tell you that you are writing in utter ignorance. My column had one paragraph about the Frontpage piece and many other paragraphs about other matters. It was not the Frontpage article which I accused of being ad hominem. You should have read more carefully.
“If are [sic] among those people who tend to believe a lot of what they read in the daily Weekly Standard and who then fire off e-mails to people you don’t know, let me do two things: 1) I you [sic] read my very brief reply [omitted from this exchange], to a letter than ran in the Yale Daily News yesterday, and ask yourself what part of my reply you do not understand or agree with. 2.) I would ask you to ponder the fact that I actually submitted my Yale Daily News column to Standard editor Bill Kristol and publisher Terry Eastland, suggesting that they reprint it or let me adapt it, on the grounds that nothing makes a good govement look bigger and better than the capacity for self-criticsm. Their only response was the piece by Hugh Hewitt which you read.”
The reader replies to Professor Sleeper:
“Thank you for taking the time to reply. By opening your e-mail with the statement that I wrote to you ‘in total ignorance,’ you have (again) jaded the dialogue. It was an unnecessary and untrue comment, and completely indicative of the type of irony I pointed out in my first e-mail. I assure you that I read your column carefully (in fact, I read it twice to be sure I understood all your points) and that I am not ignorant on this subject. For you to assume I did not understand the thrust of your conclusions because I called attention to your use of name-calling in an argument is a fallacy of logic.
“Surely you can admit that calling people (students or other folks) ‘Fedayeen’ is just blatant Spin, if you indeed were not talking about the use of violence in debate. It’s a very poor analogy, at the very least, and is inappropriately used in a column where you seem to argue against the use of name calling (and other ‘neo-Stalinist’ uses of language) to bring home a point.
“Furthermore, I fail to see the relevance of the source from which I was directed to your column (other than to make assumptions about and pigeon hole someone who YOU do not know). What is relevant is that I took the time to read your column (twice), and the Frontpage column, and other subject related columns, before I wrote to you with my comments. And, I wrote not to debate many of the issues you addressed in your column, but to make a single point: your use of name-calling flies directly in the face of what you were saying about your objection to using name-calling within a worthy dialogue.
“Your assumption that I read your column only because I am the ‘type of person who reads the Weekly Standard’ (whatever that means ~ I read tremendous volumes of stuff, and I’d challenge anyone to label me as any certain thing based on the spectrum) is telling ~ obviously you are prejudiced against that forum for some reason…or perhaps you just resent the fact that outside publications and/or groups have called attention to some questionable statements made by Yale professors (and yourself) in the Yale community? This is purely speculation on my part, but I can’t think of why you’d even care HOW I found your column…unless you want to claim that it was not intended for people “like me” to read? I would hope your convictions ~ and the courage to state and stand behind them ~ extend beyond the Yale community?
“As for your most recent column (thank you for pointing it out), we all know there are extremists on both sides of the political aisle ~ people who you, or I, or Yale University, may say, ‘wear the colors of high purpose falsely.’ But surely every person who feels and cares deeply about an issue believes their agenda is of a ‘higher purpose’? I am sure the Yale professors who spoke out felt that way, and I am sure the students who objected to what they said felt that way. Either way, I think BOTH sides would prefer that people refrain from calling them Fedayeen and neo-Stalinists.
“When we use descriptions like ‘tribal agendas,’ or accuse those we oppose of having some secret ‘unacknowledged ideology,’ then we are purporting to see into their souls and judge their motives ~ which (I believe) none of us can rightly do. You seem to be claiming that these people with whom you take issue are pushing propaganda rather than sincerely promoting their ideas…but in this great land of diversity, one man’s propaganda IS another man’s Bible ~ it is just the nature of debate, isn’t it?
“I am in agreement with you that many people in today’s political debates are guilty of using unworthy tactics, like name calling ~ my only point was that, in your 4-14 column, you seemed to be one of them.”


Books to read from Power Line