Techniques of Propaganda, God, and Tupac


0659 | [Continuing a rant about Stephen Darwall’s essay, Civil Discourse as Mutual Accountability]

Stephen Darwall. At Yale.

In elementary school, we start learning about “techniques of propaganda” and “logical fallacies” that are most often committed in writing. We’re usually taught to avoid these things, and also to look out for them in others’ writing. Things like ad hominem, appeal to emotions, bandwagon…

I would never have thought it, but even University Professors who write for an educated audience use such taboo tactics that is best used for manipulating little children to reveal the location their hidden stash of candy. I wouldn’t take any particular note of it (since he’s not the only one to do this; Harry Frankfurt does this by appealing to sexual machismo, Josh Greene does this by appealing to the egotistical vanity of the intellect, Martin West does this by appealing to authority, etc etc), except that Darwall has involved the Greeks (which means that I must become involved).

In his essay Civil Recourse as Mutual Accountability, he says on page 6:

“To realize genuine mutual accountability between equals, tort actions should be seen as expressing a kind of mutual respect that is actually incompatible with retaliation and vengeance. The latter notions, I have argued, invoke a notion of respect that is more at home in honor cultures — where dishonoring, status-lowering disrespect can be annulled by reciprocating disrespect (e.g., revenge). In “accountability cultures,” as I have called them, disrespect calls for attitude and treatment that respectfully demand request.” (p.6)

So here in this passage, Darwall is using an “appeal to emotions.” He uses words like “honor culture” knowing that it is associated with the “East,” and knowing that some conservative “White folks” generally think of all things “Eastern” as being somehow inferior or immoral. [Though, this itself is a self-ignorance and a self-hatred, since everyone knows that the Thracians were red-heads who dressed in the “Persian style” (likely due to the colder weather of the north), and also that the Caucasus Mountains are to the East of Greece. Furthermore, Trojans spoke the same language as the Argives — at least enough to make negotiations with one another. And apparently, they even shared some of the same customs of as the Argives — customs such as xenia.]

Darwall also uses that word because he knows that conservative “White folks” are sensitive to social status; hence, he maintains the traditional bifurcation of the good and the bad and divides the world into two fundamental kinds of cultures: “honor cultures” and “accountability cultures.” Of course, the word “honor culture” is code word for “shame culture,” while the word “accountability culture” is the code for “guilt culture.” All of this sums to the following conclusion: Jewish, Christian, guilt, GOOD. Greek, pagan, honor, BAD. Furthermore, his fork-tongued word-choice does the double-duty of exploiting the psychological trauma of reform-existentialists who have “separation issues” with Greece (thanks to Nietzsche), while at the same time playing on the egotistical vanity of the Harry Potters of the world who managed to kill themselves at least a thousand times in order to climb to the top of the bourgeois pyramid (which, by the way, is demonstrative proof that they are the prestigious head-monkeys of the world).

And again on page 31, he writes:

“However, we think it is a mistake to conceive this vulnerability in terms of susceptibility to vindication, vengeance, or retaliation—ideas that are more appropriate to an honor culture or ancient Greek tragedy and myth than to the law of torts (or, indeed, to the criminal law).”

More fear-mongering and ego-stroking. It’s so very persuasive, so very forceful, so very manipulative — so very French.

By the end of this paper, there should be no clear-headed and credible legal theorists left who might think that the categorical lump of honor, ancient Greek tragedy, and myth are anything more than inferior frivolity — especially when it is compared with the preeminence and authoritative status of THE LAW (of torts, but just in case torts are seen as too bourgeois and Aristotelian, criminality is thrown in for good measure). Tell me, does this actually work on people? Who is reading his papers anyways!?

Stephen Darwall. At Yale… Just think: every semester, he pumps out hordes of undergrads who have been exposed to his incredible rhetoric.

Needless to say, philosophy papers evoke strong emotions from me. So I’m going to take a break from reading Darwall.


1141  |  With my ball of strong emotions from this morning, I produced a new Philosophy Topic post on Morality today. It will be published this coming Father’s Day.

But before that, I spent a little bit of time listening to Tupac: Only God Can Judge Me, and To Live and Die in L.A, and Unconditional Love. It’s the music that I listened to as a teen. The songs brought back a sense of nostalgia for me. Now, I’m not some pseudo-Eminem, but back then, I used to think that Tupac’s words were for me. He seemed to know how I felt.

One day (much later than one would expect to realize such things), it dawned on me that Tupac was “black”, and that I wasn’t. I realized that his love and his words weren’t intended for me. I felt like an outsider — like someone who woke up and realized that world that they had been living in all this time wasn’t intended for them, but that they were only getting a tour of what was originally created for the sake of rich, educated, “white” men. I remember that it made me feel a little bit sad, disappointed, hurt, and also embarrassed. I had always thought that Tupac was somehow beyond all that, but it turned out that he wasn’t. I realized that “black” people were racist, and hateful, and ignorant — and that he was singing his songs for them, to help them heal. I realized that “black” people had suffered a lot, and that they were still suffering. And I realized that “black” people needed Tupac’s love for them, in a way that perhaps I didn’t.

I remember feeling disillusioned for a while. And then one day, I realized that I was bigger than Tupac. Even if I wasn’t one of Tupac’s “peeps,” he was still one of mine. Looking back, I think that what I loved most about Tupac, was his love — his love for his people. And this is what I love most about Plato as well — not necessarily Plato himself, but rather his love for crazy old Socrates. (And, perhaps it’s why the tequila bottle went smashing into the sliding glass window instead of smashing into Louie’s temple.) It’s what moved Achilles. Love is always beautiful.

I still listen to Tupac’s music from time to time, like today.


1704 |  According to Darwall’s reiteration of Ripstein’s Kantian theory on page 19, “a claim right to something is an ‘authorization’ to use coercion in defending or securing that thing.” In other words, “a right is a justification to coerce,” and for Darwall, the court system is “the mechanism through which victims can rightfully coerce” the wrong-doers to do right.

I’m not an expert on Kantian theory. But what I don’t understand is why the court is the necessary mechanism of coercion, and why the courts should get involved at all, and what force the court has upon a wrong-doer such that the victim seeks to use the court as the most effective mechanism for achieving justice. If the Kantian theory is valid, then why can’t the victim simply cut out the middle-man and go straight to the wrong-doer and coerce them more directly? It doesn’t make sense to include a middle-man, unless it was somehow more effective and/or efficient to do things via a middle-man.