Saturday, April 12, 2008
Heidi Moore’s Argument from Intimidation
On the website of the Wall Street Journal, under the heading “Capitalism Shrugged: Should Ayn Rand Be Required Reading?”—and after stating a few uncontroversial facts, several inaccuracies, and some inconsequential fluff—Heidi Moore gets to her point:
Rand has a bit of a reputation problem among those who have not drunk the Kool-Aid. . . . Deal Journal readers, we put the question to you: Should there be more Ayn Rand to instruct young, impressionable minds? Or is the problem with capitalism today too much Rand already?
Gosh, Ms. Moore, since you put it that way, how could readers of the Wall Street Journal possibly answer in the affirmative? How could self-respecting, independent thinkers bear the prospect of being regarded as Kool-Aid–drinking cultists for holding that reality, reason, self-interest, individual rights, freedom, and the like deserve the attention of college students?
I’ve said enough here and here about the absurdity of the ongoing attacks against John Allison and BB&T for taking a rationally principled approach to educational grants, so I won’t address that issue again here. But I cannot resist pointing out that if Heidi Moore had read and understood Ayn Rand’s works, she might have thought twice about so brazenly and publicly engaging in one of the irrational tactics identified by Ayn Rand: The Argument from Intimidation.
The Argument from Intimidation is the attempt to substitute psychological pressure for rational argument. In Rand’s words:
It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure . . . [It] consists of threatening to impeach an opponent’s character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate. Example: “Only the immoral can fail to see that Candidate X’s argument is false.” . . . The falsehood of his argument is asserted arbitrarily and offered as proof of his immorality.
In today’s epistemological jungle, [this] method is used more frequently than any other type of irrational argument. It should be classified as a logical fallacy and may be designated as “The Argument from Intimidation.”
The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt and its reliance on the fear, guilt or ignorance of the victim. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion, under threat of being considered morally unworthy. The pattern is always: “Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant, etc.) can hold such an idea.”
God forbid that college students encounter such ideas; they might commit suicide and catch a comet.
If Ms. Moore has a rational argument against Rand’s ideas—whether against the importance of recognizing facts, or against the principle that reason is man’s means of knowledge, or against the principle that acting in one’s best interest is in one’s best interest, or against the principle that initiating force or committing fraud is immoral, or against the principle that freedom is a requirement of a proper human life, or against the principle that one should think for oneself—Ms. Moore should set forth her argument. If not, she should consider actually reading and understanding Ayn Rand. Philosophic education is more fruitful, and less embarrassing, than journalistic intimidation.
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