Thursday, June 14, 2007
Rewarding Bad Behavior?
On Fr. Neuhaus and Mark Shea
I have over the course of the past two years joined many others in their increasing discomfort with the way Mark Shea has conducted himself as a Catholic apologist in the public sphere -- in his clear misrepresentation of others' positions and treatment of those with whom he disagrees by the imputation of the worst possible motives.
But as long as you support war in Lebanon, war in Iraq and a "war-fighting Republican Party," in the Weekly Standard's phrase, you get a pass on everything else. Beat the drum for permanent war for global democracy and against Islamo-fascism, and all other sins are forgiven you. . . .
and in a subsequent post I responded to the strange manner in which Mark's commentary on social and political issues had illustrated a reliance upon strings of jingles and catchphrases which bore little resemblance to the complexities of reality (and usually directed at the neocon shibboleth).
To cite but just two examples:
. . . "War Zealots and Master Planners with big ideas for a New American Century based on "creative destruction" and other Machiavellian schemes" (Catholic and Enjoying It August 19, 2006).Besides the fact that such phrases simply make no coherent sense to the reader even moderately acquainted with the many facets of neoconservatism and its proponents, my concern was the general impact this form of "arguing" would have on the discussion in general. I had likewise voiced this concern in his combox on several occasions (engaging Mark directly over his constant reference to "The Rubber Hose Right"), and entertained the hope that he would grow out of it.
Unfortunately, in the months that followed it became apparent that this combination of soundbytes with inflammatory rhetoric -- what one might expect from, say, Bill Maher, Michael Moore and other liberal pundits -- was simply becoming the norm.
This concern cemented itself with Mark's role in the so-called "torture debate" in the online Catholic blogging community. For what it's worth, here were my contributions to "the torture debate": On Torture, "Aggressive Interrogation" and The Military Commissions Act of 2006 (Part I), Part II and Part III.
Part II and III specifically concern themselves with Mark Shea's comments, especially on the matter of the Abu Ghraib scandal. While I share similar concerns about the policies and conduct of the Bush administration and the lack of accountability, I find that pounding the table and asserting that "Dick Cheney wants more Abu Ghraibs" (to quote Shea), that "virtually the entire field of GOP Candidates and most of the Allegedly Conservative Punditocracy Favors [beating a man to death]" (to quote Shea again), or that the only reason "people were prosecuted and sent to jail [for Abu Ghraib] is because it would have been political suicide not to do so" (Shea yet again) really does nothing to advance the discussion.
So has Victor Davis Hanson for that matter, who Mark recently dismissed as a "Pagan Realpolitik Zealot."
And the virtual mouthpiece of the neoconservative movement -- The Weekly Standard -- has published articles criticizing the Bush administration's practice of rendition and in support of a uniform standard prohibiting detainee abuse.
I have endeavored to point out all of this to Mark on numerous occasions (on this blog and in his combox), but he's quite wedded to his current approach of slamming the "Rubber Hose Right" and "The Torture Party" en masse -- which sacrifices clarity for convenience and actually has the unfortunate effect of alienating possible allies on the right (not to mention fellow Catholics).
This pattern of verbal abuse extends itself to other topics as well. Sadly, when Mark moves from hurling general broadsides at political parties ("Tweedledum" and "Tweedledee") and takes aim at specific individuals, his remarks are not merely ignorant and comical. Rather, to concur with Sydney Carton, his "so-called sarcasm is intensely personal, characteristic of a vindictivness that is surprising."
The matter of Mark's libel against Michael Ledeen has been explored and documented in the past; I wish to cite three more examples of such misrepresentation and unjust treatment:
Mark Shea on Michael Novak
As part of the trio of 'Catholic neocons', Michael Novak (along with Neuhaus and George Weigel) receives a great deal of criticism for expressing his personal support of the Iraq war and the foreign policy of the Bush administration in general. Whilte Fr. Neuhaus is curiously absent from Mark's criticism, his remarks about Novak leave much to be desired:
Mark Shea on Tom McKenna
In November 2006, responding to Mr. Tom McKenna on the matter of sentencing Saddam Hussein:
Tom McKenna is Predictably Angry with Me
At the time, Mr. McKenna was expressing his personal frustration with the comments of Cardinal Martino on the execution of Saddam ("punishing a crime with another crime"). He was certainly not alone among Catholic bloggers in doing so (see fellow apologist Jimmy Akin).
Nor was McKenna alone in expressing confusion over what he perceived to be the embrace of an 'abolitionist' mentality on capital punishment by the Vatican. Other Catholics like Justice Antonin Scalia (Antonin Scalia and His Critics: The Church, the Courts, and the Death Penalty in First Things and Michael Dunnigan ("The Purposes of Punishment" CHRISTIFIDELIS Sept. 14, 2003) have expressed similar concerns about the present faming of this issue in the Catechism.
One can certainly sympathize with Mark's inclination to defend John Paul II against McKenna's criticism, but Mark's decision to paint his subject in the worst possible light ("devoted to obsessing over how to execute as many people as humanly possible" and "naturally orgasmic at the idea of hanging Saddam") only greatly impeded this effort (much less the possibility of a fair and civil exchange on Shea's blog).
Incidentally, Tom McKenna happens to be a criminal prosecutor by profession. "Orgasmic at the idea of an execution"? Devoted to "death, death and more death"? -- No, but as he reminds us, he HAS "had to sit with the families of murder victims and witness first hand the social, moral, and personal destruction wrought by murderers", and one of the necessary obligations of his office is to weigh the "proportionate, careful use of the death penalty."
Mark Shea on Norman Podhoretz
In May 2007 Mark used the death of a U.S. soldier to smear Norman Podhoretz:
Another Cubicle Dweller Has More Plans for More Andy BacevichesNo doubt, criticial commentary on Norman Podhoretz's "The Case for Bombing Iran (Commentary ) might be ventured. But again, here is not so much an attempt to engage Podhoretz's argument as simply to mock, and imbue the worst of motives. This is what passes for a "response" in Mark's eyes. (Sydney Carton is to be commended for his attempting to reason with Mark in the combox and demonstrate where he might have been amiss in his depiction).
I want to reiterate: my criticism of Mark is not motivated by personal disagreement with the content of his position. There are some issues on which we disagree and a great deal more on which we are in clear agreement. And on the matter of the conduct of the Bush administration and their prosecution of the war in Iraq and even its defenders, reasonable criticisms should and has been made. But if you hope to persuade somebody of your position on the war or any other issue, fostering an environment conducive to civil exchange and accurately presenting your opponent's positions will work in your favor.
To quote Fr. John Courtney Murray, SJ:
Barbarism likewise threatens when men cease to talk together according to reasonable laws. There are laws of argument, the observance of which is imperative if discourse is to be civilized. Argument ceases to be civil when it is dominated by passion and prejudice . . . when dialogue gives way to a series of monologues . . . when the parties to the conversation cease to listen to one another, or hear only what they want to hear, or see the other's argument only through the screen of their own categories; when defiance is flung to the basic ontological principle of all ordered discourse, which asserts that Reality is an analogical structure, within which there are variant modes of reality, to each of which there corresponds a distinctive method of thought that imposes on argument its own special rules. When things like this happen, men cannot be locked together in argument. Conversation becomes merely quarrelsome or querulous. Civility dies with the death of the dialogue.One need only spend a little time with Mark Shea online to see that his conduct and treatment of others is the antithesis of civil discourse and Christian charity.
On Fr. Neuhaus' Foreward
It is at this point I'd like to note Mark's mention of Fr. Neuhaus' decision to write a foreward to his upcoming book. I have been a subscriber to First Things for decades (at least since I was in college) and have long-admired the journal as an example of how the free exchange of ideas ought to occur.
For example, it's refreshing to pick up a magazine and see such disparate parties as George Weigel, Peter Griffiths, Rowan Williams and Stanley Hauerwaus weigh in on just war theory in the pages of a single journal; or Cardinal Dulles and Justice Scalia debate the contemporary application of capital punishment and its presentation in the Catechism -- contrast this with the daily dose of polemics and what merely passes for debate on, say, Fox News and even on many blogs. And if First Things has been a model of civil discussion, Fr. Neuhaus has exemplified the same -- both in his own writing and in his response to various critics.
Now contrast this with Shea's caricatures of neoconservatives in general as "Money and Power Firsters" who are "All About Power and Realpolitik" and "pissing away our grandchildrens savings and trying to make the world into the image and likeness of Michael Novak through the exportation of our democratic capitalist system at the point of a gun" to the more recent (and completely absurd) fulminations about "sinister rhetoric of Creative Destruction that is animating the latest Big Thinkers in their Wilsonian/Machiavellian attempts to create heaven on earth" -- and his persistent slander and obstinate misrepresentation of countless individuals. . . .and you have an inkling of why I am absolutely baffled that Neuhaus would, at this particular time, commend Mr. Shea in the form of an introduction to his forthcoming book.
It is a strange and disappointing move for someone dedicated to fostering -- in his own words -- a "civil public square."
A reader had responded to me privately posing the question of whether -- as opposed of being dishonest -- Mark Shea was merely out of his league, his present approach and blogging style masquing an ignorance of the complexities of the political situation.
"Change--above all violent change--is the essence of human history." - Michael Ledeen
Mark Shea links to a CBS News story about U.S. soldiers rescuing "24 special-needs boys from a Baghdad orphanage after finding the children suffering in horrific conditions" in a government-run orphanage:
Inside the building, a government-run orphanage for special needs children, the soldiers found more emaciated little bodies tied to the cribs. They had been kept this way for more than a month, according to the soldiers called in to rescue the 24 boys.Fortunately, the neglected kids were saved by U.S. troops (on routine patrol), and the perpetrators are now under arrest and detained by the Iraqi government.
It's a brutal story, but let's face reality: it could happen anywhere, indeed probably has happened, in every major city in the U.S. (and then some). Want to experience the loss of humanity? The callous neglect of the poor and suffering? Turn on the six o'clock news.
So why, may I ask, would Mark deliberately choose to link to the story in such a way as to suggest that Michael Ledeen is responsible? To suggest that Ledeen condones this kind of abuse?
I posed this question twice in the combox -- deleted on both counts.