Stanley Fish, the author, law professor, columnist, and one of the Times' innumerable bloggers, thinks it would be helpful if readers know exactly what his motivation is with all this highbrow writing he does. "Given a choice between being trivial and being ethical in any direction whatsoever, I'll take trivial (although I might want to debate the judgment), because ethics is not something I'm doing in these columns," he explains in his latest entry. How about superfluous, then? Would you consider being pompous and superfluous, Mr. Fish? Sure you would!
For the most part, it is not my purpose in this space to urge positions, or come down on one side or the other of a controversial question. Of course, I do those things occasionally and sometimes inadvertently, but more often than not I am analyzing arguments rather than making them; or, to be more precise, I am making arguments about arguments, especially ones I find incoherent or insufficiently examined.
That is exactly what we need in this crazy world.
But, in fact, a reader of a typical "Think Again"� column will have no idea at all where I stand on the issues that catch my attention, because at least for the length of the column (as opposed to real life, which is much longer), I am agnostic on those issues and interested only in the way they are playing out in our present cultural moment. When, for example, I wrote three columns criticizing the atheist tracts written by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, I was motivated not by a belief in God — which I may or may not have, you'll never know — but by what I took to be sloppy, schoolboy reasoning that was passing itself off as wisdom. I could have been an atheist myself, and I still would have found the so-called logic of these books weak and risible.
Is it the best thing to do? Is it good for the country? These are real questions, but they are not questions I take up, although a number of readers take me to task for the answers they presume me to have given. Cdn Expat writes that "Whether identity politics is 'rational' is hardly the question. The question is whether it is culturally and socially helpful." No, it isn't. That is Expat's question and I have no obligation either to ask or answer it. I'm just asserting the rationality of identity politics, not giving my blessing to it. Whether its exercise is culturally helpful is not something I consider. I just don't go there.
Is stuff good or bad? Stanley Fish just doesn't go there, y'all.
Well, that's his opinion, and I don't have a contrary one. I don't have one at all because I'm not doing moral parsing and find it spectacularly uninteresting. Calling someone a bigot and claiming the high ground for yourself may be momentarily satisfying, but it does little except provoke a response in the same mode. (It's bigoted of you to say that I'm a bigot.)
Stanley Fish is a dork! Wow, I feel myself momentarily satisfied, now that I have claimed the high ground. Can't wait to read the next column!