The Pathetic Form of Sophistry
After I published Fallacy in Persian, some readers asked me to translate it to English. Well, I am not a good translator! So I decided to complement it with this English version that includes some portions of the Persian one, but it is not a translation. Furthermore, my criticism of individuals is only related to the extent of the main issue, nothing personal. Let’s start with definitions.
Fallacy is defined as a statement or an argument based on a false or an invalid inference. It may look innocent, and most of the times it is. People see things differently and no one expects them to articulate an argument or even be coherent. But think of deception for a moment. If one knows the premises of his argument is false or he/she intends to infer fact contrary to what it is, the argument is deceptive. Now, if malicious intent is involved, it is sophistry. But I have to put it differently: If one intends to deceive but has limited power, his/her argument is fallacious. If his intention is malicious, and he/she is powerful enough to carry it out, then his/her argument is sophistic.
Thus, both intent and the degree of power are material to decide whether an argument is deceptive or sophistic. While the relative power can be reasonably measured, proving intent is not that easy. Nonetheless, no matter how we look at it, fallacious and deceptive arguments are prerequisites to sophistry. The recorded historical background of sophistry goes back to when sophists of ancient Athens deceived the public to kill Socrates who was a great man of his time. In recent history Joseph Goebbels and Adolph Hitler are well known masters of the game bringing about catastrophic consequences.
What is amazing is how public falls for sophistry, time and again, when potential sophists accuse others of sophistry! Bush’s preemptive doctrine is the model: just because I think you want to kill me, and I neither trust a word of yours nor any evidence to the contrary, I have to kill you! Here is an example: Former prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu referring to Ahmadi Nejad, quoted a Holocaust survivor as saying if someone says he wants to destroy you, believe him, cunningly adding to it AND stop him. Is it fallacy or sophistry? While the Iranian President is not Socrates, people’s opinion about him is as polarized as it was about Socrates almost twenty five hundred years ago. And the power wielders despise him as much as Athenian state powers hated Socrates. However, there is a significant difference between original sophists of Athens and the modern sophists of our time. They wanted to get rid of Socrates, but Ahmadi-Nejad is not the target. Mr. Netanyahu WANTS TO BOMB IRAN. So it is giving the dog a bad name alright, but it is to burn the house.
Israel has never denied having an arsenal of nuclear bombs, but no one has accused Iran of having even one nuclear bomb. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purpose, and allows IAEA to inspect its facilities. Israel does not. Yes, Ahmadi Nejad made the infamous comment, but his statement was distorted for obvious political reasons. Furthermore, it was not a threat of preemptive military strike. On the contrary, Israel has a long history of attacking and killing civilians in the pretext of looking for terrorists. And its current and former government officials repeatedly threatened Iran of a FIRST strike! Israel tried hard to have the U.S. and its allies take the tab. It did succeed to flame an unnecessary international crisis over Iran’s nuclear issue, but failed its objective because the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq. Yet, like any other silver spoon kid, Israel cares less for its caretaker’s problems, and insists on attacking Iran no matter what!
So the like of Netanyahu and the ilk of warmongers have just started sophistry. Comparing Iran to Germany 1938 and Ahmadi Nejad to Hitler is just the appetizer to stimulate the public mindset for the main course. But don’t forget the waitress! I look at just one of these fancy menus from a fast food place next door. One of the good things about fast food chains is the fact that no matter where you go, the menu is guaranteed to include similar foods! So let’s take Mr. Nabavi as an example. He is an Iranian dissident whose sarcastic writings are mostly against Iranian culture, values, beliefs, and their social life. While I have not read them all, and as a result I am in no position to judge his writings, I have yet to find anything to confuse his sarcasm with wit, not even satire. I think sarcasm is okay against a belligerent government or in certain circumstances against a political figure or other famous people, but never against a nation, a race, a religion, etc.
Mr. Nabavi in his open letter to Ahmadi-Nejad goes a long way to serve. It is dubious, however, who he serves. In his opening paragraph, he reasons, by contrast, that because there is a history to record Ahmadi-Nejad’s letter, and people of the world AND the U.S. would ask why such a person is still the president of the culturally rich Iran, Mr. Nabavi had to respond to Ahmadi Nejad’s letter to American people so that future generations of Iranian people would not blame us for not responding! But in his third page he begins using his crystal ball to see that Iranians do not worship God; they do not seek truth, and do not demand justice. He goes on to conclude that Iranian and American people love delusion, deception, and cunning! If so; is Mr. Nabavi expecting American people or future Iranian generations to take Ahmadi-Nejad as an exception or the Iranian president is in fact a leader by virtue that should NOT serve such people or communicate with them?!
Well, there are people who benefit from such blatant categorization. It was not too long ago when warmongers used to go to religious authorities to get a decree against Native Americans or blacks that they should not be regarded as human beings, and if they were killed, it would be no sin as if they were animals, and no penalty should be assessed except for property damages. Then it was Hitler who renovated the same principle to race claiming his was the best and Jews’ was the worst! Obviously, the civilized man of these days will no longer tolerate racial supremacy. But how about a new genre based on moral attributes? It serves sophists well to claim others are not only worthless, but also dangerous to our civilization because of their cunning, deception, and delusive hatred against civilized world. After all, they are a bunch of terrorists.
So who does benefit from the kind of Mr. Nabavi’s letter? Why should Netanyahu compare Iran with Germany 1938, Ahmadi Nejad with Hitler to have Mr. Nabavi follow it up to attack moral character of Iranians and imply the same for Americans? One thing is for sure. His demonizing American people, is simply following the popular trend of hatred against America. Obviously he makes no distinction between American government and its people. But the concerted effort of demonizing Iranians, Arabs, and Muslims benefits NOT Iranians, NOT Americans, and certainly NOT Israelis, BUT sophists; most of whom are Zionists.
The like of Mr. Nabavi fit well in the list of what Professor Dabashi calls pathetic compradors whose “principal task … is to manufacture, supply, distribute, advertise, and sell a package of (distorted) knowledge about the trouble spots of the world in a way that both legitimizes the predatory imperial project of their employers and justifies their salary”. I might add such a package is not required to carry any intellectual, political, satirical or social value. In short, it contributes to nothing except brouhaha!
Mr. Nabavi blames Iranian government for atrocities against Palestinians! He conveniently downplays the fact that Zionists brutally forced Palestinians out of their homeland and kept killing them long before Khomeini even dreamed of an Islamic Republic or Ahmadi-Nejad was born. For the past six decades, Israel has continuously violated Palestinians rights, each and every time blaming others in addition to Palestinians. Mr. Nabavi does not blame Zionists lobby in the U.S. for helping Israel to oppress, but he does not hesitate to blame Iranian government for helping the oppressed. This pathetic use of an old trick in the book is not limited to Israeli Palestinian issue; he expands it to include the blood shed in Iraq claiming it has nothing to do with America!
While bombastic and tongue lashing harangue are self defeating to common sense, sensible logic is not required for sophistry, and in the world of numbers, demagogues have their share of statistics. As much as logic is universal, a fallacious argument is not. That is exactly the reason almost all western enemies of Ahmadi Nejad lashed out his charter, not the content of his letter to American people. They reasoned a person who calls for the destruction of Israel could not be trusted for what he says. That is, by itself, a fallacious reasoning because the opposite can also be true. Namely, a person who writes such a letter cannot have called for the destruction of another nation. Nonetheless, the letter was called, at most, irrelevant!
Yet Mr. Nabavi writes as if he is given the dirty work of rewriting the book of revelations to eliminate anything positive about human values. He compares Palestinian refuges with Iranian immigrants. Like every revolution in the history of mankind, some Iranians also migrated out of the trouble spot after the revolution, but it was, and still is, simply a matter of choice for them to live in Iran or migrate to other countries. Do Palestinian Refugees have a choice? As much as Israel has the right to reject Palestinian terrorists, the Iranian government has the right to be suspicious of certain people who are miniscule to the number of travelers.
Long before the revolution in Iran, I remember our English teacher dedicated his book to people who learn a foreign language to fight aliens! By aliens, he meant interfering foreign powers. Due to so many grievances Iranians had against foreign powers, and still do, that was a very appealing statement. But I always thought if I were the author, I would have dedicated it to people who learn foreign languages to open dialogue with other people. But how about defending your own country? The reality also points to some people who learn a different kind of foreign language that is native in linguistic terms and, thus, fight their own people! They speak, perform, and write in their native language, but the tone and tenure of their messages are FOREIGN, most of the time laughable, to their own people as if they come from a galaxy far away from our planet, having learnt the language, but never understood the content. It is, by all means, a tragic comedy.
Mr. Nabavi’s open letter is a perfect example because the body of his letter is full of nonsense, fallacious arguments and contradictions; i.e. Americans are transformed from loving delusion, deception and cunning in the beginning to hardworking, noble, and family loving people towards the end of his letter! Yet he sums it up to one and only one conclusion that Ahmadi Nejad should NOT have written the letter! It is tragic because he barbarically insults cultural values of two great nations, and it is comic because of his pathetic fussing back and forth. It is not that Ahmadi Nejad succeeded to reach out to American people, but he might have touched some nerves in the process!
Almost everyone remembers the infamous statement Bush made after the 9/11 tragedy that you are either with us or with terrorists! The rest of the world’s response to this sophistry was simple: “We are neither with you nor with terrorists”, nonetheless, Americans and Iraqis are still paying dearly for his abuse of power. Meanwhile Zionists missed the big cat, and their man in the White House is a lame duck president for the rest of his term. That is one reason for them becoming so pathetic! Dabashi articulates the other “The problem though is not limited to the fact that these folks are exceedingly illiterate people and have in fact cheated their employers into hiring them for what they cannot deliver. The problem is that what they say sells, and that what they sell helps justify the dropping of bombs on innocent people.” Remember how they sold it to neo-cons who expected Iraqis to massively welcome American troops! It was too late to find out. Wasn’t it?
December 12, 2006