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Sunday, May 20, 2007

The triumph of malice

The phone rang early this morning. I am not a phone person. The only reason I carry a cell phone is because my spouse, who is currently hospitalized, says it is a convenient way to track my movements, so that people know where I am and what schemes I am pursuing throughout the day. But that is a concession on my part. And, of course, the cell phone is the fastest way to summon help. That is, in itself, a dubious premise, because my need for help is based upon my history of falling into the river when I am putting the dock in at Tacoma Park and my affinity for canoeing. First, I have never, ever capsized a canoe accidentally. The instability of the dock floats is another matter, but the fact is that a cell phone would be rendered useless by a dunking in the fetid James River, so I don't know if it is really a safety device. I suppose the assumption is that I would have enough fingers left to punch the buttons if I had an adverse encounter with the chain saw, the table saw, the weed-whacker, or the garden tractor. The point is that I do not like telephones and I resent when they intrude upleasantness into days I plan to spend on uplifting matters.

So, I answered the phone this morning because it might have been a call from the hospital, but it turned out to be a friend wanting to know if I was going to answer a challenge from a blog regarding the case of a former state legislature being arrested for , and apparently admitting to, sexual encounters with young women who include a step-daughter and a legislative page. The phone call pissed me off. I was being asked to turn my attention from pressing matters, such as will Street Sense be able to repeat his Kentucky Derby performance, and find out just what my agitated friend was talking about. So, I reviewed the stuff on the arrest of Mr. Ted Klaudt, and decided I much preferred contemplating the future of Street Sense who is beautiful and is truly nice people. Animals are often better people than people are. And they seldom play gynecologist.
Well, as the day turned out Street Sense, pictured above winning the Derby, came from behind again and led the race for a time until being nosed out by Curlin in the finish pictured below, Curlin on the left and Street Sense on the right.

It was a beautiful race befitting the nobility of race horses, and I don't think I am being too much of an aesthetic bigot by saying they are much more pleasant to puruse than is former Rep. Ted Klaudt.

Last night I awoke to what I thought was the thunder booms and rushing winds of a lightening storm. It turns out that it was the thunderous tongue-clucking and breathe-sucking over the Klaudt affair.

The telephone call that intruded upon a day that I intended to devote to more uplifting pursuits called attention to the fact that one of the regressive blogs launched an assault on a blog post at Clean Cut Kid and concluded with this challenge:

The Northern Valley Beacon has come down hard on bloggers who reasoned this way. Let us see if he does so now.
That meant I had to go see what atrocity of reasoning Clean Cut Kid committed. Chad's post bears the headline "Family Values." Then Chad comments: "I see they arrested former Republican legislator Ted Klaudt this morning." Chad reprints the lead to the arrest story.

When I first looked at Chad's post and when I looked again, I saw that it was an exercise in irony. As this story broke, many alert people were struck by the irony that a legislator who worked hard to push the the abortion ban through the legislature under the banner of family values was arrested for acts contrary to those values. The irony is obvious.

But the blog that excoriates Chad attaches all its indignation and derogations to the fact that Chad identified the legislator as a Republican.

If you want to see the low, mean, road, check out Clean Cut Kid. Chad announces the story under the heading: "Family Values." So apparently all those who disagree with Chad on social issues are discredited by one act of criminality. I suppose by that same logic if one homosexual is a child molester, all homosexuals are child molesters. The comments on Chad's post suggest that the only important thing is that the word "Republican" be firmly attached to this story. For the Clean Cut Klan, this story is just one more weapon to use against their enemies.

What this blog post charges Chad with is commiting the fallacy--sometimes a deliberate propagandic ploy--of hasty generalization, or an inductive leap. The blog contends that Chad asserts that one Republican law maker who stood under the banner of family values got arrested for a criminal act in violation of those values, therefore all Republican legislators are criminals.

But Chad does not say that. He points out the irony in the alleged acts of this man and the family values he purported to stand for, and Chad points out that he was a Republican legislator, who repeated the party line about family values. Nowhere does Chad suggest in his post that the irony applies to anyone but Ted Klaudt.

The issue here is what we semanticists distinguish as the language of reports and the language of judgments. A report on what Chad said would outline accurately and clearly the words and the context. That would provide us with the facts about what Chad posted. However, we get the language of judgment, which gives us a map of the mind of the offended blogger, not a clear and accurate portrayal of what Chad actually posted.

The offended reader supplied the inductive leap of suggesting that one Republican committed criminal offenses, therefore all Republicans commit them. By imposing this conclusion and attributing it to Chad, the blogger has set up the conditions by which Chad can be charged with a lowness and meanness.

Clean Cut Kid neither stated or implied the generalization with which he is charged.

And so, Clean Cut Kid is not the blog we come down on for faulty reasoning.

We often comment about the malevolence that throbs through many blogs. We are often charged with regarding any viewpoint that does not agree with ours as malevolent. Actually, we make our charge of malevolence from a long and clearly established principal about things uttered with malicious intent. Negative statements about people that are factually accurate and uttered as fact, not judgment or opinion, are said to be uttered with an absence of malice. However, when ad hominem attacks against individuals are done with the purpose of discrediting the person and derogating their reputations in the eyes of others, they are uttered with the presence of malice. And, therefore, they are malevolent.

It is not a matter of differing opinions. It is a matter of whether we are receiving a factual report or receiving a judgment with the purpose of damaging a person.

Chad's post contained nothing but the ironic heading of "family values" with factual information following.

The most cogent comments on the blog scene about this matter come from Bernie Hunhoff at South Dakota Magazine who notes the betrayal of trust committed against the people of South Dakota and against the adolescent children who were entrusted to the Kaudt family for care. If we are to come down hard on someone, it is that the betrayal of word committed by Ted Klaudt is compounded by deceiving and betraying words generated on the Internet forums. Like supermarket tabloids, many blogs thrive on what one observer of the Klaudt business has called "tavern talk." It is a matter of malevolence looking for some pretext to unleash itself.

I am so wearied of the human degradations purveyed on the blogs, that I, frankly, glossed over the news of the Klaudt affair. I feared I would learn of someone who had young women shackled as sex slaves in a dungeon. What I learned was no less astounding, but incomprehensibly wierd. According to the statements in the arrest indictment and in the news, Klaudt used deception and fraud to get young women to submit to would-be gynecological examinations.

I don't know if reparative justice will be served for those young women, but I can hear the Saturday night tongue-clucking from the town cafes and taverns resounding throughout the land. Especially on the blogs.

The day was not totally wasted. I wonder if there is any way to nominate Street Sense and Curlin for sainthood.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States