Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Dirty Trick Bomb

The above "ad" has been making the virtual rounds via YouTube and the like recently. Leaving aside the merits of the ad itself, I'd like to take a look at the response. Specifically, the quote at the end of this article.

"It's not perfect," Sifry said. "It would be better if the person who made this was open about who they are so we can judge fully whether it is genuinely a piece of voter-generated content or a dirty trick."

I find that distinction very interesting. Why is the ad more important if it is "voter-generated" vice a dirty trick? The ad, in its fashion, articulates an argument. Where the argument originates doesn't affect the validity of the argument. This is a classic case of confusing the message with the medium. Like refusing to buy Volkswagens because the original was a product of Nazi engineers. The cars have value, regardless of their designers.

It is conventional wisdom that partisan dirty tricks are undesirable. Now, depending on your definition of dirty tricks, you may agree or disagree with that position. But every idea can be evaluated on its own merits. If you inform yourself, most dirty tricks are quite transparent. Nevertheless, what if a "trick" contains a valid point? Is it invalidated simply because it was articulated by a partisan source? I submit that it would not.


Is just as valid whether it was first posited by the enlightened Pythagoras or one history's worst villains. The Illiad and The Odyssey are great works, whether they were truly written by a blind man named Homer or are actually the accumulated work of generations of poets. And this little film can have a argument with merit, regardless of who made it. We should give all ideas the same benefit.

By the same token, we must take care not to conflate people we like with their bad ideas. That is to say, hold everyone accountable for their ideas, but don't give the idea credence just because you have a positive impression of the person. Ideas, especially debated ideas, need to be evaluated dispassionately. If an argument is sound, it will hold up to scrutiny, no matter who makes it.


Anonymous said...

I was with you right up to the point where you mused about confusing the message with the medium and conflated the issue of the source of the Obama ad with "refusing to buy Volkswagens because the original was a product of Nazi engineers."

You're right: the ad DOES articulate an argument, and the validity of that argument can--and should--be accepted, at least in part, on its relative merits: devoid of consideration of from whence it came. You would be right to argue that to deny that the Volkswagen was a mean feat of engineering would be to confuse the "message" of the VW with its origins, but that's not what you're saying; you're saying that the choice of not BUYING the VW confused the "message" with its origins. Au contraire, mon frere.

A decision to purchase something, however reflexsive it may be, it a decision with import: when a purchase is made, money is transfered to a party... When one purchases a good or a service, one is placing treasure in the coffers of the producer or provider. I challenge you to find someone who refused to buy a VW out of hand because it was a bad product. They wouldn't buy a VW because they did not want to put their treasure in the pockets of a corporation with roots in Hitler's Germany. They saw their purchase as empowering that which was a symbol for genocide and war.

Now, their decision to do this may be a bit narrow in its focus: why stop there? IBM had ENORMOUS ties to the Reich- why not boycott Big Blue too? But the fact remains that the VW was one of the most visible corporate artifacts of a horrible regime, and it lodged in the collective craw American consumers.

It is hard to forgive a state--and all the entities that it touches or touched--for war and genocide. While geopolitics may dictate that Germany is our staunch ally, there is a generation of Americans who came to this country fleeing the evil, the death, the destruction, of Hitler's Germany, who cannot easily forget the history of that country. For the most part, these are the ones who cannot bring themselves to aid Germany's economy. Can you blame them?

Anyway, we can argue more about this on Friday over tacos.

Dan said...

Excellent point! Clearly, my choice in examples was poor. I believe my point is still valid, if poorly phrased. What I should have said is "It is like dismissing Volkswagens as bad cars just because they were originally built by Nazi engineers."

From a moral standpoint, as well as good practice regarding ideas, it is completely reasonable to boycott VW because of their actions during WWII. I think it is logical, and defensible, to say "VWs can be excellent automobiles, but I refuse to buy them and increase the profits of a company that supported immoral actions." I don't necessarily take the same stance, but I agree it is a legitimate statement based on a particular set of values and positions.

In a larger sense, 20/20 hindsight makes it clear to me that I should have avoided using any parallels that touch on fascism. The subject is so charged, even a well constructed simile can bog down your argument.

Though all of this begs a question: is it right to hold a company accountable for actions it took when it was run by people who are long dead? What about countries? Should we truly hold organizations accountable, as well as individuals? Aren't there a lot of people at VW today who had nothing to do with any immoral acts who would suffer from the reduced profits and income a boycott would bring on? How is that ethical, then?

Anonymous said...

Actually, the question begged here is "how many margaritas should I have on Friday?" but that aside... I disagree that you should avoid using WWII-era fascism in an argument because it's too charged- those are precisely the things we need to deal with, lest they fester and breed in the corner. Like a baloney sandwich left to fester and breed in the corner. Yes. Much like that.

I agree with your last point but, again, you're being too logical. If you sit people down--people who don't like purchasing German goods (like the Bug)--and explain to them that their monies won't be going to people who fought in the Wehrmacht, the Luftewaffe, etc., won't be going to Hitler's allies, his Brownshirts, etc., they would agree with you, but they would probably point out that it was more than Hitler's explicit support base within Germany that made the Holocaust or the invasion of Central Europe (or France) possible: it was the lack of action by millions to stop him. It was the fault of zeitgeist at the time that bred the sociopolitical atmosphere that, in turn, made Hitler and his policies possible. So it's not about supporting specific people anymore- it's about buying products that are inseperable from the German national identity: Mercedes, BMW, VW, Audi, etc... Again, why stop there? Why not argue that it was the Treaty of Versailles that sparked--in some respects--the rise of Hitler and his ilk to power? Why not, therefore, boycott British and French goods? But, again, like my argument about boycotting IBM, the issue is an emotional one, not neccessarily one based solely in cold logic.

I'm hungry.

Anonymous said...

you guys are silly-heads.

Anonymous said...

oooooh, I like 'anonymous'...he's dreamy...

Garrett said...

Dan, isn't that the actual 1984 Mac ad? Aside from Hillary being on screen, the only difference I notice is that the hammer-throwing woman is wearing an iPod.

On a completely different, bitchy note: What gives with anonymous commenting? Why is that a deafult setting on Blogger?

Dan said...

I believe it is the original ad from the 1984 Superbowl, digitally modified by some crafty fellow. I think that is the only way to reconcile it's quality with its homemade origins.

If there is a way to turn off "Anonymous" as a commenter setting, I am unaware of it. I probably wouldn't turn it off, anyway - I'd prefer to know who I'm talking to, but like I said in this very post, I'm more interested in the ideas themselves than who originated them.

AutosFromAirplanes said...

Oooooooooooooooohhhhhhh! OopsPowSurprise! Way to bring it back around on the theme of the post.

And you know who this is anyway - what with your spy technology that you monitor your pageviews with...not to mention my consistently inconsistent names.