Foul is Fair and Fish is Foul

Brad Delong takes exception to Stanley Fish's NYT Op Ed on the Muslim cartoon controversy. Though Brad is the best of bloggers and most acute of critics, I think he overdoes it in his assault on Fish. So what has Brad in such a snit? (he actually nominated Fish for the Stupidiest Man Alive award, the award to which Don Luskin has a lifetime hall of fame claim.) Well Fish didn't think much of the rationale of the Danish paper that commissioned the blasphemous cartoons, and said this:

This is itself a morality — the morality of a withdrawal from morality... different from the morality of those for whom the Danish cartoons are blasphemy and monstrously evil... the difference... is to the credit of the Muslim protesters and to the discredit of the liberal editors....

Brad's rejoinder consists of some rather amusing cartoons, plus:

Note that to Fish the problem with those he calls "liberals" is not that they are unwilling to die for their faith: it is that they are not willing enough to kill others--to "fight" for their faith, and to fight "to the death" for it. Fish admires rather than laughs at those whose theology is "Believe in a loving God, or die!" That's sad. That's perverted. That's funny.

It's not clear to me that Fish is really saying anything very much like that. For one thing, the next thing Fish says, and which Brad omits from his quote is:

The argument from reciprocity — you do it to us, so how can you complain if we do it to you? — will have force only if the moral equivalence of "us" and "you" is presupposed. But the relativizing of ideologies and religions belongs to the liberal theology, and would hardly be persuasive to a Muslim.

I happen to think Fish is mainly wrong in this, and that the idea of "do onto others as you would have them do onto you" is not utterly strange to them.

Brad seems to think that Fish is arguing for some sort of Nietschean war of all against all, though. I thinks it is just possible that his argument is more that delivering a mortal insult to prove a point about the freedom of the press is fatuous hypocrisy.


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