Sunday, March 18, 2012


Fish illustrates the Epstein-Sowell-Krauthammer law

-->In his March 12, New York Times op-ed, literary theorist Stanley Fish offered a very pure example of the Epstein-Sowell-Krauthammer (hereafter, ESK) law. What is the ESK law? Charles Krauthammer summed it up when he wrote in a 2002 column:

Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.
But Joseph Epstein saw this much earlier when he wrote in 1985 (and wrote again in his 2003 book Snobbery):
Disagree with someone on the right and he is likely to think you obtuse, wrong, sentimental, foolish, a dope; disagree with someone on the left and he is more likely to think you selfish, coldhearted, a sellout, evil.
Thomas Sowell offered several examples (going back as far as Thomas Malthus and William Godwin) and quoted Epstein in his 1996 book The Vision of the Anointed (p. 4), so I think that he should get some credit for the ESK law as well.
Anyway, onto Fish’s example. Fish wrote an article claiming the Rush Limbaugh should not be treated fairly because he is a bad person. His article is entitled “Two Cheers for Double Standards” and argues that Rush Limbaugh be held to account for using insulting terms about Sandra Fluke while Ed Schulz and Bill Maher should be given a pass for using equally (or more) offensive terms about Laura Ingraham and Sarah Palin, respectively. Fish explains why we should do this:
Schultz and Maher are the good guys; they are on the side of truth and justice. Limbaugh is the bad guy; he is on the side of every nefarious force that threatens our democracy.
Really? “[E]very nefarious force that threatens our democracy”? Rush Limbaugh is on the side of al Qaeda? Just how has Limbaugh threatened our democracy? It appears to me that Limbaugh is a mainstream American conservative who said something stupid and offensive and then, properly, apologized. Fish seems to be saying that conservatives are so evil that they do not even deserve to be treated fairly. I must say that I feel sorry for Fish, living in a country where about half of the people are so evil. Fortunately, I do not live in such a country.
Fish bases his self-described double-standard on his postmodern rejection of enlightenment liberalism. Of course, the U.S. Constitution is a product of enlightenment liberalism. Fish is essentially calling for an end to the American social contract. To his credit, Fish bites the bullet on this:
[This proposal] substitutes for the [golden] rule “don’t do it to them if you don’t want it done to you” the rule “be sure to do it to them first and more effectively.” It implies finally that might makes right. I can live with that.
I would rather not. I, for one, prefer live under the American social contract with the good people that I agree and disagree with. Yes, I believe that even if I find their ideas foolish, most people that I disagree with are good and well-meaning. This is another example of the ESK law.
(I would be grateful if readers could post more examples or counterexamples of the ESK law, and if any readers know its proper term. Hat tip: James Taranto.)

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