Wednesday, March 23, 2005

An Open Letter to Thomas Lifson

Thomas Lifson
Editor, The American Thinker

Re: Your editorial, "Dense Poets Society"

I begin by quoting your conclusion to your response to the many letters The American Thinker (and Campus Watch) received concerning Alyssa Lappen's article on Ammiel Alcalay:
The last thing anyone at The American Thinker wants to do is silence them [the authors of the letters]. They do more harm to their cause by getting angry and letting out their inner demons than any critic could. They would be best advised to let silence cover their petulance and incoherence, but that is counsel their vanity and need for attention will always cause them to reject.
Oh you Bully you. You don't want them to be silent, but you advise them to be silent? Do you or do you not have the courage to admit that you do, in fact, want those who disagree with you and your publication's views to remain silent? I need not infer here, it is directly implied in your letter. The one consistent, persistent fact about your publication is that each author is quite skilled at covering up base rhetorical attacks on liberalism, the left wing, women, feminists, and scholarship. You certainly aren't hip to criticizing the right wing, conservatives, moderates, or men.

So, you conclude your response to the recent letters by telling your critics simply to shut up.

What for? What would their silence promote?

Let's be honest, Thomas. Your response is a typical bait and switch tactic, isn't it? Rather than address the issue at hand, you construct a convenient straw-man to attack several authors at once using ad hominen claims. Aren't you aware that silence only promotes simplistic discourse about significant problems, political or poetic?

That Dr Alexander Joffe quotes from Matthew Arnold is a hoot, by the way. Never mind that the professor uses Arnold in the wrong context, the poets who sent you letters are anything but charlatans. Their letters speak to their individual and self-aware authenticity, address their work as meaningful in spite of your criticism, place their work in an appropriate social context in purposive contrast to an article you published, and infuse both their work and their letters within a focused and poignant political discourse. The letters are honest, present, meaningful, sincere, and written in and with context.

Get your facts straight. What is the purpose of misleading your readers?

Why not justify your publication's scurilous habit for personal attack disguised as social criticism instead? Or, better yet, why not actually address the issue at hand? Are you capable of understanding the collective utterance in protest of Alyssa Lappen's article? Your response to the letters, if you do get their gist, is inappropriate in every respect. It looks like you don't get it. So, what gives?

In addition: What is it about you and your publication that demands silence from its readers--fans and critics? Who do you work for? What are you after?

Let's work with the professor's citation of Arnold for a moment. Let's get our concepts straight. A charlatan is not one who eloquently and powerfully disagrees but one who makes elaborate and fraudulent claims with skill. The American Thinker's articles, on the other hand, are littered with fraudulent claims elaborately written. The publication's rhetoric is skillfully applied but used improperly and unfairly. Especially, since your response to your most recent critics is to remain silent or be called fools. Such either/or demands are meant to be punitive for participation. Don't participate in my conversation and you'll be left alone; participate, and I'll publicly smear you.

Authors collectively writing in protest against your publication's focused rhetoric is not charlatanism; it is American Thinking, American Doing, American Being. It is our Right. For you to advise silence is shameful.

You, the editor of a devoutly conservative journal, are purposefully ignoring the context and purpose of each letter in order to further address an agenda that is itself based in promoting a singular and total ideological message. You publish articles that merely attack individuals--singularly and collectively. In addition, your authors do little to justify their attacks with reasonable claims. Instead, they often refer to conservative authority figures who bend over backwards to promote a simplistic identity for their followers to borrow. No, it isn't very intellectual nor is it very creative; moreover, it is nothing more than grand commentary published on behalf of one political persuasion--a persuasion that is supposed to look like a middle-class, white man talking to his congregation. At least, that is what your publication promotes. See it's own self-illustration.

It should not go overlooked that you chose Lisa Jarnot as the poet to single out as "the one" who instigated, constructed, and directed the protest of Lappen's article. Jarnot certainly invited her readers to send letters, but many of us have written about The American Thinker before. It serves to solidify your publication's content to choose a woman to attack in its straw man discourse. One need only look to your recent publication history to realize what you and your authors think about women who choose to live intellectual and public, therefore political, lives. You despise them, you hyper-criticize them, you make fun of them. One article, which I have quoted from on Dagzine, claims women need to focus on having children rather than working in technology and science. That you publish articles that push for a specific, masculinist eugenics for contemporary American life speaks more about your intent to American Thinkers than you might realize. Publishing Lappen's article in concert with such sexist trash doesn't do much for those of us who would like to figure out just what Lappen thinks about when she allows you, of all conservative publications, to publish her work in the first place. One simply has to wonder what kind of respect her colleagues at The American Thinker can possibly have for her, an intellectaul woman.

But surely, she is permitted to publish because of her political persuasion and the excuse it provides her gender. Otherwise, you might ask her to remain silent as well. Am I wrong? Let's talk about it.

I would say your publication is racist and sexist; but you'd only rebut that I, too, was practicing ad hominen, that I was attacking you rather than addressing the issue at hand. Well, your publication (I don't know about you personally) is. The American Thinker publishes sexist articles; it is extremely narrow-minded in its approach to social discourse and intellectual pursuits. The American Thinker is not an American thinker. Apparently, you do not appreciate readers who can recognize propaganda passed off fraudulently and elaborately as intellectual, social critique. Matthew Arnold, by the way, was able to make such distinctions. You might want to share this with your friend, Dr Joffe.

Joffe quotes from Arnold: "Charlatanism is for confusing or obliterating the distinctions between excellent and inferior, sound and unsound or only half-sound, true and untrue or only half true." Arnold's accurate description for Charlatanism is an accurate description for The American Thinker not very accurate for the authors who sent you letters in protest of an article. Your publication, and Campus Watch as well, do everything possible, use all available rhetorical tools for persuasion, to "obliterate the distinctions". Your abuse of critical thinking to distill adventurous American discourse into narrow binaries--one pole always a pale reflection of a diverse pool of perspectives, the other always a singular representation of your publication's ideological persuasion--only dissuades useful, diverse public discourse. Those who disagree with you become pariah. The result is convenient for you because, for your average reader, it appears that most folks readily agree with what is printed within the pages of your publication. Once again, this is one of many tricks used in charlatanry.

I couldn't disagree with your authors more than I do. I don't see the point in responding to much of your work. Not many American thinkers read it anyway. This has little to do with quality; it's just that most Americans don't read. Regardless, your inept and rude response to my colleagues is a bit too much to take. And so, I now join in protest of your work: a public protest: the form of protest I recently teased Jarnot and others for performing. I have to apologize for the friendly ribbing. You see, I thought they were more interested in telling everybody but you what they think. I didn't think you'd respond.

I am deeply convinced that you, Thomas Lifson, editor of The American Thinker, are guilty of taking a heartfelt response to something you printed with extreme prejudice, pursposefully misrepresenting it to your readers, simply to effect a stronger affiliation between yourself and those who support your values. Letters to editors are traditionally treated with a respect that most authors are rarely granted for a good reason. They represent a free and engaging public discourse from which individuals with different social backgrounds can emerge, as a result of difference, as a community with a little more in common than was articulated and recongized in the first place. Letters to Editors are a means to practice a specific constitutional freedom in community with others. Your call for silence is the worst form of desire and advice an editor can give.

I think it is appropriate for you to continue to receive protests. You and your very small cadre of friends need daily reminders that plenty of Americans think for themselves and with others, no matter what they "think" about. The process is what is meaningful not the content. The content of the conversations become important when the differences invoked within intend to strip specific individuals of rights to which we all--the best and the least of us--are supposed to have access. And I have read enough of your publication, and have followed the antics of Campus Watch long enough, to recognize that you all intend to stifle rather than promote free and open discourse.

I would like to suggest you change your publication's title to The American Ideologue or The American Fascist. You should include a version of Althusser's definition for ideology in your masthead: ideology is the imaginary representation for the real conditions of existence. Such honesty concerning identity (form) and language (content) will serve as an ironic reminder for readers what your version of the right wing has to offer average Americans: Firm and Central Control, Advised Silence, a Masculine Market, and many Merry Housewives. This list is actually a fair summary of the recent content of The American Thinker.

Something to this effect will suffice to warn new readers that what follows can only ever be a misrepresentation of reality, or your opinion at best. Now, if we can only get FoxNews, Joe Scarborough, and The National Review into confessional mode...but I am a bit of an idealist. Maybe you can begin the tough work involved with truth-telling.

If you or yours wish to respond, I am open to comments on Dagzine or directly via the address below. Oh, and if you're keeping a list, please add me. I'd appreciate a seat right next to Lisa Jarnot.


Gary Norris
English Department
University of Denver
2000 E Asbury St
Denver CO 80208


Thomas Lifson said...

Dear Professor Norris,

I looked at your blogspot site and the 1800 word letter. Frankly, I was not impressed.

You begin by alleging that

"you do, in fact, want those who disagree with you and your publication's views to remain silent"

Not at all. In fact, as I stated, hysterical expressions discredit their writers. If they were smart enough and balanced enough to understand this, they would not say and write words which are self-discrediting. When my opponents discredit themselves, it saves me a lot of trouble, so I do NOT wish to silence them.

Speaking of which, you criticize us with these words:

"your publication's scurilous [sic] habit for personal attack"

Yet your blog is topped with a picture of you prominently displaying a sign declaring "Bill Owens is an asshole."

Yet a previous article by you begins: "Granted, Alyssa Lappen is an idiot."

Such criticism is indeed laughable.

Thomas Lifson

Thomas Lifson said...

Inexplicably, the last sentence of my actual letter was omitted when I pasted it to this site. It should read:

Such criticism is indeed laughable. Keep it up!