Fake Ad Hominem, Cowardice, and Real Lawyers

So there’s this guy:

With respect to anonymity, I am going to maintain it for the time being.  There are a number of reasons.

First, there is in my estimation a small risk to others, by association with me. After all, this effort is a swipe at powerful interests. It may or may not be effective – I hope it is. But I see no reason to take even small risks with the interests of others when the potential for accomplishing anything good is as speculative as this is right now.

Second, I object in principle to making the writer an issue, rather than the merit of what is said, and far too much of that goes on. Arguing against the person rather than the ideas espoused is a common logical fallacy known as ad hominem. I could be an 11 year old hacker in a basement or the second coming of Adolph Hitler, but if I said that a cup is measured as 8 fluid ounces I would be correct no matter who I otherwise am.

“Sharon Keller’s continuing as judge show that Texas’s judicial system is corrupt” would be a premise whose truth doesn’t depend on the speaker’s identity. It would be as true if said by an 11-year-old hacker as if said by Racehorse Haynes. People would be more likely to listen to Haynes than to the hacker, and quite reasonably would give Haynes a measure of credibility (both as a truthteller and as someone familiar with the subject matter) that they wouldn’t give the hacker, but the fact that the hacker said it wouldn’t make it untrue.

But calling for action is different than arguing a point. People don’t follow premises; people follow leaders. While reasonably people might decry the prevalence of the argumentum ad hominem on the internet (though “this sounds like an idea cooked up by someone who hasn’t represented human beings in court and who has no leadership experience” is not, as the anonymous blogger suggests, an argumentum ad hominem), it doesn’t follow that people should (much less will) follow someone whose bona fides and motivation they don’t know. Nobody will follow the anonymous leader because that person has no skin in the game.

But the anonymous blogger, who sees “no reason to take even small risks with the interests of others when the potential for accomplishing anything good is as speculative as this is right now,” proposes that someone else go first: “if you agree to strike and encourage colleagues to do likewise, I’ll drop the anonymity thing right away.” In other words, “I’ve got this great idea; you go first.”

Declining to take the same small risks that you expect others to take is, in a word, cowardice (also, please note, not an argumentum ad hominem). People aren’t going to follow a coward. Even after Atticus Ignavus reveals his identity, he will still have been a coward. Can he overcome that?

Atticus Ignavus has something to say about Texas criminal defense lawyers:

And the net result is that Sharon Keller remains where she is while the real lawyers of Texas shrug their shoulders and say nothing, just like they have all along.

That is in fact not what we’ve done all along. It was real Texas criminal defense lawyers who filed grievances against Keller with the Commission for Judicial Conduct; hundreds of us signed our names; at least one real Texas criminal defense lawyer took a day off to go to Austin to speak to the legislature in favor of Representative Lon Burnam’s bill to remove Keller. That nothing we have done has succeeded in removing Keller doesn’t mean we’ve said nothing, nor does it mean that Atticus Ignavus’s strike idea is a good one.

If Atticus Ignavus’s idea were a good one, it would still need a leader to make it happen. In fact, it’s a stupid idea (legally and ethically as well as politically).

Atticus Ignavus tries to play the “real lawyers” card, which every real criminal defense lawyer in the country has dealt with a hundred times in letters and calls from people who, like Atticus Ignavus, want something for nothing and can’t find anyone dumb enough to accept their losing propositions. How do we deal with it? A bit like this:

Sell crazy someplace else. We’re all stocked up here.

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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3 Responses to Fake Ad Hominem, Cowardice, and Real Lawyers

  1. Michael says:

    “… though ‘this sounds like an idea cooked up by someone who hasn’t represented human beings in court and who has no leadership experience’ is not, as the anonymous blogger suggests, an argumentum ad hominem”.

    Yes, it is. It’s a comment judging the validity of the idea by who stated it (or, more precisely, by pairing it with a theoretical speaker with less experience or leadership skills than the commenter), rather than its own merit.

    • Mark Bennett says:

      No, it’s the converse: a comment guessing at the credentials of the anonymous speaker from the idea’s lack of merit (which I discuss elsewhere).

      As much as people who wish to remain anonymous online decry argumentum ad hominem, I decry the erroneous description as argumentum ad hominem of any comment on the personal qualifications of the speaker. “The speaker is a moron, therefore this is a stupid idea” would be argumentum ad hominem; “this is a stupid idea, therefore the speaker is a moron” is not.

  2. Lee Stonum says:

    I love that scene, and movie in general. Maybe Jack’s last truly great role.

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