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Having another Go on the See-saw

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

Would that my handlers in the Kremlin paid me more. Not only would that come in handy at the beginning of the month when my rent comes due but it would also enable me to spend the time required to investigate and confute the minutiae of Christopher Majka's claims about Ukraine. Hm, on second thought I doubt I'd have the stomach for that even if Moscow offered to double my wages.

Majka's striking incivility is certainly a disincentive. In less than a week he has gone from implying that I'm a "useful idiot" who simply parrots "Kremlin propaganda" to describing me as someone who parades "nonsense concatenated with absurdity" and indulges in "fantastically...idiotic" tactics. Additionally, Majka now explicitly labels me a "useful idiot" lest, cretin that I am, I might prove too dull to pick up on his earlier hints. (Note to Christopher Majka: in a public debate it is generally not considered good form to label your opponent an idiot, even if that is what you genuinely believe him to be―and trying to pass the word off as a kind of technical expression through reference to Lenin's use of the term only serves to make you look devious as well as rude.)

To be sure, however, it is not Majka's resort to the low practice of name-calling that initially put me off reading him. Indeed, it was only a couple of days ago that I gave myself the trouble of looking at his Media Co-op posts of August 26th, 28th and 31st and discovered what uncharitable things he had been saying about me.

Part of what caused me to stop looking at his posts was his hectoring tone: even before he began slinging actual insults at me I found his writing wearisomely overbearing. A more important reason, though, is the one that I highlighted in two pieces of my own that I posted to the Media Co-op on August 26th. Briefly stated, the point I made in these two posts was that there can be no meaningful discussion between two people who cannot agree on common evidentiary standards.

Imagine I assert that "P is true based on source X" and Majka replies "I don't care what source X says because it is a Kremlin propaganda outfit." What next? Well, presumably I challenge Majka to prove that source X is Kremlin propaganda (or, for that matter, that its being Kremlin propaganda ipso facto means it can't be true). Since, to the best of my knowledge, no chemical or physical test of what constitutes Kremlin propaganda has yet been devised, I presume that Majka would say something like: "According to source Q, source X is Kremlin propaganda." To which I might give an answer along the lines of, "According to source L, source Q is White House propaganda." And, as I remarked in one of the August 26th posts, the see-saw continues to rock back and forth forever.

This train of thought leads Majka to assert that I "have abandoned evidence, reason, and evidenced-based [sic] reasoning as a mechanism to understand the world." (Apparently he thinks I'm a post-modernist. The nerve of the man! I could hardly be more aggrieved if he had called me a liberal.)

Of course, I have done nothing of the kind. I have merely attempted to point out that claims about the world don't come nicely packaged with a label showing their truth content. Therefore to evaluate the reliability of such reports we need a way of determining which sources should be deemed trustworthy. Although Majka shies away from acknowledging the obvious correctness of this contention it is clear that he recognizes its validity. Accordingly, his response is to try to systematically discredit any source on which I might rely by tarring it as "Kremlin propaganda."

Assuming that he was actually committed to the evidence-based reasoning that he extols, and that he possesses the open mind that he indicates I lack, Majka must believe that Vladimir Putin's arm has grown very long indeed. Seeing that Majka summarily dismisses as Kremlin propaganda any views on Ukraine that do not correspond to his approved version, Putin is evidently able to manipulate not only such towering figures of the Left as John Pilger and Noam Chomsky but even such bastions of the mainstream as Haaretz and Wikipedia (two of the sources I cite in support of my contentions about Ukraine). And if Majka does subscribe to such an exalted view of the Kremlin's power, I suspect that most people would agree that he thereby demonstrates a decided absence of that very faculty of reason that he says is so important to him.

I, for my part, did indicate why it is that I don't place much faith in the sources upon which Majka relies. There exists an extensive literature that demonstrates how mainstream media in the West faithfully serves establishment interests―see, e.g., the annual Project Censored reports; Falk and Friel's The Record of the Paper, which provides a case study of the New York Times; and, of course, Herman and Chomsky's classic account, Manufacturing Consent. Therefore it is a reasonable inference that the same phenomenon will assert itself in Ukraine. Since Western governments, led by the United States, are manifestly not disinterested parties on the question of Ukraine, it is not difficult to guess what line most of the Western press are likely to take on the matter.

All that said, note that I did not assert that this pattern automatically discredited all mainstream Western media coverage of Ukraine―I merely spoke of a "balance of probabilities." I also stated that I was "not suggesting that one should ever suspend critical judgment in assessing a given situation."

So how have I formulated my own views on events in Ukraine? Through critical reflection on information obtained from bastions of leftist thought such as the World Socialist Website, Counterpunch, South Africa's Amandla! magazine and India's foremost social science journal, the Economic and Political Weekly.

Now, as I indicated in my August 26th posts, I think that it would be rather presumptuous of me to expect Majka to abandon his previous allegiances and race to embrace the publications that I value. By the same measure, however, it is quite the piece of cheek on Majka's part that he thinks he can dismiss my sources out of hand as "the propaganda emanating from the Kremlin-owned and directed media"―unless he somehow fancies that he can show that the Economic and Political Weekly, et. al., are my co-pensioners on Moscow's payroll.

Majka is very fond of repeating the claim that his version of events in Ukraine is based on evidence and reason while his "addled" critics are actuated by nothing more than Kremlin propaganda and anti-American bigotry. In doing so, however, the only reasoning Majka engages in is of the circular variety. He neither adduces any specific information to show that the highly reputable sources cited above―amongst many others―base their accounts on uncritical reception of stories originating with the Russian government nor does he offer any theoretical explanation of how such a process would work. Majka assumes that any claim that contradicts his view of the Ukraine situation is Kremlin propaganda and therefore must be wrong. Armed with this supposition he believes himself entitled to dismiss by fiat any claim that contradicts his views on Ukraine because, ex hypothesi, it must be Kremlin propaganda and thus is false.

In short, Majka, who is so fond of asserting that anyone who disagrees with him has been duped by propaganda, is himself indulging in a variant of that infamous propaganda technique, the Big Lie: simply repeat a bold but baseless claim often enough and people will start to believe it. Indeed, this seems to be one of his preferred strategies for he also reiterates false statements to the effect that I have provided no citations for my contentions and that all my claims "have been systematically shown to be fallacious."

I had fully intended my August 26th posts to be the last in which I engaged with Majka. As I indicated in those pieces, Majka and I are both sufficiently entrenched in our views―not only about Ukraine, but about the way the world works―that it is nearly inconceivable that either of us could change the other's mind about anything. Furthermore, I feel that, generally speaking, the most appropriate response to someone who openly and repeatedly flouts the norms of civil discourse by constructing straw men, repeatedly and tendentiously misconstruing the position of his critics, making false statements and openly insulting his interlocutors is to ignore him.

Yet, as little inclined as I am to either read or reply to anything written by Majka, I feel I must respond one last time. Part of the impetus, I admit, is personal: I am unwilling to allow Majka to get away with flagrantly false assertions that impugn me as an individual, nor do I care to leave the impression that I am unable to meet Majka’s taunt to respond to his remarks.

An additional, less self-involved reason is that I propose to keep writing about Ukraine, which I consider to be a subject of the first importance. I have every expectation that Majka will subject such posts to attack and I want to make clear in advance that I have no intention of responding to his provocations―not because I am unable to meet his arguments but because I don't consider him worth the trouble. Majka may have the time, energy and inclination to endlessly advance meretricious defences of the role of US imperialism in Ukraine but I am not prepared to similarly dedicate myself to the tedious task of confuting him.

I am separately posting a detailed (but not exhaustive) summary of the multitude of ways in which Majka demonstrates that he cannot be deemed a reliable commentator on the current crisis in Ukraine. I trust that anyone who reads the document will understand if in future I excuse myself from answering him. It is not that I cannot rise to a legitimate challenge but that Majka, by his use of uncivil and illegitimate tactics, has forfeited any right to be considered worthy of my attention.


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