This is a follow-up to my post a couple of days ago about my decision to read, in order, both Ann Coulter’s Godless : The Church of Liberalism and Susan Estrich’s Soulless : Ann Coulter and the Right Wing Church of Hate, with the latter meant to be a takedown of the former.
I galloped through Ann’s book. She writes the way one should write a good legal brief (although you’re supposed to put all the sarcasm in the first draft and edit it out before it goes to court): She states the premise she intends to prove, marshals the facts necessary for her argument, and then makes her argument, either convincing you or not. Ignoring the snarkiness, which can be alternately amusing or irritating, her arguments are solid. Most of the facts were within my own range of personal knowledge, because I remember the events about which she speaks, so the most I could challenge were her conclusions, not the evidence she adduced to support them. As it happened, I agreed with her ultimate conclusions, which flowed rather effortlessly from the evidence upon which she relied.
The only thing that was entirely new to me fact-wise was her attack on Evolution. From my point of view, that was both her strongest and her weakest argument. Strongest, because she finally explained to me why anti-evolutionists keep insisting that evolution is just a theory. I’d always blithely assumed that the fossil record supported Darwinism — that is, after all, the way it’s taught in our schools. Ann claims — and I don’t know here whether her facts are what she says they are — that the massive recent developments in the hard sciences (DNA studies, physics, etc.) and paleontology (the fossil record ) do not support Darwin’s predictions.
If Ann’s factual claim is correct, it means that Darwinism never morphed from the theory Darwin advanced in the 19th Century to the all-encompassing fact taught now. Ann’s argument is weak to me, though, because Ann takes that to mean Darwinism is wrong. I take it to mean that I’m back in agnostic territory, no longer able to rely on Darwin, but not ready to throw myself into the hands of Gods or aliens.
That I don’t go where Ann goes, though, doesn’t negate the fact that she does a very good job of showing that, despite evidence that exists outside of Evolution’s linear theory, the liberals refuse to acknowledge the existence of those facts. If Ann is correct, that’s shameful, and it is a flat-earth world view, just as bad as that which dominated during the Middle Ages.
Although the evolution section was the most challenging part of the book for me (especially because I have no independent corroboration of her factual claims), I know that the MSM savaged her book most for its section about the Jersey Girls, those 9/11 widows who used their increased visibility to attack the administration. Ann is indeed mean and scathing in her condemnation of these women, but there is context. Her point is that the Left hagiographizes (a made-up word, I admit) people who have achieved a PC victim status, and shrieks down the house when others attempt to challenge, not the victim status, but the ideas emanating from that victim.
It doesn’t take a long memory to remember Maureen Dowd’s fatuous conclusion that Cindy Sheehan spoke with “absolute moral authority” because her son died bravely in Iraq. Within days of that one, every conservative blog in the world had exposed its manifest logical failings. But I’m sure Dowd didn’t care because her point — and the point Ann understands — is that liberals don’t want their ideas challenged, and the most recently devised way to insulate those ideas from challenge is to have them emanate from people who have suffered. And Ann argues that, in the marketplace of ideas, those same ideas are always open to challenge, no matter who utters them. And then, being Ann, she goes utterly overboard and makes that excellent point in the crudest, most offensive way possible.
All of which gets me to Estrich’s book. I have to admit, that while I galloped through Ann’s book, which was factually solid and, for the most part, amusing, Estrich’s book is heavy-going, and I haven’t gotten very far. Part of the problem is one of expectations. Because it’s manifestly a book written in response to Godless (check out those covers), I expected Estrich to take on Ann’s arguments. Foolish me. Estrich did exactly what Ann would have predicted — so far, it’s left the arguments alone, but taken on Ann. I’m at page 52, and it’s been a sustained attack on Ann: Ann is obsessed with her looks; Ann is mean; Ann obviously has an eating disorder; Ann is mean; Ann is too blonde, making her generic; Ann is mean; I (Estrich) am personally nice to Ann; Ann is mean; Ann’s training as a lawyer doesn’t qualify her to argue things; Ann is mean; Ann dates different men every night; etc.
Along the way, Estrich breaks her “Ann is mean” rhythm to tell us that she (Estrich) is Jewish, which I sort of figured out already because of the the Magen David she wears in the cover photo. Estrich believes that this fact utterly refutes Ann’s claim that liberals are Godless. Had Estrich actually read Ann’s argument, while she might not have agreed with it, she wouldn’t have thought that all you need to do to refute it is to announce that you believe in God. Ann’s point is that a simple belief in God is the beginning but that real religion is living your life according to the moral precepts in the Bible — and that liberals, no matter how much they profess belief in a higher being, don’t. More than that, Ann makes the point that liberalism sets up an entirely alternative and comprehensive belief system, often antithetical to traditional religion, that is a religion in and of itself. As I discussed here, she’s got a point, although one that it’s almost impossible for liberals to recognize.
In the first 52 pages, Estrich also makes an almost funnily inept swipe at Ann’s Jersey Girls argument. After pointing out that Ann is mean (I got that bit), Estrich goes on to say that she’s been a victim and that her ideas have been attacked. That’s great. That means that, despite efforts to the contrary, freedom of speech, even mean speech, is still alive in America.
What Estrich totally misses, either accidentally or on purpose, is Ann’s point that, while such speech exists, the Left is working busily to shut it down as to liberal arguments, and that one of the ways the Left does it is to claim that one cannot challenge ideas emanating from sympathetic figures. The Left may not succeed in the shout-down, but that it engages in it in the first place shows a profound inability to separate ideas from identity (which loops back to the main problem with identity politics). That Estrich’s book has been, so far, a sustained attack on Ann personally, rather than her ideas, shows that Estrich cannot escape her own identity politics mindset. It’s all about who you are, not what you say. If you don’t like Ann’s ideas, insult Ann personally. If you have ideas that you want broadcast, shield them in a sympathetic character. Either way, whatever you do, don’t touch the ideas!
UPDATE: Let me clarify something. Regarding my very simplistic, and somewhat inchoate, evolution discussion, I was not trying to argue away evolution. I was just saying that Ann makes a compelling argument, if her facts are true, that there is a shut-down of debate about Darwin’s theory, rather than an expansion of that same debate, despite the availablity of facts that could not possibly be known to Darwin at the time he came up with his theory.
My understand is that it’s the essence of a good scientific debate that, having posited a theory, you expose it to facts — and perhaps adjust it too. My complaint is with the refusal to think beyond the theory, to expand it, modify it, whatever it, based on irrefutable (or at least changing) evidence. And while the hardcore scientists may be making these adjustments, the fact remains that the popular culture — most especially the children’s textbooks — are not.
Please don’t confuse me with those people, ably exposed in Bill Whittle’s essay, who find evidence intrusive and unnecessary for their world view. Rather than being, like me, someone who wants to test facts against theory and who wants to know what facts are out there, Whittle’s conspiracists are the people with their fingers in their ears, yelling “Nyah, nyah, nyah! I can’t hear you.”
UPDATE II: Here’s sort of what I was looking for in the fact area — a series of articles that challenge Ann’s scientific claims in the evolution vs. ID debate. What’s interesting about so many of these articles it is that, aside from actually taking on Ann’s factual claims, which is where I want to learn information and where I think the debate should be, they also insult her roundly; claim she’s advancing God, whereas I read her book as primarily an attack on the prevailing evolutionary zeitgeist informing those not “in the know” that evolution has all the answers to all the questions, going back to primordial ooze; and announce that evolution does in fact have all the answers.
Incidentally, Susan Estrich shies away entirely from the factual side of the debate, preferring instead to attack Ann’s motives, instead of her argument. If Ann’s science is as bad as they all claim, why don’t they attack her there, which is manifestly her weak spot? (Frankly, you should never let a lawyer argue science.)