“Ipse dixit” is one of the more charming Latin phrases you’ll find in legal writing. It translates to “he himself has said it.” (As an aside, Gilbert & Sullivan aficionado’s may recognize that little phrase from H.M.S. Pinafore.) What the phrase means is that the author asserts as authority the fact that he is asserting something as authority. Another way to describe this type of argument is “boot-strapping.” The best way to understand what I’m talking about, though, is to read the incredible love letter that Caroline Siede has written to Hillary Clinton over at Boing-Boing: “To find Hillary Clinton likable, we must learn to view women as complex beings.”
As the title indicates, Siede’s premise is a simple one: Those who don’t like Hillary Clinton are guilty of sexism. Women are complex. Both men and unenlightened women hate complex women. Therefore, because Hillary is a woman, men and unenlightened women hate Hillary. QED.
You can take Siede’s analysis for whatever you think it’s worth. What I found more interesting was what I discovered when I followed up on her innumerable hyperlinks. The hyperlinks, of course, are meant to imply that every statement Siede makes is factually valid. In fact, though, following the hyperlinks more often than not led to people saying “this fact is true because I say it’s true.” I’ve dealt with lawyers who write legal briefs like that. You’ll find a hundred case citations in the brief, none of which are on point. They exist merely to lend heft to an otherwise invalid argument.
To illustrate my point, let me take just the first two paragraphs from Siede’s love letter to Hillary and to all misunderstood, complex women everywhere, and then walk you through the hyperlinks:
Whether you realize it or not, you’ve spent your entire life being trained to empathize with white men. From Odysseus to Walter White, Hamlet to Bruce Wayne, James Bond to the vast majority of biopic protagonists, our art consistently makes the argument that imperfect, even outright villainous, men have an innate core of humanity. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Good art should teach us to empathize with complex people. The problem comes not from the existence of these stories about white men, but from thelack of stories about everyone else.
That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot during this increasingly insane presidential election season. Particularly as I try to wrap my head around the fact that Hillary Clinton is on one hand the most qualified human being to ever run for president of the United States, and, on the other, one of the most disliked presidential candidates of all time. In fact, Donald Trump is the only candidate who is more disliked than Clinton. And he’s not only overtly racist, sexist, and Islamophobic, but also unfit and unprepared for office. How can these two fundamentally dissimilar politicians possibly be considered bedfellows when it comes to popular opinion?
And here’s a breakdown of the hyperlinked items in the above two paragraphs: