Friday, April 30, 2010

the wonder that is facnet

Facnet is a campus email list for general discussion of matters of interest to the university community, in particular the faculty. I believe it was named facnet to mean "faculty-network," but the scrip list is open and the archives are public.

Consequently, lots of faculty and staff shoot their mouths off on facnet.

For instance, facnet was a venue for complaints about Sarah Palin being chosen as a fund-raising speaker at a 50th anniversary gala for the university this summer. I weighed in on that one only to the effect that public universities' foundation boards maintain accounting secrecy in California, and so we have no right to know how much the university is paying for this event. Others expressed dismay at her choice because she's inappropriate as a speaker at (1) a public university, (2) in need of more public funds, (3) which might be achievable only with tax increases, (4) which she is apparently opposed to, given her activity with the so-called tea party movement, and, oh yes, (5) she's an idiot.

Meanwhile, several people, mainly staff members of the university rather than faculty, attacked critics for being leftists, for only wanting leftists to speak on campus, and so forth. This is both an ad hominem fallacy, and rather deliberately ignoring the context (there have been very few leftist speakers at the university, and certainly no one who represents the fringe the way Palin used to in the GOP).

Our commencement speaker (Marc Lamont Hill) was named this week, and from the same pool of staff came a weird, veiled accusation, couched not only in condescending and ad hominem rhetoric, but also an attempt at sarcasm. "Where is the outrage?" was the opening salvo. The email went on to make totally bizarre and non sequitir connections to other campus political issues, and to conclude, under a thin veil, that faculty are leftists and therefore only object to right-wing speakers because of this ideological divide.

I responded, pointing out that almost all of the email was making irrelevant points, and making the case that, regardless of all else, the choice of a speaker on campus should be open to honest debate. This morning, in another fit of attempted sarcasm, the emailer thanked me for "going the extra mile" and thanked all the faculty for not disappointing. The implication of this, I suppose, is that we confirmed the emailer's preconceptions.

I feel like posting a lesson in sarcasm, or a list of definitions of fallacies committed in this exchange. Because there's a way to use these elegantly, and then there's what the emailer did. I don't mind being the target of sarcasm or ad hominem as much when it's done well.

Perhaps I'll develop a little primer on successful sarcasm later, like the one I did years ago on the dos and don'ts of sneering. Some people, as George Carlin used to say, need practical advice.

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