Wednesday, September 07, 2011

A lesson in Irony

or, anger makes you stupid.

I. Thomas Friedman begins an article in the times as follows:

"Kishore Mahbubani, a retired Singaporean diplomat, published a provocative essay in The Financial Times on Monday that began like this: “Dictators are falling. Democracies are failing. A curious coincidence? Or is it, perhaps, a sign that something fundamental has changed in the grain of human history. I believe so. How do dictators survive? They tell lies. Muammar Gaddafi was one of the biggest liars of all time. He claimed that his people loved him. He also controlled the flow of information to his people to prevent any alternative narrative taking hold. Then the simple cellphone enabled people to connect. The truth spread widely to drown out all the lies that the colonel broadcast over the airwaves.

“So why are democracies failing at the same time? The simple answer: democracies have also been telling lies.”

That is, he starts by quoting the opening paragraph in an essay written by one, Kishore Mahbubani, a retired Singaporean diplomat.

II. Look how the professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at UC, Berkeley references this opening:

"Hannah Arendt and Thomas Friedman

There was Hannah Arendt who analyzed tyranny, and then there is Thomas Friedman. Here is his deep, profound analysis of dictatorial rule: "How do dictators survive? They tell lies. Muammar Gaddafi was one of the biggest liars of all time." I was thinking: imagine if you are a teacher and your student wrote this in an undergraduate paper. Would you not inform the student that such analysis is so unsophisticated and so simplistic?"

III. Now imagine you were a teacher and and your student wrote this in a paper. How would you clarify to him that he is a lousy reader, thinker and if possible, even a lousier writer?

III.i: You might ask him to consider what dramatic irony is:

In dramatic irony, someone is doing or saying something without being aware of the ironic clash with reality. The truth, which the reader is in a position to observe with great effort, is the real situation and the appearance is the speaker's assumptions. In this classical type of irony, the writer is being exposed for the Tartuffe that he is, safely ensconced in his thick impenetrable hubris, happily oblivious to reality. The reader reads on, transfixed, and cannot believe the levels of self-deception this writer is capable of.

III.ii: Then you might try to help the poor sod by posing the following the questions:

Is the subject of the article tyranny? If your answer is yes, explain then how the article develops into a discussion of truth and lies in politics.

Why is Hannah Arendt referenced here? In what way is her name and the fact that she wrote about her tyranny enlighten the comment you were trying to make? Or are you just trying to boost your credibility by dropping a few well-known names? Are you comparing her to Friedman? Why?

Whose words are you quoting? Are these the words of Friedman's, or Kishore Mahbubani's, whose essay Friedman is quoting? Do you think it is important to notice who says what, when and why?

What does "unsophisticated and simplistic" mean to you? What does it mean to everyone else? Can you account for the gap in the two meanings?

IV: AbuKhalil is not an undergraduate student. As a PhD at a respectable university, he teaches undergraduate students. In this post, he actually conflates between AbuKhalil the teacher and Angry Arab the blogger. He attempts to criticize Friedman's writing by summoning up a superior kind of methodology: academic criteria. He actually believes this is a good example of how an academic mind evaluates and criticizes a given text. Don't you think this kind of sloppy reading, quoting, thinking and writing is a disgrace to the very academic standards Abukhalil is invoking in this post as the measure against which honest, coherent and legible writing and thinking are to be assessed?

5 Comments:

At 8:41 AM EDT, Anonymous Brian Goldfarb said...

I assume that the second two sentence paragraph in italics at the beginning of this post (“So why are democracies failing at the same time? The simple answer: democracies have also been telling lies.”) is actually part of the article that Friedman is quoting.

Your post doesn't make sense otherwise. As written, and given the next sentence ("That is, he starts..."), it could mean that the "So why..." sentence is actually a profundity from Friedman. My problem is that I don't think that Friedman is capable of such an infelicity.

Please enlighten me.

 
At 11:54 AM EDT, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

You assume correctly. The link to Friedman's article is contained in AA's post.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/07/opinion/friedman-the-whole-truth-and-nothing-but.html

 
At 6:27 PM EDT, Anonymous Brian Goldfarb said...

Thank you for the clarification, and I have checked out the Friedman article. Interesting.

 
At 4:58 AM EDT, Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

I didn't think much about the Friedman's piece. Pissed Arab does add a new charming level of inanity to the whole. Nice.

 
At 12:28 PM EST, Anonymous Linda said...

Such a great article it was, the truth, which the reader is in a position to observe with great effort, is the real situation and the appearance is the speaker's assumptions. In this classical type of irony, the writer is being exposed for the Tartuffe that he is, safely ensconced in his thick impenetrable hubris, happily oblivious to reality. Thanks for sharing this article.

 

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