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Ben Shapiro, Cool Thinker

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This is an excellent (long) read on how Ben Shapiro might not live up to the hype. Some highlights:

But according to the New York Times, it would be a mistake to write off Conservative Thought so hastily. For we would be overlooking one crucial figure: Ben Shapiro. Shapiro, we are told, is “the cool kid’s philosopher, dissecting arguments with a lawyer’s skill and references to Aristotle.” The Times quotes praise of Shapiro as a “brilliant polemicist” and “principled gladiator,” a quick-witted man who “reads books,” and “takes apart arguments in ways that make the conservative conclusion seem utterly logical.” Shapiro is the “destroyer of weak arguments,” he “has been called the voice of the conservative millennial movement.” He is a genuine intellectual, a man who “does not attack unfairly, stoke anger for the sake of it, or mischaracterize his opponents’ positions.” He is principled: he deplores Trump, and cares about Truth. Shapiro’s personal mantra, “Facts don’t care about your feelings,” captures his approach: he’s passionate, but he believes in following reason rather than emotion. Shapiro, then, represents the best in contemporary conservative thinking. And if the cool kids have a philosopher, it is worth examining his philosophy in some depth.

I’ll admit that I was not immediately dazzled by the force of Shapiro’s intellect. I started with his controversial recent Berkeley speech. Toward the beginning, he addressed Antifa protesters, whom he called “communist pieces of garbage”: “You guys are so stupid… you can all go to hell, you pathetic, lying, stupid jackasses.” According to the Times, there is a wide gulf between Trump/Yiannopoulos-style vulgar conservatism and Shapiro-style Logical conservatism, but I just am not sure that I see in “Go to hell, you communist piece of garbage” the kind of “polemical brilliance” that Shapiro is reputed to demonstrate. The rest of the speech, when it got beyond making Botox jokes about Nancy Pelosi, was strong on insults (“pusillanimous cowards,” “hard-Left morons,” “uncivilized barbarians”) and light on actual argumentation and substantive factual claims. Shapiro did say that the alt-right are full of “bullshit” and that the left overstates the threat posed by Shapiro’s speeches. (Both true.) The main thrust of the speech, though, is that America is the greatest country in the world, that there are no real injustices facing black people, women, and poor people, and that if you don’t do well economically here it’s entirely your fault.

 

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My initial impressions were also soured by Shapiro’s casual bigotry. That may not be the wisest observation to lead with: I’m sure Shapiro would be very pleased with himself to hear me call him a racist. (Though Shapiro always looks somewhat pleased with himself.) Nothing could better prove his point: the left has no arguments, so they resort to calling people they dislike “racists.” And since he explicitly says that he isn’t a racist, what am I doing if not using the classic left-wing “bullying” tactic of dismissing your opponent as a nasty, bigoted individual?

But, well, I don’t know what else to call a statement like this: “Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage.” (Shapiro followed it with the hashtag #SettlementsRock.) Arabs like to bomb crap and live in sewage. Perhaps I’m crazy. Perhaps there’s a definition of the word “racism” that wouldn’t include a statement like that. But since the statements “Black people are violent and want to live in sewage” or “Jews are violent and want to live in sewage” would both sound… somewhat racist, I don’t see how the conclusion can be avoided. What do you call a crass pejorative generalization about an entire ethnic group? I know one word, but I’m open to others. (By the way, it’s amusing that Shapiro can see Gazan children swimming in sewage and think “Wow, Arabs must just really have a thing for sewage,” a train of reasoning roughly akin to “Wow, Haitians must really love dying in earthquakes, since a lot of them seem to have done it.” Though I am reliably informed that Shapiro is a master of logic, so I am sure there is more to this than mere simple-minded prejudice.)

If you have the time, do finish the article. It’s worth it.

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