Today’s topic is logorrhea, which is variously defined as “excessive use of words” or “pathologically excessive talking”. Its most common manifestation is as a belief that more words make any argument stronger. This particular strain of logorrhea often gets cured somewhere in freshman or sophomore year at any decent university, but sometimes it persists well into adulthood. As many of you have probably predicted, the examples for our discussion will be drawn from that logorrhea poster child Steven Den Beste, and particularly today’s 2200-word screed.

Steven wrote what he apparently thought was the last word on strategy for the war on terror, which weighed in at over 6000 words in outline form. He was very proud of it, and perhaps he should be, but it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that some people disagreed with both his assumptions and his conclusions. Steven even provides a fairly lengthy excerpt from Patrick Schaefer poking holes in various parts of his arguments. He then provides a stunningly dishonest paraphrase of Patrick’s commentary (odd for one who objected so strongly when D-squared provided far more accurate paraphrases of his own posts)…and then he gets mad. Here’s part of his response:

let’s try a little thought experiment. Let’s schedule a debate, and invite a lot of voters. The first speaker stands up and makes a case for one position, laying out his explanation of why the problem happened, and then saying what he thinks needs to be done to solve it, and explaining why he thinks it will help. Then he sits down.

His opponent, on the left side of the stage, stands up, grins at the audience, and pulls his pants down and moons the first speaker. He then returns his pants to their customary position and returns to his seat. End of debate.

If the audience was not partisan ahead of time, which advocate is more likely to have convinced them?

I’d call that a pretty bad analogy. Does Patrick’s response strike anyone as mere mooning? You might disagree with it (I do, in fact) but it does seem fairly articulate and well-considered. Sometimes, when someone just stands up and babbles inanely for half an hour, I’d say they deserve nothing better than mooning, but many of Steven’s interlocutors (not all; he did manage to cherry-pick a few examples of true mooning) did far more than that. Nonetheless, Steven dismisses every one of them as though they were nothing but pants-droppers. He derides anyone to the left of himself and Attila the Hun as part of the “the post-modernist lit-crit left” even as he denies his own association with the xenophobic paleolithic right. Most notably, he never actually tries to address the objections raised by Patrick and others.

The point here is not that Steven is a hypocrite, even though he is. The point is that the sheer length of Steven’s non-answer works against him. The man just can’t pass up a chance to insert (what he thinks is) a pithy comment, even if the five paragraphs of setup turn a would-be zinger into a predictable groaner. In the hurry to insert the pet phrase, he turns a blind eye to both reason and irony. What other explanation could there be for his accusing others of “preaching to the choir” or “refusing to consider the idea that they might need to engage in cogent debate”? His main point, about people who eschew honest debate in favor of personal attacks, could have been made in two or three paragraphs without falling into a dozen potholes of his own devising.

I challenge anyone to read the post in question, and not conclude that its length hurts rather than helps the author’s cause. Whining about personal attacks while indulging in a few of one’s own does not improve with repetition.