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More on Levine-Gladwell

This from Adam Bulger.

Yasha Levine did the right thing, in terms of tactics and truth-seeking. Gladwell was trying to prompt him into a Socratic interchange where Gladwell would make some brilliant counter-intuitive argument to exonerate himself. Levine was correct to not engage. Gladwell was fixated on one small piece of a large argument. Also, Gladwell would have an advantage by focusing on slippery abstractions. Levine responded with a list of hard-nosed, reportorial questions that Gladwell ignored.

Levine was right to dismiss this as “playing verbal footsie.” I’m fairly certain Gladwell was never going to talk openly about his cigarette company ties anyway, and the end result is that he looks like a patrician dickhead. But Levine could have argued with Gladwell about that article and won. What he did was better, but he could have won that argument.

What do you think?

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2 comments

  1. I sympathize very much with, and am grateful for, Levine’s stance, though at times the strident tone almost overwhelms the message. However, Bulger’s defense seems a bit (to borrow from Gladwell) parsimonious. Abstraction and brilliance are not qualities one should condemn in a writer or an argument, which Bugler seems to do. That being said, Gladwell’s response to Levine don’t, as Twain would say, impress me much.

  2. I appreciate this comment very much. I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about the place of intelligentsia in practical politics. A week or so ago, I shared Robert Unger’s thoughts on Obama with a very close friend of mine who’s also an Iraq War veteran. His response, that he gets nervous whenever academics wade into pop politics, surprised me (he’s a progressive), and then didn’t (he’s a veteran of the Iraq War). While I don’t think of Gladwell as an academic, the difference between abstraction and nuance and Socratic Jedi mind trickery is partly one of perspective. But it’s also a very important question, even more so when the veil is pulled back a bit on the money. Or the plumb appointments.

    I think I’m with you re: Levine.

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