Another Reason Why My Doctor Tells Me The Nation Shouldn’t Read Megan McArdle…

…the necessary blood pressure medication on its own would bankrupt our soon-to-be-reformed health care system.

Though perhaps, pieces like this actually evoke more of a sense of wonder than anything else — not merely at the banality and evil so neatly conjoined in its content, but at the astonishing reality that anyone who routinely writes such…how to put this…bonecrushingly stupid; water-her-twice-a day dumb;* the wheel is spinning but the hamster’s dead** material, still has a job, much less an apparently appreciative audience.***

Actually, I think I have to credit McArdle with some cleverness here.  Her post is so full of different instances of nonsense, bad faith argument, sheer failure to understand what she seems to think she is talking about that she achieves a certain effect:  by seeding her post with so much to be debunked, she increases the odds that one whack-a-mole notion or another will slip past the defenses of rationality and real-world experience.

Life is, of course, too short to club every mechanical rodent that pops its head above the blissfully sunlit interior of McArdle’s mind, so what follows is an attempt at bullet-point fisking, a move towards a kind of blog-brevity that I have never executed successfully.  So let’s see, why don’t we:****

So is this guy a terrifying threat to democracy?  Or just a civic-minded citizen?

Species of logical fallacy?  False dichotomy.

If you think that his position on healthcare changes the likelihood that he will discharge that weapon…


is this a rational belief?

Species of logical fallacy:  Straw man.

I think carrying guns to protests is entirely counterproductive.

That’s one word for it.

Indeed, I’m not sold on the general virtues of protesting, which worked for Gandhi and the civil rights marcher, but has a dismal track record on other concerns.

Where to begin?  Oh yeah — keep it short.  I’ll merely glance at my usual rant about McArdle’s lack of actual acquired knowledge/experience out of which to base her claims.  I’ll only say that anyone who takes as dispositive of the topic that Ms. McArdle is herself “not sold” on what she curiously calls the “virtues” of protesting♦  is a suitable purchaser for that bridge in Brooklyn I managed to pick up last week.  Without resorting to the argument from authority (because I don’t need it — see immediately below), I’ll just note that McArdle’s training as an English major (undergraduate) and an MBA candidate hardly seem to me to provide the necessary formal intellectual inquiry to back that statement up.

And of course, the fact that for whatever reason — lack of education, intellectual sloth, incurious enjoyment of her almost impossibly sheltered and comfortable life to this point, or some combination of all of the above — McArdle knows not of what she speaks can be demonstrated with a moment’s googling, or, in my almost fifty-one year old case, mere acts of memory.

Let’s see:  I seem to recall that the aftermath of the Marcos instigated assassination of Ninoy Aquino demonstrated that protest has no power.  Lech Walesa must be merely a shipyard worker with a gripe, given that the protests he led were so desperately ineffective.  The South African case is enormously complicated, but if the business community in South Africa cut the underpinnings of the Boer cause in the eighties and early nineties, I’m sure it was because sustained, courageous, life-risking protest within the country and protest led pressure on international companies outside had nothing to do with it … it was all purely the milk of human kindness coursing through the veins of the NP that allowed Nelson Mandela to embark on that famous walk.  And so on…

In other words, protest may not satisfy the kool kid McArdle appears to imagine herself to be, but people have died in proving her wrong time and again within even her callow memory.  I’d add that he dismal track record of which McArdle writes exists, but should be sought in her own archives.

But I think people have a perfect right to do it, including with guns, though I also think the secret service is within its rights to ensure that they don’t have a sight line on the president.

That’s “Secret Service,” a proper name, not some generic function; and I’m sure its brave members sleep a little more soundly now that they know that Ms. McArdle has acknowledged her belief that they have the right to perform their duty.

But the hysteria about them has been even more ludicrous.  Numerous people claim to believe that this makes it likely, even certain, that someone will shoot at the president.

I call Inigo Montoya on her use of the word “ludicrous” in this context.

And as for the “numerous people…” sentence…this is both a logical fallacy — the straw man again, in her assertion that the claim has been made that the presence of guns at rallies make it “certain” that someone will shoot President Obama — and the coward’s argument.  If numerous people have made this claim, name them, so that we may check and see if McArdle is reporting their claims accurately, and to see what arguments they might be making in support of whatever they assert.

This is very silly, because the president is not anywhere most of the gun-toting protesters…

I’m glad to get a reading on what McArdle thinks is silly; it helps calibrate the rest of her stuff.  But while I guess worrying about the fate of the president is risible to some, the real kicker here, of course lies with the remarkable statement that it’s ok to bring a loaded gun to protest a presidential visit because “most” won’t be “near” President Obama himself.

It pains me to say something so utterly obvious and predictable but, if I may break the fourth wall for just a moment:  Ms McArdle.  Are you awake?  Sentient?  Even a little?  Remember, when it comes to bullets…It Only Takes One.

And as for “near.”  I’m guessing that McArdle’s upbringing/background is once again suckering her into the realm of unknown unknowns here; that relentless incuriosity of hers seems to keep her from grasping the fact that guns are not in fact solely short-range weapons.

The AR-15 rifle carried to the rally in Phoenix is a derivative of the military M-16.♥  It fires the NATO 5.56 round and while it has a number of variants, has an effective range of over 500 meters in its most common forms.  While I hope indeed that the Secret Service does indeed manage to control all the sightlines to the president, half a kilometer is not what I would call near…and McArdle, whatever she actually knows of modern firearms, certainly manages to convey in this post complete ignorance of the subject.♣


It is, I suppose, more plausible to believe that they might take a shot at someone else.  But not very plausible:  the rate of crime associated with legal gun possession or carrying seems to be verylow.  Guns, it turn out, do not turn ordinary people into murderers.  They make murderers more effective.

Species of logical fallacy:  biased sample.  The relevant sample is not all those bearing guns legally, but all those bearing guns in a political context, and perhaps in the specific context of Presidential appearances.  However you might want to begin analyzing it, the group of those who consider it a form of acceptable democratic speech to bear a loaded gun at a political rally is a distinct subset of gun owners, and the assertion that their behavior will track that of the group at large is both bad statistical reasoning and bad-faith argument, all rolled into one.

So perhaps unsurprisingly, when offered the opportunity to put some money down on the proposition that one of these firearms is soon going to be discharged at someone, they all decline…

This is getting tedious:  the fallacies here include the ad hominem argument — because people don’t bet, what they say is wrong — and yet another straw man.  Who are these mythical non-gamblers.  I’ll take the damn bet.  Here’s a 100 bucks that says that some asshole fires a weapon at a political rally before the end of Obama’s first term. I’d bet more but I just bought a house and haven’t got a dime to spare…and Mrs. Levenson raised her boy right, with the view that bet when you feel like it…but never your son’s lunch money.

McArdle then approvingly quotes from that notorious bearer of bad-faith arguments in defense of faith, C.S. Lewis, to advance in someone else’s name the logical fallacy known as the slippery slope argument. It is certainly true that milk drinking leads to heroin addiction, but what’s even wierder about McArdle’s citation of Lewis’ Mere Christianity is that Lewis’s point, however flawed, has no discernable connection to McArdle’s argument.  This is what I mean when I see in McArdle the bored monkey style of argument:  fling enough faeces at a wall and perhaps something will stick, if only by oderiferous association.

Moving on:

I suspect that, like the notion that Obama is not a US citizen, or that George Bush either planned the 9/11 attacks or allowed them to happen, this is for most people what Julian Sanchez calls a symbolic belief.  They don’t really believe that these people are thugs intent on murder–not in the sense that they have, with careful thought, arrived at a conclusion that they are willing to defend vigorously.

Two quick points.  There is a false equivalence at work, to begin with.  Birther and 9/11 conspiracy beliefs do not derive from the same underlying logical or empirical structure that the argument that the repeated incidence of bearing loaded firearms within the context of purportedly peaceful protest increases the risk of violence in the future.

The prediction may be wrong — that is, we may go through an entire eight year Obama Presidency with nary a hint of gun violence in political contexts.  But the argument that such violence is a reasonable thing to fear is a qualitatively different one from that required to believe in the face of all evidence to the contrary that Barack Obama is not legally the President of the United States (or that George Bush evoked 9/11…or that FDR set up Pearl Harbor and all the rest).

Second:  once again, McArdle has recourse to a bad faith, logically flawed argument here.  She’s not that inventive, so she’s gone again to the straw man well.

Those who suggest that the presence of guns openly carried implies a series of risks — how many concealed weapons might be present; how much organization there might be in the insertion of armed protesters into the fabric of peaceful protest; how long it will take for over-the-top violent rhetoric to find a truly receptive ear amongst all these “patriots” — are not saying that any individual gun-toting asshole is a thug bent on murder.

They are saying that the more useful idiots like McArdle legitimize the presence of guns in political discourse, the greater the risk we take that the guns will stop being symbols, and will reappear as the tools they are…tools that are capable of dealing deadly violence at a distance.

McArdle would rather not dwell on that ugly fact of guns.  They are not toys.  They are not megaphones.  They do not utter cute or funny or pointed commentary on the state of American polity today.  They dispatch useful weights of metal at high speeds across considerable spaces with an accuracy restricted by the quality of the machine and the skill of its operator.  Reality matters.

But it is pleasurable to tell yourself you believe terrible things about your enemies, and so you don’t examine the thought until someone says, “Well, how about $500 on it, then?” and you think about how much it would hurt to lose $500 on, and realize that you don’t actually have any reason to believe it’s all that likely.

Back to that again:  the validity of the argument that bringing guns to political rallies is (a) dangerous and (b) if unchecked, likely to increase the risk of an act of political violence turns on whether or not someone will lay a bet with Ms. McArdle.  See above for the fallacy involved, and then pause to consider McArdle’s framing of the argument as a whole.

Here she says, as the concluding thought of her attempted chain of argument, that the actual claim being advanced is that the presence of guns among anti Obama protesters is evidence of the evil of opposition to Obama and not, as stated by those who make real arguments on this matter, that the increase in the threat of violence is likely to lead to an increase in violence itself.

This is a predictive argument, and I hope that is wrong — or rather that the making of it helps create the conditions that will prevent it from becoming right.  Were civilized people to say that whatever one’s legal rights to bear arms might be, it is socially unacceptable to do so at a political rally, especially one at which an elected leader is present, then the risk of violence would be reduced, I hope to the level that the Secret Service could manage without breaking a sweat.

But the point I’d finish with here, to counter McArdle’s attempt at a conclusion, is to remind everyone of the intellectual and emotional poverty of McArdle, along with that of those on the right who like her are trying to turn our politics into a game of high-school debate, unanchored in lived experience.  She asserts, in effect, and almost in so many words, that the fear of political violence is a mere abstraction — her “symbolic belief.”

She is, of course, totally, utterly, and almost painfully wrong — as everyone knows who can remember back just a few years, read a book, perhaps, …or even managed to recall the fate of a couple of people who shared a last name with someone else famous who died on Tuesday.

Specifically:  I was born in 1958.  Since then, there have been ten presidents who have served before the current incumbent:  Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II.  Of them, one was killed by a rifle.  Another had guns drawn on him twice in two weeks.  A third was shot outside a Washington DC hotel by a deranged celebrity hound.  Three out of ten.

More:  Over the history of the presidency, ten out of the first 43 presidents were subject to attempted or successful assassinations.  Political violence is a fact of American history.

Taking note of that risk is not mere mental masturbation, pleasuring ourselves in the contemplation of the demonic nature of the opposition.

It is simple prudence.

Let enough people with guns get close enough to powerful people, and the American experience is that something bad will happen…at a rate approaching (and in recent times exceeding) one time out of four.  (And yes — I know about the sample size and so on…)

Let’s add to that.

You may have noticed that the current President doesn’t look like his 43 predecessors.  He is, not to put to fine a point on it, black, African American.

McArdle may not wish to dwell on the subject, but there is something of a history of violence imposed on African American leaders in this country.  There is as well a hint of a racial overtone (ya think?– ed.) to at least some of the commentary around the Obama administration from the right.

Put that together:  Obama is in an office that is historically a target; he is a member of a group that has been preferentially selected for deadly force in the context of political action; and there has been a demonstrable escalation of rhetoric against his policies and his person.

And thus the ironic (and that’s putting it nicely) grotesquery that is McArdle’s last line, a castigation of people like me who are, in her view, merely enjoying our fantasy of potential assassination:

Unfortunately, these sorts of fun pastimes are horribly corrosive to civic society.

Well, so they are, in the form committed by the disastrous McArdle.

[Last thought:  I see via TBogg that McArdle has committed a second atrocity to compound the one fisked above — but I’m too tired, and so must you too be if you’ve read this far, to bother with more of the same.  I guess this is yet one more example of the monkey poop approach to political argument.  Keep flinging the shit long enough, and some of it’s bound to hit something.  But still, McArdle’s not worth the attention her relentless awfulness earns her…a fallacy I’ll leave to you to name.]

*with thanks to the late great Molly Ivins — who would have devoured McArdle for lunch (w. barbecue sauce) and used her metacarpals for toothpicks.

**and thanks to Herb Caen, whose column over the years provided a constant lesson on the joys of the English language and the extraordinary peculiarities of which the human species is capable.

***though I suppose the bulk of her readership may be, like me, those drawn to intellectual trainwrecks, who cannot turn our horrified eyes away…

****I failed.

♦by virtues she means here, apparently, effectiveness, which is a virtue only in certain, deeply unlovely philosophies.  Which is, I guess, what one would expect from this source.

♥Just to forestall the predictable flames:  I do know that the Phoenix assault rifle bozo was in fact kept well out of sight and range of the President.  The point is not that he could have shot Barack Obama.  It is that the weapons being used as symbols of speech and liberty by McArdle and others are in fact tools that in properly trained hands can impose deadly violence from a great distance.

♣Just to play w. wingnut stereotypes, I, a child during the ’60s (not, note, a child of the 60s), raised in Berkeley, have — as do many of my peers — plenty of exposure to firearms.  My family were literally gunners — grandfather a colonel in the Royal Horse Artillery and my uncle a major in the Royal Artillery, and I in my California youth spent a fair amount of time in real ranch country, where guns were in fact tools.

I got taught proper gun safety, and handled first the usual kids’ guns, single shot bolt-action .22s, and then more powerful ones, both hand and long guns.

Berkeley itself was hardly ever the pure hippie-dippie pacifist sheep zone of popular right wing fantasy.  Just to admit my own idiot youth:  among my least proud memories of my childhood in Berkeley itself was with another faculty-brat lefty friend, peering out of a window across the street from a Buddhist meditation center, plinking soda cans off their wall with my air rifle.  I don’t know if adolescent boys are always assholes, but I sure had my moments.

And lest any folks on the far side of the political spectrum with more rage than sense think cracking loud in Berkeley might be a good idea, I’d just think back on a number of friends I had — left to the core refugees from special forces.  Don’t ever make the mistake that because someone is quiet and maybe has a mellow hair style they are unarmed and safe to mess with.

Explore posts in the same categories: bad behavior, bad ideas, bad writing, deceit, political follies, Republican knavery, Stupidity, words mattter

84 Comments on “Another Reason Why My Doctor Tells Me The Nation Shouldn’t Read Megan McArdle…”

  1. Shava Nerad Says:

    I started laughing in the first paragraph and kept laughing all the way through.

    Gosh, Thomas, tell us what you *really* think? 🙂

  2. John Emerson Says:

    The thing that bothers me most is that some non-conservatives fail to hold her in contempt. I blame the personalist, game-playing tone of college life. Ingenuity is the most highly valued quality at school, and McMegan according to report is not only ingenious, a pleasant, fun person.

    Well, that plus a media that aggressively fosters and rewards McMegans and Douthats and Goldbergs. They’re all opportunistic frauds and at some level they all know it. Goldberg was born from the semen stain in Monica Lewinsky’s dress (look it up), and Douthat got his start complaining that Harvard allowed him to slack his way through school (as though there weren’t plenty of other people at Harvard working their butts off).

    In my opinion your piece was not funny at all, just depressing in a very familiar way.

  3. […] Square illustrates another reason why we’re dropping our subscription to the Atlantic: Megan McArdle’s well-funded […]

  4. Kevin Egan Says:

    Thanks for an illuminating discussion of logical fallacies; I dream of an apolitical logic expert as a mandatory panelist in every cable pundit discussion! Maybe we could clone Bob Somerby….

    Thanks especially for providing enough extracts to make it unnecessary to click through to her article: I decided a long time ago (after a futile debate in her comments section: trying to get a purchase on that unwrinkled brain is exactly like eating soup with a fork!) that I would *never* click through to her page, no matter how tempting a spectacle her latest idiocy might be. If we don’t feed her, eventually she will have to disappear.

    The thinking blogosphere and its readers should make a pact: one valiant blogger a week will read McArdle, extract and debunk as you have here, and *nobody else* will visit her page, ever. Start the first virtual boycott! Boycotts work in the real world… why not in cyberspace?

    Thanks again!

  5. Mr. Wonderful Says:

    Well eviscerated.

    If hers were a private, personal blog, we could all have a jolly good laugh at it and get on with things. But this is her job, and she’s at The Atlantic. You expect to see arguments–such as they are–in defense of a belief system hermetically sealed against reality at places like BeliefNet and TimeCube. Why a (once?) respected magazine of journalism and credible opinion taps her to write about economics and society is the mystery that fucking surpasseth understanding.

    • John Emerson Says:

      As far as the Atlantic question goes, the answers are “David Bradley” and “Michael Kelly”. Bradley, a neo-con, bought the Atlantic in 1999 and hired Kelly to edit it.

      Kelly was the TNR editor responsible for the Stephen Glass fiasco as well as a WaPo columnist. After 9/11 he wrote a series of sneeringly anti-dove columns for the Post. He was killed in Iraq where he had gone as a reporter.

  6. What astonishes me about McArdle is that so few people seem to care about the immorality of her arguments because she looks nice. It’s as if two thousand years of teachings to care for your fellow man mean nothing.

    There are a couple of blogs who cover McArdle thoroughly (including my own) and several others that cover her frequently. Yet she is still showing up in the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Channel 4, CNN, and elsewhere. The only people who can diminish her influence are, I suspect, her peers, and they are too cowardly to go against the positive popular opinion they helped to create.

  7. Mike Says:

    Regarding the offer to bet on whether a firearm will be discharged at political event:

    I think the offer to bet one way or another misses the notion of acceptable risk. It’s a good bet for her if there is as much as a 49% chance of a firearm being discharged, but that likelihood, I think we would all agree, is definitely “bad” — that is if “God” spoke from the heavens and said allowing people to bring guns to political rallies carries a 49% chance a gun will be fired in one presidential term, I think most all of us would agree that means guns shouldn’t be brought.

    I don’t know what a “good” likelihood would be, but let us assume we agree it’s < 10%. Then McArdle's bet should come with something like 10:1 payout.

  8. John Emerson Says:

    If I were outside an Obama rally in the company of armed freelancer strangers, I wouldn’t worry so much about Obama as about myself and the rest of the crowd. A lot of shootings are by armed crazies whose behavior is not really predictable.

    McMegan’s cute little bets and assertions of what the odds are is so very Chicago School. A guy strutting around with an assault rifle in that context is already suspect of The Crazy. Rather than calculateing odds, I’d be mostly thinking of how easily and quickly he could start blowing people away, and how little anyone would be abe to do about it if he started.

  9. brad Says:

    Well done, but be careful not to look directly into the stupid, lest the stupid look back into you. Megan is quite incapable of making an honest argument, and, as you amply demonstrate, never took any classes on any type of logic. I’ve taken out my logic textbook and tried writing posts like this one, but I just end up saying “f@#k” a lot. Her goal in her work is to cover her assigned talking points and, more importantly, to tell herself pretty lies to soothe whatever remains of her conscience.

  10. John Emerson Says:

    I don’t thin much about McMegan herself, but I often do ask why she has a publisher and why she has an audience.

  11. K Says:

    In fairness, McArdle is almost certainly a person of normal, or even above-average, intelligence. (I’m less sure about her editors.) If what she writes is so often risible, it’s not because she’s literally mentally handicapped; she’s an idiot in the way that reasonably bright people sometimes are. She made a bet on a certain worldview, and has proven too inflexible to adjust as it’s become clear that her bet has lost. And so she talks herself further and further into a corner.

    She might be forgiven for discounting the judgments of people who dismiss her with nothing but crass insults, but the longer she continues on her current path, the more she’ll find that people who formerly were willing to regard her as an capable defender of her point of view, worth engaging, are increasingly losing patience with her nonsense. I suspect that if she ever realizes what’s happening, she’ll be content to tell herself that the only people who’re able and willing to intelligently discuss opposing perspectives are the ones who happen to agree with her. This is not so.

    • John Emerson Says:

      McMegan’s intelligence, if actual, is an aggravating factor. She’s an opportunistic gameplayer who knows which side her bread is buttered on, and she frequently gives evidence that she doesn’t know or care about the real-world significance of the things she’s saying.

      Objectively, she has lost nothing by her dishonesty. She’s been promoted far beyond what her talent can justify.

      It’s not purely an ideological problem. Many young educated people of various political persuasions seem to have a life’s-a-joke attitude which justifies cynicism as long as it’s amusing.

      • Ellis Weiner Says:

        I don’t object to someone’s life’s-a-joke attitude–well, not that much–so long as they don’t presume to have an influence on anyone else’s life. I mean I can regard them as shallow but otherwise not care.

        Obviously, with MM, who presumes to offer analyses and prescriptions for things that influence EVERYONE else’s life, it’s the opposite. The seriousness of her topics is ill served by the I’m-a-libertarian shallowness and irrelevance of what she says, intelligent or not.

    • brad Says:

      She is her own editor, just fyi.

  12. Mr. Wonderful Says:

    Then she has a fool for a writer.

  13. brad Says:

    One final note; her focus on whether any of these gun nuts might take a shot at the President is, in part, a way of distracting from the, imo, even more pertinent, and likely, concern of whether any of these gun nuts might take a shot at someone also in the crowd who is merely disagreeing with them. She qualified her offer of a bet to not include shots fired in self-defense or the defense of others in response to her commentariat bringing up Gladney. So long as a potential shooter feels justified, in other words, she isn’t going to fault him.

    • bcgister Says:

      McArdle’s entire piece is straw man argument — it describes and addresses the less likely of possibilities and uses the low probability of that outcome to dismiss concerns about a behavior that, in all likelihood, had a very different intention and will have very different consequences..
      The “issue” that McArdle writes about is a danger to the president. That, however, was only a possibility in Arizona. The first time a man with a gun showed up at a town hall carrying openly and mouthing off about “watering the tree of liberty” was a short time before at a Congressman’s town hall in New Hampshire. Since the president wasn’t there, he was in no danger but, as a number of commenters here have pointed out, everyone else outside of that meeting could have been. It is this plausible threat to the political opponents of the armed faction which is the actual concern. In short, coming to a political rally, particularly one as far away from any Second Amendment concerns as one about health care, with guns is an act of intimidation. It is meant to dampen or silence the opposition, to further the armed faction’s goals through an implied or real threat. It creates the real danger of moving political competition in this country from the realm of discourse and suasion into that of armed confrontation (as, say, at an event I vaguely remember in North Carolina in the late 1970s.)
      This, then, is McArdle’s real act of disingenuousness. By focussing solely on the welfare of President Obama, she seeks to reframe the debate in a way in which the dangers inherent in, and the damage done by, bringing guns to any political demonstration are elided. Whatever solutions her article might suggest and debate it might engender are empty because they never address the damage done to the citizenry’s right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate.
      Her article is nothing more than trolling on a large scale.

      • Kiril Says:

        The afternoon after 12 people showed up to an Obama rally carrying guns, a buddy and I bellied up to a bar here in New Orleans. CNN was showing a man with a gun and the label on the bottom said something about Obama.
        Him: (pointing at screen) What’s that about?
        Me: 12 people brought guns to some Obama town hall.
        Him: What? Why?
        Me: To defend their rights, I guess.
        Him: And I bet they’re just itching to defend their rights, too.
        Me: Yeah, it probably won’t stop until someone gets shot.
        Him: Yep.
        We’re two Southern white male gun owners, and there is no confusion about what’s going on here.
        Can’t the response be: because it’s fucking obvious?

      • bcgister Says:

        On reflection, it seemed to me that my comments could be seen as a criticism of the deconstruction of McArdle’s writing. No such criticism was intended — Mr. Levenson did a really nice job of giving McArdle’s work what it was begging for. It was an immensely enjoyable read. Thanks.

  14. John Emerson Says:

    Have personal honor and “fighting words” come up? Does she think that a grave insult justifies the use of lethal force? Has she speculated on the armed crazies’s answer to that question?

    • She seems to be saying that if you can buy a gun legally you must not be a criminal, because if you were a criminal you would not be able to buy a gun. Therefore anyone who carries a gun is doing so legally, and taking a gun to a political rally is not a cause for concern. Consequently, to speculate on the motives of people who happen to be carrying a gun at a political rally is insulting.

  15. no Says:

    the chilling part of McMegan is that naive and innocent college libertarian kids adore her and want to be just like her.

    • mrtoads Says:

      So do naive and innocent college kids feel about Ayn Rand. As they learn to think, those who have some capacity for understanding move beyond that stage. The rest end up in the media.

    • Apsaras Says:

      It should be repeated ad nauseum. Megan McArdle is 36 years old. I keep expecting to hear about some decade-long coma in her history, but so far nothing’s come up.

  16. […] Another Reason Why My Doctor Tells Me The Nation Shouldn’t Read Megan McArdle… « The Inverse Sq…. […]

  17. Innocent Bystander Says:

    Great deconstruction. Remember: Prostitution – it not always a sexual quid pro quo.

    Who’d wager $500.00 on their belief of a future assassination attempt? Those that can afford to lose $500.00. Trying to build an argument on this basis is completely disingenuous. But lets turn the tables here; would McCardle be willing to quit her job at the Atlantic if someone does discharge a weapon at a future political rally? If she’s so confident on her position, this seems like a wager she readily sign up for.

  18. Mr. Wonderful Says:

    I’ve said it before and–well, wait. I actually haven’t said it before, but I will now:

    Reading Atlas Shrugged was one of the most tedious but useful things I’ve ever done. By the end of that book you know that you may, with a clear conscience and with moral and intellectual impunity, ignore anyone who takes it seriously. The scale, scope, and order of magnitude of the crap that it is (intellectually, morally, literarily) is so vast as to obliterate even the most fair-minded attempt to “give it a chance.”

    “Jane Galt”? Noted.

    • Dave S. Says:

      Thank you. I now feel slightly better about that waste of time, although The Fountainhead should have served as ample warning of what lay ahead. I like trains so that’s how I got suckered into reading it.

  19. […] Thomas Levenson deals with McMegan so you don’t have to. […]

  20. jenniebee Says:

    On the question of protests that “worked”, you forgot the actual dismantling of the Berlin Wall.

    Just sayin’

  21. […] #6: Via John Cole, Thomas Levenson Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Max B – Don’t Leave Your GunsOdumba25 […]

  22. gizmo Says:

    The great danger here is that the nonsense written by McArdle is going to leak out through somebody’s wireless connection and be picked up by an alien civilization. Once they get wind of the mindless tripe being generated here on Earth, they are going to zap our ass with a huge cosmic ray gun. We are all going to pay the price for her folly.

  23. cynic Says:

    If protest is so damn useless, why are people protesting at the health care town halls? Oh, she means peaceful protest is useless. But she doesn’t think juxtaposing that view with supporting a guy who brings an assault rifle to a political meeting is a problem?

    Did they actually teach how to exhibit cognitive dissonance 101 in her MBA program? I bet she aced that one.

  24. I’ll just note that McArdle’s training as an English major (undergraduate) and an MBA candidate hardly seem to me to provide the necessary formal intellectual inquiry to back that statement up.

    Tut, sir. If McArdle was any good as an English major at a serious liberal-arts college (which her resume says she was), she should be more than adequately trained at detecting straw people, false dichotomies, inadequate sourcing, and what is technically known as “bullshit”. She can write clearly; she doesn’t think clearly because she has *chosen* not to think clearly. Don’t blame the liberal arts — she was led to culture, she just didn’t want to think.

    • Innocent Bystander Says:

      Well, Doc, are we sure that Megan got a Liberal Arts degree? I think most people like Ms. McCardle end up with the polar opposite, Conservative Arts degree. If we agree that Liberal Arts is a curricula where the student learns a little bit about a lot of things, the CA recipient would have learned a lot about very few things.

  25. Ben Says:

    Yeah, I’ve noticed her tendency towards the straw man many times. But maybe that’s just because it’s the logical fallacy I look for most often. Like her post opposing state bailouts a while back. Of course no state has been bailed out since that post and there never were plans to do so, but nevermind that. I can appreciate a rant of this magnitude but sometimes you’ve just got to let those Don Quixotes out there tilt at their windmills.

  26. JK Says:

    McArdle sent me this email message to defend her post about the gun carrying protesters:

    “You are conflating two different questions.

    1. Should people openly carry guns to political protests, other than perhaps ones organized by the NRA? No they should not. It is freaking people out, and it is not advancing the cause they say they are interested in: second amendment rights.

    2. Are people who openly carry guns to protest likely to prove dangerous? No they are not. All of these people contacted law enforcement ahead of time to notify them of their intention, and in the case of Obama visits, undoubtedly had Secret Service was watching them the whole time—which I am sure they knew. This is not the behavior of a would-be assassin. A would-be assassin picks a distant hiding place, or conceals his weapon until he plans to use it.

    Not all people who do things you don’t approve of with guns are dangerous criminals. They’re just behaving boorishly. I’m not defending the behavior. I’m saying that the more hysterical claims about the behavior—that it makes it just a matter of time until someone is shot, that the only reason they could possibly be doing this is to imply that they will shoot anyone who tries to oppose their political opinions—are not based on any factual evidence, only a fervent belief in the bad character of anyone who likes guns too much. Or I should say, anyone on the other side of the political fence who likes guns too much, since at least one of the gun toter was a Democrat who carried a sign supportin healthcare reform, and a pistol strapped to his hip. He says that he was there to support both healthcare and the second amendment. And I have so far found no one making quite strong claims about the intentions of the right-wing heat packers who is willing to say that this chap, too, must have been trying to intimidate people who disagreed with him by implying that he was willing to shoot people if national healthcare failed to pass.

    The fact that someone is behaving inappropriately does not mean that it is therefore okay to say any horrible thing about them that you please, nor that anyone who points out that these horrible things are very likely untrue, is therefore savaging the memory of assassinated presidents, or trying to fill our nation’s political rallies with guns.

    When George Bush was running for the presidency, the Black Panthers showed up at an anti-Bush rally carrying AK-47s, a phenomenon that does happen from time to time, but is apparently not always as interesting as we now find it, which is why virtually all the people getting angry at me seem unaware that left wing groups occasionally do the same thing. Bush ignored them, which is the proper response to such behavior. And, like virtually everyone else who legally carries guns, even to political rallies, they wandered around with their guns for a while and then went home without harming anyone. I think what they did was fine in the sense that it wasn’t particularly dangerous, and they had a right to do it. I also think they were behaving like jerks. But people have a right to behave like jerks.

    I don’t think that hysterically slandering people necessarily discourages them from the behavior. It may just convince them that there’s no reason to listen to you.”

    • Tom Says:

      Thanks for this. I think you posted this elsewhere as well; I believe I read it yesterday.

      In any event, this is a case of that British military fitness report I’ve had reference to in the past: “since my last report this officer has hit bottom and begun to dig.”

      In particular, the Black Panther reference has been thoroughly debunked. See:

      The rest of her stuff is mere distraction: as noted elsewhere, (above), she invents the crime of saying mean stuff about boorish people to avoid confronting the question of whether or not the rise in the presence of openly carried guns at political events is a risk-indicator for violence at those events.

      We can argue about that — but not if she thinks that the real problem is liberals being mean to assholes.

      • JK Says:


        You’re correct. Last week, I posted this email message from McArdle in the comments thread on Balloon Juice. I love your blog. You offer valuable insight and analysis. Would you consider providing an email address on this blog in order to pass along information to you? Keep up the great work.

  27. W. Kiernan Says:

    One last thing I haven’t seen mentioned regarding that utter jackass with his rifle is this: I’m pretty confident that the Secret Service can protect the President from one Jesus-lovin’ crank with an openly-exposed AR-15. Not 100.00% sure, but pretty sure.

    But tell me, Megan, who is going to protect the crowds of protesters and counter-protesters and counter-counter-protesters, reporters and cameramen, policemen and paramedics, hot-dog vendors and bicycle couriers, and plain old people like you and me who happen to be in shootin’ range (500 meters) when that pink laser beam beaming down from VALIS blows out the last fuse in Mr. Cranky’s Swiss cheese of a brain and he starts banging away?

  28. […] Tom Levenson just murked The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle on the intertubes. Out in them streets, they call it murder. […]

  29. AJ Says:

    Funny! I’m saving this one.

    BTW, the Army’s M-16 is a derivative of the Air Force’s AR-15, not the other way around.

  30. Steve T. Says:

    You were born in 1958 and grew up in Berkeley? I was born in 1956 and grew up in Berkeley. (Passphrase is: freshman year at West Campus.) Wonder if we knew each other.

  31. […] 31, 2009 Atlas Mugged Posted by curv3ball under Uncategorized Leave a Comment  This is a thing of awe-inspiring beauty in the same way that one can marvel at the skill displayed as an […]

  32. EMY Says:

    How I see it, is that even if the chances are low that such an assasination attempt could happen, which i actually agree with Megan I think they are low, it still doesn’t matter, becuase the risk of bodily harm to a president is a grave concern no matter, how “low” the risk is. It’s happened before and there is no reason why to think it can’t happen again. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that even a ‘low’ risk is still too qualitatively high. Not too mention the fact that presidents within recent memory have been killed (kennedy) and shot with injury (reagan). Also what is ignored by Megan is the fact that death threats against the president haVE shot up quite a bit.

    “Since Mr Obama took office, the rate of threats against the president has increased 400 per cent from the 3,000 a year or so under President George W. Bush, according to Ronald Kessler, author of In the President’s Secret Service”

    Again she is using a strawman argument here, since who are these people that are treating the gun-toters so terribly? And what are these terrible things that the anonmyous “they” are saying about gun-toting protestors?

    Additionally, I think she is implying that only people who are violent murderers, kill others through premeditation. all it takes is for one person to be blind with rage, with a loaded gun at the ready, to fire a bullet wounding somebody, maybe not the president, but an innocent bystander. Because it’s not just about the president, it’s about the majority of the town hall attendees that are there wanting to listen and debate, they are in harm’s way too from a stray bullet.

  33. Mr. Wonderful Says:

    (Hey, Tom Levenson–Do you usually get this many comments? Megan SELLS, baby!)

    Megan’s is the perfect libertarian argument: purely theoretical based ostensibly on the idea of “freedom,” defended with debate-club (ie, highly selective) statistics, and offered in cheery disregard of common sense, emotional intelligence, a reasonable intuition about human behavior, and documented history.

  34. EMY Says:

    ..also what is especially upsetting about Megan is that she will spend far more time defending the gun-toting protestors from the unfair ‘attacks’ by anonymous liberals, than talking about the truth which even she admits: taking a gun to a public meeting where the prsident is speaking is stupid and boorish behavior. But somehow liberals calling it “stupid boorish behavior” is worse than the people actually acting stupidly. Incredible.

  35. eastriver Says:


    Great stuff. I’m a new fan. Will visit every day, at least 3 times.

    I, too, grew up in Berkeley. Never did the armed forces thing. But I spent a pleasant summer night in ’80 shooting bottle rockets from my summer rental apartment on Panoramic down at sun-bathing frat boys. Tout sweet.

    Rock onwards and upwards.

  36. TimO Says:

    Tom, I feel for you. I’m worn out too. She makes my brian hurt.

  37. JR Says:

    A point that sadly must be often repeated to the McMegans of the world:

    There is no constitutional right to carry a gun for purposes of political protest. That state laws allow it is a sign of legislative failure, not constitutional strength.

    Putting it another way: should Operation Rescue be allowed to carry assault rifles outside abortion clinics as “political protest”? Should people with scoped rifles be allowed to amass outside federal courthouses? Should robed Klansmen with AR-15s be permitted to march through black neighborhoods (or, as they did in 1925, through Washington, DC)?

    The right to keep and bear arms protects defense of home, defense of person, and defense of the nation in service to the militia. Carrying rifles because you think the capital gains tax is a precursor to the rise of American communism is not any more Constitutionally protected than your average Hal Turner broadcast. Arizona’s legislature needs to pull its head out of its ass and get guns away from public protests.

  38. Derh Says:

    The only thing more frustrating then this, is her writing on obesity and her view that fat people are fat because they just are, and can not lose weight through lifestyle changes. She tried walking once, and it didn’t work, so it all makes sense to her that most people are just stuck the way they are.

    Cutting out those 20 cups of soda a day, counting calories, and doing Cardio and wight training will have no effect on their health in her, wrong, opinion.

    • EMY Says:

      I don’t agree with Megan about a lot of things she says (most actually, though she was right about not supporting outsourcing public services) but actually she is also right about obesity. She doesn’t seem to be too interested in empirical research and rigorous studies regarding other areas, but she has done her homework regarding obesity. I’m not sure why she can’t apply that same intellectual curiosity to other things…

      I’m gonna stop here because this is thread jacking, but i will defend on her on this point.

  39. Naveen Says:

    McArdle’s writing reminds me of an opinionated high school student who’s read a few books and thinks he/she understands life. I really, truly wonder how she got her perch at the Atlantic.

  40. Mr. Wonderful Says:


    What you’ve just described is the quintessential libertarian. Hold that thought.

  41. Tommy(Gun) Says:

    I saw the original post from McCardle the other day and couldn’t believe it. Boiled down she is asking us to believe that the presence of a gun (or guns) carries no risk (or else we’d be happy to bet on it apparently). However slight the odds may be, there is simply no way this can be statistically true even if a shooting were only accidental and not with malice aforethought.

  42. […] latest example is Thomas Levenson’s effortless demolition of McArdle’s breathtakingly glib defense of people bringing guns to political […]

  43. hmmm Says:

    Blogger fight!!!!

  44. foxtrotsky Says:

    When you see someone carrying a loaded gun, it’s reasonable to infer an expectation on their part that something might need to get shot.

    Put another way, if there’s zero chance you’re going to shoot something, what are you doing with a loaded gun?

    Are there really subcultures in the U.S. where people carry loaded guns just for show?

    • EMY Says:

      “Are there really subcultures in the U.S. where people carry loaded guns just for show?”

      Ha! When i read the original blog post, the first thought that came to my mind was: Megan is basically saying “stupid liberals! don’t you understand? these fully loaded gun toting protestors are performance artists!”

      I mean what other subculture would seriously think of doing what Megan is suggesting? Performance artists.


  45. […] Bookmarked a link: Another Reason Why My Doctor Tells Me The Nation Shouldn’t Read Megan McArdle… « … […]

  46. Chris Says:

    Well, that was obsessive. God forbid anyone question your most cherished beliefs, like the unmitigated evil of the American Right. The need to believe that “the other side” is evil is the surest sign of the unhinged ideologue. Needless to say, I won’t waste my time at this page again. But you sure are cute when your face gets so red….

  47. Mr. Wonderful Says:

    Good, solid argument, Chris. Needless to say.

  48. roshan Says:

    Would McArdle would go on a date with the guys who bring guns to the townhalls?
    How much would you bet?

  49. clancop Says:

    I’m sorry Thomas, but your entire article hinges on Ad Hominem attacks. Not once do you debate her points, simply attacking what she said, how she said it, what that means to you, etc Just the first paragraph alone should be enough for any reader to realize this.

    Not just that though, you article also contains a collection of many other fallacies. For example, citing Nelson Mandela for support in attacking McArdle’s statements about Chris, the man carrying the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle at the protest rally, is not just an appeal to emotion, but a fallacy of falling out of scope. This isn’t about not having empathy for Nelson Mandela, this is about Chris, but you would prefer not to address that issue, and the way you skirt around it, well that’s straw man. Should I go on?

    Instead of addressing the issue of gun possession at rallies, gun ownership and crime rates, the second amendment and legal limitations, etc you spend far too much time talking about the author and why you don’t like her, instead of actually debating what she is talking about…


    P.S. For those who think this was a well thought out article, maybe you should spend time with the Fallacy Files…

    And get your head checked (I couldn’t resist)…

  50. nf Says:

    Your vitriol, use of your own logical fallacies have confirmed the view that liberals cannot debate intelligently. Further, you discredit yourself as a professor at MIT using such vicious personal attacks. oops, not a professor…. just a lecturer. Also, per your biography, MIT is not ivy league…. maybe you didn’t google it? (i couldn’t resist either)

  51. Mr. Wonderful Says:

    If “her points” are demonstrably invalid, it is a waste of time “debating” them. And showing vitriol has nothing to do with whether one is able to “debate intelligently.” Criticizing someone for arguing fallaciously is not an ad hominem attack; it’s an attack on the validity of the argument.

    As for what follows nf’s sentence beginning “Further,” it speaks for itself (in the form of a schoolboy “personal attack”) as an almost parody example of hypocrisy.

    Why don’t you defenders of McArdle defend her points, instead of attacking their critic in exactly the ways you claim to abhor?

  52. Mason Says:

    ^^^ Seconded.

    Clancop says the criticism “entirely hinges on Ad Hominem attacks”. I enjoyed some of the choice insults sprinkled throughout, but anyone who actually **read the entire post** can see it’s based on factual refutations, rather than attempts to undermine her credibility. Fisking \= Ad Hominem. Take a few days off to mull it over if necessary.

    If you want Ad Hom, take a look at nf‘s post. One could almost believe he is a parody troll.

    • clancop Says:

      If you bothered to read my post, both your and buddy you seconded, you will see that I did defend her points…

      “Instead of addressing the issue of gun possession at rallies, gun ownership and crime rates, the second amendment and legal limitations, etc you spend far too much time talking about the author and why you don’t like her, instead of actually debating what she is talking about…”

      Now the problem is that this article doesn’t do any of that. McArdle’s points were specifically about gun rights, gun possession, bringing a gun to a rally, and she discusses her opinion on each, something which is completely ignored. Calling her stupid, that’s ad hominem, calling her dumb, that ad hominem too, etc Did you bother reading the intro at the very least?

      I did read this article, twice, and yet it made no sense. I particularly “loved” the part where the author talks about empathy and Nelson Mandela. Once again, what does that have to do with Chris’ right to bring an AR-15 to a health care rally? Still haven’t answered that one…

      Of course a lecturer at MIT doesn’t need facts or even common sense to babble on about a girl he doesn’t like. How come “intellectuals” are so stupid? Pathetic…

      • Mr. Wonderful Says:

        “…you will see that I did defend her points…”

        “Instead of addressing the issue of gun possession at rallies, gun ownership and crime rates, the second amendment and legal limitations, etc you spend far too much time talking about the author and why you don’t like her, instead of actually debating what she is talking about…”

        You don’t defend her points. You summarize them. “Defend” means offer substantiation and support for them, not just listing the topics and then calling her critics nasty names. As you do when, after accusing others of using ad hominem arguments, you call “intellectuals” “stupid” and “pathetic.” And throw in another gratuitous dig at MIT. Someone might ask, Did you apply there and not get in? But I won’t stoop so low.

        Someone above said these remarks were almost those of a parody troll. After two separate instances of your failing to do what you demand of others, and then doing what you supposedly condemn, I’m missing the “almost” part at this point. Except that at least parody trolls are funny.

    • clancop Says:

      Mason, I read the entire post, and aside from a slew of ad hominem attacks, we have false appeals to authority, false appeals to empathy, falling out of scope, etc I wonder whether or not you actually critically read the post or was simply laughing at all the “funny words”.

      Mr Wonderful, as for defending McArdle’s article, that is what I did. Why bother with repeating the same points Megan said when I can simply raise the fact that this article refuses to debate the points she raised. Chris was exercising his right to bear arms, whether or not it was a proper way to do it is debatable, but you don’t wish to debate, you wish to smear anyone defending his constitutional rights. One’s right to assembly and the right to bear arms are clearly protected in the Constitution, what more proof do you need? Matter of fact, due to the nature of the Second Amendment, the context it was written (bearing arms in a militia against perceived tyranny), one could argue that Chris was exercising this right in its truest form. As for this nonsense about Nelson Mandela (who was himself no saint when it came to bearing arms in protest), once again, what does he or any other African leader have to do with what is being discussed here? A fisking Mason? For that this MIT lecturer should actually address these points instead of rambling on about his perception of the “evil in Megan’s mind” and how her article should be read, as well as throwing in a slew of useless Youtube clips. Tell you what, how about I cite Scrubs, How I Met Your Mother and 30 Rock in my next reply okay?

      As for MIT, I only mentioned it once, which was in my previous post, and while I don’t have any problem with the school itself, it is obvious to see that this “intellectual” is anything but. From what I understand, being Canadian and not having any serious knowledge about it, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)is a prestigious school for those wishing to further their education in engineering or social sciences. The campus itself is rather attractive, especially the Building 10 and Great Dome (very Roman-esk), but that is not the issue I have here. This “Thomas” is clearly not living up to the high standards of the school he lecturers at, not only this, but he uses his position to justify this nonsensical rant against a columnist who simply stated her opinion about a protester bring a AR-15 to a rally. How is anything she saying in her article deserving of this slander?


  53. Mookie Says:

    What was George Bush doing at an “anti-Bush rally”?

    Or, if he wasn’t there, how do we know he “ignored” the (armed)Panthers who supposedly were there (but weren’t really)?

    McMegan will follow this line of questioning easily. I appologize to the rest of you.

  54. powerhand Says:

    Should read the article.

  55. Alwyn Says:

    Superbly written..
    a lot is going on in my head after reading this..

  56. Mr. Wonderful Says:

    Via Nutellaontoast over at Fire Megan McArdle, this:

    It’s a post about Ayn Rand’s feverish admiration for a sociopathic child murderer in the 1920’s. Think of it as part of McArdle’s intellectual patrimony (although if Rand was a woman, is it matrimony?).

    Neither Rand nor McArdle are child murderers. But the qualities Rand praises in the actions of this monster are precisely those embodied in her novels, from one of which our Megs adopted her adorable nym “Jane Galt.”

    Read the post and you will be shocked–maybe–at Rand’s endorsement of depravity, but otherwise unsurprised.

  57. […] Stupidest Blogger™ dismembered with an exacto knife. It occured to me the other day that Megan’s problem is that, while she is smart enough to […]

  58. […] time, I want to point out a tactic McArdle has made her own, what I’ve called in the past the monkey-in-the-zoo approach, in which she flings anything that comes to hand against the wall and hopes that noise and […]

  59. […] snark about McArdle et al.’s defense of open carry protests at presidential events.   Here’s my post on that subject, with a full frontal assault on McArdle’s capacity for reasoning, moral or otherwise.  It […]

  60. […] I’m actually sympathetic to that view, for all the joy I’ve taken in McArdle gigging over the last few years.  It would be better for both the body politic and the culture at large […]

  61. […] trail of mistakes—those as trivial as the one documented at painful length above, and those much, much more consequential—The Atlantic chooses to retain her as its “Business and Economics Editor,” then […]

  62. […] Comments Balloon Juice … on Another Reason Why My Doctor T…Lichanos on Who’s Taxing WhomM. Bouffant on Send in the Clowns: Upper Clas…Tom on […]

  63. […] Historian (of science) Thomas Levenson has another go at Gherald’s BFF. In his lengthy riposte, he mentions a style of argument I wasn’t aware of: McArdle then […]

  64. […] lack of danger to our political life demonstrated by open carry nuts.  I blew a gasket at that, writing in 2009 (slightly […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: