Background: It started with this post (read also the comment thread) and continued with this email correspondence between me and Charles N. Steele. Then, Steele posted this post (read also the comment thread), in which he distorted my words, pulled them out of context, and assailed me with slanders and lies. I have responded to some of his lies in the comment thread of that post, and I will complete the job here.
1. I am repeating myself, but it’s worth repeating: Steele pretends that he is bothered by my nastiness and style of personal attacks, but he has been following my blog for at least four months now, and my style has been the same since the beginning. He never objected when I used strong language against Walter Block, Sheldon Richman, and Thomas Szasz. If my style bothered him, he should have said something before even if he agreed with my criticism of these men.
He didn’t. He only mentioned my supposed nastiness when I used it to attack his buddy Chuck Grimmett. This clearly shows that Steele is disingenuous and hypocritical, and that he is only interested in protecting a friend, not in civility.
2. Almost everything Steele wrote about our email correspondence was out of context, false, or distorted. I have referred to these distortions on his blog, in the comment thread. I’ll be generous and stipulate that these distortions are the result of sloppiness by a fourth-rate thinker and not of malice by a charlatan.
Steele’s sloppiness is all-encompassing: he can’t even decide how long he has known his buddy Grimmett. In our email exchange (23 November 2012), Steele writes,
I’ve known Grimmett for three or four years; it’s not uncommon that he and I are in touch.
But in his slanderous rant (9 December 2012), he writes
I’ve known Chuck for five or so years and personally know that PL’s characterization is ridiculous on all six points.
These two sentences were written less than three weeks apart. Which one is it, Steele? How long have you known Grimmett? I suggest the two of you sit down together and decide on the length of your relationship before you embarrass yourself further.
3. Steele whines about me backing out of a bet, but as I have explained to him several times (see email correspondence), his proposed method would have earned him an F in any introductory social science class. You simply can’t ask people whether they think they are ignorant or crazy, because the answer is almost always No. Steele keeps going back to Grimmett’s words as if they are scientific facts.
4. Steele writes,
And so far as anyone can tell, the anonymous PL actually knows exactly none of these people (at least, that’s what he claims, but as we’ll see, he’s fond of making unverifiable claims).
I’ve grown accustomed to small minds who accuse me of trying to settle personal scores on this blog and in other venues. In a Freeman comment thread, some imbecile accused me of having a personal vendetta against Steven Horwitz, father of the It’s a fact unless you prove me wrong school of argumentation. If it needs restating, let me restate: I know none of these people, and I have never even heard of any of them (with the exception of Grimmett and Borders) before this ordeal. Can I prove it? Of course I can’t, for the same reason Steele can’t prove he doesn’t know Stephen Hendry or anyone else.
5. Steele writes,
OK, I suppose I don’t blame him for being scared to actually meet, even by phone, people he’d been anonymously slandering.
I thought it was obvious, but in case it’s not, let me state this explicitly: any one of the people I supposedly slandered is welcome to comment on my blog and present his position. I have never deleted a non-spam comment, and I will definitely not do it this time. In fact, if any of those people wishes, he may email me (the address is on the About page), and I will publish the email as a guest post under the title “X Responds.” If I did not mention this before, it was only because I was certain that it was obvious, and this should put an end to any ambiguity. This of course will not win Steele the bet for the same reason his nonsense about Grimmett didn’t, but it will give these people a chance to have their say.
6. Steele mentions seven instances in which he has supposedly proven me wrong. If I understand correctly, these are the following:
One through five are Grimmett’s denials of his own prejudices, stupidities, and ignorance. As I explained to Steele repeatedly (see our correspondence), and as anyone who understands basic psychology and research methods would testify, these are automatically inadmissible.
Number six is some weird reference on Grimmett’s blog about some textbook Grimmett was required to read for a class at Hillsdale, and is thus inadmissible. In addition, Steele ignores the fact that my words were A belief that economics essentially begins and ends with the Austrians. Essentially means almost entirely, Steele, but we’ve already seen you’re not good at paying attention to details.
The seventh point was a pathetic attempt to exploit the fact that almost no person is one-hundred percent libertarian on all issues. Max Borders is a pro-war, pro-empire, pro-intervention dirtbag but, whether I like it or not, he is considered libertarian by most standards. Of course Borders does not support the principle of non-aggression all the way, but who does? I’ve written a whole post challenging libertarians to prove their devotion to non-aggression in a case where a loved one attempts suicide, and Steele seemed enthusiastic about it (“This is one of the best posts yet”).
That is why I said all standard libertarian and Austrian ideas in my list, to clarify that the standard is not the ideal or the perfect. That, too, escaped Steele’s non-peering eye.
7. Steele writes,
Well, in his rant PL boasted he was willing to bet “good money” that his claims were true. He even asked to be corrected, if wrong. I took him up on his bet, and he agreed. So, for each FEE staffer he’d made six claims. I need to refute just one claim to win (as he later agreed). But how might one adequately falsify PL’s claims? Made the following suggestion (see the comments on his post): “One obvious problem is that the people in question know about the bet they can rig the results. Would you then accept answers that were written prior to our bet? Or what if there were a way to query them interactively, or maybe to find earlier things they’d stated that confirm or refute the assertions on your list?” He responded: “Sure, I’d go along with that, if you can arrange it.”
Here, he finally gets something right. When I agreed to these terms, I did so under the illusion that Steele understands basic methods in social science research and that he knows that the method he proposed later was ridiculous. I should have asked more questions and demanded more details before I agreed to the bet, but I gave him too much credit and assumed that he knows a thing or two about the proper conduct of research. The terms of the bet and the methods to be used were vague, but I didn’t mind because to me the thing was more of a fun way of digging into creeps’ heads than about money or honor or winning, but Steele seems obsessed with being declared winner. Well, sorry, you won’t win until you come up with one legitimate example, but you either refuse to or are incapable of doing so. Either way, it’s your problem.
Note also that it is quite impossible for me to win the bet, whereas all Steele needs to do is provide one such example. This shows that I entered the bet not to win but for the ride, and I would have gladly paid had Steele provided one legitimate example, as the twenty dollars would have been worth the process and the information I would have gleaned from it. But no evidence was provided, Steele failed miserably, and the bet must be declared null.
As a funny postscript to this section, note how desperate Steele is to have me pay the bet I haven’t lost. His two comments to my lengthy rebuttal of his nonsense focus on demanding payment and on threatening deletion of my comments. No response to my rebuttal is attempted, because none can be given.
8. Perhaps the most important thing to do here is to point to the irony of the whole thing. Steele and I disagreed on many issues, but we always managed to get along civilly. He only lost it when I went after someone close to him. By doing so, he provided valuable support to my hypothesis: think tanks are little more than social organizations for the preservation of stale ideas and for the promotion of the well-being of their members. I could write a whole article about the evolutionary theory behind them, but there’s no point. By going crazy over a few innocent remarks aimed at (among others) his buddy Grimmett, Steele has done more than I could ever do to show the damage think tanks and professional-social webs do to free thought. Thank you, Charles, for that tour de force of self-defeat.
9. Steele finished his rant in comic style, by listing his conditions for withdrawing his false accusations of lying and cowardice. He stopped short of asking me to lie on his doorstep and serve as his doormat, but it was funny nevertheless. I would like to reciprocate by listing my conditions for withdrawal of the claims I made here. Here they are:
- Charles N. Steele shall post a corrigendum in which he corrects all the gross misrepresentations, inaccuracies, and false allegations of his slanderous post.
- Charles N. Steele shall post an apology in a paid advertisement on the pages of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.
- Charles N. Steele shall pay for my 2013 subscription to Snooker Scene.
- Charles N. Steele shall write a 600-line poem in iambic hexameter extolling the virtues of PL, and he shall title the poem Me an’ PL. Charles N. Steele shall then ask a Hebrew-speaking friend to explain to him the bilingual pun behind the title (MEE-EN PEA ELL or מיאן פי אל)
- Charles N. Steele shall enroll in, and successfully complete, an introductory course in research methods in social and behavioral sciences at a local community college closest to his place of residence.
But despite my desire to finish on a humorous note, I must revert to some concluding gravitas: I’m done, Steele. I’ve moved on to Emerson and Wordsworth and other things of the mind, while you’re stuck behind discussing Grimmetts and Richmans and elections and legislation. I’m not playing your games anymore. I’ve said it several times before, but I’m serious this time: you have to find someone else with whom to play mudball. I’m leaving you behind and marching on.
Get a life, Charles.