Denise Cummins – Would You Trust Her?

This is the TL;DR summary of Cummins at work. Full details here.

  1. Cummins writes an article I think misrepresents Bloom.
  2. I criticise that, I think without hysteria. I don’t especially make Blooms case, but point out what I see as a misreading of it. I even open with a questioning stance, in case I’m missing something.
  3. Cummins responds with what I think is fair to call an overly defensive moralising agenda driven reply with what amounts to the accusations of immoral motives for criticising empathy; a non-too-well disguised ad hominem loaded comment. She responds in a similar fashion to others, more condescendingly to some.
  4. I call out her rhetoric in a follow up comment.
  5. Cummins deletes that comment of mine.
  6. Cummins doctors her comment to remove much of the ad hominem content.
  7. I comment on the doctoring, in the comment stream. That comment soon vanishes.
  8. I write again, this time sticking to the points about Bloom, addressing the doctored comments in 6.
  9. Cummins responds calling my now vanished comments ‘hysterical rants’, citing a ‘normative’ comment policy that she doesn’t stick to herself.
  10. Cummins closes comments.

That smacks of intellectual dishonesty to me.

Where is the hysteria in this exchange? These are some of the things Cummins said in her comment before she doctored it.

The interesting thing about Bloom devotees is how they sound like Ayn Rand devotees when they defend their defend their idol.

They re-word and re-interpret and soften their idol’s claims so that the claims don’t seem as outrageous as they actually are.

Says Cummins who rewords Bloom, deletes comments critical of her, rewords her own words.

And they attack their idols’ critics with a ferocity that borders on fanaticism.

Says Cummins, engaging in ad hominem attacks on people that disagree with her.

Rand devotees claim selfishness is a virtue and altruism is evil.

Nothing to do with Bloom’s thesis.

[diatribe on Rand …] So, too, with Bloom devotees.

Demonisation by association with Rand, of people she knows nothing about, but decides they are ‘devotees’.

He [Bloom] cherry picks instances in which empathy, untempered by reason, leads us to behave less than optimally in our desire to do good, neatly side-stepping instances in which reason the opposite is also true.

If not all uses of empathy are a problem, but some serious ones are, then shouldn’t one be selective? Cummins is #Greenwalding here: when someone makes specific points about specific instances, accuse them of a) cherry picking, b) over generalising.

As I have been at pains to point out, reason untempered by empathy has led to atrocities. Yet his devotees claim that he is being misunderstood, so the evidence “doesn’t count’ or instead “proves his point.”

Untempered reason isn’t what Bloom is arguing for. So, straw manning very clearly. The legitimate question raised by Bloom is whether empathy is useful, and he does actively support other emotional inputs, like compassion and love. So, yes, Cummins does misrepresent, and passing his ‘devotees’ off as if they are ‘hysterical ranting’ acolytes amounts to more ad hom attack.

The plain fact is this: Bloom argues that empathy is dangerous or just plain silly, a knee-jerk emotional response that leads us to behave inefficiently, stupidly, or even viciously.

Get it: Emotion is bad, pure reason is good.

Yes, that’s #Greenwalding point (b) above “over generalising”. Misrepresentation again – dare I say to a hysterical ranting degree? It is not a case of emotion bad, pure reason is good. Bloom explicitly makes the case for the reason to counter the irrational nature of emotion, but explicitly condones compassion, love and all the useful interactions of emotion.

People assume that emotions are scary, bad things that must be reined in and ruled by reason.

Well, Bloom, his devotees, ‘people’, do not assume emotions are scary bad things that must be reined in. Most people with a even passing interest in biology and brains knows full well the inevitable interaction of reason and emotion. I don’t know of anyone that demonises emotion the way Cummins demonisingly suggsts they do. But, yes, reason is used to rein in poor use of emotion. Isn’t reason one of humanity’s distinguishing features, that allows us to overcome the problems emotions can cause?

But the parallel case–reason corrected by empathy–seems preposterous to them, no matter how much sound argumentation or evidence is brought to bear in the matter.

False dichotomy. It isn’t just empathy versus reason. Bloom is addressing the particular issues with empathy, when misapplied, without reason.

But in my opinion, what, at bottom, makes Blooms demonization of empathy so attractive is that it gives people permission to distance themselves emotionally from the suffering of others.

Cummins sees the worst in peoples’ motives. Her agenda is out there. Hysterically rantingly so? Compared to reasoned academic debate, I’d say so.

After I pointed out the misrepresentative demonising rhetoric the dishonest Cummins deletes my comment and doctors her own removing most of the demonising rhetoric (not succeeding completely). Again, hardly the methods of a reasonable person.

So, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised when Cummins closes off the conversation with this:

Your other comments were removed because they, like this one, constituted hysterical rants rather than respectful and reasoned discussion.

Comments are now closed on that article.

Post Script – Another example of #Greenwalding.

In the above I gave an example of Cummins making absolute claims about people she disagrees with.

Get it: Emotion is bad, pure reason is good.

I’m not fan of Ayn Rand (despite the accusations from Cummins), but unlike Cummins I’m not prepared to demonise nearly everything she says and blatantly misrepresent it because of who said it.

In this article, What Ayn Rand got wrong about human nature, Cummins plays the same trick.

She quotes Rand:

The moral purpose of a man’s life is the achievement of his own happiness. This does not mean that he is indifferent to all men, that human life is of no value to him and that he has no reason to help others in an emergency. But it does mean that he does not subordinate his life to the welfare of others, that he does not sacrifice himself to their needs, that the relief of their suffering is not his primary concern, that any help he gives is an exception, not a rule, an act of generosity, not of moral duty, that it is marginal and incidental — as disasters are marginal and incidental in the course of human existence — and that values, not disasters, are the goal, the first concern and the motive power of his life.

My emphases. Cummins chooses the over-generalising demonising approach, ignoring Rand’s point:

In other words, me before you — first and always.

Well, no, not always. How can you quote Rand giving examples that are not what you then say they are?

I take it Cummins does not spend most of her waking hours doing good for others and caring not a jot about herself. Based on her responses to criticisms of her I’d say she cares very much about herself. A true Randian.





2 thoughts on “Denise Cummins – Would You Trust Her?

  1. I have three responses to this criticism.

    1. My Psychology Today blog is a curated site. That means that comments (like several of yours) that are inflammatory, insulting, off-topic, threatening, or poor quality are simply deleted. As a result, the quality of the comment sections remains informative and enlightening. People certainly disagree with me and with each other, but they do so in a civil manner. The problem is that most websites today are not curated (the New York Times being a notable exception), and their comment sections are rarely worth reading because they are full of hate-filled diatribes and insults rather than insights and reasoned opinions.

    2. I don’t “misrepresent” Bloom. I analyze his position on empathy and point out that it is incoherent, poorly argued, and based upon anecdotes or cherry-picked research results that support his view. He ignores much of a very large body of research showing the benefits of empathy for those who experience it as well as those who are the target of it. By ignoring such evidence, he presents a view that is highly persuasive to naive readers.

    3. Your objections to my analyses of Ayn Rand are equally specious, but, unfortunately, this turns out to be the typical pushback critics of Rand receive. My second PBS article on Rand is carefully documented with her own writings and speeches, and the selections are not cherry-picked to make a point. They accurately represent her views. The problem is that those views are grounded in false assumptions concerning human nature and a visceral fear of altruism that stems from her early experiences with the Soviet policies which demanded complete subjugation of the individual to the state.

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