Rescued from another long-dead blog

Latest pointless exchange on humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare:

Me: So, once again, you decline a direct request for evidence. Why is this not surprising?

Paul Crowley: A discussion with you is invariably like explaining Euclidean geometry to someone who has never seen a right angle and doesn’t know what it could be. No. I take that back. It’s much worse than that. There’s a deliberate obscurantism — a kind of doctrine that nothing can be known unless it’s been written up in a textbook by a professor of whatever-subject-it-may-be — and then, of course, whatever the professor says MUST be true.

Me: All I did was ask what evidence you had to support your views. I didn’t specify that it had to be from a professor; I didn’t specify that it had to be in a textbook. As usual, you couldn’t provide any evidence to support your views. And when I pointed that out, you resorted to abuse.

But you do this routinely — on the most basic dumb-ass topics.

Ask for evidence, you mean? Yes, I do. Your statement was that “given a simple case where we have two texts, saying much the same, demonstrating the influence of one on another, the most probable situation is that the greater influenced the lesser.” This seems to me unlikely – to me, the ostensible dates of the two texts is a much better starting point – but for some odd reason I prefer to have evidence before making my mind up one way or the other. Hence my request whih you were unable to comply with.

This is the second time within a fortnight.

Third, in fact. The first was your assertion that many Stratfordians think “the truly remarkable burst of literary ‘genius’ in Elizabethan England BEFORE Shakespeare (and culminating in him)” can be explained “by saying that the language was passing through such and such a phase (and something much more than a ‘standardisation’)” – but the only person you found to support this statement was Elizabeth Weir, who is not a Stratfordian. I admit that I confused you a bit by asking if you knew of any literary historian who espoused this view of the history of literature, when in fact I just meant if you knew of anyone whose opinion is worth noticing who thought so.

The second was your assertion that Alan Nelson has found “mistakes” where there are none in Oxford’s Latin. If this were the case, it should be dead easy for you to show which of the phrases “de benne esse, quantum in nos est”, “leuare facias”, “fyre facias” and “summum totale”, which Nelson describes as incorrect, are in fact acceptable in 16th century legal Latin.

You make it clear that you are NOT querying my statement.

I don’t see how asking for evidence can be construed in any way other than that I *am* querying your statement.

You imply that you have an open mind on the issue and are merely waiting for more evidence.

Absolutely, which is why I often query statements which contain information which is surprising to me.

Yet then you deny that.

When have I done so? Can you give me any evidence of my doing so? Oh, sorry, asking for evidence again.

You don’t have an open mind, yet you are not prepared to come down in one way or the other. So WHAT IS THE POINT of asking for evidence?

To enable me to come down one way or the other?

It is obviously clear that you DON’T know whether what I say is true or not. And neither do you know how to find out. Yet you cannot admit to either fact.

I hereby admit, Paul, that sometimes I don’t know whether what you say is true or not, though I am always inclined to doubt it. And when I want to find out if what someone says is true or not, my first step is often to ask them to explain themselves better and to tell me what evidence they have. Since you cannot explain yourself and do not supply evidence, I am still inclined to doubt.

Is THIS what a modern Cambridge education does to a human mind? It fills it with empty pomposity. You can never — at any stage — admit to ignorance of anything. Honesty goes out the window. You forget what it is ask ordinary questions. You cease to know what it is to think about anything. (You pass exams simply by regurgitating lecturers’ notes.) You become quite incapable of any learning — and as thick as two short planks.

You have all the qualifications to be a Stratfordian academic.

I don’t know what it is about asking you for evidence that drives you to higher and higher levels of abuse. A more effective debating technique would be to say, “The clearly inferior text A borrowed from the clearly superior B.” Or, “The Stratfordian scholar C argues that the English language was passing through a peculiar phase in the late 16th century.” Or, “Legal document D, dating from the 16th century, spells the word ‘bene’ with two n’s.” But to do this you would need evidence to support your views, and I am increasingly sure that you have none.

Let me tell you how I actually operate this principle, Paul, with a real example from my life last week. For some time I have been closely following negotiations between the European Union and Ruritania (not its real name, but those interested in the region will work it out). On Monday it was announced that an important step in the negotiations had been reached. On Wednesday two mid-ranking EU officials informed me gloomily that on the previous day the President of Ruritania had demanded new concessions from the EU before the latest step could be implemented. This seemed unlikely to me, because I know the President and the political situation there quite well. On the other hand political life is somewhat surprising at times, and these officials had access to the EU’s negotiators, so I could not rule it out. I needed more evidence before making up my mind.

So on Thursday my colleague in Ruritania contacted the President’s office directly, and I myself contacted the Ruritanian ambassador in Brussels, to find out what they thought. Both of these approaches to Ruritanian officials produced a consistent story: that the President had written to the EU making certain suggestions that he felt would be a good idea in the context of implementing the new agreement, but that these were certainly not new preconditions, certainly not rolling back the agreement that had already been reached, and in any case less far-reaching than I had initially been led to believe. On Friday I notified the EU officials that there seems to be a misunderstanding on their side, and hopefully will have played my little part in sorting it out. If on the other hand I had adopted your approach, Paul, and made up my mind one way or the other as soon as I heard the news, it would have been impossible for me to do this.

That is why I ask for evidence: because it usually brings out a fuller picture and helps me understand the context for the original statement. I find your views difficult to understand because I cannot see what evidence you have for them. I admit that I don’t have a particularly deep knowledge of the 16th century, and that is why I often ask questions when statements which contain surprising information are made. When the person asked has no evidence, I have to draw my own conclusions.

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