Among the flotilla of right-wing online publications that clog up the waterways of the Internet is the American Thinker, described by Wikipedia as “a daily conservative Internet publication dealing with American politics, foreign policy, national security, economics, diplomacy, culture, military strategy, and the survival of the State of Israel.”
A recent issue featured an anti-union diatribe title “Why I Changed My Mind About Unions,” by someone named Michael Filozof. The article serves as a textbook case for a few shabby propaganda techniques.
The article details how Filozof, child of a union family, evolved from being a union supporter to disliking unions.
The article unfolds using a tried-and-true rhetorical strategy: argument from the negative. In the classic argument from the negative, you use the premises of your opponent to prove your point. The less rigorous form Filozof follows is to start in one position and end in its opposite. Filozof, at least rhetorically, starts as a supporter and ends as an opponent of unions because he “has seen the negative effects of unions my entire life.” There is nothing inherently wrong or devious with the argument from the negative—that is, if the details are right.
But all Filozof provides are anecdotes:
- “I’d heard stories about union people who worked in the steel mill or the auto plants who would punch the clock and than find a place to sleep all day, or would get drunk at lunchtime and return to work and still not get fired…” He never offers any proof of this statement. They are just vague rumors, so represent the worst type of arguing from anecdote, which is when you prove a point by telling a story. Too often, though, the argument by anecdote is used when the facts are stacked heavily against a position. If you don’t have the facts, tell a story. People will believe the anecdote because it exemplifies what they believe to be true. That’s why you’ll find more arguments by anecdotes proffered by those on the losing end of the “facts” battle. In this case, the anecdote is second hand, that is, something he only heard about and did not experience.
- A union guy on a forklift drives by him and his Dad on a shop floor, yelling, “This f…ing job suuuuucks!” Filozof said it enraged him because he knew that the guy couldn’t be fired because he was in a union and because he knew the guy was making more money than he with his three college degrees was making. To which I say, BFD. It’s absurd to condemn unions because one guy expressed what may only be a momentary hatred for his job in a particularly rude manner. Everyone blows off steam and employees in workplaces in which you can never utter a word of displeasure would probably appreciate the protection of a union. I have worked in three office environments—newsrooms, ad agencies and corporate marketing departments—and the only way I could imagine any of these workplaces without the occasional whining and the chronic whiners is if they were filled with nothing but robots.
- The same anecdote contains some twisted thinking. You would think that the fact that the union enabled someone without a college diploma to earn a good living would be a positive attribute of unionism, which should make more educated workers want to unionize themselves. (In fact, they do: teachers, nurses, civil service professionals). By depicting the earnings ability as a negative, Filozof reveals his anti-union point of view more than he proves his point.
- Now for my favorite: Filozof’s absolute anger at learning that a union roofer who only worked about half the time got paid unemployment for the weeks in which he didn’t work. He goes on to paint the roofer as a malingering pothead who takes money under the table to do odd jobs in the off season while collecting unemployment. Let’s strip away these embellishments and look at the core problem he finds—collecting unemployment during weeks when you can’t work. This option is not limited to union members, but available to anyone with occasional work, including non-unionized accountants, bookkeepers, administrative assistants and other temp workers hired through services, free-lance writers working for agencies and corporations and lawyers staffing large legal processing centers. I imagine that few of these workers file applications with McDonalds and Wal-Mart during the weeks they don’t have assignments. What Filozof does is blame the union member for something that is everybody’s right.
In all the anecdotes, a union guy acts in a way that makes Filozof angry. But note that in all case, the union guy is doing something all employees—or should I say, representatives of all types and classes of employees—do or have done.
The other thing to note is that the anger is often because the union guy is doing better than Filozof is doing. It’s that kind of small-minded envy that forms the basis of the anger that the right-wing and mainstream news media want to instill in others of the middle and working class when it comes to unions. Now I can understand why representatives of those in the business ruling elite benighted enough to think that they profit in the long run by keeping wages down would want others in the working and middle classes to envy union workers.
But why do so many people who should look to the union model for improving their own lives instead believe these specious arguments and envy the union worker? After all, these same media regularly have features that laud the ability of celebrities and business leaders to accumulate money. Why is it good for business owners to do well, but not for union members? And why do others in the middle and working class believe this nonsense?
By the way, it was hard to find any information on Filozof. AmThink says that its contributors are “accomplished in fields beyond journalism and animated to write for the general public out of concern for the complex and morally significant questions on the national agenda.” But like all the writers for AmThink, I had never heard of Filozof.
Good thing I can google Mr. Filozof. Let’s see now…
I would say that nowadays the major standard for “accomplishment in fields” is a Wikipedia biography. Mr. Filozof has none.
And nowadays, writing a book is a sign of accomplishment. Now if a book has been published and is for sale, you’ll likely be able to find it on Amazon.com. By this measure, we can conclude that Filozof has published no books. In fact there is no reference anywhere online to Filozof having written a book.
Piecing together his one-sentence bio on another conservative website, National Review Online, some news reports and a court filing, I was able to learn that once upon a time Filozof was an adjunct professor of political science at the State University of New York at Brockport. But he last surfaced academically at the prestigious Monroe Community College in the Rochester, New York area, which evidently fired him after allegations that he sexually harassed both a male and a female. Filozof has sued the community college, claiming a conspiracy to terminate his employment because he is a conservative, and, of course, the lawsuit has gotten him a wee bit of coverage as a martyr on another right-wing website called Accuracy in Academia.
That’s a very bizarre definition of “accomplished in fields beyond journalism” that AmThink is using, don’t you think?