Get to the Point: Deconstructing an Argument Without Refuting It

I have to hand it to Right Thinking Girl: she has tenacity. For some time now she has offered numerous defenses of Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, and the legitimacy of Enron's business. Usually these have been wrapped up in metaphysical value judgments rather than a factual analysis of this complex situation. I have criticized her for this on many occasions, with my best points being made here. Now she has released an six part analysis of the recent documentary The Smartest Guys in the Room (her posts come in the following segments: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6).

These sprawling posts lose their appeal about 5 minutes into reading them. For somebody who mercilessly criticizes a movie's artistic value and style, she intersperses every two sentences or so with a totally unnecessarily, distracting, and uninformative screenshot from the movie. She nitpicks stylistic choices of the filmmakers (I didn't necessarily like the tone of the film, either, but why not deal with the substance?) and peppers snarky commentary everywhere. She doesn't seem to understand that, if she thinks the film is biased, the effective retort is to introduce facts, not up the ante on attitude. But, of course, if she were that honest, I'd probably still be hanging out at her blog.

The problem with critiquing RTG's treatment of the documentary is that it is so piecemeal, isolating and questioning each minute in the film, that it's hard to get a general sense of either what the documentary meant to argue or what her rebuttal is. Moreover, because she's confining her commentary to only the film, there's no way to understand the larger debate about Enron and corporate practices. Everything is reduced to how opinionated and biased the documentary is, but the reader of her analysis gets no better or more even-handed sense of Enron's reality. I'm not a huge fan of the film, so I think it's pretty ridiculous to treat it as the end-all-be-all anti-Enron thesis - ridiculous and disingenuous.

Regardless of what our opinions are on the matter, this issue deserves a full, clear treatment, with attention to relevant details as well as some analysis of "the big picture". It's hard to get that from her writing, because she projects such an outraged and biased tone that the reader never knows where the arguments against Enron stand. Therefore, I'm going to invite her to offer five to ten of the real issues she has with the justice of the Enron scandal. I'd like to know what she finds so great about Enron's business model and practices, why she thinks they are such a great example of the free market at work, whether or not Lay or Skilling made any mistakes, etc. But I'm willing to let her frame the debate initially, in order to make sure she gets her points across.

If she doesn't want to engage in an even-handed conversation about Enron, that's fine. But bitching about a film is not the same thing as analysis, and if I have to go off what she's written so far it's going to suck for her. Take the high road, RTG.

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Written on Wednesday, May 09, 2007