Ajit Pai: portrait of a Vichy nerd who transformed from debating-society darling to thin-skinned, brooding manbaby

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/05/16/get-out-of-the-kitchen.html


There are precisely two things this looks like, either radicalization or shame/anger/fear associated with criminal behavior.

I’d suspect that this whole article is P.R. to make it look like the former when it’s actually the latter, though, because an experienced intellectual is hard to radicalize, and when you do, they tend to have much more sophisticated and intricate arguments.

Nah, he’s just freaking out now that Trump Cabinet bribery is coming to light, and he’s trying to “cleverly” (haha no) create a false trail to throw people off the scent.

God, it’s embarrassing to watch career nerds try to be devious with no prior experience. It takes a whole lifetime as a horrible person to be able to play in the big leagues. This is like first picking up a basketball at 35 and expecting to be able to play in the NBA next week - it’s just not gonna happen.

Edit: so, before reading the article, I predicted that it would be P.R. trash. After reading: IT ABSOLUTELY IS. It’s almost textbook: start off harsh-but-not-too-harsh to get the reader’s defenses down, but then almost immediately start walking back that harshness, replacing it with gentler phrasing, attempts to make Pai seem almost sympathetic, and attempts to make readers feel sorry for all the “hard times” the poor shitbag brought completely on himself, cherry-picking some of the nastiest whilst papering over with velvet language all of his own bullshit. God, I almost threw my coffee cup at my screen.


Well, I guess that people change.

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Wow. She likes a tweet showing Ajit Pai hanging in effigy and he has the nerve to be offended. What a puss.

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That’s … not what it says at all?


The most interesting part of the profile is the way Pai has changed since Drumpf took office: from being a fiery and quick-witted debater who enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of debate with people who disagreed with him to being a thin-skinned man-baby

It’s not really that much of a change. Most Libertarian pundits and politicians (and many Internet trolls of that persuasion) are bitter HS debate club nerds* deep down inside, Newt Gingrich being my textbook example.

These spoiled man-children all deploy the same logical fallacies and tactics of distraction to defend their points and care more about winning the argument than about the substance of the side they’re taking. Much of their underlying motivation is getting revenge on all the “cool kids” who didn’t recognise their genius and entitlement to do what they wanted back in 11th grade.

If you want to see the results of this in action watch the performance of another lifelong debate club nerd, Ted Cruz, at the GOP primary debates in 2016. Throughout he treats the moderators as debate judges and plays directly to them and not to the live or broadcast audience under the mistaken impression that they’ll name him the winner. It’s cringeworthy as is Pai’s performance.

[* no offense to non-bitter former debate club nerds who have a sense of perspective and maturity]


I think “Debate society darling” and “Thin-skinned, brooding manbaby” have a lot more overlap than the title of this post suggests. I think I’m supposed to find the following an endearing description:

We tell ourselves that debate is practice for reasoning, but it isn’t, it’s perversion of reasoning. It teaches us to think of reasoning as fighting, as a thing that we are trying to win. Reason helps us figure out what is right, not who is right. Reason tells us to do our best to understand what another person is saying, not to do our best to refute it.

Practicing arguing disingenuously for things you don’t believe in, we are told, helps us understand the best version of all viewpoints. In reality it makes people good at arguing disingenuously for things they don’t believe in. It encourages a truth-blind worldview where the ability to show social markers of reasonability is the highest value.

We shouldn’t be upset at Pai for leaving the social markers of reasonability behind and being who he always was (that thin-skinned, brooding manbaby). One thing that’s nice about the era of Trump is that we are finally being who we are.


If anyone deserves to have his nerd card revoked…


Ooh, do a snarky, baseless attack on socialists now!

That’s not how debate club works. If you want someone to go full whatabout on those horrid socialists, you’ll have to do it yourself.


Snarky, yes. Baseless … I provided examples to support my theory (well described by @anon50609448 as well) and can provide more (just off the top of my head: Rand Paul, Tucker Carlson, Grover Norquist). Prominent capital-L Libertarians and Objectivists who don’t regularly argue in bad faith are few and far between, and the mentality I describe contributes to that fact.



This is exactly what I’m talking about in my post (and what @gracchus is talking about, as far as I can tell). The point of discussion ought to be to try to understand what another person is saying, not to look for the shortest path to counter it. In a debate society you would be expected to be able to make a baseless attack on both libertarians and socialists. In real life, that’s a terrible thing to have as your hammer (in the have-hammer-see-nails metaphor).

When someone says something that strikes me as “baseless” - that is, I genuinely don’t understand why they would say that - I want to find out what facts or experience they have that makes them believe what they believe. So your response does make me curious what in your experience has made you feel that throwing out dismissive words like “baseless” at other people’s opinions is useful or profitable.


gracchus asserts ‘Most Libertarian pundits and politicians (and many Internet trolls of that persuasion) are bitter HS debate club nerds, to prove it mentions one person to stand for them all.

gracchus then calls them (and by them I’ll have to guess gracchus means anyone espousing libertarian thought) spoiled, infantile, fallacious, distracting, obsessive and driven by revenge, without evidence. This is trying to score wild points against his rhetorical enemy; baseless.

The opinion of Cruz’s debate performance is interesting but observational; I can’t give gracchus a fault on this point.

So, a nerd who let power go to his head. shrug

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Incorrect assumption. I use the capital L deliberately, and refer specifically to pundits, politicians and Internet trolls (including a couple here who I won’t bother naming). This is a subset and not the entire set of everyone who espouses libertarian [sic] thought. Also, “most” != “all” and there are certainly exceptions to every rule.

[note that I did not resort to a logical fallacy here to counter your assertion]

I enjoy a good Monty Python “argument clinic” as much as the next geek (it’s a feature of one of my oldest friendships), but in the end I have values I can defend without constantly resorting to generic logical fallacies and bad faith arguments. The same can’t be said of Ajit Pai and his ilk.

Some older Neocon intellectuals have a similar mentality, by the way. It’s the main reason they were able to transition so seamlessly from being Trotskyites to warmongering conservative fantasists.


“Give me your badge and your D20; you’re out of Nerd Force!”


Would you say such pundits as Katherine Mangu-Ward, Penn Jillette, P J O’Rourke, Drew Carey, Tyler Cowen, Camille Paglia, Jeffery Tucker, David Friedman and Deirdre McCloskey are bitter, let alone spoiled, infantile, fallacious, distracting, obsessive and driven by revenge?

I could never fathom how high school debate team/kids can be assigned the pro- or contra-argument position. It’s like reality/truth/justice does not have a de facto existence.


You’re so right about Cruz.

I wasn’t a debate club member but did enjoy debates in speech classes. It makes you think fast and rewards facile speaking, which I was good at as a smart-ass kid. It doesn’t reward empathy for others.