Rack 'em: A Response

Below please find a comment by a Professor Jake Gibbs in response to my Op-Ed piece published in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Monday June 9, 2008. Immediately following is my answer, which may also be found in the online edition of that newspaper.

"As a college logic instructor, I was delighted to read developer Joe Hacker's commentary, "Don't fall for hysteria over 'carbon footprints,'" in Monday's paper.
It is a rare treat to find so many examples of rhetorical techniques devoid of solid reasoning in so short an essay. Ad hominem, strawman, rhetorical analogy and more -- just in the first three paragraphs. It will make a great learning tool for my students.

As a citizen, however, I found the piece disturbing. I suppose Hacker thinks himself clever. But someone who wants to be taken as an authority on urban-planning issues should supply us with reasons for disregarding the recent Brookings Institution report that rated Lexington so poorly in managing carbon emissions.

Once I sifted through the distortions and distractions of Hacker's commentary, all I found remaining was a call to ignore people who study urban issues ("educated elites" as portrayed by Hacker), reassurance that everything will be fine if we keep wishing for $2-a-gallon gas and that change is to be feared.

Hacker urges us to put our heads in the sand and just keep on sprawling. I think I'll side with the fact-mongering eggheads rather than the man with a vested interest in sprawl who presents no support for his position.

It's interesting that Hacker chose to call those who fear maintaining the status quo "Cassandras." Perhaps he has forgotten that Cassandra was right."

Jake Gibbs,

Dear Professor Gibbs,

I shouldn’t want to take your logic course for you seem unable to avoid some of the same pitfalls you attribute to others. Before I get specific let me confess that I do consider myself clever and that my failure to recall that Cassandra was indeed right shows me in this case, to be too clever by half. That said let me examine your critique.

A college professor should know that if one is to make a cogent critique of someone’s work, he should read it until he understands what the author is saying. I clearly state that the contents of The Brookings study is not the subject of my treatise but rather the newspaper’s recommended action in response. Thus I have no reason to attack or even question the report. Second, I make no suggestion at all that the study should be ignored. A clear reading of my article finds that I am moot on the subject. Again my aim is at the suggested correctives.

An educated man should as well remember the adage “the pot mustn’t call the kettle black”. You accuse me of engaging in ad hominem argument, rhetorical analysis and of using straw men to frame my thesis. Of course, the freshman rhetorician knows these all to be valid forms or elements of argument that in and of themselves have no probative value. In fact when you indict me for thinking myself clever and of “having vested interested interest in sprawl” you are guilty of the same ad hominem attack you condemn. You also with vincible ignorance, impugn my credentials as a commentator on urban planning, obviously not knowing I have both academic letters in the subject as well as thirty some years of practice and study.

You accuse me of being devoid of reasoning and of fear mongering when I point out that Smart Growth infill will necessarily change the social and architectural character of the neighborhoods in which it occurs. You offer no evidence to the contrary; I suppose this due to the fact that the premise is evident in itself. And while ignoring full paragraphs of statements in support of my conclusions you submit no evidence at all, for anything, only a few bald assertions.

You mischaracterize me as urging that “we keep on sprawling” and “wishing for $2 gas”, when I merely point out those who enjoy suburban homes and single family neighborhoods and don’t get why expensive gasoline is a good thing are being condemned and their lifestyle threatened. Further, no where within the four corners of my essay, do I remotely suggest any type of development pattern as the answer to the demands of increasing population.

I sincerely appreciate your letter. It proves that at least one person read my column. I also have a request. Before you use my work in your classroom, as negative instruction, please post this answer as well.

J. Robert Brock Hacker