Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Thoughts on Parallelomania I

Parallelomania is a curious phenomenon. Like most such battle cries, it is rarely defined. It is typically used to dismiss an argument that one does not want to deal with, either because one lacks the patience or expertise to do so. For example, parallelomania is often used to dismiss the work of Hugh Nibley without actually dealing with his arguments, usually by an individual possessing only a tiny fraction of the intellectual candlepower that Nibley had. As such the invocation of parallelomania is usually a form of ad hominem argument in the following sense:
In twentieth-century [and now twenty-first-century] usage, an ad hominem argument is a device intended to divert attention from the critical examination of the substance of an argument, and to discredit that argument by dragging in irrelevant considerations having to do with the character or motives of its author. (Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 219.)
(There is, of course, the use of a classical ad hominem argument which is a legitimate argument having nothing to do with impugning motives and not necessarily fallacious; those interested can read about it here.) So when someone accuses someone else of parallelomania, the accuser is merely diverting attention from the critical examination of the substance of an argument by claiming that there is nothing to the parallel or that the accused who made the argument has been guilty of some unspecified error. What the accuser is doing is arguing that one should not waste time on the argument of the accused because it is not worth dealing with. What the reader should often conclude is that the accuser is too lazy or incompetent to deal with the actual argument.