Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Strawman Chronicles: The Far Right and the Far Left

A: Did you see the news? Conservatives in Iran sentenced another man to death for blasphemy.
B: Conservatives? Really?
A: That's what they are. Right-wingers. Everyone knows that.
B: You ever think that may be a mistaken way of looking at it?
A: Not really. It makes sense: they're taking their religious text very literally, which everyone knows is a conservative, right-wing habit.
B: Ah. So, Christians who believe in giving to the poor, who think that Jesus quite literally commanded charity, would be right-wingers? And greedy people, Christians who pursue wealth for wealth's sake, would be left-wingers?
A: Well, no. Care for the poor is obviously a left-wing, liberal concern.
B: Because caring for the poor, and an admonition against wealth for wealth's sake... that's not a literal reading of the Bible?
A: ...Well, maybe it is, but that's not the only standard. There's also a political dimension. Like believing in reproductive free
B: Butchering infants.
A: It's insulting to call it that.
B: Pity it's true.
A: Let's not get into that right now. Sexual freedom, questioning old taboos about sexual morality.. that's leftist, liberal. Progressive. It has nothing to do with the Bible.
B: I actually agree there.
A: Cute, because that's your way of saying gay love is...
B: Anal sex.
A: ...Whatever you want to call it, is un-biblical?
B: No, I have a different view in mind here.
A: Oh really?
B: So you'd agree that celebrating same-sex sexual acts is a liberal, progressive, left-wing position?
A: Certainly.
B: Premarital sex as well, of course.
A: Of course.
B: Adultery? Toleration of it, anyway?
A: I... well, not necessarily adultery. I mean, that's a violation of trust, and...
B: And a breaking of a taboo.
A: Maybe, if you want to split hairs, acceptance that sometimes people do wrong like that would...
B: No, not 'do wrong'. The conservative view is would be they're doing wrong. The progressive view challenges the conservative view, so adultery would be accepted. Even encouraged.
A: I know very few leftists who'd agree.
B: And I know very few conservatives who are up for stoning people to death for blasphemy.
A: ...
B: Let's keep going. Celebrating bestiality.
A: No.
B: Celebrating child molest...
A: NO. How DARE you try to...
B: Left-wing extremists, then?
A: What?
B: I'm compromising. I'm saying that tolerance for child molestation, for bestiality... those are far left concerns.
A: They aren't left-wing at all!
B: They certainly challenge the prevailing, traditional morality.
A: It's sick!
B: So they said about abortion.
A: It's mental illness!
B: So was homosexuality, until the 1970s. The 1990s, in Europe.
A: That's different!
B: Because?
A: I... ...
B: Because a right-wing extremist is supposed to be someone with a child's severed head in one hand and a gun in his right, while a left-wing extremist is supposed to be someone who loves the poor so much that they sell their kidney just to give a little more to charity.
A: Stop making me sound so knee-jerk. I know people have political views that come in degrees.
B:  Except your political enemies are supposed to have a monopoly on everything rotten, and your allies a monopoly on everything great. From there, it's just degrees. To be extremely right wing is equivalent to being extremely rotten. To be extremely left wing is equivalent to being extremely good. You're telling yourself you see things in degrees, but when your enemies can only be one of a million shades of black, and your allies all some shade of white, guess what? It's still black and white.

15 comments:

B. Prokop said...

"Except your political enemies are supposed to have a monopoly on everything rotten, and your allies a monopoly on everything great. From there, it's just degrees."

Hmm... isn't that what you just said in this posting, crude?

But ultimately, I am in 100% agreement with you. Demonizing people who differ with you politically is wrong and counter-productive. It's actually a sin, and a mortal sin at that (as Dante pointed out in The Inferno). It's wrong if the left demonizes the right (using such names as heartless, uncaring, "warring on women", tools of the wealthy, etc.), and it's equally wrong when the right demonizes the left (calling them supporters of sexual deviancy, baby killers, "bloody-minded apologists for mass murderers", etc.).

Crude said...

Hmm... isn't that what you just said in this posting, crude?

Not at all. Where did you see that said?

And, perhaps my complaint in this post was a bit opaque. I'll do a followup.

Syllabus said...

it's equally wrong when the right demonizes the left (calling them supporters of sexual deviancy, baby killers, "bloody-minded apologists for mass murderers", etc.).

Well, it's certainly wrong to call them that if the description in inapropos. The latter, is hard to argue for. It's hard to say, though, that describing someone who supports partial birth abortion as a supporter of baby murder is demonizing them. Ditto people who support sexual deviancy - Peter Singer, for instance, and a surprising number of the bioethical community.

GoldRush Apple said...

>>and it's equally wrong when the right demonizes the left (calling them supporters of sexual deviancy

Demonize or just tell it like it is? I wouldn't call sexual dignity & restraint that's for sure.

B. Prokop said...

Syllabus and GoldRush are partly missing my point. They are describing supporters of abortion and/or of same sex marriage - not "leftists". I would estimate there are literally millions of liberals, progressives, leftists, registered Democrats, (or whatever else you wish to call them), in this country and in others who do not support either of those two things. Just as there are probably millions of rightists, Republicans, or conservatives who care about the environment and the poor. It's not all black and white, and the caricatures are just that - caricatures.

Tarring one side or another of what ought to be a purely political divide with inflammatory epithets is demonization. Three tragic consequences (there are undoubtedly more) of this are:

1. a hardening of positions and an unwillingness to compromise (for after all, it's possible to seek middle ground with someone you merely disagree with, whilst you can't make a deal with the devil).

2. the abandonment of individual thought on your own side of the debate, lest you be purged or ostracized in the name of ideological purity (RINOs, anyone?), resulting in an ossification of the imagination and a loss of new ideas.

3. a failure to realize at all times that one is not dealing with monsters, but with people who care as much about our common country as those who hold the same views as one's self. Members of both prevailing political philosophies are equally capable of either moral decency or depravity.

I know what I'm talking about here, because I used to be highly partisan myself until I finally realized just how poisonous such an attitude is, and how deadly to one's own spiritual health (Dante helped me a lot here). It was a difficult process to rid myself of this particular sin (and that is what it is), and I still have the occasional relapse, but I fight it like a recovering alcoholic pushes away the thought of another drink.

Syllabus said...

I certainly don't advocate demonization of an entire political party because of the beliefs or positions of some of their adherents. But it seems that doesn't solve the problem.

For instance, the DNP contains the clause "The President and the Democratic Party believe that women have a right to control their reproductive choices. Democrats support access to affordable family planning services, and President Obama and Democrats will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers." It is an entirely legitimate inference from that that the Democratic Party supports abortion. They don't say it in as many words here, but the use of "reproductive choices" and "Planned Parenthood health centers" suggests that they mean as much. The question then becomes: is it fair to say that, if a person is a member of the Democratic Party, the person therefore supports, tacitly or explicitly, the Democratic National Platform? And thereby, abortion? Because in that case, it is entirely fair, if one thinks that abortion is child murder (which is the official position of your church, Mr. Prokop), to say that people who support abortion therefore support child murder, and that to the extent that the person supports the Democratic National Platform, which supports abortion, the person supports abortion, and therefore child murder. That much seems a mere matter of logical substitution. The same goes for any number of issues you wish to discuss.

So the question would be: is the above train of reasoning valid? I think it is.

Syllabus said...

Or even more explicit:

Protecting A Woman's Right to Choose. The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way. We also recognize that health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. We strongly and unequivocally support a woman's decision to have a child by providing affordable health care and ensuring the availability of and access to programs that help women during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, including caring adoption programs.

So the problem is strengthened.

B. Prokop said...

"So the question would be: is the above train of reasoning valid?"

First off, that's not the question at all. It is completely unacceptable to demand any sort of litmus test in choosing one's political affiliation or whom to vote for. I personally find various line items in both the Republican and Democratic party platforms to be 100% the opposite of my own views on certain particular issues. Both parties. Same goes for every minor party that I've heard of as well. So what am I supposed to do? Abstain from the political process? I regard that to be a non-starter. And I despise the idea of being a single issue voter. I fell to that temptation only once in my life (way back in 1984, when I made my decision solely on how the candidates stood on the issue of space exploration) and it remains the only vote I have consistently regretted. So what I do is choose the candidate who agrees with me on more issues than the other, trying hard to make no single issue out to be a deal breaker.

And I'm sure that Syllabus knows perfectly well that, considering both major US parties have tens of millions of members, that the overwhelming majority of both parties not only do not have the foggiest idea as to what is in their respective platforms, they also most probably wouldn't think them to be at all relevant.

Bottom Line: The Great Enemy to our democracy is not the "other side" - it is blind, uncompromising partisanship itself. It's long past time for people to stop wondering whether a particular idea, program, law, or policy is "liberal" or "conservative", Democratic or Republican, right or left, but rather consider "will it work?" and "is it efficient?" That's how America will get back on that elusive Right Track the pollsters are always asking about.

msgrx said...

Well, people often support parties without agreeing with all of their current policies, so I don't think membership of a party is generally enough in itself to infer that somebody supports a given policy of that party.

Then again, in the case of abortion specifically, it's such a prominent issue, and the Democratic Party are such strong supporters of the pro-abortion side, that I think it is reasonable to presume that any individual Democrat is pro-abortion unless you have some evidence to the contrary.

Syllabus said...

Well, people often support parties without agreeing with all of their current policies, so I don't think membership of a party is generally enough in itself to infer that somebody supports a given policy of that party.

Not all of them, perhaps. But certainly the major ones.

And I'm sure that Syllabus knows perfectly well that, considering both major US parties have tens of millions of members, that the overwhelming majority of both parties not only do not have the foggiest idea as to what is in their respective platforms, they also most probably wouldn't think them to be at all relevant.

Do I know perfectly well that people often don't know what the policies are of the parties they support? Sure.

But it's silly to think that there is no litmus test for political affiliation. For instance, I cannot honestly call myself a member of the Republican/Democrat/Green/Libertarian/Communist Party if I am not a registered member of said party. The question then becomes: does registering as a member of a given party mean that you tacitly endorse the party platform? I think the answer is yes.

This is logically distinct from voting for a person of a particular political party. I think that you can vote for/endorse a candidate without endorsing all of their positions on everything, but it doesn't seem to me that you can call yourself a member of X or Y political party without agreeing with at least the major issues of their platform (I'll concede it down to the major issues, at least). And, as msgrx pointed out above. abortion is a rather major issue of the Democratic platform. So I would argue that, if you disagree that a woman should be able terminate her pregnancy at will, you cannot consistently be a registered Democrat.

You can vote for one, though. I don't see a problem with that.

It's long past time for people to stop wondering whether a particular idea, program, law, or policy is "liberal" or "conservative", Democratic or Republican, right or left, but rather consider "will it work?" and "is it efficient?" That's how America will get back on that elusive Right Track the pollsters are always asking about.

Yeah, funny thing about that: all questions of "will x policy work" imply a statement of "x policy working will produce such-and-such and end". The only reason you would vote for a policy which worked towards such-and-such an end is if you thought such an end was worth achieving, which is inherently a value judgement. So in order to determine whether or not to vote for some policy, you cannot use as a necessary and sufficient criterion "will it work?" unless you accept the enthymeme that the end towards which the policy directs itself is a desirable one.

So until voters agree on all ends, they will not be able to come to such a united decision around "working" policies, and any person who says that "you should vote for policy x because it works" is either assuming that you already agree with the proposition that the ends towards which the policy is directed are valuable ones or that you ought to do so. So, no, pragmatism is of absolutely no help in braking gridlock. What we need is a robust debate concerning ends.

B. Prokop said...

Syllabus,

Thank you for introducing me to a new word - enthymeme. Never came across that one before.

The last two paragraphs of your comment are quite thought provoking. I guess I was thinking along purely nuts and bolts economic lines, rather than what are normally termed the "social issues". Generally, I wish such wouldn't be considered to be political in the first place. I think politics should be confined to the practical and the doable. I admire the wisdom of the founding fathers who left us a relentlessly process-focused constitution, pretty much devoid of such frippery. I note how the one time in US history when an attempt was made to legislate morality via the constitution (the prohibition era), it was a colossal failure. One would think we'd have learned a lesson from that, but I guess not many people pay much attention to history (which is why we repeat it so often).

Crude said...

I note how the one time in US history when an attempt was made to legislate morality via the constitution (the prohibition era), it was a colossal failure.

This is disingenuous. Just about every law of note nowadays is an attempt to legislate morality.

How'd the civil rights act go? Was that not legislating morality?

Roe v Wade?

Every tax hike? Every sin tax?

Don't talk about the folly of trying to legislate morality unless you're willing to eschew any advocacy for legislation to do what you think is moral.

Syllabus said...

I note how the one time in US history when an attempt was made to legislate morality via the constitution (the prohibition era), it was a colossal failure.

I note in passing how most of the arguments made in favour of the Affordable Care Act were permutations of "it's the right thing to do".

B. Prokop said...

That's why I added the modifier "via the constitution". But I guess (for greater clarity) I should have written "via constitutional amendment", because that's what I meant. So you're excused from misinterpreting me when I write so sloppily.

As for the anti-slavery amendments, one could make the case that they were not so much an attempt to legislate morality as they were a re-drawing of what was economically permissible in labor relations. (I.e., "You may not enslave your workers. You must hire them.")

Crude said...

As for the anti-slavery amendments, one could make the case that they were not so much an attempt to legislate morality as

Sure. And one could easily say anti-abortion legislation has nothing to do with morality - it's about protecting the economic well-being of midwives. And prohibition was about boosting sales for ginger ale manufacturers.