Friday, February 20, 2015

The Letter And The Spirit Part 2: Moral Surgery

If you’ve been reading my drivel for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with these sentiments:

Though your Curmudgeon disbelieves in left-liberal doctrines, he believes strongly that they should be argued for -- that men of wit and knowledge should undertake to defend them with all the logic and evidence they can muster. This is important precisely because they are opposed to the ideas of freedom, the free market, inviolable individual rights to life and property, and a system of justice founded on objective law, objective evidence, and unbending rules of procedure. We must know how to defend these things logically. If we're never required to do that, we will forget why they're important, and will fail to do them justice when they're attacked by force or guile.

There is this as well: the Starkman paradigm, which accuses conservatives of sealing themselves off from facts and theses that contradict their beliefs, whether by intention or incapacity, actually puts left-liberals in far greater danger of that pitfall. It is not possible to dismiss one's opponents as either stupid or evil, yet still grapple with their contentions in full sincerity. If we on the Right are correct and the left-liberals are wrong -- it doesn't matter about what -- the left-liberals will never learn it....

Leftists have assumed their moral standing to be significantly above that of others. Over the century past, they've had to confront an avalanche of evidence that their prescriptions are less than effective; indeed, that they're utterly unwholesome, toxic to human life and happiness. Were they not to wall the evidence irretrievably out of bounds -- were they not to dismiss all arguments against their notions presumptively, as the whisperings of Satan -- the earthquakes that have toppled their political edifices would topple them from their moral pedestals as well.

So they demand to have their intellectual and moral superiority deemed unchallengeable. They exhort us to subordinate our moral and political opinions to the "experts" -- care to guess who those are? -- and to dismiss counter-evidence and counter-argument with prejudice. They seek to sweep their opponents from the field by disqualifying us morally, before battle can be joined.

Perhaps the height of irony is Hellie's conclusion that "all that left wing political writers need to do is report the truth." Clearly, if that were so, his demonization of us as conscious agents of injustice would be unnecessary, as would the campaigns of calumny the Left is conducting against anyone to the right of John Kerry.

In a way, the sentiments of Neal Starkman and Benjamin Hellie are not exceptional. It’s been a longstanding pattern for left-liberals to dismiss their political opponents as “stupid or evil.” But in light of the most recent developments in left-wing arrogance and deliberate mendacity, it’s worth revising the subject to contemplate what those attitudes allow us to infer about their moral standing...and how they live with it.

The “stupid or evil” pattern in leftists’ political rhetoric has only grown stronger as the years have passed. They simply can’t abandon their intimations of idiocy, venal motives, or bigotry when confronted by a dissenting conservative. Perhaps that’s because the Main Stream Media have accorded those calumnies their approval...and their promulgation, of course. Or it might be that they’ve become “grooved,” and find the habits involved too hard to break. Whatever the utilitarian case, the tactic became blatant during the Bush the Younger Administration, has continued to intensify during the Obama years, and will probably continue to strengthen should a Republican take the White House in November next year.

It hasn’t done a thing for the efficacy of their prescriptions, of course. But the combination of their slanders with the consequences of their policies casts doubt on their own intellectual and moral standing.

We must start by assuming that the left-liberal who employs “stupid or evil” rhetoric is himself neither stupid nor evil. He might be badly misinformed. He might never have acquainted himself with critical aspects of history, economics, or human nature. His own motives, despite the chaos and destruction his preferred policies have produced, might be entirely benign. All of that is possible even for an American with an advanced education and an occupation that puts him among others of diverse backgrounds and views.

Of certain things we can be sure:

  1. He thinks more of his ability to gauge intelligence and judge character than is warranted.
  2. If he’s familiar with the Golden Rule, he doesn’t think it applies to political discourse.
  3. He’s never received the sort of verbal lambasting that would suffice to get him to doubt his premises.
  4. When he confronts a conservative, he doesn’t “see” a person of equal intellectual and moral standing.

In consequence of those four conditions, he awards himself an exemption from the rules of courtesy and civility when fencing with a conservative. He doesn’t reciprocate the conservative’s assumption of mutual benevolence.

In a way this is all quite logical. Why employ reason when one faces an irrational opponent? It would be wasted, wouldn’t it? When one is assured, a priori, that to dissent from left-liberal orthodoxy implies evil motives, why grant the dissenter’s assertions and arguments the respect of sober consideration? Surely the Devil, who “can cite Scripture for his purposes,” should get absolutely no slack.

The problem, of course, is in the premises...but very few persons, once they’ve allowed themselves to assume an attitude of intellectual and moral superiority, ever dare to question the premises that underpin it.

I’ll allow that the assumption of intellectual and moral superiority can be a hazard for conservatives as well. Yet it doesn’t seem to be nearly as widespread, nor as venomous and unrelenting in action, on the Right as it is on the Left. Perhaps that’s because conservatives are more likely than leftists to be believing Christians, but it’s an untestable hypothesis. At any rate, we haven’t sunk nearly as far into the disease, as one can verify for oneself merely by watching the talking-head shows for a few weeks.

Yet the problem is a serious one that threatens both camps, for as Tom Kratman has told us, over time we will come to resemble our adversaries ever more strongly:

[I]t has been said more than once that you should choose enemies wisely, because you are going to become just, or at least, much like them. The corollary to this is that your enemies are also going to become very like you....

If I could speak now to our enemies, I would say: Do you kill innocent civilians for shock value? So will we learn to do, in time. Do you torture and murder prisoners? So will we. Are you composed of religious fanatics? Well, since humanistic secularism seems ill-suited to deal with you, don't be surprised if we turn to our churches and temples for the strength to defeat and destroy you. Do you randomly kill our loved ones to send us a message? Don't be surprised, then, when we begin to target your families, specifically, to send the message that our loved ones are not stationery.

Tom isn’t the first writer to note that progression:

The great strength of the totalitarian state is that it forces those who fear it to imitate it. – Adolf Hitler
Hitler imposed himself upon the world both by promoting Nazism and by forcing the democracies to become zealous, intolerant and ruthless. Communist Russia shapes both its adherents and its opponents in its own image. – Eric Hoffer

...but we’ve seldom needed to ponder the premises involved quite as much as we do today.

Ayn Rand made the exhortation to “Check your premises” famous, at least among persons who’ve admired her thinking. When the premise is that the person with whom you’re arguing is on a far lower intellectual and moral plane than you, such that you need not grant him the respect due a putative equal, the consequences can be disastrous:

  • Persons too stupid to be reasoned with can legitimately be deceived and coerced “for their own good.”
  • Persons who lack an adequate moral sense can legitimately be forcibly re-educated, confined, or eliminated “for the greater good.”
  • Worst of all, persons who, though assumed to be your intellectual and moral inferiors, turn out to be right when you were wrong, can make you look like a fool.

I submit that it’s that last possibility that poses the greatest hazard to the body politic.

Once the gentleman’s code ceased to bind a significant number of persons engaged in political activism or discourse, and once enough of us who still adhere to the code lost the moral confidence required to enforce it, it became inevitable that “stupid or evil” rhetoric would proliferate. To beat it back requires a massive campaign of “moral surgery:” the willingness to reprove the behavior founded on the pernicious premises, brutally if necessary.

Of course there’s a need for this in the home, in the rearing of one’s children, but the need to do so in public, among other nominal adults, is far greater:

  • Never tolerate being treated like an intellectual inferior.
  • Never allow anyone to imply that your motives are venal or corrupt.
  • Never allow a conversation in which the “stupid or evil” premises are visible to go unchallenged.

Wrap your good right hand around those premises and rip them out roots and all, perhaps as follows:

Miscellaneous Arrogant Leftist: [Insert some insulting statement founded on the “stupid or evil” premise here.]
Offended Conservative: Tell me, do you think I’m your intellectual inferior?

MAL: Well, no, but...
OC: Do you think I’m morally deficient?

MAL: Well, I wouldn’t say so, but...”
OC: Because what you’ve just said implies either or both. It’s extremely offensive, the sort of remark that once led to pistols at dawn. As I always assume an adult has said what he meant to say, you can continue this conversation by yourself. [Turns and strides away.]

Among other things, it’ll make you feel better than you can imagine.


Manu said...

Sometimes, I wonder if the prohibition of consensual dueling was misguided. It seems to me that the rules of civility were enforced by that unspoken threat of imminent death. The Gentleman's code rested on that threat. Few Progressives would exhort such rhetorical filth if the consequences of such involved bullets or swords.

In any event I fully agree with your premise. I remember engaging a liberal in a debate, one of the exceptional few who actually still follows the code somewhat. Our conversation was firm, but respectful. A conservative, nominally on my side of the debate, butted in and started calling my opponent various unmentionables.

I politely told him to buzz off, that he wasn't doing my argument any favors by inserting his colorful rhetoric into it. Be careful about the enemies you choose, but also about the friends.

Still, as my writing the other day attests, when a Progressive no longer feels bound by the code, neither should we. I suspect a great deal of the decline of our civilization results from us, essentially, being too patient with them. When they first dispensed with the code, we should have declined to have anything to do with them until they returned to it.

An excellent post, sir.

Anonymous said...

In my younger days I would handle the insult with this simple statement, "Don't make me defend my honor." That usually was enough to ensure domestic tranquility. Funny how that statement evoked politeness.

Col. B. Bunny said...

A good nerve to lay your finger on, Fran. It's crystal clear that people who think they have no intellectually supportable arguments to make MUST resort to invective.

I had an amusing exchange with a troll who maintained that a certain Christian preacher was guilty of bigotry or something. I asked him to provide one example. Four evasions later none had been provided but I did garner the observation that I am full of garbage. At least he did not use profanity but it was necessary for him to distance himself from any possible factual basis for his assertion.

Col. B. Bunny said...

PS -- There's always this rather darker explanation of this leftist behavior.