Thursday, March 9, 2017


     In a recent video, the invaluable Mark Steyn leans forcefully into a critical point about political discourse: it’s about persuasion. That, however, is something to which certain of the “discoursers” are unalterably opposed. Knowing how much it offends me to be on the receiving end, I try to police myself for such inclinations.

     Not everyone of a conservative or broadly pro-freedom mindset does so.

     What I have in mind at the moment is the following passage from a guest at Sarah Hoyt’s place:

     The Individualist is not trying to destroy all government. That’s the mark of the insane. What’s desired is lowering the dosage of government back down into the therapeutic range....Some regulation is desirable.

     I must differ, and very strongly at that.

     We could start with the last four words of that citation and work backwards. “Some regulation is desirable.” To whom? Who decides? According to what standard? A statement of evaluation is like that: it posits an evaluator and a standard, without specifying either. But the rest of us are entitled to question those unseen elements, and to differ with them – without suffering to be called “insane.”

     But there’s no need to work backwards. The faults start with the first sentence:

  • Who is this “Individualist?” of whom you speak?
  • What makes you so sure he would agree with your statement of his intentions?
  • Are you prepared to have him call you "insane" should he differ with you?
  • And this hypothesized "therapeutic range" for, I can’t go on. The first 15 words were all I can stand.

     The author hasn’t argued against anarchism; he’s merely dismissed it and those who would argue for it. Insultingly, at that. Perhaps he felt he had to do so to continue on with his essay. Having read it, I’d say he should have spared himself the effort and written something worthwhile...perhaps a recipe for Franks & Beans.

     It’s a fine example of what Steyn decried in his video.

     Mind you, I’m not arguing with the author’s political position. Though I differ with him, I would agree that a very minimal government is desirable...if it can be stabilized and its minions compelled to obey the laws that bind the rest of us; that’s where the challenge lies. What I dislike is his arrogance: his readiness to insult those who see things differently.

     Martinets don’t make converts. They alienate those a good argument might reach. While I’ll readily grant that not everyone is reachable, those who display a willingness to listen and to take what they’ll hear seriously should be given the benefit of the doubt. That includes the treatment of their positions as ones that could be sincerely held by a man of good will – perhaps positions that you once held, or would hold were certain evidence and reasoning not available to you.

     I’ll allow that in our time, with so many people hurling insults in place of argument, the urge to “join in” can become very strong. I’ve felt that urge. I’ve occasionally succumbed to it. And to be perfectly fair, sometimes you’ll do no harm by it, because the persons at whom you’ve hurled your epithets have proved, with insults and condemnations of their own, that they’re not reachable — i.e., not men of good will.

     But to dismiss a position that varies from yours as “insane?” To insult others who agree with you on the importance of freedom but differ with you on how best to safeguard it? To insult others who might otherwise regard you as an ally in a noble cause? To insult a man who, for all you know, might be one of the foremost scholars of his place and time? To insult someone who might just know the subject under discussion better than you?

     Don’t. Just don’t.

     Jesus of Nazareth said it best: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There are no exceptions for political discourse.


Anonymous said...

In 1850 Lysander Spooner pointed out that government doesn't work as advertised. The arguments against government are strong enough that government boosters don't dare confront them honestly. Anarchism isn't quite correct, because if it were correct nobody would be paying taxes today. But it seems like the actual truth lies very close to anarchism.

The book Leviathan by Hobbes didn't prove its claim of war-of-all-against-all by citing observed experimental evidence, it is merely asserted there would be such a war. The fundamental claim for the existence of governments, and there is no evidence. Government is a religion.

Dystopic said...

This is a difficult problem. My personal tendency is actually to be too nice. I've allowed myself to be badgered by people who *act* like they are debating in good faith, and really are not. And I am still learning when and where it is safe to dismiss them.

This is a serious problem on the right. Many rightists (in my observation) don't really have a good handle on when it is safe, and even advisable, to just say "fuck you, go away." And sometimes it must be done.

On the other hand, it's important to avoid falling into the trap of many of those on the left, who have resorted to a sort of smug, self-declared superiority. That smugness has won many converts to our cause. It's one of the reasons we're still game.

Hard, hard line to walk, though. And certainly Sarah's guest poster stepped in it. But I've done it, too, on occasion.