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[politics] Talking about talking about politics - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-07-06 05:58
Subject: [politics] Talking about talking about politics
Security: Public
Tags:friends, language, politics
I haven't had time to frame a useful response to Brad Torgersen's posts here and here, which were in turn responding to me. Neither have I had time to edit the joint blog post drafts Bryan Thomas Schmidt has sent me. And given my upcoming schedule, I probably won't until next week. (Driving to Seattle today, back Sunday evening, then off to Omaha Monday morning.)

I did, however, want to offer a few quick observations about the general tenor of the response I've seen, especially on Brad's Facebook page and in his blog comments section. Let me preface this by saying that Brad, Bryan and [info]ericjamesstone have all been very good over the course of the time I've known them about engaging in political disputation with mutual respect and intellectual honesty. We get a little testy sometimes, especially me and Eric, but it never feels personal and it never feels unfair.

On to the show...

One, a lot of what was being said (not by Brad or Bryan) was the sort of righteously angry denial of reality which only reinforced my original point, in spades. My favorite example of that was the commentor who smugly denounced my statement "that 99% of the biologists, geologists, chemists, physicists, science teachers and science journalists are all engaged in a century-long conspiracy to cover up and obscure the Biblical truth with falsified evidence and slanted classroom instruction and biased journalism" as an Argument from Authority and therefore logically invalid. Which really only goes to show that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. By that reasoning, there would never be a consensus on any topic regardless of data or expertise applied. Which, again, only reinforces my original point. In spades.

Two, there was a lot of smokescreen rhetoric and derailing. This is sadly pretty much expected in any contentious public discussion regardless of the politics of the situation. Some of it was presented with goodwill and perhaps mild confusion, some of it was very much "la la la, I can't hear you because you're a stupid liberal." I find myself mostly amused by this.

Three, there was also a lot of responding to data with anecdote. (This is one error Brad did fall into.) To paraphrase, "None of the conservatives I know deny evolution, therefore evolution denial isn't a conservative issue." I should hope I don't need to even point out why this is a false contention. I should also point out in fairness that we all do this all the time. Humans trust anecdote instinctively, but have to be trained carefully to respond to data.

Four, there was a lot of false equivalency. Again, to paraphrase, "Some fringe Leftie somewhere did something once, therefore the major thrust of Republican political strategy is completely justified." Bryan pointed out that I use the term "false equivalency" in my political commentary to the point of cliche. I observed that there is a hell of a lot of false equivalency emanating from the Right, to the point of cliche. A lot of it is coming from people speaking in good faith who clearly don't think they're drawing false equivalencies, but that doesn't make the problem any less real.

Now, all of the above is pretty normal stuff for political rhetoric. I doubtless do at least some of the same things when expressing my thoughts. (Well, hopefully not mistaking the Argument from Authority, and I consciously try not to derail, but I'm certainly quite capable of confusing anecdote for data when it supports my worldview, and of buying into false equivalencies that happen to feel good to me.) But the part that just boggled me was something that cropped up in several different threads of commentary and response, and that's drawing a direct connection between contemporary American liberal-progressivism and Communism, specifically Soviet Communism. In a couple of cases, the respondents seemed to consider this connection to be a serious rhetorical 'gotcha' that should have sent me reeling.

Hello? The 1950s called, and they want their political bogeyman back.

The fixation with Soviet Communism is a peculiarly conservative one. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has repeatedly warned of the Soviet threat. (For reference, the Soviet Union hasn't existed since 1991.) The equating of liberal-progressive concerns and interests with Soviet Communism is difficult to understand, as it makes no sense whatsoever.

Speaking just for myself, I lived behind the Iron Curtain in the early 1980s. The Cold War was still going strong. I've seen Soviet Communism from the inside, and there's not much about that any liberal-progressive I know wants to emulate. Nor is there much about Soviet Communism that any point of the Democratic party platform or the liberal-progressive agenda has anything in common with.

"Communism", like "Socialism", is a conservative scare word that's long since lost context or objective meaning. Insofar as I can tell, when a conservative uses either of those words in a contemporary political context, it means "someone who I disagree with whose views are so objectionable to me that they don't even need to be accounted for in the discussion." Which is a fine piece of framing that incidentally again reinforces my original point about conservatives and counterfactuals, but immediately invalidates the argument being made by the speaker.

Confidential to conservatives in America: When you call liberal-progressives Socialists or Communists, you've lost your intellectual credibility before you even get to whatever point you were trying to make.

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mevennen
User: mevennen
Date: 2012-07-06 15:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
People who call Obama a Socialist just look like lunatics from this side of the Pond.
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Jay Lake: politics-report
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-07-06 15:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:politics-report
They look like lunatics from this side of the pond as well, at least to those of us outside of their framing.
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jordan179
User: jordan179
Date: 2012-07-06 16:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hello? The 1950s called, and they want their political bogeyman back.

I didn't call American Leftists Communists. I said that, particularly during the Cold War, American Leftists were overly willing to cut Communists slack which they would not cut the Nazis, despite the fact that the crimes of the two groups (Communists and Nazis, both of which murdered millions of innocent civilians under their control) were of roughly similar magnitude.

Calling Communism a "political bogeyman," during a decade in which some of those tens of millions died, is actually making my point for me. Didn't Chinese peasants have the same right to live as did European Jews and Slavs?
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Jay Lake: politics-sideways_flag
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-07-06 17:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:politics-sideways_flag
I don't think anyone particularly disagrees with your characterization of Soviet Communism, especially in its mid-20th century form. It's just that your deep concern about that doesn't really connect with the current political realities of the United States. The fact that you keep bringing it up in discussions about current US politics makes my point for me — this is a classic case of derailing.

Or are you seriously asserting some sort of connection between contemporary American liberalism and mid-20th century Soviet Communism?

If you aren't, then please recognize the issue you keep bringing up is just not germane to the topic at hand.

If you are asserting that connection, then you and I are living in rather different worlds, only one of which is grounded in objective reality. Which, again, would only serve to further prove my original point about conservatives and counterfactuals.

Edited at 2012-07-06 05:59 pm (UTC)
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jordan179
User: jordan179
Date: 2012-07-06 19:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh no, I'm just saying that the evils of Communism has historically been a blind spot even on the mainstream Western Left, and drawing a parallel with the Religious Right's blindness to the reality of biological evolution.
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Tom
User: voidampersand
Date: 2012-07-07 21:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Oh no, I'm just blatantly denying objective reality."

The mainstream Western left has been very aware of the evils of Communism.
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jordan179
User: jordan179
Date: 2012-07-10 23:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Your statement is correct for the period from around 1947 to around 1968. From around 1918 through 1946, and again from around 1969 to the present day, the mainstream Western Left made excuses for the Communists, or in some cases claimed that said Communists were the wave of the future.
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Tom
User: voidampersand
Date: 2012-07-11 07:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You said that, particularly during the Cold War, American Leftists were overly willing to cut Communists slack which they would not cut the Nazis, despite the fact that the crimes of the two groups (Communists and Nazis, both of which murdered millions of innocent civilians under their control) were of roughly similar magnitude.

Particularly before WW II, American leftists were more sympathetic to communism and were strongly anti-fascist. Given the brutal anti-leftist thuggery of the Nazis, it's hard to imagine how any leftist with a sense of self-preservation could feel otherwise.

During WW II we were, as everyone knows, allied with the Soviet Union and at war with Nazi Germany. At that point, all good Americans were supposed to be cutting the communists some slack. And just to be clear, cutting the Nazis slack at that time was treason.

After the war, as you know, the Nazis were defeated. They weren't around to be given any slack. (Except for good Germans like Wernher von Braun, but he was not a project of the American left.)

So when is it that American leftists were supposed to cut slack for Nazis? When their German brethren were being persecuted by the Nazis and it would have been profoundly stupid? When America was at war with the Nazis and it would have been treason? Or when the Nazis were gone and it didn't matter any more?

The idea that during the Cold War, the mainstream American left was become more supportive of communism is just not true. Maybe if you believe the right-wing propaganda of the time you could think there was some sort of communist ground swell on the left. But the reality was that the left became increasingly aware of Soviet oppression and disillusioned with communism.

It is particularly strange that you would mention 1969 as a turning point. 1968 was the Prague Spring, which pretty much destroyed any hopes among leftists that communism could be liberal or democratic. After that the focus on the left was on supporting dissidents and alternatives to communism such as the Solidarity movement.

You need to keep in mind that the mainstream American left is liberal and democratic. They are about as communist as Thomas Jefferson and the American Declaration of Independence. In other words, a little bit, but not a lot. You also need to consider the role of leftists in the freedom movements that helped end Soviet communism.

Meanwhile on the right, Nixon and Kissinger didn't just cut communists some slack, they cut deals. And American businessmen are more than happy to deal with communist China. All they care is that Chinese unions are powerless and Chinese labor is cheap. There is some occasional grumbling from the American right about how China does not do enough to protect religious liberty. But they have yet to let it get in the way of business.

Sorry, but it looks like you are off by decades on when the American left had its fling with communism. Also, you got the trend backwards, you completely failed to understand the motivation and reasoning of the left, and you somehow overlooked the American right's much more recent, ongoing, and substantial support of oppressive communist regimes.
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jordan179
User: jordan179
Date: 2012-07-11 13:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Particularly before WW II, American leftists were more sympathetic to communism and were strongly anti-fascist. Given the brutal anti-leftist thuggery of the Nazis, it's hard to imagine how any leftist with a sense of self-preservation could feel otherwise.

I'm afraid that certain episodes of the Interwar Era have dropped down your Memory Hole, especially the one which led to Orwell coining the phrase. In particular, communism and fascism were not strongly differentiated in the 1920's, and in the late 1930's (especially once the Nazi-Soviet Pact was declared) it became progressive to oppose "warmongers" such as Churchill.

After the war, as you know, the Nazis were defeated. They weren't around to be given any slack.

(*ahem*) The Latin American fascist wannabe Nazis, particularly the Peronists in Argentina. The Ba'athists (Arab National Socialists), especially in Iraq, Syria and Egypt, who have only within the last decade been abandoned by the Western Left. Also remember that in the period from the 1930's through 1960's it was the Left which tended to be internationalist, the Right which was isolationist, rather than the other way round.

The idea that during the Cold War, the mainstream American left was become more supportive of communism is just not true. Maybe if you believe the right-wing propaganda of the time you could think there was some sort of communist ground swell on the left. But the reality was that the left became increasingly aware of Soviet oppression and disillusioned with communism.

It is particularly strange that you would mention 1969 as a turning point. 1968 was the Prague Spring, which pretty much destroyed any hopes among leftists that communism could be liberal or democratic. After that the focus on the left was on supporting dissidents and alternatives to communism such as the Solidarity movement.


The turning point was 1968 because it is when -- in America anyway -- the New Left took over from the Old Left. The mainstream Old Left (think Truman, Stevenson, JFK and LBJ) had been internationalist and anti-Communist; the New Left tended to be isolationist and anti-anti-Communist.

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Tom
User: voidampersand
Date: 2012-07-11 16:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Communism and fascism were not strongly differentiated in the 1920's? The Nazis were assassinating communists, anarchists, and leftists in general, beating them up, getting them fired from their jobs, and rounding them up into camps.

In America, the left were anti-fascist regardless of their attitudes towards communism. Meanwhile the right included executives who were happy to do business with both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. But there is no doubt that they were strongly anti-communist when it came to politics at home. Definitely there was a differentiation.

It's strange how your characterization of the American left better applies to Republican corporate and political leaders. Are you sure you don't have your sides mixed up?

Your mention only the Peronists as Latin American fascist wannabe Nazis. That's misleading. You are leaving out all the right-wing fascist regimes in Latin America. The continent was literally covered with them, and it was with strong support from American business interests and sometimes even direct intervention by the CIA and the American military. The Peronists were an outlier as a populist movement, but hey they were disturbingly authoritarian so in your book that makes them wannabe Nazis. I have to go back to your original point that the American Left was wrong to cut communists more slack than Nazis. Now you're bringing up the Peronists as darlings of the left, but you also want to slap a Nazi label on them which undercuts your own argument. Maybe the American Left was overly critical of fascists or maybe it was overly supportive of them, but not both.

I don't have time to go into the Ba'athists now.

I'm glad you acknowledged that the mainstream Old Left was anti-Communist. That pretty much makes my point for me. Just consider that the Old Left never went away and are still the mainstream.
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Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2012-07-09 02:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jordan. I'm a small business owning Western Capitalist who has no problem
denouncing Communism. Being pro Universal Healthcare, higher taxation, balanced budgets within reason and other similar "leftist" stuff doesn't make me remotely a communist.

The problem I have with most people complainging about their tax rate is they don't earn enough.

You don't have enough money to have the life you want and pay your taxes? Go and earn some more bloody money. We're all Capitalists. Nobody is stopping you. It doesn't mean you get to not pay society back for your luck of having been born in a rich Western Democracy.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-07-09 02:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, except for the little detail that mid-twentieth century Soviet citizens were never likely Democratic voters, while contemporary evolution denial is a cornerstone of the most important GOP voting block. Your comparison is very strained at best.
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Amanda
User: cissa
Date: 2012-07-13 03:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Anecdote- while not data- can often be what makes data come alive for people.
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