Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[politics] Talking about talking about 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.

Tags: friends, language, politics

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