Friday, April 22, 2011

I Was a Smidge Harsh and Perhaps I Should Explain

I talked in my last post about "dedicated leftists," and everything I had to say about leftists in that post is necessarily (but not exclusively) about that subset of leftists. What is a "dedicated leftist"? It's a term I invented cuz I wasn't sure how else to put it. Let me put it this way, I believe left-wing politics of the Michael Moore variety is something that young people are drawn to because it sounds good to them, but that as one matures and learns more about the world, one grows out of. It takes dedication to commit yourself to an ideology that is proven false at every turn. Socialism, social democracy, or whatever you want to call the collectivist statism practiced by the left these days, simply doesn't hold up to scrutiny, which is why it has become a fringe minority among economists and why the Chicago School had so much impact. Theories are all well and good, but real-world track records can demolish any theory, and the real-world track record of free market capitalism and that of centrally-planned economies is very clear to anybody who appreciates facts. To be a dedicated leftist, you have to be the sort of person who only admits certain facts to lodge themselves in their consciousness and ignores others.

Note I'm not letting all right-wingers off the hook, there are plenty of right-wingers who prefer their preconceptions to a reasoned analysis of the facts, and remain willfully blind on issues like war and free trade. But that is not the point of this post or the preceding one.

A recurring theme among many libertarians is that they were once leftists who couldn't help but turn to free market capitalism as a result of their devotion to logic and empirical fact. Thomas Sowell began as a young Marxist economist, until his real world experiences working with the Labor Department (and I think also the State Department) showed him that he could either cling to his beliefs and ignore inconvenient truths, or embrace truth and change his beliefs. His fellow Marxist co-workers chose to ignore the truth, he chose to embrace it. Milton Friedman used to be a New Dealer. John Stossel used to be a liberal. Arnold Kling used to be a socialist. The list goes on. These people were leftists but they clearly were not dedicated leftists because they allowed themselves to be guided by truth to wherever it led them.

There are three basic reactions that anybody with strong opinions can have when faced with an argument or a purported fact which counters their beliefs.

1) The first reaction is to quickly find a counter-argument or counter-fact. The attitude here is like noticing a table is wobbly so you put a folded-up paper towel under it. You ignore the problem with the table but satisfy you were able to make it sturdy again with a makeshift argument or solution.

This is sometimes called grasping at straws, usually when the person reacting has found a weak counter-argument or counter-fact. But it may be the appropriate reaction if the counter-argument or counter-fact outweighs whatever the original argument or fact was.

A frequent example from the left is to say that if we cut education spending, we will actually incur greater costs through societal decay.

2) The second reaction is to deny the argument or the fact. This is done in different ways, it may be that the source of a given fact is untrustworthy or that a given argument has flaws. Or it could be that the person is choosing to ignore reality.

An example is the left refusing to have a serious discussion about abortion and what it actually is. Honestly, ask any "pro-choice" person what an abortion actually does, like what the actual procedure is. See what they say. Inevitably they will say things like "removing tissue to prevent pregnancy" or some such thing. Absolutely no reference to "limbs," or "bones" or "dice" or "baby" will be made.

3) The third reaction comes when the first two aren't working. This is when a person actually says to themselves: perhaps this argument/fact has merit, and if it does, what does that mean then?

I'll give you an example from my own life: when I read more about pornography in Japan and realized I could no longer say that there was a causal relationship between porn consumption and violent crime (you hear this a lot in the church), given that porn is very popular in Japan yet violent crime remains low. I didn't have a "change of heart" about pornography laws, rather I had a change of heart about my own pride after which I decided I would draw conclusions from facts rather than be led by conclusions to whatever facts I could find that supported my conclusion.

Other examples are those leftists courageous enough to admit that they've been on the wrong side of the teachers' union debates. They swallowed their pride first and then looked at the facts again.

And I think this difference in how we react to our own pride is very important. It humbles us about what we really know and what we don't know. And I think pride is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to intellectual honesty the left faces, because unlike, say, American conservatism or Judeo-Christian ethics, which emphasize humility and treating people like equals, left-wing viewpoints tend to sort people into the "enlightened" and....everybody who comes under them. There is a certain smugness you don't see elsewhere. The most patriotic, jingoistic, ex-Marine, GOP-voting Texan doesn't think his pickup truck makes him better than other people the way leftists think their Prius makes them better than other people. Consider this statement (sorry, quotation from a cartoon, which does not IN ANY WAY reflect the actual opinion of Ted Rall, who in fact voted for Bush and come to think of it, doesn't even write a cartoon) from Ted Rall, a very strongly-left-wing political cartoonist:

"Over time, however, the endless war in Iraq began to play a role in natural selection. Only idiots signed up; only idiots died. Back home, the average I.Q. soared."

Or another Rall gem:

"Why shouldn't those of us on the coasts feel superior? We eat better, travel more, dress better, watch cooler movies, earn better salaries, meet more interesting people, listen to better music and know more about what's going on in the world. If you voted for Bush, we accept that we have to share the country with you. We're adjusting to the possibility that there may be more of you than there are of us. But don't demand our respect."

Anybody with a basic knowledge of how geography works shouldn't be surprised that coastal areas (I notice he leaves the Gulf Coast and the Alaskan Coast out of this analysis, both of which are far more cosmopolitan than you might think) have greater varieties of food and people. I realize he's being (partly) tongue-in-cheek here, but he's becoming extremely petty when he starts talking about "cooler movies" and "better music." As for knowing what's going on in the world, most conservatives I talk to want to talk a lot about what's going on in the world, not just at home. He probably means that because liberals are so often well-off, they travel more and thus know more about, say, driving in France or hostels in Indonesia. Polls actually show that conservatives know more about basic economic principles and the workings of the government better than liberals.

Isn't that funny? Liberals, who love the government, know less about how it actually works than do conservatives. Most liberals I talk to are unclear about where the government gets its money, how it is spent, what happens as a result of this or that program, etc. They are more concern on goals and "what ought to be" and see government fiat as a way of making those goals happen.


  1. People who can't read shouldn't play with words. The following statement is untrue:

    "Consider this statement from Ted Rall, a very strongly-left-wing political cartoonist: 'Over time, however, the endless war in Iraq began to play a role in natural selection. Only idiots signed up; only idiots died. Back home, the average I.Q. soared.'"

    You present this as a direct quote. In fact, it is the caption from a (tongue-in-cheek) cartoon. Citing this as a direct quote is intellectually dishonest. It's like quoting a line from a movie and attributing it to the screenwriter as a straightforward opinion.

    For someone who so pompously rails on about logic and facts and intellectual honesty, this is rich.

  2. It was clearly tongue-in-cheek, as I said about your second comment, but your attempt to squirm out of responsibility for such an a statement by saying it was merely part of a cartoon makes your whole cartoon meaningless. I knew it was from a cartoon but didn't find it relevant to point that out. It is common to quote an author's creative work as a direct quotation when it is clear that the quotation in question is really a statement from the author (if you follow me).

    The clear message of your cartoon was that the Iraq War was stupid and was being fought by stupid people (fine, you're entitled to your opinions about the war, but ad hominem attacks are another thing). Now you are trying to make the case that what the clear message of your cartoon was was actually.......something else. And only because you got called out on it.

    You made a blatant ad hominem attack on people who, in spite of my feelings on war, are some of the most selfless and dedicated people on the planet, and you hide behind a cartoon to deflect criticism. Apparently you get to pick and choose which parts of your satirical cartoon have a real message from Ted Rall and which parts are completely made up and have no bearing on your own opinions.

    In the context of all your other statements about the war and the soldiers who fight it in your columns, the statement in the cartoon is hardly unique. I do not feel the slightest bit dishonest about attributing it to you, and the fact that I made a small technical error in attribution does not mean I was being deliberately misleading. I notice you aren't actually defending the cartoon or the other quote from your column, rather going on the offensive.

    And if I am pompous about logic and facts and intellectual honesty, why am I so forthright when giving examples of my own past illogical behavior or intellectual dishonesty? I talk about this quite a bit on this blog. Wouldn't I hide those faults? I was so naive and closed-minded I used to think that only a Christian could be a true patriot. Now I have trouble even defining patriotism adequately. It is not pomposity or a sense of superiority that makes me talk so much about reason and empirical data, it is my own personal experience and my evolution from dogmatic, authoritarian conservative to open-minded libertarian. When I say I'm open-minded, it is not to brag about how enlightened I am but to emphasize how little I know and thus how receptive I am to new information.

    And frankly, I'm stunned that you would take time out of your day to leave a comment on a blog that virtually nobody reads. You either have nothing to do or are systematically scouring the web for references to yourself so you can make corrections.

    Let it be known that I don't hate you personally or bear you any ill will. You obviously have a lot of anger and bitterness which can only mean that you are a deeply unhappy person. Your cartoon has an audience, which means that in the true spirit of free market capitalism you are providing a product that somebody else wants.

  3. GReat post.
    Give a look.