January 3, 2014

"Ironically, both the conservative false confidence in consensus and the liberal false confidence in uniqueness have a similar downside: smugness."

"Liberals often talk as if only the backward masses disagree with them, and conservatives often assume that only overeducated weirdos and radicals could object to their agenda...."
Conservatives have become far too insular, too often rejecting the need to persuade those who don’t already agree with them, arguing instead that ever bloodier doses of red meat will grow the coalition. Liberals have become far too content with the myth of their uniqueness and the pretense that they are brave polymath iconoclasts who know what’s best for you better than you do.

31 comments:

campy said...

Lefties get most of their votes from the backward masses.

rhhardin said...

The fiscal conservatives have no trouble trying to persuade.

Goldberg is writing from Kathryn Lopez's National Review, a social conservative and PC magazine.

That's a case of can't persuade. Their position is idiotic.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

In case nobody has noticed,for the left "consensus" has entirely different meanings depending upon whether they support or oppose a position.

If they support it, then something on the order of 55% approval constitutes a consensus. If OTOH they *oppose* it you can guarantee they'll be clamoring "there's no consensus!" even when support for what they oppose is on the order of 80 or 90 percent.

Logic, reason, consistency, rationality et al. ... not required, because, well "We're the *good* people." Therefore whatever we want is (by definition) "good".

Mental midgets is more like it.

campy said...

If OTOH they *oppose* it you can guarantee they'll be clamoring "there's no consensus!" even when support for what they oppose is on the order of 80 or 90 percent.

Of course. Uninformed opinions carry no weight.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Usually I agree with Jonah, but not here. There is too much "both sides do it" in this article.

The equivalency implied in a "both sides do it" construction is often wrong, in the same way it is wrong to state that one has a 50-50 chance of winning next week's PowerBall. After all, you either will, or you won't, win. So, 50-50.

And if one person is passionately insisting that 2 + 2 = 5, while another is passionately insisting that 2 + 2 = 4, they aren't both to be criticized for the "smugness" of their positions.

pm317 said...

Obama is the most divisive president this country has seen.

harrogate said...

His critique has teeth. This absolute certainty of being part of a consensus/majority at all times is a defining characteristic of conservative rhetoric in the US. I would add though, that all-too-often liberals, too, also erect the pretense of speaking for "the American people" even when the populace is clearly split or they are in the demonstrable minority on an issue.

The irony is that for all the fear of doing so, there is absolutely nothing wrong with acknowleding something along the lines of "look, I know I am in the minority on this posisition but I am standing by it and trying to persuade you." Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich both have my admiration in their open-eyed willingness to speak and operate thusly.

Ann Althouse said...

"Lefties get most of their votes from the backward masses."

So do righties.

tim in vermont said...

I don't know. Jonah can be a bit of a dreamer sometimes.

CStanley said...

Usually I agree with Jonah, but not here. There is too much "both sides do it" in this article.

The equivalency implied in a "both sides do it" construction is often wrong, in the same way it is wrong to state that one has a 50-50 chance of winning next week's PowerBall. After all, you either will, or you won't, win. So, 50-50.

And if one person is passionately insisting that 2 + 2 = 5, while another is passionately insisting that 2 + 2 = 4, they aren't both to be criticized for the "smugness" of their positions.

1/3/14, 7:15 AM

Left of center blogs have hordes of commenters who similarly argue "false equivalencies." I disagree with this premise no matter who is raising it- even when I agree that the faults aren't balanced.

Here's why- the "implication" that there is an equivalence is an inference, not implication. The writer/speaker never makes the argument that the two sides are anything close to parity with regard to the stated offense. Readers who infer that, IMO, are either. overly sensitive to criticism of the side with which they identify, or they are purposefully diverting the subject at hand instead of addressing the faults.

And here's why it matters- addressing the underlying concern is the only way to make actual arguments, with integrity. Even if you believe that your own side in a political debate is an order of magnitude better at avoiding certain faults, why would you not want to improve even further? Clearly, as convinced you are of the rightness and righteousness of your positions, there are other people who don't see it. Why would you not want to hone your side's ability to reach anyone who is potentially reachable?

harrogate said...

"If OTOH they *oppose* it you can guarantee they'll be clamoring 'there's no consensus!' even when support for what they oppose is on the order of 80 or 90 percent."

I realize you may be intentionally exaggerating with your example, but it is worth noting that anywhere near such a broad consensus is a rarity indeed when it comes to the political issues we actually argue over. The truth is there is not much consensus at all, on most of the hotbutton issues.

Which is why I find this to be the money quote from Goldberg's column:

"But I also understand -- or at least try to -- that there are millions of Americans who see these people as leaders who speak for them and address their needs."

Trying to understand this would be a good political resolution indeed, for us all.

MayBee said...

CStanley-
And here's why it matters- addressing the underlying concern is the only way to make actual arguments, with integrity. Even if you believe that your own side in a political debate is an order of magnitude better at avoiding certain faults, why would you not want to improve even further? Clearly, as convinced you are of the rightness and righteousness of your positions, there are other people who don't see it. Why would you not want to hone your side's ability to reach anyone who is potentially reachable?.

Good point.

I've been thinking this week, as I've watched all the wonderful football games- what if the coaches treated these games as people treat politics? What if, instead of actually studying the other team's strengths, they just pretended they didn't' have any?

"Auburn? Oh we don't believe they have a running game. We have decided rather than watch game film, we are going to tell them how wrong they are to think they can run. Besides. War Eagles *and* Tigers?"

They'd lose most games. Shouting down and denying truth simply cannot work when reality hits. You've got to understand the other side's strengths if you really want to win.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

Too simplistic and generalized to mean much of anything, Goldberg misses many marks here.

For instance, many conservatives feel Democrats are evil killers, not mere radicals or someone over educated.

Many conservatives feel Democrats are stupid sheeple voting out of tradition or greed, not what Goldberg claims.

The silly youngster voters who vote for Democrats so "rape doesn't become legal" or so they can save the world from CO2 or for "free" birth control don't agree with conservatives because they are mentally clouded, lacking in the desire to find solutions (or even explain a problem realistically) but instead desiring to feel a certain way for a fleeting moment.

Newt was smug in the debates, which I liked. His challenging the even more smug lib Democrat operatives doing the questioning was NOT Newt's, or conservatives for that matter, problem.

I wonder if Goldberg feels the leftist pricks in Palestine and Israelis have the same issues as here in America? Everybody just too damn smug. Little less smugness and, by God, Middle East peace for everyone!

Skyler said...

This is the natural result of too much power in central government causing every issue to be fought to the nth degree. To win anything, you must win everything. To lose anything is to lose all.

The only solution is to severely decrease the power of the central government.

Marshal said...

The term consensus is wrong for Goldberg's usage. The rest of the article makes the point conservatives believe their opinions are more popular than they are, not necessarily that they represent a strong majority.

This is a failing of all political groups, it's certainly not a "defining characteristic" of conservatives. In fact if there's one group particularly guilty of this error it's libertarians and their cheerleaders who claim social conservatism holds back conservative politics.

Bob R said...

Jonah is not arguing equivalence. His point is about two different "myths." The fact that the two myths can yield the same minor byproduct (smugness) is interesting, but it's a side issue. The title is "myths to ditch," not "stop being smug."

Contra rhhardin, my guess is that Jonah is not thinking about all social cons (at least not those like K-Lo for whom abortion is a central issue) in his generalization about "conservatives." Abortion foes know the poll numbers - they are in the minority. But at least in the case of writers like Lopez and Ponnuru, they are motivated by religious conviction. In this case the byproduct is a type of self-righteousness distinct from smugness.

harrogate said...

"Newt was smug in the debates, which I liked."

That you "liked" it doesn't mean it was effective.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Conservatives have become far too insular, too often rejecting the need to persuade those who don’t already agree with them...

Unlike the leftists, the conservatives don't own the ceaseless megaphones of the news media, the academy, Hollywood and the arts world. It's true that conservatives are largely inarticulate when it comes to making arguments persuasive to so-called 'independents', but they're also bucking hurricane-force blasts of glib leftist party-line pejoratives 24/7 from all those megaphones.

'You Didn't Build That' and 'Inequality' and 'Tax Cuts For The Rich' and 'War On Women' are mendacious and crude, but they're also more effective than paragraphs of Federalist-phrased arguments these days.

betamax3000 said...

If 90% of the People are Lazy and Stupid the Average of the Whole is Pretty Depressing. That's Math.

Pettifogger said...

Campy said: "Of course. Uninformed opinions carry no weight."

Were that so, the electorate would be considerably smaller.

CWJ said...

harrogate has grown into a definite asset to the Althouse commentariate. I can't believe that at one time I suspected him/her and freder to be the same person.

I comment only because the left of center contributors understandably don't receive the same amount of encouragement as most other Althouse commenters.

Michael K said...

"Unlike the leftists, the conservatives don't own the ceaseless megaphones of the news media, the academy, Hollywood and the arts world."

I agree with this and also recognize that about 50% of the electorate does not pay attention to issues and is far more interested in TV and celebrity gossip. That is what makes the left's dominance of such media so powerful. I still think of the caller to Hugh Hewitt's program a few years ago who said she was an Independent and voted "for the candidate and not the party."

He asked her if she would answer a couple of questions and she agreed. He asked her who the vice-president was and she didn't know.

There is our electorate.

Michael said...

Michael K. I agree, but would add that the celebrity focused media, the View's kind of media, constantly makes the point that liberals are smart. They do this in a myriad of ways but they do it so that the least political housewife, the poorly educated viewer, takes on the politics without being aware.

John Lynch said...

I stopped watching TV news and I read very little political news. It's all garbage. The purpose of political news media is to prevent thought.

Whatever happens out in reality, it's fed to talking heads who process it and spit out something that confirms what their audience already believes. Many people get paid piles of money for this service. The word "spin" doesn't begin to describe what is happening. It's not taking the news and looking at it from a different angle. It's producing news that feeds the cognitive bias of the audience.

This is how the audience can keep believing crap that isn't true. Otherwise they'd have to think for themselves, and that's hard.

I don't blame the media very much anymore. They're providing a service and getting pad for it. The fault lies with the consumer, and the voter.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Harro: "I realize you may be intentionally exaggerating with your example, but it is worth noting that anywhere near such a broad consensus is a rarity indeed when it comes to the political issues we actually argue over. The truth is there is not much consensus at all, on most of the hotbutton issues."

78% of Americans support legal restrictions on abortion (Gallup), of which about 10% support an outright ban. That's a solid consensus on a very hot-button issue. Opposition to gun control is at roughly the same levels.

You find the phenomenon a lot more at the state level than at the national because of the polarization amongst states. And not just with abortion or guns.

By the time you get into NGO dynamics the phenomenon is rampant.

SJ said...

@BertHall, @Campy, @harrogate,

If they support it, then something on the order of 55% approval constitutes a consensus. If OTOH they *oppose* it you can guarantee they'll be clamoring "there's no consensus!" even when support for what they oppose is on the order of 80 or 90 percent.

Do charter schools fit that description?

I would suspect that charter schools are popular on that level, even in the Democrat-dominated politics of Detroit, Michigan (and the surrounding Wayne County).

Actually implementing enough charter schools to give most residents of the Detroit Metro Area that option would be an incredible logistical challenge. Challenging, but not impossible.

But the Democrat Party politicians ignore the issue or actively campaign that charter schools destroy the Public Schools. (In the case of Detroit Public Schools, most people admit that the system is nearly-destroyed already. But this knowledge seems to not affect the claim that charter schools would destroy the system...)

There aren't many other issues with such polarization between the general public and the "consensus" inside the halls of power.

SJ said...

@Bert, RE: gun control

There have been a few polls which had 75% or more people saying that background check laws for guns should be expanded.

Then people learn the ugly details. Every gun sale from a business, even sales by the business at a gun show, already involve a NICS check.

Most of the concern is around transactions between gun-owners who don't make their living by running a gun store.

Making tougher background-check laws usually means that a person could break the law by loaning a rifle to a friend at a gun range, or at hunting camp. (See here, especially point number 6 underneath the video.)

So we should be careful with our examples of this kind of thing.

FleetUSA said...

My grandchildren (boy 11 and girl 7) are, on their own accord, working on a dispute resolution process which doesn't involve name calling or shouting. It'll be interesting to see how it matures.

They both generally seem right of center of course.

Paco Wové said...

"Obama is the most divisive president this country has seen."

He's just a symptom. The divisions are in the country.

Ron said...

Althouse doesn't remember the Monkees Goin' Down? For Shame!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDCtBBb0Cx4

jimspice said...

Absolutely backwards. The modern GOP believes in nothing more than the uniqueness of each "rugged individual," and the mathematically impossible belief than anyone can make it, and the need to protect the "makers" will someday benefit that individual. Liberals, on the other hand, recognize their utter commonness, and long for the ability for the whole to support the parts. It's "it takes a village" vs. "I got mine, you're on your own."