Monday, February 16, 2009

Dismissing Your Unworthy Opponents

One of the things that amazes me is how folks like Ann Althouse, for whom I have great respect, can get along just peachy with folks like Matthew Yglesias, for whom I admire only for his perfunctory ability to put words to a page. Beyond that, this is the kind of guy Snooper would identify as loving "nothing better than to slaughter the Eagle." Perhaps it's that people of Althouse's professional profile - being in her case an occasional columnist at the New York Times, etc., and who appears regularly on (with these same said people) - might prefer ideational amity rather than ideological enmity.

As for me, I guess I don't do that kind of nuance. If ideas have consequences, I tend to bristle at how some folks put over radical boilerplate as "good policy" or "sophisticated analysis." Perhaps that kind of style deprives antagonists of cul-de-sacs of comfort, which is something
Daniel Larison raises in his takedown of Nate Silver's argument today regarding progressives:

For someone inclined to accuse others of dishonesty, Silver is being fairly deceptive in his labeling from the beginning. Naturally, he is going to set up his own position as the rational one and the one he is attacking as implicitly irrational. That isn’t the main point here, but it is typical of the technocratic, anti-populist side in any debate to frame disagreements with their critics as a battle between reason and passion. You can find this with David Brooks’ description of anti-TARP Congressmen as “nihilists” (even though their skepticism and advocacy for alternatives were entirely warranted and correct) or any of the usual pro-war and pro-immigration advocates that seek to impute malicious intent or hatred to their opponents. This is a method used for dismissing, rather than engaging, and for treating opposing arguments as inherently unworthy of attention or serious consideration. Technocratic types prefer practicing this politics of contempt, because it automatically rules out serious objections to certain policies as automatically invalid and invests them or people like them with a certain unchallengeable authority. They tend to make respect for expertise into a debilitating inability to question experts’ assumptions and biases.
Dismissing rather than engaging, ahh, like E.D. Kain, for example, who ridicules George Will's perfectly good argument against global warming hysteria with a kind of stuffy intellectualism:

Essentially, global warming has become just another talking point in a long and growing list of talking points that the conservative movement uses to keep apostates out of their fold (shrinking that big tent) and to berate liberals with, rather than viewing warming as both a real cause for worry, and as an opportunity to demonstrate honest governance. Apparently obstructionism and denial are better tactics.
It seems to me in this case E.D. would be the "technocratic type" who is "practicing a politics of contempt" against more populist folks (or those who identify with populists) like George Will, Scott Johnson, and Michelle Malkin. It gets pretty confusing, or simply, those who accuse others of claiming unchallengeable authority cloak themselves in a sort of, well, unchallengeable authority, and then not too much debate gets accomplished.

Note how
Larison dismisses those like Silver, who argues for pragmatic reason over radical ideological passion, as of the same kind of intellectuals who advocate "for starting wars and expanding the role of the security state" and "for policies that are illegal and result in detaining, harming or killing other people."

And that's really it. It's all dismissal of opponents here in the end, while folks like Larison and E.D. Kain pretend to have real "internal" debates with people just like themselves, who while adopting various political labels indicating different ideological persuasions nevertheless express opinions the differ little on substantive merit. Antiwar leftists like those at
Open Left obviously have much more in common with paleconservatives at AmCon than they would at Weekly Standard. In the same vein, "liberaltarians" are pretty much the same as Oakshottian postmodern conservatives, particularly in advocating anything-but conservative policies such as same-sex marriage absolutism. Basically, you get a lot of guys under different monikers who get along just peachy, making no need to carve out spacy cul-de-sacs of disagreement, since the point isn't really to debate, but to mislabel and repackage policies that have already been repudiated by traditionalists in the great silent cultural majority.

Maybe nuance is better than pummeling pushback, although I'd rather end up bloodied and unbowed than patted on the bottom by some soft-and-squishy policy mentors after a good day at the faux-debate playground.


Law and Order Teacher said...

I love it. "cul-de-sacs of comfort." Much more poetic than the pedestrian "operating/talking/arguing/in an echo chamber."

I hereby request permission to steal it someday.

AmPowerBlog said...

You have permission, LOT!

cracker said...

You Said it!....Professor

The battle of Debate tires most....because it is unending, rarely fulfilling and usually leads to more questions than answers....

In the end what you have is those very few without a life....but a love, and skill of the art, seeking interaction.....and individually pointing out which sections of the sky is falling over which N'er do-wells heads.....castrophe always hanging in the balance.

.... the tired... now more agreeable, (but once fierce foes)sitting at the bar, toasting outdated quotes, cheering skillful perry's, and bemoaning mis-spoken or mis-timed coups that ended in discredation.

For the is "the Blog" that proves that God still loves (or merely tolerates) us.....

Mark Newgent said...

Prof. Douglas, long time no talk. Mark Newgent here formerly of The Main Adversary. You mention ED Kain and George Will. I have a piece about all the left blogosphere gloating over their supposed take down of Will.

Thought you might find that interesting.


Mark Newgent

Anonymous said...

A "special" picture well worth spreading around.


Anonymous said...

And of course neoconservatives never stoop so low as to dismiss opponents. They would never cry "traitor" at every "unpatriotic" and "treasonous" critic of their grand schemes.

Joe Carter said...

"liberaltarians" are pretty much the same as Oakshottian postmodern conservatives, particularly in advocating anything-but conservative policies such as same-sex marriage absolutism.

While you made some great points throughout the post, you have it exactly backwards in this comparison.

First, the postmodern conservatives (at least the ones on the blog you link to) are not Oakshottian at all. (They are more Kirkian.) The "postmodern" is a bit of misnomer since they are really "pre-modern" in many ways.

Second, liberaltarians and pomocons are on opposite ends of the spectrum. For instance, none of the people on that blog support same-sex marriage. They are almost all religiously informed (or religiously friendly) conservatives, unlike liberaltarians like Will Wilkinson.