Monday, February 23, 2009

How To Cure a Leftist

Much to my chagrin, many Americans have become so besotted with pragmatism that the ability to decipher between freedom and socialism has been dulled by an ignorance of principles that would otherwise expose the ugly brutishness that is the logical end of even quaint collectivisms. Of course, there is no cure for an ardent leftist, or an ardent adherent to almost any ideology, much as a Red Sox fan who has tattooed “Yankees Suck” to his chest is beyond repair. The hope lies in inoculating those in the muddled middle whose personal philosophies are a grab bag of cliché’s and just-so’s.

In my attempts to persuade, I have come to realize is that if you present a principle or axiom with which someone cannot break down they will likely adopt it. Mind you, not everyone immediately cleaves from logical contradictions flowing from other assumptions they hold, but it allows a partial conversion. An added convenience is that my experience has been that people are usually open to a conversation about principles in the abstract. Instead of debating with them the most recent political headline, burrowing down to the underlying principles can avoid some hostility due to party allegiances and other sentiments attached to politics.

Another angle is to cast doubt on their assumptions. I have started to listen more intently during discussions to see if they state some imperative or “it is just so” comments. Questioning these comments can be more fruitful towards changing minds.

Don’t be confused that these are easy targets. First, you have to know what these assumptions are to hear them spoken in conversation. Secondly, you have to know how to deconstruct these arguments. And finally, be aware that people can be as passionate about certain principles as they are about politics.

Over the coming weeks I plan to detail some conversations that I have with people who will remain anonymous, but should help shed some light on what I perceive is going on in their heads when they say what they say.

Note – As you read my posts you will eventually notice that I almost never use the term “liberal” when referring to those on the Left. There is little that is liberal about the Left, and I will not confer such an exaggeration to them.


Anonymous said...

Tilting against imaginary windmills. Constructing strawmen arguments and tearing them down. Lions tigers and leftists oh my. Tis a presumptuous presumption, my friend, when you take it upon yourself to present both sides of a debate. Especially when you are not a mind reader and when there is no such thing as "both sides" of an issue -- most issues have dozens of sides. Battles against strawmen are smug exercises in self-indulgence. Logic? Non. En passant, monsieur, en passant. Productive: no. Original: no. Interesting: no. Substantive: no. Useful: no. Welcome to the talk-radio generation. Online blogs emulating the limbaughsphere: "My logic is good, their logic is bad, and that my friends is all you need to know." Logic? "I say it is true. Therefore it is true." Dichotomy paradigms (left/right, liberal/conservative, environmentalist/anti-environmentalist, pro-gun/anti-gun, pro-life/pro-choice, etc) bear negligible resemblance to reality. The thought processes and judgemental valuations of human beings are immeasurably more complex than that. Tell us, what is a "leftist" ? I'd really like to know. And what do these "leftists" believe? How does one become a "leftist"? Is there a membership fee?

Brian Shelley said...

What is a leftist?

First, I agree that there is a not a pure dichotomy on Left vs. Right, but legislation is boolean. You either vote for or against it. However, a discriptive word has to be used. Generally, "leftists" in the U.S. are Statists, but that's a word that doesn't resonate with the average population. Socialist is often appropriate as well, but this conjures a more violent connotation than I prefer to use.
So, "leftist" it is.

A leftist is someone not merely with romantic sentiments that rub against economic liberty, but someone who admittedly wants to use the power of the state to force society to conform to their personal values. If they want to heed Nietzche's will to power, then it is my prerogative to deny them this power.

Their logic is fine, it's their assumptions I disagree with. When the logical ends of their assumptions require me to conform to rules that I do not value, I resist.

Anonymous said...

A ________ is someone not merely with romantic sentiments that rub against economic liberty, but someone who admittedly wants to use the power of the state to force society to conform to their personal values.

Words have meaning. Some words do, anyway. So let's use the more precise word: "statist". To help me better understand your point of reference, could you perhaps provide some examples of prominent American politicians, economists, financiers, or business leaders who are statists?

For example, does your view classify Paul Krugman as a statist? President Obama? President Reagan? Milton Friedman? Paul Volker? Greg Mankiw? President Bill Clinton? President George W. Bush? Hank Paulson? Tim Geithner? Ben Bernanke? Tom Delay? Nancy Pelosi?

How would you classify yourself? As an anti-statist? Or as a limited statist (i.e., a proponent of a mixed economy, sometimes referred to as a third way)? Or as ?

Brian Shelley said...

For the most part, I am an anti-statist, but there are some state functions that I have difficulty seeing a non-government solution.

All of the people you mentioned practiced statism to varying degrees, but I would definitely classify Barack Obama as a statist, as well as Krugman and Pelosi. Bill Clinton, though, I would not. He's not anti-statist, but his actions at least suggested that he believed in a modest, although still active government.

Everything that comes out of Barack Obama's mouth implies to me that he wants a very large central government that holds significant sway in most every part of the economy.

Hank Paulson, on the other hand, I think is a corporatist. A special kind of statist. He believes in markets, but he arrogantly believed that if his circle of "elite" corporations were to fail then the rest of us slobs wouldn't be able to take up the slack.

As for foreign policy (Reagan and W) I'm not an expert. My gut tells me to have a much smaller international footprint, but I am not a pacifist.

Anonymous said...

Just an observation: Every President since Coolidge has been a strong statist to a large degree. Statism became the nature of the job, and men with big ambition and ego are drawn to it. They don't seek the job because they want to warm a chair and give speeches. Prior to Silent Cal, Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt were powerful statists, too. They've used executive power and government agencies as a tool the same way a carpenter uses a pencil, T-square, saw, and hammer. TR is probably the man who changed the Presidency forever into an office for statism.

I myself am a proponent of the mixed economy model. Statism has a seat at the table. Laissez faire economics also has a seat the table. Others with seats at the table are liberals, conservatives, libertarians, environmentalists, loggers, corporations, small business, etc. We all want clean air and clean water, but we all need lumber. Pragmatism is an idealogy too, y'know.

Brian Shelley said...

Let me clarify what you are saying. Are you a pragmatist, in the idea that you listen to all sides and try to come up with a compromise that covers as many concerns as possible. Or, are you a philosophical pragmatist, like John Dewey.