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Thoughts on political discourse and its coarsening

February 11, 2012

It isn’t the disagreement that I mind with my progressive/liberal/socialist friends. I’m fine with that.

What’s offensive is their derogatory and unfair approach when we discuss anything.

As much as my leftist friends disparage conservatives for theocracy, they’re the ones primarily slinging sin on individuals who disagree with their worldview.

They’ve crafted such a pure, intuitive, logical, and reasonable political philosophy that the only way to oppose them lies in denying your faculties. It isn’t that you’re wrong, it’s that you refuse to adhere to reason and be right; in a sense, you’re sinning or mentally defective.

I don’t mean to say that all leftists assume such pomposity or that libertarians somehow persevere against the attractive intellectual echo chamber; it’s simply been in my viewing from leftists the past week.

A democratic socialist friend whom I respect and love discussing ideas with:

Ron Paul is such a scum bag. Why are supposed “leftists” supporting this guy?

Well, probably because, as Glenn Greenwald succinctly puts it in article afterarticle after article after article after article after article, he’s more progressive than Obama or any other Democrats. I don’t constantly post about Ron Paul nor do I desire to do so [Nor, for that matter, do I endorse him]. However, any honest leftist must prefer him by leaps and bounds to any other presidential candidate in the field regardless of political affiliation. When we include pragmatic factors as to what Paul could reasonably accomplish, the support can only grow, as it is precisely the areas of foreign policy and civil liberties where he could enact change and would be limited in affecting large economic changes; it’s a leftist’s dream of eliminating authoritarian power.

However, many don’t care because, while maligning their opponents, they remain the most ideological and most trenchant in their political opinions. Ron Paul lacks a “D” before his name, and therefore, he’s no better than the most trenchant Bad People. It’s disgustingly absurd. Principled leftists can oppose Ron Paul, but to call him a scum bag and not mention the value he brings to the political arena (something Matt Taibbi and Katrina vanden Huevel have done) betrays any sense of intellectual independence.

But to return to my main point. Other comments on that Facebook status:

Comment 1: Libertarians are a complete 360 [sic] from the spectrum. Even in foreign policy, he would allow unregulated trade which would allow companies to basically do whatever they want across the globe. Hes against antitrust. Great lets have some more cut throat monopolies.

Comment 2: His definition “liberty” includes the ability to be racist, sexist, homophobic, which appeals to alot of Americans. Civil rights are of no concern to him because he doesn’t understand systems of privilege. He is the epitome of the “colorblind” or “sexuality blind” discrimination we see so widespread and he feels like he can deal with these issues by saying fewer government interventions will just make them go away. Only deregulation is important to him. Liberty can’t be achieved in the presence of systemic privilege. The dude[‘]s an idiot.

Comment 3: Because they’re morons. They think that because he says everything should be left up to the states that that means he’s on their (leftists’) side. But it just gets down to this simple fact: he’s still just another rich, white male Republican. The same shit we’ve had for over 200 years.

I understand that Facebook rarely serves as a legitimate forum for great discussion, but the comments reveal a complete and utter lack of understanding of Paul’s (and libertarians in general) political beliefs, an unwillingness to address them, and the Marxist tendency to dismiss individuals who disagree because they’re trapped in their bourgeois perspective and cannot break from that (unlike the enlightened Marxists, able to overcome all and see the Truth). If you’re rich, white, male, a non-leftist, racist, sexist, or homophobic, the only necessity to defeat your argument is to label you as such. It brings to mind Orwell’s beautiful essays What is Fascism? and Politics and the English Language. Fascist became (and remains) a swearword used to malign anyone who dared dissent from your beliefs. Similarly, language becomes corrupt for the benefit of the speaker: “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. ” Skepticism should immediately arise whenever we hear “fair,” “greedy,” “liberty,” “freedom,” “equality,” or any other loaded term, as it’s used to garner support for the speaker’s policy solutions, and conveniently, they’re never pressed to define what they mean.

Anyway.

What I’m pontificating about seems to me the bad faith we all enter into when discussing politics. It isn’t new, and it’s definitely more pronounced in college, but now is precisely when we should be most skeptical of it. Never dismiss racists because they’re racists; dismiss them because their ideas are discredited. I’ve repeatedly referred to Gingrich as scum and Santorum in equally unflattering terms, but it’s around libertarian friends who already agree with me; on a personal level, I stand by my labeling of Gingrich as scum, but his solutions for immigration, for instance, I’ll acknowledge as good (and, by the way, much better than Paul’s). However, if I’m discussing politics with someone, I’d shun such a weak and childish remark.

This post is by no means original. Unfortunately, everyone on all sides feign support for such a post, and few follow through. Randolph Bourne did. Thomas Dewey failed. Thoreau did. Orwell admirably and miraculously did. Howard Zinn failed.

I don’t expect the majority of individuals engaged in political discourse (and, especially, voters) to take a more non-ideological stance. However, it’s disheartening to see friends blatantly do so. Opposing Ron Paul because you disagree with his economic ideas and can accurate describe then refute them are what I’d like to see. Namecalling and dismissing with a flick of the wrist a political philosophy that few understand after hearing a few empty phrases cannot be laudable and only serves to engender a political divide based on team X or team Y rather than responsive and thinking individuals.

It’s an atrocious tendency and increases my aversion to discussing politics with an opposing viewpoint because I note that they hold preconceived notions of what I think, believe, and say.

Why should I engage someone who refuses to listen, then attacks my character, not my ideas?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2012 8:13 pm

    Remarkable ideas! I have been searching for everything such as this for a while these days. Thanks! Nike Dunk

  2. February 19, 2012 10:57 am

    Great blog post! Jon Stuart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher and SNL has had an amazing impact on our culture, specifically our generation. They say terrible things about these politicians on a regular basis and we laugh at them, but after a while I think it becomes easier and easier to forget that these are real people. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy good political satire, but the satire aimed towards the millennial generation so often crosses the line. There is little understanding and tolerance for people with differing views, even among libertarians, which definitely came out in the the way the guests were treated on the Stossel taping last night. I would love for you to write response to that.

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