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Men vs. Ideas

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Definition of liberal as good personI find great truth in the maxim that righties think they have better ideas while lefties think they are better people. Ideas can be tested by logic and experiment. It can be difficult to judge a person’s character, and even harder to do so on the basis of bumpersticker slogans or blowhard talking points.

Leftism is much about identity and self-reassurance. This image lifted from the intertubes represents a whole class of self-congratulatory stickers, t-shirts, icons and other in-crowd swag.

Liberals are possessed of noble qualities, while conservative is a synonym for mean. And everybody knows Mean People Suck.

In arguments with lefties, if they don’t just get mad and stomp off, they almost invariably shift focus from our points of contention onto my motives for making my argument. For example, if I say welfare payments keep poor people dependent, leftoids end up insisting I’m just a tightwad trying to keep the silver spoon in my own mouth.

This when they have no idea of my circumstances or my experiences. And certainly not my motives. But they’re seemingly programmed to believe I must have a defective character because I don’t see how important it is to be generous with somebody else’s money.

The phenomenon is not limited to the United States. A conservative member of the British Parliament, Daniel Hannan, writes about it in a column on their debates about the Euro as a currency:

I’m beginning to realise that this false inferrence of motive lies at the heart of the Left’s support for the EU. It has always puzzled me that people who think of themselves as progressives in a domestic context line up to support the most backward and anti-democratic project in the Western world.

What’s right is determined by what feeds self-esteem. There are no principles, only a contest between good guys and bad guys.

Why? Well, in his book The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker quotes a number of studies that suggest that the imputation of base motives is a function of biology: we are so designed that, when someone disagrees with us, we automatically assume that he isn’t being honest in his arguments.

Thus they fall back to fallacies. Either straw men, like the current President is fond of with his, “Some say…” rhetoric. Or ad hominems like “Bush is an idiot” and “Cheney is evil”.

This attitude might explain why some Euro-enthusiasts are, literally, beyond argument. However regressive the EU becomes, however undemocratic, however corrupt, they will never criticise it. Because this, for them, isn’t really about Europe. It’s about showing themselves to be better than all those small-minded Blimps with whom they have peopled their imaginations.

Righties, too, commit these fallacies. But because at the root they are actually arguing ideas instead of character, they can be proven wrong. And sometimes, they can even change their minds. Their identities were never in doubt, so the change doesn’t lead to a psychological breakdown.