Thursday, July 29, 2004

Why I Don't Listen To Liberal Arguments

I really admire those bloggers who go every day to websites of every political stripe and gather material to fisk, because I could never bring myself to do it. I have a very sensitive B.S. detector, and I have too many good things to be doing with my life to waste time ignoring its pinging. When I was an undergrad, I could actually sit through an entire class of politically correct nonsense. Today, if I were to attend the same class I'd stand down the prof in front of the whole class on the first day, and if it weren't a required class I wouldn't come back for the second. I just have no tolerance for nonsense any more.

Accepting liberal arguments was a phase I went through when I was young and untrained in logic and my perception of life was grounded in insufficient experience. So I tend to see liberal arguments as immature, ivory-tower, or based on false premises, because they parallel my thinking when I was immature, stuck in an ivory tower, and unable to tell a false premise from a true one. I discovered that when people would make these sorts of arguments, they were usually motivated by some factor other than the logical compellingness of the arguments. People (including myself) find themselves supporting political parties because of what the party will do for them, because of role models in their pasts, because cute persons to whom they are attracted belong to the party, and for a million other sociological and psychological reasons.

At the end of my liberal phase, I tried to take a "moderate" stance and listen to everyone's arguments equally and find the good in all. But the harder I tried to do that, the more I realized that there are just not that many good arguments out there-- and the few I could find were all on the conservative side. There's lots and lots of great-sounding rhetoric that appeals to emotions (who's never felt like there are two Americas and you're in the other one?) but when you compared rhetoric with facts, it often didn't fit. At some point, though, I was able to quit trying to open my mind and just say, "That's a load of crap and you know it-- none of the data bear out your conclusion, and besides your argument falls to reductio ad absurdum." And after a while I realized that I had better things to do than waste my time hearing arguments that had a 90% or greater probability of not making any sense-- in other words, most liberal arguments. And plenty of conservative ones too-- I don't, for example, read Ann Coulter or very much Phyllis Schlafly. I will occasionally listen to Rush Limbaugh, but only because he reminds me of my grandfather, who is estranged from the family. I like Sean Hannity, but he can get annoying sometimes.

One thing I've noticed about some liberal arguments is that they try to argue from no premises whatsoever, making no assumptions, etc. Well, you know what they say, if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. I can listen to principled liberal arguments, but there are so few of those as to make the expression nearly an oxymoron. Some arguments apply perfect logic to false premises. If I hadn't taken that class in logical proof as part of my math major, I would never have known that a false premise makes an implication technically true, but unusable as proof. It shouldn't surprise me that the vast majority of people have not had the benefit of training in formal logic, since it didn't take me long to notice that most people weren't majoring in math either.

Nowadays when I hear liberal arguments, I just smile and nod. I don't want to be impolite, and I understand that everyone develops differently. Some people just haven't yet had time to think things through or go digging past the liberally-biased media, and I understand that, because life is just so full of busy things to do. We don't all have time to read blogs, develop a coherent political philosophy, study economics, etc. before going to the voting booth. I happened to think that was important, but other people think it's more important to shave your legs before going to the voting booth. I think we can agree to disagree on that. As it turns out, neither education nor freshly shaven legs is a Constitutional requirement for voting rights.

If I end up having to engage in political conversation with someone putting forth liberal arguments, I try to find some common ground and then change the subject. For example, last Sunday at church I was sitting with a lady whose husband was in Iraq (although he's currently deployed stateside), and another lady came by to chat and started going on about how "we went to war under false pretenses" and we should "bring the troops home". I pointed out that we surely all are in agreement that all other things being equal, we would prefer to have the troops home and never go to war. Since she would never have believed me that all other things are not being equal at the moment, I didn't waste my time trying to point it out to her. We were at church after all, not at a meeting of the debating society. She is a wonderful lady, she just for some reason has these head-in-the-sand political views, but she clearly intended to express some sympathy for my friend whose husband was deployed. Oh well, nobody's perfect.