The other day the Washington Post published a piece by a professor of politics at the University of Virginia (Gerard Alexander) called "Why are liberals so condescending?" (we discussed it here). It remains today a few days later one of the most emailed articles on the Post's website, so it's worth looking at it in more detail. To be fair to this juvenile piece, however, would be a labor of many days, so I'd just like to point out a few quick items.
First off, the title has the ring of a complex question: that is two questions, one unfairly assumed to get to the other. What the author ought to establish is whether liberals are more condescending than conservatives (in similar circumstances), or whether liberals are particularly condescending. Once he established this, then he can ask the follow up question: why are they this way to such a degree (as we have established)? His failure to understand this elementary logical notion makes me look down on him.
Second, the author is silly. Not to be an even-hander here, but I think liberals are no less "condescending" than conservatives. I'd suggest, in fact, that such labels and broad generalizations are really meaningless. Turns out, in fact, that such equivocal terms were used to great effect by this author. You see, liberals are one solid group, each one guilty of the sins of the other, while conservatives were always able to avoid group guilt. Here's an example:
This liberal vision emphasizes the dissemination of ideologically driven views from sympathetic media such as the Fox News Channel. For example, Chris Mooney's book "The Republican War on Science" argues that policy debates in the scientific arena are distorted by conservatives who disregard evidence and reflect the biases of industry-backed Republican politicians or of evangelicals aimlessly shielding the world from modernity. In this interpretation, conservative arguments are invariably false and deployed only cynically. Evidence of the costs of cap-and-trade carbon rationing is waved away as corporate propaganda; arguments against health-care reform are written off as hype orchestrated by insurance companies.
Before I comment on what I wanted to comment on, here and throughout the piece the author doesn't bother to counter the claims against "conservatives." Perhaps he takes it as self-evident that what Mooney said (in his well-documented–I didn't say "true"–book) is false. I can think of a couple of Republicans, for instance, whose ignorance of science is concerning. Here's Republican Senator Jim DeMint on the snowstorm this past week in Washington:
It's going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries "uncle"
I find myself looking down on Jim DeMint, an extremely wealthy, powerful, and capable man for the idiotic thing he said. It's obvious that he doesn't know jack about the science behind global warming. This same claim of many other prominent "conservative" and "Republican" leaders and intellectuals.
Back to what I think I was going to comment on (it's now several hours from when I wrote that line above, so I don't really remember what I was going to say)–Alexander's characterization of Mooney's book disregards its content in order to criticize its form. This, I think, is a hopelessly dumb and unproductive way of interacting with people with whom you disagree. Not only does Mooney have an argument, but, judging by the numbskull policies of the last eight years, he might even have a good one. But you can't really tell that, of course, until you actually look at the argument. Alexander maintains, of course, that you don't need to look at the argument, because he knows what it says. That, I think, is just what Mooney was complaining about.
No doubt, as I've said many times before, many liberals condescend to conservatives. Many conservatives condescend to liberals. The narrative, however, is that liberals are intellectual snobs, when conservatives are not. I think that's hardly the case as a matter of fact. It's also almost a matter of logic (I said "almost") that when you say someone's view is wrong, you're bound to appear snobby to them. Especially when that person, such as is the case with Alexander here, doesn't seem to know what makes a view right or what makes it wrong.