I admire those who are wrong

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.

4 thoughts on “I admire those who are wrong”

  1. Thanks for the pointer on the link.  I assure you I have read Alexander's piece more than once.  I've also reread mine, but I thank you for the suggestion.

  2. Good.  While I agree with many of the points that Alexander was making, I think the real weakness in his article lies in this paragraph:
    "Of course, plenty of conservatives are hardly above feeling superior. But the closest they come to portraying liberals as systematically mistaken in their worldview is when they try to identify ideological dogmatism in a narrow slice of the left (say, among Ivy League faculty members), in a particular moment (during the health-care debate, for instance) or in specific individuals (such as Obama or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom some conservatives accuse of being stealth ideologues). A few conservative voices may say that all liberals are always wrong, but these tend to be relatively marginal figures or media gadflies such as Glenn Beck."
    While he has been straight forward about pointing out many of the mischaracterizations and dismissals made by the political left, he then gives the right a pass.  He even goes so far as to claim that Glenn Beck is a marginal figure in the political right.  This is special pleading.
    Had he the integrity to hold his own side as accountable for their common mischaracterizations of the political left, and the right's use of their legitimate disagreements with leftist economics to prop up social platforms through a false dichotomy, then this could have the makings of a great article.  As it stands, it commits the crime it supposes to illuminate.
    I hope you won't take this article as a line is the sand for battle lines to be drawn.  I know you and I have had some heated arguments here in the past, but it's the fact that you allow me to still post here, and that I continue to read your work, even if we disagree that shows that we are open to the idea that we have something to learn, that we could be wrong.  So either way Alexander's article doesn't apply.

  3. We seem mostly to agree, although I think the article suffers from a more fundamental failure.  It does not allow that the sources he cites have arguments for their views.  They certainly do.  Regardless of whether these arguments are correct (many of them are, IMO), it is false to suggest that they are guilty of "dismissal" etc.  

    For this reason, he seems to be confusing the conclusion of these arguments (e.g., James Inhofe, Republican senator, is baselessly dismissive of science) with fallacious ad hominem attacks.

    Beyond this, the "snobby liberal" has long been a narrative of the right (wasn't this piece about baseless narratives).

    Finally, by way of BS going the other way–think of "Liberal Fascism,"  "Party of Death," any given day of Limbaugh or Hannity or O'Reilly or Glenn Beck.      

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