Friday, July 13, 2012

The Liberal War Against Free Expression

You don’t have to be a conservative to know that liberal Democrats have declared war on free expression. Many of them have so little faith in the marketplace of ideas that they refuse to debate or even discuss opposing points of views.

Theirs is not a world where there are right and wrong ideas. Theirs is an echo chamber where you shut down opposing points of view, if not by force, then by ignoring them and willing them and their proponents into non-existence.

Liberal philosopher-king and leftist guru George Lakoff advises liberal Democrats on the best way to conduct political debate:

Use your own language, never use your opponent’s language.

Be aware of what you believe the repeat it out loud over and over; never repeat ideas that you don’t believe in, even if you are arguing against them.

The statement comes to us from Lakoff and Elizabeth Wehling’s book: The Little Blue Book: The EssentialGuide to Thinking and Talking Democratic.

Before examining its usefulness as a tool of political persuasion, examine this advice in a two different contexts. The exercise will allow us to gain a full appreciation about how bad Lakoff’s advice really is.

Imagine that you are managing a company. You are preparing a new campaign to sell your signature widgets. Having developed a few ideas you present them in a sales meeting. Several of your salespeople offer some different ideas of their own.

Should you acknowledge them, repeat them and try to incorporate them into your campaign or should you ignore them, pretend that they were never spoken and repeat your original idea over and over again?

If you are managing a business and have to answer to the marketplace, Lakoff’s idea will render you and your company completely dysfunctional. It will demoralize the sales force and produce, at best, a group of automatons who happily echo their master’s words.

Or else, try Lakoff tactic in a conversation with a friend. Let’s say that you are discussing current events. Your friend offers an idea with which you disagree.

Lakoff would advise you to ignore it, to act as though he had not spoken, and just keep repeating your own idea over and over again.

If your purpose is to force your friend to agree with you, acting like a broken record is, Lakoff implies, more effective than engaging in a real conversation.

Lakoff is teaching behavior that is disrespectful, discourteous, and uncivil. No real friendship could ever survive such a frontal assault.

If you employ Lakoff’s tactic in your everyday conversation you end up associating only with people who echo your own thoughts.

You will, in other words, end up belonging to a virtual cult of malignant narcissists who live in an echo chamber.

If Lakoff suggests that his ideas only apply to political campaigns, he is simply being deceptive.

Anyone who masters the skill of ignoring certain ideas will never be able to limit his practice only to his appearances on Sunday talk shows.

In an extended commentary on Lakoff, anonymous blogger Zombie suggests that Lakoff’s tactic is a guaranteed loser.

Zombie wrote:

Thus, he [Lakoff] is the progenitor of and primary advocate for the main reason why liberalism fails to win the public debate: Because it never directly confronts, disproves or negates conservative notions — it simply ignores them.

And this, also from Zombie:

By intentionally refusing to challenge, disprove, understand or even acknowledge the existence of the other side’s argument, you allow that argument to grow in strength and win converts.

In the real world, in a world where free trade in ideas exists, where open and vigorous debate defines political life, he is surely correct.

But, Zombie seems to be looking at the long term. In the short term such mind control can do a lot of damage.

Human conversations succeed when the two interlocutors can find common ground. If you have a difference of opinion your first task is to repeat, respectfully your friend's point of view.

If you refuse to do so, you are not working to find a negotiated compromise. You are engaging in psychological warfare. 

If you follow Lakoff’s advice your friendships will surely suffer, as will you.

Of course, one assumes that Lakoff tested out his tactic on smaller audiences and found it to be effective.

Let’s imagine an alternative universe where this tactic produces the desired effect: call it the University of California at Berkeley, George Lakoff’s home base. Or else, call it the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

In these places nearly everyone thinks the same thoughts, feels the same feelings, reads the same presentation of the facts.

It isn’t a marketplace, it’s a functioning monopoly.

The same applies in many segments of the world of education. Exception given for courses in math and science, American universities and high schools often present one set of ideas as gospel truth, ignoring all different points of view. How many schools teach that there are different views of climate change?

But, teachers do not have to find a fancy conceptual framing to make their ideas seem palatable. They impose their ideas by using the implicit threat of withholding good grades.

Academic institutions use the power to grade, the power to hire or fire, and the power to grant or refuse tenure to coerce assent.

Obviously, Lakoff’s tactic involves coerced asset; it has everything in common with propaganda and nothing in common with deliberative debate in a democracy.

Lakoff is trying to turn America into Berkeley, by trying to force free American citizens to think as he wants them to think. His so-called political tactic is a form of stealth brainwashing.

Surely, the maniacal fury directed against Fox News is part of this strategy. High on the Lakoff wish list must be: shut down and silence the opposition and allow only the correct opinion to be heard. Such thinking bespeaks what James Taranto calls “a totalitarian mindset.”

If it cannot control the media, the left often denounces its opponents for using hate speech. Those who disagree with the major dogmas of political correctness will be called bigots who must be ignored… in the name of democratic deliberation. If you do not accept the dogma about climate change you are a Nazi. 

Thus, leftists are often working hard to demonize their opponents, to render them subhuman, unworthy of anything resembling respect.

The notion of a “loyal opposition” is alien to Lakoff and his followers.

From a larger perspective, you can only produce the kind of group think that pervades the academy and the Upper West Side if you can threaten deviants with a very strict sanction.

When someone ignores your idea, refuses to engage it, refuses to debate it, he is telling you that if you refuse to echo his principle, you will be shunned as pariah and dismissed from the community.

If your membership in community depends entirely on your ability to hew to the party line, you must do everything in your power not just to say the right things but to think the right things and only the right things, so help you God.

To implement Lakoff’s tactic effectively and to protect yourself from stray heretical remarks, you will need to cleanse your mind of offending thoughts.

Taranto makes the salient point:

This is an important insight, not only into the way the left debates and otherwise communicates, but into the way the left thinks--or fails to think. The book's subtitle, after all, promises an instruction in "Thinking and Talking Democratic." Lakoff and Wehling command their readers not only to act as if opposing arguments are without merit, but to close their minds to those arguments. What comes across to conservatives as a maddening arrogance is actually willed ignorance.

How much is Lakoff’s thinking a deviation from American values? Consider the famous lines by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes:

But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas —that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.

If the free trade in ideas, the competition of the marketplace, is needed to discover the truth, then clearly Lakoff and his minions are working on the best way to peddle lies.


Dennis said...

Lackoff thinking defines the Left any way.

Jewel said...

What fools. They lock themselves into a thought prison and throw away the key that would free them.

Mocking them while they repeat, "I can't hear you, I can't hear you!" over and over only goes so far.

The sad thing is, so many others are in the dank cell with them, shouting in unison "Mic check."