Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Liberal Intolerance

At first glance liberal intolerance feels like a contradiction in terms. Isn't liberalism the soul of tolerance, even to the point of worshiping diversity?

Yes and no. Today's liberals are happy to extend the helping hand of tolerance to anyone who belongs to a disadvantaged minority or who can claim to be a victim of the system. This does not mean that they want to help the poor. More often they seem to be looking for sad stories that make for good propaganda, the better to further their cause.

No one should be surprised at Dr. Helen Smith's column on how many liberals lack empathy for those who disagree with their ideas and feel that they have the right to treat them disrespectfully. Link here.

Liberalism is not about people; it is about loving ideas more than people. When liberal policies fail, good liberals do not go back to the drawing board. They see themselves challenged to produce a logical contortion that explains why they are not at fault.

When it comes to dealing with those who take exception to liberal orthodoxy, many of today's liberals are intolerant to an extreme. If liberalism began in the nineteenth century by asserting the value of freedom, today's true liberals are really libertarians. Old style liberals believed in free markets, free trade, free speech, and the free and open exchange of ideas. Many of today's liberals believe in none of it.

Why are liberals so disrespectful of opposing viewpoints? I will leave it to forensic psychologists like Dr. Helen to determine whether or not their behavior rises to the level of psychopathy. For my part I am comfortable saying that it is a character flaw, a piece of dysfunctional behavior that has become a bad habit for far too many people.

If good adult behavior in society involves learning how to negotiate differences, the inability to respect opposing points of view, to the point of slandering and shunning those that hold them, is anything but good behavior. Anyone who acts that way in business or in a relationship will soon discover that refusing to respect the feelings and thoughts of others will quickly lead to major system failure.

I will stipulate that no one is saying that all liberals are intolerant louts. Yet, far too many are, and if you are a Republican or a libertarian living among liberal Democrats you have undoubtedly been visited with the a full dose of liberal contempt.

You might be attending a New York dinner party. Good food and good conversation all around. Until the moment when one of the guests manages to blurt out that she is pro-life. A palpable hush descends on the table. No one had ever suspected such a thing. Everyone had thought that she belonged, that she was one of them, that she was one of the crowd. Now, without saying a word they are all thinking that she is a misogynist or a fanatic, or both, and that she really does not belong in polite company.

No one engages her in conversation. No one asks her to explain how she came to her belief. She has just sworn heretical allegiance to an alien god. For her deviation she will be slandered and shunned.

If you favor Obama's health plan, you have recently been told, by Frank Rich in the New York Times, that anyone who disagrees with you is a racist. If you follow Rich's suggestion-- believe me, I feel sorry for you if you do-- you will slander and shun any of your friends whose opposition to Obamacare has just revealed their true racist feelings.

Among the other forms of liberal slander, we find the notion that people who doubt the validity of man-made global warming are equivalent to holocaust deniers. We all know the right way to treat holocaust deniers.

If someone in your presence admits to having voted for George Bush, you should only stick around long enough to call him a war criminal. If he protests and offers to engage a conversation, you must either shout him down or immediately vacate the premises.

As Dr. Helen says, once you have been stigmatized with one of these labels, there will be no fellow feeling, no wish to understand your position, no suggestion that you might have a valid argument or two. You will be treated as a pariah, as subhuman, and you will be shunned.

It is a nasty business, one that is, as Dr. Helen explains, very, very difficult to deal with, and one that has absolutely nothing to do with the marketplace of ideas. Nor does it have anything to do with persuasion, deliberation, discussion, or debate.

It's purpose is not to clarify issues or to arrive at a truth that all can acknowledge. When people threaten you with slander and ostracism they are trying to enforce ideological conformity. Nothing more or less.

This habit of slander and shun comes to us from the great totalitarian socialist governments and their practice of thought reform, also known as brainwashing.

But brainwashing involves more than slander and shun. It is most effective when it holds out a carrot of redemption, a pot of emotional gold, for those who renounce their deviant beliefs and adhere to the liberal orthodoxy. And they must also renounce their non-liberal friends and colleagues and family members.

If you have been cast out of polite society or slandered by the media for being a red necked cretin, there are two things that can transform you into a brilliant statesman, a man of discerning judgment and exception insight. You need first to announce that you have changed your mind and have seen the error of your ways. To make your conversion convincing you must also denounce those who were your former comrades. Not once, not twice, but systematically.

What does it look like in practice. Examine the case of John McCain. Didn't John McCain become a media darling, a favorite on the Sunday talk shows, by denouncing Republicans, and especially by reveling in every opportunity to stick a finger in the eye of the Bush administration.

Many would say that John McCain was simply evincing good character and independent judgment. The problem is that when your actions place you in opposition to those in power, you are going to have a problem adjusting to being the one in power. Conscience is well and good, but consistent opposition turns quickly into disloyalty, and that is none too attractive in a presidential candidate. Besides if you made yourself into someone who your leader could barely trust, how can you, become a leader, trust those who are supposed to be your followers.

But perhaps I am being too hard on McCain. I would answer this point by asking how well McCain's good character served him when, during his presidential campaign, he was confronted with a major financial crisis? Did McCain show character in a crisis or did he indulge an empty theatrical gesture, like suspending his campaign and trying to call off a presidential debate?

Could it be that McCain's constant tweaking Republicans was more a sell out to media pressure and less a sign of good character.

As Dr. Helen reminds us, good character involves standing up for what you believe, speaking up and speaking out... especially against attempts to threaten you into changing your opinion. The ability to stand tall and proud when threatened with social oblivion is true courage indeed.

As she also says, it is best not to try to engage in people who insist that ideological conformity is the price of admission into their club. Better to find a different club or a different community. No one should suffer fools gladly and no one should be cowed by social pressure. When someone systematically disrespect you there comes a time when enough is enough.

Once upon a time there was only the mainstream media. At that time, the pressure on politicians to conform to its media bias was enormous. With the advent of Fox News, however, the the mainstream media's monopoly was broken, and its ability to dictate the right opinions to politicians was fatally compromised. By the time Fox News came into existence liberal intellectuals had discovered how to influence opinion through their control of the media and the classroom.

The greatest crime of Fox News was reopening the marketplace of ideas, to the detriment of the mainstream media. Some people will never forgive it.

One final point: how do you know whether someone's disrespect is a real expression of the person's character or is simple mimicry? When people are disrespectful to you, you normally will try to give them a second chance to mend their ways. You might even give them a third chance. But after a time you will discover that you are wasting your time, your energy, and your own character by descending into their own slime.

Surely, it is correct to turn the other cheek, but after a while you are going to run out of cheeks.


Robert Pearson said...

"We've always been at war with Eastasia."

The fear-based uncertainty of the Liberal ("progressive") must be covered with a veneer of certainty, of "absolute moral authority," lest creeping doubts create the existential angst so vividly experienced by those who believe Heaven on Earth is possible if only people will obey their superior's orders. Absolutists can tolerate no cracks in the carapace of certainty, lest the whole brittle structure collapse

Conservatives/libertarians (to lump them together for discussion purposes) have more flexibility of thought because they are generally just looking for incremental improvements to civilization, not believing there are "solutions" the Human Condition.

As I wrote just this morning:

"The trunk and branches of the all-powerful State spring from philosophical roots. Leviathan does not just try to legislate morality. It believes that it can legislate reality. It can legislate happiness, goodwill and health with the bang of a gavel and the stroke of a pen."

Whether consciously or not, the true believer senses that dissenting opinions threaten these roots. High anxiety and a defensive reaction follows.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for your remarks, Robert. I hope everyone follows the link you provide and read your further comments.

Robert Pearson said...

Well, looking back I think that comment could have been a lot shorter. Protecting from fears is a factor in many human reactions and behaviors, as you well know. I should have confined it to that. :)

Rich Stowell said...

I love the remark, "liberalism isn't about people, it's about ideas." So true. This is why liberals are so afraid of evidence that refutes their claims. When presented with it, they say things like, "we just haven't given it enough time or money."

Also, Warheit: your link is restricted to invited readers only. What gives? said...

Well, I do not really imagine this is likely to work.