This post is a clarification of an ongoing theme I’ve addressed before… and which has been addressed many times before by myself, by other bloggers, and by scholars like Victor Davis Hanson, and Thomas Sowell.
I’m talking about the “Stupid or Evil” false dichotomy.
Those of us with a libertarian, or economic conservative bent (social conservatives seem to suffer from this tendency as much as liberals, just in a different area), frequently have a huge problem understanding why “Progressives”, liberals, socialists etc… keep advocating and even implementing clearly nonviable ideas, against all past results or evidence.
How anyone can still, not slightly, but whole heartedly, and with the entire force of a government behind them; implement socialist ideas? The entire 20th century stands as incontrovertible evidence that socialism, in any form, in any way, for any reason; is not just a failed political system, but a horrible idea in general.
And yet, millions of people around the world still advocate for it passionately… even kill or die for it.
When we oppose these people, or these ideas, they declare us to be “stupid” or “ignorant”, “delusional”, “defrauded and manipulated by evil/greedy masters” or simply “evil” ourselves.
The question here is not one of fact, it is one of ideology; in a belief structure where the political is the personal, and political ideology substitutes for tribal identity, or religious faith.
For these people evidence, and reality, are irrelevant. Something is true not because of evidence, reality, or history; but because their ideology says it must be true. Something is false not because evidence says so, or because it doesn’t work; it is false because it differs from the ideology.
This behavior is maddeningly baffling to those of us who attempt to use reality, history, logic, and a healthy appreciation for the law of unintended consequences; as a guide for our ideas and our actions.
Warren Meyer over at Coyote Blog, put up a post this morning, that put me in mind of this particular topic again (emphasis mine):
“I am perfectly capable of believing Drum honestly thinks that further deficit spending will improve the economy this year. I think he’s nuts, and working against all historic evidence, but never-the-less I believe he is sincere, and not merely pushing the idea as part of some dark donkey-team conspiracy. Why is it that he and his ilk, from both sides of the aisle, find it impossible to believe that their opponents have similarly honest intentions?
I mean, is it really so hard to believe — after spending a trillion dollars to no visible effect, after seeing Europe bankrupt itself, and after seeing the American economy begin to recover only after crazy stimulus programs have mostly stopped — that some folks have an honest desire to see economic improvement and think further stimulus programs are a bad idea”
Yes, it is impossible.
It is impossible, because they are arguing from ideology not from reality. They believe in what HAS to be true, because their ideology says so; not what reality, or experience, proves to be true.
Their ideology is core to their perception of their identity, and their sense both of self worth, and the worth of others. Their judgement and reason are based on it. Everything is filtered through this ideological prism, because it HAS to be, for the health of their own psyche.
For someone whose entire perception of self worth depends on their adherence to an ideological precept (“I am a good/better person because I believe this morally better thing”), then anyone who disagrees with this precept must be stupid, ignorant, defrauded, deluded, or evil.
There is no room for honest disagreement in this. To preserve their self worth, and sense of identity, there can be no doubt, and no acceptance of any possibility of error. There is one true path, which they follow, and anyone who deviates from it is apostate.
If therefore, one cannot dismiss opponents of their ideological precept as stupid, ignorant, defrauded, or deluded (and in the case of clearly intelligent, well informed people, presenting reasoned arguments against your precepts, you obviously cannot); the only thing you can challenge is their motives.
Your opponents MUST KNOW that you are right, that your ideology is right; since they are intelligent and well informed, and of course any intelligent and well informed person (such as yourself) can see your ideology is clearly morally superior (just as you did).
Therefore your opponents must be evil, or at best venal and self-interested.
It simply must be that way, because any other conclusion is unacceptable.