How dare I agree with you?

The ACLU seems to be one of those hot button issues about which it's riskier and riskier to speak one's mind freely. The email sent to Glenn Reynolds, while civil in tone, reminded me of the far less civil criticism accorded Eugene Volokh, because they're both evidence of an inability to disagree in a thinking manner. Instead of explaining what they disagree with, people are resort to labels, insulting characterizations, and (as with the email to Glenn) the equivalent of a boycott. (I think that "you lost another reader. Just now disappeared from my Bookmarks" is the equivalent of delinking a blog, and the gratuitous use of "another" is as presumptuous as it is insulting.) It's as if both Reynolds and Volokh committed thought unpardonable thought crimes; the former for daring to speak a kind word about the ACLU, and the latter for even speculating that some homosexuals might quite naturally want to encourage sexual "conversion" of gay-curious bi or heterosexuals.

It makes no difference what I think of the ACLU or converting people to homosexuality. What bothers me is this intellectually stultifying idea that you have to be careful lest you offend someone's sense of ideological purity, and you have to expect that they will not merely disagree with you, but they will call you names, do the equivalent of hang up on you (and other unfriendlier things), without even bothering to seriously address your argument.

There's a lack of serious thinking displayed by people who get roped into positions based on considerations like who holds them, whether the holder can be labeled "liberal" or "conservative," and whether they're in alignment with ideological laundry lists.

Over the years, expressing simultaneous support for gays and guns has often proved ideologically challenging for me, because these issues are (irrationally, in my view) seen as coming from different "sides" of the political "spectrum." (If you think it's bad now, you should have seen what it was like in the early 1980s....) While there's no logical reason why it isn't perfectly consistent to be just as opposed to gun control as penis control, the emotion-driven "bases" of the two major political camps don't see it that way. Only recently has the label of "gay gun nut" emerged, but even that makes light of a more serious problem: the constantly increasing ideological rigidity which attempts to hound people into compliance by means of exclusionary threats. Typically, these threats take the form of conservatives calling people "liberal" if they don't toe the line, and liberals calling people "conservative." Ordinary people don't want to lose their "friends," and they defend themselves by (lamely and ineffectively, in my opinion) explaining "Hey, I'm no liberal! I support the war!" or "I'm no conservative! I support gay rights!"

Eventually, I hope, people will realize that there is no need to defend against these labels, because there is a right to think what you want to think on each and every issue. When someone refuses to address your argument and instead resorts to labeling, that ought to be a clue that he is threatened by it, or is unable to address it on the merits. The resort to labeling is nothing more than an attempt to intimidate, to bully, and it indicates either a small mind, or massive insecurity. In any event, the problem is in the minds of the bullies, and not in the minds of those attempting to think freely.

As an example of how easy it can be to agree with the "wrong side," Atrios (someone I agree with maybe 10% of the time) voiced a sentiment today I agreed with wholeheartedly: that FCC regulation of cable is terribly wrong:

Yes, this is an awful idea. And, yes, sadly, the Democrats will likely end up being on the wrong side of it.

Please, just spend a few hundred billion on the biggest ad campaign in the history of the universe to tell parents how to use their goddamn v-chips.

The Atrios link goes to Pandagon, with whom I agree that allowing the FCC to regulate cable is a terrible idea, but with whose ad hominem analysis I disagree:
this isn't just about not being offended. This is about using the power of the state to silence political views. "Good taste" is synonymous with Republicanism (which as we all know from watching how delegates dressed at the GOP convention is about as wrongheaded as you can get), and all other views must be excised from the public sphere lest they cause disagreement, which is tantamount to recrucifying Jesus just so you can stare at his peepee. Remember, folks - the most destructive and corrosive element in our republic are the people who think that the First Amendment applies to speech, rather than established facts like the Christian nature of the United States and abortion as the modern-day Holocaust.
Pandagon forgets that many Republicans (including, I suspect, some of those who want to censor graphic sex) would vehemently oppose using the FCC to impose social views, religious views, and even standards of attire (not sure what attire that might be), on Americans. He also forgets (unlike Atrios) that this attempt at regulation will likely include both Republicans and Democrats. (And why wasn't there any discussion of the unconstitutionality of the powers the FCC seeks?) I don't think Pandagon's ad hominem style is persuasive (although it's nothing new for me).

Still, I agree with Atrios and Pandagon on their basic point about the FCC. (Not a new topic for this blog, either.) I've learned from experience that when you agree with someone who is in a definite ideological camp, such a point of agreement can serve as an entry point for ideological examination -- and by both sides!

Ideological leftists will naturally tend to see any agreement on any point as an invitation to agree with them on other points, while ideological rightists will see any agreement with the left as a sign of deviation, or weakness. ("Going wobbly" will do.) In this game of point scoring and laundry list checking, what tends to be forgotten is that there might be a person who thinks what he thinks independently, who isn't being herded or told to think by one side or another, and who might not want to be herded. Or graded.

Or excoriated as guilty.

(As if anything I've said absolves me for "vigorously championing an immoral war based on lies, supervised by a leadership class corrupted by ideological cowards and incompetents.")

UPDATE: Funny thing that I'd mention delinking, as there's now a conservative movement to do just that to Glenn (who, mouthful though it is) actually linked the delinking movement.

It strikes me as a very rude way to express disagreement. But as someone who's never delinked anyone, I guess I wouldn't understand.

posted by Eric on 08.30.05 at 02:14 PM


This kind of thing is a natural consequence of a two party system. Both parties are a hopeless mishmash of groups that have little to do with each other and a quiet denial that some positions are actively contradictory (speech codes to preserve free speech? freedom of association that leads to segregation?)

add to this the instinctive tendency to divide the world into "us" and "them" and you have a recipe for intolerance.

We need a viable third party. I don't care if it's the greens or the libertarians, a third party would cause a massive shake out and re-think across the board.

Michael Heinz   ·  August 30, 2005 8:53 PM

It is as if the vast majority of people believe that you can ask one question (about guns, or gays, or abortion, or ...) and that would immediately crystalize your thinking on literally hundreds of non-related issues.

What does support for the 2nd Amendment have to do with capital punishment for example? Why should my views on one dictate my views on the other?

I think part of this is the unfortunate herd tendancy in humans. I want to be with that in crowd so I adopt all of their positions without thinking. The kind of thing that brought us the straight party ticket in the grand old days of machine politics. Or the way all of the kids trying to express their individuality all dress exactly the same.

Zendo Deb   ·  August 30, 2005 9:21 PM

Once again, the styles of the titles of your posts, and, Peikoff-obviously, the posts themselves. Extremely interesting once again. Your independence of thought is why I read you.

My observation is that the Right, as a whole, is more diverse (in the old meaning). E.g., the National Review had a spectrum of thinkers from Whittaker Chambers to E. Merrill Root to Max Eastman, from Willmoore Kendall to James Burnham to Frank S. Meyer. Even today, it has both John Derbyshire and Deroy Murdock (a Negro homosexual). Ingrid Barnes is a Negro female homosexual -- and Conservative. The American Right has ranged from Robert Welch to Richard Nixon to Peter Viereck to Ayn Rand to Murray Rothbard to Camille Paglia, and the European Right has included anti-democrats like Friedrich Nietzsche and Oswald Spengler, Catholic democrats like G. K. Chesterton, Catholic monarchists like Joseph de Maistre, Clemens von Metternich, Don Juan Donoso Cortes, Eric von Kuehnelt Leddihn, and Thomas Molnar, and Polytheists like Alain de Benoist. Their styles!

Disagree with a Rightist, and you'll probably find another Rightist who agrees with you completely and even more so. Agree, or seem to agree, with a Leftist (e.g., on homosexual marriage, legalization of marijuana, or free speech) and you'll usually find that you'd better agree for the "right", i.e., Left, reasons. You must argue in terms of their shibboleths of "progress", "equality", "tolerance". "compassion for the wretched of the earth", etc.. If you don't use those phrases, then you're not sufficiently "progressive", and they'll be sure to tell you so. That's been my experience with them.

As to the ACLU, that organization has so many mixed and contradictory premises that one can disagree with it or oppose it for any number of extremely divergent or diametrically opposite reasons. Back in the 1980s, I was a member of the ACLU, seeing it as a consistent defender of free speech and other individual rights. Over the years since, I found myself disagreeing with it on one thing after another, from gun control to their hostility to religion (Christianity in particular) to their support for every Leftist cause however totally unrelated to their purported raison d'etre. I find that a number of other organizations are much better, e.g., the Institute for Justice, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and the NRA. The much-maligned (by the media) "single-issue" organizations such as the NRA, NARAL, National Right to Life, Log Cabin Republicans, and others are very good because, in those outfits, you are required to agree only on the one point that is its raison d'etre but not necessarily on anything else.

An excellent book critiquing the ACLU from a libertarian-conservative point of view is The ACLU on Trial by William H. McIlhany II, a Randian-oriented Bircher. He has an extremely interesting style. He examines both the philosophical premises and the historical roots of the ACLU. He also wrote Klandestine, the story of Delmar Dennis, a Ku Klux Klansman who broke with the Klan, testified against it regarding the murder of Medgar Evers, and then joined the John Birch Society. Shocking to many "liberals" who think the KKK and the John Birch Society are the same.

An extremely interesting post and thread on how Leftists and Rightists view each other, and tying in with one of the most fascinating threads I have written in here in Classical Values, has been taking place in Dean's World here. Another thread on a related, excruciatingly fascinating, issue is here. I am a spectrumologist. I must be a spectropulchritudinologist as well. Up With Beauty!

If one ever finds oneself in jail, one's first act should be to drop to one's knees to thank God that the ACLU exists.

It does a lot of stupid stuff it it is not the epitome of evil.

John   ·  August 30, 2005 11:19 PM

If I ever find myself in jail I'll get a lawyer. The ACLU probably won't take my case because I'm not a Communist, Nazi, Muslim terrorist, or member of an accredited "minority race".

Like H. L. "Bill" Richardson (Slightly To the Right!), I am a name-dropping Conservative. J. Edgar Hoooooooover!

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