barking back at authoritarian dogs

An old friend recently told me in an email that she worries about the leftism of her grandchildren:

I must say I do not understand my grandchildren's liberal leanings. It amazes me that intelligent people can believe in this administration. It is making me ill when I permit myself to dwell on it.
I replied,
[the liberalism of young people] is indeed very trying, except I can remember what a flaming leftie I was at that age. It took living in Berkeley -- the most left wing city in the country -- to make me see the light. What I try to tell people is that today's liberals are not liberal; they are authoritarians. It's tough to get people to think.
Every time I get pissed off at a liberal, I remember that I was one once, and that whoever it is I'm pissed off at today might have been me yesterday.

Whether I could have been persuaded at the time by the theoretical me of the future, I don't know. I might not have been budged in my thinking in the least, and I might have even been outraged. Yet sometimes, things sink in, and are remembered later, even if they're not persuasive now. I think that arguments are mostly futile, because they tend to become contests of will -- games which each side wants to win. And when winning is the goal, persuasion cannot occur. It is almost mathematical. If an argument becomes a contest, then it's analogous to a game or a athletic match in which the goal is to score points, get all the marbles, and achieve victory. I find it unimaginable that anyone in a competitive contest of that sort could possibly "persuade" an "opponent" that he really ought to just accept defeat and lose -- for his own "betterment." To say that to an opponent in, say, a golf game, would be ridiculous on its face. Losers who compete don't want to lose, and they tend to come back for another turn. This is why arguments tend to be pointless whenever they degenerate into competitive contests. And even if one side is a better debater and point scorer, that utterly fails to persuade the other side, although it might make him want to brush up on his debating skills -- the same way a losing golfer might want to work harder at his game.

So, unfortunately, most arguments fail to persuade anyone. I suppose that in rare cases, between two people who trust each other (itself a rarity) that there might occasionally be an initial agreement -- sincere on both sides -- that the goal lies in getting to the truth and not in a game of persuasion. But would that be an argument? I don't think so. It might be called an honest exchange of views.

But to get to my point, I have noticed that liberalism has degenerated into a form of left-wing authoritarianism. But because people do not like being called authoritarians, I don't think that's the best way to persuade them, so I just leave it at "I don't like being told what to do." And "there is nothing liberal about invading people's lives and telling them what to do."

Maybe they'll think about it, and maybe they won't, but I think it's preferable to having arguments, which often do more harm than good.

An additional problem is that some people like arguments. There are few things more frustrating to a truth-seeker than to be set upon by an argument-lover. There are people in this world who are not even willing to agree to disagree.

I've known many dogs like that too. When dogs bark at me, I sometimes bark back. Not because I'm a dog (although I do a good impersonation of one), but because I enjoy pretending to be one. And I try to limit my barking only to respond to dogs I think are being unreasonable in their barking. That's precisely the type of self-important dog (usually a habitual gratuitous noisemaker) who gets especially outraged upon hearing a strange bark in the hood, especially one emanating from a fraudulent wannabe canine type. But I never imagine that I could hope to win a barking contest with such dogs, because invariably, they are the type who always have to get in that last bark as you walk away. Who gets to have the last bark is of course very subjective, but I suspect that no matter how determined I might be, the dog will always win, simply because dogs have better hearing.

So I can bark all I want, but I flatter myself if I think I'm winning.

posted by Eric on 07.20.10 at 11:16 AM


I try to stay optimistic. Think about how many people say "Jimmy Carter made me a conservative".

LS   ·  July 20, 2010 5:30 PM

I used to say "Don't blame me, I voted for McBride!"

But looking back, I probably should have held my nose and voted for Ford.

Eric Scheie   ·  July 20, 2010 9:30 PM

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