Friday, June 23, 2006

Who Is Maligning Whom?

I find it interesting to note that people on the political left and the political right make almost exactly the same claims when it comes to the way their political allies and their political opponents behave regarding individuals on the other side of the political divide.

"You people over there are always insulting and belittling us and our beliefs. You make blatant, over generalized, hurtful statements about us. We, on the other hand, try to be civil. Yes, there are few of us on this side of the divide that sometimes step over the line. However, we, at least, try to police our own members. You, over there, seem to make no attempt to reign in the bigots and hate-mongers on your own side."

So, what's going on here?

I would like to suggest that people on both sides suffer from selective sight and hearing. They blind and deaf to the hate-mongering on their side of the divide. They simply do not see or hear it. On the other hand, they develop an acute sensitivity to the insults and barbs hurled from the other side of the gap, such that those on the other side may respond with accusations of 'cry baby'.


It may come from the fact that insults and barbs hurled at those on the other side of the divide are hurled at 'others'. Therefore, they can be ignored. There is no real risk that the person hurling these insults are going to hit you. They are focused on those on the other side of the political divide. So, you can safely ignore them. On the other hand, the people on the other side of the divide hurling barbs at you and the things that you value. Those barbs sting. They can do real harm (in terms of being desire-thwarting). Consequently, they are much more difficult to ignore.

It is high noon in a town in the old west. You are standing on the street with two notorious gunslingers. One of them is paying attention to somebody you never really liked. The other is looking straight at you. The next day, the sheriff asks you what happened. I suspect that most people in this situation would be able to give a detailed description of what the second gunslinger did, but be able to say very little about the first.

This is human nature. Of course, we are going to pay more attention at those who are attacking us than we are those who are attacking "somebody else" and leaving us alone. However, we should not allow us this to fool us into thinking that one gunslinger is worse than the other. Certainly, the one aiming at you would appear more dangerous to you. However, this is not sufficient to support the conclusion that the gunslinger coming after you is more evil than the gunslinger going after somebody you do not like.

I do not recall ever reading a protest that those on the other side of the isle are more malicious and mean than those on the friendly side use anything other than personal perception or anecdotal evidence to support their claims. I am not saying that they are wrong. I am saying that they have no good reason to be making the claims they make.

Even if they happen to be right, their claims have no moral relevance.

For illustrative purposes, let us assume that somebody who is making this type of accusation is telling the truth. "People on your side of the isle devote more energy to hate-mongering and bigotry than people on our side, and are less likely to police your own members than we are."

My arguments showing the bigotry in Rush Limbaugh's statements are sound. If somebody were to answer back, "There are more people making unfair criticisms of conservatives than there are making unfair criticisms of liberals," my answer would not be, "That is not true."

My answer would be, "I don't care; that is entirely irrelevant."

This objection is a distraction; a diversion. It is irrelevant noise intending to take the listener’s focus on the issue being proved and the soundness of the argument, the bigotry and hate-mongering of the accused.

My criticism was sound. I defined my terms and provided evidence that Rush Limbaugh was guilty of the moral wrongs that I charged him with. The general quality and quantity of criticisms of conservatives versus liberals is irrelevant to the soundness of this specific case.

Imagine a Jew trying to defend himself from the charge of murdering a German claiming in his defense, "I know of Germans who have killed a higher number of Jews than I have killed of Germans." He may have a case against those Germans who murdered Jews. However, his case does not imply that his act is anything other than an act of murder. We should clearly avoid the habit of declaring people to be "not guilty" of a crime simply because he is not the only one who is guilty.

This type of response falls fully in the bin for the "two wrongs make a right" fallacy. It is an illegitimate and irrelevant defense that shows as much of a lack of genuine interest in the moral quality of actions as the original bigot showed.

This type of response utterly fails to deflect the proof that Rush Limbaugh is a bigot and a hate-monger.

It is the case that, just as individuals allow themselves to ignore the bigotry and hate-mongering that comes from the near side of the political canyon, they are also more sensitive to criticism coming from allies than they are to criticism coming from across the divide. Criticism from across the divide is to be expected. Those people over there are nothing but a gaggle of moronic self-interested irrational hate-mongering bigots anyway, so their arguments need not be given any weight.

As a result, if somebody is interested in fighting bigotry and hate-mongering, it would actually be more useful to focus criticism on one's political allies than it is to focus criticism on political opponents.

As I wrote yesterday, the first place to start is with one's own writing. The next place to go in order to try to fight the tendency towards bigoted hate-mongering is to one's co-authors; those who participate in the same writing projects that you participate in. They should be encouraged not to adopt bigoted over-generalized language in their writing.

In this way, we can start to create a better dialogue that focuses on the actual problems we need to solve.


Dar said...

You make me want to be a better person.

Anonymous said...

I tried to show this article to a theist friend of mine whom I often passionatly debate with, but this guy is so set in his opions that he refused to read the article strickly because of the title of your blog. I thought more of him than that, but you can't win all of your battles. Any suggestions?

Alonzo Fyfe said...


If you wish, you could refer him to my web site, It contains links to my postings here, but also several articles. Consider, in particular, Chapter 1 of "Desire Utilitarianism". It contains the heart of my objection to any type of scripture-based ethics.

Other than that, you cannot force somebody to listen. You can, at best, use him as an example to others of the type of person they should not be. Refusing to consider ideas one does not share is both arrogant and intellectually reckless -- neither of which are traits that a good person would have.