Syllogisms and Identity Politics

Philmon and I had an exchange below that needs further expansion.  Phil wrote:

I’ve long been suspicious that the modern liberal is typically nothing more than someone who is proud of the “ability” to string multiple syllogisms into what they ultimately consider a de facto valid “argument”.

As have I.  As I wrote in that post, liberals’ confusion about whether or not astrology is scientific comes, not from misunderstanding either of the terms, but from skipping over meaning entirely.

I’m going to ignore the “astrology” part, mostly because I really don’t know what pops into people’s minds when they hear that word.  But “science,” now…. that I get.  It means

knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation

Or, at least, that’s what it should mean, used as a standalone word.  The problem is, as Phil noted, Our Betters tend not to use it as a standalone word.  Rather, “science” is part of the definition of another word: Liberal.  A liberal is someone who likes science.

From there, liberals tend to “argue” in bastard syllogisms, like so:

  • I am a liberal.
  • Liberals like science.
  • Therefore, things I like are scientific
  • Therefore, things I dislike are unscientific
  • Therefore, people who disagree with me hate science.

I think this was once known as the fat cattle fallacy — the notion that a cause must be like its effects.  We don’t need to look at the evidence for, say, global warming — it’s “settled science,” and therefore we believe it, and it’s settled science because we believe it.

It’s nothing new that liberals like to poach on the authority of science; it goes back at least as far as Marx himself (his socialism, unlike the gassy love-the-world-ism of guys like J.H. Noyes, was “scientific”).  But Marx was also a philosopher, and he could browbeat folks into submission with verbiage about “dialectical materialism.”  Our modern leftists lack this, and because they do, it’s becoming increasingly clear that they’re using themselves as the starting point for all their arguments.

Which makes sense, given the left’s identity politics uber alles attitude.  But this makes communication with them very, very difficult, as they’re automatically going to assume that their preferences are both metaphysically true and universally applicable.  And in any conflict with the real world, the real world is likely to lose.

A good example of this comes from the supposedly conservative side of the aisle. I didn’t really follow politics much back then, but I recall that Andrew Sullivan used to call himself a conservative, and graciously allowed himself to be used as the face for the new, open, tolerant right….

His feud with National Review Online was semi-amusing, back when I cared about what any of those hacks thought, but I think they missed a trick when it came to the origins of Sullivan’s “conservatism is whatever I feel it is today” schtick.  It wasn’t George W. Bush’s objections to gay marriage that sent him over the edge; it was the Pope’s.

Now maybe Jonah Goldberg and the crew saw this clearly, and I’m misremembering.  Again: didn’t care, don’t care.  The point is that Andrew Sullivan subscribed to two different identities simultaneously — Catholic and Gay Crusader — and, when they inevitably came into conflict, spent years insisting that he was right and 2,000+ years of Church history was wrong.

That the Catholic Church needs to embrace leftism is one of the rottenest of all chestnuts, of course, but when the hipster dimbulbs at places like Salon.com say it, you know it’s just a nervous tic.  They’d be much happier if the Catholic Church didn’t exist at all.  But from what I could tell, Sullivan really meant it.  He continued to insist he was a good Catholic — indeed, perhaps, the only good Catholic — while rejecting one of the oldest and strongest of Church dogmas.  His endless contortions to square that circle only make sense if he’s “arguing” fat-cattle style — I’m Catholic, I’m gay, therefore the Catholic Church is ok with every item on this minute’s gay agenda, no matter what the supreme and infallible successor to St. Peter says about it.

How to break this thought-complex up beats my pair of jacks.  I can’t enter into that mental world very easily, or stay there for very long.  Like many conservatives, for instance, I’ve abandoned the Republican Party — they just don’t fit with my values anymore.  And while I do understand the urge to change it from within, to get it back closer to what I think its values should be, that’s not what I’m talking about (noble though that pursuit may be).  The fat-cattle version would be, I guess, to insist that the Republican Party is the party of Reagan and Calvin Coolidge, and that there’s no conflict at all between my limited-government preferences and the big-government activism of the GOP establishment, because I’m a small government guy and a GOP voter and therefore Republican plans to “fix” Obamacare are actually shrinking both the scope of government and the debt…..

Any thoughts?

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10 thoughts on “Syllogisms and Identity Politics

  1. Robert M Mitchell Jr.

    To the extent that I am following your thoughts, you seem to be explaining the “Fat Cattle” “thinking” that goes into so many “Real Conservatives(TM)” leaving the Republican party. One : It’s a two party system. Two : The Democrats are Evil. Three : The Republicans, while doing what they can to stop the Democrats, do not follow my values, while still being better at following my values then the Democrats, who are Evil. Four : leave the Republican party and leave the field to the Democrats? OK, sure. Cuba learned their lesson when Castro took over, and now they are a happy, productive country. “Let it Burn” works, sure……..

  2. philmon

    We’ve got to stop talking in terms of individual politicians and stick to principles we support and the arguments for them.

    Rather than “The party of ____________” (Lincoln, Coolidge, Reagan) … it was started as an anti-slavery party, because the Whigs weren’t getting it done. The Whigs had a more constitutional bent to them than did the Democrats, but they still couldn’t bring themselves to say “slavery is wrong, it’s got to stop, let’s git’r done.”

    The Republicans formed in place of the Whigs and brought that to a head. And there was a big war and stuff.

    Third Parties: the only way a third party really works is if the people are ready for it and convinced of and sympathetic to the positions and arguments of the third party. Parties have formed and died over the course of our Republic. You will not find anywhere in the Constitution ANYTHING about a two-party system. The two strongest parties at any one time tend to dominate and squeeze all others out … but in can happen and has happened.

    Deal is, either way … reform the current party that most closely hews to your principles, or create a new one — it WILL NOT MATTER until you convince enough of your fellow citizens that YOUR PRINCIPLES are the RIGHT principles … not because they are yours, but because they stand logically in their own minds.

    The party that then first figures out that the people have shifted will win out, whether it be one of the “two” parties, or whether it be a third party that will replace one of the “two” parties, it DOESN’T MATTER.

    The people must be convinced first. Right now the Republicans suck at promoting the principles upon which the party was founded, and they try to cling to power as Democrat Lite. The Tea Party (grass roots movement, not a political party) is trying to change the conversation from Democrat/Republican to …. founding principles and why they are as relevant today as they were in 1776. It is a horizontal, long-term process, not a vertical short-term process. We could elect Ron Paul president tomorrow and the problem won’t be fixed until the people are fixed. The progressives have been at work at this horizontal process for many decades, and we didn’t think they could convince enough Americans to … stop being American. Well … we were wrong.

    1. Robert M Mitchell Jr.

      Ah, but we really don’t agree on a lot of principles. It’s why we need freedom. To the extent that we do “agree on principles”, the Republicans are doing a much better job then the Democrats. But the Democrats are better at Mob tactics. Since their actual goals require all the power, they will side with whatever mob they can spin up, so long as they get more power. They were the ones who fought a war to keep slaves. They were the ones who gave us “Affirmative Action”. Note that, in theory, these are opposite poles. In reality, both increased the Democrats power. Getting more power is fun and sexy, so the Democrat rank and file is quite devoted. Alas, standing on the wall defending Freedom is rather dull, and so we keep losing people like Severian, who has left the Republican party because they are not doing enough. Now, Severian has never had anything good to say about the Democrats, and from his writings, should actually oppose their goals. Logically, if the Republicans “Aren’t doing enough, they are Democrats-lite”, then he should have left to join a more effective party, or out of a belief that he would be more effective working alone. If he had done so, we would have heard about it here, yes? So, it seems pretty clear that he left because of an emotional tantrum, a feeling the “tribe” had failed, and that’s not something you are going to fix by focusing more on “principles”, and not something the Republicans, the post-tribal party, can really fix.

      Yep, there was nothing in the Constitution about political parties, and the founders wrote at length about their fears of political factions forming. And yet the moment they ran for elections, they formed parties. It is the cold equations of a “winner take all” system….. And there is not going to be a successful third party any time soon, because that would require an issue not being served by either party, an issue that cannot be compromised on. Such as Slavery, or Abortion. But alas for “Real Conservatives”, the Republicans are doing a fine job dealing with the issue. You might dream that the “deficit” is the issue that a third party would gel around, but everyone cracks like an egg the moment that their ox is gored. So it goes.

      And Americans have not “stopped being Americans”. There is not a moment of our history where you can see Americans turning down money. Veterans have been quite public about it in the past, to the point of marching on the Capitol. Our current problems are not a failing of our fellow citizens, but of the political system, in particular, the Civil Service, which gave us a new branch of government, the unelected, unaccountable part. See, as a prime example, the Political Assassination of Sen. Ted Stevens…….

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  4. Severian

    A few points:

    Maybe my post isn’t all that clear. Which is unsurprising, because I’m just thinking it through myself. So let’s try this:

    “Principles” themselves can be — not are, merely can be — examples of fat cattle reasoning. For instance, I’m sure that liberals think they’re “for science” on principle. Whether the principle in question is “loyalty to experimental inquiry” or “being against religion” doesn’t really matter — they would still claim that it’s a principled choice, and that if it ever came down to a choice between the hard truths of “science” and their beloved politics, they’d pick the truth.

    Again, we know that’s not true, but that’s certainly what they’d say, and almost certainly what they actually believe in their hearts.

    The reason they believe this, I’m coming to think, is this thing I’ve called fat cattle reasoning. There’s a set of things they like that they’ve labeled “settled science.” Because they like these things, and because they love the sound of the word “science,” they conclude that they are big fans of “science” in the abstract. Or that they are of a “scientific” temperament. Or even, God help us, that they, themselves, are “scientists” (Marx seemed to believe this about himself).

    [If it helps, switch out the word “spiritual” for “science.” As in, “I’m not religious, but spiritual.” There’s a set of things they’ve decided are “spiritual.” They like that, so they conclude that while of course they’re against organized religion, they like “spirituality.” And since they do “spiritual” things, they’re “spiritual” people. The actual content of the beliefs / practices doesn’t matter; it’s all about the ability to tag yourself with a self-congratulatory adjective like “spiritual” or “scientific.”]

    That’s step 1 — deducing, in this haphazard touchy-feely way, that you “like science” on principle. Step 2 is the fat cattle part.

    The fat cattle fallacy assumes that a cause resembles its effects. So, back around the turn of the 20th century, rationalist philosophers concluded that because the universe is intelligible, it must therefore be intelligent. I.e. either created by a superior intelligence, or itself a thinking, creative organism.

    I think a lot of liberals’ beliefs about “science” work like that — they’ve decided that they’re “scientific” people, that they “fucking love science,” etc., and, therefore, whatever they like must be “science” because they like it. The identity comes first. Indeed, the identity comes only. The actual content of the beliefs doesn’t matter — I like science; I like X; therefore X is scientific. It’s all one big narcissistic recursion.

    Which is why I’m not sure talk about “principles” will work to break up the fat cattle thought complex. Principles come from a source outside yourself. Liberals take themselves as the source of their principles. It’s the core of their identity as liberals. If they do a thing, then that thing is principled, because they are doing it. Ever read up on Buddhism? The only difference between an ordinary Joe brushing his teeth and the Buddha brushing his teeth is that Buddha does it with total awareness. It’s the Enlightened way to brush teeth, even though “Buddha brushing his teeth” is indistinguishable, down to the molecular level, from “Severian brushing his teeth.”

    I think talking about principles can work with conservatives, because they see principles as originating outside themselves. If you want to channel that into reforming the GOP, or founding a new party, go nuts. I wish you all the luck in the world, and I’ll vote for you if you ever get on the ballot in my town. The problem is, more and more people are starting to see things in the fat-cattle way. I can see a way to turn a Republican into a Tea Partier; I don’t see a way to turn a Democrat into one.

    We can even sorta test this theory. If you’ve got the stomach, cruise around the liberal blogs. Did they mention the “more liberals than conservatives believe astrology is scientific” study? If they did, did they do anything other than attack the authors?

    You see it all the time on the right. Moderate conservatives are forever embarrassed by the antics of Young-Earth Creationists and whatnot; mention those guys at a barbecue and watch the eyes roll. Do they do that anywhere on the left? I bet I could find a zillion “Earth to Biblical Literalists” posts on rightwing blogs in about ten seconds. Is there a lefty blog post anywhere titled “Astrology? Really? It’s time to grow up, my fellow liberals — the top 5000 reasons astrology isn’t science.” ??

    Seriously — take a gander. Maybe I’m wrong. And if so, since I’m not a liberal, I’ll reevaluate my position. (See what I did there?)

    As for the fat-cattle version of the GOP, it’s probably best to ignore that. That was my attempt to show how hard it is to get into the headspace of these people. We see a disconnect between what they’re supposed to be doing and their actions, which is why we have a Tea Party (in theory). Obviously that thought experiment didn’t work.

  5. philmon

    “Ah, but we really don’t agree on a lot of principles. It’s why we need freedom. To the extent that we do “agree on principles”, the Republicans are doing a much better job then the Democrats. But the Democrats are better at Mob tactics.”

    Of course, to the extent that we do, and those are the principles I’m talking about. But truths are discoverable, and if we start with the self-evident ones, we can branch out to a certain extent to some more. Many who basically have the same principles today have never really had to think about them or articulate them so they’ve never gone through this thought process. They were “enculturated” (I know, new “word”) into them. Which is good and actually normal. These are the people who know something isn’t right, but they can’t really put their finger on it. They know at some level what they believe, but they don’t know why they believe it.

    It’s one of the main reasons I stick with our little group … I want to help them re-discover the very basic principles and how and why our Founders arrived at them and adopted them so that they can make coherent arguments in a consistent framework of basic “belief”. They’ve never had to put it together before, but now that we’ve woken up to the fact that it’s been very successfully attacked for quite some time now, they’re going to have to. If you can’t, you’re more easily manipulated by the mob tactics (which … basically, that in a nutshell is what Rules for Radicals is all about — mob tactics and how to form a mob in the first place).

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  7. Marcel Kincaid

    Before Dunning and Kruger, I would have been amazed that someone this stupid would think that they aren’t. The characterization of and generalizations about liberals are as if you had never actually encountered any … but not even the most inept Martian anthropologist would entertain such cockamamie notions about them.

    1. severian Post author

      Interesting. So your argument boils down to, “I’m dumb.”

      Would you care to expand on that, chief? Which specific notions are “cockamamie,” and why?

      Dazzle us with facts and reason.

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