Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Progressive's Handbook of Argument

[Here's a little something I've been toying with in my spare time, a not entirely satirical review of my experiences in debating Progressives the past year. Feel free to add to the list.]

1. Lie. All the time.
[One morning, for example, I commented on Powerline about the health care issue, advocating deregulation. Not long after, one came back with:

"Sure, more deregulation, that always works, worked well with Wall Street and the banking industry.... United Healthcare reports record profits and revenue, based on charging more in premiums and delivering less care. Great system, need more like UH to squeeze more out of the middle class....."

The usual lies. I linked to Reisman's Myth that Laissez-Faire is to Blame... but I doubt the creature read it.]
2. Make broad claims and make no effort to substantiate them. That forces the opponent to argue against a case that has not been made, tying up his time and resources.
Case in point: [name redacted] who frequently comments on Pajamas Media articles and HotAir posts, the very prototype of a Progressive.

"AGW deniers generally share a common financial interest in promoting their views. That’s why I was not surprised that the first “reference” in the article is to a commercial outlet for Plimer’s book. Ian Plimer is a Professor of Mining Geology with a background in the mining industry. His expertise in climate science is questionable, to be generous – his financial and career interests are transparent.

Although his book has proven popular with a certain segment of the public, it has been widely panned in the scientific community, simply because the “science” content is nothing but a series of cherry-picked primary sources, selected without regard for accuracy or veracity.

The “technological revolution” that is needed to halt global warming is not “unimaginable” except to those whose imaginations have ceased to function. Without engaging in the work to bring about this revolution, we are doomed to a future of dwindling fossil fuel resources, ongoing climate disruption, and eventually a very nasty and rapid rise in sea level worldwide due to continued carbon emissions.

There is no downside in moving to a sustainable, carbon-neutral economy – it is in the end a cleaner and more cost effective way to power an economy once the investment in infrastructure is in place. Wholesale rejection of mainstream scientific thought (”I will never believe the British Medical Journal again, and I have real doubts about the Lancet. The journals Nature and Science have become shockingly corrupt and dishonest on global warming.”) is one of the sure signs of late-stage global warming denial.

If the GOP continues to ignore the overwhelming evidence of AGW, and relies on the pseudo-scientists of the world for support, it truly is one of the worst times for science. Peer-review and broad consensus are the basis of scientific knowledge, and AGW deniers fail miserably on both counts. There is no peer-reviewed evidence that refutes the well-documented long-term warming that has been observed since the beginning of scientific measurements, and the broad consensus supports theories that recognize the impact of human activity on the global environment.

It is the best of times, in the sense that science can identify and propose remedies for the damage that humans do to their environment, and technology provides the tools to made these changes. It is only the political mechanism that is paralyzed by oligarchy. But even the biggest players in the fossil fuel game can see the their future will be very different. It is not possible to deny the science forever, as the consequences of warming are becoming more obvious every year."

[Note the sly character assassination in the form of insinuating that all "AGW deniers" are motivated by commercial gain, unlike Progressives who are "pure." The usual slander. Notice, too, the number of points made with no supporting links. Take particular note of the casual dismissal of any scientist who disagrees, characterized here as a pseudo scientist. Viz. Dr. Tim Ball, Dr. Fred Singer, Dr. Sallie Baliunus, Dr. William Gray, Dr. Patrick Michaels, and many more.]
3. When the opposition makes an unassailable point, simply ignore it, and switch the argument to another point.

4. When your arguments are shown several ways from Sunday to be flawed, wait a little while, then repeat the argument as if nothing had ever been said to demonstrate its flaws.

5. When an argument is made with six different supporting facts or sub-arguments, pick the weakest and focus exclusively on this.

[I call this technique "crawling through the cracks," a specialty of Progressives, but widely used today.]

6. NEVER acknowledge any fact or argument that in the least weakens your case, much less admit you were wrong. Winning, truth be damned, is the goal no matter the costs.

[The sure sign not only of a dogmatist, but one of the Pragmatist variety, which encompasses most Progressives.]

7. When you cite statistics, it doesn't matter if the source never supports your case, even when the numbers are from a Progressive-friendly site.

[The stats either bear another plausible explanation or are simply a non sequitur. (Popular in discussions of both economics and climate.)]

8. When caught advocating something blatantly injurious to freedom, the pocketbook, or an individual's well-being, affect a wide-eyed "Who me?" tone and pretend that the plain meaning of your words wasn't what you meant.

9. As needed, assert that "Republicans/conservatives/Mr. X" did evil, therefore, Y is good. In short, use the fallacy of false alternative liberally (pun intended).

10. To sound authoritative, generally display a completely unearned nose-in-the-air attitude that suggests anyone who disagrees is a flyover-country moron.

11. When cornered, play the victim card and whenever possible whine about ad hominem, while issuing plenty of them at the same time.

12. When needed, pull the sympathy card. Cry about how allowing freedom in this or that issue will lead to old women dying in the streets as capitalists look on and laugh. Ignore that this is historically untrue and morally irrelevant.

13. When someone makes a statement such as "Rand was insightful at times" with which you disagree, spend no time whatever considering whether it's true and what might show it or contradict it. Instead, seek out instances where it was not so and then act as if these constitute proof of a universal premise.

14. Substitute snark for argument and evidence. This is something of a restatement of the above, but bears repeating in this different form.

15. [Added 1/30/2010] When all else fails, whenever discussing science or economics, devolve the discussion as quickly as possible into technical minutiae. Ignore any ethical or political implications of any facts, unless they support your case.

16. Like the old-time Communists from whom you evolved (to become new-style Fascists), always promote government power at the expense of individual freedom. Trot out any facts that might be useful for your purpose, as needed, regardless of their relevance.

17. Like Fascists everywhere, pretend to be in favor of freedom, while assiduously working to undermine it at all times.

[Take the view, for example, that you don't want to nationalize industry, just regulate it... until there's nothing but the smallest difference of degree between the two. Ditto every aspect of individual freedom of action. Never tolerate the idea that anyone could be allowed to make a free choice that isn't in line with your pusillanimous ethical posturing.]

[It's particularly this last that makes Progressives so disgusting. They know they can't win openly by touting their beliefs in undisguised form. In this respect, the Soviets and Italian Fascists of the 1920s were more honest.]

Progressives, like Puritans, simply can not tolerate individuals living as they please, without these noble saints directing them. They invent all sorts of rationalizations, pretending bad things inevitably follow from freedom, in order to justify their fear and hatred of choice. No amount of evidence showing how unfounded are their beliefs will dissuade them, as it never does for the truly zealous.

I'm compelled to conclude that it's time for a Reformation.


Rick C said...

Nice. My experience with progressives, both friends and strangers, reflects your list exactly.

Choey said...

There really is no arguing with a liberal for all the reasons you give plus the fact that their minds are simply closed. I have long believed that the only way to get through to a liberal is to humiliate them and make them a laughingstock.

bucyrus said...

Pretty comprehensive list. I have run into all these tactics when attempting to discuss politics with partisan progressives.

And I have also run into all these tactics or their appropriate analogues when attempting to discuss politics with partisan conservatives.

The favorite one seems to be the "this guy on the other side is bad, so this guy on my side must be good" argument. Tedious stuff.

Jeff Perren said...

Welcome all to Shaving Leviathan, and thanks for your comments.


I'm not a conservative and I know that no group has a monopoly on thinking errors. But I'd guess the ratio is a thousand to one here.

I know it's annoying to be asked, but if you have any real-life examples I'd like to see them. Just copy and paste when you run across them.

I have to take objection to one aspect of your post, though. The use of the word "partisan" suggests that the ideal is to be neutral. I disagree.

It's not a question of "them vs us" it's a question of "right vs wrong."

It's possible to be passionately committed and completely objective, if you're passionately committed to the truth. The alternative is Pragmatism, a subjectivist doctrine I argue against often in this blog.

Thanks again for your comment.

Kerry said...

It is time to ignore what the secular-progressive-atheistic-nihilistic left asserts and ask very simple questions. For example, I would ask Mrs. Incompetano, "Can we determine, without searching everyone,who does not need to be searched?" (Think for a moment about the implications of the two possible answers.) To those who prayed that Rush Limbaugh would die becasue, (as I read at Ann Althouse's blog) he "lies and hates and etc.)one might ask, "So to those who 'preach hate, the charitable response in to pray for their deaths...? What is the prayed for punishment for what lessor offences? Alternately, as the Lord Jesus Christ said, "Pray for your enemies, do good to those that hurt you", with out any codicils of "except for this offence", do you believe you may except yourself from His admonition. Or this, for those particular Congress Weasels claiming "Health care is a right!". Does this 'right' come endowed for us from the same place the "...and endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights". One last, a personal favorite. I once asked an photo taking blogger an anti-Bush rally, "Do you think human nature is perfectible?" (No trees fell, in no forests.)

Anonymous said...

Dex says:

One more lib rule of argument is to label anyone as a racist (oh my, oh gee) when they disagree with our wonderful boy president or any other black 'leader'.

That's sure to get the most ardent white man or women to head for the bushes, right? Not any more.

perlhaqr said...

"AGW deniers generally share a common financial interest in promoting their views."

Well, to be fair, that's true. It's called "a basic understanding of economics" and "not wanting to be driven into poverty by idiotic anti-industrial government measures".

I have a strong financial (and otherwise) interest in not being forced into subsistence farming.

Jeff Perren said...

Welcome newcomers to Shaving Leviathan, and thanks for your comments.


Good point, but I'm pretty sure he was referring to them all being paid lackeys of the evil oil barons and such. That said, I like the way you put it.

DirtCrashr said...

Thank you Jeff for all those well founded points.

As for AGW deniers sharing a common financial interest, it seems that AGW proponant Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the leading ICC panel-guy has his own share of financial interests as strategic adviser to the private equity investment firm Pegasus Capital Advisors LP, and his membership on the Senior Advisory Board of Siderian ventures based in San Francisco - posts that reward him handsomly.
There are many more gray-faced lackeys in bondage to Academic and Governmental Regulatory interests - interests that create Laws that "Evil Oil Barons" must abide-by, and Taxes that affect entire national populations - than there are oily barons of any kind...
I'm really tired of the whole 19th Century Snidely Whiplash depiction of people who do the real wealth-creation - it sure isn't the Government that does it.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

One item missing from the overall list: Somewhere in the whole mess, you have to throw in general insults of the other person's integrity by the progressive, or other random name-calling. Rush Limbaugh: "See, I Told You So!" Al Franken: "Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot." Comedian making fun of conservatives is "funny and insightful," comedian making fun of progressives is an "a**hole," "poophead," etc. Joe Wilson: "You lie!" Wilson's critics: "He's rude/racist/etc."

Jeff Perren said...

Good point, Alexander, and welcome to Shaving Leviathan.

I tried to cover that in #11 (ad hominem attacks), but it could be clearer. Also, I tried to keep the list focused on errors that are committed chiefly by Progressives and, unfortunately, the sort of thing you mention is about equally common among conservatives. (HotAir comment threads are filled with such things, for example.)

Not that the Progressives don't deserve all those insults...

Laughingdog said...

I'd have to say that, in my experience, #3, #4, and #6 really aren't specific to progressives. Being libertarian, I argue with liberals and conservatives, and I've had both sides pull those three tactics.

Jeff Perren said...

Welcome to Shaving Leviathan, Laughingdog, and thanks for your comment. (A friend of mine owns a brewery by that name. Good beer, if you're interested.)

True, and any of them could be committed by anyone on any point of the political compass. My experience is that the ratio of making them is about 1000:1 Progressives to conservatives, though.

The biggest problem with the vast majority of conservatives in my experience is they simply can't frame an argument very well at all. That's just one of the reasons I'm not a conservative (nor a libertarian, nor a good fit for any other major demographic group).

I find libertarians a very mixed bag, though. Some are superlative, others I wouldn't trust with a bag of marbles. They run the gamut from anarchists to classical liberals to Objectivists (using the term libertarian very loosely). Robert Higgs is excellent on all things economic, for example, but his views on national defense are dangerous. The editors of Reason seem to have succumbed (like many libertarians) to cynicism years ago, an untenable position no matter the circumstances. There are moral subjectivists, technocratic Miseians, and a host of others.

In short, with rare exceptions and on a few topics here and there, I'm the only person I know who gets it right all the time. :)

Thanks for your comment. Hope you'll stick around.

John said...

Having read through the list, I really have to say that in my experience, progressives, conservatives, libertarians, communists, fascists--everybody--is equally guilty of all of these.

Re: 1, "Lie all the time", I'm pretty sure that most of the people guilty of this do so out of ignorance, not malice.

Re: 2, it's just a straw man, everybody does it. I read righty and lefty and inbetweeny blogs and everybody's guilty.

3 is standard debate technique.

4 is just a subset of the Big Lie, and is used by literally anybody who's ever held a position of power.

5 is standard debate technique.

6 is standard with ANY political creature. Same with 7.

I'll give you 8.

9 you can see all over the place on the Right with "if Obama suggested it it must be evil", even if he's advocating for something they should agree with. Obama Derangement Syndrome and Bush Derangement Syndrome apply equally to conservatives and progressives, respectively.

10 is standard among entitled people, who make up an equal percentage of both parties (possibly moreso on the right, in my experience).

11 I'll give you, although everybody's guilty of ad hominems.

12: Come on, man, everybody does that. Cf: Reagan and Medicare.

13: Still something I see employed equally by everyone. Subset of ad hominems, really.

14: I'll give you that the lefty blogs are way snarkier. Nobody can beat Wonkette for snark. Moe Lane comes close.

15: When discussing science or economics (which are academic disciplines that largely exist in a bubble), why NOT bring it to a minute level? If you're talking about things like bioethics, then I agree that minutiae has no place, but when debating the relatives merits of tax cuts vs. infrastructure spending as stimulus...

16: Everybody with power does that, left, right, center, whatever, just under a different mask. See: FISA, Gun Control

17: Every politician, every time. See: FISA, Gun Control

It's a good list of debate techniques and logical fallacies, but it's far from being limited to progressives.

(For the record, I'm some weird love child of libertarianism and socialism. I want single-payer and an assault rifle; legalize whatever, let everybody marry, the government has no place in that, etc.)

Viking said...

Great list! And thanks, I have been wondering how to articulate my thoughts on this for some time.

Dealing with Progressives or Socialists - and I'm sure you covered this to an extent - I have noticed the tendency to talk about "caring":
Usually in the sense that "we" (represented by the State of course) should care, conservatives "don't care" and socialists do "care" (about "society", the marginalised, unemployed, minorities, etc,) as though caring in itself is the be-all and end-all of the discussion.

"Caring" of course, means forking out, as we Brits say, but from other peoples' pockets, not their own.
In other words, a socialist/Progressive is someone who believes that somebody needs assistance, and that Other People must immediately provide it. This is the extent of their "charity".

And not only that, but this effort to get other people to pay for your causes counts as a moral achievement for yourself!

Sorry if I've gone off on a tangent...

Jeff Perren said...

Thanks, and welcome to Shaving Leviathan.

I'll pass over for now the distinction between Progressives and Socialists. (There are important differences, both in theory and practice.) I'll just address your excellent comments about "caring."

It's true that I don't include any bullet items about ethics; my focus was on logic. That said, you're right to point out that altruism — defined here as self-sacrifice for those in need — is at the base of a lot of Progressive advocacy now and over the past century. It's been a very effective tool for undermining opposition to statist policies.

Ayn Rand addresses that issue at length in many places, and demonstrates it in action, stripped of the smiley-face bromides, in "We the Living" and "Atlas Shrugged."

If you haven't read those, or prefer something shorter and non-fictional, I recommend The Virtue of Selfishness in the same-named anthology.

It can be boiled down to a brilliant phrase authored by Mark Goldblatt:

"It is not the proper role of government to dry one person's tears by confiscating another person's tissues."