I’ve got something against you.

This post is purely aspirational for me because I have a very hard time doing what I’m going to propose. From what I observe, the same holds for a lot of people. So here goes: Be for things. Don’t just be against things. Sounds simple, right? Watch me go off the rails straight away……

The inspirations for this post come from a couple of online personae that I admire.

The first is Cleek’s Law.

Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily.

Pretty straight-forward, no? It also reeks of the truth. It’s quite easy to sit back and lob criticism at your ideological opposition but offer no solutions. These criticisms don’t need to be true or even make sense. They could be based on perception or potential perception of an issue. They could rely on all sorts of fallacies. Slippery slopes. Straw men. The intent is to invalidate the actions of one’s opponent by making a broad assertion and then force the opposition to defend itself.

Conservatism does not offer solutions. Sure, they trot out supply-side economics (trickle-down theory) and tax cuts that will pay for themselves, but these theories have an awful empirical track record. See, Kansas, State of, for a current example. Restating an ideology that has been shown not to work in the current operating conditions isn’t offering a solution. So we’re trapped in a zero-sum game. Everything that one’s opponent does must be wrong, because it comes from your opponent.

The second is related to Cleeks law and is called Davis X. Machina’s Law.

The salient fact of American politics is that there are fifty to seventy million voters each of who will volunteer to live, with his family, in a cardboard box under an overpass, and cook sparrows on an old curtain rod, if someone would only guarantee that the black, gay, Hispanic, liberal, whatever, in the next box over doesn’t even have a curtain rod, or a sparrow to put on it.

As a note up front, I get a lot of pushback when I quote this law. The substance of the pushback hasn’t ever been that people act this way. It is always about whether sparrows can fit on curtain rods to cook them. Whenever I hear this line of objection, I know that the criticizer is giving up on the merits of the law (the actions of the people) and trying to divert attention to the trappings of the argument. Basically, they’re trying to say that since a sparrow can’t fit on a curtain rod (or more accurately, they refuse to admit that they are small in diameter curtain rods), then the conclusion must be wrong. Ummmmmmm…no.

The point is that people will act against their interests as long as it hurts the “right” people. But why is this? As discussed above, it’s easy. It’s the path of less resistance. It is much easier to “punch down” on the people one wants to be disadvantaged than it is to “punch up” against the powers that be to obtain something for one’s benefit. Personally, when I see someone acting against their own interests in order to harm others it screams to me that the primary motivator for that person is hatred. It’s not a very good look. For anyone.

So what to do then? Try to make positive arguments and bolster those with negative arguments. By this I mean be for something, not just against things. I’m not saying one should never use a negative argument. Pointing out the deficiencies of your opponent is not necessarily a bad thing. However, over-reliance on negative arguments can be and is a bad thing because it is extremely difficult to find common ground. Only negative arguments is not a persuasive technique. I sometimes find myself painted in a corner and taking pot shots at an opposing viewpoint. I may even be making valid points about the weakness of the viewpoint. But in the back of my mind I know I’m not being constructive or persuasive.

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11 thoughts on “I’ve got something against you.

  1. David Fud on said:

    This is an excellent point. I have recently come to the conclusion that there is an additional component to what you have mentioned here. Specifically, you have to use a similar rationale as your opponent (assuming they are arguing in good faith) to have any hope to convince them.

    By this, I mean that if you have a values voter that you want to convince of any particular notion, if you don’t use a values based argument, you will actually only succeed in driving the person to dig in and to defend their position even more vociferously. It is a reverse confirmation bias. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney?page=1)

    It is insidious, but points the way for us to have what I would call “right relations” with our political opponents. If we want to win on climate change, economics, social safety net, discrimination and policing, empire, and so many other issues, we have to use their notions against them so they are not allowed the luxury of brushing you off because you are not a values oriented person.

    • Great comment David. What you propose is initially counterintuitive but then makes good sense. If you want to persuade, know your audience.

    • Hi David, I just read your comment and wanted to reply. If you have read our blog info you would know Mike is very active politically and I tend to focus on lighter issues. We encourage an eclectic audience and while our communication strategy may differ we tend to come to the same conclusions. To further your thoughts I believe productive conversations must be based on a “similar rationale”. It is impossible to encourage understanding if one’s argument/conversation is not relatable. Great comment, thank you for reading!

      • David Fud on said:

        I saw your note on the open thread at BJ; I might have clicked over here before, but I don’t believe so. It was refreshing to see your entry here, because I have come to a similar conclusion about being for something. Destruction and negativity are easy. Building something up is much more difficult, but much more rewarding (I hope). Difficult not to respond in kind to obstruction that has happened for years.

        I have been inspired lately by a very wise teacher friend of mine in Jefferson County, CO, who teaches at Columbine and has seen much more than her share of violence and now the devaluation and attempted political destruction of the public school system there. She wisely noted, “I wish the same thing for those I love easily and those I struggle to love: enlightenment. It is the greatest reward and harshest punishment.” I have been trying to implement that notion lately.

        In any event, thanks for the welcome, seems like a nice joint.

  2. Good commentary and timely for me since I’ve been doing post to post combat on Facebook with a right wing family member today. The trouble is I find few who argue in good faith.

    • I hear you on the bad faith. They can’t be persuaded. You may be persuading others, though, on a forum like facebook.
      I’m trying discipline to not respond to bad faith with mockery, whether I feel it is deserved or not. Sometimes even successfully.
      What David said about important issues above is spot on.

  3. mclaren on said:

    In my experience, whenever I propose positive arguments and suggest sensible solutions, the Cleeks and Davis X. Machinas of the world leap in to shower any positive suggestion or actual plan with acid contempt.

    Examples (5 off the top of my head):

    [1] America desperately needs nationalized single-payer health care. So how about mass sit-down demonstrations that block traffic in Washington D.C. and clog the halls of congress and the White House driveway until all of Washington shuts down?

    The Cleeks of the world sneer, “Yeah, we’re right there behind you.” Then put me on their pie filter.

    [2] The American economy is in the crapper. So howsabout we knock down and rebuild all large U.S. cities to enable light rail and pedestrian and bicycle and moped traffic, instead of freeways, bring housing into the city itself instead of the exurbs, and simulataneously build a second passenger rail system with state-of-the-art bullet trains? The Cleeks of the world sneer, “Politically impossible,” and put me back on their pie filter.

    [3] America keeps getting itself into endless unwinnable foreign wars, mostly because of oil. So let’s start a Manhattan Program designed to replace our current oil and coal dependent energy generation with other forms of energy, from pebble-bed nuclear thorium reactors to solar?

    The Davis X. Machinas explain that I’m “insane” and indulge in name-calling.

    [4] Hillary Clinton’s not what we need, so how about we draft Elizabeth Warren? Cue Cleek and company to explain all the trillions of reason why that can never happen — conveniently giving ’em an excuse to keep sitting on their asses doing nothing.

    [5] Higher education in America is in a death spiral. So how about we radically rethink the whole thing, make tuition free, and set up entry to the best colleges by a random lottery? Cue the Davis X. Machinas of the world to explain that this is “demented,” despite the work of the Italian mathematicians proving mathematically that the most efficient way to run any organization is by random promotion.

    • Hi mclaren,

      I get where you’re coming from. I agree with you that those are 5 issues that need to be dealt with. People differ on the solutions and things bog down into what must be/can’t be/shouldn’t be done. You’re frequently a proponent of radical solutions. I think that is a good thing. Even when I ultimately disagree with your solution, I value expanding my understanding of what “can” be done. You’ve persuaded me (and others) on issues and solutions. I just don’t think you get the same feedback when that happens. Advocating for radical solutions is a tough slog.

      • mclaren on said:

        I think what people tend to forget is that _all_ solutions are “radical” when first suggested. The 8-hour workday was considered wildly radical when it was first proposed — initially, only the IWW advocated it. Women’s suffrage was judged absurdly radical when women first spoke out for it. The 5-day work week got pilloried as “too radical.” Ditto the Erie Canal (believe it or not).

        Anyway, the Latin origin of the word “radical” means “to the root,” which isn’t a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. When did the commonplace and entirely reasonable term ‘radical’ get demonized to mean “insane and impossible” instead of “going to the root of the problem”?

    • Name on said:

      [1] WW1 vets march on DC, but that was a more extreme era. How does the influence of their yellow journalism compare to influence of our KSM?
      [2] Costs are too high. Dead end. Individual transport is the long-term trend.
      [3] Solid value. Must be sold as military research.
      [4] At least to ‘start the dialogue’. However the KSM will mostly ignore.
      [5] Solid and proven. Also, G.I bill. This policy might publicly appeal enough to overcome or ‘topple’ the KSM’s opposition.

  4. That’s a very good point about all solutions being radical at first. I don’t think it is a bad thing at all to propose those solutions. I used to look for ways to immediately disqualify radical solutions but I really endeavor to hear them out now.

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