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.