“There’s nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view that I hold dear” – Daniel Dennett
A good friend of mine, one whom I never enjoy being on the opposite end of an argument with, explained to me that in order to properly argue for a belief that you hold true, you should not only want to present good arguments, but deny bad arguments. It seems simple enough, but in practice we consistently fail – especially in politics.
Politics has become a cesspool for talking points and half truth rhetoric. Few actually know the principles or intricacies behind the topic they are defending or promoting. Interestingly, it seems we all know that both sides are guilty of this because we constantly point out the flaw across the aisle. Talking points are prominent in politics for, as I see it, two basic reasons. First, because they are easily recited by even the most ignorant of supporters and second, they give just enough information for an individual to feel as if they are learned in regard to the given subject.
There’s an advancement in talking points that seems to be prominent among the left (though honestly, it can be found on both sides) that deals with the problem of not being able to argue with intellectual honesty. Allow me to explain with a recent encounter.
In the not too distant past I got in a little discussion on a college campus with some kids who were supporting a certain democratic politician. I attempted to keep it civil and simply asked them some probing questions about the issues. While I presented my point regarding the new laws in our state surrounding methamphetamines, this individual wrote my entire premise off with one interrupting rhetorical statement, “I bet you support Sarah Palin too”. With that one line, that irrelevant half-accusation, I was doomed in the hallway besieged with collegiate brilliance! My answer didn’t matter, the accusation had been made and I had to either deter from the point and defend that charge or denounce Palin to remain credible – either way, he defused my argument regarding methamphetamines with a parry from the sword of mockery.
Being mocked by the ignorant is frustrating. For me, I stood in wonder as to how this individual who knows so little was bold enough to taunt me under the misguided belief that he knows so much. In that thought process it hit me; he has been a successfully converted instrument of the left. You see, it is easier to convince people of what they want to believe rather than teach them what they need to know. In the case of this individual, and many others, it was easier for him to be convinced that he was knowledgeable (something he wanted to believe) rather than teach him actual knowledge.
Years ago I made a simple argument with my office’s outspoken liberal about limited government. When I told him that the Tenth Amendment said that all powers not specifically given to the federal government by our constitution are reserved to the states and the people, he scoffed at me for my ignorance. “The states are bigger than the federal government”, he puffed with a contemptuous voice. For a brief moment his boorish mockery won the audience – until I pulled out my pocket constitution.
Prior to pulling my trump card, he had convinced everyone I was the dumb character he was imitating. The liberal knows that the federal government trumps everything, just like they know that Bush and Palin are stupid, that Tea Party protesters are racist, and that conservatives are greedy people who hate the poor. These non-factoids have become, in the minds of liberals, non-fiction. They have their truth; try opposing it, and you’ll be met with the refined and most effective weapon the left has – mockery.
The left has made a business out of mockery; it is nearly everywhere. It is no longer left to the comedians or talk show hosts, but is consistently used in “real political commentary” by the likes of Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann. The comedians use it as a tool for the supremely foolish such as in Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show”, and then the Bill Mahers of the world try to play both parts of the field when it suits them best. All of this has become a source to puff up those who lack understanding and followers continuously imitate these wind bags in the process of debate. The masses receive their truth in sound bites and make a joke out of legitimate arguments in spite of their substance. Try making a drinking game for every time Rachel Maddow rolls her eyes, or shakes her head in dismissal at a republicanor explains their positions with the hint of laughter in her voice and you’ll be as drunk as a lord.
Now, I love mockery as much as the next guy, especially if done with a thick British accent regarding a monarch. Mockery, in its most sincere form, is a derision of another’s foolery. Dana Carvey’s President Bush is still my preferred way to order Moo Shu Chicken. Steven Crowder and Greg Gutfeld send a thrill up my leg! I can even appreciate Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert because the guys are funny. There is a problem, however, when a charade becomes the foundation of certainty – and that is the problem today. Too many plant their seeds of understanding in the bedrock of farce and give little charity to the arguments presented from their opposition.
Again, it is not just the left who fall victim to this pitfall. As my opening quote reveals, we cannot allow bad arguments to be present in our struggle for liberty and limited government. If we do, we leave open the door to mockery. We must battle those bad arguments within with just as much fervor as we battle the ones made against us.