Scared Away from Good Ideas by Their Anti-Rational Supporters

I look back on my original support for the war in Iraq and wonder how I made such a mistake.  Part of it, I think, was getting sucked into a general nationalist enthusiasm that strikes me as similar in retrospect to the August madness at the start of WWI.  But I also think I was scared away from the non-intervention position by the pathetic arguments and tactics adopted by some of the more prominent folks on the "peace" side of that debate.  Ironically in college I experienced the flip side of this problem, often lamenting that the worst thing that could happen in any argument was to have someone incompetent try to jump in on my side.

I recall all of this because I was reading this post from Ken White where he is responding and giving advice to a student who was the subject of an earlier column.   I really liked this bit:

We're in the middle of a modest conservative backlash and a resurgence of bigotry, both actual and arrested-adolescent-poseur. I believe a large part of this backlash results from the low quality of advocacy for progressive ideas. Much of that advocacy has become characterized by petulant whining and empty dogmatism. The message conveyed by too many of your generation is not that people should adopt progressive ideas because they are right or just, but that they should adopt them because that is what they are supposed to adopt because that is what right-thinking people adopt. That is irritating and ineffectual. Faced with an idea, I don't expect your generation to confront it. I don't expect you to explain how it's wrong, and win hearts and minds that your ideas are better. Rather, I expect you to assert that you should be protected from being exposed to the idea in the first place. That's disappointing and doesn't bode well for the success of progressive ideas (many of which I admire) in society. In short: if this is how you're going to fight for what you think is right, you're going to lose. Do better.

I find this election particularly depressing -- not just because the candidates are so disappointing (that has happened many times before) -- but because it has highlighted how large the anti-rational voter pool is, with both Sanders and Trump acting as attractors for them.


  1. kidmugsy:

    Although I was vehemently against the Iraq attack, I couldn't bring myself to go to the big demo in London. Marching with commies and mad mullahs? No thanks.

  2. mlhouse:

    There is no argument taht can be made that the attack in Iraq was a mistake. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was a major strategic victory for US interest, human interest, and overall global stability. Unfortunately these gains were lost with Barrack Obama's decision to run away from Iraq.

  3. mesocyclone:

    I think many of the Trump voters are part of a preference cascade (see Instapundit for various discussions in other contexts). We are all constantly bombarded with what we cannot say and what we cannot due lest we be branded a bigot, fired from our jobs, and hounded out of society. In a preference cascade, people discover that a whole lot of people believe the same politically incorrect thoughts, and suddenly they feel free to get together and express them. The anger that comes with that discovery is, I think, what temporarily removes the rationality.

    Today, we cannot say anything other than that gay marriage is equal in every way to heterosexual marriage, even though it manifestly is different, regardless of whether we think it's okay. We cannot advocate for what has long been considered a basic function of nations, immigration control, without being racists. Now we have to abandon our long standing cultural rules about who can go into a bathroom and a locker room. After transgender "rights" something else will come along. Notice that in today's world, these are not rights about what you can do. They are rights that the heavy hand of the government enforces against others, in contravention of their rights.

    Until the preference cascade sweeps this insanity from our culture, the anger will build.

    As we see with Trump,. when that suppressed anger comes out, it is often not pretty. But, the anger is not at all irrational, it just replaces rationality for awhile.

  4. mesocyclone:

    Re: the war on Iraq. It is so easy for people to now regret it. 20-20 quarterbacking does not substitute for analysis in the context of the time. It is recency bias that causes us to look to the past and see all sorts of foolishness. But if we fairly examine the decision making context of the time, things do not look as stupid - sometimes. In the case of Iraq, we had a nation that, once every ten years, launched a major war that disrupted commerce and got a lot of people killed. It was committing acts of war against the US on a weekly basis - by attacking our aircraft that were, by agreement, patrolling its skies. It had tried to assassinate a former president, George Bush. It was maintaining a strategic ambiguity (per Saddam in his interrogations) about its production and possession of weapons of mass destruction. There were 23 counts in the causes to go to war, not just the one we remember: WMD's.

    On the latter, it turns out that Iraq had far more than enough WMD's to justify the WMD cases. Remember, the WMD case was that Iraq might give those WMD's to terrorists, and Iraq had a history of arming terrorists, and at least allowed Al Qaeda to operate in its territory at the time. The Bush administration foolishly kept quiet about the 5000 rounds of chemical artillery shells that were found, the small number that were actually used against US troops (with Sarin), and the hundreds of Sarin armed rockets. But those were all found. ISIS has used mustard agent from Saddam'[s arsenal, left over from that period.

  5. herdgadfly:

    Haven't you heard the good news? Trump is pivoting from his act of being a bombastic asshole to become presidential as an establishment candidate. That is what the RNC has been told as revealed in a smuggled recording from the meeting between Paul Manafort and the RNC.

    And Trump told the Today show:
    “It's easier for me to be presidential than for me to be doing what I've been doing for the last, really, nine months,” he said. “But at the right time, I will be so presidential, you will be so bored. You will say, can't he have a little bit more energy?”

    So the word is out that Trump is playing a role and can act out any character as required. I am sure that the Trump Hive Mind is thrilled by it all. I wonder when they will ask to read the script?

  6. Daublin:

    Indeed. I don't really understand why people are *sad* that the current nominees are coming off as dolts. It strikes me as a healthy forward step in the public's awareness of the sorts of people who run for office. If you want to do well in a general election, you have to treat the public as a vast sea of marks, and procede to con them to the best of your ability. If you don't, you'll get heavily outvoted by someone who does.

    Perhaps the change in awareness is in part due to the increase of Internet discussion forums. 20 years ago, you'd just be reading about Trump being "hard on immigration" in the paper the next day. You wouldn't be reading his Twitter feed, and you wouldn't be spending half your day reading political analysis rather than whatever your job is.

  7. Daublin:

    Yeah, the alternative history with Saddaam in charge doesn't look that great, does it? Instead of being a fledgling democrocy under attack from lots of fundamentalist Muslims, it would be under control of fundamentalist Muslims, continuing its flagrant human rights violations, and spewing hate about America all the way to the top of the government.

    It seems impossible to find anyone really thinking through such things. Everyone just wants to dissociate themselves from an admittedly ugly situation.

  8. Titan28:

    While much of the quote and what you say about it is unobjectionable, I have to say I tire of the 'bigotry' business. I can't say that there are no bigots in the US. There always were and there always will be a few. But the term 'bigot' has become loaded, like 'capitalist roader,' or 'enemy of the people.' The left has been calling people who disagree with them names for decades, and getting away with it. I have reservations about US immigration policy? I'm a bigot. Race issues? I'm a 'racist.' I'm done arguing with the left. All they do is call you names. They never argue substance. They don't have any. Heck, they actually still believe socialism works. Ask them about Venezuela. Blank look. Bernie Sanders. Hero.

    Trump is an ignoramus in many respects, a buffoon and clown in many others. The way he constantly refers to himself drives me crazy. I can't listen to him. However, he has a counterpart: Barack Obama. Now, I know two wrongs don't make a right. But everyone in the media is going on about Trump's narcissism and ignorance, acting like it would be the end of days if he won. His twin is already in the white house.

    Obama is the most ignorant human to ever be president. Yet he considers himself a genius. I don't doubt for a second he sees himself as intellectually superior to Da Vinci, Feynman and Borlaug. His mind is a left-wing, progressive cartoon. He actually thinks in cliches. Read his speeches. They are vacuous, every one. Is anyone in the media complaining that we have a historically-illiterate, hate America buffoon in the white house? Of course not. They resent American success too.

    And this is not simply because Barry has the media in his pocket. That's only part of the explanation. The larger part of the explanation is a matter of style. Obama is coy, snarky, below the belt. Sneaky. Behind your back, late at night. Most of what he says is plain idiotic (his views on energy, climate change, education, Islam...). Trump isn't afraid of making himself into a caricature. Obama is a caricature, but he does it invisibly (hat tip to Ralph Ellison). He's much better at it than The Donald.

  9. Mercury:

    "Ironically in college I experienced the flip side of this problem, often lamenting that the worst thing that could happen in any argument was to have someone incompetent try to jump in on my side."
    Because you make arguments that are rational you are vulnerable to unwanted allies who try to make a similar argument in an absurdly irrational way which is perceived as tainting you by association and possibly turning you into a Steve Colbert type laughingstock.

    If, on the other hand you made emotionally based arguments you would be much less vulnerable because there is no such thing as an emotionally unsound argument, there are only arguments with more or less emotion. Guess which strategy the Progressive Left has embraced and is also rapidly becoming the default method by which most Americans deal with problems and view the world?

    There can never be a Progressive-Left version of Steve Colbert's Daily Show character because emotion-based politics is effectively beyond parody or ridicule, even in extremis. The semi-reasonable Democrat who argues for expanding healthcare entitlements on compassionate grounds is not discredited in the public eye if he stands next to an wack-o Left activist who wants free shit for everybody. It just underscores how strongly people feel about this issue and why we need to do something now.

  10. MB:

    I wonder how much of this is a generational shift in progress? I mean, we certainly don't debate the merits of human sacrifices, slavery, polygamy, eugenics, etc. any more - and I don't think it's because we couldn't round up some advocates. Those debates happened long ago, and we accept the conclusions. Now, the mere mention of them is akin to cold fusion or perpetual motion in a physics debate.

    It occurs to me that at some point, society's conversation has to move on with no regard for those that want to continue the debate. How that transition takes place, I don't know. But I don't think the college student(s) were lamenting about being "exposed" to the idea, but to the nonchalance afterwards . Similarly, I imagine more than just college student(s) would be up in arms if a newspaper simply repeated curse words on their front page, or shocking pictures, or full page graphic porn (all arguably protected by the 1st amendment). Those things have, rightly or wrongly, been relegated to beyond-the-pale and I think the core of the disagreement is where on the spectrum the current material lies.

    Hiding behind the characterizations of petulant whining and empty dogmatism isn't exactly furthering a debate either.

    I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to connect the dots between here and the global warming controversy.

  11. obloodyhell:

    I stopped paying attention to Popehat years ago when they suppressed a post of mine with regards to the then-new anti-gay-marriage law in NC. It was well-reasoned, non-pejorative, and very powerful. It never appeared, though i ppstwd it twice. Questions about this failure were ignored.

    It's their site. They can reject posts. But I'm not going to waste my time with intellectually dishonest clowns who talk about free speech and then suppress well-founded arguments that destroy their own positions.

    And it did. Their argument was based on "no harm", while I noted it wasn't a question of harm, but one of conflicting rights -- the right of someone to be openly gay vs the right of the individual -- specifically one with religious beliefs -- to associate with those they chose. I even acked that most of the time and in most situations, the former won out. But there were a number of specific situations where one might argue in favor of a technical right being quite boorish to impose. That of a gay person to try and get married in a Catholic Church would be such an example. The "Cake" issue is another (they did not just ask for **A** cake, they asked for a cake with a specific message on it which the cake makers found offensive).

  12. obloodyhell:


    Warren is in Troll mode with this. There are times he makes ridiculously stupid claims just to piss his readers off.

  13. Seekingfactsforsanity:

    Most projects left unfinished or abandoned once started leave things pretty ugly - as in Iraq. Success has many fathers and people yelling "me too!". Not so much in the ugly case. I believe the ugly today is simply a result of lack of consistency in vision and determination but primarily - simple abandonment. Obama chose the quick and easy solution to just get out and to be as little involved as possible.