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False Dichotomies: Liberal verse Conservative

October 27, 2009

False Dichotomies: Liberal verse Conservative

Of all the nonsense that runs around in people heads I think the prejudice that only my side could possibly do good is the most dysfunctional. This goes for Left verses Right; Religious verses Atheists and Liberal verses Conservative. We can attribute all that is good and wonderful to the side we support whilst at the same time attributing all that is bad to the side we do not like to support. It may be emotionally satisfying to do so but unfortunately it is a fraudulent testing regime and so proves nothing. The person who does this has selected the evidence to match their argument. It is a kangaroo court of the mind where the defence is not even invited.

One of the most blaring mistakes is that when people start to talk in absolutes they do so about incredibly vague subjects. There is also a seemly instant assumption that they have exclusive ownership of the terms. What is a conservative? What is a Liberal? Those are not easy questions to answer because there often no reference point for either. We should be asking: ‘A Liberal or Conservative what?’ Even before we  start attributing qualities to something we must first know what that ‘something’ it is. Otherwise we have no better explanation for why we are right than ‘4 Legs Good, 2 Legs Bad.’

One the most annoying aspects of Ann Coulter book ‘Godless’ is that she attributed every bad thing to ‘Liberals'(and yes I have read from cover to cover). This is such a fine thing to do when you are the only person who creates the definition of what a Liberal or Conservative is. It is however, intellectually bereft because demanding to own the definition of a word for the sake of partisan gain begs a more serious question. ‘Who died and made you owner of the word?’ It is easy to hang scorn on Coulter for shamelessly doing so but both sides of politics engage the same fallacy. They are in fact trying to jargonize the word so that it becomes politically loaded to suit their agenda. Just like accusing people of being Lib/Dem. What in fact is a Lib/Dem and why should your definition be the correct one?

When someone writes that all that all Secularists believe X,Y or Z, they are begging a bigger and more important question. Who are they to state what all secularists believe? In fact, it is little different than someone stating that all patriots will support their proposals. What the person who claims to speak for all secularists is saying is that ‘all secularists should do what I say all secularists should. Now that is a debate worth having. However no one gets off the hook in this battle because no one can claim to have complete knowledge about what all people believe.

As I explained before it may be emotionally satisfying to convert your detractors into straw men to tear apart but it offers nothing to the case other than you are correct because you say so. If people spent more time specifying what they are against and instead creating false dichotomies then we would know what we are meant to be upset about. Yet the words Conservative or Liberal are so meaninglessly abused that they are without a reference point to start from. Even in a political context and there is no mental shortcut to say which policy is good and which bad.

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