Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What I Did On My Liberal Vacation

I went visiting liberal blogsites that had some indications of respectability about them. I made an effort to discover sites that were genuinely leftist, allowed comments, and seemed to at least attempt to weigh both sides of an argument. I took Pajamas Media as my jumping off point. Though that site links more frequently to conservative and libertarian sites, it connects out to liberal sites as well.

I wanted to not only read the arguments, but engage them as well, to see how the regular attendees responded to disagreement. Only one of the sites will I recommend on to my readers, and that with some caveats. Still, it was good to recapture the
experience of being the lone dissenting voice, which I hope I will remember when lone dissenters come to the sites I comment on.

About Commenting In General

1. It is difficult to know which writers will be willing to discuss with you, and which are there only to show off for their friends how clever their put-downs are. Either might seem insulting at first, and I found no method better than trial-and-error for guessing who to respond to. One sees this on conservative sites as well, with people using phrases such as Dumbicrats, Dhimmicrats and other things they think witty. When I post on familiar sites, I regard these comments as background noise which don't push the conversation further along, and disregard them. The lone dissenter has much more suspicion that the snide are speaking for the entire group. I resolve to be more of a scourge to my allies.

2. It is harder to keep track of who wrote what on an unfamiliar site. Twice I misattributed earlier comments to the wrong poster. While this may seem an unremarkable observation, it is important to keep this in mind when addressing the lone dissenter. Everyone wants a piece of him, and he may be answering several objections at once. It is easy to be clumsy in such situations.

About Liberal Commenters (All sites in group are American)
It’s a small sample: 3 sites engaged, 2 others just poked at a few times. The only advantage to these observations is that they are current. Political groups change in outlook over time, and I expect the internet to increase that. The elected politicians and the established writers are not going to reflect the changes until well after they have happened. The blogosphere on all political fronts will include many early adopters and adapters.

1. Liberals still think of journalism as the last defense against tyranny, a belief they hold emotionally even as it weakens intellectually. They do not so much believe the MSM as depend on it. The Left might enjoy speculation of the changes to come in news and media, but they really believe that the weakening of the established media risks bringing on the deluge. Thus, every attack on traditional media sources carries a whiff of anarchy to them, as if the Bush administration might suddenly be without restraints if the NYT were not there to hold it in check. Pointing out MSM failures is not seen as holding it accountable, but an undermining of the checks and balances of our society. I was surprised that this sentiment was so strong on the internet, but concluded that there is some disconnect between the intellectual and emotional responses here. I imagine it would be the same with conservatives if the roles were reversed. If 90% of the legacy media were Republicans, we might regard attacks on the major networks as attacks on civilization as well.

2. There is a parallel here with the emotional ties to the UN. I have less data for this observation, but there is sentiment that if the UN loses power there will be nothing to restrain men from doing evil. This is not asserted as a proposition – I think most liberals would back off from that conclusion pretty quickly – but it is an undercurrent. In that sense, it does not matter as much to them how corrupt the UN might become; it must be retained because there is nothing else. (I had known but forgotten this. When I complained to a coworker about the UN a decade ago he said “Well what’s your alternative?” My suggestion that individual agreements and treaties between nations would provide the same service at a much lower price, he was appalled, sure that the nations of the world would break out into many wars in that situation.)

3. They do not know what conservatives write and think. While all of us tend to get our information about our political opposition secondhand, I found this to be extreme on the left. The same quotes out of context kept showing up; something that Rush said in 2001 or Ann Coulter had in her book would be quoted, and the darkest interpretation of it was generally accepted. I thought at first that the wilder quotes were being used because they were rhetorically superior in making points, and heck, conservatives do that all the time as well. But in my brief forays I found few who had read or heard the material at the source and in context. The only things they catch firsthand are snippets of talk radio.

4. In contradiction to #3, however, many liberals seem to have an island of conservatism in their beliefs. One might target shoot and find gun-control rhetoric excessive, even if she supports limited versions; another will have conservative views on core curriculum in education, a third likes George Will or some other MSM conservative. This island was often connected to their profession or personal experience, which I find intriguing.

5. The 1960’s-80’s are regarded as current events, sometimes at the expense of actual current events. Because I am a boomer myself, I may have gravitated to boomer sites unintentionally, and that may have colored my data. I am concerned that they had difficulty taking in new thoughts that did not grow from or have an analog in the political situations of the last generation. Conservatives complain that to liberals, all wars are Vietnam. I think that may simply be a distillation of a larger phenomenon. Nicaragua and Chile in the 70’s and 80’s were held of more account in discussing American foreign policy than the events of the 1990’s and 00’s in North Korea, Africa, and the ME. It was not that they were unaware of newer information, but that they seemed to disregard it if it did not square with the earlier templates. This worried me, because it seems to hit at the root of our ability to adapt to changing realities. The exception was technological change, which most seem to embrace more than conservatives do, though there were more flat-out Luddites on the liberal sites.

6. Motive reading by magical means remains in full force. The easy assumption that they know the real meaning behind Bush’s actions is almost universal, even when they disagree with each other whether that motive is to make money for his corporate friends, improve his poll numbers, or punish his enemies. I found this impervious to any discussion. Sneering as a method of arguing is also still common. I had hoped that this version of liberalism as a measure of how much you “get it” socially was on the wane, but I guess not. It is especially worrisome because I find that fault increasing among conservatives. That doesn’t bode well for future discussions. I have a personal rule that when someone uses the motive fallacy twice, I no longer attempt to discuss anything with them. That person may be worth listening to, but not arguing with. There’s no point.

7. There remains a solid minority of liberals who at least give lip service to backing away from ultra-liberal ideas. They make an effort to mention “I think that now we’re in it we have to win,” or “I don’t want to excuse the actions of the terrorists.” I didn’t see any examples of them pursuing those thoughts any further, but the flow of the discussion often didn’t lend itself to that. People would be trying to make one point or another about the EU or Rumsfeld, and the larger discussion was usually tangential. But I found it curious, and I’m not sure what to make of it. Were they reassuring me, reassuring themselves, placating me, trying to appear balanced, or what?

The site where I found the best discusiion was Obsidian Wings. You will encounter the sneerers and eye-rollers there, but some folk who will have a discussion as well. Warning: Even the discussers can have a snide edge, but as I have one myself, I didn't think it was fair to write them off for that reason.


LiquidLifeHacker said...

Very interesting...

AVI...don'tcha think that sometimes it just comes down to some people will see what they want to see no matter how much proof is put in front of them...and even then they go to making things up? I think that is what I see alot with the lefty attitude. How much more corruption does one need from the UN to realise they aren't to be trusted?

I do agree with you that sometimes it's just not in the cards to argue. That does no one good when there is no middle ground at all there to stand on to finish the conversation.

Anonymous said...

Very useful, thought-provoking analysis. I'll be back.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yeah, I'll bet you say that to all the blogs.

Chris in MB said...

You hit the nail on the head, perfect.

I've noticed the same of many Canadian leftwing sites. In general I believe they are MUCH more left than most American.

The MSM worship is correct. We have the CBC!
The general view is also that blogging is an illegitimate news source. Very few left wing Canadian blogs. Even fewer allow comments from "non-members". Even the members are heavily moderated.

Here's an example:

The UN observation is perfect!