Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fraidy Cats

The News Junkie over at Maggie's links to a Matt Walsh argument with some unidentified college professor. I don't know much about Walsh, but I'm clear that the professor is a fool, enough that I would suspect he is a fraud or a sock puppet. However, he does use a common argument of the social left, so he may be authentic.  He declares "The truth that either escapes you or frightens you too much to acknowledge is..."

My uncle uses this line of attack in our correspondence as well, when discussing the Tea Party, or conservatives in general.  He describes them as afraid of change, feeling threatened, and attributes their inability to get on board to this fear.  It comes up often in commentary coming out of the NYT or other thoughtful observers of the American scene. It is one of those ideas that just circulates on the left unquestioned.  It even inspires some pity in them - those poor saps aren't necessarily so bad, they're just like children, or demented old people, who must be led around gently by the adults in the family.

What nice people, with deep understanding of those they disagree with, eh?

The phrase "bitterly clinging to their guns and religion" might occur to you about now. Or the book What's The Matter With Kansas?  Or a hundred other bits of patronising* nonsense.

The other place I encounter this attitude is at work, whenever there is pushback or complaint about an administrator's new idea.  Change is hard. People are afraid of change. It's a process and sometimes we have to go back and explain it to those poor benighted souls under us again and again. The concept that this change might not be a good one, or that people are objecting to it for very solid reasons, seems not to occur to them, This truth escapes or frightens them, perhaps, that they might not be right.

First off, let's acknowledge that there is a fair bit of truth in the general idea.  Even people who are novelty-seekers don't change their address, their hours, their friends, or their diet every week.  Everyone finds change difficult.  It is also true that sometimes people have no better reason than not liking change for digging in and being an obstacle. 

Yet who is the most fearful here?  When the accusation is delivered from the left, it seems to mean three, and only three things.  The most common seems to be the public change in sexual values.  Premarital sex and gay sex seem to be the main themes here.  Married people having affairs is still rather frowned on, and women talking about sex right out loud seems to be something we adjusted to about 50 years ago. The change to more consistently punishing predatory sex also doesn't seem to be anything that Tea Partiers have objected to - have I missed something? 

There is a lot of handwaving about troglodytic conservatives being afraid of "social changes," but I can't see what else is there.  We are afraid that black and hispanic people might be allowed to...to what?  Vote?  Own property? Are we supposedly fighting the 60's all over again, so that all the Boomer liberals will get to tell off their moms and dads one more time? So - premarital and gay sex, and by extension, gay marriage.  I'm not seeing the fear here.  I'm seeing disagreement.  It is not "fear" that causes people to object to "The Vagina Monologues" being performed by the high-school theater group.  (Western MA.  But you could have guessed that if I had asked.) It is profound disagreement.  If you counter that we "fear" that such things will be unremarkable in fifty years, I waive the point.  You are correct.  I greatly fear that a play which calls the lesbian seduction of a 13 y/o a "good rape" becomes the norm.  (That was the original script.  It has been moved to 15, then 17 in later versions. Yeah, go for it.  Lie in wait to call anyone who objects homophobic.)

The second purported fear seems to be of what the publicly-expressed values will be, such as what is taught in the schools. They've got half an argument here.  I'm figuring that they don't have the votes to install their own values, so they are going to rationalise that those are really just neutral - because they are shared by all their friends - and make them the standard. They'll try to be polite and respectful about teaching that I'm backward and ignorant in the public venues and schools.  They won't always succeed at that - see "bitter clingers" - but they'll try. The odd thing is, I agree with some good percentage of the changes they want to endorse. But people like to be persuaded, you know?

Acknowledged:  half a point.I am afraid of that.  Not the changes so much as the cheating.

The third meaning seems related.  Conservatives fear that "we're gonna be in charge now."  Well yeah.  In every society, Party A fears that Party B will get power.  That's why there are parties.  Party B also fears Party A coming into power.  What's your point?  Woven into this is the idea that the right is afraid of the inevitable increase in redistributional policies - and can I point out that this idea of historical inevitability of socialism is one of the key teaching of Marx, though one always sounds like an ignorant extremist, worthy of no answer but eye-rolling, whenever marxism is the charge?

I prefer the word irritated to afraid, but I'll acknowledge another half-point there.  There is a short term inevitability that we are going to keep increasing redistribution, until it stops working.  I don't fear the lead-up at all, it is merely expensive and as I said, irritating.  I do fear what it will look like when it stops working.


Let us move on to looking at fear in general. My reading of the news is that it is liberals who fear things.  They fear climate change, even though there doesn't seem to be much, and much of it might be beneficial.  They fear GM foods, even though those have #deaths=0 and organic foods have #deaths=millions.  Even recently, a lot. They fear even reporting human biological diversity and racial differences.  They fear home schooling. They fear concealed carry and those icky people that even want to own guns. They fear free markets - okay, I grant, I fear what is (wink,wink) called the free market these days when it has enormous amounts of rent-seeking from the government.  George Weigel notes the strong correlation between optimism and having children.  Who's having children?  Evangelicals.  Mormons. Orthodox Jews.  So who's afraid, here?

Are there numbers out there that show that conservatives fear new technology and have fewer cellphones? Twitter accounts? Are they not getting on new planes or are driving to the same old airports when a better one is closer? Are they still using dial-up at their car dealerships? 

The accusation that it is conservatives who fear the future is projection.  There is enough truth in it to sustain believability in people who need only scraps to feel that they are the brave, new, vanguard of modernism when they are actually the timid ones. Yes, fearless. Speaking Truth To Power has come to mean "telling your friends what they wan to hear."

*It is a perfect irony that the word patronise can be pronounced either of two ways, with about equal frequency, and is used in print far more than orally.  Whenever someone uses the word "patronise," you can switch to the other pronunciation and say "I'm sure you mean patronise."


james said...

Pity is a refreshing change from the usual "Convervatives are evil!" and "Liberals are stupid!" themes.

DCE said...

Are you sure it isn't spelled patronizing? At least I believe that's the spelling in the American English lexicon. It is the proper spelling proper in the British English lexicon.

Yes, I know I'm nit-picking, but I am in a bit of a nit-picking mood seeing as I had a run in with one of the more vocal and vehemently Leftist residents of my town this morning. This guy would have fit in quite nicely during the Bolshevik Revolution, that impression having come from my more-than-a-few interactions with him both in person and in the Letters section of our local paper. So he got me a bit wound up this morning. (No, I didn't interact with him other than a polite "Good morning" as I had other more important things to do than to 'debate' with that closed-minded SOB.)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I started moving to the British spellings of -ise instead of -ize a bout ten years ago, for no reason I can think of. It probably did have pretension at its rot, so you are entitled to be critical.

And you did it cleverly.

DCE said...

I am comfortable with both as I have spent quite a bit of time in the UK.

It sometimes throws off my colleagues after I've gotten off the phone with customers or associates in the UK as I tend to switch to British syntax when speaking with them and it takes a minute or two afterwards to switch back to American syntax.

Dubbahdee said...


Just like those of us who advocate for hymnals, pews, and dressing decently in church are just afraid of change.

Yup, I say, that's what I'm afraid of. Shaking in my shiny shoes, I am.

jaed said...


People (some people) deploy "afraid" because it tends to cause the target to immediately huddle into a defensive crouch: it's an accusation that not only are you acting emotionally, but that you're irrational, letting your emotion overcome your reason. It's an assertion of moral superiority: you are cowardly and moved by a base emotion, which your interlocutor is presumably above.

So it will predictably cause you to leave the argument and start trying to prove that you're a good person, and show that you're not afraid, and try to climb back up to rhetorical equality with your interlocutor and out of the primitive-emotions mud he's shoved you into. Meanwhile feeling vaguely guilty, which doesn't improve anyone's arguments.

In other words, the tactic is used because it works. It's dirty pool, but it does work. Therefore, the way to stop it is to react in a way that makes it not work.

"Hmm, how interesting that you say so. [return to point of contention]"

"Afraid of change? Why, no, I don't think so; I advocate and look forward to much more fundamental changes. Now, [return to point of contention]"


Harder to know how to handle it when it's just part of the rhetorical smog and not directed at you specifically. But realizing and pointing out that it is, in fact, a tactic and not a real observation about anyone can help defuse it.