A Federalist essay by David Harsanyi titled “Liberals Are Done Debating” hit a familiar chord for me, today:
… I don’t mind the insults (perversely, in fact, I sort of enjoy them), but I do mind that the debate is over.
Conservatives might be ethically compromised, uninformed, or—if liberals are in a generous mood—mentally unstable, but they can’t be for real. At least, that’s the sense I increasingly get from the Left these days. Blame it on social media.
When a group confuses its politics with moral doctrine, it may have trouble comprehending how a decent human could disagree with its positions. This is probably why people confuse lecturing with debating and why so many liberals can bore into the deepest nooks of my soul to ferret out all those motivations but can’t waste any time arguing about the issue itself.
It needs to be said that this isn’t just a phenomenon of the Left, mind you, although the insinuations might be a bit different. There’s more of a moral fanaticism on among progressives. A progressive may see conservatives as having sold their souls, but as if it was an inevitable transaction: We wanted to turn to evil, or otherwise, the good that we are trampling is so obvious that no well-meaning person could possibly make the deal.
From the Right, the attacks seem to have some vestige of empathy: The seller of his own soul was tricked or just caught at a moment of weakness. There’s still an opportunity for salvation.
The impetus for and substantiation of the attacks are different, too. Progressives attack on emotional grounds. Disagreement with them is an affront against humanity, even where stated objectives are the same, but only the proposed methods different. On the Right, the basis for attacks is usually some special information that links the perpetrator to some far-reaching conspiracy to take over the world.
I find that particularly odd, frankly, given that so much of my own conservatism springs from the belief that even projects to accomplish good things are doomed to fail when attempted through central planning fiat. Life is messy. Interests conflict, and both allies and enemies behave unpredictably. And God still rules over the Earth. There’s a subset of the Right that seems to believe that the only time central planning can possibly work is when the planners are in league with the Devil.
On the positive side, though, I’m not sure this is anything new. Information technology and, especially, social media are just opening up the opportunity for discussion across really substantive boundaries — all the way from the far left to the far right and all the way from the irrationally heated to the coldly logical. It may not amount to “debate,” but it’s discussion, or at least interaction. At the end of the day, that’s an opportunity, isn’t it?