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Left and Right are Arguing About the Argument Rather Than About the Real Issues

Just as arguments between married couples are often not really about the particular issue that triggered them but rather about some deeper concept, so too are the conflicts between the political left and right. 

The Cousins’ Wars by Kevin Phillips points out that the Glorious Revolution in England, the American Revolution, and the American Civil War, all, were fought over the same basic issues. In a way, those wars can be thought of as WWI, WWII, and WWIII.

Today’s culture war between left and right is WWIV, once again being fought over more or less the same concepts. The campus SJW left is merely the location on the ideological map of the current front lines.

And we’re STILL not talking about the underlying concepts themselves.

For example, How To Get Beyond Our Tribal Politics in the Wall Street Journal points out that humans are tribal.  We evolved to form into groups which then compete with other groups for political power and scarce resources.  The first things we humans throw under the bus when we feel our own tribe is threatened are truth and reason. We develop irrational commitments to the dearly-held values and principles of our tribes.  That single fact alone accounts for a great deal of the partisan rancor we see today.  The article goes on to make some great recommendations each of us can use to work around the problems created by this innate aspect of fundamental human nature.

But tribalism is a human trait, common to everyone, equally. It’s not a left trait or a right trait. The same goes for the flaws of reason, and all the many other “natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Obviously, The more people who understand this the better, but it’s not where the real argument is.

The number of things that are truly unique to left and right is actually quite small. It is those things over which we fight our culture wars, but about which we refuse to talk.

Rather, we seem to have a deep, strong, visceral, primal, resistance to bringing them out from under the covers and subjecting them to the light of day. It seems as if we like keeping them under the covers because that way we never have to look honestly at ourselves in the mirror and see clearly what we really are. It’s easier if we just keep pretending that the other side is evil and our side is good, and fight on as oblivious but happy warriors.

Unless and until we shine the light of day on the real, underlying, issues we’re going to keep on fighting this very same world war again and again, into versions five, six, seven, and onward.

Given the realities of human nature as we currently know them, which include the fact that heaven, or its secular equivalent of some sort of Platonic utopia, is not possible here on earth, what is our best chance for answering yes to “Can we all get along?” What, practically speaking, given reality, actually CAN be achieved, or at least striven for?

If we are intellectually honest, the answer to those questions, I propose, and strongly believe, have already been proved.  Chief among the bottom-line things that divide us are

Left, Liberal/Progressive Right, Conservative,
Outcome-based, Positive liberty (i.e., freedom to), and similar interpretations of equality, justice, and fairness Process-based negative liberty (i.e., freedom from), and similar interpretations of equality, justice, and fairness
Epistemic confidence Epistemic humility

Collectively each side of the above table could be thought of as the Telos of left and right, respectively.  .

But we cannot, do not, and will not talk about those things because if we do then one side might actually win and the other side might actually lose, once and for all.

And neither side wants to run the risk that it might be the one that loses.

So we keep the real issues hidden and happily continue to argue about the argument.

It’s the Catch-22 that prevents us from bridging the divide and making real, actual, progress. 


6 thoughts on “Left and Right are Arguing About the Argument Rather Than About the Real Issues

  1. What do you see as hidden real things?


    Posted by sheila0405 | November 14, 2016, 9:32 pm
  2. Whig where the Left/Right are missing each other is in their respective perceptions of ability in others.

    I’ll use “interpretations of equality” as my first example. We’ll agree that:

    Conservatives believe in equality of opportunity

    Liberals believe in equality of outcome

    What is the fundamental difference?

    I argue it’s a perception of ability or capability, that leads to a corresponding application of accountability.

    Conservatives believe all people are generally capable of being successful, if given the opportunity. We (rationally) hold people accountable by standing out of the way and let them succeed or fail.

    Liberals, believing people generally incapable of being successful, despite opportunity. They (rationally) refuse to hold people accountable and act to intercede on their behalf when they observe a disparity in outcomes.

    Consider the concepts of Positive and Negative Rights:

    Positive Rights are based on the belief: “you’re not able… so we’ll do X, Y and Z for you.”

    Negative Rights are based on the belief: “you’re able… so go forth and do great things.”

    The miracle of America was that our country was the first based on the premise of ability; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    What did our forefathers need to believe to say this?


    Posted by ManipulatingLiberals (@alinskyrocks) | November 7, 2016, 8:20 am
    • I agree with your assertions about left and right, but there’s more to the story than just what you describe.
      Left and right are different cognitive operating systems that process more or less the same inputs only to arrive at dramatically different outputs.

      I must sound like I’m beating a dead horse, but those two operating systems are described in the book “The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization,” by Arthur Herman. Plato and Aristotle serve as convenient metaphors that sum up the two operating systems.

      To the left, the social world and everything in it is but a poor imitation of its potential ideal self, and it is the role of the “enlightened” among us to point out that ideal and to help steer us toward achieving it. This is Bobby Kennedy’s “I see things that never were and ask why not?” This is John Lennon’s “Imagine.” This is Obama’s “Fundamentally Transform.” This is Plato’s “Light.”

      Digging a little deeper, this algorithm rests on the notion that the mind is a blank slate at birth, which means that everything we know about right and wrong is learned from formal education and from direct experience. It also means that differences among groups are the result only of social constructs. The “good society” and the “new man” are therefore achievable simply by putting in place the right social constructs and teaching the right things. This operating system tends to seek radical, revolutionary change; throw out the whole system and create a whole new one based on “reason.” It puts mankind in the godlike position of “designing” social reality. It is, in short, social creationism.

      To the right, the desire to improve society is also present, but it is tempered by reality. It rests in the notion of epistemic humility. The social world is a complex system of nearly infinite size, and the human mind has hard limits. It is impossible for any single person or group of people to know all the facts, and even if it could, it does not have the processing power to know in advance which inputs to the complex system will create what outputs. For this operating system, experience is the surest guide. It tends to seek gradual, incremental, change, achieving ever higher quality of life, one small step at a time, by standing on the shoulders of all who came before.


      Posted by The Independent Whig | November 7, 2016, 10:38 am
      • I don’t feel it’s anywhere near that complex. Have you seen this video where the reporter asks liberals in Berkeley, CA about why they feel voter ID laws are racist? How they respond demonstrates my point perfectly.


        Posted by ManipulatingLiberals (@alinskyrocks) | November 7, 2016, 11:32 am
      • I’m not disagreeing with you, I’m merely asking why what you describe is so and positing a possible explanation.

        You’re describing WHAT happens. I’m asking, and suggesting possible answers for, WHY it happens.

        If we humans all evolved the same way then we’d all think the same way. We’d all be equipped by evolution with the same operating system.

        But it’s obvious that don’t all think the same way; that we’re equipped with different operating systems.

        So I’m asking, and suggesting answers to, questions like “What are the characteristic differences between the operating systems?” “When, how, and why did this evolutionary split happen?”


        Posted by The Independent Whig | November 7, 2016, 12:23 pm
    • Here are specific and real cases where “you’re not able” came into play. Prior to Roe v Wade, many women were not able to obtain access to safe abortions. Prior to Obergefell, most gay couples were not able to marry nor have their marriages recognized by other states. Ability is not merely the capacity to perform, it is also about living out one’s overall life without interference from others. The reality is that the force of government can be used to hurt as well as assist. When government is causing demonstrable harm by denying certain human rights, it must be held to account. The hard part of governance is in dealing with conflicts among rights. In the end, especially in America, we must confront the reality that there are real people affected by how we govern. I only see more conflict ahead as individual people fight about how much control over others’ lives we want the government to exert.


      Posted by sheila0405 | November 14, 2016, 9:55 pm

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