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Polemics are in the eye of the beholder.


What some see as an increase in my inflexibility and angry polemics over the past couple of years I see as an increase in my knowledge, assimilation of it into my perspective, and, based on that, my increased confidence in asserting and standing behind that perspective. 

I’m less prone to say “You’re the expert, I’m just an amateur. so what do I know, but here are my two cents’……….”

And more prone to say “Based on what I’ve learned I believe it’s true that…….”

I see little difference between my assertions and comments Haidt has made about how Republicans are to blame for partisan rancor, and how they deserve(d) time in the political wilderness.  He seems to be saying that his views are based in science and research but I see them as “inflexible” polemical positions rooted more strongly in his personal ideology and sacred values than in fact; and what’s more, I see them as in fact refuted by his research. I think my assertions are more defensible than his, and ironically that it’s Haidt’s work that makes the defense.  

On a recent round trip drive between D.C. and Boston I re-listened to A Conflict of Visions. (I also listened to Hillbilly Elegy and Radical Chic and the Mau Mauing of the Flack Catchers, both of which offer perceptive, insightful, reflections on the human condition)

In The Righteous Mind and A Conflict of Visions, respectively, Haidt and Sowell, both, go out of their way to be merely descriptive and to not take sides.  Haidt’s moral matrices and Sowell’s visions, like religions, are social facts.  They exist.  Each of those authors describes those social facts; Haidt from the perspective of psychology, Sowell from the perspective of the lifelong study of political philosophy and human history.  Both of them tell essentially the same story from different perspectives, like two blind men encountering different aspects of the same elephant. 

But then both of them stop there.  That’s it.  End of story.

In so doing, in my humble opinion, both of them tell only half of the whole story.  A lie of omission is still a lie, and just as damaging.

The other half of the story is the answer to the question: “Which matrix or vision is more congruent with the facts of human nature and with the reality of human history?”

The answer to that question is plain as day.  Haidt (except for his asides about Republicans) and Sowell avoid it assiduously in the above mentioned books.  

I understand Haidt’s reasons for avoiding it. If he came right out and stated the answer he’d become a pariah in his own profession (if he hasn’t already.)  So he has to walk around the edges of it, shine a light on it, and allow his audience members each to come to the epiphany in their own way and in their own time.  Sowell provides the answer in other of his books.

The answer is this: While it’s true that neither side gets everything right, it’s equally true that the constrained moral matrix is more right than wrong and the unconstrained moral matrix is more wrong than right.

Burke, Hume, Smith, Hayek, and Publius (The Federalist) et al are mostly right.

Rousseau, Godwin, Condorcet, and Keynes et al are mostly wrong.

The conservative grand narrative Haidt quotes in The Righteous Mind is a more or less accurate recitation of basic human history. The liberal grand narrative is more or less a conspiracy theory stitched together with cherry picked facts; not unlike the notion held by some that 9/11 was an inside job.

Given human nature, empiric, Aristotelian, process-based notions of negative liberty, equality, justice, fairness, and evolved systemic knowledge are the surest and best possible route human happiness, health, and progress. 

Idealistic, Platonic, outcome-based notions of positive liberty, equality, justice, fairness and articulated rationality are, as Matt Ridley asserts in The Evolution of Everything, social creationism in which mankind places himself in the godlike position of all-knowing, all-wise diviner of truth and chooser of winners and losers.  

The articulated rationality of the one-foundation unconstrained vision, in a nutshell, is the logical fallacy of reason-based choice described in The Argumentative Theory on edge.org.  It’s the rationalist delusion come to life.

Anyone who believes in the process evolution or in the scientific method must, in the end, see that the all-foundation constrained moral matrix is mostly true because it is the product of those very processes, and the one-foundation unconstrained moral matrix is mostly false because it is the product of that logical fallacy.

Liberals are human beings who experience feelings and intuitions just like anyone else.  Those feelings and intuitions are real.  Every every individual should be treated with respect and basic human dignity, and should not be gratuitously dismissed, insulted, demeaned, or condescended to.

But the instant we allow that sort of avoidance of harm or offense to cause us to ALSO avoid or walk around truths that are inconvenient to a person’s sensibilities and might therefore offend or upset them is the instant we abandon the scientific method and the evolution of knowledge and instead embrace the logical fallacies and cognitive distortions of The Coddling of the American Mind.

By NOT facing head-on the answer to the question “Which is more congruent with the facts of human nature and with the reality of human history?” we exacerbate, rather than ameliorate, the depth of the partisan divide, and we extend its life. 

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