Lazy Luddite Log

24.5.16

Blinkered

We have entered yet another Australian election campaign and as a result I have been spending more time than usual on news websites and the comments pages thereof. I'm a progressive who wants a change of government (or a significant change-of-direction in the current government) and naturally that results in arguments. One consequence of this is becoming over-exposed to perspectives and behaviours that vex me.

I decided it would be informative to vent my frustrations here by cataloging many of these. This is something of a 'meta' discussion because I focus on how one does political debate rather than what stances one takes. I also overlook the problems of sloppy communication or bare-faced insults. There is still plenty to frustrate and so here is the kind of stuff I have been facing from generally conservative online commentators:

* They elevate their own personal tastes to the status of moral truths or natural facts.

* They over-generalize from experience. They will for instance make blanket statements regarding relationships based on only ones they have had. Some will even accord their anecdotes the status of experiments which confirm assumptions they have made regarding human nature.

* They only countenance one explanation for a phenomenon rather than the possibility that things have more than one cause. However they also use different basic assumptions from issue-to-issue. If these issues enter into the same conversation it can be difficult to understand what they are saying or why.

* They use simplistic models in which everyone gets put into boxes. The fewer boxes they use the better they like it. They also tend to define the boxes in such a way that conflict becomes necessary. How can you possibly understand the motives and actions of others with such simplistic models? I suspect many of them have a misanthropic lack of personal development.

* They act as if what you are is more important than what you stand for. They will take an interest in things like your name or mugshot to help them define your demographics. This can help them anticipate and characterize your motives rather than focus on the debate itself.

* They prefer conversations to be scripted rather than improvised. They expect you to say particular things so that they can respond with a prepared selection of terms and phrases. If you defy the expected script then you undermine them especially if you partly agree with what they say. A more reasonably-minded person may try and explore the common ground you have just opened. But the hostile arguer will become suspicious of your understanding.

* They see intent behind problems rather than the possibility that things happen by accident. How many times do we discover that an issue arose from incompetence rather than corruption? How many times was a seemingly offensive act something entirely different? This mundane reality undermines the divisive narrative of too many online antagonists.

* They exaggerate problems and conflate the mild with the severe. They deny that things can vary by degrees. All words become deeds. Coverall terms tend to focus on extremes rather than averages. Nothing is too small to offend the defenders of some convention or other.

* They distort the power levels of both themselves and others. Sometimes they are powerful and will declare how the future belongs to them. At other times they will lament how the powers-that-be conspire to limit them at every turn. To some extent I see these as strategic poses. We know that in politics 'everyone loves a winner' yet contrariwise everyone 'roots for the underdog'. Presenting yourself as one or the other may help you get the support you desire. However I sometimes get the feeling that they believe their own propaganda.

So far I have described ways of arguing that I have to contend with in debating many conservatives. However it is also interesting to observe how they can interact among themselves. This is hardly a problem for me but it is interesting to observe the following (both online and in the halls of parliaments).

* They conflate the 'ally-to-ally' relationship with the 'member-to-supporter' relationship. A member is someone with a personal investment in a party or movement who has the right to contribute to its decisions. A supporter is someone who wishes to help them but lacks the personal investment that warrants a decision-making role. In contrast allies have overlapping yet distinct interests and therefore must respect that each has the prerogative to be political in a way that works best for them. The more fervent conservatives within a nominally conservative alliance expect the moderates within that movement to do and say only what they dictate.


I'm mindful that these generally conservative ways of thinking can be seductive and are all-too-easy to mimic even as one opposes substantive conservative positions. It is useful therefore to articulate these behaviours to help me make sure I never behave in such a frustrating manner.

And there is a sunny side to all this behaviour - it is self-limiting. The stuff I describe betrays a blinkered and rigid mindset. Its expression is more likely to bolster the opinions of those who feel the same way than it is to change the minds of those who are wavering or yet to form opinions. I have a hunch my more constructive and reasoning manner gives a better impression to 'lurkers'.

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