Beyond ideology, revisited

My recent post beyond ideology seemed to annoy people more than I expected.

I see “level 3 thinking” as cultivating emotional detachment from your political beliefs. I argue for detachment in The Three Languages of Politics. That means that if I choose to adopt the conservative position on an issue, I take a charitable view of those who take a progressive position or a libertarian position. I don’t want to demonize opponents. I don’t want to get so defensive that I cannot appreciate that my views might be wrong or at least questionable.

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10 Responses to Beyond ideology, revisited

  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    My problem with Eliason’s essay was its structure. First, he makes strong black-and-white statements. Then, near the end, he says of course the world isn’t black and white.

    Now, maybe you have to write like that to get people to notice you, but it smelled like bait-and-switch to me. And I hate bait and switch.

    Your takeaway, on the other hand, seems straightaway reasonable.

  2. Richard Fulmer says:

    I like your model of Progressive / Conservative / Libertarian thought, and agree that all three models (oppressor/oppressed, barbarity/civilization, coercion/freedom) are based on truths. That is, there actually is oppression, barbarism, and coercion in the world. I don’t think that all three models are equally useful world views, however. While each are based on truths, none are based on the whole truth. This is not a condemnation, since no model can encompass all of reality. At best a model can be no more than an approximation of (capital ‘T’) Truth.

    The truths on which we choose to concentrate, however, affects how we live our lives and the quality of our lives. It seems to me that the oppressor/oppressed model is inherently self-destructive. Yes, it is true that there are oppressors and oppressed in the world. It is also true, however, that every individual is (to some degree) both oppressor and oppressed. At some time in our lives we have each been less than just to others and others have been less than just to us.

    But given these two limited choices, people will tend to want to view themselves as oppressed rather than oppressor – no one wants to see themselves as evil. To the extent to which we concentrate on our oppression by others, we lose our sense of agency. The more we see ourselves as helpless victims, the less we will strive to better our conditions.

    • asdf says:

      “people will tend to want to view themselves as oppressed rather than oppressor”

      This seems a very modern perspective though. Can you imagine Achilles wanting to be the oppressed rather then the oppressor? How about a European colonialist? Most “oppressed” groups seemed to fantasize about the day they will have all the power. The goal was to stop being oppressed, not to be thrilled to be designated oppressed.

      This seems like a major historical anomaly:

      • Richard Fulmer says:

        I agree. But while concentration on one’s own oppression is self-destructive, the desire to turn the tables and become the oppressor is socially destructive. A growing number of people on the left have decided that – since, according to their worldview, the only choice is to oppress or be oppressed – it’s time for a new set of oppressors to take over. This faction of the left has its mirror image in the Alt-Right. The same set of arguments work for both “tribes.”

        • asdf says:

          Eh, doesn’t compute. The left doesn’t say “blacks should oppress whites as reciprocity.” It says “its IMPOSSIBLE for blacks to oppress whites.” Only whites are capable of oppression. Only blacks are capable of being oppressed.

          Only the managerial state (sometimes through the actual state and sometimes through NGOs, academia, and other non-state actors), through its constant vigilance can blacks be protected from the oppression of whites.

          This progressive managerial system through “reason, justice, education, whatever” will in time establish a state of affairs in which there is no more oppression. Much as the Soviets were going to eventually establish a state of affairs in which there were no class oppression. If the state/system has not yet established this state of affairs it is because the forces of reaction/wreckers/kulaks/deplorables is sabotaging things. Once they are done away with and/or re-educated the oppression less society will be upon us.

          I can’t say what the alt-right wants since it seems to be a very loose term. To the extent they want to be left alone its hard to say they want to oppress anyone. Not wanting your school district to get flooded with Section 8 isn’t quite the same as wanting to bring back the plantations.

  3. Handle says:

    I’ve made it a habit to read recent political commentary through the lens of TLP, and I think there are a few consistent patterns of discrepancies, and I was wondering what you thought of these:

    1. Many prominent and mainstream libertarian commentators seem to be shying away from rhetorical use of the freedom-coercion framework of analysis in terms of explicit expression of fundamental values as reasons in and of themselves to support or oppose any particular policy. If one ctrl-F’s for “liberty” or “freedom” in most articles from libertarian writers or outlets, my impression is one is seeing those words (and perhaps also even “right” and “choice”) less and less frequently. And my hunch is that this is because the terms of those value-based expressions and arguments are just decreasingly salient for both the audience and especially the writers themselves. Most writers come from a higher and more educated class that is socialized and acculturated in the midst of a strongly progressive milieu, where such expressions get rolled eyes and are dismissed as intellectually unserious and mocked as low-brow, “But, Muh Freedum!” As such, many libertarian authors seem to have transitioned in the last 10-15 years or so to more empirical, value-neutral arguments and language – e.g., the terminology of positive economic analysis – or, when using value-based language, tend to borrow from the progressives in terms of “justice” and “oppression” and so forth. Now, it may be true that these libertarians are internally motivated by these kinds of values, but they are decreasingly likely to argue in those terms.

    2. Even since Trump started his campaign, it seems to me that the progressives have been using “civilization vs. barbarism” rhetoric all the time. Not just the “breakdown in civility,” but also complaining about “chaos” and the potential collapse of the “international order” that was based on American strength guided by a progressive vision and set of values.

    It’s not just a Trump-related phenomenon. Progressives are fond of using similar language (“barbaric”, “uncivilized”, etc.) when criticizing certain kinds of violence, ranging from capital punishment, to interrogation techniques, dueling, and even to spanking for child discipline. And consider Keynes – certainly no conservative – making his famous quip characterizing the monetary use of gold as a “barbarous relic.” Just search, “barbarous” and see the many results, (e.g., “The barbarity of US immigration and deportation policy”.)

    Now, again, the progressives may be internally motivated by oppressor-oppressed social justice logic when conveniently compatible with the Who, Whom? calculations underpinning the composition of their political coalition, and they certainly use that language mostly to the exclusion of the rival political tribes, but it seems to me they are certainly eager to use the other “conservative” linguistic axis as well.

    Which probably means we’re not dealing with a description that tends to be mostly exclusive.

    Earlier I criticized some of Haidt’s claims regarding which “moral foundations” the members of the rival political tribes tend to emphasize. I think he made two fundamental errors, which is to privilege stated over revealed preferences (or, if not ‘preferences’, then actual psychological modes), and to cherry-pick examples likely to show a bigger “sacredness / purity” split than actually exists. Examples of progressives holding certain values and claims as sacred, treating any disagreement as heresy and blasphemy, and feeling disgust at and the need for disassociation with ideological rivals, simply abound: they are so easy to find that, on the contrary, they are hard to avoid.

    I think a similar error is at work here. The progressives aren’t relatively less interested in the values supporting “civilization”, and they are no strangers to the use of civilization-barbarism language. It’s simply that they have an alternative vision of civilization which is based on the omnipotent state, based on progressive values but otherwise “secular”, which regulates and manages all activity and relations. This vision sees all alternative modes of human relation – especially those of alternative loyalties and exercise of private authority independent of state oversight – as essentially archaic and primitive stubborn vestigial organs carried over via cultural inertia from less civilized times.

    Maybe a good analogy to my alternative “conflicting visions of civilization” thesis would be the state of affairs in the Roman empire during the emergence of Christianity, which set up a clear ideological dispute, with the Romans standing in for “conservatives” and the Christians for “progressives” (who were more xenophilic towards the genuine barbarians the Romans worried about, and according to Gibbon, perhaps eventually to the doom of the western empire.) The Roman traditionalists and Christian evangelists probably both used civilization vs. barbarism language against each other regarding the nature of the different forms society both groups were trying to maintain or create, and eventually, the latter form of civilization replaced the former, which all but disappeared.

    One could probably set up a similar “debate” between the Communists and the national ideologies that preceded their revolutionary takeovers.

    I’d argue that this is how is how conservatives (or, these days, reactionaries) view the progressives – not as a group of people more or less like them but with a mere difference in perspective or emphasis – but as a rival political movement dedicated to bringing about a new form of civilization based on an incompatible constellation of ideological values akin to a new religion, and perfectly willing to break all the eggs of the old one based on the traditional set of values, in order to make their utopian omelette.

    And as such, one would expect both sides to use the “civilization-vs-barbarism” linguistic axis when arguing with each other, as I think they do.

  4. edgar says:

    Paradoxically, it seems as if though detachment undercuts TLP. No one wants to buy into a binary world view and assuming others can be led to understand a different perspective through manipulation of language doesn’t seem quite kosher either. And it is difficult to see how the axes help us deal with brute power political issues, that I would assume are objectionable to most people regardless of their dominant axis, such as ethanol and sugar subsidies, inefficiancy in government bureaucracy, police misconduct, etc. In such cases, if one is attempting persuasiveness, a more successful strategy may be to (1) identify and eliminate axis-relate language and cues and (2) structure analysis so that it does not embody binary values. Policy analysis done by bureaucrats is usually better at the former and much worse at the latter.

  5. BenK says:

    I think, then, we need not Level 3 Thinking, but maybe Level 4 or 5. Rationality is not the best guide. If Level 3 is rational detachment from your own views, maybe Level 4 is passionate (emotional) engagement with the views of your natural opponent. Then Level 5 might be an emotional and rational synthesis of the two…

    [yes, there’s some hegel in there]

  6. Lord says:

    You can also see emotional detachment in accepting your own beliefs as fitting, natural, and unquestioning, with emotion only entering when attacked or criticized. Obsession with opponents while being unconcerned with and glossing over your allies is often a sign. If you don’t pay any attention to your own or can’t critique your allies, your detachment may be one sided.

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