What do liberals want? (cont.); and, Do I treat my interlocutors as though they weren’t human beings?

Returning to the “What do liberals want?” thread after a hiatus, Ken Hechtman, in a reply to Vivek G., says that in sseking to eliminate border controls, he has no intention of imposing hate speech codes on people. I reply that that’s not the point, that there’s something much bigger than hate speech codes at stake here, namely that the idea, enunciated by KH himself, that “free migration is a basic human right,” and that “if somebody wants to come live here the government has no business saying [he] can’t do it,” would preclude the very possiblity of a country controlling its own border.

In the ensuing discussion, which continues in this entry, KH, replying to our latest exchange, says I am mistaken in attributing powers and intentions to him he does not have. This leads me into explaining my argumentative technique, which some people find objectionable.

Ken Hechtman replies to LA:

But I’m not the Global Legislator and never will be. I am (was) a low-level worker bee in a fringe group of the open borders movement. I was much lower level than you are in the immigration restriction movement. I did the most mundane grunt work you can imagine. I wheatpasted posters. I phoned reporters and invited them to cover our events. I lined up chairs in a church basement for a press conference. Even now, when the NDP does a direct-mail attack campaign on the Conservatives’ immigration bill, I’m not the guy who decides to do it, or who writes the content or even who does the demographic analysis to target the different versions of the piece. I just enter the returns and try to see that they get followed up. A monkey could do my job. Before this particular conversation I have never before had 5000 people paying attention to my thoughts on the subject.

So I might use the grandiose language of “universal and inalienable human rights” but it doesn’t mean anything more than “I think, and so do a couple of my friends, that … ”

I’ve said this a dozen times, the left’s problem isn’t that we don’t live in a democracy, it’s that we do. You asked my “What do you want? and I told you. You didn’t ask, “What are you ready to do to get it?” and “How much of it do you realistically expect to get?”

You’re going to try to sell the public on your ideas. I’m going to try to sell them on mine. The government of the day will act accordingly, but with very little regard for what either of us consider non-negotiable rights. At the end of the day, you’re going to get some but not all of what you want—you’re getting your border fence. I’m going to get some but not all of what I want

And for the record, if I ever do get to write the Global Constitution it will have a First and a Second Amendment, no matter how much that bothers my lefty friends.

LA replies:

I’m not disputing your right to explain all this stuff, but it’s irrelevant to my argument. My argument is not about you personally, your political activities and your relative importance on the left; it’s about the meaning and logic of your argument. As I keep saying, this quiet cultural disaster has progressively occurred since the Sixties, whereby people think that a criticism of their argument is a criticism of them personally, which by the way is why, given that I criticize people’s arguments so strongly, I’m one of the most hated people on the right. Not that you’re reacting that way at all. But what you have in common with my haters is the taking of my argument to be about you personally. In a debate with you, when I say “you,” or “Ken Hechtman,” I’m not talking about the human being Ken Hechtman in all his concrete particulars; I’m talking about the Ken Hechtman who is representing a certain idea in a discussion.

Yes, occasionally in a debate one will refer to the concrete person of one’s opponent, as when I referred to your Afghanistan adventure or your former belief in Communism. But when simply describing one’s opponent’s position, “My opponent believes such and such, he would do such and such,” one is speaking of the internal logic of the opponent’s position, not what the opponents is personally seeking to accomplish in pragmatic activity.

And, again, if I may make a personal statement, it’s because I so relentlessly go after the internal logic of other people’s positions, particularly people on the right, that so many of them hate me.

KH replies:

Since you bring it up, one of the best guidelines I’ve heard for internet debates—and this is something you don’t do and pay the price for not doing—is “Remember the human.” At the other end of the wire is a real-life flesh-and-blood human being much like yourself. You’re not responding to a post or a position—nothing that abstract. You are having a conversation with another human.

LA replies:

Have I spoken to you as though you were not a human being?

KH replies:

Well … like you said, you responded to my position as if it was or was likely to be the one and only position governing the world. That’s not the same as responding to what I’ve done or can reasonably expect to do in my lifetime.

LA replies:

Well, this is a basic difference in perception. Part of what I do is that I take people’s statements seriously, meaning, I look at the internal logic of their statements, and the end to which that logic tends. Because the people I’m talking to or about have often not thought through their own position to that depth, they resent this, saying, “I didn’t say that, you’re misrepresenting me.” But it’s an axiom at VFR, first stated by Matt years ago, that it’s not what people think their statements mean or even what they say their statements mean that matters in politics, but what their statements actually mean. For example, if someone says, “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande,” or, “We can’t make illegal aliens leave, because all people are children of God,” what he’s really saying—the principle that he’s enunciating—is that national borders and national sovereignty don’t exist. That is the principle that he is implicitly appealing to in order to get his way in a particular debate. Yet he does not say in words, “I believe that national borders and national sovereignty don’t exist,” and indeed, he may never even have thought it. But nevertheless, that is what he has really said. By saying, “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande,” he is enunciating a principle that would make any national borders impossible. And if he’s called out on this real meaning of his statement, he will respond in an indignant way (“I didn’t say that! You’re misrepresenting me!”), or in a mocking and dismissive way (“You’ve really gone around the bend now”).

And because the entire liberal project advances itself in this manner, i.e., by concealing its principles and ends under non-conceptual or one-step-at-a-time language (because if its principles and ends were stated explicitly they would be opposed and the liberal program would be defeated), it is the job of traditonalists to expose the real principles underlying liberals’ non-conceptual, sentimental statements (such as “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande”).

Some people appreciate my analytical approach (and even find it liberating to find an environment where ideas can be discussed without being personalized). Some people bridle at it and hate me for it. I asked a reader the other day, “Can you think offhand of anyone who is the target of more pure ad hominem attacks and lies than I?” And he answered: “Not offhand.” But the fact remains that liberalism cannot be successfully opposed without exposing its underlying principles and ends that are hidden under non-conceptual language.

Indeed, what set off this particular thread was that you, under my persistent questioning, departed from the normal liberal/left practice and stated your ultimate end in plain words, namely that you believe in “one world, one people.”

KH replies:

OK, you want a specific? I have not gone on and on about what you would do if you had godlike power to put your ideas into practice. That would have the effect of reducing you and your actual place in the world to an ideological abstraction.

To be fair though, you have been far easier on me than on your fellow conservatives.

LA replies:

But that would be a fair argument for you to make against me, i.e., for you to hold my feet to the fire and try to bring out what my ideas would really mean in practice. And then I would have to reply, by explaining my ideas further.

KH replies:

Not my style. I’ll call you to account for what you have done or are reasonably likely to do, but that’s it.

LA replies:

I think this has been a very useful exchange.

Sage McLaughlin writes:

Ken Hechtman’s objection to your debating “style” strikes me as self-serving and positively outrageous. Why is it that leftists constantly object to people actually examining their ideas and teasing out the implications, and go so far as to complain that to do so is a slight to them personally—in Hechtman’s case, he actually claims that his humanity is being disregarded, on the basis of no logical argument whatsoever. Who cares if he is not a god, and cannot simply have his will at any given instant? Neither was Lenin. (You have to hand it to him, though, this is a crafty way of putting criticism of his ideas out of bounds by re-casting them as a blow to his human dignity—he is obviously learning well at the sandals of his Obamassiah, who is busily writing the book on this very tactic as we speak.)

This kind of thing from liberals is getting old. Forty years ago, leftists dismissed the idea that they were actually destroying the family—sure, we may be hell bent on destroying the family, they said, and we may be working overtime to do it, but it is pure scare-mongering to argue as though we might actually get our way. Of course, forty years later, they have advanced further down that path than most people could have believed possible, and all the while they deny that the next radical step toward the demolition of the family will ever occur—alas. Just because one person doesn’t have the power to make something happen instantaneously by an act of disembodied will, does not mean that we cannot be pushed radically in that direction, or even completely to that end state, by enough of them working with a common idea in mind. Gay marriage, anyone?

His objection also proclaims that “the government of the day” will be moved incrementally this way or that, depending on the force of various arguments, as though they occupy some Olympian perch. Contrary to his assertion, we aren’t getting a border fence, as the entire federal government, especially at the level of decision-making authority, is shot through with left-liberals like himself who will never allow mass immigration to cease while they have breath in them. His whole, “Who, me, tear down America’s borders?” act is a transparently lame attempt to escape responsibility for what is happening before our very eyes, as a result of people very much like himself. The fact that he is a mere “worker bee,” as he puts it, does nothing to change the fact that he’s part of a much larger hive, working double-time radically to alter the existing order. I would have thought that the banality argument was beneath him. That he believes his and his compatriots’ advocacy will not have any especially radical effect over time is insane—or if he knows that it will, then his objection is empty, meaningless, and a red herring.

How about we debate the ideas in play, rather than crying foul when someone treats your ideas as something worth debating and finds it wanting. The left gets so much of what it wants these days, that it’s hard to feel especially sorry for them when they complain that, of course, they have not yet literally replaced God.

LA replies:

I feel that Sage M. is being a little unfair to KH. in the opening part of his comment. It was I who brought up the idea that people hate me for my style of argumentation, and KH then noted that I make the mistake of failing to treat my interlocutors as human beings, and that is why I am hated. Whether that point is correct or not, I didn’t feel, pace Mr. M., that KH was really complaining that I was “slighting him personally.”

However, there is a lot of truth in what Mr. M. is saying. In effect, KH treats himself nominalistically. He’s not a part of any larger category, i.e., the radical left. He doesn’t represent any larger thing, idea, or movement. He’s just a guy, a modest, unassuming fellow, quite low on the totem pole, representing no one but his own uninfluential self, and therefore it’s not legitimate of me to criticize him for any leftist aims beyond what he personally has the present intention and power to bring about. I agree the argument is based on fallacious premises, which if accepted would paralyze criticism of the left.

* * *

Robert Locke, who, like me, has been in e-mail contact with Ken Hechtman for some years, joining the discussion late, responds to KH’s belief in “one world, one people.”

Robert Locke writes:

It’s been obvious to me for years that this must be what you believe in. You’re too smart to believe in any of the old-school anarchist or socialist fantasies, so one-worldism is the only plausible thing you’ve got left.

The problems for you are:

1. You’re assuming that human tribalism has no biological basis, but Darwinism makes clear it is logical for humans to have evolved a preference for people carrying similar genes. This may mean that mixing peoples will not make it go away, just change shape.

2. You’re dreaming if you think left-paternalist economics will hold your coalition together. It didn’t work in Yugoslavia and it won’t work for you. The entire world, except for a few greed-heads and ideologues in the U.S. and UK, believes in softening the edges of capitalism. So by this standard you should be in coalition with Putin, the LDP of Japan, Le Pen in France, and a lot of other people. And you can’t build a coalition upon a premise shared by everyone. This game will only last as long as you have economic royalist Republicans to run against.

3. Diversity undermines the social solidarity upon which paternalist economics depends. People don’t want to pay taxes to support other people’s children. It is no accident that there is less paternalism in more diverse societies like the USA, Brazil, India. The more you increase diversity in America, the more Americans retreat into “I’ve got mine Jack” individualism.

4. You’re assuming liberalism will conquer the hearts and minds of the world. This has been true for 100 years only because the liberal society has best been able to deliver the life people wanted. But authoritarian regimes from Moscow to Beijing to Dubai are learning how to do this real fast. Please read Eamon Fingleton’s book, “In the Jaws of the Dragon.” It shows how China above all is seriously mastering a profoundly non-liberal alternative civilizational model that will be stable in its own right and never turn into anything liberal.

Dimitri K. writes:

Regarding Mr. Hechtman’s reply—it is an excellent example of leftist thinking! They don’t really want to ruin the country and society. to the contrary, they even believe that they improve them. Just a small improvement, who cares. It will be a little painful, but our country is so big and strong, it will hardly notice the consequences. But how noble and pleasant is to introduce such a legislation. He is a small guy, doing his small job. Let us not think about consequences. Don’t be ridiculous, its just nothing. Everything will be fine. Just a small pleasant improvement.

Steward W. writes:

You write: “Can you think offhand of anyone who is the target of more pure ad hominem attacks and lies than I?”

Yes. Emmanuel Goldstein.

LA replies:

The Goldstein in “Nineteen Eight-four”? The object of the daily five-minute Hate? Yes, I guess so.

Stewart W. replies:

That’s the one. It does seem that, at various times and on various websites, you have been subject to the “Two Minutes Hate” treatment. Hopefully, though, you’re not just an invention of the Party.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 14, 2008 11:21 AM | Send

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