Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rational argument with an ideologue is not possible

I have a lot of Facebook friends who are anarchists. For people who claim to "hate" politics, I have never met a group who are so obsessed with it. For many of them (and I recognize that this is not true of every anarchist friend I have: if it doesn't apply to you, then you are not one of the "many"), it seems that about 90% of their posts are political. They are fixated on promoting their political view to the exclusion of all else.

About 95% of the time, I manage to make the sensible choice and ignore these posts. But every once in a while one of them gets to me: it is usually a combination of a sense of smug superiority in the poster's own views and a sneering contempt for lowly "statists" that leads me to wander in where angels fear to tread.

It happened the other day: someone posted a bit of nonsense from Mike Huemer, claiming that if we don't accept the head of a charity organization simply going around seizing the funds he needs to help the poor and jailing those who won't pay up, then we shouldn't accept a government doing the same thing. I noted that this argument is ridiculous: in a constitutionally ordered government, officials are also not allowed to simply demand funds from people for anything they think is needed, but instead must pass legislation according to constitutional procedures to raise funds for a project.

The response? "Oh, so you think the Nazis were perfectly justified in taking the property of Jews because they passed laws permitting this?"

It is as if a couple of thousand years of literature differentiating legitimate governments from illegitimate ones, and legitimate government actions from illegitimate ones, simply did not exist. It is as if when the people of a Swiss canton meet and vote funds for a new bridge, it is exactly the same as when a group of thugs seized control of the German government and used it to enact their racial prejudices.

I am not begging the question here: someone can argue that both the Swiss government and the Nazi government are illegitimate. But if they cannot even recognize the vast difference between them, and do not even acknowledge the huge amount of thought that exists differentiating them, they are completely lost in an ideological haze. There is no sense trying to reason with anyone in such a condition: their ideology acts as a filter, turning any opposing view into a ridiculous caricature of that view, the ridiculousness of which then confirms the truth of their ideology.

I dropped out of the discussion, and asked Facebook not to show me posts from the person in question anymore, in order to stay out of that tar pit. I am sure the anarchists who had participated in the thread then all high-fived each other, assuring each other that "Callahan left because he cannot refute our arguments!"

And that is how ideologies sustain themselves.


  1. What is this...? A post about ideology being irrational, but no reference to Oakeshott's "Rationalism in Politics" essay?! Scandalous Gene! Scandalous!

    In all seriousness, Huemer's book "Ethical Intuitionism" is absolutely fantastic. His argument for moral objectivity - and his refutation of naturalism - should make the book a future classic. It is a tour de force of reason.

  2. I tend to keep my FB postings in order: 50% stuff that happens in my life, 25% humorous nonsense, 10% complete nonsense, and the remainder is assigned to politics (or what many would define as political).

    Please, notice the order.

  3. I'm a member of this one libertarian page (a sensible one that's got subscribers of all beliefs) and I've seen posts like what you're talking. I recall this one commenter—obviously a voluntarist—who came out and posted a link to this cheaply made YouTube video that declared everyone has the rights of "life, liberty, and justly acquired property". For whatever reason, there seems to be a correlation between ideologically-blind libertarianism and crappy videos. I've also run into the types who proclaim that the free market can replace politics. The ideologues are a weird group.

    1. For whatever reason, there seems to be a correlation between ideologically-blind libertarianism and crappy videos.

      Besides this being goofy, it also will offend Gene: He had pretty low production values on his marginal video.

  4. Gene,

    While I would say that while anarchists can be fundamentally pig-headed, nothing compares to my experiences both in Canada (home of The Feminist) and modern academia (also home of The Feminist) regarding contemporary feminism. This Marxism with a sexist twist is astonishing to me; it throws out so much common sense and makes so many solipsism's that it is difficult to read without feeling like you are trying to untangle a giant yarn.

    As an example; in my philosophy of science class this past semester, we were required to read "feminist philosophy of science". I rolled my eyes; unbelievable. Sure enough, I wasn't disappointed; these authors equated many conventions and findings in science not from, say, empirical methods, but from patriarchal institutions and feelings.

    The biggest problem of feminism is that is perhaps one of the worst of the ideologies that one can subscribe to; it is an attempt to justify and argue for a new sort of Marxism - and like the Old Marxism, it is just as irrational and silly.


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