Intellectual Cowards

November 18th, 2012 

Here’s one difference between liberals and conservatives: conservatives don’t like being contradicted. I first noticed this a few months ago when I posted a courteously phrased question on a conservative blog. It was removed by the moderator. I shrugged it off as an oddity. But then I ran across this in the rules for a prominent conservative blog, RedState:

14. It is forbidden to attempt to discredit or bring disharmony to the site, the Republican party, any of its candidates, or the conservative movement by pretending to be something one is not and posting maliciously. The practices known as “concern trolling” or “mobying” are included in this ban.

So I decided to try a test on another prominent conservative blog, FreeRepublic. They seemed better; their rules state that they do not edit or censor articles, so I figured it was worth a try. I registered and submitted the following topic:

I come here as an outsider. I am most definitely not a conservative, although some liberals would dismiss me as not liberal because I support nuclear power, free trade, a national ID law, and I approach environmental issues on a cost-benefit basis rather than a values basis. My presence here is predicated by my alarm at the paralyzing polarization in the American body politic. The only way people can get along peaceably is if they’re willing to compromise; without compromise, democracy cannot function. It looks as if we’re heading into a no-compromise political environment, which suggests that American democracy is headed down the toilet.

So I’m here to explore a simple question: is it even possible for liberals and conservatives to discuss issues with each other? I note with dismay that the two sides now base their opinions on completely different sources of information; they cannot even agree on basic facts. 

There are some issues that I can comfortably accept as intrinsically subjective in nature, and therefore inaccessible to reasoned disagreement. For example, the matter of abortion turns on the question of when the fetus is assigned the status of a human being. If one person chooses to make that assignment to a fertilized egg, I have no rational basis for gainsaying him. If another person chooses to make that assignment at 6 months’ gestation, I cannot gainsay that judgement either.

At the opposite extreme we have the matter of anthropogenic climate change (ACC). The great mass of scientific opinion favors ACC theory; many conservatives reject it. I have no desire to argue this issue here; I mention it because it provides a great example of conservatives living in a completely different reality.

Of course, liberals are not above reproach here; their attitudes towards nuclear power are also anti-scientific and irrational. And their knee-jerk antipathy towards corporations does not reflect well on their claims to rational approaches. 

The answer I fear I’ll get is “Sure, liberals and conservatives can talk – if the liberals would agree with us!” That answer would confirm the hopelessness of our polarization. Any answer that, in effect, blames the other side for the problem demonstrates the impossibility of resolving differences. 

The other type of answer I fear I’ll get is vituperative.

They never posted it. In fact, I discovered that my posting privilege there was revoked. It would seem that, although they don’t edit or censor posts, they do retaliate against those expressing ideas they do not approve of. Meanwhile, another person posted these remarks on the same site:

“…we are not all of like minds. Priorities to one conservative are not priorities to another. Diversity of opinion not only exists on the political right, it is encouraged. Nothing less would be accepted from a philosophy based on the individual.”

This long self-congratulatory post garnered some 40 responses, all of them expressing approbation of the post. Not one dissenter stood among the crowd of yes-men all nodding in agreement with the idea that they are intellectually heterogeneous. Yes, indeed, conservatives are a bastion of intellectual diversity.

It truly is remarkable that the right is so narrow-minded. They don’t merely ignore ideas they don’t like; they actively expunge them. I find this astounding because everybody knows – or should know – that diversity of opinion is a source of strength. It’s the whole idea behind the First Amendment. Freedom of expression is more than an individual right; it’s a political necessity; without it we wander off into the weeds and get stuck in stupid ideas. I’m not complaining that my First Amendment rights were violated by conservatives; they have their clubs and they have every right to exclude anybody they want to exclude. But they are truly idiotic to do so. All ideas should be tested in the furnace of open debate. The facts that conservatives believe to be true are never refuted with contradictory evidence. This attitude was the underlying reason for the electoral defeat they suffered a few weeks ago. They are out of touch with reality and they paid the price for their foolishness.