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"Pedantic moralizing won’t mobilize Americans."
October 14, 2013 12:08 PM   Subscribe

Outrage: "The world gives us no shortage of things to be outraged about, and in the right context outrage can be politically useful as well as morally appropriate. But outrage can also be reactive and unreasoned, and too often it leads us astray. It is understandable that the left, in its prolonged weakness, has come to rely on such defensive rhetoric. Over the past four decades, as unions were busted, wealth redistributed upwards, and Iraq invaded—all with electoral sanction—the American left has had little to enjoy besides the sense of righteous camaraderie which outrage can provide. But if the left has any ambitions for the twenty-first century—if it hopes to bring about good, not just decry evil—it must kick its outrage habit."
posted by anotherpanacea (86 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm outraged by this article.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:13 PM on October 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Outrage seems to have worked just fine to mobilize the right -- and the vast majority of the shit they're outraged about isn't even true. So this argument is faulty at its premise.
posted by tzikeh at 12:16 PM on October 14, 2013 [54 favorites]


Now the news cycle, sped up by Twitter and social media does, I think, allow outrage to bleed away action, the same way the endless repeating "coverage" of the latest disaster heighten anxiety without prompting any useful action at all. I won't say it's a conspiracy, but dysfunctional relationships and workplaces often thrive on a culture of crisis -- you are always leaping to or bracing for the next problem to rise up.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:22 PM on October 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Outrage seems to have worked just fine to mobilize the right -- and the vast majority of the shit they're outraged about isn't even true. So this argument is faulty at its premise.

Indeed. Crybaby Conservationism is what I call it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:23 PM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Outrage seems to have worked just fine to mobilize the right -- and the vast majority of the shit they're outraged about isn't even true. So this argument is faulty at its premise.

The difference is they call their congressman and shows up to vote. The left yells at its own leaders, rather than its own Congressmen and doesn't show up for its own side.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:30 PM on October 14, 2013 [18 favorites]


My overgeneralizations, let me show you them.
posted by Big_B at 12:37 PM on October 14, 2013 [21 favorites]


Outrage seems to have worked just fine to mobilize the right -- and the vast majority of the shit they're outraged about isn't even true. So this argument is faulty at its premise.

It's also tearing them apart. I think it's fair to say that, in the last few years, we're witnessing the GOP slowly lose control of its angry populists. Arguably, the reason they lost the last two presidential elections is because their outrage is scaring away moderates.

The left yells at its own leaders, rather than its own Congressmen and doesn't show up for its own side.

So true. Leftist outrage is often turned on its own ranks, against those who fall short of the consensus.
posted by Edgewise at 12:38 PM on October 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


So true. Leftist outrage is often turned on its own ranks, against those who fall short of the consensus.

Sure, but this is clearly happening on the right now too. Look at the way moderates or even conservative Republicans who want to compromise on the debt ceiling / shutdown are harrassed by the Tea Party types. In fact, this kind of obsession for conservative purity has IMO pretty clearly been a big factor in the fall of the Republican party in the last few elections (sadly they didn't fall enough for my tastes, but compared to the talk 10 years ago of a permanent Republican majority...)
posted by wildcrdj at 12:41 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


And Cole Carter is what, ten years old?

Okay, which left? I'm pretty sure that I'm not part of what Carter thinks of as "the left" - which seems to be the lefter half of the Democratic Party, such as it is. Now, I don't mind him providing advice to the Dems (even if it's advice borrowed from 1973), but let's call it like it is. I can't think of anyone in my immediate social circle who saw this Zero Dark Thirty film, for instance. Certainly, the growth of the big propaganda film in the last ten years is pretty interesting, but that's not what he's talking about.

If the left wants to be a political force in the not-too-distant future it has to learn to see allies, not adversaries, in the American people. If we want to give their disaffection political expression, we have to learn to speak with confidence. Pedantic moralizing won’t mobilize Americans. Listening to them might. People are ready for something new—and if the left doesn’t give it to them, others will.

Torchlight parades! Anyone for a torchlight parade?

Although in fairness this does sound like any number of "making anarchism fun and enticing" essays I've read since about 1990 - the idea being that "we" need to give "them" something in order to toll in the punters so that "we" can lead the revolution. This isn't anarchist, particularly left or reflective of historical reality.
posted by Frowner at 12:44 PM on October 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm so liberal I would have been prosecuted in the '50s. I'm also an Army vet, which is nice to have in the hip pocket when discussing patriotism with right-wingers.

I do what I can to improve society, both with my vote and with incessant phone calls to moronic members of congress. I have Dianne Feinstein, who never saw a civil right she didn't oppose, on speed dial and her office hears from me every week. I live in a liberal enclave, and my US Representative is fine by me, although he replaced one of the most liberal members EVAH and it will be hard for him to lean as far left as she did.

I also badger the staffers of the more idiotic members whose districts I do not live in, primarily Senator Lee of Utah, Darrell Issa of California, and Senator Saxby Chambliss, a tool if there ever was one.

The post seems to be a lot of hand-wringing without an example of the sort of activity we liberals should be taking part in. I get up every day and do what I can for truth, justice and the American way, but I don't sign a lot of internet petitions.

Here's the thing that makes some people leaders, and that is an ACTUAL PLAN. If you don't have one, with specific goals and benchmarks for success, you are just whining about people who whine.
posted by Repack Rider at 12:46 PM on October 14, 2013 [47 favorites]


Also, almost every time I've heard this line of reasoning, it has turned out that "pedantic moralizing" involves either a complicated understanding of history or pointing out that white dudes even on the left don't always know how it needs to go for women, people of color or the gays. Both those things, it turns out, are often "pedantic". And divisive. And after "we" create a "persuasive" leftism, "we" can sort out all that trivial shit about what actually happened in the past, or sexism or whatever.
posted by Frowner at 12:47 PM on October 14, 2013 [23 favorites]


It's a load of unactionable bullocks and arguably the worst review of Zero Dark Thirty ever written.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:52 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I look at our political discourse, even here on Metafilter, I see a lot of people preaching to the converted, and a lot of people vociferously shouting down those who they disagree with. Both are fine if all you're trying to do is enforce ideological conformity. However, neither one will actually win people over to your side of the debate, which, to my mind, should be the whole purpose of political discourse.
posted by evil otto at 12:53 PM on October 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the socialists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for my outrage.
posted by hypersloth at 12:53 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


and the vast majority of the shit they're outraged about isn't even true.

This is exactly the danger that bothers me the most.
posted by kiltedtaco at 12:53 PM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


The post seems to be a lot of hand-wringing without an example of the sort of activity we liberals should be taking part in.

Correct...it's giving examples of activities that liberals shouldn't be taking part in. I don't think that obliges the article to provide examples of what liberals should be doing.

Also, almost every time I've heard this line of reasoning, it has turned out that "pedantic moralizing" involves either a complicated understanding of history or pointing out that white dudes even on the left don't always know how it needs to go for women, people of color or the gays.

Well, there shouldn't be much ambiguity here, because the article is constructed around a very concrete example. You don't need to go hunting up straw (straight white) men.
posted by Edgewise at 12:53 PM on October 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Twitterstorms are the Internet pornography of social change.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:19 PM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


...I see a lot of people preaching to the converted, and a lot of people vociferously shouting down those who they disagree with. Both are fine if all you're trying to do is enforce ideological conformity. However, neither one will actually win people over to your side of the debate...

Agreed, but what's the solution?

And what if you're standing there at the Harmful vs. Useless shouting match, and you have a different idea worth considering, but can't get anybody to shut up long enough to pay attention?
posted by Foosnark at 1:22 PM on October 14, 2013


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "Outrage seems to have worked just fine to mobilize the right -- and the vast majority of the shit they're outraged about isn't even true. So this argument is faulty at its premise.

Indeed. Crybaby Conservationism is what I call it.
"

Conservationism?

Crying Indian Conservationism?
posted by symbioid at 1:28 PM on October 14, 2013


Outrage seems to have worked just fine to mobilize the right -- and the vast majority of the shit they're outraged about isn't even true.

I think there's a difference between outrage and fear. People on the left tend to get outraged about a lot of things without feeling personally, literally threatened by those things. They might get outraged about cuts to Social Security or whatever, but they don't lie awake at night spinning paranoid fantasies about The Day The G-Men Came For All The Guns. The right, by contrast, is not just outraged but actually, genuinely fearful, and fear is a much more powerful motivator. Being afraid all the time is a shitty, self-destructive way to live, but it will sure as hell get you off your ass and out of the house to protest or vote or whatever.
posted by mstokes650 at 1:31 PM on October 14, 2013 [26 favorites]


Outrage seems to have worked just fine to mobilize the right -- and the vast majority of the shit they're outraged about isn't even true. So this argument is faulty at its premise.

At this pace, it's going to mobilize them into the margins. I mean, have you seen the polls lately? Sure, it can't happen quick enough as far as I'm concerned. But to take the conservative outrage fueled activism of the past few years as some kind of example of positive result seems seriously mistaken.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:31 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Monty Python figured it out long ago:

Presenter: Yes, yes! One final question Karl and the beautiful lounge suite will be yours... Are you going to have a go? (Karl nods) You're a brave man. Karl Marx, your final question, who won the Cup Final in 1949?

Karl: The workers' control of the means of production? The struggle of the urban proletariat?

Presenter: No. It was in fact, Wolverhampton Wanderers who beat Leicester 3-1.


The left's problem is that it's answers are no longer appropriate for the questions.

Outrage is all that remains.
posted by three blind mice at 1:32 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Outrage: an exhaustible, precious resource.
posted by anewnadir at 1:33 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Agreed, but what's the solution?

Myself? I've vowed to stop taking part in that kind of online debate. It's really tough, and sometimes I fall down, but I've made a concerted effort to avoid those kind of debate threads here and other places, and I'm a happier person as a result.

When I do participate in a debate thread, I'll ask myself before posting, "Am I actually trying to persuade anybody here? Or am I just shouting my opinion?" Sometimes I'll adjust my message based on that appraisal, and sometimes I'll just decide to post nothing at all, because all that debate would do is piss me off.

And what if you're standing there at the Harmful vs. Useless shouting match, and you have a different idea worth considering, but can't get anybody to shut up long enough to pay attention?

In that case, you could ask yourself whether you really stand a chance of persuading anybody there to begin with.
posted by evil otto at 1:38 PM on October 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


Outrage: an inexhaustible commodity that alienates those you hope to influence and increases the distance from those who already oppose you.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:39 PM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Using the definition of outrage, methinks the non-liberals protest too much.

out·rage (outrj)
n.
1. An act of extreme violence or viciousness.
2. An act grossly offensive to decency, morality, or good taste.
3. A deplorable insult.
4. Resentful anger aroused by a violent or offensive act.
tr.v. out·raged, out·rag·ing, out·rag·es
1. To offend grossly against (standards of decency or morality); commit an outrage on.
2. To produce anger or resentment in:
posted by Chuffy at 1:39 PM on October 14, 2013


and the vast majority of the shit they're outraged about isn't even true.

This is exactly the danger that bothers me the most.


Me too. I've had to unsubscribe from several self-described liberal/progressive pages on Facebook because many of them have taken a distinct turn for the antifactual, trafficking in the same kind of untrue smears about the opposition and overheated emotion-based arguments that I'd come to associate solely with the political right. Everyone is turning willfully stupid and vindictive and it makes me sick to my stomach.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:50 PM on October 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


The right, by contrast, is not just outraged but actually, genuinely fearful, and fear is a much more powerful motivator. Being afraid all the time is a shitty, self-destructive way to live, but it will sure as hell get you off your ass and out of the house to protest or vote or whatever.

That's an interesting point, although I'm not sure that I agree that conservatives have a monopoly on fear. I wonder, though, if fear is not a more earnest response to something regarded as generally threatening.

For instance, global warming. If you're just outraged over global warming, then you're just focused on the stupidity of peoples' responses to it. If you're actually afraid of global warming, then you are reacting to it as a real thing, not just as a political issue. If we're just engaging with things on the level of political issues and merely outraged with the stupidity of the "other side," then perhaps we aren't fully engaging with the actual issue at hand.

The point being that maybe the actual policies of the right are wrong, harmful or even nuts, but maybe there is something to recommend the seriousness with which they treat the issues themselves.
posted by Edgewise at 1:51 PM on October 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


2N2222: At this pace, it's going to mobilize them into the margins. I mean, have you seen the polls lately?

Sure. Have you seen the gerrymandered district maps of the states where far, far more people voted for Democratic congresspeople than Republican, and yet the states are heavily Republican-represented in the House?

They've drawn some nice margins for themselves.
posted by tzikeh at 1:51 PM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ambrose Bierce always delivers:

OBSTINATE, adj. Inaccessible to the truth as it is manifest in the splendor and stress of our advocacy.

The popular type and exponent of obstinacy is the mule, a most intelligent animal.

posted by blucevalo at 2:01 PM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement
(Bayard Rustin — February 1965 )
And so, in Mississippi, thanks largely to the leadership of Bob Moses, a turn toward political action has been taken. More than voter registration is involved here. A conscious bid for political power is being made, and in the course of that effort a tactical shift is being effected: direct-action techniques are being subordinated to a strategy calling for the building of community institutions or power bases. Clearly, the implications of this shift reach far beyond Mississippi. What began as a protest movement is being challenged to translate itself into a political movement. Is this the right course? And if it is, can the transformation be accomplished?
[...]
Here is where the cutting edge of the civil rights movement can be applied. We must see to it that the reorganization of the “consensus party” proceeds along lines which will make it an effective vehicle for social reconstruction, a role it cannot play so long as it furnishes Southern racism with its national political power. (One of Barry Goldwater's few attractive ideas was that the Dixiecrats belong with him in the same party.)
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:02 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Golden Eternity, I don't understand how you think that quote relates to article.
posted by nangar at 2:09 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Be outraged. And DO something about it, and encourage others to DO something about it. It's that easy.
If you're in a democracy, VOTE.
Wherever you are, reduce energy consumption and support public options any way you can.
Be respectful of other's life choices and demand the polity do the same. This includes reducing security and military interventions. It's not respectful to spy on or kill people.
Every time you DO something online, balance it with DOING something with others and in the physical world.

I'm going to a state healthcare options focus group tomorrow. What are you doing?
posted by Dreidl at 2:17 PM on October 14, 2013


Political outrage motivates people to hate their political opponents. That's useful for the right wing, since its main goal is to make its enemies suffer. It's not so useful to the left, since its mission is to improve things for (nearly) everyone.

Outrage has its place on the left; the outrage expressed in the last fifteen years helped convince a lot of liberals who are moderate by temperament that you really can't make deals with this batch of Republicans. But outrage is never going to be enough to keep a left-wing movement going, as it is for right-wing movements.
posted by burden at 2:18 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


The mistrust I feel whenever I encounter zealous political partisanship is triggered by the historical myopia and self-indulgent hectoring and agit-prop that inevitably accompany it. Outrage is almost completely incompatible with a reasonable discussion, and more often than not just leads to demonizing and ugly displays of puerile rancor. If 'paying attention' (per the bumper sticker, and in practice amounting to little more than a narrowly delineated diet of tendentious media) inevitably leads to the kind of indiscriminate lashing out and jumping to conclusions I so often see associated with the self-styled outraged, you can keep it.
posted by perhapsolutely at 2:45 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


The whole conservative establishment as it exists today is built on outrage. Terrified, spittle-flecking anger is central to its existence. Just click on over to World Net Daily or any site of that political stripe, and you'll see articles and advertisements both that do their best to utterly enrage their target audiences with the thought of what Obama (or some idiot liberal, or "The Left") is doing now. Most of it, as has been pointed out here, is made up out of whole cloth.
What they really want, of course, is for their audience to buy their book or donate to their cause--or at least sign some petition (so personal information can be bundled and sold to other right-wing mailing lists). The outrage is thereby monetized so new outrage can be sparked. It isn't actually about winning political battles, it's about bilking the rubes and shrieking "Sharia Law!" all the way to the bank.
posted by Bromius at 2:55 PM on October 14, 2013


If outrage isn't getting you where you want to be, why not give compassion a try instead? You might be surprised.
posted by Scientist at 3:38 PM on October 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


The same, Bromius, can be said, mutatis mutandis, for most contemporary political agitating. Headlong passion preempts measured consideration, moral grandstanding ('demonstration' and 'consciousness raising') replaces meaningful (often low-profile) action, impatience outstrips self-control, heat supplants light. Opponents, and as often as not innocent bystanders, are more readily abused than disabused, it seems.
posted by perhapsolutely at 3:45 PM on October 14, 2013


"However, neither one will actually win people over to your side of the debate, which, to my mind, should be the whole purpose of political discourse."

Meh. My day job is pretty much all political discourse, and different audiences need different things. In order to get most of our base to, say, make phone calls, yeah, you gotta get them riled up enough to make this a priority. In order to get someone who's on the fence to come over to our side, you gotta meet 'em where they are.

There was just a pretty interesting thread going around Progressive Exchange, which is for lefty-techies, all about email and mass contact tactics aimed at legislators, and how, really, the vast majority of that is about list building. And hell, even within our lists it's only a 13 percent open rate, and even lower rate of actual action.

And from the article: But a revived utopianism will amount to nothing if the left doesn’t change the way it relates to the American people. The most troubling aspect of the response to Zero Dark Thirty was the deep distrust of average Americans exhibited by the film’s detractors. Convinced that the film would dupe the American public into supporting torture just as it was duped into supporting the invasion of Iraq ten years before, the critics sought to discredit the film before it could corrupt its credulous audience. Moviegoers were treated as wayward children unable to make their own judgments.

Well, you know, since the American people did get all rah-rah about invading Iraq, it's pretty fucking rational to realize that the average American is only of average intelligence, and that's compounded by laziness, lack of curiosity and education, and yeah, it makes sense to not count on the better angels of the American character to overcome lazy, sloppy thinking.

(And Christ, I've done door knocks — I know pretty much exactly how fucking stupid the American public is, even if most of them have their hearts in the right place.)
posted by klangklangston at 4:01 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Outrage is fine, and there is a lot to be said for how the Tea Party has seized a lot of political power they probably don't deserve by the numbers.

The thing is, it can't be all consuming. Democrats should be very afraid of liberal primary challengers. We just have to be sure we aren't voting for liberal Christine O'Donnell. You have to be smart about the races you target and the candidates you support. I think Democrats and the left are doing really, really well right now balancing the outrage and the pragmatism. It helps when you have a sensible and competent leader in power that the base likes, even when they are upset with him about one thing or another.

The right has had no real leader since Bush, and his competence was questionable to begin with. So, the crazies run the party now and nobody has stepped forward yet that can unify the party at the national level and be truly viable. I think people underestimate how likely Republicans returning to power is though, especially if they can find a leader like that.

I hope if they do take power Obama remains in the spotlight as much as he can to help guide the party in the future until someone else can take the mantle. Either way, he isn't going to slink out of office into obscurity like Bush.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:02 PM on October 14, 2013


"Golden Eternity, I don't understand how you think that quote relates to article."

He was drawing a comparison between Rustin talking about moving beyond the politics of protest — which are based at least somewhat on popular outrage — and into building institutions, with the theme of the article in abandoning the politics of outrage. Hope that helps.
posted by klangklangston at 4:02 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Drinky Die: I think people underestimate how likely Republicans returning to power is though, especially if they can find a leader like that.

Let us not confuse "the party of the current President" with "power" in the U.S. It's pretty clear who's has the power right now, and it ain't the Democrats.
posted by tzikeh at 4:09 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't think of anyone in my immediate social circle who saw this Zero Dark Thirty film, for instance.

Which in itself may say something. Not sure what, but something. Do you know anyone who saw The Hurt Locker?
posted by IndigoJones at 4:14 PM on October 14, 2013


Meh. My day job is pretty much all political discourse, and different audiences need different things. In order to get most of our base to, say, make phone calls, yeah, you gotta get them riled up enough to make this a priority. In order to get someone who's on the fence to come over to our side, you gotta meet 'em where they are.

I'll agree to an extent. However, it seems like people put very little effort into tailoring their discourse to their audience. Or perhaps they don't even think it's important to do so. I've encountered a number of people who seem to think that if you beat people over the head enough times with your opinion, somehow they will start agreeing with you. And if that isn't working, you're not beating them hard enough or being loud or sarcastic or caustic enough.

For example, on Metafilter, there are a number of people who are accustomed to "get people riled up" mode, because they're used to addressing people who are already on their side. Then they come over here, and upon encountering people whom they don't agree with, stay in "get people riled up" mode instead of switching to "meet 'em where they are" mode. As a result, I've seen very, very little actual persuasion here -- and again, MeFi is supposed to be one of the better places.
posted by evil otto at 5:01 PM on October 14, 2013


The difference is they call their congressman and shows up to vote. The left yells at its own leaders, rather than its own Congressmen and doesn't show up for its own side.

The right is also filled with retirees with lots of free time and outdated notions of what society should look like, and need I remind you all, has lots of gerrymandered districts. The left should vote, but I don't think that's the problem; we did elect Obama twice, after all.

It's also tearing them apart. I think it's fair to say that, in the last few years, we're witnessing the GOP slowly lose control of its angry populists. Arguably, the reason they lost the last two presidential elections is because their outrage is scaring away moderates.

Argubly, the reason they lost is they're batshit insane. Look at the shutdown, sheesh!

It's one thing to talk about their angry populists as if they were a playing piece on a board, independent of their beliefs. But they really are radical, encouraged by their very own "news" network, and the movement raised and suckled at the Koch teat. They are reaping what they've sown, and the distaste everyone including their own party shows for them is entirely understandable.

So true. Leftist outrage is often turned on its own ranks, against those who fall short of the consensus.

This happens, but the left has nothing anywhere near the the Tea Parties "RINOs."

When I look at our political discourse, even here on Metafilter, I see a lot of people preaching to the converted, and a lot of people vociferously shouting down those who they disagree with.

I agree, but the nature of discussion in this country is that people rarely listen to competing arguments. This is partly because, maybe, both sides already have responses to the most common counter-arguments, fed to them by the culture around their side. Those counter-memes aren't the main point, just riders-on, so they don't get challenged as often, and they're viewed as obvious by the true-believers, so it takes a strong counter-example to shatter them.
posted by JHarris at 5:46 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I find it interesting evil otto that I'm in complete agreement. Perhaps there's something in the evil appellation? I can think of no reason to keep banging my head against any particular wall today and so I have mostly disengaged. Those that disagree with me are completely welcome to their view and I refuse to let the argument eat my lunch. I continue to vote in a manner commensurate with my views and if someone asks my opinion, I'm more than happy to tell them.
posted by evilDoug at 5:57 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The difference is they call their congressman and shows up to vote. The left yells at its own leaders, rather than its own Congressmen and doesn't show up for its own side.

This is the opposite of reality in 2013.

The Democrats control the Senate because Republicans primaried out the candidates they needed to take it while Democrats remained pragmatic. The Democrats are the ones willing to accept the centrists now instead of engaging in purity wars. Either side will show up to vote more when motivated, and it's natural that this swings back and forth.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:59 PM on October 14, 2013


The Democratic Party is fairly inclusive and will take votes where it can get them, but the party is not the same as liberals, and certainly not "the left".
posted by nangar at 6:17 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meh'mories,
Light the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored meh'mories
Of the way we were

posted by y2karl at 6:26 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


"For example, on Metafilter, there are a number of people who are accustomed to "get people riled up" mode, because they're used to addressing people who are already on their side. Then they come over here, and upon encountering people whom they don't agree with, stay in "get people riled up" mode instead of switching to "meet 'em where they are" mode. As a result, I've seen very, very little actual persuasion here -- and again, MeFi is supposed to be one of the better places."

What I'd say to that is that you're likely ignoring the many, many places on MeFi where constructive, often persuasive discussion does happen and instead focusing on the more obstreperous arguments dust-ups that happen; a bit of the fallacy of misleading vividness. It feels a bit like over on a recent gun control thread where someone was complaining that their ideas were being described as silly, which, yeah, that's not very persuasive. But the arguments are silly, and it's largely a waste of time to treat them otherwise. Complaining about not meeting that member where they are would be disingenuous at best.

This is especially true when you realize that since many of us have been here for years, and we've seen the same dumb arguments trotted out again and again, mockery is a pretty fair response and complaints about tone are often used to buttress tired nonsense.
posted by klangklangston at 6:42 PM on October 14, 2013


The Democratic Party is fairly inclusive and will take votes where it can get them, but the party is not the same as liberals, and certainly not "the left".

The left shows up and pragmatically votes for Democrats. They are not "The Democrats" but they are a dedicated constituency of Democrats.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:55 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I'd say to that is that you're likely ignoring the many, many places on MeFi where constructive, often persuasive discussion does happen and instead focusing on the more obstreperous arguments dust-ups that happen

Well, I'm still here, aren't I ;)

Seriously though, I agree there are many worthwhile discussions to be had on MeFi. However, most of those involve art or culture or literature or crafting or programming or other various fun/intellectual/creative pursuits. Basically, things that MeFites don't tend to get riled up about. That's what keeps me coming back. I've learned (for the most part) to avoid the kind of threads that piss me off.

This is especially true when you realize that since many of us have been here for years, and we've seen the same dumb arguments trotted out again and again, mockery is a pretty fair response and complaints about tone are often used to buttress tired nonsense.

Well, if that's how you want to spend your time, far be it from me to stop you. But after years of arguing with people on the internet, I've decided to just let them be wrong. I'm fully convinced it will add years to my life.
posted by evil otto at 7:06 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, I think outrage is one half of it. The other half is doubt. Doubt is essential in a deliberative society. I can't say this loud enough or often enough, I'm so sure of it. If no one is willing to have their own views challenged, if no one is willing to ever admit a mistake or let in a new way of thinking, why are we even talking to each other?
posted by newdaddy at 7:23 PM on October 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Matt Yglesias sometimes talks about #slatepitches, which are contrarian essays that would supposedly go over well at Slate. This sounds like one of them: The Left is too outraged!

But it's a nothingburger. The guy gives two, count 'em, two examples of this terrible outrage that tis consuming the Left. One, a Twitterstorm featuring Yglesias that everyone, doubtless including Yglesias, has now forgotten. Two, an extened discussion of the negative reviews of Zero Dark Thirty, a movie which did a little better than The Lone Ranger, although not quite as well as Rise of the Guardians.

Carter claims that these minor episodes are "harmful", but he doesn't bother to explain what harm was done by some people getting upset with a Slate columnist and with a filmmaker. Is there some kind of goal that is now unreachable because of these incidents?
posted by zompist at 7:36 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


As to how to improve, or simply make useful to any degree whatsoever, discussions about politics, blub posted an interesting link on AskMe earlier today:

Want to Win a Political Debate? Try Making a Weaker Argument

I found this interesting, because like most of us, I have a few highly conservative or whatever friends on Facebook and whenever I read the absolutely irrefutably researched article on Why Gun Control Is Good or Why Single Payer Healthcare is The Very Next Thing to Nirvana, or Why Conservatives are Completely Full of Bull$$$$, or whatever, for one brief millisecond I think, "Aha--I'll just post THIS to Facebook and then, finally Frank K. Knuckledragger and all his Cretinous Friends will UNDERSTAND THE TRUTH and SEE THE LIGHT."

But the delusion does only last a millisecond, and after that reality sets in.

Because none of these articles would change Mr. Knuckledragger's mind in the least. Why?

#1. These type of articles are all written from the left perspective of convincing others on the left that they are correct. So the righties will be put off instantly just by the tone, background information, author, and so on, regardless of the facts presented here and there. For various reasons, there appears to be no market at all for articles written by people on either side working to convince their own side that they are wrong.

#2. Even if we did have a simple factual presentation of the evidence, surely someone on their side has heard and refuted (for a value of 'refute' considered completely acceptable to those on that side of the issue) the entire thing, so all they have to do is spend 5 seconds looking up the counterargument on Rush Limbaugh's web site, or wherever, and they are right back where they started.

So, I am quite interested in this 'weaker argument' thing.

About the only type of argument I've ever seen make headway in this situation is a fairly personal one. Like on healthcare, try quoting facts, figures, etc and you'll be chasing your tail for 3 hours with no progress whatsoever.*

But "You know your sister-in-law June has never been able to get insurance for her kids because of XYZ and you know that's why Little Herbie lost most of the sight in his one eye and all. And now she's able to get affordable insurance through the healthcare exchanges, first time ever."

Or "You know the evil rotten pestilential useless insurance company leeches you've just been going on about for 45 minutes? Well, your sister/my wife is one of them. It's her job and what feeds our family."

"Oh."

One time my sister-in-law denied that the U.S. had ever had a problem with acid rain. The problem just doesn't exist at all--totally made up by liberal liar-heads. Because it's easier to believe that, than to believe that a little bit of government regulation of the right kind can actually solve serious environmental problems sometimes.

Obviously, I needed a much, much weaker argument there. But I never have quite figured out what that could be . . .

posted by flug at 7:59 PM on October 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


ok, but isn't there an acknowledgement, then, this there isn't "real" outrage - it is faux outrage. I would pinpoint the true source of generating the faux outrage to be closer to it's opposite - what I would call self-interested ennui. In other words, "I got mine," and keep the good-times flowing. Yeah, faux-outrage is a racket, so get the newbie recruits out there and..... 18 holes at Andrews?
posted by wallstreet1929 at 8:09 PM on October 14, 2013


Outrage is certainly no substitute for the incremental, difficult and often disappointing work of organizing. Too bad we spend too much time signing petitions and liking Facebook pages than strategizing how to change the way the powers do business.
posted by john wilkins at 8:40 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems like the Democrats have been tactically and strategically lost at the national level since long before I was eligible to vote. The only way I can imagine them making progress on anything at the national level is if they have a Cato Institute plan to implement. And so every time I am told about some very bad thing that must be fixed, it only serves to remind me that nothing will be done about it.
posted by wotsac at 9:03 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


They control the Presidency and the Senate. They controlled the House too and only lost it by fulfilling the goal of passing legislation they had been waiting decades for. They are in a very good position, *fingers crossed they keep the Presidency*, to shift the balance on the Supreme Court in the next few years. Demographics of the country are shifting rapidly in their favor.

Things are not as awful as they seemed during the Bush years.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:08 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


These kinds of discussions remind me of the book The Politics of Moralizing. Here's an excerpt, from an essay within it by Alan Keenan:
“By moralism, I mean, most generally, the rigid attachment to and investment and overconfidence in rules as a means of handling or solving social and political problems. In its stronger forms, moralism refers to that form of discourse that speaks, acts, and calls others to act, from a presumed, or desired, position of moral and political purity and unquestionable correctness. Articulating its political claims in an implicit, often explicit, language of guilt and innocence, moralism desires to regulate personal and collective behavior according to a preexisting code of right and wrong, the existence of which ideally ensures the possibility of clear answers and *correct* behavior and decisions, based on the possibility of mapping one’s actions onto the code without excess or remainder. Most crucially, the code, or moral rule book, adherence to which acts as the marker of membership in the moral community, is not itself seen as open to interrogation or in need of argumentative defense. Moralism is in this and other senses deeply antipolitical. Its promised purity depends on the possibility of a noninterpretive and fully adequate relationship to a code or set of guiding principles, a relationship in which the subjectivity, peculiarities, interests, and power of the interpreter, together with the context of the action or interpretation, are ideally of no consequence. By promising a clear and complete set of rules, ones that can be lived by without ambiguity and without cost to other equally important values, moralism expresseds the wish to be untouched by, and without implication in, that which one rejects or is working to change (even when that includes much of the world within which one must work). The desire to purify oneself and others of society’s and politics’ dirt, rather than to work in and through the dirt to rearrange it and oneself in more just and equitable ways.”
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:15 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


BTW, that essay about making the weaker argument is powerful good.
posted by evil otto at 9:28 PM on October 14, 2013


So - I'll step out and say that in general I liked this article.

Most of the objections to it here seem to be rather weak to me; at least half of them are in fact not objections to the article at all so much as they're objections to the title and post text here. And people are saying things like 'but the right is even worse!' - as if the right even matters in this topic - or 'but Zero Dark Thirty really was terrible!' - as if that matters in the context of the idea that modern liberalism is losing its focus.

In my mind, the best bit of the article was this:
As the possibility of transforming society has receded, the left has contented itself with condemning the worst aspects of the present system... During the Reagan years, as the Old and New Lefts fell into disarray, writers like Judith Shklar, Richard Rorty and Elaine Scarry crafted a new, more modest program for American liberalism—not to establish an empire of liberty or build a Great Society, but simply to minimize suffering and cruelty. This brass-tacks utilitarianism might have felt refreshingly pragmatic coming after the bombast and empty theorizing that characterized the campus left of the 1970s, but it cannot anchor a political movement. It does not explain what causes suffering in our society, and it does not help us to envision a less cruel world. It gives its adherents no practical political orientation—just the command to do no harm.
As far as I can tell, this criticism is spot on; and even if one disagrees with it, it's difficult to disagree with the facts as it lays them out. That is the trajectory of the left today; as a result of the divide between the old and new left, we settled for a political outlook based on doing no harm and eliminating cruelty. This seems purer, and in some senses it is; but it's much more limited, because it doesn't say much about the political world, about justice, or about how we navigate in society.

It's probably worth noting that that bit I liked is actually just summarizing another article - Samuel Moyn's "Torture and Taboo: on Elaine Scarry." Moyn's article is actually vastly superior to the main link here; it's in-depth, and presents a thoughtful analysis of several of the more important liberal thinkers of the past few decades.

In general, I think we leftists need to get better at criticizing ourselves. We don't do it very cogently; generally we just do it by attacking each other. These articles present a way forward by pointing to some real problems the left has surrounding how we view the world and what ideas we affirm where justice and freedom are concerned.
posted by koeselitz at 9:35 PM on October 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Oh, the issue is clear to me - it's Dunning-Kruger. The right is full of batshit crazies who never question anything, so they have this great power of conviction, that the left, who tries to think things out and prizes dissent, can never equal.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:42 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Then they came for my outrage.

And I said nothing, for it was worn down to a nub.

The right is full of batshit crazies who never question anything, so they have this great power of conviction, that the left, who tries to think things out and prizes dissent, can never equal.

I've had many discussions with right-wingers who appear to believe exactly the same thing about the left. To be fair, for every illiterate redneck gun freak there's an innumerate new-age free-energy nitwit. Each side has plenty of terrible exemplars of the other that they can use to prop up their comfortable preconceptions.

Whether or not a person is likely to argue in bad faith seems to me to have more to do with where they sit within any power structure relevant to the issue at hand than on their political orientation.
posted by flabdablet at 12:40 AM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Good Salon article here from Michael Lind on the dangers of writing off the Tea Party as batshit loons.
posted by flabdablet at 12:43 AM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


The interesting question about this article to me is whether this is behaviour everyone would engage in, but twitter makes public. That is, does having somewhat misleading conversations on twitter distract people from activism which "matters"?
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:46 AM on October 15, 2013


> People on the left tend to get outraged about a lot of things without feeling personally, literally
> threatened by those things.

Granted. There's seldom any feeling but a sort of morose complacency in any of those thousands of instances of "We are so fucked."
posted by jfuller at 4:47 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


lupus_yonderboy: Oh, the issue is clear to me - it's Dunning-Kruger.

I agree with you, but saying that seems to be part of the problem. As soon as I think something like "D-K at work!" I've lost the ability to communicate with the other side. Not that I may have had anything relevant or convincing to say in the first place, but I think that diagnosing the other as D-K is a poor start. (Goes off to read the weaker argument essay.)
posted by sneebler at 6:42 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm convinced that Dunning-Kruger gets used as somewhere between a generic counterargument and an insult. You can tack it onto the end of any point "and further, by Dunning-Kruger, my opponents are too stupid to realise how stupid they are".
posted by curious_yellow at 7:54 AM on October 15, 2013


I'm usually baffled by references to Dunning-Kruger. It's often hard for me to tell whether people intend those references to be as ironic as they seem.
posted by koeselitz at 8:33 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, everyone forgets that the flipside of the Dunning-Kruger effect of amateur overconfidence is the epistemic humility of experts.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:46 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm convinced that Dunning-Kruger gets used as somewhere between a generic counterargument and an insult.

Yeah. This is the Dunning-Kruger-Dunning-Kruger, a cognitive bias in which, by invoking Dunning-Kruger, unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:40 AM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps I'm a little jaded because I read quite a few right-wing sites regularly - but it doesn't really seem to me that "rationality" is much in style on the right.

I know that many US conservatives aren't as crazy as their representatives are - and yet they still seem to do "reasoning by slogan" and see things like the government shutdown as a good thing.

I've actually had pretty good results in discussions with conservatives - but what I needed to do is give up the idea of winning through reasoning and facts, which is pretty depressing for me. Even then, it often comes back to the dismissive head shake and a claim that "government == bad" and the minor difficulties that people will have while they shut the government down are necessary to lead to a capitalist paradise where everyone stands on their own two feet - and yes, many of these people are on disability or Medicare, and yes, I've had people vehemently deny that Medicare had anything to do with the government. ("But... where does the money come from?" "It's insurance! Never heard of insurance?")

I really think we on the left can argue facts until we're blue in the face and we'll get nowhere, because I feel that US conservatives really aren't interested in the facts at all.

Thus, Dunning-Kruger. The right is getting very bad results for their own core supporters - look at what's happened to the middle class and the poor in the last 20 years! - and yet those very supporters are more gung ho than ever. Incompetence - and the ability to interpret that incompetence as competence and bad results as good. Seems pure D-K to me...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:22 AM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


In the off chance you needed it - some examples of right-wing crazy.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:30 AM on October 15, 2013


Or if you want more anecdotes about individuals, try this one.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:08 PM on October 15, 2013


From the first of lupus_yonderboy's two links above:
And then this little-known wack-job state legislator from Arizona comes along and chimes in that Obama is like Adolf Hitler. She posted it on Facebook, while also calling for rogue sheriffs to arrest federal employees enforcing the government shutdown. Yeah, that’s right, the shutdown that House Republicans caused—the same one that the right-wing calls Obama’s shutdown because he won’t negotiate on that legislatively approved, Supreme Court-vetted affordable health-care law.
This might actually not be batshit craziness. It might be a completely unscrupulous attempt at a propaganda victory.

If the Tea Party does manage to push the US into default and completely fuck up the US (and world) economy for the next three years, we're in for three years of Fox News calling this Obama's Default. What do you think that will do to the 2016 Presidential election, given that the public has a short memory and that the economy would still be in fairly miserable shape by then?

There is past form: Make the economy scream
posted by flabdablet at 1:02 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's your bumper sticker:

Don't act in anger. Decide to act because of it.
posted by lordaych at 1:28 AM on October 16, 2013



I've had many discussions with right-wingers who appear to believe exactly the same thing about the left. To be fair, for every illiterate redneck gun freak there's an innumerate new-age free-energy nitwit. Each side has plenty of terrible exemplars of the other that they can use to prop up their comfortable preconceptions.


Anecdotally I'd say that many of the most nutty right wingers still vote Republican because the alternative is so much worse to them an in doing so tend to poison the more mainstream contingent of the party over time, while the new-age free-energy nitwit is trying to live off the grid and long ago decided that their vote doesn't matter.

The right-wing nut-job is often more pragmatic in pursuing their beliefs...although the government shutdown is what happens when being a pragmatic wrong-headed mofo goes beyond adding to a vote count and into genuinely fucking up people's lives over pollyanna expectations of how politics should work creeping into actual areas of power, with the whole party a shambling zombie of fucked-upedness that can be taken control of way too fucking easily by any 10% fringe within.
posted by lordaych at 1:34 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also I think mainstream conservatives increasingly tend to see this as a zero-sum game where they are willing to destroy the game board if they can't win fairly, indicating that the mainstream of the party is too radicalized to understand the need for compromise and stability with no historical perspective on their party whatsoever, or the radicals are over-represented and too powerful, while mainstream liberals that vote don't see it was a zero-sum game, are constantly distancing themselves from the radicals, and are constantly just pursuing incremental improvements with great fanfare when the slightest thing moves to the center, perhaps even slightly to the left. They don't want to disrupt the entire system and destabilize it, they want to keep working at it one day at a time. The left radicals don't vote, and tend to be frustrated in too broad a sense to be useful and lash out with small disruptions rather than any significantly organized, meaningful effort.
posted by lordaych at 1:41 AM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


If the Tea Party does manage to push the US into default and completely fuck up the US (and world) economy for the next three years, we're in for three years of Fox News calling this Obama's Default.

Don't forget the inevitable move to impeach Obama because of the default.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:59 AM on October 16, 2013


It really is looking less like lunacy and more like the kind of strategy I've come to expect from the side of politics that spends more time than is healthy preaching about everybody else's morality.
posted by flabdablet at 4:37 AM on October 16, 2013


Perhaps it is part of a long-term strategy. (NYT link)
posted by Thorzdad at 6:41 AM on October 16, 2013


> If the Tea Party does manage to push the US into default and completely fuck up the US
> (and world) economy for the next three years, we're in for three years of Fox News calling
> this Obama's Default.

Wait, wut? The US and world economies are completely fucked, but Fox not only still exists but is still broadcasting same-old same-old as usual? As degrees of completely-fuckedness go I don't foresee large numbers of people getting precautionary principle religion and changing their behavior in fear of that one. Not even after it happens, assuming it does.

Worldwide proletarian revolution accompanied by mass population die-off, that's more what I think of when I think of "completely fucked."
posted by jfuller at 8:22 AM on October 16, 2013


Even my national broadcaster, not generally notable as an organ of right-wing propaganda, today referred to the result of the last few days' shenanigans as "President Obama's failure to secure a compromise deal".

Strap yourselves in, folks. It's going to be a bumpy ride.
posted by flabdablet at 7:12 PM on October 17, 2013


Straight from John Boehner's Facebook: The Tea Party Insult Generator
posted by y2karl at 9:53 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like this thread should be read in conjunction with the recent-ish one on reactance.
posted by Amanojaku at 1:39 AM on October 22, 2013


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