Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Unfair argumentation methods II: The Swedish left

with 2 comments

Something that has long annoyed me is the way leftist parties and organisations (at least in Sweden) tend to argue, with strong preferences for personal attacks, specious (or even obviously incorrect) arguments, confusing reasoning, etc. In particular, they often seem to have the attitude that an opponent who cannot be convinced must be discredited in the eyes of others—while respect for his opinions, attempts to convince him and others with ad rem argument, and (above all) openness to the possibility that he could be right, are far to rare. (The issue has to some degree already been raised e.g. in my discussion of hypocritical media.)

This is not in any way unique to the left; however, the problem seems to be unusually bad with the left and some related movements (notably feminism). Other common problem groups/individuals can be found at the fringes of non-leftist opinions, in some strongly religious areas, and similar; and even the non-leftist main stream is occasionally affected—but to a far lesser degree.

A particular annoyance is the common use of a (typically misapplied) word as an ipso facto “proof” that the opponent is wrong, e.g. “racist” or “sexist”. Effectively, one party makes a certain statement of opinion, e.g. “It is unfair to apply quotas on how many of each sex must be on the board of a public company.”, a reply of “Sexist!” follows, and the discussion is effectively closed without anyone from the feminist/PC side providing any kind of argument for their position—let alone an argument to prove their far-going claim about their opponent(s). (Real arguments could have focused on a discussion whether we actually have equality of opportunity, whether there are any justifying benefits in other areas, or similar. These, however, are the exception—and typically very flimsy when they do occur.)

Another is the use of reasoning that is obviously faulty to any reasonable thinker, but where the very flimsi- and faultiness makes it hard to attack, where there are so many holes that it is hard to know where to start, or where an analysis would take disproportional long. There is basically a series of sentences that to someone dumb enough may seem to form a chain of arguments and conclusion, but, in reality, are just loose, individual links that do not fit together. (Not to be confused with e.g. those cases where different priorities or basic ideological principles makes a line of reasoning untenable for the opponent, or those who merely suffer from the imperfection of knowledge and stringency almost all discussion underlie.) Consider something like:

I agree with your statement, “If the rich don’t throw in to help out the country out of a strong sense of patriotism and optimism for our future, I think we’re going to be hurting for a while.” However, when the economy was strong, the rich seemed to demonstrate little need to improve the conditions of their fellow citizens. Instead, the gap between the rich and the poor grew to disproportionate levels. I think we’re going to be waiting a very long time for the wealthiest segments of the population to grow a conscience.

(actual comment found in my inbox while writing this articlee)

If you read the original post (not by me), you will find that the apparent agreement in the first sentence goes together with a strong overall disagreement. The second sentence misses the point of the post; is an over-generalization; overlooks that the conditions of the poor likely improved during the strong economy; and is somewhat of a non-sequitur, because there is no reason why the rich should feel such a need (in particular considering that the poor are already benefiting from high taxes on the rich, that the actions of the rich can have positive effects on the poor even without active “philanthropy”, and that at least some part of the explanation for the poor situation can be found with the poor themselves—not to mention that a strong economy is a time when there is less reason to try to help others). The third misuses the word “disproportionate”; is disputable in its content; and is unlikely to have been connected to the willingness of the rich to help (to the degree that it was, at all, true). The fourth presupposes that the “wealthiest segments” do not have a conscience (which is disputable) and that having a conscience would make them change their behaviour (ditto)—not to mention the likely implicit assumption that they could make major changes (which need not be the case, depending on the exact circumstances).

In addition, it appears that the author has simply not understood how capitalism works. (Having capitalism is not a must, but anyone who attacks a system should have at least some basic understanding of that system.)

This (likely incomplete) analysis turns out to be almost thrice as long as the comment, even though the faultiness of the comment is obvious at a glance—and this is not even a good example, just one that happened to fall into my lap at the right time. I have from time to time seen entire articles filled with long series of non-sequiturs, this-or-that fallacy, and grossly incorrect logic.

Generally, I would conjecture that there are several contributing factors that make an individual tend to this kind of argumentation, a sub-set of which is:

  1. Great conviction of opinion.

  2. Limited intellectual development.

  3. Exposure to a (sub-)culture or history of similar methods.

Notably, these are all issues that (at least in Sweden) tend to be common with people of leftist opinions; and from my readings on gender-feminism/-theory, these are affected globally. (But, yes, the issues do occur more often than they should in the population as a whole—not just on the left.)

As an aside, I stress that the fact that many leftists debaters appear to be complete idiots does not automatically make all leftist ideas idiotic: Many of them do make some amount of sense, or can be understood when seen from the right perspective (in particular, with an eye at history, the society of yore, and similar) or assuming a particular set of priorities. The ideas should be judged on their own merit—not based on who proposes them. (Cf. e.g. an article on judging issues based on perceived intents).

(If you wish to comment, please make sure that you have read Unfair argumentation methods I: Preliminaries first.)


Written by michaeleriksson

June 5, 2010 at 8:07 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I don’t know much about Swedish political debate. Are you sure that the Swedish right is less propagandist in argument than the Swedish left?

    In Germany, I dare say, you have plenty of propagandist display of “opinion”, but – in quantity and quality – more of the right than of the left.

    One case in point: Our most successful political website is PI (politically incorrect) … and please have a look at it, if you haven’t had one already. 50 000 visitors per day … Read the comments of the posters …


    June 30, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    • This will depend on what you mean by “propagandist”: All political parties do want to convince voters—and will make statements intended to convince, not to make a scientific analysis. In that sense it would be odd if the right was less propagandist than the left. The difference is the means used to convince, where propaganda from right on average tends to be more ad rem, focus more on facts and logic, etc., while propaganda from the left (again, on average) has stronger elements of ad hominem attacks, focuses on emotions, uses pure rhetoric to a higher degree, etc.

      The divide may well be smaller in Germany (I have certainly gained a better overview of the Swedish situation), but it is still present. In the US, OTOH, it is probably roughly a tie, possibly even worse on the right.

      A few remarks:

      o When I speak of left and right, I do include SPD and CDU—not just the more extreme positions taken by e.g. PDS and NPD. The more extreme the position, the lower the level tends to be (irrespective of left/right). In addition, the left–right scale is really useless: The left can still be seen as having a somewhat common agenda/ideology, but the right is so widely differing that we risk comparing apples and pears.

      o It is potentially important to differ between the blogosphere and “official” political debate. While the leftist level appears to be lower in both cases, the blogosphere is generally on a lower level than the official debate—and complete idiocies can be found in all camps. There is also a danger that the blogosphere disproportionally attracts those groups who feel that they are not given a fair say in traditional media. (In light of your PI reference.)


      July 1, 2010 at 10:53 am

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