Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘left

The Left, the Right, and the People

with 5 comments

I have long seen a difference in the way the Left and the Right typically look at the mental capacities of humans: The Right (at least the libertarian and parts of the conservative Right) sees humans as reasonably rational and capable of making their own decisions; the Left (at least in its typical European incarnations and many Marxist, feminist, or PC variations) sees the average human as a sheep that needs to be led to have the right (i.e. Left, PC, whatnot) opinions, do the right things, and generally get by in the world. This is often referred to as “förmyndarsamhälle” (“legal-guardian society”; however, with a stronger implication of society being patronizing) by the Swedish Right.

As is often the case with early observations, they pale into the background. Recently, however, I have come across several posts (e.g. [1]e) that are so explicit on this issue that it has re-emerged into the foreground. To my own surprise, I find that I must give the Left at least a partial credit for being right—a very large portion of the population is simple so stupid that they would be better of led by the hand in at least some situations. This is evidenced e.g. by the politicians that manage to get elected, the credulity with which some absolutely nonsensical PC statements are believed, how unwilling people are to re-evaluate their believes in light of new evidence, etc.

Yet, all this does not matter:

  1. If 30, 50, even 90 % of the population is lacking, this does not give the government (the Left, the Know-It-All think-tank, whomever) the right to decide for the remaining 70, 50, or 10 %.

    What we arguably should do, is to increase the requirements on voters, e.g. in that a certain degree of critical thinking and general knowledge must be demonstrated before a citizen is given the right to vote. (Effectively replacing the age based limits of today with “capacity” based limits. Great care would have to be observed during implementation, however: It is vital that no test of opinion is made, but that capacity to think is the main determinant. In contrast, it is manifestly clear that many on the left equal “being worthy” with “having PC opinions” or “being ‘progressive’ ”.)

    In this manner, the damage they potentially do would be mostly limited to their own private lives, where they have a natural right to exert influence, but protect us from society-wide influence. (Interestingly, in my experience, the Left is usually keen on relaxing the conditions for who is allowed to vote even further—probably knowing that their own type of propaganda and often populist demands goes over better among those weak in critical thinking.)

  2. If the people needs a “förmyndare”, who decides his identity?

    Well, the unsatisfying answer is that it probably cannot be done in a fair and objective manner. If nothing else, there seems to be no end to the people and organisations who consider themselves called for the task, but have opinions that are incompatible with each other and/or idiotic on closer inspection. In some cases, it would even be a matter of the blind leading the one-eyed: Consider e.g. former PM-wannabe Mona Sahlinw—who regularly talks to voters as if they were little children, yet herself is uneducated, unintelligent, and of dubious morality and competence. (And, no, that is not merely a portrayal by a political enemy, but what is clear from her CV.)

  3. Similarly, who decides where to draw the border between who needs to be shepherded and who is allowed to deal for himself (or is even allowed to become a shepherd)?

    The answer is equally similar. In a nut-shell, these common Leftist attitudes are best answered with: Who are you to decide?

  4. The typical implementations tend to be such that they worsen, possibly even create, the problems they were intended to solve: The Swedish school I went to, e.g., did nothing to teach critical thinking, but was hell-bent on instilling the “right”, determined-from-above values—the UN is good, women are oppressed, nuclear power is evil, democracy is the only civilized form of government, … To actually teach the children about the limitations of the UN, or how perverted by special interests it is, was never on the table; a differentiated and more up-to-date view on the situations of men and women was absent; a compare and contrast between different energy forms (which, if fair, would have been far more favourable to nuclear power) unthinkable; and no deep discussion of the disadvantages of democracy, the least evil of the popular alternatives, ever took place.

In the end, a blanket treatment of people like sheep is the wrong way to go about it. Instead, we should try to give them the tools to both fend and decide for themselves.

(Note that I do not rule out that those who have failed despite having received the tools should be given further help. The first step, however, should be to give out fishing equipment and fishing lessons—not fish. Indeed, it would be presumptuous even to decide that fish should be a major part of the diet.)


Written by michaeleriksson

June 13, 2011 at 4:38 pm

The common thread of weak thinking in leftist opinions

with 3 comments

Even in my teens, I noticed the seemingly odd phenomenon that the Swedish left disagreed with the right on more or less every issue—even when these issues had nothing to do with left and right in the political sense (and disregarding that the left–right scale likely does more harm than good), including e.g. issues relating to Israel or nuclear power. As time has gone by, I have noted the same phenomenon in other countries: While there are great variations (in particular with the right being far less homogeneous than the left), there is a strong correlation between e.g. being left and strongly disliking Israel or nuclear power, respectively being right and being more pro-Israel (note that, outside of the US and Israel, it self, the relative “more pro-” is usually necessary, while the absolute “anti-” can stand on its own) or being pro-nuclear power. Similarly, the left tends to be pro-feminism, pro-affirmative action, anti-globalization, pro-political correctness, whatnot—all things that are not (or very weakly) tied to the left–right scale. (If someone wants to counter e.g. that feminism is obviously left because both the feminists and the left wish for equality for everyone, or similar: You merely prove that you do not understand typical right-wing positions on equality—or, for that matter, what modern day feminism actually implies.)

Having considered these observations off-and-on for a few weeks, I see a pattern of contributing factors relating to lack of rational thought and a tendency to jump where feelings lead without investigating the facts, that explain various typically leftist opinions (including much of the original left–right divide) and why these are so often not shared by the right:

  1. A weakness to emotional arguments; in particular, a tendency to believe whoever complains the loudest and has the best “sob story”. Prime examples are the anti-Israel and pro-feminism stances: On closer inspection, various militant Palestinian organisations are the greater villains in the drama, who just happen to be very good at painting themselves as victims (cf. the “Not touching! Can’t get mad!” stunt of the Mavi Marmara); while feminists rely on a mixture of lies, misinterpreted or falsified statistics, spreading of anti-male prejudice, whatnot (cf. any number of previous entries).

  2. An inability or unwillingness to check the facts, think a few steps ahead to look at mid- and long-term consequences, etc.: Examples include believing the 77 cents on the dollar nonsense, banning child-labour (as opposed to merely condemning it) without first ensuring that the families can prevail without it, etc.

    An illustrative non-political (and semi-fictitious) example: Assume that a plane has been hi-jacked and that the hi-jackers demand a ransom of 10 million dollars. A typical leftist-style reaction would be along the lines of “Oh! Those poor people, we have to save them no matter what the cost! It would be inhuman to think of money in a situation like this!”; while a rightist reaction would be “If we pay these hi-jackers, others will see that hi-jacking pays off—and we will see an increase in hi-jackings with more innocent people at risk.” (not the “Money is more important than people! Let them fend for themselves!” that the common leftist caricatures of the right would likely claim).

  3. A view of the world based on offender–victim or oppressor–oppressee relationships. Consider pairings like Israel–Palestinians, men–women, the US–the World, Whites–non-Whites, … Of course, this is unsurprising with an eye on Marxism—and, indeed, the rich–poor pairing is fundamental to many leftist ideologists and voters. Statements even to the point of claiming that the rich would hate the poor are not unheard of in e.g. Sweden.

    In reality, these pairings usually display misunderstandings, failures as per item 1, unfair generalizations, or are otherwise faulty or, at best, quarter-truths on closer inspection. In particular, the Swedish saying “Det är inte ens fel om två träter.”–“It is not the fault of the one [party], if two [parties] are feuding.” is too often neglected.

  4. A fear of that one big, but unlikely, disaster over the certain continual and continuous destruction. Nuclear power vs. coal and oil is the paramount example, but other examples abound in the small, including politically correct language changes, where the fear of insulting someone leads to negative language changes or restrictions on freedom of speech. (See e.g. my discussion of gender-neutral language.)

    Here it is vital to look at “opportunity cost” and “expectation value”—in particular when faced with situations like the recent Japanese nuclear scare: Note how few incidents there have been over the years, that Japan did not become a radioactive wasteland, that the earth-quake and tsunami did more damage on their own than the nuclear incidents/accidents did, …

    To make matters worse, these fears are often combined with a poor understanding of the issue (as discussed above). For instance, I recently encountered a blog comment with the completely incorrect claim that this-or-that reactor had x thousand times the nuclear material of the Hiroshima bomb—and that it would explode with x thousand times the power. Well, if that was a risk, I would likely be anti-nuclear power too… In reality, it is extremely unlikely, bordering on the impossible, for a nuclear explosion to take place—and even if, by some extraordinary fluke, it did take place, the yield would not be even remotely proportional to the mass of the nuclear material. (Consider that the hypothetical explosion would throw most of the core out of reach from the chain reaction at a too early stage or that a localized sufficient criticality would not imply a core-wide criticality.)

Note: I do not claim that these sins are the sole property of the left. On the contrary, they are fairly wide-spread (including both Republicans and Democrats in the US and the European, severely misnamed, “extreme right”); however, in most countries that I have insight into, the left appears to be far worse than the right—most notably in Sweden.

The reader may observe that there is a similar tendency of different thinking between men and women—and, indeed, women tend to be more leftist than men.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 5, 2011 at 8:28 pm

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