Sunday, April 24, 2016

You are Not Allowed to Laugh at the Lies and Idiocies of the Right!

Somebody sent me a link to this piece by Emmett Rensin at Vox.

The author's thesis is that liberals have stopped thinking and spend all their time being smug instead -- but this is certainly not true of conservatives. Liberals, according to Rensin, "hate their former allies". Conservatives, by contrast, are open-minded and persuadable. And, Rensin says, The Daily Show is a perfect example of this liberal smugness.

Well, Rensin goes wrong right there. "Smug" is not even close to the right word to describe Jon Stewart. Bill Maher is smug. Jon Stewart is, at times, almost painfully earnest. Does he make fun of people? Absolutely. But modern conservatism has so many targets that the jokes write themselves: Ben Carson and his pyramids that stored grain. Donald Trump and his claim that he saw "thousands and thousands" of American Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks. Ted Cruz and his "Trus-Ted" slogan, when his record of public dishonesty is hard to deny. Rensin apparently thinks we are not allowed to poke fun at all this idiocy and dishonesty.

Here are some examples of liberal smug ignorance, according to Rensin: "the Founding Fathers were all secular deists". Well, that's clearly not so, but some were, at least during part of their life, like Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen. But how is this mistake worse than the conservative claim that "94 percent of the [the era of the Founders'] documents were based on the Bible" (debunked here)?

Another one: "that you're actually, like, 30 times more likely to shoot yourself than an intruder". Perhaps the number "30" is wrong, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a significant health risk in owning a gun. And how is this mistake worse than the conservative insistence on "more guns mean less crime"? Pro-gun "researchers" such as Kleck and Lott are treated by conservatives as unimpeachable, when in fact their errors are extensively documented.

Rensin's thesis is essentially a denigration of the importance of knowledge and facts. Who cares, Rensin says implicitly, if watching Fox News makes you less well informed? Pointing that out is just liberal smugness. Knowledge and facts are just unimportant compared to empathy and open-mindedness, which liberals today lack (while, presumably, conservatives have it in spades). Pay no attention the fact that when President Obama cited empathy as a desirable characteristic in a Supreme Court justice, conservatives jumped all over him.

Open-mindedness is a virtue -- I'll agree with that. But open-mindedness without skepticism and facts and knowledge just becomes credulity, a willingess to believe anything if it confirms your world view.

Here are just a few of the things that conservatives "know" that just ain't so: that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet (debunked here); that Bill Clinton delayed air traffic while he was having a haircut (debunked here); that Hillary Clinton was fired from the Watergate investigation for incompetence (debunked here). Visit any conservative website, mention Al or Bill or Hillary, and you'll only have to wait a few minutes before one of these lies is dragged out yet again. I have grad-school-educated conservative friends that proudly repeat these stories, ferchrissake.

Rensin claims that all this liberal smugness has "corrupt[ed]" them, but he gives no examples of corruption. He claims the case against conservatives is "tenuous", but just dismisses evidence like that given above and his own article.

Rensin thinks it is somehow "smug" for atheists to point out the religious hypocrisy of Kim Davis. It is here that his argument (and I use the term generously) becomes the most unhinged. Is it really necessary to be a Christian to criticize Christians? Do you have to believe in the divinity of Jesus or be a professional theologian to point out that Kim Davis cannot find support for her actions in Christian theology? When Mike Huckabee opportunistically elbowed out Ted Cruz to be at Kim Davis's rally, Rensin finds Huckabee genuine and admirable, instead of the pandering opportunity it clearly was.

Rensin is rhetorically dishonest. At one point he tries to refute a claim about the Ku Klux Klan by citing statistics about But these are entirely different groups.

Rensin is upset that the Daily Show is "broadcast on national television". Has he never listened to Fox News? Or conservative radio hosts with huge audiences, like Mark Levin and Michael Savage? The vitriol and the outright lies that happen every single day in these venues make Jon Stewart look like gentle fun.

Rensin claims that only Democrats have "made a point of openly disdaining" the dispossessed. One can only make that claim by wilfully ignoring the time Donald Trump made fun of a disabled reporter, or the time a Republican congressional candidate called poor people slothful and lazy, or Mitt Romney's comment that he could never convince 47% of the American people that "they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives".

Rensin thinks liberal smugness is going to ensure a Trump victory: "Faced with the prospect of an election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the smug will reach a fever pitch: six straight months of a sure thing, an opportunity to mock and scoff and ask, How could anybody vote for this guy? until a morning in November when they ask, What the fuck happened?". Yet who is a better match for the word smug? Hillary Clinton? Bernie Sanders? Look, when even Bill Maher calls you smug, you know you've got smug issues.

Finally, I observe that there doesn't seem to be any way to leave comments on Rensin's piece. That seems pretty smug to me.


Gingerbaker said...

We liberals have a lot of deliberately-sustained misconceptions and distinctions distilled down to absurdities as well.

Guns in the home are dangerous - who knew? Next up - studies demonstrating the same thing can be applied to knives, razor blades, swimming pools, staircases, and icicles. One of my favorite liberal blogs keeps making posts which assert that "guns make you stupid". (It is his one madness.) I must have defective guns in my home - I can still tie my shoes.

Torture is another subject ripe for oversimplification. It is now gospel for many liberals that torture never works and is always immoral despite all circumstances. This despite the testimony of agencies that have successfully (as far as getting verified info) used torture for most of a century. Or the pretty obvious ethics of using torture in ticking bomb situations.

Don't even get me started on the astoundingly misinformed position of many on the left with regard to Palestinian issues which often leap like Nureyev into anti-Zionism and outright antisemitism.

Many on the Left also have some very odd notions about what constitutes "Islamophobia" to the point where logic has degraded to defense of the wacky notion that "belief does not affect behavior". Unlike the right who seem to happily goosestep in tight formation, we on the Left eat our own young. Just look at the constant distortion of the positions of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins for Exhibit A and B.

About all I can say in our defense is that when we fuck up at least we do it out of the goodness of our hearts. Because we still have them.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I agree fully with "We liberals have a lot of deliberately-sustained misconceptions and distinctions distilled down to absurdities as well", even if I might disagree with some of your examples. But I don't think liberals have a monopoly on smugness, as that essay implied.

Lit3Bolt said...

I wouldn't trust Emmett Rensin to argue in good faith.

Yes, it is a virtue to not be smug and dismissive of people, no matter who they are or what they believe. But it does not follow that white workers left the Democratic Party in the 60's and 70's because of the smug self-satisfaction of liberal elites. They likely left because of Vietnam, the Civil Rights Act, the Drug War, Islamic terrorism, the Cold War, Stagflation, or a whole other host of issues. As evidence of liberal smugness, Gawker and the Daily Show are cited. Yet Emmett does not even bother trying to tie liberal smugness to electoral success or failure, in any election year. Emmett is conflating Democratic Political Comedy in the 21st century to all Democratic Party outreach of the latter half of the 20th century.

Redefining words such as "smug" into new, personally crafted meanings is a cute way to score cheap rhetorical points, as well as too-smart-by-half way to "prove" people didn't fully read your essay. But Emmett apparently knew he had to stack the deck in his favor when subsequently defending his premise.

When reading the essay, I wondered if I would ever get to meet the liberal in Mr. Rensin's imagination, the one that smirks at poor white people constantly and dismisses their votes and agendas, who lives on both coasts simultaneously in two different ivory towers and probably chuggs lattes white smoking thin black cigarettes, and would gleefully trade every white working class vote in America for one more sick burn at their expense, and thinks that liberal smugness is a winning electoral strategy. But the more simpler explanation is that again, Mr. Rensin has spent too much time in his media bubble and has confused mass media stereotypes with electoral reality. I encourage him to actively participate in an election instead of taking potshots from the sidelines.

The premise would make a good political science graduate thesis, although it would be hard to tease apart the media perceptions versus actual voter exit polls. But Mr. Rensin isn't interested in letting facts or history clutter up a good political stereotype.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Yes, there are so many things wrong with that essay that I couldn't list them all. I might take another crack at it later.

colnago80 said...

Re Gingerbaker

Yes, torture works for obtaining false confessions. For accurate intelligence, not so much.

ScienceAvenger said...

Ginger - actually, the biggest problem with the "danger of guns in the home" argument from the left is that they treat that danger as uniform across the population, when it is anything but. Gun violence is heavily skewed towards the young, suicidal and male. If you are none of those things, the argument falls very flat.

--- said...

Jeff, just to push back against your statements about conservative "facts", here are some of the "facts" that I regularly hear liberals repeat:

"Everybody knows that Copernican heliocentrism dethroned the earth from its
exalted position"

"Everybody knows that those evil Christians banned dissection out of superstition"

"Everybody knows that those dumb Christians believed in a flat earth"

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Maybe you can cite some examples of the first two. I never ever heard anybody say them, not liberals, not conservatives.

As for the second one, there were indeed a few early Christians who believed in a flat earth, such as Lactantius and Cosmas Indicopleustes. But you're right, it was never a mainstream belief. But I've heard the myth repeated by both liberals and conservatives, Christians and non-Christians.

--- said...

Concerning dissection:

Regarding Copernican dethroning, here are some examples given by Danielson in another version of that article:

In 1973, in one of a series of public lectures marking the 500th anniversary of Copernicus’s birth, Theodosius Dobzhansky declared that, with Copernicus, the earth was "dethroned from its presumed centrality and preeminence." Perhaps most famously of all, Carl Sagan described Copernicanism as the first in a series of "Great Demotions ... delivered to human pride." And the same general claim continues to be repeated year by year, whether in popular accounts or in the writings of the most learned scientists, as for example in the pronouncement of Britain’s Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees: "It is over 400 years since Copernicus dethroned the Earth from the privileged position that Ptolemy’s cosmology accorded it." Late in 1999, amid the pseudo-millennial exuberance that engulfed the closing days of that year, the then-Chair of the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society was asked to nominate a ‘‘Top Ten’’ list of Astronomical Triumphs of the Millennium—and placed at #3 spot the following:

We are not the center of the
SOLAR SYSTEM (Copernicus, 1500)
UNIVERSE (Digges, [1576])

To complete this miscellaneous sampling, I share an instance that caused me particular dismay. In October of 2000, Sky & Telescope published a review of my own anthology, The Book of the Cosmos. The review was illustrated with the famous heliocentric diagram from Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium caelestium, accompanied by a caption provided by the magazine’s editors. Copernicus, the caption stated in part echoing Sagan, "was the first to push humankind off its pedestal of being the center of the universe. Such a celestial demotion did not go over well in religious circles."

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Sounds like most of these examples are just from mainstream sources and scientists, not "liberals" per se.