Sunday, November 27, 2016
Saul Alinsky, John Stuart Mill, and the Danger of Drinking Your Own Kool-Aid
In his "Rules for Radicals" Saul Alinsky argued that the left should not engage ideological opponents in debate, but rather demonize them. One wins by destroying one's opponents, not by refuting their arguments, in his view. America's progressives and those further left seem to have absorbed this lesson all too well.
One of the first public instances of this approach that I can recall was in 1989 (or a year or so after), when the Wall Street Journal quoted Rep. Charlie Rangel (D, NY) as saying (I quote from memory) "The new Ku Klux Klan wears suits and ties and talks about tax cuts," referring to members of Congress as well as economists and policy analysts who were promoting...tax cuts. That was a deeply dishonest and stupid argument against tax cuts; of course, it is not an argument, but simply an attempt to avoid having to deal with arguments for lower tax rates by demonizing proponents.
The use of this strategy has grown over time, but since the election of Barack Obama, the left accelerated its use. Any criticism of Obama and his policies was deemed racist, including criticism of ARRA, criticism of ACA (Obamacare), and criticism of the Iran nuclear deal. Jimmy Carter disgracefully charged that critics of Obama and his policies were white people who resented being ruled by a black man (a doubly stupid statement on Carter's part, since the president's job isn't to rule us). The Tea Party movement was deemed racist. Opposition to climate change policy was deemed racist. Opposition to unrestricted immigration was deemed racist. The importation of Muslim refugees was deemed racist. Opposition to gun control was deemed racist. Opposition to minimum wage was deemed racist.
Pretty much anything could be deemed racist if someone on the left became incensed about it, and the racism charges became increasingly absurd. Daily Caller did a humorous "Alphabet of Racism from A to Z," compiling a list of things that had been deemed racist" by the left. ("Best of" is available here, and at the end there are links to the entire alphabet.)
The high point (i.e. low point!) of the absurdity lies in two common claims made but leftist SJWs (social justice warriors): 1) it is impossible for a non-white to be racist, and 2) it is impossible for a white not to be racist. This is surely the reductio ad absurdum of the left's pursuit of the Alinsky strategy. It's absurd for two reasons. First, those who do this erase the definition of racism ("the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races") and substitute in its place "white," which is surely absurd. Second, in doing so, they themselves become racists.
However, if this were simply a strategy or tactic of political struggle, I suppose it could make a kind of sense, if "win at any cost" is the goal and one thinks spouting lies to demonize opponents works. However, it's clear that in adopting this technique, the left has actually come to believe its own lies; they've been drinking their own poisoned Kool-aid. Meanwhile, the rest of us -- at least those of us who have been paying attention -- have become wise to their game and inured to their slander.
So the left has largely bought its own lies, and now is unable to cope. Consider the absolutely insane reaction to the election of Donald Trump on many American college campuses, or the riots in several major cities, or the hysteria in the mainstream media (not limited to American MSM; my first source for news is the BBC's World News site, which was shamelessly in the tank for Hillary Clinton and now seems beside itself that racism is running rampant across America). The over-the-top-reaction -- rioting and attacking Trump voters, or needing counseling sessions involving therapy dogs, coloring books, and play-doh (at a major law school, for heaven's sakes!), or college presidents holding "healing sessions" (i.e. protests) -- these are not the reactions of normal, rational people.
These are the responses of people unable to see those of us who voted for Trump, or who didn't vote for Clinton, did so for many, many reasons that have nothing to do with racism. They apparently really have come to believe the Alinskyite lies, and often seem almost incapable of understanding the actual arguments and motives of their political opponents. By drinking their own Kool-aid, they've poisoned themselves. And the irony is that rather than destroying their opponents, they seem to have put themselves on a path to self-destruction by doing so.
The great libertarian and economist John Stuart Mill argued that ideas should not be suppressed, that the surest way to determine truth is to let ideas compete in the marketplace for ideas, that is, let people freely contest their positions. Argue. Debate. Reason. This is the opposite of Alinsky. And in fact, if the objective is truth, there's no other method. Hence freedom of thought and freedom of expression are crucially important if we are to pursue truth. Mill's argument is completely at odds with today's political correctness, especially as practiced on college campuses today. But in following Alinsky instead of Mill, the left not only hasn't won in the battle of ideas, it has increasingly rendered itself incapable of competing.
Indeed. I am glad that the future US president will be a straight white cis male, so even if he proves no better than Obama, people at least can rant against him without being called names. Months ago, in the comment section of an American blog, some were discussing how all opponents of this wonderful president Obama were inevitably motivated by racism, no matter what they claimed. I said, "So I guess you are all going to vote for Dr. Ben Carson; if not, you are racist, and I do not even want to hear your denials." Only then did they realize how nonsensical their opinion had been.