Bulverism and Straw Men with a Side of Moral Preening

There are, as it turns out, no important questions that cannot be solved (in the modern mind) by answering a question that sounds similar but that no-one has really asked. Don’t believe me? You need look no farther than the pages of the vaunted New York Times for proof.

Conservative thinkers like the economist Thomas Sowell and the Times columnist David Brooks have noted that the political right has a Tragic Vision of human nature, in which people are permanently limited in morality, knowledge and reason. … The left, in contrast, has a Utopian Vision, which emphasizes the malleability of human nature, puts customs under the microscope, articulates rational plans for a better society and seeks to implement them through public institutions. -New York Times

To shorten the quotes above into more manageable terms: “The right has an irrational view of humans, while the left has a rational view of humans.” How did this state of affairs come to be? The writer helpfully provides us with a long and detailed explanation of the differences between the “red states,” and the “blue states.” The “red states,” represent the “old cowboy west,” that relied on shepherding, rather than farming, to make a living, and where the law was a barely constraining hand over a life of “brawling, boozing and whoring.” So the law, in short, needed to be tough, at least until “wimmin” came along and civilized those brutes living out in the wild.

According to this article, the left believes their children are capable of thought and achievement, while the right believes their children are “nasty, brutish and short.” The left believes in the rational reshaping of humans into gentle, perfect beings, while the right “manifest a culture of honor which legitimizes violent retaliation.”

This psychologist has done an admirable job of constructing a just so story to explain to himself — and all those who see the world in the same way he does — just why all those people on the right seem so uncultured and irrational (and so much like the Taliban!). But no matter how hypnotizing this just so story is, there is a problem. For all the moral preening of this rationally superior professor, he doesn’t answer a single, simple question.

Is the left’s view of reality correct, or the right’s?

Like Edgar Bulver’s mother, the left often wins arguments by simply asserting how the right came to believe things, and refusing to engage on the question at hand. In order to make this lack of engagement seem reasonable, of course, our friend the psychologist must also mix in a little straw man around the edges. According to this psychologist, who, no doubt, knows more about the way I raise my children than I do, I believe my children are nasty and brutish, rather than full of potential. In fact, the entire political and cultural right simply doesn’t treat children as “human,” at all (which is why we want to preserve so many of them by outlawing abortion — doesn’t it all make sense now?).

This single article, if read aright, explains much about the “conversation,” between the left and the right in modern America. The left simply assumes the righteousness of its cause, and then goes on to explain how they became so righteous, and how those dimwitted folks on the right, who don’t believe in reason or human potential, came to be so backwards. When the dust settles they think they’ve won because they simply refuse to answer the actual question being asked.

The professor is saying, in essence: “Shut up and let the government civilize you, so you can be morally superior like me.”

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