I experienced an epiphany this weekend, a bleated epiphany, and not the liturgical-kalendar type. I saw at a glance how the social discursive physics effects a Gresham’s Law of reasoned argument on controversial topics.
I had been wondering how prominence in media (and in arrant defiance of Jeneane’s strictures, I’ll say both MSM and Blogarian media) (by the way, our prayers and best wishes are with you and George and Jenna today, Jeneane) correlates to genuine agreement. That is, do people who associate with/apparently approve of/link to (with positive vote links) Extreme Representatives really hold to everything the spokesperson advocates?
Well, in short, no.
Let’s say we have two parties. I could call them “Cyan” and “Orange,” but readers would eventually make them out to be liberals and conservatives anyway, so I’ll just tag them Left and Right, and add that nothing I am about to say amounts to an unambiguous attribution of characteristics to anyone. I’m working something out, and just at the beginning.
Now, let’s say I belong (roughly) to the Left side of an argument, but that I see some of the wisdom behind a Right way of looking at the problem. The hard-core Lefties have an interest in masking my respectful dissent (it might lend aid and comfort, and it might erode the univocity of Left support), so while they may acknowledge my conclusions — “He’s one of us” — they have a definite reason to ignore my arguments. Likewise, the hard-core Right has reason to ignore my arguments, since if I can appreciate their premises and still arrive at Left conclusions, I might persuade some otherwise loyal Rightists to change their minds. The same applies, backwards, to the Rightists; both parties benefit from the appearance of unanimity, regardless of the realities behind the appearances.
Moreover, each partisan center benefits from eliding the differences among their opposite numbers, to the extent that the more monolithic the opponents seem, the more important unanimity and solidarity on “our” side of the problem become. Again, this helps account for the over-simplification of controversial discourse: the more vigilantly a partisan stays on message (“inclusiveness” or “no gay agenda” or whatever), the less the risk that any of the possible divisions, nuances, disagreements within the partisan bloc will distract ardent supporters.
So, for instance, if I were to lambaste the Left for a repetitive, shallow, anti-intellectual institutional practice that sacrifices depth of reasoning in order to maintain a comfortably superficial, appealing message of “inclusiveness,” — whereas all too often the Right actually mounts awkward things like arguments to ground their case — neither Left nor Right could afford to notice the critique.
(Now, it’s always quite likely that I’m just a clanging gong unworthy of attention; that’s not by any means ruled out. For the purposes of argument, though, I’m supposing that the criticism in question rests on some sound evidence.)
By the same token, if I were to call to attention some problems on the Right’s side, or propose ways forward that don’t play into the all-or-nothing will-to-power games of who wins and who loses, we should not expect Extreme Spokespeople to attend. They’re already affirmed by their own (carefully groomed) constituencies, and they’re awfully busy. Who has time to wrangle details when so much is at stake, and when the people with good sense have already endorsed the urgency of Our Side’s struggle?
So I no longer expect anyone to pay much attention when I point out the loose threads in various sides’ positions.