Sucker Punches and Conservative Intransigence

I recently had a written exchange on political divisions in my academic subfield.  My correspondent was, by the standards of the subfield, a moderate.  By the standards of the contemporary United States, center left.  By the standards of historical humanity, or even educated opinion of the past century, completely barking at the moon.  Party-line hard Left with a vengeance just about sums it up.

There is a possibility that this exchange will someday be published (perhaps in the bright dawn of the Sanders administration), so I won’t steal the thunder of that blockbuster event by disclosing its content.  But I will relate three jujitsu moves that my correspondent made, as these are commonly made by Leftists when debating a conservative, and should therefore be known to every conservative.  I will also comment on the difficulty conservatives have in blocking these yami-uchi (which is a sneak attack or sucker punch in the argot of jujitsu).

I call these three forms of yami-uchi the Black Sheep, the Cuckoo’s Egg, and the Looking-Glass World.  Each is designed to make a conservative look like a fiendish scoundrel in the eyes of uncommitted readers or auditors.  We must always remember that the uncommitted are the intended audience in any public debate, since only they are open to suasion; but we must also remember that the suasion to which the uncommitted are open is in most cases rhetorical rather than rational.  The uncommitted are, after all, uncommitted because they lack the interest, information, and perhaps intellect, to have formed a rational judgment.  As William Samuel Lilly puts it,

The vast majority of men, and almost all women, are swayed by rhetoric rather than logic, by the emotion more than the intellect . . . . The number of people who are capable of following—to say nothing of judging—a sustained argument is not large.  But an apt phrase goes home to the dullest with singular persuasiveness.” (1)

In making a conservative look like a fiendish scoundrel, the Leftist does two things.  First, he arouses in the uncommitted a feeling of shame for being uncommitted.  It’s disgraceful, he implies, for anyone to dally on the sidelines when good men are doing battle with fiendish scoundrels.  Second, he arouses in the uncommitted a feeling of fear by suggesting this particular fiendish scoundrel is within an inch of doing some very fiendish things.  Were it not for the plucky Leftist, he would be hurting people, or humiliating people, or taking away their toys.  This is why, when the uncommitted come down off the fence, they so often come down on the left side.

Unfortunately, it is easy to make a conservative look like a fiendish scoundrel because the rules of discourse are stacked against him.  The very words the conservative uses have been intentionally blunted, dinged and sullied by distasteful associations, whereas the ideas he calls into question are protected by suits of shining armor.  Try to use words like piety, reverence, honor, or authority; try to criticize ideas like equality, freedom, or democracy.  The authorities to whom a conservative appeals have been obscured and defamed.  Try quoting Orestes Brownson in opposition to Ralph Waldo Emerson, or Thomas Carlyle in opposition to John Stuart Mill.

Conservatives are for the most part aware of this handicap, and too many of them overcompensate with an excessively ingratiating politeness.  We should avoid outright rudeness, since this simply confirms the prejudice that we are fiendish scoundrels, but ingratiating politeness is equally mistaken.  If a person has been conditioned to suspect you of being a fiendish scoundrel, ingratiating politeness comes across as oily dissembling.

The best course of action, as every conservative knows in his heart, is hard blows honorably delivered with a smile.  No hysteria; no metaphorical rolling of the eyes; none of that “Wow, just wow.”  For the truth is, there is no stupidity or skullduggery of which we think the Left incapable, so there is no stupidity or skullduggery by which we could possibly be surprised.  Hit him hard, hit him clean, and make it look like you are having fun.

Now for the three Yami-uchi, or sucker punches that Leftists use in debate.

The Black Sheep sucker punch consists of pointing to one the conservative’s disgraced ideological kinsman and demanding that he either denounce this kinsman unreservedly or confess to agreeing with him in every particular.  Since the conservative is in some way loyal to the beliefs and institutions of the past, and since there were in the past more than a few black sheep, finding one is not difficult.  “How,” the sly Leftist inquires, “do your opinions differ from those of fascists, or Klansmen, or the more zealous agents of the Inquisition?”  All of these characters are, of course, strongly identified in popular discourse as the blackest of black sheep, so any attempt to extenuate or mitigate their crimes will look like the hypocrisy of a fiendish scoundrel.  At the same time, conservatism is nothing if it is not loyal, so it would be dishonorable to simply, as they say, throw these people under the bus.

It should be noted that the Black Sheep yami-uchi doesn’t work against Leftists because very few people sitting on the fence have heard of their black sheep, and Leftist do not in any case hesitate to throw old Leftists under the bus.  Danton? Who was he?  Stalin? We repudiate him!  Pol Pot!  How could you accuse us of having anything whatsoever to do with a man like that?  (Throwing ancestors under the bus is also common among the pseudo-conservatives known today as cuckservatives, which tells us all we need to know about who their ideological kinsmen really are.)

There is no easy way to block the Black Sheep sucker punch, since the options are: (a) to absolutely identify with the Black Sheep, and become thereby a fiendish scoundrel; (b) to absolutely repudiate the Black Sheep, and become thereby a treacherous blackguard; (c) to try to explain and add some of the Left’s beloved “nuance,” and run the risk of appearing to be a fiendish scoundrel who is also a hypocrite and an oily dissembler.

In the sucker punch I call the Cuckoo’s Egg, the Leftist will demand that you agree that some teaching of the Left is in fact true, or that the motives of the Left are at least good. This could also be called the “But Surly You Must Agree . . .” yami-uchi, since it is with these words that the punch is so often delivered.  “But surely you must agree that democracy is the finest form of government!”  “But surely you must agree that men and women have the right to be whatever they wish to be!”  “But surely you must agree with the absolute separation of Church and State.”

The problem for a conservative is that he may be able to agree with some of these statements in some sense of the words, but he is in fact being asked to agree with the statement in the Leftist’s sense of the words.  This is why I call this the Cuckoo’s Egg.  The shell looks more or less like an egg that might belong in your nest, but when it hatches you are going to have a cuckoo (i.e. Leftist) idea on your hands.

This sucker punch is also difficult to block because the uncommitted do not see the complexities that are, as it were, inside the shell of the platitude.  So the conservative’s options are: (a) accept the Cuckoo’s Egg, and very soon have an incongruent Leftist chick chirping away in your nest; (b) refuse the Cuckoo’s Egg, and appear at once a fiendish scoundrel; (c) qualify and modify the Cuckoo’s Egg, and run the risk of appearing to be a fiendish scoundrel who is also a hypocrite and an oily dissembler.

The yami-uchi I call the Looking-Glass World consists of the Leftist saying, if you do not agree with what I have said, you must believe the exact opposite of what I have said.  So, for instance, if you do not agree that the working class should dominate all political institutions, you must believe that the working class should be excluded from all political influence, and indeed ground down, brutalized and oppressed.  Or, if you do not agree that the rights and responsibilities of females ought to be identical to that of males, you must believe that females should have no rights and be responsible for only the most dismal sorts of drudgery.  Or, if you do not lie awake at night grieving over the suffering of (insert victim group here), you must be utterly callous and indifferent to their suffering, and may even take sadistic pleasure in it.

Once again, we have a sucker punch that is difficult to block because the only honorable defense is careful explanation.  One has to explain that a conservative does not inhabit the Leftist world of working class supremacism, female emancipation, or lachrymose victimology, but neither does he inhabit an inverted Looking-Glass World of tyranny, oppression and brutality.  He inhabits his own world.  Unfortunately a description of that world is tedious, particularly for the uncommitted, who are swayed by the “apt phrase.”

If you were hoping that I would end with surefire defensive moves against these yami-uchi, I’m afraid I must disappoint you.  As a general rule, however, I recommend the attitude that conservative scholar Maurice Cowling described as “geniality and malice,” or “politeness and negative bloodiness.”  He calls this “the antidote to liberal virtue.”  The need for geniality and politeness is obvious enough, since, to the uncommitted, a rude and bitter men looks like a loser.  Malice means aiming to win, not hold out for a few more years.  “Negative bloodiness,” Cowling writes, “is not an end in itself but is instrumental to the assertion of a conservative moral order which needs active assertion when threatened by liberal institutions” (2).  What is means by this phrase is, in other words, conservative intransigence.

And part of conservative intransigence is willingness to be bloodied by the sucker punches I have called the Black Sheep, the Cuckoo’s Egg, and the Looking-Glass World.  The other part is hitting them hard, hitting them clean, and looking like you are having fun.


(1) William Samuel Lilly, On Shibboleths (London: Chapman and Hall, 1892), pp. 1-2.

(2) Maurice Cowling, Mill and Liberalism, second edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990 [1963]), pp. xxx, xli, xlii.

29 thoughts on “Sucker Punches and Conservative Intransigence

  1. Pingback: Sucker Punches and Conservative Intransigence – CHRIST THE MORNING STAR

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  3. There are political divisions in your field? Aren’t you a geologist?

    Anyways, for the black sheep I find the best way to deal with this is the “agree and amplify” technique, always with a half-jocular tone and a smug look of superiority on your face. You’d be surprised how well this works even in academia, where people engage so often pointless intellectual pissing contests (if I never hear the phrase “ummm actually…” after some banal statement I make ever again, I’ll die happy).


    “Did you know Hitler thought the same thing?”

    “Yeah, he was on the right track, he was just an underachiever.”

    Not the best or funniest example, but you get the idea.

    It usually pretty much ends the conversation, but your opponent usually comes off as humorless and sanctimonious to anyone observing. Not for formal debates, but if you consistently come off as more clever than an opponent, I find they’ll usually learn to at least leave you alone in the office.

    I this would work for looking glass world too.

    For cuckoos nest, you could say “clearly we don’t have the same definition of A. I think A is A, not (a hyperbole of his definition).”

  4. I like agree and amplify, but it also seems to me that simply asking Leftist adversaries to explain themselves is an effective countermeasure. Usually they won’t be able to. When they try, their efforts will generally seem confused and ludicrous, and can be easily ridiculed. Especially if you keep asking questions, without providing any answers, they can end up painting themselves into a reactionary corner.

    “How do your opinions differ from those of Hitler?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Well, Hitler believed in Aryan racial superiority. Don’t you?”

    “Why do you say that?”

    “Well, you point out that Europeans conquered the globe, starting 500 years ago.”


    “Well, doesn’t that indicate that you think they are superior?”

    “Why would it do that?”

    “Well, how could the Europeans have done that if they weren’t somehow superior to the peoples they conquered?”

    “Good question. How?”

    I cover this method in Apologetical Weapons: The Socratic Reductio.

    • I was at the preliminary examination of a PhD student the other day. One of the other committee members, whom I’d never met before, seemed to be a Hispanic activist of some sort. In the course of one of his questions he told the story of a old Hispanic family in Texas who said, “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” The statement is common enough, and sometimes its true. Anyhow, the professor said “they’d been here since, what was it, the fifteenth or the seventeenth century.” The first date is, of course, impossible, and the second very unlikely. My point is that academic Leftists don’t really have to be accurate, so long as they stick to the general narrative. The face no serious predators or competitors, and have devolved into dodo birds. This is an advantage for conservatives. We’re used to running into a strong headwind.

      • “My point is that academic Leftists […] face no serious predators or competitors, and have devolved into dodo birds. This is an advantage for conservatives.”

        This takes me decades back to how I would deal with academic Leftists by clobbering them with their own sacred texts when they tried to get fresh with me. It turns out that many of the holy know-it-alls are remarkably superficial and evidently don’t bother to read the theorists who devised the various ideas they tout very carefully, precisely because they face no serious competitors in their natural habitat, and generally don’t have to rise very far above the level of salon banter in the things they say there. This species of smart-aleck, once made aware that he knows enough about Marx or Foucault or whoever to get himself in over his head but not enough to get himself out, often won’t come back for more.

      • Their critical methods are a double edged sword, and it is always sweet to see the surprise on their face when they come under the blows of their own weapons.

    • Kristor, lol. I had not, somehow, seen that post before. What is most satisfying about a conversation like that is when, two or three years down the road, you are having a conversation with Lou on a similar subject and Lou begins to explain to you how to go about convincing your interlocutor using the very method you used on Lou, but Lou forgot. Ha!

      To Lou’s mind he formed his new opinion of the thing without any outside help. This is because you made it Lou’s by nudging him in the right direction, but allowing Lou to do his own thinking and draw his own conclusions. And the beauty of it is that you needn’t remind Lou of your former conversation; it is reward enough that Lou is now a more capable defender of truth … and discerner of lies.

  5. “If you were hoping that I would end with surefire defensive moves against these yami-uchi, I’m afraid I must disappoint you.”

    Since, as you say above this, most people are swayed by rhetoric more than reason, there isn’t much of a defense against these techniques. Jim mentioned “agree and amplify” above, which often works, but in my experience the best strategy is not to do much defending at all, but to go on the offensive and stay on the offensive. Question every assumption they make, demand evidence and examples of everything they claim, ask for sources – basically, attack, attack, attack. This is tougher if you’re dealing with someone who genuinely is well-informed about the subject under debate, but most people more-or-less inherit their opinions from teachers, media, and so on, and have never thought about or researched them in any real depth, and it quickly becomes obvious that they’re incapable of offering a meaningful defense.

    For example, a couple coworkers of mine once tried attacking the Catholic Church, and brought out the Crusades as an example of moral failure. When one of them mentioned atrocities committed by the Crusaders, I demanded examples, which he couldn’t provide. He changed the subject to the persecution of Medieval scientists, but I again demanded examples, and he couldn’t do it, aside from Galileo, which I was prepared for. I’m not quick enough on my feet to be a skilled debater, but this general approach doesn’t require that so much because it places the burden of proof on the other person.

    Of course, the most important thing is to remain calm, inwardly and outwardly. “[L]ooking like you are having fun” is a good way of putting it.

    • Sometimes the things that “everybody knows” just ain’t true. The Crusades are particularly infuriating. Part of this is because students in the West never really understand the Byzantine Empire.

      • The typical attitude toward the Crusades demonstrates just how important narratives are to our opponents and just how unimportant it is that these narratives be in the least bit true (indeed it almost seems to be imperative that the narrative be false, since it tests the boundaries of what their enemies will accept. They’re like puppies or children seeing what they can get away with.)

        I’ve never felt so right as when talking with someone like this about the Crusades.

        The narrative on Islam in general is not just untrue, but totally repugnant to reality. It has not just been an extremely powerful force historically, and has been a constant thorn in the side for Christian kingdoms since its beginning, but it wields massive cultural and economic power to this day. But Muslims tend to be brown, so they’re a protected class to the left. If you want laugh (or cry) take a look at Ben Affleck’s appearance on Bill Maher when he argues against village atheist Sam Harris. The deer in the headlights look on Affleck’s face is an exemplar of the level of cognitive dissonance we have to deal with. After this episode I can’t even see Affleck on TV without getting a little angry. He’s OK with starring a piece of filth like Dogma, but goes out of his way to defend Islam? Waste of skin.

        Also, speaking of the Crusades, everyone should check out the “Real Crusader History” channel on YouTube:

      • Gah “deer” in the headlights. Curse you unwieldy Kindle! I’m going to break down get a google account one day, so I can edit my comments here.

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  7. Ten or twelve years ago I created a science-fiction course which I have taught regularly since then. My approach to all literature courses is historical. In the science fiction course we read items from Poe to about 1950. There are meritorious lady science-fiction writers in that period. The ones I like to teach are Leigh Brackett and C. L. (Catherine Louise) Moore, but students are so clueless that they think, in a wildly prejudicial way, that Mesdames Brackett and Moore must be men. Two years ago, there was a militantly feminist female student in the enrollment. About two-thirds of the way through the semester, one day in class, when I had asked whether there were any questions about the semester thus far, she immediately and urgently raise her hand. What was it, I wanted to know? The young woman said: “Why can’t we read more women writers in this class?” I asked, “Would you like to read the works of female science-fiction writers?” She said, indignantly, “Yes.” I responded with, “Who’s stopping you?” She immediately retorted with, “You are.” I said, “Why shouldn’t you read more stories by Brackett and Moore?” “Huh,” she said. “They were ladies, you know,” I said. “Women,” she said, but the wind was out of her sails. “Who’s stopping you” is a widely applicable rhetorical comeback. It requires maneuvering the interlocutor into making a personally prescriptive statement, but that is not difficult. So is, “What are you doing about it,” which I have also used. That is easier. It only needs the question, “So you think something should be done about that?”

    • I don’t understand why the voices are so shrill about the need for more female writers in the sci-fi world, since women have been major players in sci-fi and fantasy at least since it was all called weird fiction in the pulp era, and Mary Shelley is the godmother of both genres. I’m about to read a novel by Gertrude Barrows Bennett, a woman who earned the praise of the great Abraham Merritt and influenced Lovecraft himself, right now.

      For two genres that have such an interest in how things change over the course of time, modern fans really go out their way to ignore the history. It always has to be year zero. I guess they won’t be happy until all the books you assign are by Margaret Atwood.

      By the way, since you’re a science fiction fan, what do you think about the current Hugo controversy?

      • Jim – I confess to being entirely ignorant of the Hugo controversy.

        The logic of feminism is that everything has to be at least fifty per cent female — or sixty or seventy per cent. About twenty-five years ago there was a notable change in the marketing of science-fiction paperbacks. Quite obviously, publishers decided to stop appealing to adolescent males and switched over their appeal to adolescent females. All of a sudden the cover-art was blonde teenage girls riding dolphins or dragons. Why the change? Maybe by 1990, the criminal enterprise called American education had largely completed its project of making boys illiterate, so only the girls were reading, and it was only possible to sell books to them. The latest version of the phenomenon is the “girl power” narrative, which has spawned a slew of movies that crudely scapegoat men and proffer the fantasy that prom-queens with pouting expressions might lead military insurgencies.

      • I’m a little surprised. It is pretty well known as far “only on the net” type news stories go. But honestly consider yourself blessed to have been ignorant, since it got ugly and seems to be getting uglier. If you’re interested here’s a summary.

        It started a few years ago when Larry Correia, a right wing SciFi author (who unfortunately isn’t very good, but he has a following) noticed that SciFi awards, for about the same length of time you just described, had been given not based on quality of the work but on the left wing bona fides of the authors. He put together a recommendation list with the tag “bad SciFi getting awards makes puppies sad.” A few of his recommendations got nominated but otherwise no splash was made until John Scalzi (one of the authors whom Correia called out) took to his blog mocking Correia’s efforts.

        The next year Correa’s friend Brad Torgersen took over the “Sad Puppies” as the supporters of Correia had come to be known. The puppies got the attention of Vox Day, renegade far right fantasy author and self styled scourge of the fandom left, who put together his own list called “Rabid Puppies” mirroring Brad’s list and told his followers to vote for it as a slate. Although this seemed to be no more than a casual attempt at trolling, it succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations due to the nature of Hugo voting rules (which I won’t go into), and the puppies were about 90% percent of the ballot.

        Several authors and artists withdrew due to pressure and threats from the left. Correia also withdrew claiming he was sick of the Hugos but otherwise supports the puppies. Eventually the story was covered by places like Breitbart and Huffpost. George R.R. Martin even weighed in at length several times on his blog, which only gave Day free publicity, considering the number of fans each one has. Day came off looking like he fought and won against the biggest living voice in fantasy.

        In the end, the left gathered and voted “no award” for nearly every category, basically burning down their own convention.

        This year Vox, with exponentially more followers, is doing another slate, with nominations that are clearly jokes but still qualify (a My Little Pony episode is one; Vox says he is “unleashing the bronies”).

        The voting is done and the nominations will be out by the end of April.

        We have sunk very far since the Golden Age it seems, but I guess watching a house burn down is entertaining.

  8. “Looking Glass” seems possibly susceptible to “50 shades of gray.” If the move is “you either agree with Feminism or you hate women,” why not counter with “is everything only black and white to you? No shades of gray?” Could then be used as a springboard to offer your nuances.

    • This will work if your interlocutor is actually interested in your opinion, but not if they are simply trying to make you look like a fiendish scoundrel in the eyes of an uncommitted audience or readers. I think one should begin every discussion with the assumption that one’s interlocutor is arguing in good faith and engaging in a mutual search of truth, but be prepared to change tactics if it becomes clear that they are only interested in using rhetoric to make one look bad.

  9. Yes.

    One strategy is “unpredictably.”

    For example, during the Hillary televised torture episodes, I would vacillate between humor – laughing out loud at her criminal statements – and harsh ripostes. I would state the absurdity of her statement and then laugh out loud, or I would state loudly a couple of times “Liar, thief, murderer” as she made her speech, statement, press conference etc. I never made it personal, but I was clearly attaching this con with her followers, making THEM “liars, thieves, murderers.” It went very well, by the “murderous” looks I received by such, which if I caught, I would redeem with a short laugh.

    But it is all deadly serious, and I would make “unsubstantiated” statements like: “You have blood on your hands” as we “discuss” say the “welfare” state or war/war rumblings in northern Africa. Since I am correct about this, which if pressed, I would make (I have made) lucid arguments, I get pained guilty looks, fleeting but revealing.

    Still, our battle, our war, is not through interaction. It is necessary to retreat and hide in some way and to plan. This is a true war, and we have refused so far to accept that declaration.

  10. You said: “The uncommitted are, after all, uncommitted because they lack the interest, information, and perhaps intellect, to have formed a rational judgment.” But, I do not think one can make a final determination between left and right, no matter how educated the person is. They are both here today, just as they have both been around for a hundred years or more because we live in a modern world (a particular kind of world) in which there is no way to choose one over the other. So, maybe both are correct. One side is not going to win over another. This is not every going to happen. Because both must be correct. Obviously, you personally have made up your mind. But one can just as easy make the Leftist case. They are both perfectly good arguments. Maybe nobody is making a very good case these days, but you write well and I enjoyed it. The Left point of view makes very good sense, too.

    • Just to be clear, I do not condemn political apathy. Indeed, I think more political apathy would be a very good thing. But I do not agree that a careful study of both sides must result in indecision. There are two reasons for this. First, many of the disagreements are over objective matters of fact, in which two contradictory assertions cannot both be correct. One may not be able to tell which one is correct, but one can know that the answer is not “both.” Second, skeptical indecision is not an option in practical rationality.

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