Eschew Calumny and Chauvinism

“Calumniate, calumniate: something will always stick.”

Beaumarchais, Le Barbier de Séville (1773)

“I am French, I am Chauvin”

Cogniard, La Cogniard Tricolore (1831)

Orthosphere gadfly a.morphous opines in recent comments that liberals are vastly more rational and empathetic than conservatives, forgetting to mention better looking and more skillful in both bedroom and kitchen.  He also says that conservatives oppose progress, offering their opposition to Hillary Clinton as evidence.  If the thought that Hillary Clinton might be president made you throw up a little in your mouth, he evidently believes you must also sputter and spit every time you think of anesthetics, steel bridges, or toilet paper on a roll.

The comments in which these opinions were expressed related the horror a.morphous feels whenever he thinks of Donald Trump.  Trump is, for a.morphous, hideous under the strong definition I gave that word in a recent post, so that the President’s voice and visage fill a.morphous with a sickening despair.  I can empathize, having felt a similar nausea when I heard the voice and saw the visage of Trump’s predecessor, and so I “feel his pain.” I would feel it even if he were suffering, as I suffered, in silence.

The notion that conservatives lack empathy is somehow connected to the idea that their opposites are “bleeding heart liberals.”  I deny that liberals are uniquely prone to coronary hemophilia, or that petrifaction is the outstanding characteristic of conservative hearts, and assert that liberals and conservatives get choked up over different things.  They have different sensibilities, so that different things cause them to get lumps in their throats, or to wipe tears from their eyes.  They both have soft spots, but their soft spots are in different places.

I would not say that liberals are especially rational or irrational.  They sometimes draw correct inferences from evidence, and sometimes refuse to draw correct inferences from evidence.  Contrary to the title of their flagship radio news program, they do not consider all things, and do not always fairly consider the things they do consider.  I do not say this while making any chauvanistic claims for the intellectual powers of my own team.  But this is partly due to the fact that classical conservatism taught me to be skeptical of any strong claims to intellectual power.  Classical conservatism taught me that all serious thinking begins with the axiom that it is dangerous to take thinking too seriously.

I was not being altogether facetious when I wrote that liberals might claim to surpass conservatives in pulchritude, culinary skill, and sexual dexterity, for chauvanism seems to be inherent to the liberal creed.  For all their talk of human equality, liberals obviously believe they are superior to conservatives in almost every way you can imagine.  I have mentioned their immodest claims to moral and intellectual superiority, and would here add their claim to superior taste.  I actually share many liberal tastes, but find this liberal snobbery tasteless.  I would much rather paddle my canoe on a quiet river than skim over a lake in a roaring motorboat, but I do not think this makes me a better person than those who prefer to skim.

I recently mentioned that I have a new neighbor who is liberal and much given to yard signs.   One sign reads:

I Will Vote
Faith not Fear
Hope not Hate
Love not Lies

 I find that this sign is being marketed to liberal Christians by an outfit called Vote Common Good, which aims “to change the too commonly believed narrative that people of faith must support Republicans.”  It evidently proposes to do this with the calumny that people of Faith who do support Republicans are not, in fact, people of Faith, but are, rather, stupid and despicable psychotics.  I do not believe I have ever seen a more calumnious or chauvinistic yard sign.

Calumny is defamation with false charges, or what the Bible describes—and denounces—as whispering and backbiting.  As my epigram suggests, calumny works best when the false charges are multitudinous and oft-repeated, since most people operate on the smoke-means-fire principal, and when enough dirt is thrown, some is sure to stick.  To casually psychoanalyze one’s political opponents as savage and deluded madmen strikes me as egregious calumny

Chauvinism is a greedy claim to have a monopoly on virtue, or what the Bible describes—and denounces—as boasting and being puffed up for one against the other.  The word comes from the name of a sergeant in Napoleon’s army who combined personal and partisan conceit to an extraordinary degree.  Virtue was the exclusive possession of France, and Chauvin was himself outstanding evidence of this virtue.  To casually arrogate faith, hope and love strikes me as egregious chauvinism.

We should, all of us, eschew calumny and chauvinism, and do our best to see the virtues of our enemies and the flaws in ourselves.  Everyone who votes in November is hoping for some sort of progress, and is acting with some degree of goodness and intelligence.  Everyone will no doubt cast their ballot with a peculiar mix of faith and fear, hope and hate, love and lies.  We have enough to divide us without puffing ourselves up or biting one another on the backside.

19 thoughts on “Eschew Calumny and Chauvinism

  1. Pingback: Eschew Calumny and Chauvinism | Reaction Times

  2. Orthosphere gadfly a.morphous opines in recent comments that liberals are vastly more rational and empathetic than conservatives,

    Don’t think I made any such claim. I did say that rationality and empathy are foundational to liberalism, which is nowhere close to your misconstrual above.

    He also says that conservatives oppose progress, offering their opposition to Hillary Clinton as evidence.

    Huh? When did I say word one about Hillary Clinton?

    You are responding to phantasms that you somehow misread from my words. I can’t be responsible for those, but feel free to respond to what I actually do say.

    • I didn’t mean to set up a straw man. I drew the first statement from this line: “Liberal progress depends crucially on the power of reason and empathy, and his [Trump’s] rise indicates that there is a huge chunk of the population for which those qualities mean less than nothing.” I paused over my word “vastly,” but decided it was justified by “huge.” You didn’t explicitly mention opposition to Hillary Clinton, but it is a necessary precondition to your ordeal with Trump, and is therefore implicit in your complaint. If it is any consolation, I expect the shoe will be on the other foot in a couple of months.

      • Your deeper misreading is assuming I am talking about the character of individual conservatives or liberals, whereas I am actually talking about the ideologies themselves. That is, any individual liberal or conservative might be at times rational, or empathetic, or whatever. But the ideologies emphasize and encourage certain qualities while devaluing others.

        Conservatives I assume are for the most part perfectly capable of feeling empathy; they just are reluctant to do it for people who are not like themselves (in race or culture), whereas liberals try hard to extend the field of empathy to all humans. It’s the contrast between this universalizing tendency vs the conservative desire to contract the field of empathy that I’m talking about.

        Trump embodies this tendency perfectly. He channels an ideology of uncaring; he enacts policies designed to hurt people who aren’t like him (refugees, Democrats). Personally, he seems to be untroubled by the slightest trace of human caring; his monstrous narcissism is well-documented.

        I don’t think all conservatives are like that, yet they’ve chosen him as their leader, their champion, their exemplar.

        It’s much the same for reason. Obviously there are many intelligent conservatives capable of reason, yet they’ve chosen as their figurehead an abject moron who works actively against the advancement of knowledge.

        One can only conclude that while conservatives may have the normal distributions of reason and empathy, their ideology does not particularly value or promote them. Other things are more important.

  3. If this guy Jonathan Haidt is to be believed, the difference between liberals and conservatives is that conservatives are better balanced wrt political morality.

    • My takeaway from Haidt is that a person’s political orientation is rooted in his basic nature, so to be angry with a man for his politics is like being angry with a man for the color of his hair.

      • Well yes, I agree but my main takeaway is leftists are destructive to society because they are unbalanced. Thomas Fleming (the paleocon not the historian) used to call liberalism “pornography of compassion.”

      • Yes, they destroy social technologies because they have a false understanding of human nature. They see social institutions like the family as the cause of evil, and not as a remedy. But I think we can lower the temperature of political debate if we accept that they were born that way. I think that the conservative understanding of human nature is correct, but I don’t think I can claim any personal merit for thinking this. Liberals should be kept out of government for the same reasons tone-deaf people should be kept out of orchestras, but there is no reason for us to hate them.

      • Sure – I don’t hate them. They are born that way – all the more reason to believe that soon they won’t exist –not an adaptive set of personality traits.

  4. The oppositional character of contemporary American politics is exceedingly tiresome. The breadth of variety – I do not say choice, since none of us have an actual effective choice in anything beyond the local level, and possibly not even then – is akin to the difference between Pepsi and Coke. Not just the entire system, but the entire presupposition of the system as such, is liberal to the core. The difference between Hobbes and Clinton (or Trump) is purely one of unprincipled exceptions and pecularities of character; they agree as to the basic functions and purposes of government as such, and what they agree on is evil.

  5. The French Chauvin is a Romance variant of the Italian Calvino, which can be both a given name and a surname. France endured a civil war in the 16th Century between Chauvinistes and Catholiques. Two words related to Chauviniste emerged from that war: Huguenot and bigot. The former was what Francophones heard when German-speaking followers of Swiss Protestantism referred to themselves as Eidgenossen (“Oath Brothers”); and the latter was what they heard when the “Oath Brothers” added Bei Gott (“By God”) to their professions of faith — and of politics. All of that brings us back to the Puritan Problem, which we at the Orthosphere have discussed many times. The righteousness spiral has been with us for many a century.

    • Thanks, Tom. Just brilliant; I never knew that stuff. I wonder how many of those who denounce bigotry realize that they are parrotting a Catholic perspective. Again, liberalism is a notion that could only have sprouted in a traditional milieu; it is a conceit and an indulgence and an elaboration of, a defective heresy of, and entirely supervenient upon, the traditional and illiberal moral order of Christendom. Outside of Christendom, it is nowhere to be found.

      In so saying I distinguish between liberalism and gnostic utopianism more generally, as of Mazdak, e.g.

  6. JM: thanks for this; I snickered so long and so heartily at your first paragraph that I had to reach for the Kleenex. Another thing that conservative troglodytes abhor …

  7. Chiming in to pick up on a point in a.morphous’ recent comment:

    One can only conclude that while conservatives may have the normal distributions of reason and empathy, their ideology does not particularly value or promote them. Other things are more important.

    Are “reason and empathy” in the political domain? Must an ideology contain within it a stance on reason and empathy? I would dispute that liberalism (in the same sense in which a.morphous used the word “conservatism”) has cornered the market on reason and empathy. After all, as recent protests show, which are a demonstrably liberal phenomenon, they have empathy for people up until they do something against their ideology.

    What that argument does, unfairly, is pin a.morphous AND the protestors (which are indeed liberal protestors) together as liberal, and attempt to strike both birds with the same stone:
    protestors are not empathetic
    protestors are liberal
    therefore liberals are not empathetic

    Which is plainly the same argument a.morphous just made and tu quoque has been achieved. However! My point in all this is that there is no obligation for ideology to address empathy or reason. A perfectly rational mind can believe a rationally incoherent ideology. A perfectly irrational mind can believe a rationally coherent ideology. The status of the ideology does not really say anything about it’s adherents other than the fact that they adhere to it. Reason and Empathy are properly the domains of the intellect and effectuated by the will. Those particular irons are kept hot by a mixture of learning and prejudice, and sharpened by experience. Faith, in my opinion, is training to wield them effectively. This is why the confusion exists in the first place: many conservatives train their faith, and so many will claim that conservatism relies on faith, but that is more correlation than causation. Faith is one way for people to understand the difference between reason/empathy and ideology, and thus to keep the two domains distinct. God doesn’t tell me how to vote, but he did tell me to love my neighbor.

    Therefore, complaints about the reason and empathy of conservatism sound, to me, like complaints to McDonalds about the taste of the tapwater in their bathrooms. Yes, it’s something you find there, but it’s not really related to what they are trying to do. That’s why many conservatives (I can speak only for myself, anyway) don’t care about Trump’s supposed moral shortcomings. I don’t want him to be like my dad, I want him to run the country. He can be twice divorced and a boorish tweeter and still be an effective leader.

    • I think conservatism does take a position on empathy and reason. It teaches that uncontrolled empathy can lead to injustice, as when pity for criminals causes more crime and suffering among innocent people, and that empathy should be particular rather than universal. It teaches that “bleeding heart” liberalism and philanthropy are narcissistic virtue-signaling and do more harm than good, With respect to reason, it teaches that reason should be tempered by faith and tradition, the latter point most often illustrated with the example of “Chesterton’s fence.”

    • Are “reason and empathy” in the political domain? Must an ideology contain within it a stance on reason and empathy?

      Yes, of course. I’m using “empathy” broadly, to mean roughly “caring about the interests of others”. Any theory of politics has to have some stance on who counts as a fellow being whose interests need to be taken into account, and how that happens, and what we owe to each other if anything.

      The status of the ideology does not really say anything about it’s adherents other than the fact that they adhere to it.

      I’ve been saying as much.

      Any individual conservative might, for all I know, have a vastly powerful intellect and/or a heart as big as all outdoors. However, they’ve chosen as their leader Donald Trump, who conspicuously lacks those virtues and has built his political career on opposing them. That is, at least, an oddity that seems like it would be good to be able to explain.

      That’s why many conservatives… don’t care about Trump’s supposed moral shortcomings. I don’t want him to be like my dad, I want him to run the country. He can be twice divorced and a boorish tweeter and still be an effective leader.

      It’s very odd to be arguing with a group of religious reactionaries and have them take the position that morality has nothing to do with “effective leadership”, as if a country was the same as a corporation and all that mattered was the quarterly returns. Surely the character of a leader matters.

      In any case the things we are talking about are not matters of Trump’s private morality. Maybe he likes to get peed on by prostitutes, but if that was all that was wrong with him, I wouldn’t care. But the ability to have and project empathy is fundamental to any leadership role.

      • a.morphous, you say:

        It’s very odd to be arguing with a group of religious reactionaries and have them take the position that morality has nothing to do with “effective leadership”, as if a country was the same as a corporation and all that mattered was the quarterly returns. Surely the character of a leader matters.

        The distinction I am trying to draw here is that morality has something to do with being human, more than it has to do with leadership. Moral people can be leaders just as much as immoral people. Moral people are more likely to be effective leaders but effective leadership does not require one to be moral. Look at Otto von Bismarck. He was extremely effective at unifying the German state and prosecuting a campaign of realpolitik. His means were far from what I would call the height of morality.

        We can look at other more highly regarded leaders as well. Abraham Lincoln is popular. He was extremely effective at prosecuting the civil war/war between the states–or rather, choosing generals to do so. He mobilized federal troops against his countrymen, which helped push additional states to secession. Was this moral? It was certainly effective at achieving his ends.

        This is how I justify my statement about not caring about his moral shortcomings. His moral shortcomings, in my opinion, are judgments on his personal character more than his leadership ability.

        I think this is an interesting statement:

        Any theory of politics has to have some stance on who counts as a fellow being whose interests need to be taken into account, and how that happens, and what we owe to each other if anything.

        I, personally, do not take my cues for “who counts as a fellow being” from my political ideology. Perhaps naively, I assumed that all-people-are-people is a given in both ideologies. The current zeitgeist may lead to claims that some side disregards some group of people, but that has never struck me as an ideological argument, more a rhetorical appeal. By definition, citizens of a country are the ones who count, politically, and if any political ideology disagreed that all citizens count without exception, that would certainly be a political-career limiting move. It is a moral judgement (and as I’ve argued, a judgement which reflects ones personal character) to address which people matter (to distinguish citizens as a subset of people).

        JM, you say:

        think conservatism does take a position on empathy and reason. It teaches that uncontrolled empathy can lead to injustice (…)

        I think those are things about empathy and reason. Conservatism teaches us how to use them, but not, as a.morphous seemed to claim, that empathy or reason are “good” or “bad”.

        He said:

        But the ideologies emphasize and encourage certain qualities while devaluing others.

        Which I took to mean, given the context, “conservatism discourages empathy and reason”. Conservatism doesn’t discourage or encourage, but it does suggest how they should be utilized, which I think is what you are getting at.

      • morality has something to do with being human, more than it has to do with leadership.

        And I will repeat it seems very odd for religious conservatives to be insisting on this separation.

        Besides, Trump, aside from being uniquely horrible as a person, is also a notably ineffective leader of the country. Even his supporters are starting to notice that there is no there there.

        I, personally, do not take my cues for “who counts as a fellow being” from my political ideology. Perhaps naively, I assumed that all-people-are-people is a given in both ideologies.

        Naively is right. I don’t feel like going through the long history of various political dehumanizations, but your boy Trump is a master of this tactic

Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.