Friday, March 19, 2004

Once more into the breach

Well if No Right Turn does not consider that the influence of advertising and propaganda matters then I wonder why he spends so much time worrying about people being duped and lied to. He is certainly entitled to distance himself from Social Constructivist arguments, and I applaud him for doing so, but that does not mean that it is not an issue for other liberals.

If all he is doing is quibbling over the definition of "liberal", which in every day parlance here in NZ means the moderate or centre left, then quibble away. But to say on the basis of an idiosyncratic definition of the term that Pinker is critisising the Left and not liberals is absurd. Many people who hold the beliefs critisised consider themselves to be liberals in the broad sense of the term. I regularly meet people who call themselves "liberals" who hold Social Constructivist views. Only recently I have had conversations with liberals who have maintained that homosexuality was invented in the 19th century and that there was no gender role difference in pre-European Maori society. But neither Pinker nor myself are criticising "liberals" as a whole, merely a not uncommon strand of reasoning that can be found on all parts of the political spectrum.

To conclude from one particular riposte to one particular remark on one particular occasion that I believe "Liberals are undemocratic because, rather than respecting other people's views, they see them as dupes suffering from 'false consciousness' or a similar ailment" is to engage with someone else's arguments not mine. I have never made such a statement and NRT has had to fabricate it and then claim that is what I believe. The riposte was clearly meant to convey, in a snarky fashion, my belief that it is not a constructive view to consider the depth of support for Bush in the US to be the product of stupidity or denial.

I'm not sure how many times I need to say that I don't conflate liberals and the Left but rather make a clear and conscious distinction. Most people consider liberal and Left to be part of a continuous spectrum of positions that are not on the Right. And it is very common for people who are unhappy about being called Left-wing, but who are opposed to the Right, to prefer to be called liberal. Hence the term Liberal/Left which covers that part of the left spectrum from the centre to somewhere short of extreme.

I would say that the origin of political opinions is an issue of interest and importance to a great many people on both the Left and the Right. It is not uncommon for both sides to accuse the other of undue influence through the media on the susceptible minds of the general public. Evolutionary psychology has made many discoveries that shed light on this area.

Anyway, I recommend The Blank Slate as an enjoyable read and a significant contribution to Left/Liberal thought.

PS - NRT may be interested in another very good writer on evolutionary stuff - Matt Ridley. He might be interested to consider if the arguments Ridley puts forward in the latter chapters of The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation on the Commons, support NRT's position on the foreshore issue. I think they may.

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