Friday, March 19, 2004

A reply to No Right Turn's reply

1. On conflating Liberal and Left. The opposite is true, that's why I use the expression Liberal/Left. They are different and I'm interested in the spectrum that runs from the Liberal to the Left and which starts at the Left-Liberal rather than the Right-Liberal. Hence "Liberal/Left".

In my reply to NRT I made a particular point of emphasising this distinction (please excuse the self quotation):

"Pinker is offering a critique from within liberalism of aspects of liberal thought. In a similar manner Peter Singer, author of A Darwinian Left, offers a critique of Left wing thought from within the Left."

I am truely amazed that anyone can interpret this as conflating liberals and the left. Anyway, I would have thought that my taxonomy of political opinion based on Socks, a rather lame attempt at humor I admit, would indicate that I'm aware these terms can be slippery.

2. If the aim of NRT's piece was myself, rather than Pinker, then this does not make much difference to the argument. I am merely presenting, on the issue of how people's minds are influenced, views which are more articulately expressed by Pinker. But given that NRT charactersises Pinker's analysis of relativism as "slagging off" I think it was reasonable to assume that we were both in the firing line.

He also confuses the issue by leading into his argument with an unattributed quote: "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 this supposed to be a quote from myself or from Pinker? Or is it not a quotation at all but what NRT thinks the views of myself or Pinker, or us both, are? (If NRT had written "a strand of liberal thought is undemocratic because..." then that would be a reasonable summary of what Pinker's and my views are).

3. I would have thought that (again excuse the self quotation):

"One particular aspect of this project, which NRT focuses on, is the degree to which various aspects of our behavior and thought processes are or are not influenced by environmental factors such as society, culture, the media etc."

was a reasonable summary of a central theme of NRT's piece. Hardly an indication that I was "focused on superficialities".

4. As for my needing NRT to "explain how people arrive at particular political opinions" then what on earth is he talking about when says "However, this still leaves us with a problem, in that there are cases where people clearly are stupid or dupes" if not theorising about how people arrive at political opinions?

Its not that I somehow require NRT to elaborate such a theory but that that is clearly one of his own objectives when he claims:

"Propaganda works. Advertising works. People buy things because they see them on TV, and believe things if they hear them often enough."

To deny that this is a theory on how people are supposedly influenced is bizarre. It is a theory and it is not supported by the evidence. I enjoy the Speights ads but I don't drink it.

I think that the way NRT has talked himself round in circles over the issue of if and how advertising and so-called propaganda work indicates that this remains a perplexing issue for the Liberal/Left and that evolutionary psychology can assist the Liberal/Left in providing some clarification.


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