Sunday quote: on hearing what the other team is saying

Following on from last week’s thought, we have one David Frum attacking his own side’s insularity and the propensity to label anything they disagree with as “socialism”:

David’s Book Club: What Are Liberals Thinking? – The Daily Beast.

These characterizations certainly mobilize the base. They also insulate and isolate conservatives from real-world policy debates. If you don’t know what your opponent is saying, you won’t do a very effective job refuting him.

Exactly. I would go further and say that if you don’t really understand the arguments against you, you’re almost definitely wrong about something.

Frum goes on to review two books by adherents to what bizarrely passes as “progressive economics” these days (read: following a model from the mid 20th Century that just proved disastrously inefficient and brought down most of Europe).

Uniting every argument is [Dean] Baker’s insistence: “the progressive agenda is about setting fair rules for the market. … It is not by luck, talent, and hard work that the rich are getting so much richer. It is by rigging the rules of the game.”

The last two sentences quoted above seem to me needlessly bogey-hunting. The trend to inequality appears in every developed country, and it began to show up about the same time. The trend is driven by deep changes in the world economy, and we’re guaranteed to respond perversely if we fail to understand that. But it’s precisely because the progressive agenda is largely wrong that it’s important to understand what that agenda actually is. Today’s loose and lazy conservative talk about “socialism” is self-deceiving and therefore self-sabotaging.

I have said it before, but I find all these characterisations of “the rich” to be deeply, deeply troubling – not least because I know quite a few of “the rich” and they are hardly a homogenous group of greedy pigs, hell-bent on accumulating wealth and subjecting other people to misery. In fact, a lot of them are extremely nice, generous people who do a hell of a lot more for our society than almost anyone else and sometimes don’t even take much credit for doing that.

Lumping everyone who earns above a certain income level into one category to be hated is the kind of narrow-minded discrimination that also inflames racism, sexism and all the other -isms you can think of. Once you have people thinking a certain way, adding groups in the “to hate” category is not so difficult.

That tangent aside, Frum’s general point is extremely important and so I will keep repeating it on this site ad infinitum because there’s no way I will ever get through to most people: if you do not understand what your critics are saying, you are probably wrong. They have arguments that challenge what you believe and if you do not at least consider them, you cannot say for sure that your views are correct.

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