Monday, April 21, 2008

John Hawkins' Seven Uncomfortable Truths for his Strawman Liberals

Once again John Hawkins provides us with a nice summary of how conservatives see the world, particularly that bugaboo behind all conservative stories, liberals. I've heard it said recently that liberals talk about ideas, but conservatives talk about liberals, and I find little on conservative sites like Townhall to dispel that notion. The sad part is that while conservatives may talk a lot about liberals, they don't seem to understand them, and mischaracterize them frequently. Hawkins is, sadly, no exception. Toss in some typical fact-ignoring, speculation, and blatant contradictions, you get his Seven Uncomfortable Truths for Liberals

"Human beings are born selfish and badly behaved: You, me, your father, Mother Theresa, the Pope -- we were all savage, self-centered little animals when we were born and it was only through the socialization process that we became fit for other humans to live with. That's why people do need religion, rules, and social pressure to be convinced to behave."

Factually incorrect. Human nature is not that simple. Sure we have selfish impulses, but we also have altruistic and socialization mechanisms built into our psyche. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in trials of both humans and our ape cousins. Mothers do not risk their lives saving their children, or hermits go mad, because of socialization. Humans need rules because of objective conflicts with limited resources, not the least of which is space. Regardless of human nature, we'd still need the rule to drive on the right (or left for you Brits) side of the road, rules to determine who is served first, etc. But there is no reason these rules need be based on religion. There are plenty of societies that do just fine without that, this one being no small exception.

" It's also why projects like communism, which assume that people can be brainwashed to completely disregard their own nature and love their fellow citizens every bit as much as they love themselves, are always doomed to fail."

Here we see some dishonest rhetoric: religion, rules, and social pressure "socialize" people, while communism "brainwashes" them. The difference? Hawkins approves of the former, but not the latter. I suppose this was intended to try to hide the blatant contradiction here. Hawkins first claims we must change our savage, self-centered nature so we can live with others, now he claims we are doomed to fail if we try to change that nature.

The problem here is that Hawkins is oversimplifying. Human nature is very complex, with aspects almost completely controlled by socialization (fashion, religion) and others more or less fixed at birth (gender, genetic diseases), and everything in between. Communism failed not because it tried to change human nature, but because it tried to change the wrong aspects of it.

"Change is often a bad thing: It goes without saying that sometimes laws, traditions, and moral practices should be changed, but it shouldn't need to be said that change for its own sake is not a plus either."

It doesn't. There is no one, liberal or not, that thinks change per se is a good thing. Hawkins is weaving straw here to try to give the impression that changes he personally disagrees with are promoted without cause. In typical irony, it is he who is working from a position without cause:

Sure, we'll change the definition of marriage, legalize drugs, weaken the Christian church, allow countless numbers of illegal aliens from a neighboring country to become citizens, etc., etc., etc. -- what could go wrong? A lot, actually.

Yes, but with at least the first three, many other countries have done exactly that, with little or no serious problems. This is the kind of argument only someone with no knowledge of the world could make or be convinced by.

"People are different: This would seem to be a rather obvious point, but it's one liberals seem to have a great deal of difficulty digesting. In their mind, women and men should be treated as if they have exactly the same predilections and abilities. Different races should perform identically well, in precisely equal percentages, in every activity, and any difference between people must be explained by some sort of unfair societal constraint placed upon the less successful."

Hawkins does have a point here. As I have blogged on previously, the blank slate continues to be a bit of pseudoscience infecting thought on the American left. However, his argument would have more credibility if conservatives weren't so determined to ignore all evidence that there are a lot of societal constraints placed on various groups which effect their performance. They have a tendency to dismiss all sociological findings of bias by speculating as to what flaws there might be in the studies. For example, any study purporting to show a bias against blacks in business or academia would have to account for the large economic bias in our society by race. However, studies that do account for that still show a bias against blacks, as well as women and other groups, and conservatives tend to ignore those as well.

"Most nations are interested in what's good for them: The only thing liberals love better than big government is even bigger government. So, yes, they love using the power of the federal government, but they're even more in love with the idea of building up the United Nations or some other form of world government."

This is just another straw man, and a nonsensical one as well. No one, even tree hugging liberals, need to be told that nations have their own best interests at heart. The United Nations is an effort to deal with global problems in a way that satisfies those interests. Is it imperfect? Sure. Hawkins' alternative solution? You notice you don't see one among those meandering paragraphs.

"The federal government is by its very nature, slow, stupid, expensive, and inefficient: There are always politicians promising to 'reform government' or 'make government work,' but the federal government always has been and always will be a poor, misshapen tool compared to the free market."

This is libertarian ideology, not reality. In areas where the tragedy of the commons applies, the government does much better than the free market. The free market is superior only in those circumstances where individual interests and group interests coincide. The best example is the Federal Highway system. The free market gave us a maze of winding roads. It took government to give us straight efficient highways from one state to the next.

Every problem is not fixable: The poor? They are always going to be with us. War? It's always going to exist...However, there is also something to be said for letting sleeping dogs lie and just accepting that the government cannot and should not try to fix every problem...because the government's efforts are usually ineffective and often as not, over time, it simply ends up creating a new set of problems to be solved.

Here again we see a blatant contradiction caused by ideology. Hawkins from one side of his mouth lectures us on not changing the drug laws, and then from the other side of his mouth lectures us on how sometimes government solutions make the problem worse. Can you say "prohibition"? Hawkins misses this obvious connection because he is blinded by his ideology. In his upside down world, the war in Iraq is inevitable, but homosexuality is optional.

Sorry John, these aren't truths. They are conservative ideology dressed up as facts. The cheap tux just doesn't fit.


Peter L. Winkler said...

Excellent anaysis.

Anonymous said...

Very good analysis, and response. You mention at one point that Hawkins doesn't offer an alternative to the United Nations. In fact he doesn't offer any alternatives, although the primary response of people like Hawkins when their ideas are criticized is "criticism not offering an alternative". It's their way of saying, "You can't dismiss my ideas just because I'm wrong."

ScienceAvenger said...

Which should get the retort: "You can't dismiss ideas just because they are imperfect", since practically all political decisions are tradeoffs.