The Indignity of Political Discourse

Politics is incredibly poisonous. People get it in their minds that the ideas promoted by their side are right and all others are so completely wrong that they aren’t worthy of serious consideration. There’s an us vs. them mentality that prevents people from objectively evaluating ideas and keeps them in an intellectual stuper.

Case and point here is Salon’s recent article, 11 questions to see if libertarians are hypocrites by R.J. Eskow. This very well may be worst article ever written. I say that because it’s blatantly apparent that Eskow acquired his knowledge of libertarianism from reading one or two blog posts at the Huffington Post or Daily Kos, yet he didn’t let this prevent him from offering up his opinion.

Personally, I would be horrifically embarrassed to publish something in a national outlet without at least first familiarizing myself with the subject, or even doing a Google search for that matter. But not Eskow, who produced gems like this:

Libertarians have a problem. Their political philosophy all but died out in the mid- to late-20th century, but was revived by billionaires and corporations that found them politically useful.

But the libertarian movement has seen a strong resurgence in recent years, and there’s a simple reason for that: money.

It serves the self-interest of the environmental polluters, for example, to promote a political philosophy which argues that regulation is bad and the market will correct itself.

A lot of them don’t like democracy very much. In their world, democracy is a poor substitute for the iron-fisted rule of wealth, administered by those who hold the most of it.

While I am as far from a socialist as one can get, I don’t dare treat socialism with the degree of intellectual laziness, blatant ignorance, and disrespect that Eskow treats libertarianism. I have read The General Theory, A Theory of Justice, and have at least attempted to drudge my way through parts of Das Kapital. I have friends who are marxists and socialists and I take intellectual socialism very seriously and give them the respect they deserve. There’s a reason I take the time to study the views of others. For one, I might learn something from them I will find of value. And two, as a general rule: If you believe the other side is wrong, and you believe this while being unable to state their arguments, that is usually a sign that you are suffering from irrationality and dogmatism.

Had Eskow actually attempted to familiarize himself with libertarianism before writing his article, he would have been able to answer his “11 questions”.  It isn’t like there’s a shortage of libertarian literature out there. There is a rich tradition of scholarship in the libertarian and classical liberal movements. Scholars have written voluminously on the subjects economics, philosophy, history, law and more.

I doubt you will find many libertarians writing articles entitled: 11 questions to see if liberals are hypocrites. That’s largely because we read their literature. When we come across a questions we don’t know how they would answer — we research it.

If I asked why left wingers reject a century of economic teaching on price controls when it comes to the minimum wage, I would expect them to respond by talking about dynamic monopsony (Eskow is thinking dynama monopsowhat?). If I asked why wages shouldn’t be allowed to fall during a recession when there is surplus labor I might expect them to respond by pointing to a reduction in communal purchasing power or differing marginal propensities to consume.

Yet with Eskow we get stuff like this:

Many libertarians will counter by saying that government has only two valid functions: to protect the national security and enforce intellectual property laws. By why only these two? If the mythical free market can solve any problem, including protecting the environment, why can’t it also protect us from foreign invaders and defend the copyrights that make these libertarians wealthy?

He apparently doesn’t know that the vast majority of libertarians don’t support intellectual property laws… at all. Yet he sees fit to claim we believe enforcing them is a core role of government? Neither does he know that there is a fair amount of libertarian literature on the topic of market provisions for national defense.

My plea here is that if you wish to increase the quality of our political discourse, don’t follow Eskow’s example. Instead, give your intellectual opponents respect. Research their views as thoroughly as possible. Seek out alternative sources of information — even those you think you might disagree with, and make a sincere effort to understand where they are coming from. Not only will this make our discourse much more pleasant but it will help us get closer to the truth.

Side Note: This Salon article was so bad that when I shared it with my friend MK Lords, she responded by quoting Mencken:

He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.

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