Friday, May 30, 2014

Impractical Pragmatists

NOTE: These seventeen essays were reproduced from my now defunct former blog, Random Notes, as they are going to be cited in an upcoming essay. For the most part they deal with three subjects, "common sense" and pragmatism, organics and GMO foods, and the belief in the inherent purity and superiority of all things "primitive". A few are on other topics, but I think those three cover most of them.

Recently it seems I have written several posts on the ways in which conservatives set themselves up to lose. ("Defending Freedom?", "Don't Blame the Politicians", "What We Deserve", "What is Wrong with Us", "The Single Greatest Weakness", "Why We Lose", "Doing Something", ""Doing Something" Revisited", "Who Is To Blame?", "The Difficulty of Principle", "You Lose When You Think You Win", "Selling Yourself Cheap", "The FairTax's Liberal Assumptions") Sometimes they try to "steal" an issue, like health care reform, by proposing "our solution", not realizing that once they concede the government has a place in health insurance, they have given the victory to the left. Or they accept the data from the left that the world is warming and propose alternate solutions, conceding half the argument, when the evidence for warming is itself dubious and should have been the first point of debate. Over and over they concede points they should dispute, allow exceptions which open the door to the left, or even adopt philosophies which are just hidden or watered down versions of liberalism. 

In short, the right seems dedicated to committing philosophical suicide.

But by far the worst problem of the right is its attempts to be "practical".  Now, do not get me wrong, I understand the need for compromise. ("Cigarettes, Sudan and Abortion"), and understand the reasons for allowing imperfect solutions to pass. I even understand the reason one would make common cause with near enemies to achieve certain important victories. 

The problem is, the right very often does not compromise on methods, but instead compromises on principles. In the name of popular opinion, they often sell out their principles in order to win a dubious victory, not recognizing that in so doing they hand eventual victory to the enemy.("Best of the Web gets It Very, Very Wrong", "Free Speech, Absolute Rights and the Absurdity of "Balancing Tests"")

It occurred to me today, while reading my post "Why the Numbers Don't Matter", that we do that very thing when  engaging in disputes with advocates for gun control.

The problem is the left starts of their argument by pointing out that guns do more harm than good. They point to gun crimes, to suicides, to those shot with their own guns, and so on. And conservatives, well, as usual they take the bait and try to argue the other side, arguing guns prevent more crimes than they cause, do less harm than good and so on.

The problem with this is that conservatives, by arguing on the terms set by liberals tacitly admit that the government has the right to ban guns, so long as someone can show guns are harmful. It is a losing position. Even if conservatives win the argument, they lose in the end, as now all the liberals have to do is once show guns are dangerous and they have the right to ban them. That is the consequence of fighting on their terms.

What conservatives need to do is ignore the question of safety and simply argue that government does not have the right to ban guns, that ownership of guns is a right, that the government cannot pass laws to protect use form ourselves, and all the other arguments I have been making over and ("A Right Is A Right", "A Simple Proposal", "Symmetry and Asymmetry in Government"). If the government does not have the right to act, then the risk or lack thereof from guns is irrelevant. And in that case, it doesn't matter what the left proves, so long as gun ownership is a right it doesn't matter,

Now some will argue that is a bad move politically, but I disagree. It may be a bad move now, because the right has been insufficiently strong in upholding rights. By being "practical" we have let the public forget that defending rights matters, and now they think in terms of absurd liberal pragmatism (("The Shortcomings of Pragmatism", "Pragmatism Revisited", "Pragmatism Revistied, Again"). Once we start pointing out the reasons we should care about rights, explain why they matter more than any argument about safety, the public will eventually learn to see the issue in the proper terms. it is only because we were so craven and argued in the terms of the left that the public now sees arguments in those terms. If we find a spine again, we will be able to give up such arguments. 

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2010/05/28.

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