The Hidden Left-Liberal Divide

One side is arguing over rules while the other is focused on consequences.

Vox’s Dylan Matthews argues that the flap over Bernie Sanders touting Joe Rogan’s endorsement reveals something important about “the hidden moral philosophy of American politics.”

I think the debate has also been profoundly revealing about a divide within left-of-center American political discourse, a divide that maps closely but not perfectly with the divide between socialist-identified, Bernie-supporting leftists on the one hand and more traditional liberal Democrats on the other. The divide concerns the latent moral theories that each side uses, and in particular whether they think political disagreements regarding discrimination and bigotry can be understood using the same moral language as disagreements about, say, tax policy or foreign affairs.

Most liberals have what I would characterize as a deontological opposition to discrimination. That is, they think that discriminating against or maligning someone on the basis of membership in a protected class — women, trans people, black people, and other racially oppressed communities, etc. — violates a rule that should be inviolable.

In this view, such discrimination (be it legal, or expressed through hate speech, etc.) is not just wrong because it has bad effects, or because it harms members of the groups in question; it’s wrong because we have a duty to treat humans as equals, and it is never acceptable to violate that duty, even when doing so seems politically expedient.

This mode of moral argumentation came through in the Rogan controversy when Sanders and Rogan’s critics took pains to stress that accepting a Rogan endorsement was not merely unwise but immoral, and that these two judgments were distinct. Accepting the endorsement was not wrong because it hurt more people (by amplifying bigoted speech against vulnerable people) than it helped (by increasing the odds that a pro-trans Sanders administration comes to power); it was wrong because it is wrong to coddle and amplify bigots, full stop.

[…]

Within the field of moral philosophy, the main rival to deontology is a school of thought known as “consequentialism.” In this view, the morality of actions must be judged by their consequences: The more grievous the consequences (be it in terms of human happiness, or suffering, or human freedom, etc.), the more heinous the action.

While my initial reaction to the argument was amusement that Matthews was finally able to put that undergraduate philosophy class to use, his examples won me over.

Sanders supporters—and mere pragmatists, like his colleague Ezra Klein—shot back at these claim by pointing out that Hillary Clinton had boasted of her close relationship with Henry Kissinger, who many liberals think of us a war criminal,-and that Barack Obama had proudly touted the endorsement of Colin Powell, who helped launch a war in Iraq that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands. From a consequentialist standpoint, that’s far worse than alignment with a comedian who talks shit on a podcast.

But the fact of the matter is that liberals normally don’t use that kind of moral language in thinking about war and peace — and they certainly don’t use it in trying to weigh discrimination harms against harms in war and peace. Talking about the harms of discrimination in purely consequentialist terms comes across as odd, so trying to compare a consequentialist case against Powell to the case against Rogan — which to many liberals is fundamentally different, and based on inviolable rules about discrimination — scans as a category error.

The two sides are talking past one another because they’re having fundamentally different conversations and don’t realize it. (Come to think of it, I see that quite a bit here at OTB. The hosts are more conservative/centrist than the bulk of the commentariat but, more significantly, we tend to make consequentialist arguments about policy issues to an audience that sees them as moral ones. And, occasionally, vice-versa.)

Matthews sees a similar divide on economic issues.

A similar split sometimes arises in thinking about class and poverty. North Carolina faced a large-scale boycott, backed by the NCAA among other heavyweights, after passing a discriminatory “bathroom bill” targeting trans people in 2016.

But it faced no such boycott for deciding not to expand Medicaid as part of Obamacare, a decision that effectively deprived 600,000 people of health care; nor did any other state that failed to expand Medicaid face a similar boycott. There exists an activist infrastructure for boycotts in cases that involve discrimination. There is no such infrastructure when it comes to taxes and redistribution.

In some ways, this is more interesting even than the Rogan vs. Kissinger and Powell examples. In those cases, there are arguments about recency (something that happened today is simply more salient than something that happened in 2003, much less 1973) and balancing (Kissinger helped engineer the opening to China and Powell is a civil rights icon who was almost universally regarded as an American hero before the split over Iraq). But, surely, a symbolic but essentially unenforceable bathroom bill that even theoretically impacts a tiny number of people is less important than the healthcare of hundreds of thousands?

Liberals do not usually classify disagreements about welfare policy as disagreements about discrimination and bigotry, and thus do not tend to rule out people for statements about welfare in the way they will rule out people like Rogan as acceptable coalition members because of statements about black, trans, female, or gay people. Liberals have specific deontological rules about those forms of discrimination, and those rules don’t apply outside that sphere to questions like welfare policy.

But here’s the thing: those on the populist left do. Matthews provides examples of bitter, vitriolic condemnation of Hillary Clinton from prominent Sanders supporters on the grounds that her economic platforms are anti-poor bigotry.

Matthews takes no sides in this dispute, acknowledging that drawing the line is “complicated.” (Indeed, it’s why few of us are purely deontological or consequentialist.) He simply thinks it’s important to understand that the divide exists:

[I]t’s important, in this dispute and similar disputes that are sure to arise as 2020 proceeds, to recognize that these are not just disputes about the facts. They’re deep moral disagreements about which standards should apply, in which spheres of politics.

The argument isn’t so much that liberals are deontological and leftists pragmatists. Rather, it’s that they’re deontological and pragmatist over different issues.

While Matthews is focused, rightly, on the internal tensions exposed by the Democratic primaries, the same is going to be true in November. With the added irony that many social conservatives, who are doctrinaire deontologists on abortion, LGBTQ rights, and other issues are forced to chose between someone who is almost surely closer to their values on a personal front but who will be bad for them on a consequentialist policy front and a morally repugnant man who will give them what they want, particularly in terms of judicial appointments. All indications at this point are that they’ll do what they did last time and vote pragmatically.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Society, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. drj says:

    I suspect that Matthews’s analysis is seriously flawed.

    For instance, I’m very, very much opposed to maligning someone on the basis of race, gender, etc. – which is why I think that Sanders’s acceptance of Rogan’s endorsement is problematic, to say the least.

    But if I were convinced that without Rogan’s endorsement, Trump’s opponent would lose, I would still take it.

    So – for me at least – it’s more about degrees of consequentialism than consequentialism versus deontology.

    I strongly suspect, I’m not the only one.

    To use the trolley problem as an illustration, actively killing one person to save five is different (IMO) than actively killing one to save a thousand.

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    Very thought provoking. Thanks, James

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  3. Jay L Gischer says:

    I’d say there’s another principle in operation, though I don’t know what to call it. It’s a readiness to accept people as opposed to policies as flawed, but, on balance, having value (or perhaps not). It’s related to consequentialism, but doesn’t seem the same as consequentialism, at least to me.

    The left contains many who are not especially forgiving and operate their moral reasoning with strong emphasis on purity. I’m less enamored of it than many.

    At the same time, I am a fierce opponent of bathroom bills, but that is because I have strong personal stake in this game. It is also worth noting that bathroom bills, by and large, are not put forward by liberals. They are put forward by conservative politicians in a shameless effort to drive turnout through fears which have very little basis. I have little tolerance for this con game.

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  4. Teve says:

    I’m a liberal and I’ve said several times that I listen to that podcast with caveats. I think this analysis is wrong.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Teve: Wrong how?

    I find it interesting and plausible but it’s also relatively novel, so I’ve only thought about it long enough to write a post to start a conversation.

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  6. JohnMcC says:

    I have observed this sort of value sorting in voting behavior but in the realm of ‘3d party’ voters. I think the ‘deontological’ voters are found in large numbers in the Jill Stein, Ralph Nader columns.

    For me, that means they value their pure inner convictions above the coarse reality of those who despite their lack of purity are the most likely to actually enact liberal policy.

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  7. DrDaveT says:

    I think this analysis attempts to draw a sharp contrast between deontological and consequentialist reasoning that simply isn’t there. A big part of the basis for deontological stances is a recognition that tolerating racism or sexism or religious persecution entails unpleasant consequences down the road, necessarily. The point of disagreement is on whether the short-term benefits of compromise on this point outweigh the long-term harm. The deontological stance is just as focused on consequences, but over a longer horizon.

    Shorter Dave: “natural rights” are shorthand for conclusions about the long term consequences of not respecting those rights.

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT:

    The point of disagreement is on whether the short-term benefits of compromise on this point outweigh the long-term harm. The deontological stance is just as focused on consequences, but over a longer horizon.

    Yeah, I think that’s closer to the truth. I tried to fit myself into one camp or the other but it just doesn’t work.

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  9. gVOR08 says:

    I think Dylan Matthews is over analyzing has gone completely off into the ozone. First, it’s a tempest in a teapot, he is deriving political philosophy from trivia. Then Matthews initially says this controversy is driven by primary campaigning, but immediately discounts that to go off into philosophizing. And consequentialism or deontology may factor into a political philosophy, but it doesn’t dictate the day to day behavior of all of it’s adherents.

    There is an apparent underlying contradiction in teleology/consequentialism. Ultimately the morality of the consequences must be determined, quite likely on deontological grounds. So one can argue consequentialism is still based on moral rules. This causes confusion. (I think I could find a quote from Bertrand Russell to the effect the consequences are judged more on aesthetic grounds than on moral rules, but whatever.)

    Deontology says follow the rules regardless of consequences. Obviously almost no one actually does this in all cases. But after more than a century we got the rules changed to include don’t say obviously racist stuff. This is called political correctness. And we’d like that extended to other bigotry. The moral rule was desirable to support the consequence of reduced bigotry, and still is. We want to see that rule remain in force, as a moral rule. For consequential reasons. Confused yet? (Yes, political correctness can go too far, but I don’t think that’s relevant here.)

    So when we see Rogan condemned for violating the moral rules embedded in political correctness is this because activists see it as evil, or because they foresee bad consequences? Looking at it as a pragmatist, what difference does it make? It would be better if Rogan didn’t do it.

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  10. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    This is a great article. But, I like you need to think about it a little bit. I also need to read thr Matthews piece. I will chime in when I’ve thought a bit more.

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  11. MarkedMan says:

    We can divide people up in all kinds of ways but I think the split he is trying to get at has more to do with how people feel about the rule of law. On one extreme are those who feel that our very society functions only because of the rule of law and that we must accept certain unjust outcomes in order to preserve an advanced society. It is for this reason that we have pardons and jury nullification etc – to handle these exceptions. On the other extreme are the people who believe that an outcome not in line with what they consider just is reason enough to disregard the laws and, deus ex machina, reach in and “make it right”. (I align far more with the first camp than with the second.)

    This split does not fall along liberal/conservative or right/left lines. However, it increasingly falls along Party lines.

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  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    The compulsion of academics to try and shoehorn human behavior into simple binary categories just makes me sigh. Zero percent of human behavior involves a single motive. All motives are plural, which means all efforts to draw single lines dividing humans into X or Y will be closer to nonsense than to sense.

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  13. Kit says:

    The only people who think that action is more important than consequences are true believers following the word of God. And they only do so because they believe it’s their ticket to heaven. So much for deontology.

    I think ethics becomes just a bit clearer when split into the following:
    1) the individual in regards to himself: the keyword here is health (in both body and mind) and his philosophy is virtue ethics;

    2) the individual in regards to family and friends: the keyword here is love, and his heart follows itself, not a philosophy;

    3) the individual in regards to society and the world: the keyword here is duty, and his philosophy is constantly trying to balance rights and obligations and consequences;

    4) the individual as regards God: the keyword here is piety, and his philosophy is deontology.

    Getting it all right is happiness, but good luck with that. All too often one part of ethics crushes another. The Greeks gave us a word for those times when the goals of any of the above find themselves in strict opposition: tragedy.

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  14. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    First, it’s a tempest in a teapot, he is deriving political philosophy from trivia.

    My alternate hypothesis is that this is a pet theory Matthews has been thinking through and the specific incident gave him a hook for trotting it out.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The compulsion of academics to try and shoehorn human behavior into simple binary categories just makes me sigh.

    I’m not sure I love his framing, preferring instead the alternative I supplied at the end of the OP: it’s not that one side is purely rules-based and the other outcome-based so much as which issues each side puts into the other category. Bernie and his Bros care less about virtue-signaling on LGBTQ issues than do more traditional liberals, while the latter see economic justice in more pragmatic terms than the former. So, one side is always having a values discussion while the other is having an effects discussion–and neither side understands that’s happening.

    Again, I’m not absolutely sure Matthews is right. But it’s a plausible theory.

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  15. Gustopher says:

    A similar split sometimes arises in thinking about class and poverty. North Carolina faced a large-scale boycott, backed by the NCAA among other heavyweights, after passing a discriminatory “bathroom bill” targeting trans people in 2016.

    But it faced no such boycott for deciding not to expand Medicaid as part of Obamacare, a decision that effectively deprived 600,000 people of health care; nor did any other state that failed to expand Medicaid face a similar boycott.

    There’s a huge difference between going out of your way to hurt people, and simply not helping people. That’s a very different question than whether trans folks are valued more than the poor.

    I mean, I’m sure no one would give a sh.t about a program designed to actively hurt the homeless, but this isn’t an example of that.

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  16. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan:

    We can divide people up in all kinds of ways

    Deontologists would say that a dismemberment killing is objectively worse than a simple murder, but consequentialists would say they are about the same.

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  17. DrDaveT says:

    @Gustopher:

    Deontologists would say that a dismemberment killing is objectively worse than a simple murder, but consequentialists would say they are about the same.

    That depends on how sophisticated your consequentialist is. If the crime creates more horror, anxiety, and PTSD by virtue of being a dismemberment, a consequentialist could certainly consider those effects as part of the consequences.

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  18. DrDaveT says:

    @Gustopher:

    There’s a huge difference between going out of your way to hurt people, and simply not helping people.

    This. Well put.

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  19. charon says:

    @James Joyner:

    virtue-signaling

    This is a pejorative term that I find pretty offensive, and it assumes being smart enough to read someone else’s mind.

    Not everyone who shows concern about some issue is only doing it to impress others.

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  20. EddieInCA says:

    I don’t see it as liberal vs left as much as reality vs fantasy. Why is it so hard to input actual facts into the debates about policy?

    Bernie has plans that he can’t pay for without completely upending our entire system. That’s a fact. His policies, if enacted, would radically change the economic model of the country. That’s a fact. Right now, Bernie, and to a lesser extent Warren, cannot articulate how, exactly, they would pay for the myriad of policy proposals they hope to push into law. But rather than own it, and say “Yes. We will need to tax the hell out of the wealthy and the middle class, the results will be worth it to the country as a whole and here are reasons #1, #2 and #3.” But instead, they promise all these goodies, with no realistic plan of how to finance them. Then, when confronted with the reality of their positions, rather than respond with a reasoned and detailed explanation, Sanders responds with the strawman that you’re “spouting Republican talking points.” It maddening.

    I’m a liberal. Proudly so. But sometimes I want to slap the shite out of AOC and Elizabeth Warren for the stupid crap they spout. Other times, I want to slap the shite out of Joe Biden or Pete Buttegeig for the same reason. I don’t fall into either camp fully, and consider myself just this side of a leftist, but above all I’m a pragmatist. I want Trump gone.

    If certain Dems think that Bernie can win 270, they’re delusional. If certain Dems think Warren can win 270, they’re delusional. The country isn’t there. yet.

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  21. EddieInCA says:

    @charon:

    Not everyone who shows concern about some issue is only doing it to impress others.

    You’re correct. Not everyone. But too many people do. Way. Too. Many.

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  22. Kurtz says:

    @EddieInCA:

    What makes you so sure that many people virtue-signal? I’m open to your response, but I’m just not sure what criteria can be established to demonstrate such a claim.

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  23. Andy says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    The left contains many who are not especially forgiving and operate their moral reasoning with strong emphasis on purity. I’m less enamored of it than many.

    I think this hits a lot closer to the mark.

    I’d say it has more to do with a dogmatic fervor than a major difference in philosophical principles. After all, many people support, as a general principle, non-discrimination against ‘protected classes.’ The difference is in terms of degree in which”leftists” (to use Mathew’s verbiage) broker no compromise or heresy and their view is very binary.

    Or it could just be an even more simple matter of ordering priorities. Leftist and liberal Democrats are basically on the same page, they just differ in the relative priority of what is most the most important thing to deal with. We all have areas we prioritize for whatever reason.

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  24. Just nutha ignint says:

    @Gustopher: @DrDaveT: I fail to see the distinction. Not interested enough to start a thread war about it. Just noting that the opinion may not be universal.

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  25. EddieInCA says:

    @Kurtz:

    Kurtz says:
    Tuesday, January 28, 2020 at 14:50
    @EddieInCA:

    What makes you so sure that many people virtue-signal? I’m open to your response, but I’m just not sure what criteria can be established to demonstrate such a claim.

    I would posit that most social media posts are virtue signaling. I could be wrong.

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  26. Kylopod says:

    There are more divisions on the left than this analysis suggests. For one thing, what has come to be described as “identity politics” or “woke culture” is something that, based on what I’ve seen, the Sanders movement has steered clear of if not been openly hostile toward. Sanders himself has run afoul of it before (the #BernieSoBlack meme, his campaigning for a pro-life Dem, his comment seeming to suggest that voters uncomfortable with voting for a black candidate for the first time weren’t necessarily racist). Yet both these movements are heavily associated with the “far left” as opposed to the establishment center-left. Indeed, I’ve seen people lump the Bernie movement together with “SJWs” (Michael Reynolds did a while back), despite the conflicts that have arisen between the two.

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  27. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Kylopod:
    Someone over at the Bulwark writing on Bernie referred to him as left but not woke, then offered an example from one of the debates.

    …it’s why few of us are purely deontological or consequentialist

    True, the relative of one over the other is situational.

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  28. Gustopher says:

    @EddieInCA: A lot of social media seems to be hate-signaling rather than virtue-signaling.

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  29. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint: I am really a little excited about The prospect of a world where people have thread wars on active harm vs. failure to help.

    And it’s not just a simple trolley problem, where there’s a guy on one track and a switch, with active harm being deliberately flipping the switch to ensure someone is run over, and failing to help is watching someone get run over — there are costs involved in flipping that switch. (Costs for the legislature involve angering the base, and agreeing to implement part of a larger plan they disagree with)

    It’s like giving to the poor — you can help them, but at some cost to yourself, so how much are you obligated to help? (Apparently 10%, if tithing is anything to go by)

    And then we have the Hippocratic Oath, about “first do no harm…”, which has entered general society but no one knows what comes second other than specialists. The bathroom bills violate it, because they clearly do harm, while failing to expand Medicaid… well, it passes the first bit and almost no one remembers the rest.

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  30. Kurtz says:

    @EddieInCA:

    That may be true, or it may not be. I guess my question would be this: what constitutes signaling virtue as opposed to stating your position?

    To the down-voter of my post…care to say something? I didn’t even take a position. I gave a prompt to explain Cali Eddie’s position, because I am genuinely interested in his answer. I don’t care if I get downvotes, but a legitimate question ought never be worth a thumbs-down.

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  31. Andy says:

    @Kurtz:

    I like the Cambridge Dictionary definition:

    “Virtue signalling is the popular modern habit of indicating that one has virtue merely by expressing disgust or favour for certain political ideas or cultural happenings.”

    I agree with Eddie that this constitutes the bulk of social media – at least in my experience.

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  32. EddieInCA says:

    @Kurtz:

    Stating a position: “I don’t like racists.”
    Virtue Signaling: “I don’t like racists. I have black friends”.

    Stating a position: “I can’t vote for that candidate. He’s against a woman’s right to choose”.
    Virtue Signaling: “I can’t vote for the candidate. I’ve been pro-choice my whole life, and would never ever find it acceptable to vote for someone anti-choice.”

    Virtue signaling always adds a layer of (attempted) moral superiority to the debate.

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  33. Kylopod says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Stating a position: “I don’t like racists.”
    Virtue Signaling: “I don’t like racists. I have black friends”.

    I think most virtue signalers–at least in the present day–are more than a few steps ahead of the above example. “I have black friends” is the kind of thing you associate with clueless bigots. Indeed, people who virtue signal are often given to attacking those they perceive as invoking a “black best friend”-style argument to escape charges of racism.

    For example, take the incident where Roger Ebert, commenting on the decision to publish Huckleberry Finn with the word “slave” substituted for the N-word, tweeted, “I’d rather be called a n***** than a slave” (I’m using asterisks, but he printed the word out in full). He later apologized for the tweet–but one element of the controversy I found interesting was that there were people suggesting the reason Ebert felt he had the license to use the N-word or to make a racially tone-deaf remark was because his wife is black–despite the fact that there’s no evidence he ever held that sort of paternalistic attitude, and he certainly never expressed it. (In point of fact, in his public writings he rarely talked about his wife or anything else in his personal life.) But it’s a reflection of the fact that the online mob is always sniffing around the corner for any hint of that kind of mindset.

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  34. Gustopher says:

    @EddieInCA: I think it is far, far more subtle than that, and the layer of moral superiority is often unstated — it’s more a matter of why they felt the need to say it.

    But, I also think that a lot of the complaints about virtue signaling are from people who just want their opponents to shut up. There’s a thick current of “you don’t really believe this, you’re just saying it to be popular.”

    Think about it — when was the last time you heard someone complain about virtue signaling regarding something they agree with.

    “Pedophiles shouldn’t be running day care centers, we need background checks” will never get that complaint, while “crazy people shouldn’t be buying guns, we need background checks” will.

    There’s also a bit of “get off my lawn” in the complaint.

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  35. Gustopher says:

    I think a large part of the divide is just generational.

    Older people have had to compromise a million times to get anything done. Younger folks are often more strident, and have a narrower focus. “Everything would be better if we just …” is more often a young person’s thought, and they will defend that fiercely.

    It’s not a surprise to me that the youngsters are more fond of Bernie. It’s also not a surprise to me that the youngsters are more vigilant about trans rights.

    I do enjoy that Bernie has stepped into a conflict on trans rights.

    And it shows a lack of pragmatism in his staff — they are so committed to Bernie that they can’t see him pissing off other people, or that those people matter. Good pragmatic staff would have head this off before it was a big problem — Bernie would have then said “while we disagree on some things, and he’s said some hurtful things in various degrees of seriousness, we do agree that America needs bold change. I’m honored to accept the endorsement of Joe Rogan…”

    The lesson is, as always, never care.

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  36. Gustopher says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    it’s why few of us are purely deontological or consequentialist

    Most of us are purely deontilogical on a few issues that are a part of our identity. Actually, I don’t think it gets up to deontological — as there’s no logic involved. Uncompromising, and unwilling to listen.

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  37. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    After all, many people support, as a general principle, non-discrimination against ‘protected classes.’

    I agree with this. But there are also a lot of people who support discrimination against protected classes but who want to substitute something else for the word “discrimination” (“religious freedom”, “traditional values”, “not having something shoved in my face”).

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  38. MarkedMan says:

    I think a large part of the left versus right antagonism revolves around the human inability to accept criticism. I don’t mean to agree that the specific criticism is right, but rather to accept that some positions engender criticism. I try to accept this type of criticism uncomplainingly, but it is hard. For instance, sometimes in this commentariat I say something that offends people and on reflection I realize it was justified and I apologize. But sometimes on reflection I decide I was in the right, but the criticism is coming from a real place*, so I accept that the people making it have every right to do so. I have decided (successfully) that when that happens I won’t think less of them or get pissed off or have a hissy fit, or even try to process whether they are “wrong”, I’ll just accept that we will disagree. My observation is that it is very hard for many people to do this, but not for me. Whether that is because I am old, decrepit and worn down or incredibly insightful will be left as an exercise for the reader.

    *This of course doesn’t apply to wankers spouting Trumpist nonsense. There are, after all, limits to everything.

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  39. EddieInCA says:

    @MarkedMan:

    But sometimes on reflection I decide I was in the right, but the criticism is coming from a real place*, so I accept that the people making it have every right to do so. I have decided (successfully) that when that happens I won’t think less of them or get pissed off or have a hissy fit, or even try to process whether they are “wrong”, I’ll just accept that we will disagree. My observation is that it is very hard for many people to do this, but not for me. Whether that is because I am old, decrepit and worn down or incredibly insightful will be left as an exercise for the reader.

    This. I’ll be 60 this year, and I have no need to get validation from people agreeing with me. I have some opinions that are majority opinions, and some that are minority opinions. But they’re mine, reached via figuring stuff out via the few brain cells I still possess. I don’t expect everyone to agree with all of my positions. Hell, that would be weird. But I also don’t expect everyone to attempt to make me reach their conclusions and beliefs. That would also be weird. That’s one of my problems with the far right, and more recently, the the far left. It seems it’s not enough to live and let live. You have to agree with me 100% or I will attempt to destroy you. That sucks.

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  40. gVOR08 says:

    @Gustopher: Also, too, several corporations were eager to virtue signal by boycottng over the bathroom bill. I think it would have been hard to get them to boycott over Medicaid expansion.

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  41. Joe says:

    Hey EddieInCA and Gustopher: Is OTB social media for purposes of virtue signaling? (Or hate signaling?)

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  42. Joe says:

    I think there is another element that strongly dictates where people fall between deontological and consequentialist behavior: how much control they feel they can exert. This is a corollary of the Mark Twain (approximate) quote – be virtuous is good, forcing other people to be virtuous is better, and easier. If people think they can control some behavior at little cost to themselves and at great pressure to others, they are far more likely to get on that than controlling their own behavior at some significant perceived cost to themselves.

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  43. EddieinCA says:

    @Joe:

    Is OTB social media for purposes of virtue signaling? (Or hate signaling?)

    Definitely happens here occasionally, but not all that often. The regulars here are pretty well known so it’s not really necessary. But I’m smarter than most of them, so…. /snark

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  44. Stormy Dragon says:

    I’d argue most people aren’t deontologists or consequentialists; their morality is based on virtue ethics. They believe some people are virtuous and other people are non-virtuous. Actions taken by virtuous people are good, and actions taken by non-virtuous people are evil, even if they’re the same actions.

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  45. Andy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    They believe some people are virtuous and other people are non-virtuous. Actions taken by virtuous people are good, and actions taken by non-virtuous people are evil, even if they’re the same actions.

    That’s a good way of putting it. It’s particularly true of politicians and their ardent supporters.

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  46. Kathy says:

    @Joe:

    Speaking for myself, I don’t hate signal when I wax derogatory on Dennison. I really hate the guy.

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  47. Jax says:

    @Kathy: Same. I’ve hated Trump since before Fox News existed. 😉

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  48. Gustopher says:

    @Joe: I’d say there’s more performative smugness than virtue signaling 😉 . It’s a distinction about the audience — others or your own amusement.

    But mostly people want to engage one another, rather than boldly state their positions.

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  49. Kathy says:

    @Jax:

    Prior to the 2016 campaign start on 2015, I merely despised him.

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  50. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy: I lived in NYC in 1988, and I wanted someone to beat him to death. Just for the headlines. He seemed to live for the headlines, so it seemed fitting.

    “NOTRUMP! Trump clubbed to death under bridge for diamonds. His heart gave out. Police suspect ’some of that other suit,’ vow to double and redouble their efforts”

    I was more harsh in my youth. Also, I was more willing to call That Other Suit a That Other Suit.

    ——
    I wish I had never met the Angry Russian Buddhist I worked with. I was heading down the mindfulness path, and experiencing him made me steer away for a decade. I’d be a better person if I never met him. Feels like a decade of self-improvement lost, and good gravy, I needed to improve my self.

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  51. Kurtz says:

    @Andy:
    @EddieInCA:
    @James Joyner:

    So I went down this damn rabbit hole. Instead of exploring a rich topic–deontology and consequentialism in American politics–I ended up thinking about virtue signalling.

    You see, when I first started hearing the phrase, it rubbed me the wrong way. But it didn’t really bother me much. I heard Sam Harris and some of his guests use it occasionally.

    Then three smart people, whose minds and ideas I respect, used it today in this thread. So I decided to scratch an itch. Well, I may need to see a doctor, because I now have exposed bone.

    This is longer than I wanted it to be. I spent more time on it than I wanted to. But I did this because I respectfully ask you three to think before you use “virtue signalling.”

    I decided to go straight to the source on virtue signaling–the Bartholomew piece from 2015 that coined the phrase. I recommend reading it.

    I should mention something here. I started st the wiki. I knew a little about the role of signalling in evolutionary biology already. But I was kind of surprised that the wiki included a short section on it. I purposefully avoided reading anything other than the original piece, because I wanted to give it a fair reading.

    The Bartholomew piece is a complete mess. He uses several examples, here are two:

    “I hate 4x4s” as signaling virtuous environmentalism.

    “I hate the Daily Mail” as signaling virtuous support of welfare.

    Notice something about both of these examples. Neither is sufficient to support the claim that the statement is anything more than a preference for any number of potential reasons. It zeroes in on one interpretation of the statement rather than other equally plausible explanations: I hate 4x4s because they block my view as I back out of my parking space; I hate the Daily Mail because it is a sensationalist rag. Rather it imputes a motive that simply isn’t there in the plain statement.

    The second example in the piece:

    Mishal Husain was particularly aggressive to Nigel Farage on the Today programme recently, interrupting him mid-sentence, insinuating that he is racist or that, even if he isn’t, his membership is. She would doubtless like to believe that she was being tough but fair. But another force within her was stronger. Mishal was ‘virtue signaling’ indirectly — indicating that she has the right, approved, liberal media-elite opinions, one of which is despising Ukip and thus, most importantly, advertising that she is not racist. When she later goes to a dinner party attended by other members of the media elite, she will be welcomed and approved for having displayed the approved, virtuous views.

    This is a bizarre example–Bartholomew is accusing the journalist of virtue signaling when she points out nativist elements of Ukip. Okay, maybe. But again, there isn’t any kind of evidence for this claim–it’s an assumption based on air. But this time, he at least gives a potential reason for the virtue signaling. Specifically, seeking the approval of the media elite.

    But there are, uh, a couple problems with this example. Let’s start at the end.

    We have a journalist, writing in The Spectator, who has also written for the Financial Times, the Daily Mail, The Telegraph, decrying the “media elite” approving membership via appropriate views while writing in elite publications. This is absurd. It’s almost like a wealthy New York developer, reared in an affluent family, decrying elites when addressing the masses.

    (as an aside, should I be considered virtue signalling intelligence by following the esoteric grammar rules of proper italization of “the” in the titles of publication? Is this showing arrogant cognitive superiority in an informal setting?)

    More importantly, go back and look at Bartholomew’s example again. He is accusing Mishal Husain of virtue signaling by “insinuating” that Farage himself, or at least elements of his movement, are racist. Notice that he doesn’t quote her. Nor does he identify any other potential reason for her “aggressive” questioning.

    Husain’s parents immigrated to the UK from India after also living in Pakistan. Meaning, Husain is a person who would have a legitimate concern about nativism embedded within Farage’s party and movement. It is not even arguable which motive for her line of questioning is more plausible.

    One of the occasions when expressions of hate are not used is when people say they are passionate believers in the NHS. Note the use of the word ‘belief’. This is to shift the issue away from evidence about which healthcare system results in the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people. The speaker does not want to get into facts or evidence. He or she wishes to demonstrate kindness — the desire that all people, notably the poor, should have access to ‘the best’ healthcare. The virtue lies in the wish. But hatred waits in reserve even with the NHS. ‘The Tories want to privatise the NHS!’ you assert angrily. Gosh, you must be virtuous to be so cross!

    Notice the bolded parts. This irony is particularly galling, because the accusation of virtue signaling is made without evidence. More to the point, it is an assumption about the intent of the speaker that relies, not on evidence, but on an interpretation selected by the reader to justify dismissal of the expression as insincere.

    This is demonstrated by his criticism of Husain. Rather than looking at the most obvious intent for her–a child of immigrants, a brown person, showing alarm about a nativist movement in her birth country–he concocts some other intent (establishment of moral superiority and acceptance of the media elite.)

    Bartholomew gives other examples, including an advocate for an increase in the minimum wage. He assumes that advocating an increase is really just a way to show one cares about the poor. He adds that minimum wage increases dampens employment of low-skilled workers, thus making the signal of virtue misguided and worthy of derisive dismissal.

    Not only does it impute an insincere motive, it assumes that the speaker is ignorant of economics, and avoids engaging the fact that there are economists who disagree with what Bartholomew considers ironclad, objective truth.

    Comedians make use of virtue signaling of the vituperative kind. With the right audience they can get laughs scorning the usual suspects: Ukip, the Daily Mail, Eton, bankers and the rest. The audience enjoys the caricaturing of all of these, sneering at them and, in the process, joining together as a congregation of the righteously contemptuous. What a delight to display your virtue, feel confirmed in your views, enjoy a sense of community, let off some anger and have a laugh all at the same time! It is so easy, too!

    Uh-oh! Who does this sound like? Given that the phrase was coined a few months before Trump announced his candidacy, it would be improper to fault him for not including Trump’s behavior at rallies as a textbook case of virtue signaling.

    The point of all this:

    Why use it at all? It doesn’t add to a fruitful discussion. It doesn’t engage the opposing argument. It actually does the opposite–it is an attempt to paint the opposing viewpoint as not an argument at all without being am argument itself.

    Strangely, in this way, it is much like the outcry over Sanders going on Rogan and accepting an endorsement. Rather than teasing out intent, it just reinforces previously held assumptions.

    I get the arguments for deontology. In fact, in many ways, I am more persuaded by it than consequentialist approaches. But applied inappropriately, deontology doesn’t foster debate–it renders discussions moot.

    Accusations of virtue signalling are no different. Think before you throw it around, because it was never coined to be used in good faith.

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  52. Kurtz says:

    @EddieInCA:

    I excised my specific criticism of your examples for length and clarity. Because of that, I also cut the part about Twitter.

    Social media lends itself to shallowness, and it’s worth remembering that absent the space for explanation, everything looks like silly posturing.

    Respectfully, your examples seem contrived. As pointed out above, the first one is typically associated with bigots. As in, I have black friends is quite often preceded by, “I’m not racist” and followed by “but [insert racist comment.]”

    The second one is confusing as well, as the plain meaning of, “I’ve been pro-choice my whole life, and would never ever find it acceptable to vote for someone anti-choice” is an expression of salience for the speaker.

    The second one is a little like Charon’s initial complaint that started this conversation. An accusation of virtue signalling is certainly pejorative. But I think it requires Constanza-level squinting to see it as offensive.

    It’s better to explain your reasoning and if that doesn’t work, accept that the accuser is actinf in bad faith and move on.

    To see your second example as an expression of moral superiority, you have to work to find the least charitable interpretation of the statement.

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  53. Gustopher says:

    @Kurtz:

    As pointed out above, the first one is typically associated with bigots. As in, I have black friends is quite often preceded by, “I’m not racist” and followed by “but [insert racist comment.]”

    I kind of enjoy subverting that expectation.

    “I’m not a racist but the capybara is the world’s largest rodent.” — people then try to figure out why I think a random animal fact is racist.

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  54. Gustopher says:

    @Kurtz: I never knew where the term “virtue signaling” came from. I assumed it came from somewhere awful, and I was right…

    The first two paragraphs.

    Go to a branch of Whole Foods, the American-owned grocery shop, and you will see huge posters advertising Whole Foods, of course, but — more precisely — advertising how virtuous Whole Foods is. A big sign in the window shows a mother with a little child on her shoulders (aaaah!) and declares: ‘values matter.’

    The poster goes on to assert: ‘We are part of a growing consciousness that is bigger than food — one that champions what’s good.’ This a particularly blatant example of the increasingly common phenomenon of what might be called ‘virtue signalling’ — indicating that you are kind, decent and virtuous.

    Ponder this for a moment. The first, most definitive use of “virtue signaling” is to decry a sign that proclaims that food is made with some vague concern for process and consequences.

    The alternative is to not care at all about who makes the products you use, or whether you are contributing to their exploitation. (Not saying that Whole Foods is awesome, but they do know they at least have to pretend to not be awful)

    I’m not sure what to call that level of moral bankruptcy.

    Taken to its logical conclusion, this is a philosophy that leads one to be very disappointed that post-WW2 German soap just isn’t as good as that soap they made during the war, without being at all concerned with the number of Jews used for each bar. And, if you object to a corporate platitude about producing products with “values”, I have no idea where or how you can draw the line.

    It’s a belief that extols willful ignorance or apathy.

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  55. al Ameda says:

    @EddieInCA:

    If certain Dems think that Bernie can win 270, they’re delusional. If certain Dems think Warren can win 270, they’re delusional. The country isn’t there. yet.

    I’m there, I’m at that point. I believe that what many Americans really want in 2020 is a return to ‘normal’ dysfunction, that is, a move away from the crude dystopian cult of toxic personality that Trump has given us.

    I do not believe that people are looking for Single Payer Healthcare For All, for Free College For All, Paid Off Student Loans For All, or a Wealth Tax. And I definitely do not believe that Democrats as currently constituted can effectively explain to the voters how all of this can be done without significant tax increases to all taxpayers. Or, knowing how much it will cost, convince middle class voters that only the Top 1% will have to be taxed to pay for this. It’s fantasyland.

    Healthcare? How many times do Democrats want to die on ‘Healthcare Hill’?

    In 1993 Hillary Care led to big Republican gains in the ’94 midterms. In 2010 single party passage of ACA ‘ObamaCare’ led to big Republican gains in the midterms. Democrats should be thinking of legislation that improves ACA/Obamacare – much more than that is a suicide mission. Warren was hammered after she tried to explain her Medicare For All plan. As smart as she is, she was unprepared for beat down on this. Bernie is more evasive on this because he knows it’s a red meat, blood on the water topic.

    I’ll vote for the Democratic candidate in November but right now I’m more comfortable with a guy like Bloomberg or Amy Klobuchar than I am with Liz or Bernie. Also, I continue to believe that Biden has been ‘Hillarized’ on this Ukraine stuff, hope I’m wrong but Joe doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence on htis one.

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  56. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Michael Reynolds: In researching my current WIP (set in the years leading up to WW1), it’s astonishing how many leaders of major European nations engaged in self-defeating behavior. I think much of it was their inability to be honest about their own mixed motives.

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  57. Kurtz says:

    @Gustopher:

    I pondered a little too much of that guy’s positions last night. As someone who asks for second and third helpings of punishment on a daily basis, I read a little more Bartholomew after I posted.

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  58. Kylopod says:

    @EddieInCA: @al Ameda: It may be a bit OT, but actually I think it relates to the thread in unexpected ways. I’m no Bernie Bro. Actually I’m extremely nervous at the thought of nominating any of the late-70s candidates. And probably my biggest issue with him in terms of electoral strength isn’t any of his specific policy proposals (most of which poll quite well) but the simple fact that he self-identifies as “socialist.” I don’t think it’s an accurate label, and I think he’d be in a better position if he advocated the same policies but called himself a social democrat or FDR liberal or if all else fails simply a “progressive.” Maybe a couple of generations from now this sort of self-labeling won’t matter, but it will as long as a sufficient bulk of the electorate is old enough to remember the Cold War.

    Yet I am not as spooked at the thought of him winning the nomination as some other mainstream Dems are. I think a lot of political observers have this outmoded idea of an elusive “middle” that candidates must appeal to in order to win, and the picture of what this middle looks like is shaped heavily by the mainstream media, in which they project many of their own traits (college-educated, secular, culturally liberal) on the populace at large. In fact the opposite combo—economically populist and culturally conservative—is far more common. I think it’s something people missed about Trump when he first ran. They expected him to lose in part because he was an “extremist” while Hillary was better positioned to capture that elusive middle. In point of fact, she did draw in some college-educated Republican-leaning voters who were horrified by Trump. The suburban exodus from the GOP since Trump’s rise is very real, and it’s something a candidate like Bernie has the potential to endanger.

    But the simple fact is that Trump was far more successful at attracting voters from outside his party’s regular coalition. I’ve mentioned the stat before: According to CNN’s exit polls, of voters who wanted the next president to “be more liberal” than Obama, 23% voted for Trump. In Michigan it was 41%. From listening to Trump voters over the past several years, I’ve been struck by how many totally don’t fall into the stereotypical image of a conventional American voter. I’ve encountered people who hate Bush, voted for Obama twice, possibly even John Kerry, only to turn around and vote for Trump, sometimes enthusiastically. (And I’ve noticed that a lot of those sorts of people also really like Bernie Sanders.) Let’s not cut corners: it’s a relatively small slice of the population. But even a few percentage points has the power to totally upend an election.

    I don’t especially agree with most of the Bernie/Trump comparisons, but one thing I do think he has in common with Trump is that he possesses some of that cross-political appeal, and I believe it is more genuine than it was with Trump, who simply told people what he thought they wanted to hear, enabling him to adopt positions (universal health care, protecting the safety net, anti-interventionist, pro-LGBT) he never had any real commitment to. I think Bernie has the potential to be a more authentic representation of what those voters were looking for.

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  59. Kurtz says:

    I’m surpised no ome has mentioned that there is a similar split on the Right that comes down to deontology vs. consequentialism. American Libertarianism is exclusively deontological.

    But I think the divide gets hidden, because the Libertarian is likely to overlook social issues because of the primacy of economic rights. I think they also see social change as inevitable–eventually government control beces inevitable.

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  60. DrDaveT says:

    @Kurtz:

    Accusations of virtue signalling are no different. Think before you throw it around, because it was never coined to be used in good faith.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    I have concluded that accusations of virtue signalling are just a special case of the postmodernist tactic of dismissing a statement or claim or argument on grounds other than its truth or evidence or soundness. The clear implication is that, because I can explain away why you would want to say such a thing, I don’t need to engage with its content. It is simultaneously ad hominem and deflection, and thus (IMHO) never legitimate.

    Do some people virtue signal about things they don’t really care about? Of course. Does that in any way undermine any actual evidence or arguments in favor of those things? No.

    (And I must say that I am perplexed that anyone would think that a large fraction of anonymous statements are virtue signalling. What’s the point of signalling if nobody knows who to give the credit to? Trolling, yes, but not virtue signalling…)

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  61. DrDaveT says:

    @Kurtz:

    American Libertarianism is exclusively deontological.

    I have tried (unsuccessfully) in the past to argue here that American Libertarianism is internally inconsistent. Your comment gives me a better way to frame my argument.

    I would say that American Libertarianism starts deontological, but fairly quickly its adherents notice that unacceptable consequences follow from those axioms. They start trying to tweak the axioms, or bound them, or make them conditional — but they never go back and try to analyze what their more deeply-held principles are that caused them to judge the consequences of the original axioms to be unacceptable.

    They want to be both Libertarian and consequentialist. When that doesn’t work, they are willing to give up being Libertarian, but not willing to give up calling their position Libertarian, and not willing to investigate what kind of government would best give them the consequences they really value (including maximizing liberty).

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  62. gVOR08 says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: The witless descent of the European powers into WWI never made much sense to me. It made more sense after watching the EU’s witless beggar-thy-neighbor response to the Great Recession.

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  63. Kurtz says:

    I think it’s worth noting that the Left’s cultural tactics can be traced to a problem in postmodernism, particularly Foucault.

    The thing is, one need not accept a postmodernist’s position of no human nature to acknowledge that social institutions and disciplinary techniques still have an effect on individuals. They are still forms of social control.

    The issue with the academic Left is that Foucault, who has an enormous amount of influence in the social sciences, recognizing modern application of subtle exercising power is descriptive. Resisting those modern forms of power is much different from resisting power concentrated in the State.

    Given that he never really found a practical roadmap for effective resistance, the modern social Left ends up alienating people who do not understand power the same way.

    The lack of a practical form of resistance to power embedded in language and institutions results in wild and absurd forms of resistance that are ultimately counterproductive.

    “Micro-aggressions” and cultural appropriation are the perfect examples to illustrate the missing ingredients in Foucault’s work. The latter has some merit, given the economic exploitation of margianlized cultures. The former results in behavior that appears over-sensitive to most people.

    You end up with a black girl verbally and physically assaulting a white girl with dreadlocks, because to the aggrieved, it is a micro-aggression resultant from the selective exploitation of an Other by a dominant class.

    The thing is to reject Foucault is to throw out the valuable insights into modern modes of power that are quite real.

    This is why I consider myself a Libertarian, but from the Left. American Libertarianism focuses on the State–in some ways legitimately–but ignores the coercion embedded in socioeconomic structures.

    Unfortunately resistance may be futile.

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  64. gVOR08 says:

    Martin Longman responded to Dylan Matthews with a post titled There’s No Philosophy in Politics. As a philosophy major, Longman is skeptical of grafting philosophical systems onto political movements. “If I can’t explain something to some Joe at the end of the bar within ten minutes, I think it’s basically useless as a political tool.” The piece is paywalled, so I’ll take the liberty of quoting at some length.

    That doesn’t mean that I hold it against Dylan Matthews that he made the effort, but I suspect few people have enough prurient interest to risk witnessing that kind of wankfest.
    The main problem here really is that it’s making something rather simple several orders of magnitude too complicated.

    When I worked at ACORN with inner city black organizers, I didn’t hear the same kinds of conversations that I heard growing up with faculty kids in Princeton, New Jersey. The main distinction could be summed up as the difference between pragmatism and idealism. ACORN looked to leverage a limited amount of power to achieve modest, incremental results. Ivy Leaguers looked to examine root causes and find systemic solutions.

    Supporters of Bernie Sanders don’t necessarily care that he’s accepted the endorsement of Joe Rogan. But this is not primarily because they’re more focused on the greater good of winning an election than the hurt feelings of the people Rogan regularly insults. It’s because they don’t have direct experience with being on the receiving end of that kind of vitriol and abuse. In this case, they’re being practical while their critics are being idealistic. That’s a reversal from the general pattern of Sanders’ support. But the constant is that Sanders’ supporters are insulated from the consequences of their actions.

    So, I suppose, on the whole, the typical Sanders supporter is more of a consequentialist than a deontologicalist. But the distinction is still highly situational and generally not rooted in moral philosophy.

    Longman boils his argument down to how willing you are to break eggs to make omelets. Bernie Bros are quite happy to break eggs, especially someone else’s eggs. More marginalized people need to be more careful.

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  65. charon says:

    @Kurtz:

    Thanks. Very informative.

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  66. Kit says:

    @Kurtz:

    American Libertarianism is exclusively deontological.

    I think this is one of the thread’s sharpest comments. But I’m not sure that it is correct. If deontology means that an action is right or wrong regardless of its consequences, then I’d insure Libertarianism stating:

    1) an action can be judged good or bad depending on how it fosters a state of liberty (and brings us closer to the end point);

    2) a free action is good (or perhaps beyond good and bad).

    Those two conditions might be in tension.

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  67. Kurtz says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I’m curious why you would get so much pushback on this board in particular.

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  68. Kurtz says:

    @Kit:

    Thanks. And that is a tricky flaw you have identified. Please pardon me if it seems garbled. I’m at work, so I’m not sure if it’s going to be as incisive as I would like. I think I have an answer:

    The state of the political system requires consequential analysis of incremental policy changes. However, the end goal is the true reflection of the deontological ideal of liberty as the only true moral.

    An evaluation of an action need not look at consequences, because the only relevant lens is whether it is an on its face breach of liberty. In this sense, your approach is an infinte regress.

    From the Right Libertarian perspective, consequential analysis is superfluous, the ethic includes that no agent can intervene on another’s liberty, because the action can be judged without analysis of results.

    More to the point, your argument about outcome analysis isn’t reflective of a deontological approach.

    Of course, your objection is one of the reasons that Dave T. and I see at as inconsistent. It’s also utopian…but different discussion.

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  69. Monala says:

    @Kurtz: to add to your excellent comment, notice Bartholomew’s subtitle:

    The awful rise of ‘virtue signalling’
    Want to be virtuous? Saying the right things violently on Twitter is much easier than real kindness

    While that final sentence is theoretically true, two issues: 1) apart from threats and derogatory insults, I fail to see how passionate defense of anything can be called “violent.” 2) How does he know whether or not the people he’s accusing of “virtual signaling” are practicing kindness or living out their values in real life? While slacktivism is a real phenomenon, many of the most passionate voices on Twitter (those he’d accuse of “virtue signalling”) are also activists in real life.

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  70. Kit says:

    @Kurtz:

    Please pardon me if it seems garbled

    That’s what I get for writing on the tram after a long day in the office—I swear it read fine just before I posted it. I think Russian hackers might have, ah, hacked it. Or something. In any case, thanks for giving it the best possible interpretation! I think we are on the same page.

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  71. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    However, the end goal is the true reflection of the deontological ideal of liberty as the only true moral.

    Doesn’t that fact that it has an end goal (as opposed to it being based on an absolute or a truism) make it consequential rather than deontological?

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  72. Kurtz says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I garbled what I meant. My post was clumsy. I should have waited…

    The only criterion for a deontological argument is that a given proposition is a priori–consequences be damned.

    A deontological justification for American Libertarianism would be (as Dr. Dave pointed out earlier) humans have natural rights and that any violation of one of those rights is immoral.

    A consequentialist argument for American Libertarianism would be: free markets produce a competitive environment that drives the cost of production down. Lower production costs provide more goods and services to more people, increasing living standards.

    When arguing against a particular government intervention in the free market, say institution of a minimum wage, the arguments end up quite different:

    The argument from a deontologist would be:

    It is the right of the owner of a company to compensate labor as he sees fit, any edict of government that establishes a floor in compensation is a violation of the rights of the owner. This is immoral.

    A consequentialist could choose a number of arguments. One could be:

    Institution of a compensation floor would result in high enough unemployment such that more people would suffer from deprivation. So it is immoral because it increases total suffering.

    The point I was trying to make was that in a political environment where only incremental change can occur, a deontologist can support an incremental change while using apparently consequentialist logic–because the basis of moral evaluation is still not consequentialist.

    What matters is how they arrive at the underlying moral judgement, not how they justify a specific policy.

    Take for example, a reduction of everyone’s income tax to 10%.

    If a deontologist were to argue that a reduction of taxes would result in more people seeing the costs of taxation, allowing Libertarians to successfully argue for future tax reductions until it reaches zero, it doesn’t make him a consequentialist.

    The moral claim–all taxation is a violation of the property rights of an individual, so taxation is immoral–remains unchanged. Indeed, if a deontologist Libertarian was prohibited from supporting a tax decrease solely because taxation is theft, Ayn Rand would have spent her days yelling at clouds. (okay bad example)

    I surmise the rise of American Libertarianism (primarily deontological even when sold publicly as via consequentialist logic) is largely because consequentialist justifications for deregulation and lower taxes has produced little for the masses.

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  73. gVOR08 says:

    @Kurtz: I tend to agree that in theory libertarianism is deontological in that it all supposedly flows from, “Thou shalt maximize individual freedom”. In practice I find it confusing, contradictory, and in the apt British phrase, airy fairy. I’m curious enough to want to read a bit about libertarianism. But I don’t know what. I’ve read that Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia is the foundational book, but frankly it sounds like a real slog and IIRC Nozick at least partially repudiated it. Is it the book to read? Is there something else anyone would recommend as a convincing introduction to libertarianism?

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  74. Kurtz says:

    @gVOR08:

    This is tricky. How far back do you want to start? This is going to sound lazy, but I recommend going to the wiki It gives a good overview–the key is looking at the citations.

    To me, that’s the best part of wiki–the overviews are great, but the citations give you an efficient way to find the entry points on a large topic. It also, incidently, will take you places you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

    Nozick is a slog. I’ve read a little of bit of Anarchy, State, and Utopia. There is are reasons it doesn’t get mentioned so much on the Libertarian Right–one of the them is that he doesn’t outright reject the State.

    After picking through the wiki. Go here, here, and here.

    Also, evonomics has a bunch of interesting stuff.

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  75. gVOR08 says:

    @Kurtz: I’ve read the WIKI, but may again. And thank you for the links.

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  76. Kurtz says:

    The main thing to pull from the wiki is the sources cited. The Rothbard link has an interesting framing–thinking of the libertarians in terms of socialists and economists, who for a time were allied against the Old Right.

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  77. Kurtz says:

    @Kurtz:
    Also, I’m at an event a ladyfriend this evening. I have more to say on the matter. If you fimd anything cool or have thoughts @ me in an oprn thread.

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