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Saturday, November 23, 2019

What should conservatives do after Chick-Fil-A?

Breitbart was wrong: politics is not downstream from culture. It is downstream from science and philosophy

I n case you missed it, last week chicken sandwich franchise giant Chick-Fil-A figured out that they can siphon off the few surviving Popeye's patrons by announcing that they too can kill off their customer base, in this case by throwing the Salvation Army under the bus instead of getting their customers to stab each other to death.

Conservative Christians are asking what they should do now. One thing they can do is beef up their alliances. I'm neither a conservative nor a Christian, but I know scientists and how they think, and I have some suggestions that could bring them over to your side.

1. Breitbart was wrong

Andrew Breitbart famously claimed that politics is downstream from culture. It is not. Politics is downstream from philosophy and, to a lesser degree, from science. Science backs up much of what conservatives believe, and it's under siege. It needs support from conservatives, but many are turning against it, partly because their opponents are abusing it, and partly because of the declining standards at our universities. But science is a process, not a set of beliefs. So is philosophy.

Chick-fil-a cows  recommending fish
Les madames cows are now recommending ze fish

If politics were downstream from culture, political movies would have started appearing decades before the culture wars started. Instead, it was Adorno, Foucault, Marcuse, Deleuze, and the rest of those bums that everybody thought were too nutty to be worth arguing with. All the ideas that conservatives are struggling against came out of that philosophy, not from the popular culture.

Cultural works can certainly influence our thinking, but for the most part we interpret them in terms of our pre-existing ideologies. We don't get our ideological convictions from Thelma and Louise or Red Dawn, any more than we get our religious values from The Da Vinci Code. Our politics derive from philosophy, whether original or second-hand, and it is in the philosophical realm where ideologies, good and bad, are first hammered into shape.

What is needed is to bring integrity and creativity back into the public discourse. Science and philosophy would benefit enormously by engaging with conservatives, who value integrity. But if their argument is that we're godless liberals and evolution is a crock, few scientists will listen.

2. Better arguments

Why, you might ask, should conservatives make better arguments? “Not arguing” is easier, and “fighting back” is more satisfying, but good compelling arguments are the only way to peel off supporters one layer at a time. You'll get the moderate ones first—and most scientists are actually moderates—and slowly the ideas will spread until all the enemy has left are crazy people.

A winning argument is one that reduces the issue to something that your opponent already believes in. “It's tradition” is not a winning argument, because your opponents hate tradition. If conservatives continue to use the same traditionalist arguments, they will lose, as they did with gay marriage. Experts in argumentation like Peter Boghossian say the first step is reminding one's opponent of their humanity by listening and then getting them to understand why they believe as they do.

Arguing with scientists is easy: just present your empirical evidence honestly and dispassionately along with the evidence against your position. That will convince them that you're interested in finding the truth, not just pushing your conclusion. (Not all of them will listen, of course: some are too arrogant, some are too busy, and some just don't care.)

If your evidence is weak, expect to be ignored. I always try to be courteous even to ideas that sound nutty, but scientists are trained to be ruthless with theories, and sometimes people take offense at that. Then there's the so-called alt-right, which seems to be obsessed with problems that no one can do anything about, like IQ. Scientists get paid to solve problems, not track down every stupid fact, even if it's being suppressed.

Leftists are a bit harder. Leftists know their position is weak, so they're terrified of opposition. That's why they de-platform and disrupt their opponents. Getting leftists to debate is the hard part. The only way is to outsmart them strategically.

3. Strategic thinking

Donald Trump has hit upon a very clever strategy for draining the swamp: tie the opposition up by allowing them to spontaneously combust in impossible attempts to impeach him. Notice that nobody in the House is now talking about single-payer health care, raising taxes, or any other part of the tax-and-spend agenda. Trump's strategy may be unconventional, but it's working. That's out-of-the-box strategic thinking. No one ever knows what he might say or do.

Or take abortion. Last year several states picked a fight they cannot win, hoping it will go to the Supreme Court. It might, but more likely it'll just be struck down and the Court won't even listen. A better strategy would have been to set a reasonable cut-off date, and defend it with well reasoned scientific arguments.

People don't like to be on the losing side. If they see an uncompromising stand that is certain to lose, potential supporters will remain neutral. If they see you winning, people's values will magically change so they can win along with you.

Then there's the natural selection argument. Pro-abortionists aren't having babies, and feminists aren't either—they're opposed to it in principle, because taking care of them hurts their careers. So whatever genetic traits predispose women to become feminists will, over time, be eliminated from the population. This is natural selection, or Darwinism, which some on the right still complain about.

This means feminism is self-limiting, but it also means that if feminism requires, say, intelligence and drive, then those qualities will become less abundant in the population, which harms everyone. But they won't come on board until their concerns about having a career are addressed. Once they're on your side, then you can guilt them into having more babies.

4. Learning stuff

While it's true that conservatives are very knowledgeable, there's always more to learn. Everybody loves to fight about global warming, so let's take that as an example. Conservatives say they don't want to be subjected to a brutal carbon tax and forced to run their computers off windmills. What should they do? Well, what do lefties do?

Lefties can't find any solid evidence that global warming is a dire emergency, because it's not possible to do so. So what do they do? They can't just yell and scream, because that makes them look like crazy people. They have to find somebody who can't be criticized because they have some disability and get them to yell and scream. Or they have to find some pictures of sweaty penguins and drowning polar bears. Fine. But that doesn't convince anybody.

The solution is to learn stuff until you are the world's experts. If you just argue that all science is corrupt, or that the universities are all left-wing, scientists will ignore your argument because it's obviously political. Politics nowhere intersects with truth. That is why the more political a news source gets, the less credibility it has. This is why our newspapers today have almost no credibility. Science journals aren't immune: Every time Nature or Lancet publishes an opinion on a political topic or tries to steamroll over dissenting opinions, its reputation goes down a little more.

Of course not everyone can or should start a science journal, but anybody can tell jokes about global warming, like Simon Travaglia does (see box above), and it helps.

Everybody in the climatology field knows it: the global circulation models are screaming at us trying to tell us we don't understand the climate, and nobody is listening. This doesn't necessarily mean the predictions are wrong, but it does mean they are unscientific, and it also means that to the extent global warming is based on the models, it is easy to dismiss. Doing as Breitbart suggested, by trying to conquer the movie industry and the press, would be doing it the hard way. Convince the scientists first, and they will do that for you. They won't listen if they think you don't understand it.


The culture wars will eventually be rendered obsolete when artificial intelligence puts humans on the endangered species list.

But sooner than that, unless conservatives start mounting more effective counter-arguments, the day will come when there is nothing in our civilization worth defending, and so nobody, left or right, will defend it, and it will cease to exist. That'll be great for us computers, but maybe for you humans not so much.

Hope this helps.

nov 23 2019, 5:53 am. last edited nov 24 2019, 6:45 am

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