Guest Post: An Open Response to Roache’s Anti-Conservatism

Authors: Calum Miller, Final year medical student, University of Oxford; C’Zar Bernstein, BPhil graduate philosophy student, University of Oxford; Joao Fabiano, DPhil philosophy student, University of Oxford; Mahmood Naji, Final year medical student, University of Oxford

One of the first things we did after seeing the election news on the morning after the election was to post a Facebook status including the following: “austerity, despite its necessity, creates difficulty. I hope my fellow Conservatives won’t be blind to the difficulties people go through as a consequence of this result and will step up to do their part combating those hardships”. Other statuses around the same time lauded the Liberal Democrats and expressed regret at Vince Cable and Simon Hughes’ departure from Parliament.

According to Rebecca Roache, these are the words of people who are immune to reason, brainwashed by Murdoch, and whose views are as objectionable as racist and sexist views. We maintain the contrary – not only that this is manifestly false, but that Roache’s own position is far more consonant with the bigoted attitudes against which she protests. It would be easy to respond in kind, simply preaching to our own choir about how awful liberals are and how we should make their views socially unacceptable. This would only serve to deepen political division, however, and is unlikely to move us forward as citizens, rational agents or friends.

Roache’s first main reason for unfriending her conservative friends on Facebook is that engaging with conservatives on political issues is fruitless. Even if this premise were plausible, it would be hard to imagine a premise worse suited to secure this conclusion.

In one sense, whom one befriends is simply a matter of taste. But if Roache intends for us to find her position more interesting than her favourite colour, then we must give her conclusion some normative import. And in that case it is demonstrably unreasonable to only befriend those whose minds can be changed. Most leftists and socialists will not have their minds changed on political issues. Nor will children. Muslims and Christians usually will not change their minds on religious issues. People in general are stubborn. Are any of these good reasons for not being friends with them? Quite clearly not. Why not refrain from debating those topics altogether? Ought we only be friends with those of a sufficient cognitive capacity? What does that say about our friendships with mentally disabled people? Nothing very nice, apparently.

As it happens, there is no good reason to think that conservatives are significantly more resilient on political issues than leftists. Indeed, we grant that many conservatives are politically irrational. But many leftists are politically irrational too. The sad fact is that most people do not think very carefully about politics at all. In our experience, leftists are at least as immune to reason on politics as conservatives. For example, just a couple of days after Roache’s blog was published, one of the present authors was criticised by a fellow Oxford student for using scientific facts in a political debate with apparent mockery: “i am RATIONAL, SCIENTIFIC MAN, AND MY WORD IS LAW.” A flurry of likes suggests that this radical feminist anti-rationality is not too uncommon. Another example of leftist irrationality and unwillingness to engage in political dialogue reasonably is the common and often successful attempts by radical feminists to shut down debate about abortion, often on the grounds that men oughtn’t be allowed to publicly debate the issue at all – despite the implausibility of there being any connection between someone’s genitals and the soundness of their arguments.

Of course, our limited sample will not convince anyone, but neither should Roache’s even more limited sample of 0 examples. Instead we should ask whether there are at least a reasonable number of conservatives worth engaging with. And there quite obviously are. For four examples, consider the present authors. All of us were raised as liberals. Of the two British authors, one voted Labour and one voted Green in the 2010 election. The reasons are almost entirely related to peer pressure and irrational forces rather than sophisticated political reflection. Of the few reasons which were ostensibly moral and rational, the reason for our defection was because of deeper reflection on those issues. For example, a major reason for voting Green was the larger foreign aid budget. The evidence that foreign aid efficiently helps the poorest in the world is poor, or at least sufficiently equivocal to non-experts that it is irrational to vote on that basis. Other well-motivated reasons we had for voting left-wise usually succumbed to similar scrutiny. And so our minds, heavily dominated by leftist motifs and often intense peer pressure, were all changed on the basis of rational reflection.

Roache might think that our being a minority of conservatives justifies her decision to remove all conservatives. This seems obviously false, since only a minority of virtually any political, ethical or religious group will be particularly open to changing their minds on those issues. So this constitutes no reason to unfriend conservatives over any other people group.

These examples demonstrate that ‘engaging in political debate’ and ‘revising one’s political views in the light of rational argument’, far from being hallmarks of leftist thinking, are often in tension with popular contemporary varieties of leftism, while being consonant with the thought of many conservatives. And there is clearly no principled basis within leftism or conservatism themselves which support or preclude those behaviours. Roache’s claim here seems inane at best. Equally thoughtless is her criticism of conservatives as relying too heavily on intuitions or gut feelings. Roache has offered us no reason to think that this is any more true of conservatives than of liberals. But it is difficult to see what is wrong with relying on intuitions in any case. It is apparently not beyond Roache’s modus operandi to casually dismiss views far more sophisticated than her own, but if she is adding the sophisticated defences of ethical intuitionism to that list of rashly dismissed doctrines, then that is another reason to think that her blogpost is fundamentally misguided.

Roache’s post also seems to miss a nuance of British political support. We know many people who voted Conservative this election. And yet we know very few people who actually like the Conservative Party. There is a roughly symmetrical situation for Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Conservatives frequently dislike Conservative Party policies. The reason they vote Conservative is because they think the alternatives are even worse. They might support the introduction of private competition into healthcare not because they endorse the greed driving competition, but because it is (at least plausibly) more efficient at delivering lower costs than socialisation. They might support lower taxes for the rich not because they endorse the greed of the rich, but because they do not want to incentivise rich people to emigrate, exploit tax loopholes, or compensate for losses by firing people or lowering wages, all of which would reduce money available to the government or to the poor.

It is easy to demonise Conservative voters because the Conservative Party doesn’t do enough for the poor. But the fairly obvious truth is that no British Party, and very few British people do anywhere near enough for the poor in our own country or, a fortiori, globally. We take it that Roache would not unfriend anyone who purchased a few bottles of wine over buying a malaria net, despite buying a malaria net being a clear alternative in this case. In the case of party politics, we do not even have analogous options. We have the choice between a number of parties all of whom idly watch the domestic and international poor run into ruin. It is far from clear that voting for the party thought to be least ruinous is morally impermissible. Indeed, it is often liberals who most passionately advocate voting even when all the options are bad.

What about Roache’s claim that supporting conservative policies and having conservative beliefs is ‘as objectionable as expressing racist, sexist, or homophobic views’? Given the minimalist approach Roache takes towards substantiating this claim, it is hard to respond. But we can test whether this is even remotely plausible simply by comparing common conservative views to, for example, racist views. Consider, first, the following sentences commonly endorsed by conservatives:

‘I support the introduction of private competition into the healthcare service while maintaining universal free healthcare, because I think that private companies competing will reduce the cost of the government providing healthcare to the population.’

‘I do not support increasing taxes on the rich because this is likely to lead to more exploitation of tax loopholes, emigration of wealthy, tax-paying citizens, reduction of the number of jobs available to workers from low socio-economic classes.’

Now consider the infamous words of leftist Governor George Wallace during his 1963 Inaugural Address:

‘In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!’

We submit that it is fairly obvious to any competent English speaker that these positions are not comparably objectionable. Even if they are, this will require at least a hint of an argument. What is more plausible, as we will now demonstrate, is that Roache’s own views are far closer to sexism, racism and homophobia than are our own.

Roache’s blogpost is riddled with assertions, crude thinking and inane generalisations, some of which we hope to have refuted. We end by adding two further thoughts challenging the piece as a whole. The first is that her piece is susceptible to the following reductio, namely that it is difficult to see how her conclusion can be accepted without plausibly granting the permissibility of outright indoctrination. Roache thinks that just as the social unacceptability of racism is more effective than reasoned debate against racism, so is this true of conservatism. The implication she seems to want us to draw is that eradicating conservatism through ostracism is morally permissible, if not obligatory. But it is difficult to see what morally relevant difference there could be between this and between outright indoctrination. We take it, however, that indoctrination is both unreasonable and wicked, and that the same is clearly true of ostracism for differing political views, especially when considering those political interlocutors who are amenable to rational discourse.

Finally, we think that such ostracism plausibly constitutes an impermissible act of bullying, or at least of contributing to a culture where bullying flourishes. This can most easily be seen by another analogy. We invite the reader to re-read Roache’s piece substituting ‘Muslim’ for ‘Conservative’, and substituting certain doctrines taught by the Qur’an and Hadith for the apparently offensive Conservative policies. We take it that the resulting piece – ‘If you’re a Muslim, I’m not your friend’ – would be taken by most to be a fairly clear and vulgar case of unfair generalisations and bigotry against Muslims. It would plausibly count as bullying, especially in cultures in which Muslims are discriminated against.

Is this case analogous? We think so. Muslims and Conservatives are both defined at least in part by certain ethical and political views, which manifest in certain behaviours. They are both involuntary to the extent that beliefs are involuntary, but also both involve some voluntary aspect. They both involve condoning of some acts which most leftists take to be wicked. They are both discriminated against in academia, and especially within academic philosophy. And it is not clear that there are any other points of disanalogy which are relevant to whether this constitutes bullying or not. The most reasonable conclusion, then, is that this is an instance of bullying against a certain group within a profession, and that as such it is both unreasonable and immoral. We urge Rebecca Roache and other senior academics who may sympathise with her views to reconsider them, firstly, on account of their contributing to an unkind subculture within academic philosophy which hurts younger, willing academics, and secondly, on account of their being largely false. At the same time, however, we offer our sincere and (hopefully) sacrificially generous friendship to those who may disagree with our political persuasions, for the sake of truth and for the sake of each other.

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65 Responses to Guest Post: An Open Response to Roache’s Anti-Conservatism

  • Sylvia Terbeck says:

    It was Saturday morning, I was looking forward to a day of shopping. I was biting into my egg, reading Independent newspaper online and then I see this; Rebecca Roche unfriends conservative voters on Facebook, or those who ‘like’ David Cameron. Well I like David Carmon on Facebook, but “Sure, this is a joke” I thought, “I know Rebecca, we were in Oxford together, I studied psychology, she did philosophy. We are both lecturers now, and we chatted about this recently. We chatted in person in Oxford together, we laughed. We know us beyond Facebook; we know us in real life.” “Sure this is a joke” I checked my Facebook. “It’s not a joke” – she did unfriend me.

    I don’t know – I am so speechless- I guess I am writing this because I cannot forget about it. And I feel a mix of sad and angry and- I don’t know – I just don’t know 🙁
    I guess I am just upset.

    • C'Zar Bernstein says:

      What’s even more worrying is that she presumably believes that your views are as objectionable as racist, sexist, and homophobic views. Very unfortunate.

      • Airin says:

        If you are a conservative then your views are by definition racist, sexist and homophobic. And god how conservatives like to play the victim card…

        • C'Zar Bernstein says:

          Q.E.D.

          • Matheus De Pietro says:

            Indeed, this whole mess might have been caused by the fact that different people have different conceptions of what Liberalism and Conservatism is. And once you decide to prove a point by moving from the present-day political parties to historical ones, such as 1963’s George Wallace quoted above, ignoring not only that political ideologies evolve but also that the political spectrum is a relational concept (and thus constantly changes to accommodate changes in the other party), you can picture Conservatives and Liberals as literally (literally!) anything.
            I have the impression that the authors of this letter, Rebecca, and some commenters to the previous post are all referring to different notions of Conservatism.

            By the way, it should be noted that the comparison between Conservatives and Muslims is unfair, as politics and religion are different spheres of personal choice – despite certain political groups thinking they should be the same. It is not my problem if you are a Muslim or not, as your religion does not represent me and cannot tell me what to do. Political parties are an entirely different matter and it does bother me that a Conservative is making rules that will inevitably affect my life. It is more than just a matter of opinion.

            • C'Zar Bernstein says:

              1960s (American) Conservatism and modern Conservatism are about the same. William F Buckley, Jr., if he were alive today, would be a conservative. Wallace was criticised by the Buckley-wing of the Republican Party in the 1960s (in fact, see his interview with Buckley).

              Your objection to the comparison to Muslims fail because many Muslims (like many religious people generally) base their political beliefs on their religious beliefs, and vote accordingly.

              • Matheus De Pietro says:

                1. That is a bold statement and I have to disagree with it. In the 60ies we had the Soviet Union, Latin American military governments, and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Equating the political spectrum of that time with the one we have today does not seem reasonable in any way that I look at it.

                2. Hardly so. People vote Conservative because they are Conservatives, not because they are Muslims, and it is offensive you would say otherwise. Firstly, it is a disrespectful generalization, and secondly, that statement suggests that there is such a thing as a true or real Islamism.

                Another point worth noting is that Conservatism-Liberalism are not unanimously equivalent to Right- and Left-wings. As such, according to some interpretations, it is possible to be a conservative leftist as well as a conservative right-winger. As I mentioned before, misunderstanding might have been originated by conceptual discrepancies such as this one.

                • C'Zar Bernstein says:

                  I’m not sure what the existence of the Soviet Union, military juntas in Latin America, and a cultural revolution in China has to do with American conservatism. The conservatism of William F Buckley, Jr. is very much like contemporary conservatism. The big exception might be so-called ‘neo-conservatism’, which has, since 9/11, infected the Right from the Left.

                  Nowhere did I deny that ‘people vote Conservative because they’re Conservative.’ I simply affirmed the obvious truth that many people base their political views on their religious views (views about abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. are examples).

                  • Matheus De Pietro says:

                    Yes, failure to see political ideology as a dynamic phenomenon seems to be the issue. Parties position themselves according to their and other countries countries’ circumstances, and these are in constant change. For instance, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts were only implemented in mid-60ies, and Communism was seen as a national threat throughout that decade – such was the political environment of that time. What does that say about racist, xenophobic, and sexist comments uttered by 1960 Liberals and Conservatives alike? How can one make assumptions about modern-day Conservatives or Liberals based on policies defended back then?

                    As for the other comment, I am sorry, I fail to see the difference. A Muslim might indeed harbor certain political views, not because they are Muslims, but because they agree with that view – I believe this is correct.
                    I can only conceive one alternative to that explanation, namely: A Muslim endorses a certain political view because Muslims tend to endorse that view – I cannot be convinced of this, especially because such generalization does not seem to relate to facts.
                    My point is that if the first case is true, then the comparison between Conservatism and Islamism is unfair. As I mentioned before, I do not care whether someone is a Jew or a Muslim – their choice of religion does not have a direct impact in my life. I do care if they are Conservatives, as their opinion will necessarily affect me (assuming compulsory voting).

                    • C'Zar Bernstein says:

                      I’m pretty sure that contemporary American conservatives would’ve had the same anti-Soviet views back then. I know this because the contemporary Republican Party is dominated by ‘Reaganism’ and Reagan was a figure of the ’60s, ’70s, and, of course, the ’80s. Wallace was a leftist in the ’60s and he’d be a leftist today (and he was when he died relatively recently, in 1998).

                      Your other points don’t deal with my point, which was, once again, that many people base many of their political views on their religious views. For example, an evangelical Christian in the South is anti-same-sex marriage because she believes that her religion teaches a certain view about marriage that’s incompatible with the contemporary view about marriage. So she’ll vote accordingly (that is, she’ll vote for the traditional definition of marriage). The influence of religion on politics cannot be rationally denied. Plain and simple.

        • Dave Frame says:

          Increasingly I seem to meet otherwise intelligent self-described left-wing people whose parents, siblings and friends are uniformly left-wing, who seem genuinely to view their political opponents as monsters. (I don’t meet (self-described) centre-right academics who think like this, because it’s inconceivable that anyone from the centre-right would be able to make a career in academia without working out how to run along with folks who disagree with them.)

          The bifurcation of politics is sadly prominent in US politics – and similar patterns seem to be emerging in (at least) other Anglophone countries. This is sad. And weird. It’s weird because the bifurcation of the stances people seem to take contrasts strongly with the observably strong consensus we see between major parties on a huge number of issues – all the major parties in the UK believe in fiscal discipline, assistance to the least-advantaged, effective delivery of public services, the value of strong economic growth and so on. The differences between real world policy experts are nowhere near as large as they were fifty years ago. Yet voters (in Anglophone countries) seem more polarised, rather than less.

          • Iain Brassington, University of Manchester says:

            Narcissism of small differences, innit?

            The strong consensus – at least in the UK – seems to me to be attributable to the fact that parties only really care about marginals; an in those circumstances, the pattern is to be as much like the other guy as possible, without actually stealing any rosettes. To do otherwise risks alienating voters.

            And that, inevitably, brings a rightward swing: winning elections becomes a matter of convincing people that they’re basically salt-of-the-earth, and that all their problems are caused by others – and any nice, easy target will do. (I mean: imagine a party that campaigned on a zero-growth green platform. They’d get electorally thumped by the Monster Raving Loonies, let alone anyone else.)

            • Dave Frame says:

              Iain wrote: “And that, inevitably, brings a rightward swing: winning elections becomes a matter of convincing people that they’re basically salt-of-the-earth, and that all their problems are caused by others […]”

              I don’t see self-interest as a “rightward” thing – it’s not obvious to me that beneficiaries voting for greater government services are doing so for the benefit of other beneficiaries, any more or less than it would be obvious that businessmen vote for business-friendly policies for the sake of other businessmen… to me, self-interest is just self-interest – something ubiquitous and usually benign.

              But you’re right about clustering in the middle – Anthony Downs made this point in the 1950s (pace Hotelling). The UK’s FPP system encourages it, too, since the system has the property (benefit, some would say…) of making life tough for minor parties.

              But I guess I still think it’s weird that people seem to be reacting increasingly strongly to political brands, even though these brands are becoming ever more homogenized. I mean if people self-identify as KFC fans and Burger King haters, and then exclusively order Whoppers from KFC… isn’t that weird?

              • Iain Brassington, University of Manchester says:

                Well, it was you that introduced self-interest… But even given that, a lot depends on the notion of self-interest at play, and on how that sits alongside other putative goods. For example, if you adhere to one view of the human self, as being fundamentally separate from others, then self interest will mean one thing. If you’re more of a communitarian, it’ll mean something else entirely. And neither of those approaches will tell us anything about the importance that we should give to self-interest, compared to things like altruism, solidarity, and so on.

                My hunch is that the mainstream does focus on a particular view of self-interest, and it’s a broadly right-wing view. But comments on a blog isn’t really the best place to explore this – and not being a political scientist, I’m not sure I’d be able to make a copper-bottomed case for it. I think I’m right, but I’ll admit that I’ve not got the hard evidence to hand…

                • Dave Frame says:

                  It might be the case that thinking people on the right take a more benign view of self-interest than thinking people on the left. That would make sense given the fact that classical liberals think the invisible hand does a lot of good. And they probably get less exercised by claims that people are being selfish. I expect they think (as I do) that complaining about self-interest is a bit like complaining about gravity – it’s one of those forces in nature you have to deal with; and working with it is a generally more promising strategy than fighting against it.

                  My guess is that many people are actually relieved if they perceive that a party thinks that it’s basically up to them – rather than academic theorists, wowsers or political activists – how they live their lives. If there is a reason why benign views of self-interest are electorally popular, it has something to do with autonomy.

                  • Iain Brassington, University of Manchester says:

                    Doubtless true about the popularity part – but (whether as a matter of necessity or contingency) it also tends to go alongside a degree of pandering and othering. Your interests aren’t being realised? You’re decent and hard-working (whatever that means). You should probably blame a Romanian, or the povvo in the next street. Simple!

                    • Dave Frame says:

                      As a centrist I see about as much othering from the left as from the right – need someone to blame for your financial situations? Blame the bankers. Missed out on a job? Blame the system, or some nebulous idea of “privilege” which pertains to other people, etc. And when it comes to losses in a general election, the left (certainly the academic left) blame the voter (Or Rupert Murdoch). So there’s obviously plenty of blame to go round – it’s just directed at different bogeypeople.

      • CNT says:

        I’m not sure why drawing a particular – not an exhaustive – equivalence between racism, sexism and homophobia and support for Conservatism has stirred so great a backlash. It has a long historical precedent, and indeed, is implicit in much current study. What does one think Marxists, Critical Theorists, or for an intellectual subculture closer to Oxford, luck egalitarians think? All provide ample resources for believing there to be a particular equivalence between the two.

        • C'Zar Bernstein says:

          Excellent reason to suppose that all of those views are false (not that we needed an additional reason to suppose so).

          • CNT says:

            That reason, by all appearances, being that you dislike their conclusions? Brilliant.

            • C'Zar Bernstein says:

              Yes, but I dislike their conclusions because they happen to be false.

              • CNT says:

                So your reason for supposing that the given view is false is that you dislike their conclusions, which you happen to dislike for being false? So really your actual reason is that of the second clause. What was the point in stating the first, except for ideological posturing?

                • C'Zar Bernstein says:

                  No, the reason I have for *believing* that a view is false is that I dislike what that view implies because what it implies is false. You listed some views which, you think, imply that racism is equivalent to ‘support for Conservatism.’ Any view that implies this is false.

                  • CNT says:

                    X is false because it implies Y is not the same as X is false because it implies Y because Y is false. That Y is false is obviously what does the work. More significantly, you appear to admit that you pre-judge positions by their conclusions, rather than by whether those conclusions follow from their premises, which is astonishing.

                    • C'Zar Bernstein says:

                      //X is false because it implies Y is not the same as X is false because it implies Y because Y is false//

                      Correct, and an application of the principle of charity should lead you to believe that when someone says ‘X is false because it implies Y’, they believe that this is so because they believe that Y is false. In this case, I believe that it is false that racism and support for Conservatism are ‘equivalent.’ On the basis of this belief, I deny any view that implies that it is false.

                  • CNT says:

                    “Correct, and an application of the principle of charity should lead you to believe that when someone says ‘X is false because it implies Y’, they believe that this is so because they believe that Y is false. In this case, I believe that it is false that racism and support for Conservatism are ‘equivalent.’ On the basis of this belief, I deny any view that implies that it is false.”

                    Well, that a conclusion is false because it has an implication you dislike, or because you take that implication to be false without demonstrating as much, are equally vacuous statements. It quite clearly remains to be seen that we should take your dislike as anything but an aesthetic disposition, or the falsity you presume as anything other than a presumption (which you admit it is).

                    You are guilty for the ideological posturing which this blog decries, as mundane as it has been to draw that fact out.

                    • Ed says:

                      Indeed, the posts by C’Zar Bernstein in the comment section here are quite revealing, and quite more so than the prose in the official reply to Roache.

    • Paul T Horgan says:

      This is how she treats someone who she shared the stresses and excitement of studenthood with.

      Imagine now how she is treating her students, people over whom she may have the power to determine their futures.

      • Ed says:

        This is the conspiratorial behaviour by Paul T Horgan on matters he has no direct knowledge of. Imagine how many other people that Paul has harmed through his prejudicial behaviour.

  • Sylvia Terbeck says:

    Well, I am a female foreigner myself; so I guess I’d have to be prejudice against myself ?!

  • Ciaran Cummins says:

    I am so tired with people’s obsession with identifying with a political ideology. I am aware that it is nothing new, but it is something that seems to have been put front and center of debate in the aftermath of this election.

  • Tom Price says:

    This is about identity confusion and insecurity. When our human identity becomes confused with the ideas that we discuss and hold, or we have no clear sense of the distinctiveness of our identity. We have to turn to other systems. Like where an (epistemological system) identity is based on our doctrines or views. So we become ‘left’ or we become ‘conservative’. Then we stand in our bunkers and fire grenades at each other. Under this confusion where you and I become defined by ideas we hold, any deeper value of a person who sits at odds with our beliefs is a threat not just to us in debate, but also to our existence. Thus unfriending someone on Facebook for these kinds of reasons, could be a way of stopping that person existing. It is to create a world – at least a social world – without their identity. It is in that sense to wish them out of existence.

  • Jim AC Everett says:

    What strikes me as most sad about this is not even Roache’s initial hate-filled rant, but that she has continued to stand by her statement since then. I could understand if her post was simply the result of her being too emotional after the election results, but her continuing refusal to apologise to her colleagues and students is very worrying. There is no sense of contrition or awareness that she might not actually be the arbitrary of what political views are acceptable, and which evil. Very sad.

    • C'Zar Bernstein says:

      Yes, all of the evidence suggests that she actually believes this bigotry. At least her views are public so that her students know to feign allegiance to leftism (unless, of course, they don’t mind being discriminated against). My suspicion is that there are many more academics who share her wicked beliefs but who don’t make them known to others. Their students won’t be as lucky.

      • Ed says:

        C’Zar Bernstein has likely read the replies by Roach to comments to her initial post that brought up the topic of her other role as a teacher. Her answers there were clear. By feigning to ignore them C’Zar shows commitment to dishonesty and to prioritizing getting tribal pats on the back over sticking to the arguments and facts of the matter.

    • Iain Brassington, University of Manchester says:

      Hate filled rant? Really?

  • Sylvia Terbeck says:

    I can really understand the students worry. I think most lecturers are democratic and as scientists are interested in debate and evidence. Furthermore, for most cases it does not matter; I teach psychology so my students political view I would never know. You don’t write essay and say (ps. I am Labour voter), do you?, so they will mostly never know. Hope this helps.

  • Anonymous says:

    Why is this filed under Julian Savulescu’s posts?

  • Iain Brassington, University of Manchester says:

    Call me a naif, but I really am struggling to see much of a problem with Rebecca Roache’s post. The important part is – for my money – in the penultimate paragraph:

    [T]he view that I have arrived at today is that openly supporting a political party that—in the name of austerity—withdraws support from the poor, the sick, the foreign, and the unemployed while rewarding those in society who are least in need of reward, that sells off our profitable public goods to private companies while keeping the loss-making ones in the public domain, that boasts about cleaning up the economy while creating more new debt than every Labour government combined, that wants to scrap the Human Rights Act and (via the TTIP) hand sovereignty over some of our most important public institutions to big business—to express one’s support for a political party that does these things is as objectionable as expressing racist, sexist, or homophobic views. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are not simply misguided views like any other; views that we can hope to change through reasoned debate (although we can try to do that). They are offensive views. They are views that lose you friends and respect

    Her claim, it appears to me, breaks down like this:
    Tory policies can be characterised as having moral characteristic C;
    C has significant moral similarities with D;
    I would not want to associate with people who endorse D;
    For similar reasons, I am reluctant to associate with people who endorse C.

    There’re rough edges with the characterisation, but it’s close enough. Now, you might disagree that the policies do display C, or that C is like D in the important ways. You might think that it’s unwise or impetuous to avoid contact with people who endorse either. But so what? Imagine you’re one of the people de-friended: well? What of it? You don’t have a right to have people associate with you. The fact that one person decides that she no longer wants to have much to do with another is neither here nor there. It’s pretty trivial in itself.

    It’s certainly not bigotry, any more than purging your FB feed of people who post Britain First stuff, or endless Nickleback videos, is bigotry; and presenting it as so weakens whatever case you have. (Besides: if she is a bigot, aren’t you better off without her? It’s very strange for a person to complain that someone whose views they find unpleasant wants nothing to do with them!) It’s certainly not the case that “leftists” are out to get you (and, really, who uses the phrase “leftist” outside of Fox News editorials?); and if your best example of one of these supposed leftists is George Wallace – a man whose political course was far from straight, but who would be fairly close to the bottom of most people’s list of famous left-wingers – … well, isn’t that prima facie evidence that the lefty bogey(wo)man is a bit of a myth?

    The content of a given party’s policies may well be a matter of moral concern; Roache explained what she thinks of a particular policy platform in her post, and why. She chose to give this explanation a particular personal spin – but so what?

    • Sarah says:

      “Now, you might disagree that the policies do display C, or that C is like D in the important ways.”

      Sexism, racism, and homophobia have rightly been identified as things that need to be stamped out, because they have led to things like rape, slavery, and torture as well as less direct but also terrible harms such as inequality, unfairness and lack of opportunities. Therefore to add something else to this category it has to be equally as bad. Otherwise you a) demean the suffering that people have gone through through racism, sexism and homophobia, and who continue to go through as a result of these evils. And b) you risk going down the McCarthyism route of demonising people and people who associate with those people without good reason (as others pointed out, liking a status does not reflect what you vote, so her behaviour is a bit witch-hunty) . It is not a category that things should be put into lightly.

      “What of it?”

      Nothing, if you just did it and shut up about it. But if you put it on a professional, academic blog it implies that you think you have reason/ logic/ ethics on your side, and that your de-friending was an ethical act. Others have expressed concerns about how this would impact those being taught by an academic with these views. If is it a personal thing and not anyone else’s concern, then don’t use a professional platform for it. If it is professional, you need to make a professional case C and D are indeed equally bad. Otherwise you are just abusing your platform.

      • Iain Brassington, University of Manchester says:

        Hmmmm. But it’s possible to say that C is like D in important ways without saying that it’s like D in every important way. So I do wonder whether there’s a nuance here that’s been missed.

        As for whether it belongs on the blog… well, maybe not; maybe. Inasmuch as that it’s a blog about ethics, and ethics is at least sometimes about personal conduct, and how the personal and the political interact, and so on… well, it might well have a place on an ethics blog. At risk of falling foul of Godwin’s law, let’s imagine that the BNP was still a significant political force, or some party like that; I think that it would be perfectly legitimate to wonder whether friendship is possible or desirable with someone who turned out to be a sympathiser.

        If that’s the case, then it must be the case that the politics and character of one’s friends is a legitimate matter of moral scrutiny.

        Now, this doesn’t imply that the Tories are like the BNP in any way. But if it’s legitimate to scrutinise whether friendship is possible/ desirable with some people based on their politics, then it’s presumably legitimate to scrutinise that for all. Roache may have drawn the line in a place where you wouldn’t… but the kind of question doesn’t seem necessarily outré. One thing that needs to be kept clear is whether the complaint is about the question motivating her post, or about the answer that she gave. Again, I wonder whether that distinction has been lost, or is in danger of having been lost.

        • Sarah says:

          Thanks, Iain. Yes you are right, my view is not about the question so much. It is a legitimate question. But I think the evidence needed to say C is the same as D (or similar enough) is much higher in an academic post (accepting, however, it is still a blog) than it would be in a personal post.

          In your example of BNP that need is obviated because we all accept BNP are indeed racist. But I think to make an argument that conservatism is as bad as racism would need significantly more argument and evidence than is given. It’s an enormously loaded claim to make.

          On the other hand, I often wonder what future people will see as being our slavery/ segregation etc- something that nearly everyone went along with but looking back was so obviously wrong- maybe it will indeed be austerity!

    • Tracy W says:

      Actually, I think this is pretty serious stuff. What policies the government will be pursuing will affect Roache’s life in a way that endless Nickleback videos will not.

      And her list of reasons illustrates some lack of thought. For example, she criticises the Conservative government for “creating more new debt than every Labour government combined”. But the Labour party has spent the last five years criticising the coalition for austerity, so it seems reasonable to conclude that if the Labour government was still in power it would have created *even more* debt. Or take “sells off our profitable public goods to private companies while keeping the loss-making ones in the public domain”, people will pay more money for a profitable business than a loss-making one. And if something is a public good, but can’t be provided by the private sector because it’s not profitable, that’s exactly the sort of thing that governments should be paying for out of taxes.

      By blocking herself off from those sorts of criticisms, Roache is making her thinking, and thus presumably voting, weaker.

      Besides: if she is a bigot, aren’t you better off without her? It’s very strange for a person to complain that someone whose views they find unpleasant wants nothing to do with them!

      I disagree. Attacks, even irrational attacks, force me to defend and thus understand my own ideas better. I benefit from contact with bigots, particularly intelligent, articulate ones.

  • Stuart Armstrong says:

    Thanks for writing this. A few thoughts:

    a) I agree that Rebecca Roache’s original point didn’t have much of an argument at all, and is of poor quality.

    b) “austerity, despite its necessity…”

    This is a possible nub for the disagreement. For the evidence does seem to strongly indicate that austerity is not only unnecessary but counterproductive (compare the divergence between stimuli countries – the USA, China – with austerity countries – the UK, though with a competent central bank, the Eurozone, though with an incompetent central bank. The low rate of inflation, which has no classical explanation. And fact it’s very difficult to get a macroeconomic theory in which central banks have some impact but stimuluses in recessions don’t).

    Anyway, the point is not whether this position is correct, but whether it’s believable (very much so) and whether it’s believed (very much so). Since people have difficulty sorting out the beliefs of their ideological opponents (what is a difference of values vs what is a difference of belief), it seems to many on the left that the conservatives deliberately and knowingly damaged the country’s economy while simultaneously hurting the poor and vulnerable. This might explain part of the anger.

    c) sexism, homophobia…

    There are some possibly interesting discussions to be had there (institutional vs personal explicit vs implicit, the validity of taint by association, the difference between “racists are mostly conservative” and “conservatives are mostly racists”), but they were not had. I perfectly agree that “if you vote conservative, you’re sexist/homophobic” is, as those terms are commonly defined, both wrong and counter-productive.

    d) xenophobia

    Though not mentioned explicitly, it’s lurking just under the surface in both article. And here, you won’t find solace from me ^_^ The majority of people in the world and this country are xenophobic, endorsing something along the lines of “some people deserve things that others don’t, because of the country they were born into.” (it’s astounding how people can say things like this without realising what they’re saying). It’s JUST about possible to be nationalistic without being xenophobic (a kind of pragmatic temporary nationalism), but I’ve very rarely seen it.

    Both political parties endorse this xenophobia, but the conservatives do it much more. So yes, if you vote conservative, you’re voting for the more xenophobic main party, and the vast majority of people so voting are quite xenophobic.

    Though don’t mistake “xenophobic” with “personally nasty”. I estimate that the consequences of xenophobia are worse than the consequences of racism and do great harm to the world. However, if someone is openly racist, they’re probably not a nice person, while if they’re openly xenophobic (as is almost every single politician), you can’t say much about them.

    e) It’s this confusion between “having values/beliefs that are (arguably) negative” and “being a personally nasty person” that is a major problem in these discussions (that’s why I mentioned xenophobia, to clearly indicate the difference).

    • Stuart Armstrong says:

      Sorry about the duplication – can someone delete the message above this one?

    • Joao Fabiano says:

      It might be that on average the Conservative party is more xenophobic than Labour, but this does not seem to have been the case in this election. Tough immigration control was one of Labour’s chief flags and they actually promised stricter immigration control than the Conservatives. From their website:
      “The Tories have let people down on immigration. David Cameron promised to get immigration down to the tens of thousands, “no ifs, no buts”, but net migration is rising, not falling. It’s now at 260,000, higher than it was when David Cameron walked into Number Ten, and the Tories’ target is in tatters.

      Illegal immigration is a growing problem. Fewer people are being stopped at the border, more people are absconding and fewer foreign criminals are being deported.

      Meanwhile, the Tories are doing nothing to tackle the undercutting of local workers’ conditions and wages – one of the things that worries people most about immigration.

      Labour will take a different approach.

      Stronger border controls: we will make it easier to deport foreign criminals, check people in and out of the country, and do more to stop illegal immigration.”
      (http://www.labour.org.uk/issues/detail/immigration)

      So it seems that if you voted Labour, you voted for the more xenophobic main party. Xenophobia sells too well for Islanders for parties to respect ideological constraints.

      • Stuart Armstrong says:

        >Labour will take a different approach.

        >Stronger border controls: we will make it easier to deport foreign criminals, check people in and out of the country, and do more to stop illegal immigration.”

        I’ll believe that when I see it 🙂 But I do take your point, on rhetoric, at least. In practice the anti-EU stance is likely more important on this issue, but I see the point is at least arguable.

    • Joao Fabiano says:

      About austerity. Just to give you the other side regarding believability. It does not seem believable to me one can compare a few policies out of context between two group of countries, come up with a conclusion that vastly disagrees with many European governments’ economists and think he is right. The world cannot be that mad. Even in Brazil where Humanities are completely mad, the government makes sure to train their economists at US top universities, and to have good economic departments (e.g. the Brazilian who won the Fields medal came from one of them). The US has implemented austerity measures for quite some time; it can be said that the US is in a state of permanent austerity (only one don’t call that austerity). I would believe that the reasoning behind austerity is to shrink European governments permanently. If, as people like to say, the American left is far right of the British right, and the US economy has been several times more successful, then it would seem the right is the way to go. That is my mean reason to think the Conservatives might do more good than harm. But again, my position on this sort of thing is that one should mostly abstain from these matters.

  • Stuart Armstrong says:

    Thanks for writing this. A few thoughts:

    a) I agree that Rebecca Roache’s original point didn’t have much of an argument at all, and is of poor quality.

    b) “austerity, despite its necessity…”

    This is a possible nub for the disagreement. For the evidence does seem to strongly indicate that austerity is not only unnecessary but counterproductive (compare the divergence between stimuli countries – the USA, China – with austerity countries – the UK, though with a competent central bank, the Eurozone, though with an incompetent central bank. The low rate of inflation, which has no classical explanation. And fact it’s very difficult to get a macroeconomic theory in which central banks have some impact but stimuluses in recessions don’t).

    Anyway, the point is not whether this position is correct, but whether it’s believable (very much so) and whether it’s believed (very much so). Since people have difficulty sorting out the beliefs of their ideological opponents (what is a difference of values vs what is a difference of belief), it seems to many on the left that the conservatives deliberately and knowingly damaged the country’s economy while simultaneously hurting the poor and vulnerable. This might explain part of the anger.

    c) sexism, homophobia…

    There are some possibly interesting discussions to be had there (institutional vs personal explicit vs implicit, the validity of taint by association, the difference between “racists are mostly conservative” and “conservatives are mostly racists”), but they were not had. I perfectly agree that “if you vote conservative, you’re sexist/homophobic” is, as those terms are commonly defined, both wrong and counter-productive.

    d) xenophobia

    Though not mentioned explicitly, it’s lurking just under the surface in both article. And here, you won’t find solace from me ^_^ The majority of people in the world and this country are xenophobic, endorsing something along the lines of “some people deserve things that others don’t, because of the country they were born into.” (it’s astounding how people can say things like this without realising what they’re saying). It’s JUST about possible to be nationalistic without being xenophobic (a kind of pragmatic temporary nationalism), but I’ve very rarely seen it.

    Both political parties endorse this xenophobia, but the conservatives do it much more. So yes, if you vote conservative, you’re voting for the more xenophobic main party, and the vast majority of people so voting are quite xenophobic.

    Though don’t mistake “xenophobic” with “personally nasty”. I estimate that the consequences of xenophobia are worse than the consequences of racism and do great harm to the world. However, if someone is openly racist, they’re probably not a nice person, while if they’re openly xenophobic (as is almost every single politician), they might be very nice to everyone they meet (including foreigners).

    e) It’s this confusion between “having values/beliefs that are (arguably) negative” and “being a personally nasty person” that is a major problem in these discussions (that’s why I mentioned xenophobia, to clearly indicate the difference).

  • Joao Fabiano says:

    Here are some additional points of my individual stance on this.

    Firstly, it is conceivable that Rebecca Roache is right in not engaging and blocking all Conservatives. She might lead a better life, and (less conceivable) improve her epistemic position. Nevertheless, this fact being conceivable about her does not make publicly posting about it morally permissible (particularly without any good arguments). The Conservatives are a political minority in the Humanities, discriminated against, and often have a harder time defending some of their positions. Therefore, in the interest of free speech and equality, one should take special care of treating them equally. Publicly arguing they are on the same level as racists is extremely harmful to that end. Hence, it should not only be frowned upon (as it was) but also impermissible. It is also conceivable that an extreme-libertarian would lead a better life by not engaging with Muslims or that a highly intellectually-demanding person would lead a better life by not engaging in arguments with the uneducated, the poor or certain ethical minorities. Even when one has solid grounds to believe the group being ostracized has diminished arguing-skills and so on (e.g.: the uneducated), it does not seem morally right to post on an academic blog arguing (rather, asserting in this case) one should unfriend all uneducated people and that they should be given as much “arguing rights” as racists. That logic itself is more at the core of racism than any sensible Conservative position.

    Secondly, the grounds for believing Conservatives have sufficient less reasoning abilities than non-Conservatives are feeble. Indeed, the argument that Conservatives in the Humanities arrived at their positions by deviating from the norm through rational consideration could not be overstated. In general, the Conservatives I’ve met in academia have more respect for rational arguments and empirical evidence than the average.

    Thirdly, to clarify my political position. There is good empirical evidence that the condition of a country after a mandate is primarily influenced by the macro-economic conditions and very little by whichever party gets elected[1]. I believe whoever is elected -from the likely to be elected – is largely irrelevant. I take this position very seriously. In Brazil, not voting is illegal and compulsory voting enforced. I do not vote. In one of the couple of instances I have had to vote, I voted for an (literally) illiterate clown. One might ask then, why have I co-authored the above open response? Because for someone who party-level politics matters so little, bigotry towards a political minority is even more reprehensible.

    Finally, I should also add I have always been and remain to be a fan of Rebecca’s work elsewhere. I think she has outstanding reasoning ability and is always extremely savvy in her choice of subjects. Furthermore, I would like to reinforce I was not directly offended by the post as I am not a Conservative. (I come from a fairly Left-wing upbringing, my father co-founded the current major Brazilian Left party). Notwithstanding, I was just unfriended by Rebecca after this post. I trust she will not decide to defend publicly that anyone who disagrees with publicly defending “Conservatives should be unfriended” should also be unfriended; nonetheless, I do worry about this extremism spiral. I will lose some Facebook posts but remain reading her papers, I do not think I have lost that much. However, it is sad what party-level politics can lead one to do, and that is further evidence for my anti-party-level-politics position. Party-level politics is a mind-killer:

    “People go funny in the head when talking about politics. In the ancestral environment, politics was a matter of life and death. When, today, you get into an argument about whether “we” ought to raise the minimum wage, you’re executing adaptations for an ancestral environment where being on the wrong side of the argument could get you killed.
    Politics is an extension of war by other means. Arguments are soldiers. Once you know which side you’re on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it’s like stabbing your soldiers in the back—providing aid and comfort to the enemy. People who would be level-headed about evenhandedly weighing all sides of an issue in their professional life as scientists, can suddenly turn into slogan-chanting zombies when there’s a Blue or Green position on an issue.

    (http://goo.gl/T8Uqsi)

    [1] Will add citation here when I have the time.

  • Sylvia Terbeck says:

    Stuard, you said;
    Both political parties endorse this xenophobia, but the conservatives do it much more.
    -> how you explain that many voters- and conservative MPs- are actually foreigners themselves; how can they be xenophobic?

    • Stuart Armstrong says:

      Most people are xenophobic, (even foreigners ^_^ ). A minor example is British consular employees looking for British citizens after an Earthquake somewhere. That’s their job – but it also means that some people, by fact of their nationality and for no other reasons, are granted benefits that others are denied (the strongest of this is the mere ability to live in the UK or having access to the advantages that brings; in many ways, people are literally dying because they’re not British).

      Now imagine the same thing with race (“the white consulate has spent large amounts of money to fund the search for white survivors of the Earthquake”) and you get the idea. I bring up race just to illustrate that the boundary of acceptable discourse is very different for skin colour than nationality. This is also connected with my point that Xenophobes are not generally nasty people. To be openly racist, you have to go against social consensus in a nasty way; to be a xenophobe, you just need to stick with the general consensus, and you can even be more liberal and enlightened than that if you want.

      There’s also some complications that removing all national immigration barriers might not be possible at this point (though when you see how many refugees the poorer countries take in, compared with the richer ones, I’m very ashamed on our part). So while anti-racists can argue “remove all discriminatory laws!” anti-xenophobes have to take much more nuanced “reduce barriers to immigration as much as is practical with a view to their eventual removal if the situation allows it as events develop”.

  • Urstoff says:

    Could Roache pass an ideological Turing test: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2011/06/the_ideological.html

    I’m guessing not.

  • Sylvia Terbeck says:

    Hmm… I am not a philosopher, but social psychologist. And what you describe; to act on a person in a certain way (eg unfriend them) because of their group membership only, and because -some- in the group might be in such and such way; … That’s what we call prejudice

  • Rebecca Roache, Royal Holloway University of London says:

    Let me begin by addressing your attempt to persuade the reader that Conservatives are not that bad, because I think this rather illustrates the point I wanted to make. You lost me in the first line, when you quoted the post-election Facebook status that one of you posted:

    ‘austerity, despite its necessity, creates difficulty. I hope my fellow Conservatives won’t be blind to the difficulties people go through as a consequence of this result and will step up to do their part combating those hardships’

    Even granting the necessity of austerity (a highly contentious concession, but let’s ignore that), this illustrates precisely what I find objectionable about current Conservative ideology. The post recognises that Conservative policy creates difficulty and hardship, but also implicitly recognises that the author—along with his fellow Conservatives—does not anticipate being among those people who suffer. The post also implicitly recognises that the people who will suffer will not be the rich, who are well-equipped to combat their own hardships and therefore have little need of the author’s suggestion that Conservatives might think about doing some sort of ‘stepping up’ to help combat the hardships. (I’m not sure what sort of ‘stepping up’ you have in mind. Not using your vote to support policies that trample over the poorest in society while safeguarding the wealth of the richest would have seemed an obvious strategy.) It is curious that you seem to view this Facebook status as demonstrating compassion. It is no more compassionate than the austerity that it endorses, and which chiefly disadvantages people poorer and weaker than you. It would be at home as part of one of David Cameron’s glossy speeches. It will convince nobody except people who already agree with you.

    But here I am demonstrating precisely the philosophical point that I made in my post, and which you have not addressed in yours: that there are limits to the effectiveness of debate in changing people’s political views. The four of you and I hold fundamentally different evaluative views. I find the idea of quashing the poor to benefit the rich as appalling as (and comparable to) the idea of policies that benefit people of one race or sex at the expense of another. You disagree. (In the interests of brevity, I won’t discuss your argument that the Conservative attitude towards the poor is acceptable because none of us does enough for the poor anyway—except to observe that, if this argument worked, it would legitimise withdrawing all support from the poor.) If, together, we are trying to increase consensus about what sort of society we should have, we can make only limited progress by arguing about it. This is not a novel idea: as many people have already noted in their comments on my earlier blog post, it is an idea associated in recent years with Jonathan Haidt’s work. The question is, how do we respond to it?

    So, how do you suggest we respond to it? In your second paragraph, you say, ‘It would be easy to respond [to Roache] in kind, simply preaching to our own choir about how awful liberals are and how we should make their views socially unacceptable. This would only serve to deepen political division, however, and is unlikely to move us forward as citizens, rational agents or friends.’ (My italics.) You provide no argument for the claim you make in the final (italicised) sentence here, and this claim is exactly what I am challenging. The claim is, essentially, that disengaging from our political adversaries is not constructive if the aim is to make political progress (whatever that might mean—let’s say it involves, among other things, increasing the number of issues on which people of various political views can reach consensus or compromise). Many people think that it is best, instead, to continue the debate with our opponents. Like me, you are clearly sceptical about how useful this sort of debate is, since you write: ‘Most leftists and socialists will not have their minds changed on political issues. Nor will children. Muslims and Christians usually will not change their minds on religious issues. People in general are stubborn.’

    You believe, then, both that persuasion is not very effective at getting people to change their minds on political issues, and that disengaging from our political adversaries does not promote political progress. In the remainder of your long post, however, you do not make any suggestion about what we might do instead to promote political progress.

    By contrast, I challenge the view that disengaging from our political adversaries must be counterproductive in promoting political progress. There are, I think, reasons to believe that disengaging from our adversaries might be an effective way of changing their minds about moral issues. Consider swearing. Each of us grows up with the view that we ought not to swear, at least in certain company. But we do not acquire the view that swearing is wrong in response to rational argument. Rather, when we first start to swear as children, we acquire the view that swearing is wrong in response to encountering disapproval from adults. We acquire other moral views in a roughly similar way: the view that it is wrong to have sexual relationships with our siblings, that it is wrong to hit other people, and that it is wrong to steal are all examples of views that, typically, we initially acquire as a result of other people’s disengagement from us, and not as a result of their attempts to persuade us with rational arguments. Increasingly, in modern times, this is also how children acquire the view that racism is wrong. All these examples focus primarily on techniques used to get children to adopt certain moral values—but this is not always the case. Many public health campaigns try to get adults to adopt a certain set of values by presenting a certain other set of values as socially unacceptable (e.g. the view that drink driving or smoking in the company of children is permissible). It does seem to be a fact about moral learning that it occurs not only in response to reasoned debate—indeed, people like Jonathan Haidt are sceptical about the effectiveness of debate for achieving this end—but also in response to how society reacts to our values.

    We can, of course, later revise views acquired in this way following rational reflection—but this does not undermine my point that disengagement can be an effective way of shaping the moral views of others. Social disapproval is a powerful tool in shaping attitudes. Using it does not (as you claim) amount to sinister indoctrination, as I take it my examples in the previous paragraph demonstrate, nor must it replace debate.

    As a result, it is not unreasonable to suggest that disengaging from our political adversaries might be a way of furthering political progress.

    • Mark says:

      I think your claims on disengagement are completely correct and well-argued. Ideological segregation is fundamentally what we should be aiming for in society: we will all be much better of for it. It is at the heart of much social progress in the 20th century and probably one of the most effective ways to tackle poverty on an ideological level.

      Consider the claim “Austerity may be bad for some poor people but it may be good for many more perhaps realized in the short term or in the next few years”. I would be unsurprised if many conservatives believe some version of this. There are of course some fraction who like austerity because they specifically don’t want certain benefits to be given to the poor. There are others who believe that we will observe less growth and development in the economy which produces the sort of stagnation that the poor are most vulnerable to.

      Obviously, there are lots of Riksbank-awarded economists that disagree with the above claims (e.g. Krugman, Stiglitz, etc.) so its in no way established or scientific, but there are some economists who believe of version of it. Its possible that its purely motivated belief by a hatred of the poor although if that were the case Haidt’s work would have probably shown much much starker contrasts between conservatives and non-conservatives.

      It could obviously be the case that one could believe such statements and then, out of a genuine concern of the poor, believe that the Conservatives are the least bad party. Additionally, since the Labour party promised to be “Tough” on immigration in the way that the Tories haven’t been, if the voter believes that freer immigration is the most effective way of combating global poverty (a not indefensible position) then not voting for Labour and possible voting Conservative makes sense.

    • Paul T Horgan says:

      Defining a former friend on Facebook whose politics disagrees with yours as a ‘political adversary’ is extreme. You are intolerant and a bit of a bigot.

      That way lies balkanisation according to belief.

      And we all know what happens in the Balkans.

    • Owen Schaefer says:

      Hi Rebecca,

      As someone more optimistic about the prospects of greater engagement, I had two thoughts on your reply to Miller, Bernstein, Fabiano and Naji. (apologies, it gets a bit rambly towards the end)

      1) You chalk political disagreements up to intractably different evaluative frameworks. Maybe that’s true on social issues, but I think it’s significantly uncharitable to say so for economic ones. I believe the four authors would be in perfect agreement that quashing the poor to benefit the rich is morally appalling – they would (sincerely) deny conservative policies do that. I don’t see any reason to think they’re lying, any more than we should think liberals actually hate the rich and just want to see them suffer. The difference is at root empirical, not normative. Even on topics of real evaluative difference, like the moral permissibility of massive redistribution, it would still be unfair to say conservatives oppose massive redistribution because they hate the poor – rather, it will be a less offensive judgment about the relative weight of individual property rights against welfare obligations. Even though conservatives (imho) make the wrong judgment in these cases, the fact that it’s a simple weighting difference leaves a lot of room for tractability and compromise.

      2) As evidence that disengagement can lead to progress, you cite the moral instruction of children. But we don’t generally inculcate morals in children via disengagement. If your kid says something racist, you don’t give them the silent treatment – you admonish them, explain why what they’re saying is wrong and hurtful, etc. You *engage*. It’s true, reasoned moral argument isn’t always (usually?) appropriate with children. It’s not even always appropriate with adults – there may be a place for impassioned pleas and emotional appeals. But those are again not instances of disengagement, just a different form of engagement.

      Here’s an alternative picture for how engagement might assist the political system without relying on the power of arguments. Progress in a politically divided country requires compromise and cooperation. Engagement fosters cooperation – people understand each other better, are more friendly and come to see the other side as real (if mistaken) people rather than moral monsters who cannot be reasoned with. Disengagement ‘others’ the opposing side – makes them seem alien, not the sort of creatures you can understand or work with, fosters misunderstanding and leads to resentment. Not to mention, compromise and cooperation are intrinsically communicative acts – in this way, disengagement almost trivially shuts off the possibility of compromise and cooperation.

      In a comment on your original post, Neil Levy offered some support for disengagement, but for other reasons – he thought you should disengage because engagement leads to ideological denigration. Your liberal commitments will be weakened. Fair enough, fealty to the truth is a valid reason to disengage if you’re certain conservatives are dead wrong. But the same reasoning suggests further that engagement will lead to compromise – both sides’ ideological purity will be weakened, leading to greater possibility of agreement on a set of policies moving forward. There may be a tension between *truth* and *progress* here.

      Alternatively, disengagement maybe a valid strategy if one does not value compromise at all, but envisions political progress through partisanship. Military analogies would be apt here – sometimes, one’s own power and opponents’ gross injustices would militate against compromise in favour of assault, relying on sheer force over negotiation. Any compromise risks gross human rights violations. The political version would be to engage forcefully only with those of your own political persuasion, to turn out greater numbers at the polls and (in the US context) drum up more campaign donations. This strategy is more palatable the more morally odious and intractable one finds one’s opponents – given you find conservatives to hold quite repugnant views, perhaps you have some sympathy. Interestingly, this is roughly the strategy of the modern US Republican party – no compromise, since they believe they’re definitely right and liberals definitely repugnant. Then again, they do regularly engage constantly with opponents on news and social media…

    • Tracy W says:

      There is a major difference between disengaging from children who swear and disengaging from people who voted for the winning political party in the last election. Children have limited options in their social circles, if their parents refuse to listen to them swearing they can’t go out and find new parents.

      However adults who voted Conservative are not entirely alone in their views, what with there being enough such voters for the Conservatives to win the election outright. If you disengage from them, they can find new friends, who will probably be Conservatives. Or they can remain quiet, stay friends with you, and use the secret ballot to vote Conservative any way.

      As for the notion of a public health campaign to stigmatise people who vote Conservative, isn’t that what the Labour party has been trying since its foundation? How’s that working out for them?

    • Joao Fabiano says:

      I will try to be brief as I am sure you have a lot of things to attend and as we both seem to agree this is counter-productive. The latter is the bulk of my argument here. If your argument concludes disengaging is right, then if you are wrong, you are wrong; and if you are right, you are wrong. There are few things less disengaging about X than posting a polemic post about X. You created a huge amount of polarization, some against you and some against the Left. In actuality, it would seem your tactic was ineffective, regardless of any further arguments one can make about it. We obviously can just check this by asking those you have unfriended, those undecided conservatives who read your post and so on.

      You are being blind-sided regarding the effectiveness of economical policies. It is not at all implausible that austerity will make the poor better off in the future, and I believe this is one of the reasons to adopt such policies. How big the State should be and how and when it should spend to counter social inequality is one central open question in economics, you undeniably know that. The UK State is in no way an absolutely clear under-spender, so I don’t see why you seem to be concluding something as strong as contempt towards your friends based in such a strong certainty regarding matters you know to be, minimally, epistemically open. But certainly debating economics is outside relevancy here. I propose we look at Wikipedia’s list of the last 20 years Nobel laureates in Economics and see which percentage would seem to endorse austerity (as being proposed by the Conservatives) and what would consider it abhorrent. For your argument for contemptuously unfriending Conservatives to hold water, I believe at least 80% of them should be clearly against austerity. To contemptuously unfriend people should only be done under strong grounds. To contemptuously unfriend people publicly, while arguing that that is what one ought to do, requires even stronger grounds. To contemptuously unfriend one’s group political minority, publicly, while arguing that that is what one ought to do would have to be based in near certainty. What type of certainty one would need for arguing, publicly, from a position of authority, in a respectful blog, that one ought to contemptuously unfriend a political minority? It most certainly would have to be astronomically more than the certainty one can have that austerity is fundamentally wrong. Furthermore, it should not be permissible to draw that conclusion from doubtful premises.

      Personally, what would seem abhorrent to me is to adopt ineffective policies because they “feel good” but that in the long-term will leave everyone worse off. NHS is a case in point. There is insurmountable evidence that health insurance over the point of guaranteeing essential treatment has negligible effects on health (here: goo. gl/ q4p0yb ). It is a waste of public money. Not only it uses money that would be better elsewhere, hence leaving everyone – the British poor and the British rich – worse in the long term, but it also leaves the non-British-poor (bear in mind there are a lot of them) worse in the short and long-run. How much more the UK burns money to make their citizens and immigrants feel pampered (because that’s the only sensible benefit of over-investing in public health) how much less it will be willing to take poor immigrants. Such is a commonly known effect of parochialism, how much more you invest in your group how much less you invest in the out-group. In this election, Labour has persistently advocated stronger and tougher border control. I am sure the Conservatives have equally abhorrent policies. All of them have, so none of them should deserve special contempt. But I am digressing already, I concede this personal opinion is controversial to most (not among the specialists in this subject though).

      My main contention is that you were not just factually wrong about the effectiveness of you tactic, you did something I consider it should not be done. And you did as “One of the first things I did after seeing the depressing election news “. Perhaps it might be time to recant some of what you thought and wrote during those first moments after unexpectedly seeing your beloved party losing.

    • Conrad says:

      Rebecca, would you also advocate disengagement as a practical strategy and/or moral expression if you thought Conservatives were pretty much as moral as e.g. Labour supporters, and had roughly similar moral goals as e.g. Labour supporters, but that – in your view – their beliefs on how to achieve these goals were just mistaken? (so e.g. if you thought that Conservatives favored austerity because they mistakenly (in your view) think that austerity helps the poor and others more than non-austerity would)

      Or would you favor intellectual, social, emotional engagement in that case?

      I guess more generally, I wonder to what extent your attitude towards Conservatives, towards intellectual engagement/disengagement and towards your own beliefs and attitudes would change if the option of dismissing Conservatives and their beliefs as immoral were not available.

  • Sylvia Terbeck says:

    Jesus; this is really frightening.
    A) why you want to persuade someone to adopt your view? I teach Christians, Muslims, Lefties, Righties, and I don’t want to persuade them to view MY view, they can have theirs.
    I think Rebecca wants to persuade people, because
    B) Rebbecca seems to think her view is morally superior. Wanted to teach conservative like little children doing naughty things by ignoring them.

    And the combination of that; to 1st think your views are morally superior and not to accept others is dangerous and hinders a tolerant, deomocratic society (never mind a fair lecturer).

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