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August 05, 2014

Atheist Conservative: The Best Conservatives Are Atheists

Okay okay okay, hold up.

I lied.

He doesn't say that.

But I think it's a good piece so I wanted to give it one of those headlines -- you know, dishonest ones, because Lies Get Attention -- of the sort I see so frequently around the Internet.

[A]theists on the Right hold a wide variety of personal philosophies. There is only one thing that they are all likely to have in common: an interest in seeking a secular foundation for the ideas of the Right. Which turns out to be very important.

...

One of the problems with citing a religious foundation for freedom and Americanism is that these arguments tend not to appeal to those who donít share your faith. People will naturally assume that, in order to agree with you, they have to believe in the same particular religious creed you have adopted. And given the vast range of religious belief, thatís a lot to ask for.

Every atheist has heard the old saw that it's impossible to rely on a secular foundation for morality because if people are left to act on their own judgment, they will disagree about what is right and wrong and it will all be subjective. So we supposedly need a religious authority to settle the matter. But that doesnít really work out in practice, does it? Ask yourself: is appealing to religion more likely to settle an issue, or inflame it? Even if you believe that God exists, when it comes to asking what God is and what He wants, you have to rely on the testimony and interpretations of human beings--who differ enormously on every detail. So you're back to the same problem.

It should be noted, of course, that religious people do not rely exclusively on religious precepts to make their cases. They, too, point to observable evidence and make secular (math-based, policy outcome based) arguments.

So I think he might be overstating here, but I think his point is sound, because of this:

In the end, it doesn't matter if a Christian Conservative makes the most empirical, science-based, logical argument possible while arguing with a secularist.

Because the secularist will only see -- All People Are Bigoted -- a "Christian Conservative" who is just saying a bunch of dressed-up religious nonsense because his "God" (in quotes) told him to say it.

You can quote Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson's skepticism on global warming to him, and what will that jackwagon say? "What is he, like a preacher in a mega-church"?

It's not "better" or "worse," of course.

The fact is -- I think this is so important, and, even though we all kind of know it, we all frequently forget it -- people are not convinced by logic or empirical proofs most of the time.

Some of the time, yes.

But most of the time, here's how people are convinced of something:

Because someone who is much like them, and who they acknowledge as being Part of Their Tribe, tells them it's true, and so they think, ah, well maybe that's true then.

One point I've made about arguing while angry is this: It's impossible to convince someone who's not angry of anything when one is oneself angry.

It's not because the angry person is irrational. Very often an angry person -- while feeling the irrationality of emotion -- is able to adequately conjure up all the arguments his Not Angry self composed at an earlier time, when he was as as calm and cool as as penguin smoking a reefer.

It's not that the angry person can't make logical sense. He frequently makes very good logical sense, especially when he's just arguing things he's long stated or written while in a less angry state.

The trouble is, the Angry Person is of a different tribe than the Not Angry Person -- at least for the duration of that argument.

That is, the argument will fail, not because it's "not logical," but because a necessary precondition to any kind of persuasion is seeming a great deal like the person one wishes to convince.

And when one's angry, and the other's not, the other just is on an entirely different emotional wavelength. He sees the Angry person as "different," and, ergo, not to be trusted. **

I think 88% of all persuasion actually just takes place on this subconscious, emotional level of affinity. The arguments put forward don't usually convince the other person; rather, simple human affinity convinces the other person.

If you've convinced him, he may repeat your words when he makes the argument himself; but the actual words you said to him will be have been a very minor contribution to his being convinced.

Andrew Breitbart actually consciously went out of his way to hire people for his site that didn't look like the average conservative.

Like Dana Loesch. Some kind of Goth Girl, right? Not very typical.

It wasn't that he didn't like how the average conservative looked.

It's that he sensed -- correctly, I think -- that conservatism needed not just different kinds of arguments but different kinds of people making those arguments.

I think he figured that the people who would be convinced by a sort of standard conservative figure already had been convinced by a sort of standard conservative figure, and if you wanted to reach people who hadn't been convinced yet, you had to look look for people they'd accept as Sort of Like Me.

By the way, I have no problem being inconsistent on this score as regards, say, championing a black conservative candidate over an equally qualified white conservative candidate, despite thinking that's not a rule one should take too far in general society.*

The black conservative candidate is going to be able to convince more people, people who haven't been convinced yet.

And anyone who says that that's untrue, that their arguments will be exactly alike so what should it matter that one is black and one is white?, really isn't thinking very hard about what human beings are actually like.

Human beings are not particularly logical creatures. Sure, we are capable of logic.

But logic is hobby. We live in emotion and human connection. That's our day job; our dalliances with perfect logic are occasional weekend jaunts.

So it's not the case that atheists are "better" conservatives, except in this way: It is far more likely that an atheist (or just a secularist or agnostic) can persuade a fellow secularist than can a Christian.

Tribal identity is a central part of the human experience. We can decry it, we can rue it, but we can't overlook it.


* I actually do support Affirmative Action, but not what I'd call the "strong form" of it -- quotas and the like.


** Incidentally, this isn't any kind of attack on Mark Levin or anything.

It's more a defensive observation -- sometimes I hear that we (as a movement) have to be "more like Mark Levin," which is something I dispute.

I like Mark Levin. When I'm angry about something, and he's talking about it, I enjoy hearing my anger stated eloquently.

When I'm not angry about something, and he's on, I tend to turn him off quickly. Just not in the mood for it.

This isn't a claim that Mark Levin isn't important -- he is. What I dispute is the idea that it would be helpful if most commentators were like Levin.

You need a lot of different pitches -- different in emotion, different in tone, different in populist vs. "elitist" appeal, etc. -- to reach a lot of different types of people.

And we really all quite different. We respond to different things.

Think about it:The Big Bang Theory is the most popular sitcom in America -- and in fact the only real break out network phenomenon I can think of since Friends -- and about half of you haven't seen it, or kinda hate it.

There's just so many different sorts of people, and they have different preferences in political appeal, just as they have different preferences in entertainment.


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posted by Ace at 05:08 PM

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