Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Creating Cognitive Dissonance

A little over a week ago, I was watching one of those bog-standard political videos you find on YouTube these days: you know, the ones where a conservative interviews a group of young Leftists without revealing his own political leanings. He asks each interviewee a series of apparently random questions about what they believe, after which the results are cleverly edited together to demonstrate the rank hypocrisy of Progressivist thinking.

In this case the subjects being discussed were tolerance and compromise, and the results were absolutely predictable. Every young Lefty being interviewed claimed tolerance was the most important of all values and that compromise was critical when engaging in political discourse, but of course the moment they were given a list of specific conservative values and areas of possible agreement with the Right, it turned out they were all hopelessly intolerant and refused to compromise on anything at all.

“Aha!” said the conservative writers and editors. “Hypocrisy!” Well, no. Not exactly.

Alexander Macris has written an excellent post on cancel culture and how Leftists rationalize their own intolerance of people who do not think they way they do. Unfortunately, you cannot link to the original post anymore, as Mr. Macris himself was summarily canceled by Leftist agitators only a few days after publishing his thoughts about them. The article was called “Repressive Tolerance in Action”, and in it Macris explains why Leftist “hypocrisy” isn’t really hypocritical at all. I managed to find an archived version of the post here. If you’re interested, you may want to read it before the self-appointed Idea Police get to that one too.

Repressive Tolerance

Macris’s main point interested me because what he was saying sounded remarkably similar to the contents of some of my recent conversations with Immanuel Can. Here in summary form is the Leftist justification for what Macris refers to as “repressive tolerance”:
  • Tolerance is only to be extended to truth.
  • Leftism is objectively true, and anything other than leftism is not.
  • Therefore tolerance is only to be extended to leftism.
  • Anyone who disagrees with this has been indoctrinated. To the extent that the majority of people disagree, that means the majority of people are indoctrinated.
  • Since most people are indoctrinated, leftists must break the indoctrination so that they can grasp the truth of leftism.
  • To break the indoctrination, leftists must promote left-wing thought and suppress right-wing thought.
  • Promoting left-wing thought is accomplished by changing “established universes of meaning” and actively presenting “information slanted in the opposite direction,” e.g. by political correctness and propaganda.
  • Suppressing right-wing thought is accomplished by withdrawing the freedom of speech, press, and assembly for anyone who disagrees with leftists on race, gender, religion, armament, public services, social security, or healthcare, e.g. deplatforming us entirely.
  • If necessary to withdraw these freedoms, leftists must operate at such scale that the actions cease to be non-violent and become revolutionary violence.
  • Leftists who use revolutionary violence are not to be condemned by any leftists.
In brief, the doctrine holds that left-wing speech, assembly and even violence must be praised and promoted; while right-wing speech, assembly, and especially violence must be condemned, suppressed, and punished.
Leftist “Hypocrisy”

I think this nicely accounts for what we are all able to observe in the media since the events at the Capitol on January 6: the burning of cities all over the U.S. last summer and into fall are described as “mostly peaceful protests”, while the comparatively peaceful demonstration in Washington is described as an “insurrection”, a “riot” and “terrorism”. In both cases, the difference between what we are seeing with our own eyes through the phone cameras of onlookers on YouTube (for as long as they remain uncensored) and what is being reported in the Leftist legacy media cannot be overstated. And I agree with Macris that calling this apparent double standard “hypocrisy” is not really an accurate description.

Hypocrisy by definition assumes a shared set of values to which one might appeal in calling the hypocrite back to behavior that more accurately reflects his professed beliefs. So the Lord Jesus could rightly refer to the Pharisees and religious leaders of his day as hypocrites because they failed to live up to the spirit of the standard they themselves held up as authoritative. In Matthew 22, for example, he repeatedly and very successfully reduces his critics to stunned silence by making more faithful use of their “shared standard” of the Old Testament than their most learned scholars.

But a shared set of values is almost entirely absent in ideological Leftists. As Macris points out, there nothing there for us to appeal to.

Three Kinds of Leftists

Now, I am not for a moment suggesting that all Leftists are ideological, and especially not that all Progressives or Democrats think and behave the same way. We might refer to the group of ideologues Macris is writing about as the “New Left”. There are at least two other significant Leftist blocs: (1) what we might call the Pragmatic Left, the tiny group that controls the entire movement, whose only interest in ideology is to use it to advance their own interests; and (2) the Leftist rank-and-file, or “useful idiots”, who are incoherent, sub-ideological, and simply swept along unthinkingly by the movement. They burn and break things for reasons even they don’t fully understand.

Everything I have to say about Leftists from this point on has to do with the third branch of the Leftist tree, the ideological branch. Christians who attempt to have spiritual conversations with ardent Leftists may find it useful to distinguish between these three types of Progressives, as it should be evident that discussing ideology with a pragmatist or a robot is tactically suboptimal and invariably fruitless.

Anyway, here’s my big revelation, for what it’s worth: discussing ideology with an ideologue is equally fruitless, and maybe more so.

Sizing You Up for the Firing Squad

Why would that be? Well, the Christian is all about witnessing to Christ, but politics have an insidious way of inserting themselves in the conversation as a convenient distraction. I have wasted plenty of time following co-workers down woke conversational rabbit trails that go nowhere helpful, and some of our readers may have had similar experiences.

What I find clarifying about Macris’s article is not really the debate about whether Leftists truly qualify as hypocrites by the dictionary definition. Even if we could prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt, it does not really get us anywhere. What is important is to recognize that while we may feel that we are having the beginnings of a fruitful exchange with an ideological Leftist, this is not actually what is happening. Many Leftist ideologues are happy to talk, but Christian apologetics are not having anything like the effect on them that we may think they are. A Leftist ideologue is not looking for the Way, the Truth and the Life; he has already found his way, truth and life in Marxist social doctrine. Leftists and Christians may seem to have an overlapping vocabulary and a few social goals in common, but this is only an appearance. A hardened Leftist ideologue does not care a fig about consistency between his words and actions; his words are merely a smokescreen, a way of engaging you while he sizes you up and figures out how to get rid of you.

A pragmatic Leftist only wants to silence you, disemploy you (or, in extreme cases, kill you) if doing so furthers his personal agenda. If you are not a bump in his road to power, he doesn’t care about what you believe and how you live one way or the other. The “useful idiot” Leftist only wants to hurt you if he and thousands of others like him have been whipped up into a screeching, senseless mob by the ideologues or pragmatists. Unless someone points him in your direction, he bears you no particular animus.

But the ideological Leftist wants to hurt you in every possible way simply because you are his enemy.

Love Your Enemies

That’s a hard truth to internalize, and many Christians are simply not up for it. They think of Leftist ideologues more as well-intentioned folks in need of a little redirection than as spiteful and brutal adversaries who loathe the “patriarchy” simply for existing and blame it for all the evils in the world.

I was meditating on the Lord’s instruction to “love your enemies” the other day, and my first reaction to his famous words was this: I don’t HAVE any enemies.

I think I got that wrong. I was looking at the Lord’s instruction backwards, as if an “enemy” is somebody I instinctively feel animosity toward. I truly can’t think of anyone I would put in that category, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have enemies. They may not know me by name — and they may not yet have sized me up for a shaming-fest, a trip to the unemployment line, a re-education camp or even a firing squad — but the moment what I really believe about Jesus Christ and his coming kingdom becomes clear to them, they will begin to identify me as their enemy and I will find myself squarely in their sights, because people with my worldview are the biggest threats to their own utopian dreams.

And that’s the sort of person Lord was talking about, isn’t it? It’s not “Pray for those you feel like persecuting” (although that is probably a good thing too), but rather, “Pray for those who persecute YOU.” The enemies the Lord calls us to love are not people we instinctively loathe because of their repulsive qualities or ideas, but rather, people who hate us.

Loving the Left

I suspect this is the key to dealing with ideological Leftists, whether they are online acquaintances, surly co-workers or members of our own families. The ideological Leftist cannot hear your words. They mean different things to a Progressive than they mean to you. You can talk until you are blue in the face, but you will never convince him of anything, even if it may be tactically useful to him to let you think you are winning him over.

No, I think love is the real key to knocking a Leftist (or really, an ideologue of any stripe) off his pins and out of his prejudices and assumptions. The secret to winning hearts and minds is not a perfectly-written manifesto, it’s an unexpected kindness. It’s not a perfectly prepared speech, but something more like a concerted determination to never return evil for evil. It’s not better ideas, it’s better conduct. If your enemy is hungry, says the apostle Paul, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink ... “for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head”. When we do these things, the person who was absolutely sure he had us pegged suddenly begins to realize he didn’t know the first thing about us.

We might sum it up this way: less dialogue, more love. I like to think of burning coals as a neat first century metaphor for creating cognitive dissonance.

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