Washington DC, United States: In politically divisive times, some might be drawn to the idea that the truth is always “in the middle.” That is wholly untrue. While it might be uncomfortable, one side’s arguments are sometimes factually true while another’s are only ideologically true. Global warming isn’t a half-threat; racism isn’t only somewhat of a problem. The temptation is partly because both sides, even those acting in bad faith, are framed in a convincing light and the media will often give equal time to experts and ideologues. This intellectual laziness and logical inconsistencies have created a landscape in which dangerous and untrue rhetoric co-exists with thoughtful and accurate narratives as equals.
Especially in the fringes of conservatism, presenting misinformation in a dressed-up way often helps them smuggle narratives that are socially or environmentally harmful into the debate. Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute has a very legitimate sounding name, and they publish what appear to be well-researched white papers. But scratch the surface even a little and you find that their papers use scientific-sounding language, facts are taken out of context, and a tone of impartiality to make the case for white supremacy. This sets a precedent for others to take slightly less extreme versions of this stance and justify it with arguments that beg the question or soft sounding ideas like community and safety. Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity have both run segments that imply America is changing too quickly (too many people of color and inclusive policies for us whites to handle!) or that racialize crime and morality.
Take for instance the issue of the wage gap between men and women. It is a documented fact, though an admittedly complicated issue. The social contexts are complex, women are often persuaded from a young age to pursue traditionally feminine gender roles, which don’t include assertiveness, risk-taking, or an aptitude in math and science. Women who do exhibit those traits are often seen as unduly subversive. Furthermore, women are expected to not only want to raise a family, but to be the primary caretakers. All these pressures and assumptions play a part in the disparity we see in high-earning jobs and between men and women working the same job.
The wage gap is a systemic cultural issue that needs to be addressed proactively. However, a tactic that’s becoming commonplace is to take that context and draw conclusions that justify traditionalist views. Women choose to be caretakers, they choose not to be assertive, they are naturally inclined, not pressured to be caretakers. While some women do make those choices, the problem is that for many, those choices are being made for them because of the power of traditional gender roles. Those who make the counter-argument can legitimize their worldview by taking facts and situations that are technically correct in a vacuum and using them to make their arguments seem legitimate. For those who don’t study culture or politics, it’s easy to be swayed. Maybe the wage gap is less of an issue than I thought.
This extends to the nature of debate itself. Because these views have been legitimized from years of false equivalency, it’s hard to identify bad behavior without being accused of the same. Popular armchair philosophers like Jordan Peterson stand on stage and make a case against progressivism, and their words carry both specific meaning to audiences primed to hear it, and a call to action. If the wage gap isn’t a problem, or if women are happier as homemakers, why would anyone who believes that then go out and advocate for equality? It’s an implication, crafting a worldview without saying something so overtly harmful. These people then sidestep criticism by claiming ignorance “I never said that!” or “The thought police are after me again!” Yes, people have a freedom to say what they want but that’s no protection against critique, especially when that speech might set in motion a series of assumptions that cause harm as racism and misogyny do. Not to mention that studies have shown that using Freedom of Speech to defend one’s actions is linked to prejudice more than the value of speech. We’ve equated facts to falsehoods and critiques of arguments with ad-hominin attacks. That’s a bad place to be.
If I may temporarily step into a personal realm, I’m about to graduate with my MA, and I wrote my thesis about the alt-right and the manosphere. Violent hate groups are real and they’re out there and they feel emboldened by the political climate and online cultures. There are people running in the Republican party who are running on an explicitly Nazi platform, like Patrick Little who’s running for the Senate in California who advocates for a country “free from Jews”. You know, California, the place everyone thinks is synonymous with free thought and liberalism? Well, he’s polling well, and could possibly win the Republican primary. If we aren’t careful as a culture, we’ll end up backsliding into dangerous territory, as rights are stripped away and the most hateful of us gain power because the rest of us were afraid of being called “snowflake.”
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