Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Rules of Engagement

CentreRight (at Conservative Home) has an interesting 'blogging about blogging' post by Peter Cuthbertson, responding to the launch of, er, CentreLeft - A new left blog that promises to "challenge and correct" Conservative bloggers.

I wouldn't have worded my criticisms as he has. "...For all that oppositional mentality...there is very little evidence of any effort to engage with conservative ideas" complains Cuthbertson, but to anyone who is not hopelessly partisan this is as true (replacing "conservative" with "left-wing", "liberal" or "socialist" as appropriate) of many of the most prominent right-wing blogs as it is of the leftists he is attacking.

Of course, to some extent the worth of this statement depends on his definition of "engage". Cuthbertson later clarifies "not many attempt to argue with the ideas expressed in their own terms". This can be because the terms themselves are so loaded that it is impossible to engage with them without disputing the issue itself during the process of trying to reach a sensible, mutually acceptable definition.

Cuthbertson discusses this problem later in his post, where he remarks on a leftist "Orwellian obsession with ‘framing’ the debate with the right language". Rightists do it too - consider for instance the insinuations contained within that term beloved of the social conservative right, "pro-life". Certain leftists do, however, seem to make a speciality of it.

I encountered this a few weeks ago when I butted heads with John Band in an immigration thread at Comment Is Free. There John defined "racism" in such a way that anyone who supports border controls is 'racist'. His use of this powerful term in this way implies that all of the mainstream political parties are 'racist'. Here the terms in which his ideas are expressed were the debate. I don't have a problem with people who oppose immigration controls. I most certainly do have a problem with people who oppose immigration controls and try to smear me as a 'racist' for not agreeing with them!

Here I have used an example of being unable to engage, as defined, with an idea of a leftist, however it doesn't take much imagination to come up with similar examples that might come from commentators/bloggers of a right-wing hue. Although I just about consider myself to be (on the moderate wing) of the right-wing blogosphere, the replacement of real debate with glib slurs of the 'ZaNuLab' variety is regrettably commonplace.

On some topics, such as ID cards, the argument is remarkably one sided in the blogosphere (only one infrequent blogger, Citizen Andreas, is to my knowledge in favour of the Government ID scheme), yet the battle is not being won out in the real world. It should not be surprising that libertarian bloggers are frustrated and angry, and this frustration is manifested in the form of swearblogs. There is a certain attitude apparent on both sides of the divide that their views are obviously the correct ones and if only people would read them and take them in... This is a mindset that is commonly associated with socialists, but libertarians and conservatives do it as well.

So, in conclusion much of what Peter Cuthbertson has said is quite right - but when making sweeping statements about right and left, one ought to keep in mind a saying about a pot and kettle.


JuliaM said...

"...defined "racism" in such a way that anyone who supports border controls is 'racist'."

Fairly classic tactic by the dishonest left. It's meant to end debate.

People are starting to call their bluff, though ;)

richard allan said...

Good stuff, Ian.

Charlotte Gore said...

Hmm yes I like this. I think the Left are having to wake up to a population that doesn't take it for granted that they're virtuous and honest and on the side of 'normal people'

They still act like everyone's a complete blinkered zealot that automatically starts every argument understanding that Tories Are Evil And Lie.

They need to improve, and improve rapidly or they're going to find themselves joining SWP and Respect in wondering why no-one listens to them.

Charlotte Gore said...

And of course I'm just pretending that Guido's little fan club doesn't exist temporarily for the purposes of not causing undue antagonism here :)