Almost anyone will tell you, it’s important to have “an open mind.” We all know the feeling of shame when something we thought was right wasn’t. At an early age, we learn the importance of care with things we think to be certain. At that same early age, in a related way, we learn about the importance of public discourse being open and honest.
The very people who tend to value this openness the most tend towards liberalism as a political philosophy for the very reason that liberalism, most of the time, is willing to go the extra mile for comity, doubt, and toleration. Combine that with the circumstances of the late 80s and early 90s where liberalism was dominated by an intellectual elite but at the same time had lost three presidential elections, including one involving a sitting president and one involving the loss of a 20 point late summer lead.
So, it’s not a shock that a guy like Michael Kinsley got famous by being contrarian. Obviously, at the time he got famous, someone needed to be a bit contrarian for liberalism. And combined with the likes of Bill Gates and the cult of elitism that grew up around him, it’s no surprise that the online site they founded, Slate, would be like this.
But this isn’t 1990. In fact, since then, Democrats have won the popular vote in every presidential election except one, 2004, which was one of the closest run elections that a sitting president has survived. Democrats even won off-year elections in 1998 and 2006. It’s fair to say that much of what was wrong with liberals in the Reagan-Bush era has passed and, except for a stolen election and then 9/11 and its effects, the party has been ascendant since then.
But there’s no doubt that polarization has increased since then. And this is the other side of the coin, here. Not only do liberals need less second guessing, it’s increasingly difficult to take any second guessing as coming in good faith.
Take for example, Social Security doomsaying. It can sound pretty bad and then you realize the people saying it’s bad don’t want it anyway. How can less workers support so many more retired people, they ask? The answer simply depends on our values. But reducing benefits might actually turn out to hurt the economy and thereby hurt the ability to fund the program. It’s not an easy answer.
It’s to the point that whenever I read a non-fiction book, I try to find out about the author. Is this ad hominem and fallacious reasoning? I’m afraid it isn’t. Arguments are only as good as the truth of their premises, no matter how logically valid they may be. I cannot know everything; I must rely on reliable sources.
This isn’t to say that I could never believe someone because they are politically right-wing, but if the book they write magically comes to the conclusion that global warming is a hoax, you can believe I won’t buy it hook line and sinker..
And so I think this is the other side of the coin. That there has to be an awful lot of skepticism associated with the second-guess agenda for the most part. Is it coming from someone trying to hurt the agenda that furthers our values, or from one who is willing to go to counter-productively radical ends to do so?
Then there’s the overall fact that Slate really isn’t a hotbed of actual expertise. We don’t get a transit administrator writing about the transit strike, we get a pinhead who has never worked in anything other than the media. He’s trying to arrogate to himself a polymath authority of everything, along with most others.
The trouble with such folks is that they really don’t understand the difficulties of implementation in a complex world, or, complexity at all for that matter. They think that people saying something is complex is really lazy or missing the broader point.
So, I’m trying to have an open mind about keeping an open mind, but between dilettantes and those with political agendas, it’s hard to see the need for this kind of thing at all.