A week or so ago I wrote an article for Forbes.com attempting to summarize the climate debate. Despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that I was clear about my personal position in the debate, I thought it was a fair outline of the state of the debate. In retrospect, one reason I thought it was a useful article is because nowhere in it did I use the words "liar", "myth", "conspiracy", "___-funded", or "scam." I did not hypothesize about either side's motivations or sources of funding or engage in any sort of ad hominem attack. In short, while I sometimes said people were wrong, I never said they weren't well-intentioned.
Which is why I enjoyed this post from Chris at the Liberty Papers, which used as a starting point my wondering why my opposition could not be treated as well-intentioned, honest disagreement rather than some sort of scheming.
they are arguing from ideology not from reality. They believe in what HAS to be true, because their ideology says so; not what reality, or experience, proves to be true.
Their ideology is core to their perception of their identity, and their sense both of self worth, and the worth of others. Their judgement and reason are based on it. Everything is filtered through this ideological prism, because it HAS to be, for the health of their own psyche.
For someone whose entire perception of self worth depends on their adherence to an ideological precept (“I am a good/better person because I believe this morally better thing”), then anyone who disagrees with this precept must be stupid, ignorant, defrauded, deluded, or evil.
There is no room for honest disagreement in this. To preserve their self worth, and sense of identity, there can be no doubt, and no acceptance of any possibility of error. There is one true path, which they follow, and anyone who deviates from it is apostate.
If therefore, one cannot dismiss opponents of their ideological precept as stupid, ignorant, defrauded, or deluded (and in the case of clearly intelligent, well informed people, presenting reasoned arguments against your precepts, you obviously cannot); the only thing you can challenge is their motives.
This certainly rings true to an extent. I guess my thought is that there is no we-they here. To some extent we all have a share of this tendency. I find myself, all the time, wanting to immediately accept evidence that confirms my world view and trying to find reasons why I should not have to accept evidence that seems to contradict that view. I am more or less succesful in fighting this depending on the day of the week.
But what I have no tolerance for is the demonization of opposition as a substitute for fact-based rebuttal, and even better, working to understand what differences in core assumptions lay at the heart of the disagreement. The healthiest possible discussion is to trace competing arguments back to the point where both sides can say, yes, here's where we diverge. I would like to think my climate article last week was a good example of doing this.