Wednesday, 3 February 2016

No one can have principles except me

A curious trait of many who are politically active is the strange way they seem to think that they (and those who agree with them) alone have a monopoly on 'principles'.  This is, of course, an extension of their political outlook generally – these are people, after all, for whom politics is about 'belief' and fervour, not objectivism and reasoned discussion.  But it leads to a logical fallacy, which these people can only fail to see due to their commitment to 'the cause' consuming the rational part of their brain.

If it is possible to take a strong, principled stance in favour of something, then it stands to reason that it is possible to be equally strong and principled in opposing that same thing.  This is common sense.

It is, however, difficult – almost impossible, in fact – to get anyone (regardless of where on the political spectrum they might sit) who truly believes in their political cause to concede this self-evident fact.

Whether we're talking about hardline UKIP 'Brexit-eers', or committed Corbynites, the attitudes are always the same.

Yes.  The reason 'moderate' Labour MPs are criticising their party leader is because they are venal careerists and they are scared; in the mind of a Corbyn loyalist like McPartland, this is the only explanation there can possibly be – he simply cannot comprehend the idea that MPs might hold different ideas from Jeremy Corbyn for genuine reasons, and that they might believe them and fight for them just as passionately as Corbyn himself fights for his own ideals.

It's never occurred to Ian that these cabinet ministers might have weighed up the arguments on both sides very carefully and genuinely concluded that remaining in the European Union might actually be in 'the interests of Brits'.  I'm not saying they have, necessarily – maybe Ian is right that some ministers' reasons for not endorsing 'Brexit' owe more to expediency than conviction – but he can't be sure of that, and neither can I.  The possibility does exist that some ministers might have chosen not to campaign to leave the EU because they genuinely feel that staying in is the right choice, rather than because they are afraid to lose their salaries.

But fanatics like these cannot allow such impure thoughts to pollute their minds.  To admit that the enemy might actually be a relatively decent, normal guy who just happens to have a different outlook on certain issues – rather than an agent of evil itself whose dastardly propaganda racket must be smashed – is to admit defeat.

It is this demagoguery which allows activists to fight for their causes so passionately.  The single-minded belief that we are right because we have principles – whilst anyone who disagrees with us is necessarily a scurrilous, treacherous, two-faced, good-for-nothing hypocrite who's only looking out for himself – allows the movement (whatever it may be) to affect an air of moral superiority and rise above the petty objections of 'facts' and 'data'.

Most people, however, are (rightly) sceptical of zealots.  For the average person in the street – the very person, often, who needs to be convinced of one point-of-view or another – the ardour of anyone banging the drum too loudly, or too often, will actually be quite off-putting.  Such dogma – and such refusal to countenance the idea that the other side might, just occasionally, not be total schmucks – ends up being damaging to the cause.

But for an activist truly to dedicate him- or herself to a cause, he or she must completely believe that those who disagree are not just wrong, but malign.  These are people who have convinced themselves that they are fighting the good fight; that they, and they alone, are on the side of righteousness, justice, freedom and truth; and that it therefore follows that anyone opposed to their agenda has a sinister ulterior motive.

In short, they are deluded.  And they wonder why the rest of the population views them with such deep suspicion…?!


k said...

Thank you for that. You have articulated something that is really important and that I wholeheartedly agree with.
Respecting that people may hold different -even opposing - views to oneself while being thoughtful, intelligent, and principled seems to be almost impossible for so many people.
We need much more genuine debate, and much less self-righteous dogma and moralizing.

Btw, got here via Tom Owalade's Twitter.

k said...

Saw this linked in a couple of places and thought it might be of interest:

Kit Marsden said...

Thanks you. Yes, that is very good – I have now shared the link on Twitter, as well.

k said...


Ashley said...

Great post that succinctly addresses an irritating side effect to the democratic process. See the response to the Tories winning last year. Created such a bilous reaction among the left it was hard to see any reason among the fury and righteous but pure frustration at being denied once again by the "sheeple".

Post a Comment

Feel free to leave a comment - give your feedback, answer a question, start a debate, make a point, or simply hurl abuse... It's up to you! ;)