The certainty of leftists makes them dangerous

 

Anthony Fauci. From Tennessee Witney, via Shutterstock

When I’m giving a lecture to a group of physicians, I remind them that they are unlikely to make a really big mistake and kill somebody, unless they are absolutely sure that they’re right.  Certainty leads to tunnel vision and makes it difficult to consider possibilities beyond that which seems obvious to you.  I acknowledge that it’s difficult to practice medicine without a certain degree of arrogance, but I caution the doctors that they should fear certainty more than they fear ignorance.  They should work to remain perpetually cognizant of their own limitations, always looking for mistakes and considering other options, or else they’ll overlook something big and really hurt somebody.

If someone decides to get a COVID vaccine, I think that’s fine.  It may help.  The data is not overwhelming, but it seems to be mostly positive.  I think.  But if someone recommends that 350 million people get COVID vaccines, then that person had better be right.  If they’re wrong, that is a mistake that could hurt A LOT of people.  And not coincidentally, it’s a decision that can’t be made without a feeling of absolute certainty.  That’s dangerous stuff.

One of my favorite quotes from P.J. O’Rourke is “I’m a conservative, so I have a poor grasp of stuff I don’t know anything about.”  This general disposition tends to make conservatives more reluctant to pursue careers in government, and even more reluctant to use the power of government, which tends to unintentionally concede more control to leftists.  But I would argue that the conservative tendency to acknowledge the limits of our wisdom also tends to prevent conservatives from making enormous, catastrophic, Social Security-type mistakes.

This is a common source of miscommunication between conservatives and leftists:

Leftist:  “I just bought a cool new Tesla!”
Me:  “Awesome!  That’s a really cool car!”
Leftist:  “The earth is getting warmer.  Everyone should drive electric cars.”
Me:  “You’re a fascist.”
Leftist:  “But you said you LIKED my electric car!”
Me:  “Sure, but when you go from a personal choice to dogma – gosh – you had better be REALLY SURE that you’re right.  And how can you possibly be that sure?  Which means you just want control over people.  Which means you’re a fascist.  I do like your car, though.”
Leftist:  “You’re not making any sense.”
Me:  “Neither are you.”

Someone once asked me what I thought the main difference was between conservatives and leftists.  I told them that neither group had any idea what they were talking about, but that conservatives were aware of it.  She laughed.  I didn’t laugh.  I just shrugged my shoulders.

David Hogg. From Philip Yabut, via Shutterstock

Which, come to think of it, should be like a secret handshake or something.

Leftists, like Black Lives Matter etc, tend to use a raised fist in their rallies.  At conservative rallies, we should just shrug our shoulders.

Not terribly inspiring, I suppose, even if it’s true.  Which is a good metaphor for conservatism itself, I think.

There is a reason that Donald Trump seems so bizarre to most conservatives – he just doesn’t fit the conservative stereotype.  I don’t think he’s a traditional conservative anyway, and I think his support among conservatives demonstrates just how panicked conservative voters are these days.  But please, this post is not about Trump.  Please don’t fill the comments about him.  I’m talking about typical conservative voters here.

Young people tend to be leftists, because they have no idea what they’re talking about, but they think they do.  That is the definition of a leftist.

Bernie Sanders. From Perry McLeod, via Shutterstock

Only as they gain experience and an understanding of their own limitations do they gradually become conservatives, unless they have Bernie Sanders-like abilities to never, ever, EVER learn anything at all over the course of their lives.

On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong.  (Although this acknowledgment confirms my point.  But never mind that.)  Do you think this is a good distinction between leftists and conservatives?  Not politicians, necessarily, but among the population at large?

Are conservatives defined by their humility?

Hard to say, I suppose.  What do you think?

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  1. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    I would have bet a week’s pay that Thomas Jefferson said this: 

    What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right . . . 

    but it is from a speech by Judge Learned Hand. 

    • #1
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Yes. You are right.

    Mostly.

     

    • #2
  3. Eustace C. Scrubb Member
    Eustace C. Scrubb
    @EustaceCScrubb

    Pretty much agree. Except on some issues where some conservatives believe they have moral certainty, like abortion. But even then, should be approached with humility. Just isn’t many times.

    • #3
  4. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    That’s half of it.

    The other half is admitting that we can know some things–like that babies happen when something involving Man + Woman happens, and that the baby needs both of them.

    Where Can We Find Knowledge?

    • #4
  5. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Yes, we American Conservatives have been from the beginning defined by our humility, as Edmund Burke made explicitly clear in his debate with Thomas Paine.

    You are very perceptive. You might like studying Mises and Hayek some day when you retire. They make exactly the same point. To understand political economy is to discover that humility is the beginning of knowledge.

    • #5
  6. Chowderhead Coolidge
    Chowderhead
    @Podunk

    Dr. Bastiat: One of my favorite quotes from PJ O’Rourke is “I’m a conservative, so I have a poor grasp of stuff I don’t know anything about.

    I don’t know Doc, but man that quote is spot on and hilarious. 

    • #6
  7. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Still a favorite:

     

    • #7
  8. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    I think you’re onto something. I observe that leftists are very focused on identity — particularly identifying with the Left because in order to be a “good” person one must be a leftist. It’s very circular and turns leftists into conformists — whatever the latest leftist position happens to be — feminism, pro-abortion, pro-same-sex “marriage,” pro-transing children. . . 

    Conservatives — especially Christians — see all people as infinitely precious as made in the image and likeness of God, but also capable of great evil. And all are broken in some way and with disordered desires requiring God’s grace to resist the temptations. It tends to make conservatives much more individualistic (God has no grandchildren) and less arrogant, if not actually humble.

    Humility — when you think you have it, you don’t. 

    • #8
  9. Ray Gunner Coolidge
    Ray Gunner
    @RayGunner

    Dr. Bastiat: This general disposition tends to make conservatives more reluctant to pursue careers in government, and even more reluctant to use the power of government, which tends to unintentionally concede more control to leftists.

    Part of what drives people to carry on as if they know what they are talking about (even when they don’t) is the fear of admitting ignorance or error.  And the fear of admitting ignorance/error is strong in people with narcissistic personalities.  And G_d knows there are lot more of those types around than there used to be.  Sometimes I think we would have a lot less leftism if we had fewer narcissists.

    • #9
  10. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Ray Gunner (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat: This general disposition tends to make conservatives more reluctant to pursue careers in government, and even more reluctant to use the power of government, which tends to unintentionally concede more control to leftists.

    Part of what drives people to carry on as if they know what they are talking about (even when they don’t) is the fear of admitting ignorance or error. And the fear of admitting ignorance/error is strong in people with narcissistic personalities. And G_d knows there are lot more of those types around than there used to be. Sometimes I think we would have a lot less leftism if we had fewer narcissists.

    I blame the self-esteem movement in parenting and schooling that really took off in the 1970’s. 

    • #10
  11. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    I think you’re onto something. I observe that leftists are very focused on identity — particularly identifying with the Left because in order to be a “good” person one must be a leftist. It’s very circular and turns leftists into conformists — whatever the latest leftist position happens to be — feminism, pro-abortion, pro-same-sex “marriage,” pro-transing children. . .

    Conservatives — especially Christians — see all people as infinitely precious as made in the image and likeness of God, but also capable of great evil. And all are broken in some way and with disordered desires requiring God’s grace to resist the temptations. It tends to make conservatives much more individualistic (God has no grandchildren) and less arrogant, if not actually humble.

    Humility — when you think you have it, you don’t.

    “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll bet I’m twice as humble as you are!”

    • #11
  12. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    I think you’re onto something. I observe that leftists are very focused on identity — particularly identifying with the Left because in order to be a “good” person one must be a leftist. It’s very circular and turns leftists into conformists — whatever the latest leftist position happens to be — feminism, pro-abortion, pro-same-sex “marriage,” pro-transing children. . .

    Conservatives — especially Christians — see all people as infinitely precious as made in the image and likeness of God, but also capable of great evil. And all are broken in some way and with disordered desires requiring God’s grace to resist the temptations. It tends to make conservatives much more individualistic (God has no grandchildren) and less arrogant, if not actually humble.

    Humility — when you think you have it, you don’t.

    With the exception of religion and Catholics in particular. 

    • #12
  13. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    I think you’re onto something. I observe that leftists are very focused on identity — particularly identifying with the Left because in order to be a “good” person one must be a leftist. It’s very circular and turns leftists into conformists — whatever the latest leftist position happens to be — feminism, pro-abortion, pro-same-sex “marriage,” pro-transing children. . .

    Conservatives — especially Christians — see all people as infinitely precious as made in the image and likeness of God, but also capable of great evil. And all are broken in some way and with disordered desires requiring God’s grace to resist the temptations. It tends to make conservatives much more individualistic (God has no grandchildren) and less arrogant, if not actually humble.

    Humility — when you think you have it, you don’t.

    “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll bet I’m twice as humble as you are!”

    I agree with WC. What the world need is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left. 

    • #13
  14. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Ray Gunner (View Comment):
    Sometimes I think we would have a lot less leftism if we had fewer narcissists.

    And perhaps the reverse, too.

    • #14
  15. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Django (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    I think you’re onto something. I observe that leftists are very focused on identity — particularly identifying with the Left because in order to be a “good” person one must be a leftist. It’s very circular and turns leftists into conformists — whatever the latest leftist position happens to be — feminism, pro-abortion, pro-same-sex “marriage,” pro-transing children. . .

    Conservatives — especially Christians — see all people as infinitely precious as made in the image and likeness of God, but also capable of great evil. And all are broken in some way and with disordered desires requiring God’s grace to resist the temptations. It tends to make conservatives much more individualistic (God has no grandchildren) and less arrogant, if not actually humble.

    Humility — when you think you have it, you don’t.

    “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll bet I’m twice as humble as you are!”

    I agree with WC. What the world need is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left.

    Bwahahaa!

    • #15
  16. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    I think, Doc, you just made an iconic statement
    “ Leftists are people who do not know what they are talking about but are certain they are correct. Conservatives are people who do not know what they are talking about either but are willing to acknowledge it.” This is why conservatives want freedom and leftists want control. I must burn that succinct definition into my brain. Fantastic!

    • #16
  17. Terry Mott Member
    Terry Mott
    @TerryMott

    It seems to me there’s another category of leftist, which consists of those who see the government as some sort of omniscient, omnipotent father-figure, presumably out of a desire for a sense of security.  I suppose this sort of qualifies as a sense of certainty, but it’s not certainty in their own opinions, but in the capability of their current god-king.

    • #17
  18. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Related:  Starvation and Centralization.

    • #18
  19. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    cdor (View Comment):

    I think, Doc, you just made an iconic statement
    “ Leftists are people who do not know what they are talking about but are certain they are correct. Conservatives are people who do not know what they are talking about either but are willing to acknowledge it.” This is why conservatives want freedom and leftists want control. I must burn that succinct definition into my brain. Fantastic!

    I picked that up from Bertrand Russell first.  At least 50 years ago.  Not sure how much earlier he wrote his first version of that.

    “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

    • #19
  20. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    kedavis (View Comment):

    cdor (View Comment):

    I think, Doc, you just made an iconic statement
    “ Leftists are people who do not know what they are talking about but are certain they are correct. Conservatives are people who do not know what they are talking about either but are willing to acknowledge it.” This is why conservatives want freedom and leftists want control. I must burn that succinct definition into my brain. Fantastic!

    I picked that up from Bertrand Russell first. At least 50 years ago.

    “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

    Wasn’t he the definition of an arrogant controlling leftist?

    • #20
  21. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    cdor (View Comment):

    I think, Doc, you just made an iconic statement
    “ Leftists are people who do not know what they are talking about but are certain they are correct. Conservatives are people who do not know what they are talking about either but are willing to acknowledge it.” This is why conservatives want freedom and leftists want control. I must burn that succinct definition into my brain. Fantastic!

    I picked that up from Bertrand Russell first. At least 50 years ago.

    “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

    Wasn’t he the definition of an arrogant controlling leftist?

    Never seemed like it to me, from what I read.  Anyway, why would an arrogant controlling leftist even think of that, much less write it and publish it?

    • #21
  22. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    • #22
  23. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    I think it is a temptation among people who are passionate about politics to draw stark moral lines between themselves and the people in the opposite camp.  We all want to believe that the people who agree with us are noble, decent, and intelligent, while the people on the other side are degenerates and fools.  I think both sides have people who are thoughtful and people who are dopes.  Both who are willing to at least listen to the other side, and people who just want to be told, “We are the good people, they are the bad people.”

    • #23
  24. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    I think it is a temptation among people who are passionate about politics to draw stark moral lines between themselves and the people in the opposite camp. We all want to believe that the people who agree with us are noble, decent, and intelligent, while the people on the other side are degenerates and fools. I think both sides have people who are thoughtful and people who are dopes. Both who are willing to at least listen to the other side, and people who just want to be told, “We are the good people, they are the bad people.”

    There might be some degree of that, but it’s been my experience at least that the people on the left haven’t given much if any actual thought to what they claim to believe.  If you ask them WHY they believe something, they’re often unlikely to have any answer other than something like “because that’s what MSNBC told me I should believe.”  IF they even realize THAT much.  I don’t think you find nearly as many on the right who only believe something because Rush said so, or because Trump said so.

    • #24
  25. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    A CEO…I believe running one of the heavy equipment companies…remarked that the key to making good decisions is to go into the thicket of ambiguity and suffer there a while…and then come out the other side.

    • #25
  26. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    I think it is a temptation among people who are passionate about politics to draw stark moral lines between themselves and the people in the opposite camp. We all want to believe that the people who agree with us are noble, decent, and intelligent, while the people on the other side are degenerates and fools. I think both sides have people who are thoughtful and people who are dopes. Both who are willing to at least listen to the other side, and people who just want to be told, “We are the good people, they are the bad people.”

    There might be some degree of that, but it’s been my experience at least that the people on the left haven’t given much if any actual thought to what they claim to believe. If you ask them WHY they believe something, they’re often unlikely to have any answer other than something like “because that’s what MSNBC told me I should believe.” IF they even realize THAT much. I don’t think you find nearly as many on the right who only believe something because Rush said so, or because Trump said so.

    Now, NPR might be a different matter. And there was that member who disparaged anyone who disparaged Joe Scarborough. 

    • #26
  27. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    I think you’re onto something. I observe that leftists are very focused on identity — particularly identifying with the Left because in order to be a “good” person one must be a leftist. It’s very circular and turns leftists into conformists — whatever the latest leftist position happens to be — feminism, pro-abortion, pro-same-sex “marriage,” pro-transing children. . .

    Conservatives — especially Christians — see all people as infinitely precious as made in the image and likeness of God, but also capable of great evil. And all are broken in some way and with disordered desires requiring God’s grace to resist the temptations. It tends to make conservatives much more individualistic (God has no grandchildren) and less arrogant, if not actually humble.

    Humility — when you think you have it, you don’t.

    “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll bet I’m twice as humble as you are!”

    “Humility is one of my most admirable traits.”

    • #27
  28. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    I think you’re onto something. I observe that leftists are very focused on identity — particularly identifying with the Left because in order to be a “good” person one must be a leftist. It’s very circular and turns leftists into conformists — whatever the latest leftist position happens to be — feminism, pro-abortion, pro-same-sex “marriage,” pro-transing children. . .

    Conservatives — especially Christians — see all people as infinitely precious as made in the image and likeness of God, but also capable of great evil. And all are broken in some way and with disordered desires requiring God’s grace to resist the temptations. It tends to make conservatives much more individualistic (God has no grandchildren) and less arrogant, if not actually humble.

    Humility — when you think you have it, you don’t.

    “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll bet I’m twice as humble as you are!”

    “Humility is one of my most admirable traits.”

    Won the bronze in humility at the Barcelona Olympics, though I don’t like to talk about it much.

    • #28
  29. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Sisyphus (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    I think you’re onto something. I observe that leftists are very focused on identity — particularly identifying with the Left because in order to be a “good” person one must be a leftist. It’s very circular and turns leftists into conformists — whatever the latest leftist position happens to be — feminism, pro-abortion, pro-same-sex “marriage,” pro-transing children. . .

    Conservatives — especially Christians — see all people as infinitely precious as made in the image and likeness of God, but also capable of great evil. And all are broken in some way and with disordered desires requiring God’s grace to resist the temptations. It tends to make conservatives much more individualistic (God has no grandchildren) and less arrogant, if not actually humble.

    Humility — when you think you have it, you don’t.

    “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll bet I’m twice as humble as you are!”

    “Humility is one of my most admirable traits.”

    Won the bronze in humility at the Barcelona Olympics, though I don’t like to talk about it much.

    You have much to be humble about, almost much as I do–I won silver.

    • #29
  30. Lunchbox Gerald Coolidge
    Lunchbox Gerald
    @Jose

    Dr. Bastiat: When I’m giving a lecture to a group of physicians, I remind them that they are unlikely to make a really big mistake and kill somebody, unless they are absolutely sure that they’re right.  Certainty leads to tunnel vision, and makes it difficult to consider possibilities beyond that which seems obvious to you.

    Yeah. That certainty that I know what is right, and I know who is wrong, is dangerous and arrogant.

    I was watching a Jordan Peterson lecture where he pointed out that the serpent tempted Adam and Eve with the knowledge of Good and Evil.

    Gen 3:5  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

    And of course when one knows what is good or evil, and doesn’t rely on God for those definitions, one is truly sinful.  That was the beginning of sin, not because man knew what good or evil was, but that man thought HE could decide what was good or evil.

    At least that is what I understood Peterson to say.  And it makes a lot of sense.  We have too many people deciding what is good or evil for everyone else.  Which is an evil thing to do.  Because they are not God, whether they realize it or not.

    • #30
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