Shelby Steele on Why It’s So Hard to Argue With Liberals

 

steeleI’ve finally gotten round to reading Shelby Steele’s Shame. The book is really an extended essay — a superb one at that — and I just ran across a section that goes to the heart of the conservative/liberal schism.

But before the quote, a bit of context:  Steele makes an unassailable argument that liberalism is not based on facts, but on what he calls “poetic truths,” things like the idea that blacks are eternal victims, that whites (no matter how benign) are infected with privilege, that women (even Carly Fiorina or Hillary Clinton) are oppressed by the patriarchy. Having accepted these poetic truths, liberals are immunized against all contrary facts.

Now, the quote:

Insistence on poetic truth is the methodology — if not the essence — of post-1960s liberalism. This liberalism is an ideology and a politics of ugly givens (America is racist; America is militaristic; American is sexist), and it seeks power in the name of overcoming these givens with little regard to whether they are actually true. Its fundamental corruption is that it demands power commensurate with the hyperbole of its poetic truths.  And today — after fifty years of real moral evolution in America — these poetic truths are indeed hyperbolic.

Liberalism in the twenty-first century is, for the most part, manipulation that exaggerates inequity and unfairness in American life in order to justify overreaching public policies and programs.

I’ve often puzzled over why it’s impossible to to engage a liberal in the arena of actual facts. Steele explains why: because they don’t live there; they live in the netherworld of the poetic truth.

Bonus quote, which also seems exactly right:

[F]or me, ideology does not precede truth. Rather, truth, as best we can know it, is always the test of ideology.

So why, after failure upon failure, are there still Marxists and socialists?  Because, for them, ideology precedes truth.

Read the book.  It’s undiluted wisdom.

There are 24 comments.

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  1. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    Thanks for this!

    • #1
  2. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    I will most likely appreciate this book.

    But – heavy sigh! – I wish, oh how I wish! That someone could figure out a way to rescue people from that country of ugly poetic truths.

    • #2
  3. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Like.

    • #3
  4. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Just arrived from Amazon today and can’t wait to share thoughts. I love this author.

    • #4
  5. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @Martel

    I can’t recommend his White Guilt more strongly.  I’ll try to check this out.

    However, I’d argue that Steele describes that it’s exceptionally difficult to argue with liberals, not that you “can’t.”

    Yes, they’re masters of evasion and changing the subject.  Yes, they disregard facts (other than those that taken out of context seem to prove their point).  Indeed, arguing with them is quite the challenge.

    But it can be done.  First, distinguish between those lefties for whom leftism is their religion and those who have their hearts in the right place.

    As for the first group, you’ve only two reasons to talk politics with them:  1) there are other people listening in who might be persuaded and 2) practice.  If the former is the case, ensure your audience knows you’re a good person and then humiliate them, call them on every fallacy, don’t let them change the subject, respond to insults with righteous indignation, mock them, and overwhelm them with confusion and shame.

    As for the latter group, consistently assure them that you do in fact care about the poor (or blacks, etc.), and then elaborate on how leftism actually makes things worse for those people.  If they truly care (and they sometimes actually do), they’ll want to do what’s right by these people.  Leftism is the opposite of that.

    Obviously this is a very quick summation.  Just don’t give up.

    • #5
  6. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I worked on a book by Harriett Woods, Stepping up to Power: The Political Journey of Women in America, published by Basic Books in 2000.

    This is the Amazon description of the book:

    “The sweeping changes in political opportunities for women over the past 40 years can be mirrored in the life of Harriett Woods, the former president of the National Women’s Political Caucus. Her book Stepping Up to Power combines memoir and history in considering just how far women have come: 80 years ago women won the right to vote; today, more than 40 percent of Bill Clinton’s appointments as president were women, including six cabinet members and a Supreme Court justice. Woods personally experienced the difficulties encountered by women who wanted a career outside the home when she tried to get a newspaper job in the early 1950s after graduating from college. Paper after paper told her that women didn’t belong in the newsroom, but she persevered until she was finally hired by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Like most women of her time, Woods ventured into politics with involvement in civic organizations working to solve local problems. “Each of us began with a passionate desire to impact some issue and somehow ended up with political careers,” writes Woods, who got herself elected to the Missouri State Senate and as lieutenant governor of Missouri, but failed in bids for the U.S. Senate in 1982 and 1986.”

    [continued] 

    • #6
  7. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    [continued from note 6]

    With all due respect to Shelby Steele, the feminists in this age bracket are far more aggressive than the black activists have ever been, in my opinion at least.

    This book was really shocking to me.

    And it was inconsistent with reality–but then obsessions always are. Obviously Harriett Woods did not suffer too much given that she ended up as a lieutenant governor. But that’s how these women of this age and ambition think.

    Woods talks a lot about how the most important goal of the women’s caucus has been to get a woman, Hillary Clinton to be exact, in the White House.

    And they might succeed. They have been working on this for thirty years.

    It’s not about anything except power, something that comes through very clearly in this book. This book was written for the Left, and so the author is quite open about the goals and objectives of the movement because they believe it is right and just.

    • #7
  8. Lance Inactive
    Lance
    @Lance

    Nice! Been thinking on this topic of late and trying to figure out how to enunciate the issue. This saves me the trouble.

    The culture celebrates the civil rights warrior of old…and rewards those who seek to take up their battles anew, regardless of actual need.

    • #8
  9. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    The more I live the more I realize that humanity is fundamentally irrational. Shelby Steele’s book explains why this is better than almost any other.

    • #9
  10. Kim K. Inactive
    Kim K.
    @KimK

    On a recent podcast Milt Rosenberg was interviewing a Muslim chaplain, a Christian professor, and a Jewish rabbi. He asked them if Abraham was, in fact, a historical figure.

    The Muslim – yes!

    The Christian – yes!

    The rabbi – well…..not necessarily, because you have to distinguish between truth and fact.

    • #10
  11. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @Martel

    Henry Castaigne:The more I live the more I realize that humanity is fundamentally irrational. Shelby Steele’s book explains why this is better than almost any other.

    It’s the inability to realize this that holds us back as much as anything.

    Like many of us, I assumed that the “war on women” meme was doomed to fail–it just seemed so stupid.  But people don’t vote based on rational policy analysis, they vote how they do because it’s cool, they want stuff, they’re afraid, they like somebody (the beer test), or “because he seems to care about people like me.”

    Meanwhile, we’re getting spanked because the other side recognizes this as we try to appeal to the better angels of our nature.

    Yes, we want people to side with us based on reason, and that’s the only way to make somebody consistently conservative (once you truly understand how stupid socialism is you’ll never vote for it).

    But for elections, we need to inspire people, make them strongly dislike the other guy, and work with feelings.

    That’s not how it should be, but that is how it is.  Yes, think tanks and in depth policy analysis has its role, but we need to recognize that a clever slogan beats a rational argument almost every time.

    • #11
  12. Pseudodionysius Coolidge
    Pseudodionysius
    @Pseudodionysius

    2+2= 4 and 5 and 15 and 5 million because it’s more creative, expressive and compassionate and the old rules of arithmetic don’t meet the new requirements of a post modern age.

    • #12
  13. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    I think Steele is right on why we can’t argue with Liberals – our foundational view of reality is different and at odds.  However, I wouldn’t call them “poetic truths.”  I would call them delusions.

    • #13
  14. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Good stuff, tabula rasa.

    • #14
  15. civil westman Inactive
    civil westman
    @user_646399

    This is an accurate and excellent assessment. That the left has undertaken this tactic knowingly and willfully is evidenced by the public school system, which for generations has taught the rubrics of leftism to the exclusion of the critical thinking necessary to refute it. They have won the culture and that is why we have lost.

    • #15
  16. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    You see this carried to its logical conclusion when a man decides he is now a woman or a white woman decides she is really black.  It’s all based on feelings in contravention of reality.

    • #16
  17. Pseudodionysius Coolidge
    Pseudodionysius
    @Pseudodionysius

    Whiskey Sam:You see this carried to its logical conclusion when a man decides he is now a woman or a white woman decides she is really black. It’s all based on feelings in contravention of reality.

    Biology is patriarchal and authoritarian as it was created by dead white males.

    • #17
  18. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    The recent Planned Parenthood videos (and reactions) relate to this question, in my mind.  Some people are “pro-choice” and fully embrace all the implications of taking that to the logical conclusion, and therefore cannot be offended by what they’ve seen in the videos.  Some are pro-life and don’t really consider that what’s in the videos is any more shocking or horrifying than what we already knew was happening.  But there are some people who consider themselves pro-choice, and yet consider that these videos demonstrate a step too far (for instance, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-price-of-fetal-parts/2015/07/23/13cb5668-316d-11e5-8353-1215475949f4_story.html?hpid=z2 ).  It seems that some of those people might be prepared for some discussion.

    And I want to add this link just because:  http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2015/07/planned-parenthoods-week-in-pictures.php

    • #18
  19. user_82762 Thatcher
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    TR,

    Big Like!

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #19
  20. user_348375 Inactive
    user_348375
    @TrinityWaters

    In college, before deciding on a major, I took a three term series of Critical Thinking, the last term of which concentrated on logic and fallacies.  As far as I know, this class wasn’t required for any degree; I just got lucky.  It should be required in high school.  My BS detector is far above average, and has probably helped enable my full-scale shift to conservative thought and positions.

    • #20
  21. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Tom Riehl:In college, before deciding on a major, I took a three term series of Critical Thinking, the last term of which concentrated on logic and fallacies. As far as I know, this class wasn’t required for any degree; I just got lucky. It should be required in high school.

    Yeah!  Bring back the Trivium!

    • #21
  22. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @Martel

    Tom Riehl:In college, before deciding on a major, I took a three term series of Critical Thinking, the last term of which concentrated on logic and fallacies. As far as I know, this class wasn’t required for any degree; I just got lucky. It should be required in high school. My BS detector is far above average, and has probably helped enable my full-scale shift to conservative thought and positions.

    A logic book was our primary text for a history class, turned out to be the best class I ever took.  It taught me how to think.

    • #22
  23. raycon and lindacon Inactive
    raycon and lindacon
    @rayconandlindacon

    Henry Castaigne:The more I live the more I realize that humanity is fundamentally irrational. Shelby Steele’s book explains why this is better than almost any other.

    Fundamentally, man is not irrational, he is religious.  Man starts with a world view, and bases his life on that view.  And the foundation of that world view is God or not-God.  God defined as the Creator of the universe, to whom we are answerable.  Make that decision and you have cast your future.

    If you choose God, then you will defend your views, because your very eternity depends on the truth of what you believe.  Fail in that decision and you will be defeated by any other religion, progressivism, global warming, Islam, take your pick.  They all have a god whom they serve.

    At one point Americans did also, at least enough of those who led the nation.

    • #23
  24. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Most of my progressive friends care about as much about their politics as my Christian friends do about God. John Stuart was like Sunday mass to them. It goes infinitely more deeper than what policies make sense to them.

    • #24

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