Sunday, February 22, 2009

You Have to Stand For Something

This is the 1000th post written to the Nexus of Assholery. On occasions such as this, your not-so-humble scribe likes to take a few minutes out and write from a more personal perspective.

1000 posts seems like as good a time as any to reflect on what
The Nexus is supposed to be. The following is a reflection on precisely that.


In the increasingly complex and increasingly post-modern world, it can often be hard to decide precisely what one stands for.

Some people are up to the challenge of making this decision. History's greatest figures are known as such because, win or lose, they staked out what they believed in and refused to falter.

Many people aren't as resolute in their beliefs as individuals such as Martin Luther King, Tommy Douglas or Scotty Bowman. The pages of history are equally filled with figures such as Oliver Cromwell, Brian Mulroney and Neville Chamberlain -- individuals who proved flexible in their beliefs to the detriment of many.

Much worse than these people, however, are an even more dangerous group of people. These are the people who believe in nothing, or who in the very least refuse to stand up for their beliefs.

Having nothing to stand for isn't merely an absence of conviction. In it's own way, believing in nothing is a particularly pervasive moral hazard.

For one thing, believing in nothing silences a potentially powerful voice. Many worthy and important causes were achieved because people who may otherwise regard themselves as too powerless or insignificant to be part of something important.

To choose to stand for nothing out of fear of futility is merely one moral hazard of not actually believing in anything.

Another moral hazard reflects the price of a lack of conviction: those who believe in nothing are all the more likely to be ruled by people who do believe in something -- even if what these particular individuals believe in should be judged as abhorrent by any rational or moral person.

A lack of beliefs, by necessity, must flow out of an individual's disinterest in the world around them. Just as those who believe in nothing are likely to be ruled over by individuals who hold beliefs of their own, those who are disinterested are destined to be ruled over by those who are. Sometimes their interests may not reflect what such an individual would want from their life.

A particular moral hazard is that of ad hominem reasoning. Often, ad hominem reasoning is the intellectual refuge of those who have confined themselves within a political ideology so deeply that they cannot separate politics from morality. More importantly, they can't separate the ideas of anyone who might disagree with them from from narrowly-defined notions of immorality.

An ad hominem argument is often explained as attempting to argue that because a particular individual is evil, anything they say is evil. Ad hominem reasoning takes this notion an illogical step further -- it is found deeply entrenched in the thinking of anyone who believes that because their political opponents are evil that anyone who makes them angry must be good.

People suffering from this impediment range from conservatives who recognize Ann Coulter's vitriol for what it is yet defend her because she attacks liberals to liberals who recognized Heather Mallick's invective and defended her merely because she made conservatives angry.

If you were to ask them, these people would insist that they stand for something. Yet when the conservative excuses the abuses perpetrated by Augusto Pinochet or when the liberal excuses the human rights record of countries like Iran it becomes clear that when it matters most these people stand for nothing.

No one who would excuse obvious moral violations by their particular "side" for simple virtue of parochialism should ever be taken seriously.

Sadly, many of those people will be taken seriously -- but largely only by those who already share their empty convictions. At the very least it helps the rest of us to identify those who believe in nothing.

These moral hazards are particularly dangerous because no matter what those who have fallen victim to them may insist, they are chosen. They may not be rationally chosen, but they are chosen nonetheless.

If one decides to undertake the (somehow) overglamourized yet (often) underappreciated vocation -- clearly better described as hobby of being a political blogger, why one is blogging and what one believes in should be closely intertwined.

Few people should blog under the delusion that their blogging will change the world. Even if some the enterprising and courageous bloggers in otherwise-oppressive countries like China, Cuba and Iran bring us valuable dispatches from parts of the world in which change is evidently badly needed, change in those countries appears as far off as ever.

If the prospects of affecting change in such places is so remote, just imagine the prospects of bloggers forcing changes in countries where a (mostly) just status quo has emerged.

Bloggers cannot honestly expect to change the world through blogging. Their blogging may support broader movements of social or political change, and may thus be a factor in such change, but they cannot accomplish it on their own.

The best reason to blog may well be as an expression of what one stands for.

And with the world in the state it's in, one thing is evident: a person has to stand for something. A person has to believe in something. Otherwise they can be expected to fall for anything.

The Change (video)


  1. You touch on something very important in this post, namely the need for respect and civility in debate.

    You and I disagree on a lot of things, including NAFTA, public subsidies for political parties, proportional representation, and so on, but that's the sort of difference that pops up all the time. However, we agree on something much more fundamental, namely the evils of ideological rigidity and the need to show respect for one another. That's one of the main reasons we're friends, because we each respect each other's positions and don't decry each other as idiots, sellouts, or something else like that just for daring to disagree.

    That's why I have very strong relationships with local Conservatives like former Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament John Williams, current Edmonton-Leduc MP James Rajotte, and current Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman. I don't agree with everything their parties do, but I hold all three men in very high esteem for their fair-minded approach to politics, their equal-minded treatment of all their constituents regardless of party affiliation, and the fact that they're all just really nice guys.

    On the other hand, people like Kevin O'Leary on Dragon's Den and some of the major conservative intellectuals in this country who write for MacLean's or The National Post seriously rub me the wrong way, mostly because I get the impression that, in their mind, anyone who espouses differing viewpoints on taxes, the relationship between markets and governments, or who otherwise questions their views of market fundamentalism and strict individualism is a blithering idiot for daring to disagree with them.

    Similarly (and as much as it pains me to say this), I get the same vibes from people like Mel Hurtig and David Orchard on the other side of the debate. Hurtig and Orchard liberally use the terms "traitor" and "sellout" in their writings, and they take on a combative, us-versus-them tone that has almost certainly turned off many potential supporters. It really bothers me, and I say this as a guy who can agree with the content of a lot of what they say, if not the way they say it.

    Needless to say, it cuts both ways, as you alluded to in your blog. In the political arena too, it seems to be getting worse, as candidates actively smear one another with ugly attack ads, openly insult and heckle one another in legislatures, and generally seem to gravitate more and more to one political extreme or the other.

    It's a very worrying trend, and if there's one thing I personally am really hoping for from the Obama presidency, it's that Democrats and Republicans alike douse their powderkegs and work together for their people.

  2. I really got thinking about this topic when a commenter who insisted that they were in favour of human rights actually tried to defend Mahmoud Ahmaedinejad and Iran on their human rights record.

    Their argument was basically that the US was worse, and because the US was opposed to him, Ahmaedinejad (and Vladimir Putin) were somehow good.

    But someone should ask the family of someone killed in the Holocaust (which Ahmaedinejad organized a conference devoted to the denial of) or a gay man whipped for being gay (which Ahmadinejad also denies) if Ahmadinejad is a good guy.


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