Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Narcissism of Small Differences

Counterjihad: ur doin it wrong

“It is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of hostility between them.” — Sigmund Freud

“The person who agrees with you eighty percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a twenty percent traitor.” — attributed to Ronald Reagan

I come in for a lot of criticism in this line of work. All in all, it’s a good thing — reasonable criticism forces me to look more closely at my positions and adjust them as necessary when I’m wrong. Even when I disagree with a friendly critic, I generally learn something from our exchange of views. Unreasonable or overly hostile criticism can simply be ignored — I don’t enjoy blog wars, so staying out of them entirely is always the preferred option.

The sustained process of this continual argumentation has made me realize that some of those who argue so passionately don’t always distinguish fact from opinion.

In the world of ideas, most assertions are the opinions of the author, and facts are relatively few. Because the facts are already accepted as true by almost everyone — the Flat Earth Society being one of those rare exceptions — they are not generally argued. Unless someone values contention for its own sake, he won’t tend to argue about statements such as “An electron carries a negative charge”, or “The Second Siege of Vienna was lifted on September 12, 1683”.

In contrast, the assertion that “Bob Dylan is a great songwriter” is obviously a matter of opinion. Nevertheless, there are many ardent fans of the Bard From Brooklyn whose logical skills are so rudimentary that they do consider this statement a fact, and view any assertion to the contrary as a lie, rather than a difference of opinion. The Earth revolves around the sun, chickens hatch from eggs, and Bob Dylan is a great songwriter — all three statements represent facts of the same order.

Between these two extremes lies a large murky area, which grades from near-facts on one side into considered opinion on the other. Certain opinions may eventually be transformed into facts when enough evidence is collected to support them, but most remain stubbornly in the realm of supposition and conjecture, and will for the foreseeable future.

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It can be frustrating to argue with people who fail to distinguish clearly between opinions and facts. Opinions include a range of useful discursive elements — assumptions, conjectures, educated guesses, intuitions, personal feelings, and so on — but we are better served if we distinguish these from facts. From the point of view of mathematics or formal logic, facts comprise the premises which are agreed upon by all concerned, and the rules of logic may be used on them to reach carefully derived results, which in turn become facts, and may be used as premises in further logical analysis.

The above is belaboring the obvious, yet it seems that many people will argue vehemently on behalf of their own opinions as if they were facts, and heap scorn and vitriol on the heads of all who dare to disagree with them.

To descend from the airy empyrean and offer a specific example: consider the hypothetical existence of the “moderate Muslim”. This is a recurring argument, not just in the comments on this blog, but across all the forums and sites of the Counterjihad. I tend to assert the nonexistence of the moderate Muslim, but this is an opinion. It is not a fact.

In a century or two it may become established as a historical fact — “The Great Cataclysm of 2021 demonstrated that there had never really been a ‘moderate’ Muslim, much to the chagrin of those who survived the terrible events of that year.”

Or it may never be established one way or the other.

In any case, from our limited viewpoint at this historical moment, it remains an opinion.

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My goal in pursuing this work is to facilitate as broad a coalition as possible among those who agree that Islam poses a grave threat to Western Civilization.

The range of opinion that would be acceptable in such a coalition warrants the inclusion of:

1. Those who see a threat from radical Islam, but attempt to find allies among “moderate” Muslims.
2. Those who see Islam itself as the problem, and wish to counter it ideologically with propaganda, education, and military action where required.
3. Those who would deport all non-citizen Muslims, revoke the citizenship of criminal Muslims, and institute draconian incentives for the rest to emigrate from the West.
4. Christians who view the main problem as the erosion of Christian faith in Western nations, and see the revival of muscular Christianity as our only hope.
5. Those who believe the most pressing issue is to preserve white Europeans and their descendants, whose very existence is under threat both genetically and culturally (a.k.a. “white nationalists”).
6. Jews who find common cause with gentiles against Islam, but are reluctant to work with those who may be “neo-Nazis”.
7. Social liberals (including feminists and gays) who regard with horror Islamic doctrines on women, homosexuals, atheists, etc.
8. Social conservatives who want to protect the most treasured customs, traditions, and institutions of European civilization.

Some might argue that certain other groups should be included. Communists such as Maryam Namazie, for example — although I would expect a committed Communist to become an eventual “wrecker” of the coalition in the interests of Communist domination. Or those who oppose jihad, yet consider Islam to be a religion like any other religion — can they ever really be an effective part of a joint effort?

It might also be argued that some of the groups I mentioned — the believers in “moderate Muslims”, for example, who often regard the rest of us with such distaste — should be excluded from a working coalition.

All of these interest groups base their differences on matters of opinion, and even the discussion of who should be included is itself a matter of opinion.

None of this is based on fact. It is based on intuitions and educated guesses about what might — just might — work. Our attempts will be based on trial and error, and we won’t know what the facts are until we find out what actually works, which won’t happen until long after I’m dead.

In any case, as you can see, there are large areas of overlap among these different and disparate groups, and an anti-jihad activist might fall into more than one of the categories. Some of them, however, are antithetical to one another, and mutually exclusive. Any coalition including such disparate elements can only be forged if all those involved agree to put aside their crucial differences until after the common objective is achieved. In this regard, we need to behave like the Shi’ites and the Sunnis under the umbrella of the OIC.

Needless to say, such a broad and inclusive enterprise is quixotic at best, and has a high probability of failure. Without a charismatic leader who is also an organizational genius, our chances of success are not encouraging.

Nevertheless, it’s worth a try. I didn’t get into this line of work for the money or the fame or the free chicks — I’m willing to cooperate with other like-minded people to try to make it workable.

I can’t think of anything better to do in the time that remains to me.

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It’s important to remember that for some ideologues it is more important to adhere to strict principles than it is to succeed in the cause. If success means compromising those cherished principles, then failure is to be preferred.

The quest for doctrinal purity occurs more often in some groups than in others. Dogma looms large to certain elements of our coalition — and not just the religious ones. People who rule out all doctrinal variation will be of limited practical value to the common endeavor, even though their writings and analysis may be useful.

There will always remain those whose commitment to principles — which principles are entirely based on their opinions — is so complete that they cannot involve themselves with anyone who deviates from those narrowly defined principles. They refuse to heed Freud’s admonition about “the narcissism of small differences”, and hold those differences to be the most important facts of all. We need not bear them any animus, but we will have to soldier on without them.

The rest of us must resign ourselves to living with doubt and uncertainty. We will always be operating with less than complete information, but if we agree on a single fact — Islam is a deadly danger to us all — then we can work together.

Everything else is a matter of opinion, and I can live with differences of opinion.


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Baron Bodissey said...

OK, this thread has reached 200 comments. That means everyone is now officially beating a dead horse.

This here is an ex-horse.

It's a moribund equine.

It's pushing up daisies.

This horse has grown wings, picked up a harp, and is singing with the choir eternal.

Go right to the source and ask the horse. He'll give you the answer that you'll endorse:

This thread is now MR. DEAD.

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