Features, Politics

The Problem with ‘Facts Not Feelings’

In the midst of our turbulent political and cultural moment there endures an intellectual sub-culture that refuses to be dislodged by the relativism prevalent on the Left and the Right. In the crosshairs of postmodernist excess and ‘alternative facts,’ a number intellectuals and institutions are prioritizing moral and empirical truth over ideology. This is a space that includes organisations like the Heterodox Academy and the cluster of academics and public thinkers now known as the Intellectual Dark Web.

One of the brightest stars in this constellation is the conservative pundit Ben Shapiro—a gifted polemicist who has debated his way to prominence in American politics. With a podcast that reaches millions and a reputation for being as willing to criticize conservatives as he is to engage conventionally liberal thinkers in far-reaching conversations, Shapiro has given a face to popular conservatism that is strikingly more empirical and intellectually honest than that offered by the likes of Candace Owens, Steven Crowder, and Tomi Lahren. Nevertheless, one aspect of Shapiro’s message constitutes an over-correction that is itself in need of correction.

Shapiro is famous, in part, for touring college campuses and ‘destroying’ idealistic and emotional young progressives with the aphorism “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” However, there is an argument to be made on behalf of empathy in our discourse that is being heedlessly trampled by Shapiro’s defiant mode of aggressive argumentation. The narrow emphasis on ‘facts not feelings’ reflects a widespread misunderstanding of the role evidence plays in the apprehension of truth, which thwarts our ability to properly pursue empirical and ethical truth in the first place.

There is—or ought to be—obvious value in acknowledging the importance of facts when constructing and defending one’s worldview. The idea that undisciplined emotions distort the process of reason is an ancient one. When we look to the Left and see Ben Affleck leaping factual claims like hurdles in order to characterize Sam Harris’s views on Islam as racist, and then look to the Right and watch Kellyanne Conway describing provably false claims as ‘alternative facts,’ it reminds us that this bears repeating. Shapiro, therefore, has taken to intoning his admonition about facts and feelings repeatedly. During an appearance on the Rubin Report in January, Shapiro lamented the lurch away from evidence-based claims that American political dialogue has taken:

I’m not going to pretend that every opinion I have is a fact. But when there is a fact I try and distinguish it from my opinion. I’ll try to give you the fact and then say, “And now here’s my opinion on the fact.” Once we got away from the common basis of facts it’s very difficult to have a conversation at all.

Shapiro is, of course, right to say that our detachment from a common reliance upon facts makes conversation difficult. He goes on to mention that when he and his opponents can agree on the centrality of facts they are perfectly capable of having a cordial debate. This is all to Shapiro’s credit. Even so, his preoccupation with the decline of reasoned conversation in civil society also implies something else that is true—that the health of civic culture depends upon the restoration of functional dialogue. And this, like any complex and important issue, is more than just a question of facts per se. It raises the vexing question of how to communicate most productively with those who vehemently disagree. Is the proper strategy for accomplishing this to aggressively argue with people about what the facts are?

In 2014, at the age of 27, I ran against Maxine Waters as the Republican nominee for Congress in Los Angeles County. With little name recognition and no money, I was not taken seriously as a candidate by the institutional powers in my district. And yet, by the time the dust settled, I had managed to win 30 percent of the vote—a more respectable share than any of Congresswoman Waters’s previous opponents. As a black Republican, I am frequently asked how it felt to be called a ‘sellout’ and an ‘Uncle Tom’ over the course of the campaign. These are epithets that many on the Left sling at African-American conservatives such as Larry Elder, Clarence Thomas, Ben Carson, Hermain Cain, and black Republicans more generally. But, over the course of my entire campaign, I can hardly think of an occasion when those words were used to describe me.

Why does this matter? I can certainly remember occasions when people wanted to treat me poorly for being a Republican. I recall addressing a meet-and-greet at which a civil engineer responded enthusiastically to my every policy point until I casually mentioned I was a Republican. Thereafter, he challenged me at every turn. When I finished and passed around the signature form that would enable me to qualify for the ballot, he refused to sign, explaining “I just can’t help a Republican.” But everyone else signed, happily. On another occasion, I was invited to speak at a local church, only to sit through a 20 minute sermon from a guest preacher that could have been titled ‘Why Republicans are Pharisees.’ But when I was finally permitted to speak to the congregation for just two minutes, they responded with an ovation.

When I campaigned in South (erstwhile South-Central) Los Angeles, I never led with the fact that I was a Republican. I did not attack Maxine Waters, the Democratic Party, the federal government, or the progressive agenda. Nor did I disguise my views or my party affiliation. I led with statements of empathy for the struggles and aspirations of the community. I had differences of opinion with people whose votes I sought about whether or not the United States is an irredeemably racist country. But I didn’t declare this view to be wrong and list the data points (voting trends, increases in inter-racial marriage, the expansion of the black middle class, the popularity of African-American artists etc.) to debunk or ‘destroy’ their view.

Instead, I would speak to the feelings that had produced this view, acknowledging that the black experience in America has indeed been colored by a history of racism, and the myriad ways in which this history continues to have consequences for the present. I hoped to validate the understandable emotions that yield a perspective with which I differ. Having done so, I would tell the story of my father, a white man who had voted for Mitt Romney (and later for Trump), listened to talk radio, and yet was also a Jazz pianist who married a black woman, raised two black sons, and whose heroes in life were Willie Mays and Muhammad Ali. Only then did I proceed to list the statistical points that suggest that the United States, for all its inequality and faults, is not a racist country in anything like the way it once was. At which point people were willing to listen.

Differing opinions, even disagreements about facts, are not necessarily what leads to polarization. As Shapiro himself has noted, hostility is inflamed when our differences are perceived to be threatening to the validity of our identities and experiences. When disagreements are framed in a way that does not delegitimize the experiences of our opponents they cease to be emotionally threatening. And when disagreements cease to be emotionally threatening, it puts people at ease and affords them the space to consider new perspectives and ideas.

This observation echoes the main thesis of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, in which he argues that our faculty for reason labors to validate our intuitions (including our moral impulses), not vice versa. In Haidt’s analogy of the Rider and the Elephant (elaborated in the clip below), the Rider represents ‘strategic reasoning,’ whose direction is determined by the much larger and more powerful Elephant, which represents intuition and emotion. Haidt explains why so many debates fail to persuade, writing, “You can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments…If you want to change people’s minds, you’ve got to talk to their elephants.”

Ben Shapiro’s tendency has not been to talk to elephants so much as make them stampede. Take, for instance, the now-infamous tweet he sent in September 2010 which read: “Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage.” A fair-minded look at the tweets sent immediately after this one reveals that Shapiro’s assertion was made in reference to the Israeli and Arab political leaderships—not to these populations as a whole. Shapiro reiterated this explanation in a recent defense of the tweet at the Daily Wire, in which he describes the Left as “idiotic” for its collective failure to appreciate context.

But what Shapiro is really criticizing in his article is the willingness of people to be led by their elephants, even though this is inevitable and therefore entirely predictable. Regardless of any technical defense of the tweet disqualifying it as racist, if Shapiro’s objective as a good faith interlocutor is to invite people to consider new perspectives, then it is strategically unjustifiable. If, on the other hand, his intention is solely to enrage his opponents and electrify his supporters, then he is engaging in demagoguery and should not complain when people react exactly as intended.

If we are to talk to one another’s elephants in an effort to convince, we have to retain a capacity for empathy. If we discard empathy or treat it with boastful contempt, we sacrifice our ability to persuade, and reduce polemical prowess to an exercise in vanity. Eric Weinstein warned against this on Joe Rogan’s podcast saying (in reference to the Intellectual Dark Web) “I believe that fundamentally we are in danger of breaking empathy with people who do not express themselves in our idiom.” Indeed. The ‘facts don’t care about your feelings’ mantra is fair enough as a statement of the obvious. But as a moral statement, it is itself an expression of this very rupture of empathy.

Hyper-emphasis on the importance of facts strikes against our ability to properly understand those who disagree with us. It allows us to believe that their intuitions deserve our derision and condescension. The assumption that fidelity to fact is synonymous with Truth, in turn, leads to intellectual atrophy that frustrates both empathy and intellectual growth. As Eric Weinstein observed during his discussion with Rogan: “The claim that you fact-check has been synonymized with the claim that you are truthful, which is utter nonsense.”

Facts are unquestionably vital to the pursuit of understanding. But the possession of facts alone does not guarantee an accurate or optimal interpretation of those facts. How we feel about a set of facts has everything to do with how we interpret them. And how we interpret facts is, in part, a matter of values. Elsewhere in The Righteous Mind, Haidt theorizes that we rely for our intuitions upon moral foundations we share with other members of our tribe. If he’s right, then we can only explain our interpretation of facts to members of other tribes in ways that resonate with the moral foundations upon which they rely. And to do that, we must first acknowledge and understand them. This is what makes meaningful communication and reconciliation possible.

On balance, Ben Shapiro has been good for American political discourse. At his best, he can be a force for intellectual honesty, integrity, and even open-mindedness in our culture. Were he also to become a force for empathy and understanding he could be great.

 

John R. Wood, Jr. is a former nominee for Congress. He is Director of Media Development at Better Angels and hosts Transcending Politics. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnRWoodJr

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129 Comments

  1. Daniel says

    Good heavens, Mr. Wood! That’s a hella interesting article. You have me convinced, and I can see why experienced the success you did.

    • kris says

      Wood reminds me of the old school politician that is on the way out. Do we really have to address everyone’s elephant before having a discussion?
      Before we talk to a black man do we have to go through all the history of slavery and Jim Crow which virtually everyone already empathises with? We have heard it all a million times before. And besides it is just insincere buttering up before hitting him with the big BUT……Shapiro may be dismissive of feelings but that doesnt mean he is not capable of empathy. He simply wants to get on with the job. We need tough robust dialogue to solve the really complex problems we face today that deals more closely with the facts because it is a more effective way of getting things done instead of endlessly pussyfooting around to avoid someones feelings. As a theologian once put it we need to dole out justice and mercy in equal measure. The problem today is that feelings are playing a very high game. It is like emotions 5, Justice 1. Shapiro is just trying to restore the balance.

  2. Mary Harrington says

    So helpful. There’s a preponderance of both extremes, especially the emotional pole, in discourses, so I’ve felt comforted by Shapiro’s rationality. I’ve wondered anxiously why those at the emotional pole don’t care about facts and embrace feelings so intensely. This helps those of us who suffer with (cold) “rational guilt”. (We’re so lacking in empathy for all the victims of life’s inequities.)

  3. Henrie says

    This was superbly written. Ben Shapiro is a great spokesperson because and appeals to his base of conservatives with his oratory. He’s however not quite successful at changing minds thanks to his perpetual condescension towards his opponents.

    It’s also ironic how he loves facts so much yet strongly believes in religious baggage, basically a JBP lite on that one.

    • Daniel says

      Henrie, do you think he sees the irony? More likely he sees a connection between facts and his religious beliefs. Are there any of his beliefs that you would agree are backed up by facts?

      • Erica from Minnesota says

        I think you may be missing the point. It’s not his religious beliefs that need backing up by facts, but the fact that religion in America has provided much of the morality that allows people of all creeds, colors and backgrounds to live and work next to one another without grabbing pitchforks and torches.

        • Bradd Graves says

          I wonder what fantasy America you are referring to. Religious bigots constantly assert that they are entitled to special privileges to oppress people in the public domain, that homosexuals must and should be discriminated against, that every abortion is murder and should be outlawed across the board, that child abuse should go unpunished, and the list goes on. Those folks with the pitchforks and torches you refer to were typically a religious crowd, not a bunch of atheists.

          • Your list of lies is impressive – and a good example of anti-religious bigotry.

          • Charlie says

            The Left has changed. From the late 19th century , left wing politicians and many right wing politicians saw the suffering caused by slums which shamed Christian nations. Many practical people, born into poverty, especially Methodists, Baptists, Quakers undertook practical measures to alleviate suffering – by developing – clean water supplies , sewage systems, indoor lavatories and bathrooms, schools, libraries, universities, public baths, hospitals, doctors surgeries. They wished to improve society by rectifying the suffering of slum dwellers caused by rapid industrialisation. Florence Nightingale was inspired by her Christian Ethics and her statistical work showing how poor sanitation caused death led to the increase in life expectancy of slum dwellers by 20 years.

            Since the 1930s , as pointed out by Orwell and Muggeridge, there has grown the numbers of middle class left wing intellectuals who despise patriotism, the culture of the vast majority of people, physical courage , display a shallow self righteousness, have a developed totalitarian streak and only capable of carping criticism. Orwell said he did not fear a dictatorship of the proletariat as they had common decency; he did fear one of the middle class left wing intellectuals.

            In 1965 Herbert Marcuse( who never saw combat in WW2 fighting the Nazis) publishes – Repressive Tolerance . This marks a water shed as the left wing stopped being parties of practical people, many born into poverty, who just wanted to improve the quality of life of people into one run by middle class revolutionaries who wanted to destroy society; not improve it. By the late 1960s, some teenagers who had never known poverty or war decided to have temper tantrums because they were told to do things they did not like. In 1968, a seventy year old man could have been born into the slums, fought in WW1; endured the Depression and fought in WW2 where they have endured the Burma jungle or seen the concentration camps. Up to 1950s CND marches were conducted in humorous manner and police were in shirt sleeves. Wilde said ideas should be played with gracefully.

            From the mid 1960s, the Left has been dominated by impractical people who never knew the poverty of slums, being malnourished, dirty, experienced combat and who are incapable of playing with ideas gracefully; have totalitarian outlooks; are possessed of shallow self righteousness; bereft of common decency and only capable of carping criticism. Thy everything Orwell and Muggeridge identified and warned about in the left wing middle class intellectuals of 1930s has come true.

    • OleK says

      @Henrie How could you expect Shapiro to NOT have religious beliefs and incorporate them into his views? He’s a professed Orthodox Jew! But besides that, he has stated many times (or better yet, he continually states), that he mostly does NOT appeal to reason in his explanations.

      But yes, his condescension certainly doesn’t help his case.

      • OleK says

        Meant to say that “…that he mostly appeals ONLY to reason in his explanations.”

    • Steve says

      Henrie,.

      Religion deals with that which by definition transcends mere brute fact. Fear not, bovine materialism is easily overcome with several decades of serious reading. Or just cut straight to Godel’s incompleteness theorem for some inkling as to why your statement is so intellectually impoverished.

    • That misrepresents JBP. As an atheist I respect his position on the purpose of religion, and the mythic bases for it. JBP is very empathetic.

  4. Kessler says

    This is the same conclusion I’ve reached. Shapiro is good with facts, but it’s more difficult to connect with his ideas, unless you already believe in them. I think Andrew Klavan is a good contrast in how he better understands feelings of people and the narratives, that are happening. In my opinion, the world needs both righteous absolutists like Shapiro, to hold to high standards of reason and intellectual discourse and more empathetic and understanding people, who can see past abstract principles to engage with people.

  5. John AD says

    “Shapiro has given a face to popular conservatism that is strikingly more empirical and intellectually honest than that offered by the likes of Candace Owens, Steven Crowder, and Tomi Lahren.” Well, yes, but that’s not a high bar.

    How does this author know that his perception of the intellectual integrity of Shapiro is correct? Intuition? Empathy? Their “values” align, so he sees intellectual integrity. When I here Shapiro continually press the assumption that the “Judeo Christian tradition is a [foundation/requirement for Western values]” I hear no justification. Only assertion and emotional connection to his background. It’s intellectually dishonest. There’s so, so much more evidence (rather than the simple, partial, correlation of Christianity with the West) for the terrible struggle of modernity, science, and liberalism *against* the conservative and illiberal forces of that particular religion (though perhaps the hotch-potch of ad-hoc accrued myth, intrinsic self-contradiction, and the fortunately self-deflating bits of Christianity might make it less antithetical to progress than some other religions).

    But at least Shapiro less crackpot than the current set of climate-change denying, evangelical, “values” driven US conservative right (and in saying that I’m not implicitly defending the equivalent crackpottery of a human nature denying, ideological left)

    • Just Me says

      You don’t have to be religious to recognize that Christianity was one of the major strands of thought that combined with other factors to produce the modern notions of the Primacy of the Individual, the equal worth and dignity of all human beings, and therefore, the importance of individual conscience and therefore freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, democracy, and the notion of intrinsic Human Rights, the separation of Church and State, etc.

      These notions were obviously not present in their full-blown modern state from day one, but it is no accident they developed in the West and not elsewhere, because the bases from which they could evolve only existed in the Christian West.

      It was no accident it was the Quakers which were the first group to conceive of slavery per se as a moral evil, and be ready to fight for its abolition. To fight for the rights of others, not themselves. The first SJWs…

      • dirk says

        Well said, Just Me, fully agree, though I didn’t even read the original article. In fact, I like the comments often much more!

      • david of Kirkland says

        Really? I don’t recognize that in religions in general or Christianity in particular. Christianity starts with a rebel Jew promoting a “love and forgiveness” message that few can actually do (judge not, cast not stones, turn the other cheek, love our enemies, forgive, give wealth to charity/poor, abandon your family and job, allow government oppressors). And all while believing in a God father in heaven, where life eternal awaits the meek, etc. Certainly they believed in the zero sum game of economics and hated “money changers.”
        The Enlightenment is what separated our culture, with equality, self-rule, freedom, pursuit of happiness and capitalism.

        • Peter from Oz says

          The view that western culture is based upon Christianity and the thinkers of the classical world is a truism that really is in no need of proof. Examples are too numerous too recount. Weber’s famous work on Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism is one.
          It is those who would try to prove that western culture owes more to anti-Christians who have the onus of proving that somehow a system of thought and ideology that formed the basis of morality in the West from the late Roman Empire until now is not the foundation stone of our civilisation.

        • Just Me says

          “Christianity starts with a rebel Jew promoting a “love and forgiveness” message that few can actually do (judge not, cast not stones, turn the other cheek, love our enemies, forgive, give wealth to charity/poor,”

          Um, so far so good, that is indeed the ideal being proposed.

          ” abandon your family and job, allow government oppressors”

          Um, what? No, that’s a distortion.

          “Certainly they believed in the zero sum game of economics and hated “money changers.”

          Yes, the early Christians were early social democrats living austere lives in small communities.They had to adapt when they became the rulers of an empire.

          The Enlightenment didn’t spring out of nowhere, it combined elements from the Ancient Greeks with what was by then taken for granted in western society but not elsewhere, i.e. the equal moral worth of all human beings regardless of their social status, the value of human life, etc. Those were not the values of the pre-Christian Greeks or Romans, so where would the Enlightenment have gotten them from if not Christianity?

          Also, the very notion of “Freedom” as a value came late, and from a complicated history, see Orlando Peterson’s Freedom in the western World:

          https://www.c-span.org/video/?25534-1/freedom-making-western-culture

          ” .. if you have a religion, which is the core of your civilization, which has this idea [Freedom] as central, you have a problem on your hands immediately, because — and the ruling classes have always recognized this, and so what has happened is a struggle — the history of Christianity can be seen as a struggle for defining what this thing freedom meant, because it’s a dangerous idea. Now it’s often been defined in a way such as, freedom as surrender to the only truly free being, which is God. But it also can mean freedom in a sense of liberation, and what you find is that the mass of people — serfs and slaves, throughout history have given this meaning to it, even when it’s being used in a conservative way. And it is fascinating that we see the same thing replicated in the United States, where it comes as no surprise that the religion in a sense could appeal to both the master class, but also to the slaves, of course, and black Americans remaining the most Christian section of the population of America today.”

        • dirk says

          No David, enlightenment is just a sprout of the Christian faith, the belief in the individual soul with a free will and a right on a place in heaven after a good and decent life. Islam and Buddhism never had an enlightenment. The Enlightenment of the French and German philosophers (so, not that one of Steven Pinker) was just a modern, worked out form for the new social situation of it all. Just Me is right!

      • John AD says

        “Christianity was one of the major stands of thought that combined with other factors..” Well, yes, as I said, perhaps Christianity was somewhat less antithetical to progress. But progress has to come from somewhere, and the Enlightenment happened in the West. The fantastic Guns, Germs, and Steel; The Fates of Human Societies, is an wonderful description of how it was particular societies that developed the hegemony over others, after being promoted by the question, from a New Guinean politician, “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”, which he turned into the much broader question. The answer is obviously multifaceted, and his account is deeply analytical, from the sciences of breedable plants and animals and metallergy to the development of the resistance to disease. The point here is that to pick one correlation, Christian history with a modern society, and infer causation is extremely tendentious. By the same logic we could say the inception of Nazism or Communism requires a Christian ambient culture. As a society progresses it struggles to shake off the ideological shackles.

        As for your point about the Quakers, you surely know that they were not the first to advocate, our even advance, the solution of slavery.
        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_abolition_of_slavery_and_serfdom
        Plus, Quakerism is not exactly representative of Christianity now, never mind historically.

        • Just Me says

          It was a necessary, but not sufficient, condition. The idea that atheism takes you back to some pure, rational, natural blank slate of morality in which all humans are equal, peaceful, and tolerant, is logically, historically, untenable. There is no such thing.

          Whatever atheists believe today is the result of western intellectual and social history, which includes the influence of Christianity.

          • John AD says

            “Whatever atheists believe today is the result of western intellectual social history, which includes the influence of Christianity”. There you have it, in a nutshell – the sorry striving to give religion some credence.

    • Charlie says

      If one did not have Christianity after the collapse of the Roman Empire then one would return to Celtic beliefs which included human sacrifice or the Odin worshipping religion of the Vikings and Saxons where one’s worth was based upon how many of the enemy one had slain. What stopped the onslaught of the Vikings was conversion to Christianity. One of the advantages of the Vikings in battle was that they were larger and stronger than any other race. Arab travellers described them as the most perfect specimens of humans they had ever seen.

      A Viking dominated Europe would have been very violent and drunken. A modern day equivalent would be rule by hell’s Angels or some other biker gang. There would b no value given to anyone of a scholastic interest unless they could fight as well.

      • John AD says

        “If one did not have Christianity …. Viking Europe would have been very violent and drunken”. Brilliant. Because cultures can’t evolve? Because medieval Christian Europe was a paragon of peace and tolerance? Because Vikings were all about drink and violence? Jesus, this is the exact foggily biased trite attempt to claim for religion (one’s own religion – I’m confident you are religious, but forgive me if the assumption is wrong) the progress made by humanity that I criticised Shapiro for. Just to throw one more obvious spanner in your fanciful counterfactual history – Iceland, and its pre-Christian pagan Viking culture, has a claim to having had the world’s first Parliament.

        • Charlie says

          The Viking Society was based upon foreign conquest. Read descriptions of Vikings be it from Saxons, Francs, Byzantium or Arabs : their comments are very similar. The barbarian invasions post collapse of Roman Empire resulted in mass slaughter ; it is why it is called The Dark Ages . Just as Europe is beginning to recover post 410 AD, along come the Vikings and from about 793 AD to about 1050 AD devastate anything they can conquer.

          The Christian Church gradually modified behaviour during the Dark Ages and provided the only source of literacy, numeracy, medicine, welfare, scholarship and communication via Latin. The history of Europe from 410 AD to about 1000 AD is very bleak. When the small chapel at Rippon was built in 672 AD, it was the largest stone structure north of the Alps.

          The Anglo Saxon and Viking Societies were egalitarian but they were based upon success in war( Valhalla) , lethal conflicts between rivals ( Game of Thrones) and extermination of rivals/ other peoples.

          The reason why the period of 410 to about 1100 AD is so poorly taught is that few school teachers have the Greek( Byzantium), Latin, early French and Anglo Saxon Norse Celt to understand what few records still exist : J R Tolkien did.

    • There is clearly a line connecting the protestant reformation and modern liberal thought, running right through the English Civil War, the Putney debates, and the Whigs. But there is an older strand of thought implicit in monotheism that the Medieval Europeans were the first to capitalize on: the need for there to be one truth. Maimonedes was getting there, and so was Averroes, but Aquinas and his followers really took the ball and ran with it. The scholastic movement and the urgent need to reconcile revealed truth with observation, and their insistence that there had to be a singular truth, led directly to the scientific revolution and indeed to the basic modern assumptions we have about the nature of nature. It wasn’t an accident that modernity happened in the west. In reality, there are a lot of strands running along in Western thought that converged or snowballed to create the Enlightenment and modernity. Atheism, though, had almost nothing to do with it.

  6. rabiinnh says

    Can I both agree and disagree in the same comment? This was a well written and thought provoking argument, and I agree then whenever engaging in fair minded, respectful interactions Mr Wood is right on target. Although Ben Shapiro doesn’t need me (or anyone else) to defend him, he is frequently engaged in exchanges with opponents who characterize anyone who disagree with them as “racist” or “fascist”. It is with these individuals that Mr. Shapiro resorts to a factual destruction of their arguments. Even so, given Ben Shapiro’s incredible output of columns, videos, and podcasts, I have found that when people engage him in respectful argument, he is just as respectful.

    I think Ben Shapiro fills a role; as a superior debater with an encyclopedic factual memory, he is in a unique position to take down ardent ideologues with arguments based purely on theory. That said, I take Mr Wood’s opinion to heart, and agree that for the rest of us, our first inclination should be an attempt at empathy towards those that we are attempting to convince so that we can better understand their perspectives.

  7. George says

    Clearly there are absolute truths (speed of light, etc) that we can call “facts”. The observance of which lead to a scientific renaissance and the entire project of Western civilisation.

    These kind of facts, however, shouldn’t be conflated with the kind of approximate data used in social science and economics, that is often cited by Shapiro (and thinkers of all political persuasions.)

    I personally like Shapiro and his politics. But much of his appeal is his ability to martial many compelling arguments simultaneously – not give judicious summaries of “facts”. He’s an orator, not a scientist.

    I think Shapiro knows this. And I think the word “fact”, here, is actually short-hand for something else… Perhaps the “legitimate points of view” that are forbade in the mainstream by an increasingly muscular and authoritarian Left.

    Shapiro, and others in the I.D.W, want to prise open the Overton Window and de-delegitimise certain subjects, i.e., gender, race, Islam, immigration. They’re saying, there’s still a debate here and you haven’t won it yet.

    A call for empiricism (facts) is just like the call for free speech. It’s a call for conversation. It’s a challenge to the dominant culture, which is desperate not to re-hash its cherished orthodoxies.

    I see this as a power play in the culture wars more than anything else. Nobody, not even someone with the genius and wit of Shapiro, can be the arbiter of fact.

  8. Stuart Chambers says

    If you love polemics, Ben Shapiro is your guy. If you want nuance, he’s a lost cause.

  9. Travis says

    Good article (which confirms my priors). I’ve long been annoyed with listening to Shapiro because it constantly sounds like he is trying to dunk on whomever he is talking to, or especially debating. This was especially egregious in his live event with Sam Harris (on Harris’ podcast). When they began to discuss religion and morality, Shaprio kept pausing as if he was expecting the crowd to clap for him after “owning” whatever Harris or Weinstein said. And he sounded like he was trying to trap Harris as opposed to discuss with him. Felt it was emblematic.

  10. Jack B Nimble says

    ‘….The idea that undisciplined emotions distort the process of reason is an ancient one….’

    Agreed! But how can Shapiro be a ‘poster boy’ for the priority of reason over emotion, facts over feelings, when he stands by this series of tweets? I’ve footnoted the most problematic parts.

    ‘Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage[1]. This is not a difficult issue. #settlementsrock[2]

    @shoshido I should have been more specific. Arabs who actively seek Israel’s destruction and who aren’t wealthy oil barons.

    @MarkAdomanis I think it has much more to do with the fact that Palestinian leadership supported by Pal[3] population uses millions for terror.

    @mattduss Apologies! You are correct re: slur about Arabs. Not all Arabs like open sewage and blowing things up. Just Pals[3] and their allies[4]

    In the post re: Israelis vs. Arabs I wrote about Arabs who take part in the Israeli/Arab conflict[5], as any1 who can read knows. #dumbasses

    There are many, many Christian and Muslim Arabs who are wonderful people. Just not the ones who oppose Israel in Israel/Arab conflict[5].’

    [1] Open sewage: attempts to convey image of Palestinians as filthy sub-humans.
    [2] #Settlementsrock: Shapiro declares his support for Jewish colonization of the Palestinian-owned West Bank
    [3] Pal: Is using ‘Pal’ for Palestinian’ any different from using ‘Jap’ for Japanese or ‘Chink’ for Chinese? They are all slurs.
    [4] Here Shapiro doubles down on the ‘open sewage’ comment by implying that anyone who takes the Palestinian side in the conflict is a filthy sub-human.
    [5] Notice that Shapiro here demonizes any Arab who even writes or speaks critically of current Israeli government policies, not just those who take up arms. In brief, he denies the possibility of a principled, non-violent [like BDS] opposition to the current Israeli govt.

    To be fair, Shapiro does deserve credit for leaving Breitbart News and for standing up to MILO! Also, he didn’t support Trump in 2016, but is open to voting for him in 2020. Like Trump himself or like any good trial lawyer, Shapiro prefers to double down rather than back down. But that is hardly an admirable trait!

    • Bill says

      While I agree with some of your footnotes, others I think read too much into things. Like [3] and Pal being a slur. Uhm, or it could just be the medium and it’s limitations and having to spell out Palestinian? While Twitter has expanded beyond 140 characters, it is commonplace to shorten.

      You also read into “open sewage” to being filthy sub-human. Really? I interpret that as they’re too busy bombing and attacking to take care of their own basic infrastructure (something the political Left who is typically pro-Palestinian throws at the US political-Right blaming them for things like Flint’s water).

      Did you check your bias?

      • david of Kirkland says

        Open sewage means they allow sewage on the streets, like much of the USA in the early days before sanitation come into common use. This is a real problem in parts of the world today, including India’s open defecation culture.

        • Jack B Nimble says

          @Bill, @david of Kirkland RE: open sewage

          Water supply and sanitation in the State of Palestine From Wikipedia

          The water resources of Palestine are fully controlled by Israel ….. Generally, the water quality is considerably worse in the Gaza strip when compared to the West Bank. About a third to half of the delivered water in the Palestinian territories is lost in the distribution network. The lasting blockade of the Gaza Strip and the Gaza War have caused severe damage to the infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. Concerning wastewater, the existing treatment plants do not have the capacity to treat all of the produced wastewater, causing severe water pollution. The development of the sector highly depends on external financing….Drilling of wells into the mountain aquifer by the Palestinians is restricted. Most of its water thus flows underground towards the slopes of the hills and into Israeli territory. According to different estimates, between 80 and 85% of groundwater in the West Bank is used either by Israeli settlers or flows into Israel.”

          In brief, the Israeli govt. is taking the water under the land of the West Bank, as well as the land itself. This taking of groundwater, plus Israeli attacks on Palestinian infrastructure and embargo on construction materials including cement, has had a detrimental effect on sanitation.

          Look, the larger picture here is that Mr. Shapiro identifies as an Orthodox Jew, is married to an Israeli citizen [their marriage ceremony was held outside Jerusalem] and likes to sing the praises of the newly designated Nation-State of Israel. All of that is fine by me, and he should not be de-platformed at public universities or subjected to anti-semitic abuse. But how can he complain, with a straight face, about ‘identity politics’ on the Left when he clings so tightly to his own identity?

          FWIW, I think that identity politics is the only possible politics. What would politics even look like if we somehow removed people’s cultural identities? So I’m not criticizing Mr. Shapiro for playing the ‘identity card,’ only for his hypocrisy.

          Finally, about being pro-Palestinian, it was possible [starting in the 1960s] to oppose white supremacy regimes in Zimbabwe and S. Africa without endorsing R. Mugabe or W. Mandela. I think the same is true about criticizing Israel without endorsing Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. Israel has the most economic and military power in the region, and is thought of by many Americans as an ‘ally,’ so they deserve the closest scrutiny.

          • Doug Deeper says

            Jack, do you accept Wikipedia’s anti-Israel stance without concerns you may be missing something? Perhaps if Hamas took a few minutes out of their constant violence against the Jews to insure Israel will be Judenfrei, they might consider taking care of their own people and their infrastructure. But alas, their mission is set in stone and in their Charter – there must be no Jews (or Christians for that matter, or Baha’is, or any other person of another persuasion than radical Muslim). The aid will pour in from Israel and the West should Hamas ever decide that that they can tolerate “the other.”
            I urge you to see Israel for yourself if you have not already, and speak with IDF soldiers of all ranks – the IDF is simply the most humane military in the history of mankind.

          • Jack B Nimble says

            @Doug Deeper

            This thread was originally about facts versus feelings. How can you “know” that “…the IDF is simply the most humane military in the history of mankind….” ? Where are the data?

          • Charlie says

            Do not use water to make concrete to build tunnels; instead build sewers and water pipes. Build anaerobic treatment plants to turn sewage and food waste into methane and fertiliser. The high temperatures are beneficial for anaerobic digestion- hot summers and no long cold winters. Grow high quality flowers to produce oils for perfume industry- high value, low volume and cheap to transport. Perfume is highly sought after in Middle East. Roses need plenty of manure.

            Do not destroy a horticulture industry left by Israel. Do not use resources to fire rockets into Israel. Decide to use income to create money earning enterprises, not death and destruction. Pay to train engineers and scientists not those who undertake acts of violence.

            Gaza and West Bank border the innovative and technically advanced region between N Italy and Southern India: they could use their location for constructive purposes?

  11. Andre says

    I question Shapiro’s “full inclusion” in the IDW. Yes, he has frequented those “circles.” Yes, he does focus on facts. On the other hand, a highly visible part of his epistemology relies on faith, not facts, and this is at odds with pretty much the rest of the IDW crew. (The one exception I can think of is JBP, and he is a weasel when it comes to religion.)

    No one has a monopoly on truth, but that I have seen, the IDW folks are all open to facts, or lack thereof, forcing them to change their mind. Shapiro is not; he’s just a conservative that is far more open than most to considering and debating fact-based truths, even if he does reserve his own little corner where facts don’t apply.

    • Who says the “Intellectual Dark Web” can’t include people who have faith? Faith and reason don’t have to be in conflict. At all.

    • prince says

      Ben is explicitly keeping faith out of his arguments. You can be an atheist and completely agree with his positions.

      This is why as an orthodox jew he can appeal to such a wide crowd of educated young people.

    • RadixLecti says

      Isn’t the goddamn POINT of the IDW that it can include any person willing to engage in good faith debate? Shapiro is an exemplar of that ethos, whatever his personal politics.

  12. prince says

    Ben’s is clearly not trying to build bridges with the left. He knows it is hopeless and instead is doing something much smarter.

    He is contrasting the left’s positions with the facts to show how ridiculous these are. These of course appeal to the conservative base and enrage the left (and we have seen this rage in action…) but it also appeals to a new crowd – the center youth.

    There is a large crowd of young people, mainly well educated whites, the despise Trump, but at the same time have feel that the left has turned against them and what they believe in. They see the new left as racist (anti-white) and oppressive (anti free speech). The oppressive PC culture makes them feel like stranger in their own liberal social circles. They can’t voice their doubts for feel of being ostracized, and they certainly don’t want to think of themselves as trump supporters.

    Ben gives them the outlet they need – a rational, thoughtful, fact based world view that they can feel at home with, and they can defend. He is making conservatism appealing to youth at an age where the republican president appeal to the educated youth is at record low.

    Ben is perhaps the best vehicle the right has to move the young center to the conservative side.

    • Prince, that is a very good summary of the state of affairs. Well put. I see the “hate Trump/love reason/hate being classed as an insensitive, rape-y racist because I’m a white man” dilemma among my son’s male friends, but not among the girls: they have been conned into an intensely regressive, tribal “female” ideological corner by third wave feminist indoctrination…especially in on-line media.

        • Martin Shirley says

          Who doesn’t find smug show-offs repulsive? My son and I are sonservative Libertarians with strong fiscal conservative beliefs , Trump is a HUGE borrow-and-spend demagogue who is accelerating our insane indebtedness and damaging our vital free trade arrangements. He is an economic illiterate. The man can barely complete a sentence without forgetting what he intended to say at the start of it. His physical mannerisms, need for adoration, and eye-watering narcissism are as repellant and vomit-inducing as the vision of Michael Douglas (as Liberace) being banged in the ass by Matt Damon in the Behind the Candelabra .

      • Peter from Oz says

        Martin
        Intersting that the current generation of women is really conformist but mistakes itself as rebellious.
        The great con trick out there in the public sphere at the moment is that somehow the left isboth mainstream but radical and funky at the same time. The truth is that it is neither.

  13. Just Me says

    Excellent column. I agree with the sentiments expressed, but with caveats.

    On a one-to-one basis, in small groups, this is the most desirable approach. But I am not optimistic for this to catch on at the political level, too many people have vested interests in stoking the polarization. They don’t WANT to depolarize society, they are just itching for a real knock-out, drag-down fight they believe they would win, and more important to them, it would allow them to “prove their mettle” by fighting “the good fight against the forces of Evil (racism, etc.)”, i.e. their superior virtue, to themselves as much as to others.

  14. Cerastes says

    I don’t precisely disagree with this article, but I also think it’s incomplete. Yes, we need to acknowledge that most people are primarily led by their Elephants, and even the most disciplined thinkers have failed to completely tame the Elephant. Thus, convincing people (as opposed to simply being right) requires “speaking to their Elephant”, as the author says.

    But we must also encourage people to tame their Elephants to the maximum extent possible, rather than simply accept it as the status quo. That is something that needs to happen over a far longer timescale than a single debate, but is far more vital to civilization’s survival. And perhaps it is indeed possible to lose the battle and win the war – even if you can’t fight someone’s Elephant on one subject, by pointing out logical failures and fallacies, you might show them new Elephant-taming tools they can use elsewhere.

    At the end of the day, I think it’s important to acknowledge the Elephant, but also important to teach people to tame their Elephants. The former wins one argument, the latter mitigates the risk of future errors.

  15. Excellent post and so true! I’ve found the best political conversation in this climate to be on the Pantsuit Politics podcast – two women from opposite sides of the political spectrum whose tagline is “No shouting. No insults. Plenty of nuance.” I’ve become more open to conservative ideas as a result. They talk a lot about the importance of recognizing the dignity of all people (including Trump) while still disagreeing with their ideas.

  16. Walter says

    Not a bad piece, but…

    “Kellyanne Conway describing provably false claims as ‘alternative facts'”

    Clearly, she meant alternative PRESENTATION of facts. To continue to use that anecdote doesn’t strengthen your case, but rather undermines it. Obama once said there were 57 states, Would the author of a piece insisting, “Obama doesn’t even know how many states there are,” gain your confidence or lose it?

    • Eh, Walter, almost every article in the world now has to include at least one episode of Trump/”deplorable” bashing. It’s The Way Things Are Done.

      • Walter says

        As I think about it, one could say my complaint focused on the Rider, not the Elephant. But while I get the author’s point, and I think it’s a great one, I’m not sure I have the personality to implement the advice. I’m the analytical type, and when I see what is, in my eyes, a problematic premise, I stop in my tracks. Again, I agree with the author’s point, but there must also be an analogy in the other direction, one that is a closer fit for people like me, perhaps a human driving a big truck. In that case, the rider is the one with ultimate control.

        As for your point, that does seem to be a requirement in the general media these days!

    • @walter – agree. The “alternative facts” meme was an intentional misinterpretation of what Spicer said.

      From the Hill:
      “Her comments came after Spicer, during his first press briefing with reporters, railed against the media for its coverage of crowd size at Trump’s inauguration ceremony.

      “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe,” Spicer said.

      Photos and video from the ceremony showed fewer people in attendance for Trump’s ceremony compared to former President Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

      People on social media quickly mocked the term “alternative facts.” ”

      Spicer clear said “in person an around the world,” which could be challenged as unknowable, but the article continues with the comparing “in person” photos.”

      This is clearly the case of smearing the target. It is very similar to the “Mission Accomplished” meme.

      Unfortunately both are effective slander when used for the politics of personal destruction by low life individuals in our society.

      I’d also guess K Conway was not talking about the crowd size when she uttered “alternative facts.” The interviewer was inarticulate, probably on purpose, referencing a “falsehood” w/o defining what he was talking about. Conway’s error was in not asking for a clarification.

  17. Feelings no. The proper word here is “thymos”, spirit, the human desire for recognition.

    For example, BJ’s recent comparison of women in burqas to postal boxes communicates a lack of recognition to certain sections of British Muslims which no doubt excites thymos.

    Excite enough thymos and you might be facing rebellion or revolt, facts be damned.

    All this “feeling” happy-talk elides the real question: Who will get social recognition? Who will not?

    What will be the political consequences?

    [As it goes, empathy doesn’t do the job people expect of it, as people tend to be most empathetic to people they most identify with, which means their empathy often fuels hostility and worse to those they least identify with.]

  18. ga gamba says

    Yet, you still lost. Let’s be frank, you were trounced. How’s that for empathy? That’s OK. You knew you faced a Herculean if not Sisyphean task, you gave it your best, and that’s commendable. I genuinely mean that. Your margin of loss was exactly the same as your predecessor’s, Bob Flores, who also took only 29% of the vote in the 2012 election against Waters. Was he as empathetic as you? Maybe he was more or less? We really have no way of knowing. We also don’t know how you polled with blacks on election day. Does a standing ovation in a black church mean more people selecting your name on a November Tuesday? To be fair, the 43rd’s district was redrawn in 2013, so your landscape wasn’t the same. Still, the 43rd was a Hispanic dominated district before and after redrawing. You get a standing ovation in the Hispanic churches too? 2012 was a general election and 2014 was a mid-term, so voter turnout differed greatly. There are so many variables to assess, and without data it’s hard to say whether the empathetic angle is the one.

    I recall addressing a meet-and-greet at which a civil engineer responded enthusiastically to my every policy point until I casually mentioned I was a Republican. Thereafter, he challenged me at every turn. When I finished and passed around the signature form that would enable me to qualify for the ballot, he refused to sign, explaining “I just can’t help a Republican.” But everyone else signed, happily.

    What went awry here? Did you fail to use empathy? I presume Wood hadn’t failed because they both experienced a meeting of the minds. The engineer’s behaviour was regrettable. He had already created sealed containers, including one that has no black man being a Republican, so perhaps empathy and agreed policy points can only take one so far when dealing with such hard closed mindedness. On youtube Wood has a brief excerpt of a conversation with Daniel Ravner titled It’s Not Just About Empathy; if there’s a longer conversation this would be interesting to view.

    A couple of decades ago I took a few journalism courses and the angle emphasised was using an empathetic introduction as the hook to connect to your reader. Something about it struck me as underhanded, even manipulative. It was coldly calculating. This is not to say that Mr Wood is this, but I suspect others feel they too are being handled in ways they find discomfiting. Others will tear up and open their cheque books. I am of the opinion that empathy has been weaponised by some in the media and politics to manipulate people psychologically. It has a shadow that may be exploited to move people. I’m not against empathy, but I cautiously scrutinise narratives of those I don’t know, especially those narratives written by trained people. I’m more an adherent of Prof Paul Bloom’s thoughts that compassion, a more distant emotion that doesn’t come from being swallowed up in the suffering of others, is the appropriate emotion.
    How Empathy Can Make People More Violent is worth a read, www(dot)theatlantic(dot)com/science/archive/2015/09/the-violence-of-empathy/407155/

    The point of my comment is to examine received wisdom. Empathy is good like kittens are good is this. It’s enlightening to witness people rage against what the deem to one’s empathetic failings. The last two years have shown us what were hard truths were flimsy and fallible; it makes this era very interesting to me. Big money wins the elections; Trump spent half of Clinton. There’s no way Trump can get around the media; Trump tweets. The POC are repelled by an “irredeemable racist”; Trump gets more black and Hispanic votes than milquetoast Romney. Trump has so offended the POCs they’ll vote in record numbers; black turnout decreased whilst Hispanic voting remained flat. You can’t beat a powerful incumbent; a 28-year-old socialist waitress defeats a senior Democrat in a primary. Who in 2012 would have predicted a flamboyantly gay man with a black husband would be, for quite a while, one of the most popular speakers for the political right? I don’t feel discombobulated at all; this upending is thrilling. You may dislike Milo, but you have to recognise the received wisdom that the right despises gays doesn’t hold true. What a timeline!

    I while ago I read of a political theatrical performance of the presidential debates where the sexes were inverted; the female character spoke, gesticulated, and behaved like Trump and the male was Hillary. It’s called Her Opponent.

    A reviewer wrote: Many [of the audience] were shocked to find that they couldn’t seem to find in Jonathan Gordon [Clinton’s proxy] what they had admired in Hillary Clinton—or that Brenda King’s [Trump’s proxy] clever tactics seemed to shine in moments where they’d remembered Donald Trump flailing or lashing out. For those Clinton voters trying to make sense of the loss, it was by turns bewildering and instructive, raising as many questions about gender performance and effects of sexism as it answered.

    I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. But inversions such as these are fascinating as they force us to re-examine many things. Nothing wrong with that.

    I wish Mr Wood the best and hope he returns to politics.

    • Hey ga gamba. Thanks for the comment. You raise some good points, and prompted me to want to clarify a couple things that, as I look at the piece again, I realize are not clear.

      #1. I don’t mean to say that I scored as much of the vote as I did because I was empathetic – only that being empathetic did not weaken me as a candidate. Some people will argue that empathetic political communication is ineffective so I thought I should make that statement to you. I do think it strengthened me on the level of my retail persuasiveness, but as is the case with low budget campaigns against high profile districts I never had the resources to really test my approach in the local media marketplace.

      (It should also be noted for context sake that Bob Flores was a Democrat and I’m a Republican. The reason that matters is because in Maxine Waters district that anti-incumbent bias amongst Republicans is such that even Democrats who run against Waters tend to be rewarded with overwhelming GOP voters support, while that dynamic does not factor in the other way).

      #2. Empathy is not a silver bullet, nor are any of us necessarily capable of empathizing entirely with all people at all times.

      This is particularly true when addressing groups. With the engineer who I mention here, I got the sense that his self-identity was tied as closely to the idea of his being a Democrat as it was to his being an African-American. I spoke more to the African-American experience than the ‘Democrat’ experience.

      Perhaps I could have framed my remarks in a way that allowed him to listen to the whole of my appeal with an open mind. I understand what it is to be Democrat (I was one) and to feel like you have to be loyal to your party. But even in groups of people that seem culturally and/or politically homogenous, human beings are individuals (that’s good news, in fact) at all times and it is hard for any narrative to achieve 100% resonance with any group.

      That said cultures exist among groups as the fabric of shared memory and values, in which is invested much feeling and in which is grounded much intuition. Validating the legitimate roots of this shared understanding, I have found, tends to allow people to be more willing to look outside of it when you can show them that that understanding still has room to grow.

      • ga gamba says

        Mr Wood, thanks for the reply. Apologies for botching Mr Flores; I failed to see that he was a Democrat running against another Democrat, Waters, for the November election.

        Re your comment’s last paragraph, I suspect one’s ability to validate that shared understanding is constrained in a few ways to include immutable factors. If Ben Shapiro, the hypothetical Republican nominee for the 43rd, used empathy in the same way you did he may find a different response. And Shapiro may at least use his Jewish heritage to say “I understand your shared memory and values because…” Norwegian-American Pete Peterson is going to have a tougher go of it. Amongst that audience there are those who take offence and declare, “No, you cannot understand because…”; I say this because it happens presently with those denouncing their allies. They expect more than empathy, they want actions that demonstrate submission to their beliefs and compliance to their demands – an all-or-nothing approach, which would turn Republicans into Democrats and both into socialists. You face a different hurdle in that there are those who view you a sellout based, again, on an immutable characteristic.

        It’s one thing to view a just demand for equality compassionately and even empathically, yet when that demand morphs to one of special treatment for name the oppressed group to compensate for their perceived subordinate status, a view created by the reinterpretation of all human relationships in terms of abuse and violence, I think one’s buying into a false narrative that requires it being challenged and not pandered to and coddled.

        I think the US is about three or four decades into its experiment of empathy everywhere, the push of it into the classroom, into journalism, and into entertainment to socially engineer a better society. Heck, even the World Bank is getting in on the act. We see the emergence of the role of politician-therapist. How’s this experiment going? Everyone getting along better? Understanding achieved? As an outsider it appears the opposite is true, people more divided than ever and at each others throats. Is the rise of the therapeutic society, of which empathy everywhere is a key part, making people well?

        ‘Every culture has a story about the human subject – the values it expects people to aspire to’, explains Furedi. ‘Our culture’s story is of a weak, feeble person, who is continually at risk, and for whom the chances of things going wrong are very great.’ Therapy culture represents a shift from the view of the robust, independent person, capable of great individual and collective achievements, to the notion of the fragile, powerless victim in need of continual professional support.

        ‘Far less is expected of humans in the twenty-first century than was expected in the nineteenth’, says Furedi. ‘Today’s society operates around the belief that people can’t cope on their own, or face the challenges of life.’

        It is the society-wide belief that people cannot cope on their own that leads to the features of therapy culture that we are all too familiar with today: the burgeoning counselling industry, the relentless emphasis on boosting ‘self-esteem’, the expansion of categories such as ‘trauma’ to encompass more and more life events.

        I think people have become so accustomed to the empathic prefaces, of “let me connect with you on an emotional level,” that someone like Shapiro saying “screw your feelings” is not only novel, it’s boldly refreshing and taken as honest. That said, Shapiro has never stood for election and you have.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Ga gamba
      On a side point, as a Tory I only have a problem with gays who think that their gayness is the only important thing in their lives. Homos like Milo or Thiel who have wider interests are fine.
      Never disdain someone who is gay, only disdain if their gayness is the only thing they can talk about.

      • ga gamba says

        And that doesn’t even bother me. If being gay, or Christian, or a train enthusiast is your over riding passion then so be it. I’m content to tolerate, but demands beyond that to embrace and celebrate are demands gone too far. My failure to celebrating cottaging is not because I oppose gay sex; I’m not celebrating it because a public toilet isn’t the place for that. “But we can’t find a room.” That’s not the state’s concern, but the state must not be suppressing gays who want to open pubs, clubs, and even shag centres if they like.

        Hostility typically came from the Evangelicals. Amongst the libertarian wing the suppression of gays, or anyone else for that matter, violated ethical principles, yet the libertarians wouldn’t support special laws protecting this and that group. Enacting laws like Jim Crown and later failing to enforce existing laws equally was a failure by the state. That said, libertarians don’t support public accommodation laws which are favoured by many groups. A gay baker has just as much right to refuse to make a “Oppose Gay Marriage” cake as a straight baker has to refuse to bake a gay wedding cake, yet current law sees things very differently. One is allowed and the other not. It’s the intrusion by the state in one realm on behest of a group, say Evangelicals, that creates a distortion leading to an over correction.

        • Peter from Oz says

          I agree with you. I do find that those activists who think that their homoseual;ity is the most important thing about them are also the people who want us to do more than merely tolerate homosexuals. FOr them it is all about trying to make us accept gayness.

          • Jim JOnes says

            There’s nothing to tolerate about same sex relationships.It’s a basic human right to be able to be with whoever you wish.

            If you think that ‘being gay is wrong’ and ‘now we have to tolerate them’ because oppressing people is no longer trendy,you have to remember that not everyone in this world is religious nutjob.Their fantasy book does not determine the rules and morals of this world.

  19. Matthew B says

    Good column.

    One part I found thought provoking was the following:

    “If, on the other hand, his intention is solely to enrage his opponents and electrify his supporters, then he is engaging in demagoguery and should not complain when people react exactly as intended.”

    I find that when it comes to political discourse from both sides of the spectrum, the real strategy employed is the manipulation of outrage.

    It appears that political discourse is simply a matter of one side provoking the other to behave in the way it accuses the other side of behaving. When the ‘Gotcha’ moment occurs, or is perceived and spun as occurring, the provoking side claims victory and points to the ‘proof’ that they were right all along. I find the whole process very smug and self-satisfying for the provoker.

    Of course this column is written under the assumption that people like Shapiro actually want to influence people to think critically and possibly change their minds…at times I don’t think this is the case.

    It occurs to me in today’s media/social media environment that the pundits NEED their opponents to earn their living. If we all got along, their revenue streams would dry up. This motivates people working in political debate to inflame the debate, not seek resolution.

    It was the manufacture and manipulation of outrage (the elephant) that made a big difference to Trump’s election.

    If everyone had a better rein on their elephant, we wouldn’t see the type of discourse we do now. Do we need to recognize the elephants of others to influence them or do we need to recognize our own?

  20. I would note that there are really three Ben Shapiros. One runs his daily podcast, which I have stopped listening to, as it is really just grist for ‘true conservatives” and where most of his arguments–while usually correct in my view–are made to those of us who usually agree with him anyway. I find it boring, because I know most of these issues and positions and the facts behind them.

    The second Shapiro arrives on college campuses. Here he works much harder to explain his reasoning to those who might be convinced; and I think to some extent he does “speak to the elephant.”

    The third and I think best Shapiro is his work discussing/debating with others in the IDW, and on his long-format Sunday discussion show. Here he is at his best exposing the crushing reality that is intersectionality, and where he makes his most well reasoned and respectful arguments for the conservative perspective.

    I think what the author here is discussing is more about “so how do we convert folks to our point of view?” I hope we hear more from him on this topic.

  21. Jimmy G says

    “However, there is an argument to be made on behalf of empathy in our discourse that is being heedlessly trampled by Shapiro’s defiant mode of aggressive argumentation.”

    It’s about following principles and not following ideology. Empathy has quickly slid to Pathological Altruism. I also see an overly empathetic approach as softening the argument to accommodate the weak and uninformed.

    Shapiro explains a counter arguments to the article himself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOzog0m86Uc

  22. “Differing opinions, even disagreements about facts, are not necessarily what leads to polarization. As Shapiro himself has noted, hostility is inflamed when our differences are perceived to be threatening to the validity of our identities and experiences.”

    When it comes to politics, what is it that makes people think they deserve to have their racial/gender/sexual identity validated? Shapiro is right! When you lead with the assumption that people have to ‘feel’ validated before you can speak about the facts, the implicit assumption is that your interlocutor’s racial/sexual/gender identity is the ‘fact’ that matters more than any other facts you could possibly discuss.

    The fact that the author has success in validating feelings speaks more to a certain “black privilege” that is not afforded to any white male. The white male is threatening before they have even opened their mouth on account of nothing but their existence as such. There is no amount of genuflecting to a person’s racial/gender/sexual identity that is going to allow the white male to sneak in through the back door of emotional validation, so to speak, and then proceed to re-arrange the conceptual furniture based on facts and rationality.

  23. Erica from Minnesota says

    For conservatives to move hearts and minds of liberals, context is king. Our ideals need to be couched primarily around fairness and ending oppression. For instance, isn’t it fair that every American something in federal taxes, lest they have no skin in the game? Or, isn’t it fair that every American have skin in the game so we’re all rowing the boat in the same direction?

    Or, don’t you think the distribution of political ideology across the entire political spectrum for any race or religion would end the oppressive policies that have kept many minorities in urban cities in living conditions most of us would abhor?

    Speak to their fairness. Speak to their sub-conscious oppression of (women, minorities, handicapped, gay/lesbian, etc..) any identity group and ask if it’s not fair that we ask everyone to do their fair share, even when they’re unable to pay their fair share?

    Liberals don’t care about the institutions that have made this nation great, so don’t try to strike a chord with their loyalty towards sanctity and tradition. It won’t work.

    Remember….you cannot change behavior if you ignore attitudes. Change the hearts and minds (attitudes) and you can then put yourself in a position to ask ‘what do you have to lose?”

    Works every time.

  24. CogitoBcn says

    “Facts not feelings” talks about building a bridge if objectiveness to start communication. It’s a previous step before building empathy. You can not empathize with your enemy, and subjectivity us what keep enemies far from each other.

    • Indie Wifey says

      …and in marketing, a brand’s gotta have its logos. I so appreciate the intellectual dissection here, but it’s armchair analytics. Imo Ben’s building his brand, and he’s found a couple quips he can stand on, which stick when thrown

  25. While many people are trying hard to create a peaceful cooperation in a multiracial society, it will only fail and make things worse in the long run.

    The anecdote of the refusal of the refusal to sign the form to enable an African Republican to be candidate isn’t just a small detail. It’s recurrent and it’s the mark of an existential threat to universal suffrage.

    Racial vote is the death of Republics, period. This has always been the case and was tolerated in the US when Africans were the only non European group and a small minority.

    We know how it ends. It ends with civil war and after it, either perpetual dictatorship (Iraq, Syria), constitutional racial quotas and overall distrust (Lebanon), genocide and then partition (Rwanda), partition (Kosovo).

    At best you get Brazil, a highly corrupt and racially segregated country that is too busy with its internal corrupted politics to be focused outwards or toward the future.

    Singapore achieves stability and no corruption through a total suppression of political, intellectual and religious speech. This works for a city state dedicated to international trade, this isn’t a model for real countries. And this isn’t a model for those who like free thought. Quillette would be illegal in Singapore.

    Racial heterogeneity is the true reason why there is no universal suffrage in China and there will never be. Having only card carrying party members enables the state to ensure that members pursue the interests of the nation and not their racial group (China is much more heterogeneous racially than usually acknowledged, Hans are not at all homogeneous, they are as varied as Europeans and Arabs together). On top of it, there is no freedom of religion because religion is the proxy for promulgating race morality and tribal interests.

    There isn’t a single country in the world that combines racial heterogeneity with an open society. Dozens of experiments failed in the XXth century.

    It’s insane megalomania to think that the EU, US or Canada will succeed where all others have failed.

    • Asdf says

      Have you been to Singapore? I’m not so sure your statement is true.

      For one it’s not right to say Singapore censors speech and press in the totalitarian manner you state. It does censor unproductive and provocative speech. This isn’t quite the same as censoring “hate speech” in the West, because hate speech is a one sided leftist concept that is more about increasing leftist power then keeping the peace. It’s more like saying that if you can’t back up your views and state them in a demagogue manner you aren’t given liscence. So in Singapore something like BLM would be censored (since it’s factually baseless and needlessly provocative), but Charles Murray would not be censored (indeed LKY would state Murray like views publicly and base public policy on them).

      However, you can criticize the government and discuss ideas in a responsible and fact based manner. If you think a particular program is poorly run you can say that. In fact the competent and responsive Singapore beuracracy takes valid criticism into account. I would say that when you include “private” speech censorship you have more free speech in Singapore then in the West.

      Free speech is not a value in and of itself. It aids in achieving a good state of society if/when it plays the “marketplace of ideas” role. However, not all speech adds to the marketplace of ideas. Some is just bad and drives out the good.

      You can say “who are you to judge what is and isn’t good speech?” Someone or something always does. There is always an Overton window. Step outside it and if the government doesn’t get you the Twitter mob will. I’d rather have a reasonable person like LKY using true libel laws to shape the public debate in a productive and civilized manner then the mob.

      Singapore has achieved liberty by NOT holding it as some terminal value. It’s taken a hard headed realistic approach to human nature to achieve pragmatic liberty by building an environment in which liberty is part of a sustainable and stable equilibrium.

      • I didn’t say Singapore was a tyranny, I said it wasn’t a place where you can pursue controversial ideas. I doubt major intellectual concepts will come from there, nor will social change or new artistic movements.

        Also, Singapore can expel those who disturb the peace easily and those who want to pursue controversial ideas will self censor and avoid going there in the first place.

        Overall, Singapore is indeed a nicer environment than the West today and with the coming collapse of the West it will be even more so the case. But let’s not fall into the illusion that Singapore is a viable social model for normal societies.

        It’s easy to outlaw lower class rebellions when the most of the lower class is made of foreigners with temporary work contracts, just replace them with other people willing to remain silent in exchange of the opportunity to live in this little paradise.

        Singapore is a bubble that excludes problems instead of attempting to solve them. The West is currently failing lamentably at finding solutions to the world social problems and resentful intellectuals indeed spread a lot of oil on the fire. But those are problems that appear in real societies.

        • Asdf says

          I agree that no city state can ever be a true “broader model”. Though we should thank Singapore, HK, and the rest for teaching China some lessons.

          Even without guest workers I think they would find a way to get low end labor done, even it if was a bit more expensive. Their main benefit is that Chinese aren’t fighting a civil war with one another in which one side thinks using brown people as a cudgel is a great idea to gain power.

          I’d be more worried about their low and dysgenic TFR as a sign of civilizational deficiency. Though it’s not like other rich, urban, Asian places are having kids so I don’t know if I would blame anything Singapore specific.

          In the modern era simply preventing “own goals” is an accomplishment. I don’t see any major intellectual or artistic accomplishments coming out of the West either. At least Gardens by the Bay was genuinely beutifal. In the West you would get some kind of monstrosity.

          I get it. It’s a giant shopping mall of boring Asians, etc. Same old criticism. Nonetheless, one feels genuinely freer there overall. Whether that can be applied wholesale to the West may indeed not be possible. However, it does make one feel SANE to know there is a different and successful way to live compared to our current insanity. Maybe we could learn some things from that.

          • It may come down to that age-old reality that the place you would choose to set up shop as a Bohemian artist is not the same place you would choose to settle down and raise children.

            But there are more people in the world interested in settling down and raising children than there are actual Bohemian artist aspirants. I think if I were an artist, I’d take New York or LA over Singapore at this time, but I think Singapore would be a better place to raise children.

    • ga gamba says

      Singapore achieves stability and no corruption through a total suppression of political, intellectual and religious speech. This works for a city state dedicated to international trade, this isn’t a model for real countries. And this isn’t a model for those who like free thought. Quillette would be illegal in Singapore.

      I think you’re over-egging this. I’m reading your comment and typing this comment from the place, and this data passes through gov’t regulated ISPs. One does not need a VPN to bypass a Singaporean great firewall to access most anything.

      This is not to say suppression doesn’t occur, but it’s not “total”. Singapore is not as free as the US, but it’s freer than South Korea which doesn’t have ethnic tensions and the religious ones of fundamentalist Christians versus Buddhists aren’t violent.

    • Atheism is dead, just like its gods. In case you missed the memo, postmodern ideologies are not a quasi-rational, materialist alternative to religion: they are a religion, except worse, because they claim not to be.

  26. [[September 2010 which read: “Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage.” A fair-minded look at the tweets sent immediately after this one reveals that Shapiro’s assertion was made in reference to the Israeli and Arab political leaderships—not to these populations as a whole.]]

    No it wasn’t. This does not apply to political leaders:

    “Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage.”

    It is the general populace of poor countries that lives on “open sewage” and not the political leaders. He really did mean Arabs in general.

    His actual tweet is as follows:

    [[Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage. This is not a difficult issue. #settlementsrock]]

    And the Israeli’s like to build is not aimed at just the Israelis but the Israeli’s at large.

    Only when his tweet was challenged did he clarify what he meant.

    • prince says

      Ben apologized for that tweet and said it was wrong and foolish, and a mistake of a youth.

  27. Progressives in America don’t seem to have a problem with transferring ethnic undesirables so long as you are black and your name is Obama. His administration was startling successful in transferring (or deporting) 2.5 million people with criminal records back to their countries of origin in central and south America.

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  29. Why no mention of the elephant in the room?

    Some may recall that “the medium is the message”

    The perfidious medium ruling the roost these days is Twitter.

    Donald Trump would probably enjoy a 60% positive popularity without Twitter.

    Of course, DT most probably would not have been elected w/o Twitter.

    Twitter’s not so good with the “empathy and understanding” thing. It’s much better at promoting hatred and discord.

    Even Ben Shapiro can’t resist the lure of the smartass tweet.

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  31. OtherWay says

    But the author is mixing different things.

    He is correct that empathy (or more precisely understanding) of your opponent’s position is good for you (whether you wish to persuade them, or just to humiliate them).

    But “facts – not feelings” is perfectly correct when you wish to arrive at a logical policy position – on anything. Because “it feels good” is about the lowest form of analysis that can be performed by humans. The frequency of use of “feels good” (hedonism) among leftists is a bad thing – and should not be emulated or encouraged.

  32. Andrew says

    Excellent piece, but I think you don’t even need to go into that level of detail to see the problem with Shapiro’s argument. ‘Is’ and ‘ought’ are not the same thing. If your ‘ought’ bares no relation to the ‘is’ then you’re going to make a poor argument, and your prescriptions are unlikely to be extremely unconvincing. On the other hand far too often Shapiro seems to think that once you’ve worked out what the ‘is’ is, that the correct ‘ought’ simply follows like night follows day. Anyone with the most basic understanding of how we reach our conclusions on what any form of social justice looks like, knows this is poor reasoning.

    • @Andrew

      Except the issue is not quite as simple as you are making it out to be. From my understanding of Hegel, he makes a convincing argument that “the actual is rational and the rational is actual.”

      • Andrew says

        I won’t pretend to have any particular understanding of Hegel, but maybe something more specific makes my point better.
        Shapiro often spends time demolishing the new left idea of ‘structural racism’ or ‘white surpremacy’, arguing it has no basis in fact. Even if you accept that the tenents of Critical Race Theory are woo, it doesn’t automatically lead to an irrefutably objective position on say the merits of affirmative action.
        There’s all sorts of arguments you can make both in favour or against AA, and they’ll be based on your concept of justice not merely accepted facts. You and I could agree on the extent of the levels of racial discrimination as a ‘fact’ but wildly disagree as to what the appropriate public policy response should be (if there should be one at all).

        • @Andrew

          My understanding of Shapiro’s broader message, and one I agree with, is that there is no factual basis for structuralism, and even if there were, there is no political solution to social ‘justice’ concerns without demolishing classical liberal value structures and the institutions supported by them. He follows this with the assertion that classical liberal values are indeed superior to known alternatives, and the facts are fairly conclusive on his score.

          • Andrew says

            You and Shapiro are welcome to make your case, but it has little to nothing to do with my point. Also, this comment reads like John Rawls never existed. If his argument is that once you discredit an identinarian ‘SJW’ left, you’re somehow left with his version of conservative/‘classical liberalism’ as the only man standing, I suspect he might want to read a bit more widely.

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  35. DEFMN says

    The fact that neither Haidt nor Wood appear to know that his ‘The Rider & the Elephant’ analogy is little more than a shallow plagiarism of Plato’s image of the soul where he uses the image of two horses to signify the thymos (the will) and eros (the desires) with the charioteer as nomos (reason) does not bode well for contemporary scholarship.

    Plato’s psychology is to this day the most profound examination of the human soul I am aware of putting Freud’s efforts to shame. Perhaps modern psychologists would do well to return to a more profound tradition than that which modernity offers.

  36. david of Kirkland says

    Perhaps, but this is likely why a small, limited government that emphasizes liberty and equal protection is best. In this regard, government doesn’t claim to have the answers or use coercive force to mandate it across hundreds of millions of diverse people.
    In the end, there will never be an intellectual integration of the left and right. Some think the individual is paramount; others believe society is. There are no facts to change such thinking any more than you can reason away religious and cultural beliefs.
    Liberty allows for both the left and right to enjoy the worlds they want. They are free to be communist if they want (among those who are like-minded of course), free to be religious, free to choose ethnic heritage over the nation’s predominate culture, and free is most all other aspects so long as they don’t victimize others’ liberty.

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  38. John Achterhof says

    Good stuff. The well-used phrase “elephant in the room” has been given new meaning.

  39. ludlow worthington says

    Excellent article. Thank you. It matches what I’ve learned: Why would anyone put themselves in the vulnerable position of being open to persuasion, letting someone inside their minds and tinker with their beliefs, without having their trust earned first? There are too many people who’d exploit that vulnerability to instill beliefs that benefit them: Salesmen, politicians, bosses, everyday gaslighters, and sometimes even family. It’s a jungle out there. Or “in there,” since we’re talking about the world of ideas.

  40. ccscientist says

    One of the problems I see is that people leap immediately from facts (even when not distorted by what we wish were true) to prescriptions without realizing that their leap is governed by their world-view and values. For example, the “fact” of poverty leads people with the tragic vision (the practical view of life) to suggest that more opportunity is what is needed, whereas those with the unconstrained or utopian vision immediately look to government to “fix” it.

  41. I submit that there’s a big difference between feelings and empathy. Empathy is of no use against those who hate you simply because you’re you (and, by extension, simply because they’re them). Facts are hard, stubborn things that don’t go away simply because we don’t like them, or because we put our heads in the sand. Neither do feelings, but feelings can – and often should – change. They can be changed from within, by considering new facts – not just physical facts, but facts about people. They can be changed from without, by interacting with people with different feelings (and world-views). Being hard, stubborn things, facts don’t change with the weather – but how we think about facts can certainly be affected by our feelings.
    The difference between feelings and empathy is that empathy is how we understand how someone else feels. It’s something that has to be learned (how many kids under 6 or so have even the remotest notion of empathy?). It may be possible to empathize with someone who’s trying to kill you, but as they say, it’s not a good defense plan. And it’s hard to emphasize with someone like the guy who wouldn’t support you because you’re a Republican. I suspect his level of empathy is somewhere around zero.
    I think – though I haven’t tried it – that it’s easier to convince someone (I was going to say “win an argument”) with facts than with feelings. Of course, there are always those who will deny your facts, regardless of their truth.

  42. Enough is enough. says

    “Is the proper strategy for accomplishing this to aggressively argue with people about what the facts are?”

    Yes. They won’t learn any other way. It’s a pity that we have to take on the job that their parents and educators failed to do, but there it is.

  43. Saturn Black says

    Well Shapiro doesn’t need to care about your feelings because they aren’t relevant to conservative political commentary. He also isn’t a political candidate whose job is to get people to vote for him. I would say his facts are opposing the left’s manic distortion of everything (including politics) based on their feelings, and this is very important if we want to avoid an authoritarian left-wing state or a reactionary authoritarian right wing movement seizing power.

    The left is out of control and they need to be hammered with facts before they wreck everything. We gotta beat those fuckers down and keep on smashing ’em until they cave. Go Shapiro!

  44. Chris Martin says

    Ben is obviously very disagreeable, personality wise. He is also one guy. Let Ben be Ben and let other people be empathetic.

  45. Peter from Oz says

    There are some good things in this article. But I would like to point out thatany political army needs all sorts of fighters..
    In the law there is an old adage about the three kinds of partners need in any firm: finders, minders and grinders. I think the adage also applies to political movements or parties. The finders are the empathists or the great persuaders. These people have the charm (which is the word that I think Mr Wood is striving for) to move others by a combination of argument and rhetoric. The finders are usually not the most technically gisted of your partners, but the ones that make clients feel most comfortable.
    Political candidates in swing seats should be finders.
    Minders are the technically efficient people who know all the arguments and will ensure that you keep your supporters happy. They are thus the attack dogs of the movement. They sit in safe seats in parliament and are there to harry the enemy and to provde red meat for the movement’s members. This in a way is about empathy, an empathy for those on your own side who need to feel that their ideas are being aired and acted upon by te movement.
    The grinders are the workhorses of the movement, who will be out there every day ministering unto the faithful and applying the tactics developed by the finders and minders.
    Of course, the ideal in a law firm was that a partner would combine at least 2 if not all 3 of these characters, And the same is true in relation to politics.
    But really the problem is that good finders are few and far between. People who can change minds are rare. I think mr Wood is saying that we need more finders in the chatterati, as they would make for a more intellectually stimulating discourse. I agree with him. But I don’t think that thgis is so much a caase of empathy as much as persuasion.

    • ga gamba says

      @ Peter, yours is very good comment.

      If applied to the political parties, it’s behaviour by some of the minders who create challenges for the finders to overcome when trying to persuade others.

      I’m finding it’s the behavior of the minders who do a lot to turn off centrists as well as less strident members of their own party. Years ago it was the Evangelical right that turned off people. Presently it’s the far left’s extreme behaviour that’s caused people to be red pilled and to #walkaway. Seeing things that upset them, they start seeking understanding and arrive at those providing explanations and alternatives.

      Seems the parties need binders too, those who will muzzle the more dogmatic minders.

      • Peter from Oz says

        Ga gamba

        Well said. The problem arises when you have too many people doing one of the three main jobs. I suspect too that in the American context, where there is official government in waiting and no proper Parliament, it is much harder to rein in the attack dogs.

    • X. Citoyen says

      Great analogy. Experience suggests that each has a negative counterpart, a mimic who can steal the place (or be pushed into the place) of the genuine article.

      In Anglo-American conservatism, the pseudo-finder is the Unobjectionable Conservative, the empty suit careerist who party insiders swear will appeal to moderates—and almost never does because he or she is as hollow as a drum (we Canucks seem to specialize in this breed).

      The pseudo-minder comes in three varieties. The first is the liberal who, owing to whatever quirk of psychology, imagines himself a conservative (this variant is especially popular with newspapers). The second is the irascible slogan-spitter (popular for TV talk-fights). And the third is the fringe-dweller who’s elevated by the media into the face of conservatism—a sort of real-life strawman.

      The pseudo-grinders are that mass of overpaid, underachieving, know-nothing PR people brought in to write vacuous policy and insipid talking points.

  46. AussieAdam says

    I liked your article and have felt the same way most of my adult life. If I can add one thing, that is, that the political discourse we see play out on the tv or listen to on the radio is designed to project a left and right perspective, and not nearly enough of the sensible centre. Both the left and right of politics have things to offer and neither is 100% correct all of the time. I think you will find the majority of people around the world are nice normal people who will gladly treat others as they are treated and just want to be comfortable and live a good life. Regrettably, sensible discourse doesn’t score ratings or sell newspapers, so until the media, in all its forms, stop setting up public battles between the two, we will go on thinking the world is full of white supremacists and socialist left wing nut jobs.

    • Just Me says

      I realized early on that the key to academic celebrity in the social sciences and humanities was to come up with an extreme theory that everyone else would attack. It didn’t matter if a million other careful researchers demonstrated you were wrong and the truth was much more nuanced, the very fact they did that just added to your fame and citation count: “It was a productive theory!” Everyone would remember your name while theirs languished in obscurity…

      • D.B. Cooper says

        @Just Me

        So, that explains postmodernism, intersectionality, and every iteration of feminism that followed the suffragettes opening act. Okay, that actually helps a lot.

  47. donald j. tingle says

    I studied history in school, and read a lot of history books. I’m trying to think of a case in which one tribe converted large portions of any other tribe via rhetoric (or dialectic, for that matter).

    It may be that argumentation in general is only effective within the tribe, which would support the apparent “fact” that diversity leads to violent conflict. The violent religious conflicts in 17th and 18th England were resolved by a compromise of exhaustion, but only because both sides identified as members of the same tribe (Englishmen and subjects of the Crown).

    • Just Me says

      Argumentation has been a major component, albeit not the only one, in the evolution of western thought from the Middle Ages to now.

      That’s why the Left is now so terrified of free speech after being its defender for so long they know a convincing argument is very dangerous.

  48. Bradd Graves says

    The notion that we’re all a bunch of elephants lumbering around waiting to be coddled is questionable. Yes there is an unconscious, but the notion that the conscious mind/rationality is nothing compared to the elephant is a modern one. Many argue that Trump pulled off the upset of the century appealing to elephants, yet no one would say he displays much empathy. Just the opposite in fact. Shapiro’s problem is that he he presents himself as a dick, not that he depends of facts. Compare his approach with the late Christopher Hitchens’, who repeatedly rolled off facts and yet you didn’t get the feeling he was being a dick for the fun of it, like you do with Shapiro. Planned empathy as a strategy will get you nowhere but the doghouse, but hey, if it’s your natural style, it could work.

  49. D.B. Cooper says

    Mr. Woods is, of course, correct in the most general sense, when he notes that Shapiro’s “preoccupation with the decline of reasoned conversation in civil society also implies something else that is true—that the health of civic culture depends upon the restoration of functional dialogue.

    But where his criticism fails is in its understanding that the task of distinguishing fact from opinion is not a mere inadvertence that degrades the health of civic culture, but in fact an attempt to rehabilitate it. It is no sign of health to be well-regulated to the functional dialogue of an exceedingly thickheaded culture. Displacing the mechanisms (emotions) that produce one’s voluntary/involuntary allergy to facts should not be viewed as one’s reflexive dismissal of another’s life experiences, but rather as simply a matriculation towards truth.

    In Wood’s critique, is a basic appeal to pragmatism, in which he seems to suggest that one probably can, but certainly should – at least attempt in any regard – to reason with unreasonable people; and yet, Woods fails to appreciate that people can only be reasonable or unreasonable, if their beliefs adhere or fail to adhere to justified beliefs that factually/rationally correspond to truth, i.e., the reality that is.

    For example, when speaking to an electorate that (almost certainly) considered the U.S. an irredeemably racist country, Woods says he first “hoped to validate the understandable emotions that yield a perspective with which I differ,” before proceeding “list the statistical points that suggest that the United States… is not a racist country.

    The question isn’t whether one should validate understandable emotions. The question is whether one should validate the beliefs that catalyzed these emotions. This is not a theoretical distinction. An emotion, in and of itself, is neither reasonable nor unreasonable, logical nor illogical. It is the substantiating belief’s adherence to an objective value that predicates the rationality or irrationality of an emotion. And here lies our real dilemma. Practically speaking, “understandable emotions” can only be understood when they adhere to an objective value. A society – and more, specifically, its politicians – that insists on treating every emotion equally, that validates every experience with equal yolk, will inevitably devolve into a gambit, where the ends justify the means and the means are found between the lesser of two evils. “But,” you may say, “isn’t that our society, now?”

    My point exactly. It should be said… it should be said.

  50. “The assumption that fidelity to fact is synonymous with Truth, in turn, leads to intellectual atrophy that frustrates both empathy and intellectual growth.”

    On the other hand, if we abandon fidelity to our best means of establishing facts we sink back into savagery.

  51. Indie Wifey says

    I as fan and supporter of Shapiro attribute the facts over feelings platform in part to the brashness of a brilliant young man – operating word is young – who in youthful arrogance continues to build it simply because he, via force of intellect and punchy personality, can, and because amidst the 24/7 din, one a must turn a few knobs to 11 to rise above, stand out, build audience and grow that cult of self, which in the end pays his bills (and that of his growing enterprise) and paves his path.

    Of course it’s that button pushing that makes this work – fromclicks to patreon pennies to rather lengthy dissection here — It’s working, yes?

    Ben counterbalances his political postulating with constant reminders to all that he is also beholden to the constructs of his faith, which he happily embraces. and when he gushes about his wife and kids, it’s Shapiro at his most joyously honest, young-man self. He is still in discovery mode on that which defines us humans more than anything, fatherhood and providorship, where he as the sum of his deeds and the example he thereby sets goes way beyond words, feelings, and the blather that occurs these days when the two conflict.

    As Shapiro matures – years and experience im the spotlight – he will no doubt nuance (ok likely minimally) what needs to be nuanced. But for now, that facts stance + his Personal Accountability platform are refreshing North and South pointers that fly in the face of all the coddling and appeasement out there, and I think it’s freakin’ amazing.

  52. John AD says

    Atheism is not a movement or ideology, but a non-belief in deities. No kidding that the Enlightenment was at the end of the long and tortuous effort to reconcile the belief in the supernatural and a supposed revealed truth. It was inevitably held back by that straining to reconcile the cultural antecedents with actual truth. And, unfortunately, the work has to continually be done in order to push back the tides of wishful thinking, tribal and cultural loyalties, and romantic ideas that are born of the fact that, well, people die and new people are born, and those new people are a new construct of the susceptible crooked timber of human nature and have to be educated (I’d bet my shirt that the net migration is massively in favour of out of religion rather than into it when folk become educated). In that sense atheism requires defence e.g. against such folk as Erdogan and the evangelicals using Trump. So a kind of a movement – but I prefer to be clear about meaning when using the term. Humanism is one term that helps separate the empirical outcome from a philosophical stance.

    But I’d also suggest that atheism really did have a great deal to do with the Enlightenment and modernity. You use the a snowball analogy, but have missed a critical point. The kick that got Enlightenment and modernity snowballing (and it really was a great, accelerating, accumulation) was the very rejection of the assumption of revealed truth and “god did it”, and the dropping of the impossible task of reconciling the actual truth with the preposterous Gordian knot of theology, and knot that is undone by the simple adoption of the obvious.

    I have hope that this current vogue for trying to claim that a freer society, individual rights, and so on, as being predicated upon Christian thought, is a last gasp attempt to keep a religion alive. One thing should be made clear; trying to catch some of the glow of Enlightenment values does nothing to propagate such values, because that crooked timber of humanity causes one culture to lurch away from such values when they’re hijacked as being owned by another. Humanism, by definition, is inclusive.

    • And there is no functional difference between a deity and an ideal. In fact, you can personify ideals (Justice is a woman named Athena) and you can build statutes to your ideals.

      People make sacrifices for ideals, and people engage in collective violence on behalf of ideals. In fact, you could say cults of gods are basically idealism for the masses.

      Now if atheism is simply a rejection of low idealism (deities) in favor of high idealism, and a rejection of mytho-poetic language of origins for rationalistic, scientific just-so stories, then fantastic. But one supposes that “low idealism” exists with its pictures, and statutes, and mytho-poetic stories because that is more readily transmitted to the masses than say Kantian ethical theory–and perhaps because it is more stirring to the hearts and minds of the non-autistic.

      • Politics is based on the friends/enemies distinction. Democrats v. Republicans, Socialists v. Nationalists, Sunni v. Shia, etc.

        For a political “humanism” to exist, it would have to exist in contrast to “non-humans”–that is to say, humanism (if not engaged in a battle with aliens from deep space) is the politics of dehumanization. Who/Whom is a human/non-human. What is the politics of inclusion if not the exclusion of people deemed not inclusive enough? It is only by virtue of exclusion that any idea or movement can be political.

        It would be easier to understand if people just had colored flags, Leftist just put deceptive labels on their flags, and then run around curbing people in the name of tolerance, and excluding people in the name of inclusion. On the other hand, people are dumb so it probably works.

  53. ukcj4 says

    Truth + Empathy/Compassion is always a great combination. It worked well for an itinerant preacher from Nazareth.

    But sometimes you need a John the Baptist. And I think as a pundit that is more what Ben is doing. Bringing harder truths and frontal challenges to the generation that he is reaching on campuses and elsewhere. With some individuals I am sure this enrages and talks them deeper into the leftist pit but with others it could serve to awaken them. I largely dislike much of the “owning” culture of the online world, but there is a place, I think, for some polemics and confrontational debates that are done in a largely rational way, which I think Ben exemplifies well (though not perfectly, of course).

    The empathy part is great for political persuasion and is clearly necessary. But Truth should lead. I understand Haidt’s argument and there is a lot of truth to it as to how human “nature” works, but it is a nature we should be training ourselves to fight as we fight back with our rational consciousness against other parts of our nature that crave lots of bacon and other things more harmful. And it is a good thing that someone in a frank way is telling young people that they need to engineer conscious restraints that allow them to control their empathy elephants. If the emphathy elephant leads it is very difficult to see where you will actually end up. It think the empathy elephant has been leading a large part of our politics since LBJ or probably before and it has led to some good, but to mix my animals in the metaphor it has broken (or is trying hard to break) much of the good china that we have in the shop.

  54. Daniel Hageman says

    My only retort to the main thrust of this article is that Ben does seem to act differently when engaging with individuals while in front of an audience (especially a live one) and when he is not. This holds true for debates in general (an area of which this author recognizes that Ben is well-accustomed to); it’s about who wins, not about who’s right. I think that if Ben were having conversations with university students 1-on-1, or with a strictly left-leaning crowd, he would change his tactics. However, the 3rd parties that look on, particularly centrists who may not have AS much confirmation bias at the ready (personal partisanship recognized), might be sufficiently immune to the firebrand ‘facts over feelings’ approach that Ben takes, and better equipped to filter through the confronting manner in which Ben presents himself.

    As an atheist who came out of Christianity after 23 years, I’ve learned that there is place within discourse for both firebrand and empathetic approaches to conversation, with the latter much more focused on the goal of changing the mind of a fellow interlocutor, and the former more focused on the minds of the third parties. Usually, certain persons are better suited for the former and others the latter, while simultaneously many fluctuate based on conversation environment, whether with respect to the immediate or future.

    All this said, there could be a strong case made that Ben crosses the critical threshold at a high enough frequency, often to the point of detracting from otherwise optimal potential progress.

  55. subnomics says

    “Were he also to become a force for empathy and understanding he could be great.”

    In todays political environment, just being open to discussing the facts in a civil way is being a force for empathy and understanding…

    I have debated MANY common people on the Left, I always try to be respectful of their elephant but they use their elephant to trample all over the facts and then all over my reputation.

    I am doubtful that empathy is the answer to such a problem, in my experience putting someone in their place may not be effective for converting that person to your point of view, but ti is VERY effective in converting those that are paying attention to the discussion.

    Ben Shapiro did that for me and many many others by his commitment to “Facts don’t care about your feelings”

  56. Lucas_Keats says

    I feel privileged that I read Jonathan Haidt’s work as a former lefty who later fell upon Ben Shapiro after.

    Jonathan saved me from the tribalism that I exercised on the left. Now I think Ben perpetuates the same on the right while simultaneously preaching the opposite.

    Don’t get me wrong.

    When I was introduced to Ben I first disliked him. Then he grew on me. Hard. And still does.

    I gave him the time of day and he changed my mind on many issues. But that may say more about my temperament and liberal tendencies of enjoying having my mind changed than anything else.

    But now I feel I’ve outgrown Ben. Though I still listen to him almost daily. Let me explain:

    I think they’ve turned the Daily Wire platform into everything they claim to dismantle. Now they’re just feeding the beast. Sensational conservative riff raff. Feeding the “outrage machine.”

    Publishing is a failing industry. Sure Ben wants to be useful, but I feel that the clicks have started to come first. The world doesn’t need that shit. Look at the way they produce their media. They’ve become the Kardashians of conservative content.

    They find the worst of the worst of their opponents and present it like its status quo “leftist” thought.

    But it’s not, and it only perpetuates a narrative for the right that all left-leaning people mindlessly hold a monolithic, Marxist perspective. Aren’t they praising Kanye for arguing this against the left in the same breath?

    I had great banter tonight with a Bernie Sanders supporter from Vermont. Our discourse was fun and playful. We disagreed but recognized that politics is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. My new friend is a socialist who is implementing capitalism in Africa because he understands that its what they need right now.

    He also presented me with plenty of food for thought for a free market capitalist where we’ve prioritized profit over environmental hazards, etc (this list really goes on but I’ll spare it for brevity). His arguments were great. And as much as I agree with Ben on many things, I think he only bastardizes legitimate liberal arguments to satisfy his confirmation bias. I appreciate his offers to debate certain leftists who have declined in embarassing ways, but I think the Daily Wire is a conservative circle jerk.

    Ben and his team throw around the term “the left” while bitching about the fact that “the left” compartmentalizes “the right.” They criticize the lack of nuanced thought from their opponents while broadly generalizing these people at the same time. Bahumbug!!

    At some point you gotta ask yourself: Is any of this useful? Why are we engaging in this and to what end? I’m happy to support smart political commentators but give me a fucking break. Conservatives love claiming that it was the mainstream media that perpetuated Trump. Now watch Conservatives do the exact same thing to “the left.” Mainstream media may be promoting the democratic socialists, but if anyone is gonna get them to the point of orgasm it’s conservatives like Ben.

  57. Jilliann says

    Well said . . . and challenging. Appreciate your inclusion of the Rider and the Elephant, also your comments regarding facts and truth.

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