“…when you live in the world of fantasy, reality becomes an opponent…”
Much of the reason we have such a hard time getting through to leftists is that we fail to recognize how fundamentally differently they view the world. I’ve given my own refutations of feminist notions of “rape culture” here and here that probably make perfect sense to you, but to feminists they simply don’t compute. Captain Capitalism is just one among many who’ve expressed extreme frustration at how difficult it can be to get the most basic concepts through their thick little skulls.
There are ways to accomplish this rhetorically, but rhetoric can only work as well as your ability to understand what your opponent believes compared to what you believe. When you’re dealing with a feminist, your disagreements are as fundamental as they can get, and that’s what you’ve got to address.
Conservatives and libertarians differ from lefties on three basic premises*, and it’s through disagreements regarding those premises that all of our other disagreements derive. We think we’re debating tax policy, sex discrimination, or gun control, but we’re actually debating far deeper, and usually unspoken, assumptions.
Thanks to commenter Mina, I reread this fantastic post by Anonymous Conservative (AC, if you read this, you’ve got a fan in Mina). At this point I’ll refrain from exploring its rhetorical implications. (He does so on his own here. I seem to have instinctively developed many of the strategies he’s discovered scientifically.)
AC claims that “it is inherently clear that this r/K divergence is the origin of our political divide.” I agree that the r/K divergence is close to the core of our political divide in that most political beliefs flow from basic biological assumptions upon which it rests. Nonetheless, I find that although these are inherently biological strategies, the “origin of our political divide”, the reason we choose one strategy as opposed to the other, may depend on something else.
States of Nature
AC argues that our political worldviews reflect two divergent reproductive strategies: r and K:
r/K selection theory describes two environmental extremes, and the strategies a population will produce to exploit each extreme. As a result of these strategies, each of these two environments will produce a very particular psychology in the individuals exposed to them.
r reflects the leftist worldview, the reproductive aspect of what Thomas Sowell would call their vision:
The first environment an organism may face is the presence of freely available resources, which is referred to as an r-selective environment. […] Just as rabbits do not strip their grassy fields bare due to the predation they endure, the r-strategy is designed to exploit an environment where resources are freely available, everywhere.
In r-selection, those individuals who waste time fighting for food will be out-reproduced by pacifists, who simply focus upon eating, and reproducing. Fighting also entails risks of injury or death – risks which are pointless given the free availability of resources everywhere. Hence this environment will favor a tendency towards conflict avoidance, and tend to cull the aggressive and competitive. It will also evolve tendencies towards mating as early as possible, as often as possible, with as many mates as possible, while investing as little effort as possible rearing offspring. Here, there are unlimited resources just waiting to be utilized, and even the most unfit can acquire them. As a result, it is more advantageous to produce as many offspring as possible, as quickly as possible, regardless of fitness, so as to out-reproduce those who either waste time producing quality offspring or waste time competing with each other.
This reflects the Rousseauian concept of the State of Nature, a world of plenty that was corrupted by the introduction of private property by the first man who put up a fence. Per this worldview, we live in a world with enough for everybody, and the only reason we don’t all have enough is that certain greedy individuals have deigned to hog for themselves what could easily be shared by all. Violence is unnecessary, rapists and other criminals are produced by unnatural cultural influences, not an intrinsic (if undesirable) aspect of human nature, Foreign policy dilemmas can be solved through increased dialogue and understanding; notions like “peace through strength” only poison the well of what could otherwise be an implicit mutual understanding. The hostile aspects of reality are constructed by individuals of ill-will and could be eliminated if we
liquidate re-program them. AC:
Here in the r-strategy, we see the origins of the Liberal’s tendencies towards conflict avoidance, from oppositions to free-market capitalism, to pacifism, to demands that all citizens disarm so as to avoid any chance of conflict and competition. Even the newer tendencies to support the ”everyone gets a trophy” movement are outgrowths of this competition-averse urge, and desire for free resource availability. Similarly, Liberals are supportive of promiscuity, supportive of efforts to expose children to ever earlier sexual education, and, as the debate over Murphy Brown showed, Liberals are supportive of low-investment, single parenting.
On the other hand, K reflects a more Hobbesian state of nature in which resources are scarce, human nature is violent and competitive no matter how nice you try to make us, and children need intense training from both parents to learn how to adapt and survive. Under K, any prosperity we may have at the moment must be carefully guarded, for life is typically “nasty, brutish, and short” unless we make a concerted effort to prevent it. AC:
Termed a K-type psychology, or K-Selected Reproductive Strategy, this psychology will embrace competitions between individuals and accept disparities in competitive outcomes as an innate part of the world, that is not to be challenged. Since individuals who do not fight for some portion of the limited resources will starve, this environment will favor an innately competitive, conflict-prone psychology. Study shows, such a psychology will also tend to embrace monogamy, embrace chastity until monogamous adulthood, and favor high-investment, two-parent parenting, with an emphasis upon rearing as successful an offspring as possible. This sexual selectiveness, mate monopolization, and high-investment rearing is all a form of competing to produce fitter offspring than peers. This evolves, because if one’s offspring are fitter than the offspring of peers, they will be likely to acquire resources themselves, and reproduce successfully.
There’s obviously much more to both r and K, and I recommend reading his entire post to find out what.
Although Anonymous Conservative doesn’t explore this in detail, there’s another economic implication to the assumptions behind each of the strategies. Regardless of the actual environmental constraints at hand, r assumes that all resources are plentiful and therefore focuses on the distribution of existing resources. Under K, one assumes that there isn’t enough, so we’ve got to make it. Economics is therefore primarily a question of creation.
Which is correct? Obviously, under certain circumstances we can get away with a degree of r; in an already prosperous society, there’s more wealth to distribute and less of an urgent need to create more goods. Nonetheless, r can only succeed to the extent that either nature itself has provided ample resources (and no nearby tribes know about it), or our forebears have handed down such resources by being K at some point in the recent past. “[A]n environment where resources are freely available, everywhere” is largely unreal, even though some environments seem to offer unlimited prosperity to those who don’t look very hard.
Yet we want to be r. It’s downright unpleasant to assume that our children require two parents, that if we don’t have an army we’ll be attacked, that if we let everybody from everywhere move here that we might be welcoming some people bent on our destruction, indifferent to our national well-being, or with very different ideas as to how to run a country, that $17 trillion of debt might somehow have some sort of negative consequence.
For individuals and their offspring under exceptional circumstances, one could make that case that r might suffice, but in the aggregate, save the occasional isolated tribe, K is the objectively optimal strategy for human development and prosperity. It makes perfect sense that we’ll tend towards r after a period of successful K, but too much r and we’ll have nothing left to distribute. However, whether we view it through the prism of the ethical codes presented in Genesis and developed throughout the Bible or hardcore biological reality, K works better than r. Period.
We have a lot of wonderful things in the modern West, but our resources are far from “unlimited”, two-parent households raise more successful children than single moms, and sometimes the only thing that will keep some other dude from killing you for your jacket is pointing a gun in his face. If you spend all day every day eating whatever falls off the nearest tree and having sex with whoever wanders by, if a hurricane floats by it’s more likely to kill you. This is reality.
But it’s not natural to want it to be like this. Our bodies yearn to eat whatever tastes good, screw whomever strikes our fancy, and leave work the moment we get tired or bored; we’re all hard-wired for r. Something has to teach us to go against that inclination.
The K environment Anonymous Conservative describes is one in which nature has been hostile, where those who think beyond what comes naturally survive as those who cling to the more naturally pleasant r die off (in an r environment, K‘s might not do as well, but at least they’ll live) . Yet environment can’t be the only determining factor deciding who prefers which strategy. College towns are filled with folks who hail from small towns and suburbs that emphasized K, but they prefer r and moved to live among others who agree. Neither red nor blue America have widespread starvation, yet small towns are loaded with K folk, while the relatively impoverished inner cities prefer r alongside their ostensible benefactors among the ultra-rich.
There’s got to be something more at work, for there are too many examples of people who should be either K or r but aren’t.
Yes, environment can push us in one direction or the other. In a legitimately hostile world, you’ll either be K, remain in abject poverty, or die.
Yet in less hostile environments, we have the option to be either, at least until things degenerate so much that there are no more freebies. Obviously, if both r and K seem like viable options, more people are going to choose r, but lots of people still pick K. Small town America has plenty of resources, far more than the r-heavy slums of Cleveland, yet rural America largely adopts a “K-type psychology” (albeit less than in prior eras, after all, greater prosperity leads to more margin for error).
Environment and parental influence obviously play a role, but if K reflects the world as it is and r reflects how we want it to be, then some of us choose reality and others fantasy. Some of us recognize things as they are, that A is A, whereas others prefer to believe that things are how we wish them to be. All of us sometimes find moral constraints and deferred gratification inconvenient, but some of us aren’t actively seeking reasons to discard them.
As I’ve said before, r is our default; K must be instilled, either through the harsh facts of life themselves or through the active inculcation of parents, churches, and wise communities. Yet some of us crave the knowledge of K even when little around us tells us we should, and others reject the values of their parents for the fleeting pleasantries of r.
Some people literally never encounter K, but for the rest of us, which reproductive strategy we favor depends in large part of what we choose, not just our environment. Some of us decide to be mature and strong enough to see the world how it is, to swallow the ugly realities whole. Others heed the call of their natural predilections and prefer the fantasy of r, which is admittedly a lot more fun.
The Prison of our Option
Yet Anonymous Conservative is entirely correct that whether or not we select r or K determines a massive amount of how we think. Some of us choose fantasy, to deny that A is A, and in large part this determines who we are.
Which is why reaching a leftist can be so damn difficult. When arguing politics with a leftist, you’re not just asking them to concede that lower taxes increase prosperity, that “rape awareness programs” won’t accomplish anything other than make betas even more shy, or that gun control won’t reduce crime. You’re actually attacking a fundamental aspect of who they are. Their entire psychology is based on the dream of “an environment where resources are freely available, everywhere”, a world in which “war is over, if you want it“, where you can supply everybody with as much access to health care as they could possibly want while decreasing costs, and a caring conversation can turn a predator away from a life of crime.
It takes a great deal of psychological investment to maintain this illusion. Thus, refuting this fantasy, this intrinsic part of who they are, can inspire such vicious rage. They don’t want to hear it. The mildest peacenik will shout you down or cut your throat if given the chance. They don’t reject violence, for they’ll be infinitely violent if they deem it necessary to maintain the delusion.
When speaking to them individually, I’ve found ways to surpass the triggers that inspire such rage (or diffuse it if it’s been triggered). Ironically, if I force them to admit that increasing the minimum wage might increase unemployment, I encounter sadness that reminds me of a child learning there’s no Santa Claus. It hurts to be the way they are, and it hurts even more to let it go.
I’ll fight them with every ounce of strength I’ve got, but in a weird way I almost sympathize. Things aren’t how they should be, r doesn’t work, there is no Santa Claus (except in the hearts and minds of children everywhere!).
But I didn’t make them fall for the lies, and as much as it hurts, they’d better wake up.
* Conservatives and libertarians (and you could also include reactionaries) typically adopt all three basic premises, yet prioritize them differently. Again, that’s for another day.