I’m going to be very frank with you: I simply don’t believe most progressives actually care that Josh Duggar touched his sisters when he was 14. I don’t believe they are upset about it, or that it offends them, or that they are morally troubled by it. I don’t believe them. I just don’t.
I think they’re the real hypocrites.
Matt Walsh is angry at the progressive left, who are fuming over the Duggar controversy, but who have barely said a word against Lena Dunham, Harvey Milk, or Bill Clinton, whose own alleged histories of sexual violence match or outstrip Josh Duggar’s. Dunham, Milk, and Clinton are leftist idols. Therefore, the progressive left doesn’t care about sexual violence – they care about destroying conservatives.
It’s possible – the conclusion fits the evidence presented, anyway. But these sorts of arguments are always double-edged swords. The easiest response to Walsh’s argument is this – Matt Walsh is fuming over Lena Dunham, Harvey Milk, and Bill Clinton, but has written absolutely nothing on his website in condemnation of Herman Cain or, in particular, Bill Cosby, whose own alleged history of sexual violence far outstrips Dunham, Milk, and Clinton. Therefore, Matt Walsh doesn’t care about sexual aggression or violence – he cares about destroying liberals.
Hundreds of objections are probably at the tip of your tongue, no matter where you stand politically – the accusations against Clinton are unproven; well, so are those against Cosby. Leftists didn’t just ignore Lena Dunham – they actively defended her; well, so did the right with both Cain and Cosby. And so forth. The upshot of all of it is this – whatever our suspicions, we don’t know exactly what happened in almost every single one of these cases. They’re a black box. Until we open them up and look inside, we won’t fully know the truth. But anything we claim about them might well be true in the meantime.
That is unfortunate. Because we love few things more, all of us, than speculating about what’s in a black box.
Let’s back up a bit, and talk generalizations, one of the greatest tools human beings have in our ability to communicate. Try saying something simple – say, “Russians like vodka” – and making it absolutely true. It’s a tremendous pain. All Russians? Is the statement still true if even one Russian doesn’t like vodka?
Do I have to interview each one? Because that’s impossible. Must they be enthusiastic about it, or simply tolerate it? Are we talking all Russians, or just the living? Because I see a huge problem with the former.
What exactly does it mean to like something? Do Russians have to like vodka because of something unique to vodka, or does simply liking the alcoholic content count? Can I create a filter that compensates for that possibility? Does anyone still care?
If you’re still reading – and my sincere congratulations, and apologies, if you are – you’ve probably noticed that all the fun has gone out of the question (although I’ve probably raised several questions about stereotypes and racism). The fact is, if you want to make something completely and utterly factually true, you won’t say much of anything. Ever. So we generalize. We turn it into a black box, and talk about the box. It’s a fantastic thing.
(Also, my apologies to both Russians and vodka.)
The problem, at least where controversial topics are concerned, is this – we almost universally generalize in a way that frames the situation to our advantage. We think the best of our friends, and the worst of our enemies; we exclude the crazies in our own camp from being True Believers, but assume the fringiest and nuttiest blowhards on the other side are representative of that side’s center. We assume that the other side’s lack of condemnation of their fringe is indicative of agreement, rather than a lack of attention. Most of all, though, we make the topic all about us. In this case, Walsh is clear – the left isn’t angry at Josh Duggar because Josh Duggar sexually violated young girls. They’re angry at him because he takes a stand for traditional conservative beliefs.
In short, they don’t hate him because he’s terrible. They hate him because he’s awesome.
It’s a self-centered worldview – not selfish, mind you, but self-centered. The entire affair is framed in terms of something Walsh values, and the unknown details – in this case, the motives of everyone condemning Josh Duggar – are generalized in a way that removes Josh from any responsibility for their anger. Walsh is given a black box, and summarizes the contents in a way that’s most favorable to Josh and conservatives.
We all do this, and we do it in a wide variety of situations. I’ve talked with many a friend through many a breakup, and nearly every discussion ends with the dumped coming to one of two conclusions: “she hates me because I’m awful,” or “she hates me because I’m awesome.” In all truth, most of them (with the exception of a few in unbelievable denial) had absolutely _no_ idea why the breakup occurred. But all of them sure thought they did. And in the absence of direct knowledge of the situation, they instinctively filled the gap in knowledge with comfort. “If she left me because I’m awesome, I don’t have to feel bad, and certainly don’t have to change. If she left me because I’m awful – well, then, the situation is still in my control. I can change, and get her back.” The idea that she left me for reasons that are both beyond my control and that have little to do with things I can change was, and is, intolerable. It’s meaningless. And that is the hardest thing of all to take.
(It’s worth noting that this is a basic human reaction to trauma, no matter how small or large. The Black Death, or invading Mongol armies, must be the punishment of God; nothing so destructive could simply be beyond our control. Two of the most common ideas I heard in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 were “they hate us because we’re a city on a hill” and “they hate us because we mistreat them;” both ideas are still debated today, with little room for discussion or a mix of the two.)
If I’m confronted with an issue that both hurts me and about which I still have questions, my basic response is to frame the affair around either myself or something I value. It’s a self-centered worldview – again, not necessarily selfish, but self-centered. And it’s archetypical. When human beings are confronted with a traumatic event and a lack of direct knowledge about the details, we almost always, to a man, generalize about the lack of knowledge by putting it in a framework that bends every unknown element into a reassurance. Every generalization will work in our favor. And we all do it. “People hate me because I speak the truth;” well, maybe they hate me because I’m a jerk. “People are opposed to this legislation because they’re racists;” well, maybe I just want an easy way to dismiss people’s genuine objections. And the worst part of it – the part, mind you, that forms the entire basis for this post – is that either option could be true. And, barring a polygraph interview with every single human that hates me, or every single human being opposed to this particular legislation, the fact is this – if I want to form an opinion, I have to pick an option.
And that, right there, is the part that people always seem to miss. We have to pick.
Take the immigration example – is it possible that Republicans traditionally oppose immigration reform because they’re simply all racist? Well, technically, yes, it’s possible. The conclusion fits the data – racist people, anyway, would be opposed to immigration reform, as would people with genuine and thoughtful objections. And though the latter is kinder to Republicans, from a strict logical standpoint, both options are equal – they both make generalizations about an unknown body of data, and both generalizations fit the data. Though I might favor the latter view, short of defining in advance just who is and is not a Republican, and then interviewing each of those people to see who is, and is not, racist, I simply have to go with my gut. My fickle, often unreliable gut.
This, in a nutshell, is how we think with our feelings. We fill in the blanks. We’re given areas that are a black box, as far as knowledge is concerned – we don’t know exactly what’s inside, and we never will. So we summarize the contents. And, given that we have no direct knowledge of what’s inside, our summaries are Rorschach Tests. They’re what we want to believe, not what is, or is not, in the box.
Let’s bring this back to Matt. Walsh makes an astonishing claim, when you think about it – the progressive left hates Josh Duggar because Josh Duggar speaks the truth and stands for what is right, not because Josh Duggar is a sexual predator.
Note a few things about this:
First, Walsh’s claim is an archetype, of the same variety that we use in breakups, or nasty political situations. The situation is generalized in a self-centered way – the important part of the story is that the progressive left hates the traditional values that Walsh supports, not because the left is opposed to child predation. The details are then explained in a way that completely abdicates Josh from any responsibility for the progressive backlash – the left hates Josh because he speaks the truth, not because he hurt anyone. The left loses credibility, therefore, and its anger can be completely dismissed. These are both desirable options for Walsh.
Second, like all generalizations, Walsh’s conclusion is non-falsifiable – it’s entirely possible that the whole of the progressive left doesn’t actually care about child predation, but only about bringing down the right. Walsh’s conclusion fits the data – it’s one of many conclusions that fit the data, mind you, but it fits. I can’t rightfully say he’s wrong. Arguing, in fact, that he’s wrong here is entirely the wrong thing to do – I’ll be asked to prove it, and I can’t. Which, naturally, gives the impression that Walsh has chosen the correct conclusion, and which – finally – brings me around again to where I started – making the same terrible and lazy conclusion about Walsh that he makes about progressives.
Per a recap, Walsh condemned the left for condemning Josh Duggar more than it condemned Lena Dunham, Harvey Milk, and Bill Clinton. I condemned Walsh for condemning Dunham, Milk, and Clinton more than Cain or Cosby. He thinks progressives are hypocrites; I say he is no different. Our conclusions are, logically speaking, exactly the same – they’re not falsifiable, and they rely on very favorable generalizations. And they’re both terrible.
Let’s wrap this up.
The fact is, Walsh might be right. Maybe the left really hates Josh because he’s awesome. Or maybe some of them do. I’d like to claim he’s wrong, but I can’t – I haven’t interviewed everyone, or created a filter to compensate for the anger of people who have been abused themselves, or any number of thousands of things I’d need to do to prove that absolutely no progressive leftist doesn’t hate Josh because Josh stands for traditional values. I believe Walsh is wrong here because my gut says so, not because I have a logical reason.
Then again, maybe I’m correct. Maybe Walsh condemns Clinton because he hates liberal values, not because Clinton may have been a sexual predator. After all, if he were concerned with predation, he would have written about Cosby, too. Maybe. Or maybe Walsh didn’t write about Cosby because he had other more interesting topics. Maybe he didn’t write about Cain because his blog was still in its early stages. Maybe I picked this evidence because it supports what my gut wants to believe.
The truth is, I have no idea why Walsh wrote about Clinton, and not Cosby. I just think I do. Walsh has no idea why the left condemns Josh more than Lena; he just thinks he does. But neither one of us has the information we need to truly prove our statements. There are far too many unanswered questions for either one of us to be drawing these conclusions.
We think with our feelings when we give ourselves the right to answer every one of those unanswered questions in our own favor.
And we should not do that.
More to come, in part iii