Debate Bad Ideas

Most explicitly political articles I read are conservative, but I frequently like to escape my bubble and read the left as well. Occasionally a liberal makes a valid point that changes my mind about something (it’s rare, but it happens). The best writers on the left at the very least help me refine and improve my conservative beliefs by forcing me to consider them again and again at new angles. Even poorly reasoned garbage from popular liberal organizations helps me understand the other side so I am better equipped to debate them.

Today I read some poorly reasoned garbage from Huffington Post that was informative. In a piece entitled Bad ideas aren’t worth debating, Noah Berlatsky argued conservatives are dumb and evil, therefore they shouldn’t be hired to write by mainstream publications and those smart people on the left shouldn’t bother reading or debating them. Unlike Noah, I understand that even stupid, unAmerican ideas like his are worth understanding and refuting.

I almost never throw around words like “unAmerican.” But if you take this country’s founding seriously, if you support the ideals that made this nation great, you must by definition cherish a rigorous debate of ideas. It is our willingness, not just our ability but our desire even, to debate everything including first principles that has marked the growth of America ever since the Mayflower Compact. That so much of the country is abandoning this American ethos is disquieting.

Plenty has already been written about the emerging tendency on the left to take one out-of-context line, one bad joke, or one intemperate response out of the millions of words conservative writers have written, and claim it not only speaks for their entire body of work but should exclude them from prestige publications. Kevin Williamson, who serves as Noah’s primary antagonist in his piece, was fired from The Atlantic for just this reason soon after he was hired.

But Noah goes further than this dishonest ploy to claim all conservatives should be banished from mainstream press, not because they have said or written some horrible offense, but simply because they are conservative.

Noah’s piece essentially breaks down to an argument that he is right about what he believes, therefore no one should read any opposing views because the issues are all settled. On the one hand, this is intellectually lazy. Every advancement in human thought came from challenging what people knew to be true. At a base level, Noah is arguing Americans should not improve.

But I think his real motivator is fear. I believe his argument is so shoddy and ignorant that if intelligent, fair minded people read it along with my rebuttal, I will win that debate. Noah clearly isn’t so confident.

The secret behind every attempt to stifle speech is fear one’s arguments are not good enough to win the day. If Noah truly believes conservative ideas are as bad as he claims, and that his are clearly superior, he should relish the opportunity to battle it out in the marketplace of ideas and watch converts to his worldview roll in.

But he doesn’t. He would rather win by default because no one hears an opposing opinion. That is unAmerican cowardice of the highest order.