Where is Tom Lehrer now that we really need him?

The unintentional irony of hating those less tolerant than oneself.

Lehrer, taking on the persona of a clueless liberal, once said, “I know there are people in the world that do not love their fellow human beings, and I hate people like that.”

There’s a lot of that sort of thing going around these days under the MultiCulti/PoMo/Diversity banner, of course. (All cultures should be honored and valued, except for the execrable culture of white male English-speaking middle-class Americans, a culture which fails to honor and value other cultures and which must therefore be extirpated if the planet is to survive. All discourses must be validated, and every point of view is legitmate, except for the viewpoint embodying the evil hegemonic phallocentric corporatist dead-white-European-male discourse we’re trying to purge from the university.)

But, I’m sorry to say, the same unintentional irony tends to infect ordinary liberal political chatter, in Blogspace and on campus. Brad DeLong is getting tired of it.

[Is the other side worse when it comes to demonization? Sure, but that’s not ironic. As someone (Lindsay Graham?) said about the outrage over Abu Ghraib, when you’re the good guys, you’re supposed to act like the good guys.]

Update: Matt Yglesias asks, “Is it okay if I’m universally intolerant of people who don’t share my point-of-view, or am I supposed to be nice to everyone?” To which I answer, “Yes, it’s okay, but then your fundamental principle must not be tolerance and niceness.”

Matt then asks the money question: “What’s the preferred solution here?” To which I say:

1. Being aware of your own tendency, and those of your allies, to demonize the opposition.

2. Being more skeptical of news that tends to confirm your presuppositions, and more credulous of news that tends to challenge them, than is comfortable.

3. Trying to imagine how the people whose actions you dislike can see those actions as justified.

4. Discounting somewhat, in figuring out how far you’re justified in going to make sure your side wins, your subjective certainty that you’re right. Given that means and procedures are immediate and easy to see, while outcomes are hard to see, this means giving more weight to means and procedures, and less to outcomes, than a simple decision analysis based on your current beliefs would justify.

5. And still, in spite of your carefully-cultivated doubts, fighting hard for what you believe in, because if the people capable of irony allow irony to demobilize them, the fanatics will win.

Second update Kevin Drum has some optimistic thoughts.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

3 thoughts on “Where is Tom Lehrer now that we really need him?”

  1. Question For Kleiman

    Is it okay if I'm universally intolerant of people who don't share my point-of-view, or am I supposed to be nice to everyone? I agree that the stance he (and Brad Delong) target is untenable, but what's the preferred solution…

  2. Blog Post of the Year

    It’s a little early to nominate entries for Best Blog Post of 2004, I suppose, but I think it will be hard to beat Mark Kleiman’s list of five epistemic principles for thinking about politics: Being aware of your own…

  3. The "MultiCulti/PoMo/Diversity Banner."

    Speaking as a pretty far to the left academic, with graduate degrees from that bastion of postcolonialism Columbia U, I have to say that the kind of academic deLong and Kleiman describe seems to me to be a fiction of the right's imagination–though t…

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