The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Why we should pay this Bill some attention

In my last post, I mentioned how I find Bill Muehlenberg’s blog both self-affirming and wildly amusing. What I forgot to mention is that it is also instructive.

Now, more than ever, the governing of a modern, supposedly secular democracy is a like a chess tournament, with hundreds of games being played out on a wide range of issues. In many, if not most, of these games, change-resistant conservatives are doing battle with change-embracing liberals (the literal kind, not the Tony Abbott kind). And much like an actual game of chess, knowing your opponent’s strengths, weaknesses and tactics is crucial.

Take the same-sex marriage debate, for example. When locked in a marriage equality chess match against someone like Bill Muehlenberg, it’s extremely useful knowing that he relies heavily on his Bishops, has an irrational fear of Queens, doesn’t believe in mating with a Knight, and gains a lot of confidence from the support of his mindless pawns. All of this information can be used against him, and greatly increases our chances of winning.

Understanding the way people like Bill think is therefore immeasurably important – even if it leads to the conclusion that they don’t think at all. Bill’s latest post, “On the Subject of Subjectivism”, is a perfect example.

He begins thusly:

I really like Dr Pepper. But for some odd reason, many people do not. Now, I do not think that those who dislike DP are miscreants who need to face the death penalty. I don’t even think they are in any way wrong. That is because when it comes to matters of personal taste, there really is no right and wrong. There are simply subjective preferences, likes and dislikes.

Sounds quite reasonable, doesn’t it? Maybe Bill’s not that bad after all…

But of course not everything is just a matter of subjective taste. There are many things which have objective reality whether we know it or not or like it or not. For example, there are objective truths such as: 2 + 2 = 4. This truth does not depend on your subjective feelings and tastes.

No, actually, he really is that bad.

The two quotes above highlight a very important point about the way Bill and other conservatives think. They are actually capable of deploying sensible, superficially nuanced arguments, but only as a way of backsolving to their already-held positions. The conclusion is decided first and the arguments are decided second, and if anyone comes along with an opposing argument, why, it must be the opposing argument that’s wrong, because it can’t possibly be the conclusion. And so, instead of Bill reading his own analogy and seeing it for what it really is – an obliviously ironic defence of homosexuality – we end up with something else entirely: “People can’t help their preferences, but you’re not allowed to be gay, because I know addition”. I would call it asinine, but to do so would be to do that fine word an extraordinary injustice. So I’ll just call it ironic.

Bill then decides to copy and paste 600 words from C.S. Lewis, which is notable only because it raises the average word length of the post as whole, before concluding with the following:

So as we fight the various culture wars, we must also fight the big ticket items, and in this case that means standing up for objective truth and universal right and wrong. Without that we will simply flounder and sink in the quicksand of relativism and subjectivism.

Once again, that all sounds reasonable, right? I’ll even go so far as to say that I completely agree. Moral relativism is a ridiculous concept, and if there are no objective moral truths, then pretty much anything can be justified. There’s just one problem. What happens when the source of your objectivity is itself subjective?

It’s all very well for Bill to claim he’s married to objectivity, but it’s somewhat cheapened by the fact that Christianity is his father-in-law. He would, of course, be singing a different objective tune if he’d been born in Riyadh, instead of Jebusville USA. The fact that Bill seems to be the only person who doesn’t realise this highlights another important point about how conservatives think. It is apparently impossible for them to consider the world from a different point of view.

There will, unfortunately, always be chess matches to play, and there will always be Bill Muehlenbergs to play against. And if we want to win the game, or at least, not throw the board back in their faces, we need to remember one thing.

For people like Bill, irony and empathy just don’t compute.

Oh, and they really are terrified of Queens.

Category: Good, Politics, Religion


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