Smug Tribal Oneupsmanship Rather Than Respectful Exchange of Rational Differences

One of my Facebook friends, John, has a habit of pointing to the weakest and most extreme arguments of those he disagrees with, as if they are somehow representative of all political opponents, that most are somehow irrational. One can easily do that to him as well. It makes for perhaps a good game of smug tribal oneupsmanship, creating an echo chamber from like-minded friends, but closer to a mob mentality than independent-minded critical thinking. That seems to be a pattern in social media. It doesn’t lead to a respectful exchange of substantive or rational political differences.

I’m relieved when I encounter someone of whatever political persuasion on FB who actually reads books, rather than only stuff online, “the shallows,” without critically thinking about it, and engages in simple kneejerk reaction. Most people on the left and right on here seem to be in the latter category. I was appalled when I encountered a well-read and sincere Christian gentleman who had traveled widely but was quoting uncritically from a site called Stormfront. He was unaware that it was a neo-nazi white nationalist/supremacist site.

My friend John posted: “BUSH LIED, PEOPLE DIED 13 years later: Samuel Spagnola and I were explaining the obvious 10 years ago, without today’s clear hindsight, to any liberal who would listen. We counted that number to be zero,” he posted, along with a Dennis Prager Institute video of former NYT reporter Judith Miller attempting to justify her lack of skepticism about the claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

He didn’t address bipartisan American mistakes in Iraq since the 1980s, as if there weren’t plenty of mistakes by both parties to go around. That would be too reasonable and wouldn’t get a reaction. Like U.S. policy in Vietnam, U.S. policy in Iraq was a bipartisan failure. But casting blame on underlying assumptions of the foreign policy establishment or of American culture would not likely generate a reaction from tribal hyper-partisans on social media.

I bit: “Nice attempt to revise history and pretend wisdom about Iraq you did not have at the time. You never heard me or a number of others on Ed Cone’s old blog say Bush “lied” about WMDs. Here’s something I wrote in 2005, that “Bush lied, people died” wasn’t a convincing argument.…/2005/11/bush_lied_peopl.html ”

He dredged up the old shibboleth that “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” an irrational assumption that anything George W. Bush did as president was wrong and evil. “It’s the BDS encephalitis that infected so many on the left,” he wrote. I retorted that the biggest and most shocking proponent of BDS was in fact Donald Trump, who asserted during the Republican primaries that Bush lied about WMDs in Iraq.

Poor John was unaware that Trump said that. And it turns out his friend Sam was aware of Trump’s BDS but voted for him anyway. Sam refused to explain why he voted for a presidential candidate who exhibited BDS. The irony of how this discussion turned out seems to be lost on John. The inconsistency and hypocrisy of some who play the online game of political tribal oneupmanship know few bounds.


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