Critique of ‘Some Problems with the Intellectual Left’

This post is a commentary on this post, which I happened upon through this other post on via this blog that I follow but that I haven’t yet read because I was distracted by the source. As the title suggests, the source post is about the author’s perspective on ‘some problems with the intellectual left‘. I am not sure who he includes in this group, so I am not defending anyone in particular.

I’ll disclose at the start that although I am sympathetic to the author, I feel he has a worldview I don’t share. He is obviously very frustrated and does not feel his voice is heard. It’s evident that he wants to persuade, yet he hasn’t mastered the art of rhetoric. Not having read his other posts and the concept of political Left and Right being somewhat nebulous, I’ll presume him to identify with the Right rather than the Centre. He seeks and finds solidarity among his brethren on the Right, people it seems who share his perspective, and yet feel alienated from the Left and from society as they envisage it.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in the United States, there is very little conservatism or liberalism in politics. These have been coöpted by the brand politics of Republicans and Democrats. My Conservative and Liberal colleagues are all pretty much fed up with the lack of an ideological anchor in the US. Each claim that neither of the dominant political parties represent them or their ideologies. That might be a topic for another day. What this means is that I will be commenting by referencing the political party brand names, which in the UK translate to Tories and Labour parties.

What I can critique is this polemic. I am neither Conservative or Liberal, though a Conservative may deem me to be a Progressive.

First, it’s nice to see you begin with an admission that you are reacting from a place of emotion. I’ll try to comment on each paragraph in sequence and as necessary.

« A general issue that tends to recur is the arrogance of assumed or presumed access to truth and reality. »

This is an interesting claim. Two things:

(1) Most rational people presume whatever opinion they hold to be true at the time they express it. This is a known cognitive phenonenon for all humans. I am not sure how this is only attributable to Left intellectuals.

(2) Let’s estabish some working definitions. When I read ‘Right’, I presume Conservatism, a fundamental element of which is about traditionalism. ‘Left’, I presume to equate either to Liberalism (non-Classical, so from a US-biased perspective) or Progressivism, which views much of the past as flawed and wishes to remdeiate it.

If we accept as a simple attribute of Conservatism that there is a desire to take what has seemed to work in the past and continue to rely on it now and going forward, then it would seem to me this past would be the single truth upon which to operate. For the Progressive, there are many possible solutions, though, admitedly, a person might choose one as being more apt to be the best past forward, which I sup0pose could be characterised as the truth.

I disagree that the person on the Left would assume this to be the only path forward, so the claim of truth intransigence seems a bit overblown.

« They will take a complicated issue with many ambiguities to it, and present dogmatically one party line as fact. »

I have not experienced this. In practise, I see that the Right is able to signal simplistic slogans and sound bites, where the Left is required to be mired in nuance to explain, thereby losing the attention span of its constituents. Again, I am speaking from the perspective of the US. It may be different elsewhere.

« Not only this, they will try to ridicule and humiliate anyone who disagrees with them. This kind of shaming approach so common on the left to force a sham public consensus, extends as a tactic also and especially to intellectuals on the left. »

As there is no discernable Left or Right in American politics, there is only us and them relative to the two dominant competing brands, each clumps of mud and spercial interests, but neither with a recognisable underlying poltical ideology.

I am going to fast-forward because the tendency to single out one party when both parties are equally guilty continues.

« For all that they may try to condescendingly diagnose people who oppose them as suffering from one from of irreality or another… »

This is not limited to one side or another.

« At no point is there respect for some reality they could be missing »

Neither is this limited to one side or another.

« This is a ludicrous state of affairs. Can you imagine anyone on the right, or just independently minded, being willing or even able to engage in a reasonable dialogue with a group of people who have such strong attachment to their values… »

Notice how we distinguish Left from Right, but we also attempt to associate Right with ‘independantly minded’. I can imagine a so-called indepenant to be able to engage in ‘reasonable dialogue’. I can’t as much image the same for a person on the Right.

« And don’t think this is not the case, because it clearly is a fact… »

This is ironic given the previous claim that the Left is steadfast in owning the truth, yet the claim here is the writer owns the truth. Anything counter to his beliefs is opinion.

« The problem I think is that there is this general tendency among more intelligent people … have been insulated from reality more… »

I’m guess I need to get clarity on how intelligent people are shielded from reality. Is the claim that these people somehow live apart from reality? Apparently intelligent people are some monolithic group.

« …they prefer to hide in theoretical realms and not face the judgement of the practical world. »

What is this hiding mechanism? Does this hiding allow one to avoid reality as we know it? Is the practical world different to the real world?

« As a result, they try to hide their assertions behind claims of neutral fact, camouflaging opinionated things in this way, and by sneaky tactics of exploiting the human desire to fit in, in order to shame people into line with these opinions. »

I am not sure I am able to parse this sentence, but somehow there are sureptitious claims that shame people into compliance. I was under the impression that people of the Left were the free sex hippies of bygone days and Conservatives were ostensibly The Man. Moving on…

« They are not sure enough of themselves and their values… »

I thought the Left were the ones with ‘presumed access to truth and reality’. How would you be unsure if this were the case?

« so they must resort to all this underhand stuff, and once it spreads worldwide we get the kind of climate we are now in today. A climate where a tautological assertion such as climate change, becomes a calling card for worldwide shame and conformity. »

If I am interpreting this correctly, the Left is bludgeoning the general populace into conformity with shame. Again, the Left is not not monolithic entity, so I am not sure what conformity is being forged.

Also, there is a claim that ‘climate change’ is a tautological assertion, yet this missing the point that the assertion is an ‘anthropogenic climate change’ rather than a generalised claim that the climate is changing, an important distinction and not nuance.

« Another issue I have with intellectuals on the left is their disingenuous cherry picking of reality. »

Some examples would be nice.

« They think by obsessing on one “truth” in a much larger debate… »

Again, I believe that the concept of a single truth is one adopted by Conservatives, and I feel this is why more Conservatives believe in the notion of a monotheistic existence because it allows them to believe in a single source of Truth.

« …somehow saves them from criticism and gives them free reign to criticise and ridicule anyone else who questions that “truth”. »


« Of course a person questioning it may only be making a point of nuance to distinguish an aspect of truth to it, and an aspect that is not true. »

There are a few possibilities here:

(1) That a thing can be simultaneously true and untrue, such as in a quantum place as exemplified by Schrodengers cat.

(2) That the definition of the thing being discussed is not common, so we are talking about a different reference.

(3) The definition is ambiguous, as captured by the old Groucho Marx joke, ‘I once shot an elephant in my pyjamas; how he got in my pyjamas, I’ll never know.’

(4) The topic being discussed can be further broken down or clarified, as portrayed by the African story of the man walking down the street wearing a hat coloured red on one side and blue on the other. Asked to recount, the people on one side declared his hat to be red, and the other that it was blue. In fact, they only had access to a partial truth based upon their own limited vantage.

(5) Neither side has access to the truth, as exemplified by the stoey of the blind men and the elephant, one who envisions the tail as a rope and another who envisions the ears as a carpet.

« But once you try to go into that debate, they have achieved their aim which was solely to get you on the defensive… »

Pretty sure this is a fundamental Debating 101 tactic we learn in high school

« …so now they can just belabour their same dumb point over and over and look like they know what they are talking about. »

Perception is reality, as the adage goes.

« All these kinds of underhand tactics… »

This author sounds bitter and has a difficult time communicating his position or gaining traction on his ideas. A person coming from this position will likely be defensive and put others on the defensive from the start. I’ll presume that these ideas are ones associated to the Right. I haven’t read any of his other writings, so I don’t have a broader or deeper perspective.

« Individuals must rebel against this encroaching totalitarianism… »

Again, the author is tilting windmills or strawmen as the case might be. I’m not sure I can parse this final paragraph, so I’ll just end here.

2 thoughts on “Critique of ‘Some Problems with the Intellectual Left’

  1. I appreciate the time spent on giving a considered response to a post of mine. I will say that I mostly write striving to get at some content to ideas. So, I am more interested in discovering that bit of content and groping towards it, rather than engaging in rhetoric. Most of my posts are also thrown out there to provoke ideas and responses, which I am glad to see as it has done here. I will also say that some of the main criticisms you make point to subtle distinctions between how left-right politics works in the UK compared to the US, so I suppose I would have to specify that I am referring mainly to that distinction in the UK. In the UK for instance, currently there is a very specific intellectual class who tend to identify strongly with left wing ideas and come from a position of being insulated from harder realities. We call them champagne socialists. (Much of this phenomena is related to the grammar school era in the UK and to the peculiarly strong centralisation and control of media and British politics within the London area.) Also, some of the points that you argue are not limited to one side or the other, I do think there is much more of a tendency for the left to go down these routes, at least the left as it is in the UK, and this goes back to the champagne socialist, intellectual class left again that are quite peculiar to the UK’s current situation.
    Regarding the “one truth point”, where you suggest this is more a problem on the right than the left, with the religious factor, or in the case of tradition, I would say a couple of points. Firstly the religious factor is once more not one of these considerations that crosses over the Atlantic too well. The right, or the traditional British liberal (which is the perspective I largely come from) tends to be focused on basic liberties and the economy, and beyond that not prescribing moral courses of action for people. Which, right or wrong, and you can argue this approach is wrongheaded in certain areas, but either way, it does leave much leeway for people in the ideas and truths they can choose to adopt about things in their day to day lives. On the other hand, the left, as I see it in the UK, is very much keen to enforce their ideas at the heart of peoples moral values and how they must live their lives. It is much more about prescribing in particular what is right, rather than delimiting some general area that is wrong. Now this can be practical and useful in certain social policy areas, but I wasn’t denying the left ever serves a practical purpose I was just trying to highlight some of the dangerous areas the left in the UK tends to be impinging on in the current era. The second point is about tradition: If you point to tradition, yes that may seem like one idea, but really it incorporates all the ideas developed by countless people over many generations that have become accepted customs, culture etc… While the typical left leaning person, may, for instance, have some radical idea for how society should be, and this will be the idea of one person, and if they get power, it will be forced on to, and over, all of those traditions indiscriminately.
    So, I still there, see some good grounds for many of the points I was trying to make, provided it is specified that I am referring to the left as it is currently in the UK.


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