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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Albrechtson's wilful confusions « Previous | |Next »
March 19, 2008

Australian conservatives work in terms of dualities that are either or and very black and white. An example is the way they use the duality of reason versus emotion. It is an old duality in western culture and often used as a weapon in the culture wars.

Take Janet Albrechtson's latest op-ed in The Australian, where her thesis is that so many on the Left are obsessed with how they feel about something:

Think about it. So many issues the Left is consumed by are about raw emotion, not intellectual analysis. They will ask you how you feel - not what you think - about some gripping issue. And that’s why Mamet changed his views. He started thinking about issues, engaging his head. So many on the Left take the shortcut, letting their gut reaction dictate their response. Of course, even before Mamet’s political conversion it was easy to work out that left-wing politics is essentially emotional, not logical. With only rare exceptions, poets, playwrights, actors, directors and artistes generally are overwhelmingly political bleeding hearts. If your daily occupation is to emote as effusively as possible and your aim is making your audience feel some emotion or another, then rational analysis is simply not your strong point.

Funny, I thought that the left tradition historically took its bearings from Marx's Capital rather than Rousseau's Emile's. That classic text was hardly a romantic text that emoted as effusively as possible. That tradition then divided into socialism and social democracy around the way the contradictions of capitalism were understood.

Albrechtson's attempts to identify conservatism with reason and the Enlightenment tradition and the left with romanticism ignores the way that it was the left that carried on the Enlightenment project to build a better world for the working class whilst the Conservatives turned against the Enlightenment and became the counter revolution. They celebrated the authority of the state wielding the sword and commonsense as prejudice, superstition and ignorance in the name of tradition.

This is recycled by The Australian conservatives in terms of the commonsense of the sturdy patriotic people versuses the arrogant Utopian reason of the inner city cosmopolitans.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:11 AM | | Comments (10)


Janet does need some help from time to time. I think what she is trying to say is that some real tosh issues from the warriors of the left. Phillip Adams, a myrmidon of the Left, is emblematic of emotion over intellectual analysis. Writing in his column some time ago Phil informed us that one of his heroes, Dr Jim Cairns, often addressed an eager audience in his lounge room. Phil's job during these enlightening 'meetings' was crowd control. Crowd control in the Cairns' lounge room! Not your ordinary lounge room mind you. No, the Cairns' lounge room was built to hold 500 - 600 people. Emotion over intellectual analysis.

However Phil's column is very important in my life: it serves as an aperient. The price of the newspaper is cheaper than any product purchased from a chemist for the same purpose.

She's so pathetic isnt she.

She would have been (or rather IS)very much at home in Orwell's Ministry of Truth---as a tea lady.

Meanwhile me thinks Janet should read:

Between Jesus And The Market:
The EMOTIONS That Matter in Right-Wing America by Linda Kintz

The Political Brain: The Role of EMOTION.... by Drew Westen

What Orwell Didnt Know editor Andras Szanto

Plus on a different theme a book that I came across in Readings yesterday.

The Secret War by Jonathan Richards. UQP

Should put the wind up that wind-bag from Sydney.

Rumpole QC
Yes Janet does need help from time to time. Your comment that I think what she is trying to say is that some real tosh issues from the warriors of the left is too kind. She is saying much more than that.

She is rewritng Australia's intellectual history, whilst trrying to reinvent Australian Conservatism.

Emotional decision-making is useful for two things: personal issues, and to "break the deadlock" when dispassionate reason sees two fairly-balanced opposing arguments.

Recent neuroscience studies have shown that progressives are more likely to be comfortable working through shades-of-grey while conservatives prefer perceiving issues as black-and-white. (For the geeks, check out the Anterior Cingulate).

Put these two together, and we see that in issues with opposing arguments, lefties will perceive both sides, and tend to flip over to emotional thinking to break the deadlock, which black-and-white thinkers (Albrechtson is one) won't even perceive the nuances of the issue (and are therefore likely to make incorrect decisions).

A bunch of law people at Yale researching attitudes to gun laws have found similar patterns to the neuroscientists. As well as seeing everything in black and white, they also have trouble putting themselves in the shoes of others and are even less likely to consider their own families when making decisions, let alone anyone else.

When it comes to Our Janet, she invests an awful lot of emotion in her writing for someone who sees emotion as a problem.

If you can paint a political opponent as emotionally driven it means they are irrational and the argument can be dismissed without have to look/review/determine its merits. It is illiberal.

It is a device to avoid debate on an issue.

you are dead right. It means that you are forced to deal with the reason/emotion duality and the way it is being used.

I suppose all this cold, rational, unemotional and striclty logical thinking Janet speaks of led to some post 9-11 decisions suchas the invasion of Iraq. To paraphrase one blog-poster "will we be commemorating the 5-year anniversary of Bush's 'mission accomplished' speech, too?"

The conservatives appeal to reason is hard to square with their appeal to the common sense of the people agains the elites. Common sense presupposes a lot of prejudices, ignorances and superstitutions and is traditionally been opposed to scientific reason.

Exactly Gary,
As your previous post says, how do you reconcile this with their historically staunch opposition to Enlightenment rationality. it seems like they pick and choose when it suits them. I remember Downer, just after the 2004 annihilation commenting on some issue saying something like "..and who would oppose the will popular opinion" when invading Iraq explicitly demonstrates contempt for that very thing! Sometimes the Albrechtsens of this world champion the will of the people, other times they resort to the 'need to know' argument. very inconsistent and hypocritical.