Something almost all effective polemicists have in common is a degree of optimism. They believe that their polemic can – at the very least might – make a difference. You can be as clever as all hell, but if all you do is cleverly convince yourself that your side in the argument is doomed, then mostly you will contribute only a lowering of morale.
Which is one of many reasons why, as JP noted the other day, I like Delingpole so much. He may be a bit naïve sometimes, a bit too boyishly enthusiastic for some tastes. But far better that than been-there said-that done-that seen-it-all certainty that there is damn all any of us can do about anything. Delingpole is always on the lookout for where a difference is there to be made in whatever argument he is involved in, and eager to make it.
In Australia for instance:
… in Australia, climate change is probably a more pressing political issue than it is anywhere else in the world. Australia after all is a ruddy great island made of fossil fuels. It has an economy which is dependent on fossil fuels. Therefore, when Australia finds itself burdened with an administration which decides to put a swingeing tax on fossil fuels – Gillard’s hated Carbon Tax – in the name of saving the earth from “Climate Change” then clearly Climate Change becomes of pressing concern not just to enviro-loon activists but also to ordinary, sane people who worry about tedious stuff like paying their bills, keeping their jobs and ensuring that their kids have some kind of economic future. The Queensland election result was, I suspect, just the beginning. The tide against the Great Global Warming Scam – the biggest and most expensive outbreak of mass hysteria in history – is turning and, right now, Australia is the best place in the world to go for a beachside view.
I don’t know if Delingpole is entirely correct about Australia being the best place on earth to set about saving the earth from the pseudo-earth-savers, but I like his attitude.
I have been ruminating quite a bit lately on the phenomenon of argumentative pessimism, and what causes it.
Pessimists will tell you that the reason they are miserable is that their team is losing the argument, and that nothing can be done about this. Which may, in this or that case, be true. But if, like the Delingpoles of this world, you think you might win, you might. If you think you won’t, then you still might, but it’s a lot less likely. If others win, it is likely to be in spite of you.
But I think there are many other and rather less honourable reasons for argumentative pessimism, less honourable simply because they are based on making various sorts of mistake.
One common error, similar to that made by the critics of the free market when they confuse their own inability to imagine an entrepreneurial (rather than state-imposed) solution to this or that problem that is exercising them, is to confuse one’s own personal inability to win some particular argument with the claim that therefore this argument is unwinnable, by anyone on your side. This is a form of arrogance. “If I can’t win this, nobody can.” Really?
Another error, I think, is the tendency to remember argumentative defeats but to forget argumentative victories. Victories mean that you tend then to move on to other arguments. But when you lose an argument you are liable to brood about it, and to remember it, and to hang around until you can reverse things. The cure for this is not necessarily to abandon fights that you are losing or have lost but believe that you might win in the future. Don’t be pessimistic about your chances of reversing matters. But it is worth recalling all those arguments that your team has won, but which you personally have then forgotten about. This exercise will remind that you although not all arguments are won, arguments at least can be won, because they have been.
I agree, before lots of commenters queue up to say it, that naïve optimism, especially when it takes the form of believing that total argumentative victory is just around the corner when actually it is not – that people “just need to be told” etc. – is also a mistake.
But one of the many reasons why excessively naïve optimism is such a big mistake is because it is yet another cause of pessimism.