Conservatives do Binary
You are probably unfamiliar with Ben Shapiro unless you follow the American media, particular the right wing media. He’s a rising star and apologist for conservative ideology and right wing politics. Considering the conspiracy theories that predominantly emanate from right wing outlets with channels like Fox News, Breitbart and InfoWars, Shapiro does stand out like a beacon of light, albeit a sodium light on a rather narrow frequency band.
The British Conservative’s new chairman, Brandon Lewis, has expressed concern that young Conservatives in this country are being bullied by left wing activists, thereby being put off getting involved in political debate. This echoes Shapiro’s concern that left wing colleges in the USA are closing down free speech by barring right wing speakers from their campuses. He does have a point and certainly has the ear of reasonable liberals who would rather right wing propaganda be closed down by reason rather than censorship. Lewis’ argument seems much less convincing when he complains that young people are being stereotyped as “Cobynistas”, obviously a reference to them leaning more to the left. A stereotype would suggest that this was simply an impression but it can be demonstrated that under 25’s are more likely to embrace socialism than capitalism.
While I find Brandon Lewis’ concerns slightly amusing, a recent article by Ben Shapiro presents something more sinister. But though I find his article disturbing and callous, its the manner of his arguments that drew my attention especially as he’s lauded as an intellectual by many on the right, struggling to find anyone who can present a coherent argument for anything. To my mind it exemplifies the binary thinking of many conservatives, nuance not generally being part of their cognitive skillset.
His article in the National Review is targeted at the young survivors of the Parkland shooting in Florida. Its hard to stomach his indifference to their suffering but its way too easy to weigh into his points and argue the toss. Better to begin with the contempt for these young people that he doesn’t even pretend to conceal:
“What, pray tell, did these students do to earn their claim to expertise?”
That doesn’t deserve a response but he then goes on to criticize the cable news channel CNN, who focused on one of the teenagers as a spokesperson, because he obviously wouldn’t have been their choice if he’d been “advocating for more armed school security”. With all the intellect he can muster he’s committed the pro-gun lobby to a right wing bunker when it would have suited his argument much more to keep the gun debate somewhat bipartisan instead of painting a right-good, left-bad scenario.
He goes on to talk about how the left want to shield young people by including them in their parents’ health insurance, be treated more leniently by the justice system and generally be treated as children. On the other hand they propose lowering the voting age to 16 so that they can be engaged in the political process when their “brain development doesn’t truly complete until 25”.
“If we can turn children into our decision-makers, we can infantilize our politics down to simplistic statements like “you’re either with us or against us” on preventing school shootings. And that infantalization certainly helps come election time.”
“…with us or against us” was their challenge to lawmakers with the threat that those representatives bought by the NRA could be voted out. A charitable assumption would be that he is pointing out that basing your entire political strategy on one policy is over simplistic. But even then he would need to demonstrate that conventional politics never hinges on a single point. Of course a politician’s duties span a range of issues but when it comes to choosing your representative, more often than not it boils down to one issue (or two at the most).
It’s this one size fits all approach that is the hallmark of pundits like Shapiro; that arguments are interchangeable along the lines that if I leave my house on a Tuesday and encounter a particular person, then if I meet them again it must be a Tuesday; if a problem is complex there can’t be a simple solution. The entire argument is predicated on hand picked examples and its the outliers that prove their argument.
The young people he wishes to dismiss have managed to organise rallies, dress down veteran legislators and give the gun debate a new prominence when they could have dissolved into self-absorbed pools of teenness. So contrast these developing human minds with the 72 year old orange man-child doing a god awful job of exercising his “extreme responsibilities”, spouting nonsense about arming teachers with all the sophistication of a 6 year old and a lack of awareness that is breathtaking. I can’t imagine how embarrassed the teenagers sitting either side of him were to call him President.
Shapiro’s article isn’t badly written and his arguments are coherent. But his thinking is static, bound by the conservative straightjacket of conformity and acquiescence. His disdain for progressive youth says more about his subservience to conservative ideology than his own moral redundancy. But supremely he wears his lack of intellectual imagination like a medal of honour.