I am no hand at debate, and I don’t like confrontation. Almost anyone who knows their talking points can out-argue me, or confuse me, because the shock of a suddenly heated debate will cause all my intelligence to fly out the window. I really have to understand my subject matter, to the nth degree, before I’ll even consider discussing it with someone, because of my lack of debating skills.
So, I really love an author that explains things clearly, because I love to learn, and my tendency to confusion under fire annoys me. Wouldn’t you be frustrated if you knew you could be a scatterbrain in certain circumstances, but in normal, day-to-day life, you have no such tendencies? I like to read and I like to learn about many subjects, especially history. Eventually, my love of history brought me to my interest in politics, especially the conservative side of things.
When I was in school, I always had the slight feeling of “that doesn’t sound quite right” when our history teachers taught us something. It wasn’t like having evolution shoved down my throat in biology, which just plain made me mad, that I have to learn something that’s only a THEORY, no matter how many times scientists shout that it’s proven. You can yell all you want, it doesn’t prove anything. Go review the scientific method, and get over yourself.
But in history, you learn what they teach, and memorize things in order to pass the next test. You don’t take time to try and figure out why something just didn’t sound quite right. So, when they tell you that JFK and FDR were the best presidents, that Teddy Roosevelt saved us from big, bad corporations, and that Abraham Lincoln and the North were completely in the right, during the Civil War, you accept it as fact… or factual enough to memorize and pass the test.
I’ve learned much more about history and politics, since I left school, than I ever learned while I was there, and more than I ever would if I went to college. Though, I suppose if I’d had to debate my subject in college, I’d have become a serious recluse, refusing ever to come out of my hole again. Instead, I just read what I like, and think about whether it matches up with what I already know, and whether they actually use their sources properly.
A good author explains themselves very clearly, and defines its terms for those who might possibly be confused. I’ve learned a lot about capitalism, in the last few years, when I couldn’t have told what it was, before, if my life depended on it. I read and understand many words in context, but if you asked me to explain them, I’d be sunk. So, when I read Jonah Goldberg’s The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, I was very pleased to find that he defines his terms in words that normal humans can understand. Remember, I want to ingrain my understanding of some things, so that when someone blows up in my face, I don’t forget what I was about to say.
Words like ideology, pragmatism, and dogma are spelled out for anyone to understand. Technically, I should know them, but if you wanted to argue with me about them, my experience isn’t great enough to remember them. And so, not only the textbook definition, but some of the modern connotations that can be spun around them are explained. Then, Mr. Goldberg discusses how he sees them, when those at the other end of the political spectrum don’t agree with him at all.
The Tyranny of Clichés is about how liberal debaters, whether in the mainstream media, Hollywood, or the higher-ups in our government, use certain phrases to paralyze open discussion and honest debate. Believe me, I understand this stratagem more than most, because people do it to me by accident… until I can check my encyclopedia again. When someone throws the phrase “violence never solves anything” or “better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be punished” at you, they’re trying to silence you without argument. They may think they sound clever, while I’m left with a feeling that what they’ve said doesn’t sound quite right, but since I never thought about it, what do I say?
A few hours later is when I come up with the response that those statements are both stupid. But I’m not sure I would’ve been rude enough to tell someone that, to their face. But, of course, “violence” can solve things. If someone attacks me, with rape on the mind, and I defend myself with my Ruger SR9, then I sure did just “solve” that. And when Goldberg presented his point on the “ten men” idea, I had to think about that, too. If I’m sent to prison for a crime I didn’t commit, that’s bad. But what about those guilty men that could go on a shooting rampage, and kill my family? Would I rather they were free to ruin someone else’s life? Our justice system isn’t perfect, but I would rather they made a mistake in my own case, than let ten murderers go free.
I really liked the chapter on “social justice”, which points out that no one seems to really know what it is, just that it’s a good thing. Well, if it’s an indefinite term that can mean whatever anybody wants it to mean, as long as it promotes their agenda, how is that good? Just because it SOUNDS good, doesn’t mean it IS good. And the separation of church and state chapter only hammers home something that already annoys me, the modern-day belief that we need to stamp God and religion out of public life. It’s screwball, unconstitutional (Jefferson mentioned the separation of church and state in a LETTER to a friend), and completely against what the Founding Fathers believed. And I haven’t even touched on the idea of the Constitution being a “living document” that “evolves”. Gag me. Or rather, I wish someone had gagged Woodrow Wilson, before he promoted that idea.
This book was a great read, and I learned a lot. Even if you’re liberal-minded, I think there’s much to be learned about how certain clichés can be used to stifle a good discussion. And the willingness to listen and discuss things is really something that’s needed, nowadays. No one, conservative or liberal, will change their mind if they’ve just been trampled on. You can railroad me and win the debate, but I’ll still think I’m right. And so, thank you, Mr. Goldberg, for your great book which has explained so much and from which I was able to learn a few things.