I’m under no moral or intellectual obligation to “steelman” the Republicans’ actions
Whatever the logical problems with strawman arguments, I’m under no moral or intellectual…
O.T. Ford

Moral obligations

Well said. You are indeed under no moral obligation to steel-man anyone’s arguments. You are a better and more persuasive writer when you do, but under no circumstances are you required to make good and persuasive arguments. Bad arguments are a free speech right that we all enjoy :)

Sadly, I think more than failing to persuade Republicans, you’re also turning off rational and system thinking Democrats, liberals, and neutral observers. While it’s possible that there are a large number of people who don’t recognize the straw-man fallacy, and could be persuaded by a poorly crafted argument, I think you’re going to end up mostly preaching to the choir, and driving away, en masse, your target audience.

This is in fact, a defining feature in the age of Trump, where the more shrill and disingenuous the argument, the more likely someone is going to head over to the bigger tent on the right. This is not a comment on whether or not the left or the right have the better or more moral position, but simply on the tactics being applied — I’m firmly left on any number of topics, but I’ve found myself more and more emotionally sympathetic to the right simply because of the unnecessary rhetorical abuse heaped upon them by people unwilling to steel-man their positions.

Taking cookies and steel-men

I’m not quite sure if your statement “take two cookies” is quite as obvious as you claim. Whether or not you’ve taken two cookies from me in order to share with others, or simply to eat for yourself, or even if you won’t eat any cookies due to a carbohydrate allergy and will share both of them with others, you’re still taking without consent. Dominion and stewardship both require absolute power, and I think it is this absolute power that is in direct conflict with the idea of classical liberalism.

absolute power != classical liberalism

Now, I get it, you’re trying to dissuade me from my current set of theoretical axes — trying to make the case that there is a difference between the wielding of absolute power for “the good” and for “the evil”, and that furthermore, your ideological enemies are clearly “the evil”. This reframing of the debate can certainly be a useful tactic in persuasion, but I think the weakness in even the steel-man version of your argument is that both parties, Republican and Democrat, have ample examples of being for “dominion” and for “stewardship”. Anyone who can think of just one counter example to your one-sided treatment is going to be less persuaded about reframing the argument.

And finding just one example is just all too easy :)

Just one example

In your definition of stewardship, you make the following statement:

“all persons have equal stakes and equal rights”

This clearly doesn’t square with the affirmative action and other race-conscious policies pushed by Democrats. In fact, you use a very identity politics phrase in describing this kind of dominion:

“me and my people”

You could argue that you mean “equality of outcome” rather than “equality of opportunity” in your formulation, and that would reform your polar scheme to fix this weakness, but I think this through line, if you’re honest with yourself, can be applied in a number of ways to both parties, albeit on different scales.

Democrat and Republican scales of dominion

So for Democrats, the dominion of “me and my people” clearly focuses on group identity based on mostly immutable characteristics. Under the broad umbrella of “minority”, they further fuel this group identity into sub-groups, but never quite divide people into their ultimate individual nature of individual people. Equal rights are subject to corrective actions by the collective in the imposition of their dominion.

For Republicans (at least in the age of Trump), “me and my people” clearly focuses on group identity based on nationality. If you’re an American, you’re on the team. Further group identity is only useful when devolved down to the individual level, and never gets expanded beyond the nation. America first dominion, indeed.

Where lies freedom?

Of course, one could feel more comfortable with one level of dominion than another. In fact, that level of dominion may be the defining characteristic of when a person calls it “stewardship” versus “dominion”. The difficulty with your argument is that you state with absolute conviction that one party “is unredeemable and must absolutely be opposed”, without doing the due diligence of arguing against a steel-man.

And with that, I’ve been inspired by you to turn in my absentee ballot today voting a straight Republican ticket. Not because I agree with every position they hold, or can find no critique of them, but because I cannot believe that either party is “unredeemable”, and any party that would countenance that kind of authoritarian, absolutist, dominion-based philosophy must be opposed so it can be redeemed.

P.S.: The future of the disenchanted left

Talking with my son yesterday, we touched upon what kind of historical examples we could look to in order to predict the future path of left-wing partisans, especially if there is a red wave in November, and society as a whole, keeps moving towards more individual freedom and less group identity.

We came up with two possible examples:

  1. Democrat white racists who had to eventually reconcile with the civil rights movement, and the racial integration within society and even families;
  2. Republican bible-thumpers, who had to eventually reconcile with the gay rights movement, and the end of the Democrat “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy, and gay marriage.

Both groups were true believers in their cause, just as the current crop of antifa and identity politics radicals truly and honestly believe in their causes. They held on to their convictions firmly as the world around them changed, and I think a retrospective observation, of these groups as groups as well as individual stories of group members undergoing reconciliation, are going to be our best blueprint for re-integrating and redeeming the currently hyper-partisan identity politics left.

Maybe one day, we will judge people by the content of their character rather than some other immutable characteristic — and then what will we argue about? :)