On Provoking Your Friends


The other night Rachel Maddow commented on “how weak the political and rhetorical muscles get when they`re allowed to atrophy.” She was talking about the insular conservative media bubble, but well, a little Socratic method never hurt anyone:

…when Sharron Angle`s political career ended last night on local television in Nevada, it was a perfect case study in what happens if you don`t ever talk to people with whom you disagree. Because here is the thing when your positions are never questioned, you`re never forced to develop strong logic to back them up. When your arguments are never challenged, you don`t ever have to improve them. You don`t ever have to cast out arguments of yours that don`t make sense or learn how to deal with evidence that appears to contradict your conclusions. That`s why I regret that we don`t have more conservatives on this show. Because I do have a point of view, of course, but I like talking with people with whom I disagree, both because it is fun and selfishly because it makes my arguments better.

Conservatives would do better if their own friends would challenge them now and then. You learn little from sitting in a circle and agreeing with everyone else. Playing devil’s advocate and challenging the groupthink is always more productive. The same is true on the left.

The other day on this blog I road tested some ideas around a theme I’ve been working on: leadership on the left. A discussion of wind and solar energy provided the opportunity. I have grown frustrated watching liberals decry leaders in Washington for having no spines when so few seem capable themselves of making decisions when the choices aren’t widely popular or downside-free. But damn, if we don’t have the courage to boldly choose between vanilla and chocolate.

If we expect to get the country out of the mess it’s in, we’d better get better at being leaders capable of more than assenting to the obvious. Leaders need to make and execute plans. Not everyone can. Almost anybody can have a good idea. And ideas often improve when tested.

Categories : Democrats, Energy


  1. Dixiegirlz says:

    Precisely the point I was attempting to make last week…..and got hammered for suggesting this forum encourage folks of differing viewpoints to enter the fray.
    I firmly believe it is important to stray away from one’s comfort zone. For selfish reasons to hone ones own points, but also to broaden ones thinking into seeing a bigger picture.

  2. cj says:

    I wonder how long your post, much appreciated, or my comment (to follow) will survive the ‘hide the bastard’ rating system.

    Since Gordon’s departure, SH has become a closed loop of self-referential, elitist, at times tiresomely arrogant & self-congratulatory single-mindedness. A boys club intolerant of views, opinions or comments not immediately recognizable as those held by the group.

    Outsiders are not welcome, and are routinely made to feel unwelcome. This is not a behavior or practice Gordon exhibited during his tenure, quite the contrary. But he seemingly has endorsed it nonetheless. It is, in my mind, an unfortunate and disappointing development because SH was, for a long time, a singular forum in Asheville for interesting good writing, news, and opinion. It focused attention on progressive thought and action in Asheville and, I suspect, helped get Gordon elected.

    Since that election and Gordon’s understandable need to spend more time away from blogging, SH has devolved into a much less interesting, erratic and too often mean-spirited club room for hooligans of a different sort.

    So far, attempts to broach the subject has been met only with defenses typical of the high school home team mob: “Get your own blog”, “If we wanted to know what you think we’d buy your book”, etc.

    Makes me wonder about the future of Scrutiny Hooligans. I’ll keep reading because there are some great writers here Tom Sullivan among them(and few alternatives). But there are also many (mostly anonymous) bullies here who don’t quite grasp the fact that online community journalism, to be successful. must strive for inclusiveness, not exclusiveness. IMHO.

  3. Dixiegirlz says:

    @ CJ….Am very amused that one of my whoops comments actually got blacked out. I just discovered this a few minutes ago. HILARIOUS!!!

    Here’s some fun bantering: fortunately neither got blacked out.

  4. shadmarsh says:

    What view points are not being represented? Anyone here can post a comment or a reaction a link etc. I am not trying to be a high school bully here, but I guess I just don’t understand the reasoning behind placing demands upon SH to be catered to ones own personal likes and wants. I have been visiting this site pretty much since its inception and have seen it go through various transformations, contributors, commentators, trolls, etc. and the idea that it should be more like X or Y hasn’t ever really occurred to me, but perhaps I am just not serious enough.

  5. Dixiegirlz says:

    “What view points are not being represented?”

    Shad, the “WHOOPS” thread speaks to this question.

    I deeply believe we need serious dialog between opposing points of view. And we will pay the price if we don’t uphold this dilog. Not just surface banter like (I’m right, no I’m right, and on and on, ad infinitum) Our country was founded on a system of checks and balances and the ability to hash out differences and come to a compromise. That seems to work best.

  6. shadmarsh says:

    I am all for dialog, but I guess I just don’t see the point in demanding it (and a very specific kind of it at that)of a blog that is the intellectual property, and hard work, of someone else.

  7. Dixiegirlz says:

    I don’t see anywhere that I “demanded” anything. I’m simply offering up a point of view. Take it or leave it…that’s all.

  8. Tom Sullivan says:

    I studied philosophy and engineering, so I have an appreciation for both the theoretical and the practical. It’s frustrating how many, especially in liberal Asheville, would rather think an issue into submission than act. (Visualize Whirled Peas lately?) My hat’s off to Gordon for his willingness to get his hands dirty.

    Regarding this post, I am frequently more critical of my political friends (see here and here) than my adversaries because I expect better of them. It’s easier to criticize leaders than to actually lead. Ask Gordon.

    I catch a dose of right-wing talk each week to see what’s being discussed and will dissect it online if I have time, but I’d much rather — as Rachel notes — use it to hone my own arguments. What frustrates me more is how threadbare much liberal rhetoric has become. I have known people for decades whose political development seems to have been arrested in the 1960s or 1970s. Their responses to many questions are as predicatable as those of a street-corner evangelist, and just as readily ignored. Cliches aren’t terribly persuasive.

    One thing you’re trained to do in philosophy is to look for weaknesses in ideas/arguments — whether your own or others’. One of the reasons I didn’t pursue philosophy at the graduate level was how divorced the discipline seemed from external data. Both extremes of the political spectrum share a similar weakness. They spend too much time sitting in a circle agreeing with each other.

    It’s funny that Dixiegirlz linked to a Bill Buckley clip. (Not his best performance.) I grew up watching “Firing Line.” Considered one of the fathers of the conservative movement, Buckley would be ostracized these days. That is conservatism’s loss.

    BTW: I have thoroughly enjoyed the back-and-forth with Nathan Ramsey, both here and in person.

  9. cj says:

    @ShadMarsh “perhaps I am just not serious enough.”

    I noticed that about you too. Often funny though, but serious? Not so much.

    Too bad you mistake criticism for demands. Mature people, most of them at least, learn not to make demands. But believing change CAN happen, and (some) change is good, is the mark of a progressive. People who deny access to outsiders, demonize them, and want to keep things the same go by another label.

  10. Dixiegirlz says:

    “People who deny access to outsiders, demonize them, and want to keep things the same go by another label.”

    Yeah,……… it’s called a “circle jerk.”

    Refers to a pompous, self-congratulatory discussion where little to no progress is made.

  11. shadmarsh says:

    Too bad you mistake criticism for demands. Mature people, most of them at least, learn not to make demands. But believing change CAN happen, and (some) change is good, is the mark of a progressive. People who deny access to outsiders, demonize them, and want to keep things the same go by another label.

    I’ve been around too many progressives to ever want to be identified as such, I’m more of a contrarian. I apologize if I took your “criticism” for demands, unless I missed the post where you offered specific criticism as to what views are not tolerated or expressed here, or what exactly it is that you would like to see added. If that is the case then excuse my misplaced (albeit gentle) snark.
    and, fwiw I’ve always considered humor to be serious–a different approach yes, but serious nonetheless.

  12. Blind Faithiness says:

    For a blog that doesn’t see that many comments per post there is a whole lot of complaining to read today.

    First, what are you all trying to achieve by wanting/having “more dialog”? More page views? More comments? Each and every person in A’ville’s view represented equally?

    None of those things are going to happen without a dramatic transformation of SH, except for maybe more comments. More comments might equal more diversity and dialog. Maybe. But I don’t think SH needs a drastic change.

    What this blog needs is more content on a day-to-day. Multiple posts a day, or at the least, a post as good as Tom’s post today, everyday. To get more dialog, this blog needs more posts worth talking about.

    Bullying? Here? Haven’t seen it. I have seen smart people having passionate discussions, but not bullying.

    Also, “circle-jerk” refers to group masturbation, which is sometimes a euphemism for group self-congratulation. Its not a very pretty term or image, though. Maybe try something else next time.

  13. Dixiegirlz says:

    “but I’d much rather — as Rachel notes — use it to hone my own arguments. What frustrates me more is how threadbare much liberal rhetoric has become.”

    Rachel is one of the very few left leaning types with real meat to her arguments or points of view. I’d love to see a counter to her on the conservative side.

    I know it wasn’t the best of WFB, but it sure was a meaningful one to me. As a Viet Nam era bride, I was particularly in favor of Gore Vidal’s position. That said, we need more Buckleys..he was one smart man, and I miss him.

  14. shadmarsh says:

    Buckley was a racist, classist, pompous ass…but I heard he made a killer Manhattan.

  15. Dixiegirlz says:

    Yeah, he was..it was hard not to be a racist in his day. Pompous ass, yes…so what?

  16. Jim Reeves says:

    And a Skull and Bones member as well…

  17. cj says:

    Buckley was far more complicated than ‘racist, classist and … pompous ass’ describes. I’ve read most everything he wrote, disagreed with most of what he thought, but probably learned more/most of what I know today about liberal & conservative ideology from reading his books, columns and viewing his TV show “Firing Line.” If his being ‘racist, classist and pompous’ were sufficient cause to shut out exposure to his thinking, values and philosophy I would be a less aware and evolved citizen today. I also lived near and traveled in some circles close to him and know he was widely liked and respected. His book, “Atlantic High”, is one of the best books about sailing I’ve ever read and led me to the purchase of a sailboat. If nothing else, he was an excellent writer. Maybe not such a good parent though, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/magazine/26buckley-t.html

  18. Dixiegirlz says:

    “Buckley was far more complicated than ‘racist, classist and … pompous ass’ describes. “

    Nobodies perfect. <;-)

  19. shadmarsh says:

    Perhaps you should dig him up and see if he is interested in becoming a contributor to SH?

  20. Blind Faithiness says:

    “Perhaps you should dig him up and see if he is interested in becoming a contributor to SH?”

    We have the technology.

    Zombie Reagan Raised From Grave To Lead GOP

  21. Here’s something for you guys to think about… a Marist poll reports that 26% of Americans don’t know who we fought for independence:


    To the 74%, Happy Fourth of July

    To the 26%, it wuz the Klingons and we beat their redcoated butts.

  22. Big Ivy says:

    Tom Sullivan and Tom Buckner, thank you for contributions that are informative, reasonable, and courteous.

    Ralph, thank you for changing the subject.

    Others – give it up! SH is open for comments from any and all. If you want to contribute your point of view, do so.

    Now, fire up the grill and get the watermelon chilled. Remember our children who are in Iraq and Afghanistan while you enjoy your Sunday.

  23. Jim Reeves says:

    I think the majority of Americans, upon reading the Declaration of Independence, would discover a lack of independence. Upon discovering the TRUTH of 9/11, would see American soldiers and millions of others died for a LIE. The Constitutional Republic is under attack,assisted by a public fool system educated populace, a manipulative media, and a statist internationalist political machine (with two names) to represent “us”, while further eroding our freedoms, yet the partisan cheerleaders on this site and others fooled by the empty rhetoric of “change” refuse to see there is no change,only a continuation of previous ruinous policies. Enjoy your Chinese made fireworks (that if they “explode or fly up into the air” are illegal for Asheville citizens to use, more freedom taken for your “safety”) I have nothing to celebrate.

  24. Dixiegirlz says:

    Hey BigIvy,
    Sorry for beating a dead horse.