“Scottish referendum: A useful lesson in the limits of fiery activism”

Janet Daley:

As it turned out, virtually all of the polling in recent weeks had been wrong. In the end, the vote wasn’t very close: it was a clear and decisive No. Whatever poll respondents had said – or been afraid to say – about their intentions because they felt coerced or intimidated by the aggressive tactics of the other camp, when it came to it, they were free to do as they pleased.
This is a salutary lesson in the limits of militant political activism: you can bully people in the street, shout them down at public meetings and dissuade them forcibly from displaying posters or banners you don’t like. You can, with the help of your friends and comrades, create what seems to you, inside the bubble of mutual congratulation, to be an unstoppable momentum.
But making people afraid to voice contrary opinions just reinforces the delusion into which political tribes so easily fall when they are waging war. And, even more dangerously, it leaves them utterly out of touch with the slow-burning resentment they are creating in the opponents they are so determined to crush. The inviolable privacy of the polling booth puts paid to all that: the ordinary citizen, who may well have had his anger and resolve strengthened under fire, gets his revenge.

One sees this dynamic in other political campaigns as well. A good example is the US gun-prohibition movement. Here’s a quote from Dan Baum, a self-described political liberal and gun enthusiast:

I personally have met very few gun owners who oppose background checks. But very few of them, even the ones that don’t want an AR-15 with a 30-round magazine, believe that limiting the amount of rounds in a magazine is going to contribute materially to public safety. What worries them is being told you are not to be trusted with these things, and that is really offensive because gun owners derive a tremendous amount of pride from being able to live alongside very dangerous things, use them effectively, and not hurt anyone. When a politician or a pundit who obviously has very little experience or no experience with guns, like Charles Schumer or Dianne Feinstein, says to your ordinary gun owner, “You cant be trusted with more than 10-round magazine,” it really strikes the wrong chord.

It’s difficult to convince people to trust you by insulting them and making clear that you do not trust them. It’s even more difficult if you use these tactics more than once. Most people eventually catch on. Many activists, especially those on the Left, don’t seem to understand this political dynamic. Perhaps that’s because they are accustomed to winning political disputes by means other than logical persuasion and evidence.

(Thanks to Jim Bennett for the Janet Daley link, and to Isegoria for the link to the Baum interview.)

9 thoughts on ““Scottish referendum: A useful lesson in the limits of fiery activism””

  1. The left worldview is that the people who disagree are evil and stupid. I don’t see how they have an intelligent debate about anything.

    Years ago, about the time I wrote my posts about the French healthcare system, I was still reading and posting comments at Washington Monthly and Kevin Drum, who I consider an unusually reasonable lefty, was blogging there. A bunch of the commenters discovered that I was interested in health care reform. Some of them went to my blog, read my posts about what I thought reform should look like, and were enraged that I was not in favor of NHS style single payer. They were attacking me in the most personal terms, nothing to do with my ideas, and soon after, I was banned from commenting.

    It is just not in their DNA to allow debate. We see this in abortion, gay rights and global warming. The anti-war thing is about to come around and bite them but they can’t see it.

    Gun rights and Sarah Palin are beyond reason for them.

  2. @MikeK,

    Keven Drum’s commenters drove me out of the Democratic Party, or rather, I decided I didn’t belong in such a group. That was at Kevin’s old Calpundit blog. I had known that split was coming for some years after I attended a local meeting of the ACLU in the early 90’s where I was struck by the bigotry and snobbishness of many of the members. But it was reading CalPundit that pushed me over the edge.

  3. MikeK – your post hit the mark. And from the little I have read of the background of this referendum, it was pushed by those on the left – and socialists?

    Did they actively intimidate and ridicule anyone against this?

  4. Chuck, I commented at CalPundit and thought Kevin did a very responsible job with the old Bush Air National Guard thing in 2004. Remember there was all the flurry about whether Bush had been AWOL. Kevin did quite a bit of research and concluded there was no story. That was well before CBS did its face plant on the same story.

    It was after Kevin went to Washington Monthly that the problems got intolerable. I still have his e-mail address and I e-mailed him at that time about my comments being deleted with no notice. He replied that he could do nothing about it. I still respect Kevin but his commenters were typical of almost all lefties.

    Mother Jones is as bad. I don’t read them anymore. For quite a while, my comments at HuffPo disappeared but they have been posting them lately. I can tell from the angry replies I get. Last week they had a story about Bobby Jindal and global warming. I posted some comments and got a lot of backlash.

  5. When you disagree you are violating the most core tenets of Progress: Calvinism and Puritan New England. Which they defend more ferociously having forgotten that Religion was their root. They have lost their God or even their memory of God and so their moorings.

    The Founding Document of Progressive Politics is “The Pilgrims Progress.”

    Put another way imagine a convent of Catholic Nuns who have been teaching K-8 schoolkids at St. Ann’s school.

    Today the Nuns will awake to a new world. They will know their daily routine and their programs for teaching children. But everything to do with Catholicism both symbols and doctrine, belief, why they are spinsters for Christ and above all the very memory of Christianity has been erased. They go about their daily routines and teach the children the same way except all have lost the memory of God and Catholic, they find themselves in this red brick building with a nagging sense something important is missing.

    They would be even more irritable, sharp than I remember and over time grow utterly insane.

    For none before us have ever attempted to govern without religion. Religio means “bonds.”

    New England remains a Theocracy that has cast down God 50 years ago as they were Holier than Jesus. And so completely erased all traces that they’ve forgotten that’s where they sprung from: Harvard School of Divinity 1636, Yale School of Divinity 1692. Pointing out just that will not penetrate the armor, just get an unthinking shrug. For that of course can’t have anything to do with Progress, could it?

    They don’t seem deranged. They are deranged. They suffer from core amnesia and have forgotten even that.

    And yet I say they have replaced Jesus, and not with Atheism.

    They have become Nihilists. The most jealous and bloodstained of all gods.
    They are unaware of this, our nuns have become Khmer Rouge and know it not, nor how this terrible thing came to be here.

    They just work here.

  6. At last we may get a recount. The market research polls prove the vote count was rigged. The polls have an error of 5%, never the impossible 20% overnight switch from 55-45 to 45-55 (yes-no).

  7. “They are unaware of this, our nuns have become Khmer Rouge and know it not, nor how this terrible thing came to be here.”

    Bottum’s book is all about this, from the reviews I have read.

    Now, two years later, this book is my answer: Not just those protestors, but nearly everyone today is driven by supernatural concerns, however much or little they realize it. Radicals and traditionalists, liberals and conservatives—together with politicians, artists, environmentalists, followers of food fads, and the chattering classes of television commentators: America is filled with people frantically seeking confirmation of their own essential goodness. We are a nation of individuals desperate to stand on the side of morality—anxious to know that we are righteous and dwell in the light.

    Hugh Hewitt had Sam Harris on today about his book about atheism and spirituality.

    Reading Sam Harris is like drinking water from a cool stream on a hot day. He has the rare ability to frame arguments that are not only stimulating, they are downright nourishing… His discussions will provoke secular liberals and religious conservatives alike, who jointly argue from different perspectives that there always will be an unbridgeable chasm between merely knowing what is and discerning what should be.

    I am agnostic and think that humans are hard wired for religion. Environmentalists have adopted that as religion. Faith is what keeps the global warmists going.

    Personally, I am agnostic about atheism. I think it was Chesterton who wrote; “When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.” the quote is disputed but is, I believe, true. We see it in environmentalism every day.

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