Monday, 21 August 2017

Counter-productive arguments

The reaction of the Tories to the tweet by Plaid’s leader last week about the attack in Barcelona was a little over the top for me.  But given the propensity of Plaid politicians in recent years to demand apologies, resignations, and sackings whenever a political opponent says something that offends their sensitivities, they can hardly complain when other people want to play the same game.  It’s all just part of the froth which passes for political debate.
The underlying point of the tweet has a degree of validity when looked at objectively; much of the ISIS ideology does indeed overlap with the ideology of other groups such as those demanding white supremacy in America.  So, as a statement of fact, it’s hard to disagree.  I wonder though what is the purpose of drawing a comparison, and I find it hard to avoid the conclusion that it was intended as a means of lumping together a number of disparate groups under a single label, and claiming guilt by association.  It’s disappointing that a party like Plaid, which has suffered from similar attempts at guilt by association over many decades (along the lines of ‘you’re a nationalist, Hitler was a nationalist, therefore you’re a Nazi’) should be playing the same game rather than trying to maintain a higher standard of debate.  Those who have attempted for years to smear Plaid in that fashion really have no right complaining when the boot’s on the other foot, but two wrongs never make a right.
The real issue for me is about using such a simplistic approach as pinning labels on political opponents.  Oh, I know they all do it, and I’m singling out Plaid only as the most recent transgressor here, but what exactly does the label ‘far-right’ add to meaningful political debate about the aims and objectives of all the groups so labelled?  Labelling is invariably a substitute for analysis rather than a part of that analysis; a short-hand way of dismissing arguments without needing to debate them.  But it’s extremely imprecise; there are people who are socially very conservative whilst holding what might be called left-wing economic views, and there are people with what might be called right-wing economic views who are socially liberal.
Winning people over, or changing their minds on specific issues, requires a degree of engagement with those details rather than dismissing them with a label.  Labelling may feel very ‘right-on’ to the in-groups in politics (and the Labour support for Leanne is relevant in that context), but ordinary voters who feel that they have, in effect, been told that they are little different to ISIS are unlikely to be well-disposed to listen for very long to those who they feel have told them that.  It’s not a reason for demanding apologies, resignations, or sackings, but I do seriously question whether it’s an approach which is likely to advance the cause of those using it.  It basically just seems counter-productive.

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