September 7th, 2009

Emotional Enticement, Intellectual Discord

photo credit: nathi_rhapsody

Few people would disagree with the assessment that the advocates of big government—a broad but loose coalition consisting of champions in both parties of welfare and warfare—have made steady and consistent political gains in the last century.

Why have they been winning?

My casual observation during the past several years leads me to a simple conclusion: one group’s arguments has strong emotional appeal, while the other largely resorts to intellectual arguments; the former group is on the offense, whereas the latter is on defense.

Under various banners (social security for the elderly, killing terrorists before they kill us, free prescription drugs for children, No Child Left Behind, and the list goes on…) individuals on either side of the political aisle have found success in achieving their political goals by lacing their objective with emotion. For the warfare camp, they use fearmongering to capitalize on people’s innate desire for security; scared of the inflated threat, the people readily surrender their liberties for whatever "homeland security" the government is willing to offer. The welfare camp profits by speaking to people’s sense of fairness and brotherhood, eliciting their support by proposing programs that help the sick and downtrodden among us, look out for the little guy, and spread the wealth around.

This coalition has succeeded time and time again precisely because the targets of their agenda have with time become ignorant, and thus impervious to the other group’s main weapon: intellectual arguments. Uninformed about history, unwilling to spend the time learning it, and preferring to utilize their free time in more entertaining and positive ventures, they become largely immune to such simple things as facts. The big government group rarely declines in membership.

Further, the small government lobby continues to diminish its strength by squabbling over minor differences. While factions within this group agree on the vast majority of issues, they spend their time and energy contesting the consequences of judicial review, the constitutionality of the sixteenth amendment, and the minor nuances of the proper role of government (among a host of other subjects). To be sure, these things are important. But so long as they serve as dividing factors to waste time and lose focus on a common objective, they impede this group’s ability to rally around a single standard and mount an effective assault against their ideological opponents.

Through repeated instances of the aforementioned process occurring, the vocal minority of the emotion-based alliance becomes the majority. Their win is easily guaranteed, as they take new ground while the opposition is busy running in circles and bickering over minor issues.

Emotional arguments are compelling and seductive, though logically empty. But as long as those producing reasoned, intellectual arguments continue—like crabs in a bucket—to cut one another down, they will lose ground and forfeit strategic opportunities to strike in the future.

The masses throughout the ages have been easily enchanted by emotional appeals and irresistible flattery. If we defenders of liberty are to win, we must reject the discord that has become commonplace in our circles and rally ourselves to a single banner. The time has perhaps never been more perfect to advance our cause. Just as the tiniest drink of water can be a precious gift to a man dying of thirst, so too will the principles of liberty refresh the parched soul long subjected to tyranny—and there are countless such souls among us.

We’ve got work to do. Let’s stop wasting time and starting taking the field.

11 Responses to “Emotional Enticement, Intellectual Discord”

  1. Clumpy
    September 8, 2009 at 1:06 am #

    I think that much of this just comes from the general human need to feel proactive – to do something rather than nothing. Prudence is often a casualty of this type of thinking. From hence springs self-imposed goals that can lead to bigger government, or wars, or an unhealthy fixation on team sports, or World of Warcraft :).

    I’d like to see more data on that whole “intellectual argument vs. raw appeal to emotions” bit, though. From my point of view both sides are quite shrewd at interpreting or extrapolating fact to suit their agenda – for example, depending on whom you ask the new healthcare bill (even sans the public option) will completely destroy our country, cost us one trillion dollars or save us 150 billion. It seems that whichever interpretation we latch onto gleefully and immediately has more to do with our predetermined preferences than any impartial, intellectual examination of the facts.

  2. Eric S. Dowd
    September 8, 2009 at 9:15 am #

    Why does it need to be “intellectual argument vs. raw appeal to emotions?” Why not do both? If you have a strong intellectual argument, what is the problem with stating it in a way that appeals to emotion?

  3. Connor
    September 8, 2009 at 10:06 am #


    I’d like to see more data on that whole “intellectual argument vs. raw appeal to emotions” bit, though.

    As I said, this is just from casual observation of the way in which laws gain support. You mention differing arguments for the health care bill, but miss my point: all of those arguments are later justifications that rest on a created foundation of emotion: that our health care system is broken, stealing people’s money, and not helping the poor and needy. First comes the emotional argument, and then come the pseudo-intellectual justifications to foment that emotional trigger and give people talking points to feel like it all makes sense.

    The counter-arguments are not based in emotion, but in logic, fact, and sound reason. The counter argument to health care, for example, would be simple: Congress has no authority to do anything about it. Case closed. A further argument for those who need one would be that health care is a service, like anything else, and therefore the only role government should have is to do things like protect against fraud and injury.

    These are cold and hard, and it’s the main reason why people don’t like such arguments. They much prefer to listen to people who use empathetic stories of suffering, with their attending promises that such things will be done away with—if that person is elected.

    The Book of Mormon gives a similar example:

    And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.

    Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.

    But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.

    Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him. (Helaman 13:25-28)

    People with their "itching ears" are always more prone to listen to people who tell them things that sound nice.


    If you have a strong intellectual argument, what is the problem with stating it in a way that appeals to emotion?

    The difficulty with this is that you would need to ensure that those supporting the cause had the intellectual background necessary to defend and understand the issues. Emotion is not necessarily a bad thing; I myself am very passionate about the issues in which I believe.

    But I think that too often, emotion sweeps people away in a direction that is antithetical to fighting for liberty, and so the intellectual arguments need to be prevalent, if for nothing else than to serve as a sort of restraint upon emotion. Emotion is not bad, but it should not be the method by which we convince people of the justness of our cause.

  4. Clumpy
    September 8, 2009 at 11:47 am #

    While I think that there’s room for various interpretations of Article 8 (though we won’t go into that here), I agree that the sole reason many are supporting the bill is because of the emotional appeal of addressing a problem, and not on Constitutional grounds.

    And it’s fair to say that, while terrible law has been created throughout our nation’s history, proponents would at least try to cram it into some sort of Constitutional authorization, while we generally just take the more direct problem > solution path now.

  5. jasonthe
    September 8, 2009 at 11:50 am #

    Connor, I want to first thank you for contributing an actual ideological discussion amid all the lunacy of “death panels” and sinister school speeches. There is a lot of room for debate on the issue of how we view our government and it’s future, but it’s often hard to take conservatives seriously when their spouting more idiocy than argument. Thanks for being above that.

    To your point here, though, isn’t it possible (and I mean this question to sound sincere, not condescending) that the ideas of “small government” and pure libertarianism are just not as realistic, today, as they were even 100 years ago? Our economy functions on a global scale. Our foreign policy, manufacturing policy, and even in many ways education policy do as well. With additional complexities, perhaps Americans have moved away from a simple focus on “small government” to one of “effective government” out of necessity, not who’s making the better sell?

    I’m not convinced of this entirely myself, but it’s a reasonable possibility, considering the complexities of issues we face as individuals and as a country.

    While there will (or should) always be room for consideration of principles of limiting government (especially when it comes to issues of property and civil liberties), perhaps making that the solitary focus of who and why we vote no longer realistically addresses the needs and concerns of the electorate, and thus you see the “other side” making greater gains.

  6. Connor
    September 8, 2009 at 1:00 pm #

    …isn’t it possible … that the ideas of “small government” and pure libertarianism are just not as realistic, today, as they were even 100 years ago?

    Well, in order to really find resolution to this question, we’d have to discuss specific items on a case by case basis. I don’t have the time to do that now, but I have done that in the past, and remain firm in my opinion that small government is even more important now (in the age of technology and globalization) than it was in the past.

    Small government is based on principles, not specific practicalities that only made sense during the era of horses and wigs. Keep in mind that the Founders’ creation was done upon a survey of history—not just their immediate circumstances. They studied civilizations that had risen and fallen over the past several thousand years, and worked out a framework that would hopefully stem the tide of tyranny that ultimately felled one nation after another.

    By dismissing their ideas as anachronistic, we simply plunge ourselves back into the cyclic nature of things. (For more on this, I highly recommend this book.) I have found no compelling arguments that demonstrate why global government is necessary or even beneficial to the masses. The more centralized power becomes, the more destructive it ultimately is to peace and prosperity.

    This has held true throughout history, despite whatever technological process each civilization attained. To better integrate our businesses and personal desires with other countries, we need not establish a huge bureaucracy. Or, in other words, globalization does not necessarily imply a need for global government. Small government and sovereignty are not at all inconsistent with worldwide markets and complex foreign policy.

    Your question is, I believe, a valid one. I wish it were discussed more frequently as policy was established, but it has long been a foregone conclusion that 1) more government is not a bad thing, 2) government has authority to do as it pleases, and 3) there are no real restraints on its power.

    Taking up your question as each new issue arose for debate (ha, if only these issues were truly debated!) would be far more healthy for this Republic; instead, we ram 1,000+ page bills through Congress without studying the particulars. This is, of course, to our collective detriment.

  7. Amber
    September 8, 2009 at 1:25 pm #

    “we must reject the discord that has become commonplace in our circles and rally ourselves to a single banner”
    I am assuming you will be picking the banner, right? I am just joking with you. The problem is that your “defenders of liberty” are so positive that they are right, compromise isn’t seen as a virtue. Hence, there is never going to be a single banner to rally around.

  8. Connor
    September 8, 2009 at 1:33 pm #

    The problem is that your “defenders of liberty” are so positive that they are right, compromise isn’t seen as a virtue.

    I’m not so sure compromise is indeed a virtue. It’s definitely on one I try to implement in my own life. And being a core component of the Hegelian dialectic, I frankly think it’s a very dangerous trait to place on a pedestal.

    Hence, there is never going to be a single banner to rally around.

    There will be when Christ returns. Shouldn’t we, then, be raising that banner now? For all that the Lord says in the Doctrine and Covenants about the Constitution, liberty, and how we are to vote, I think we do a really poor job at even coming close to the ideals we’ve been encouraged/commanded to implement.

  9. Amber
    September 8, 2009 at 8:11 pm #

    I wouldn’t go so far as to suppose anybody knows how the Lord wants us to vote on every issue. I would even argue that the members of the Twelve don’t always vote the same on political issues. Don’t forget that President Faust was an active Democrat. How then are you so sure that you know the right way to vote?

  10. Josh Williams
    September 8, 2009 at 11:51 pm #

    My casual observation during the past several years leads me to a simple conclusion: one group’s arguments has strong emotional appeal, while the other largely resorts to intellectual arguments

    But let’s not forget that really, ALL arguments are appeals to emotion!

    In other words what you consider is a good argument depends entirely on your values and what your personal needs are, this lies deep in emotion territory. Thus logic cannot be used to PRODUCE an argument or appeal for something………. It can only discover which proposals are inconsistent or contradictory to one’s own personal needs and values. (Our needs and values often contradict each other…..)

    For example, I value people not interfering in my life without my consent and cooperation, and I extend everyone else this privilege if they do the same. However, someone who doesn’t fundamentally value this might find my arguments to be neither good, appealing, nor reasonable.

    An “Intellectual” argument, really, only means a slightly more precise appeal to a person’s needs and values.(I dislike intellectual elitism, especially when I think I’m not guilty of it…..)

    Logic is a powerful tool in may cases, to be sure. But reason is fundamentally emotionally driven and self-serving. It is intellectually dishonest to assume otherwise. The myopic idea that logic and reason is divorced from human gut instincts and sentiments is folly. The Ego cannot control or destroy the Id.

  11. Clumpy
    September 9, 2009 at 11:16 am #

    Well, when we reason we’re nearly always coming from a perspective of trying to improve things in some capacity. But values vary so one person’s utopia =/= another’s.

    For example, for some types of people Norway might be the best country on earth, but some people don’t click with the whole secular progressive thing. We’re fundamentally working toward different things but pretending to have the same goal. That’s both why progressive reforms take so long and never occur to real radicals’ satisfaction, and we no longer pray in schools.

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