Seeing Illogical Arguments as Cultural Proxy Wars

Debaters in politics often argue indirectly. Arguments, if not socially acceptable–there always seems to be at least one side of any issue that fits the token–are altered to substitute their unacceptable desires for something else. Suppressing ethnic votes is labeled as suppressing voter fraud, and hatred of anything can be spun into a fake conspiracy theory against it. But at the core of these arguments, what is it that all debaters value, which should be the true topic of argument? The philosophy of Thomas Hobbes’s natural laws comes to mind, the key point of which is for one to strive for self-preservation. People belonging to one group should be assumed, at their core, to have the mindset to compete against others, if only for the maintenance of their own resources. Among these resources for a people, and perhaps the most vital can be said to be its identity, its culture. Without culture, a group cannot really be a group. Culture is its web of connections among itself, and interconnections to others. Culture expresses its way of regulating and interacting with the world. If culture is taken away, or is said to be wrong, a group faces the proposition that its way of life is wrong, and that it is not fit to exist. This is the lens through which politics must necessarily be observed. Many issues then, usually social, can be seen as not substantive debates, but rather as cultural proxy wars, for which at least one side adopts a position indirect to supporting its own culture.

An easy example is the consensus among Trump voters that Donald Trump Jr. met with Russians. In a poll by Public Policy Polling, out of Trump voters, only 45% believed he met with Russians, whereas 32% said it didn’t happen, and 24% were not sure. This came a full week after Trump Jr. tweeted that he did in fact meet with Russians. It makes no sense from the perspective of truth on the matter. One would think that a public figure announcing he had met with Russians would be enough for his supporters to believe he met with Russians. It wouldn’t even make sense for him to lie about that. But then, looking at the issue from the perspective of truth is the wrong perspective to use. It makes astonishingly much more sense when looked at from the perspective of culture. The polling question was not simply asking if its respondents believed Trump Jr. had met with Russians; it was asking whether they admitted the wrongdoing of a person around whom their culture had largely been shaped, whether they accepted guilt, and whether they believed their culture didn’t deserve a place in the world. Their answer was no.

This type of behavior is most attributed to those on the extreme political left and right, although the more direct connection may be with those who feel like underdogs, whose culture is on the defensive. But frankly, it is not uncommon behavior at all, for any segment of the political spectrum. In fact, its pervasiveness can be thought about in how the average person takes debate. It would seem most people don’t like to debate. Again, from the perspective of finding truth, it would seem counterintuitive to not want to debate. If people saw debate as simply teasing for the right answers, they should love to debate often. But it is the reason debate is often not seen as that, and rather seen as battles of personal victories, that people are averse. Out from an argument will come a winner, and a loser, whose credibility is called into question, something similar to how the polling respondents felt with the Trump Jr. question. When people are pulled into debates with this mindset, they will strive not firstly for truth, but for victory, or at least parity. It is akin to a culture war on the small scale.

For people to take debates personally is to say, they are defending the resources, or a culture, of their individual self. This is not exactly the same as defending the culture of a group. It may be thought then that the behavior of indirectly fighting for culture in fringe-conservatives and -liberals is still unique, in that they must have practiced some form of indoctrination to employ such loyalty. So the question is begged, what level of affiliation must one have with a group to gain a cultural loyalty? A classic psychology study, the Robber’s Cave experiment, gives insight. Twenty-two boys were randomly selected and put into two groups at a Boy Scouts camp, each given one week to bond, then one week to compete with the opposing team, for small prizes. These random children, having known each other for only a week through various activities such as swimming and hiking, reacted to the competition portion of the study with first verbal prejudice, then acts of increasing violence, such as flag-burning, then ransacking of the other team’s cabins. Eventually, the study was ceased because of their increasing prejudice towards one another. Demonstrably, it doesn’t take much to form identity with a group to start defending it through whatever means necessary. It only takes an arbitrary team to which to be assigned, and scarce resources. Point being, the commonality of resource wars, namely for that of culture, makes it something essential to be kept in the forefront of attention when debating. It is not a view from which to see just the behavior of Republicans, or fringe liberals, but something relevant to politics, and conflicts, as a whole. It is not necessarily a view deserving of contempt, because it is logical. It simply must be understood.