A Strategy of "Willed Ignorance"
James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal reflects shrewdly on a new book by UC Berkeley linguists George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling, The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic. It presents itself as a kind of strategy manual for Democratic and liberal activists, based on what the authors portray as their own scholarly expertise. Among their recommendations, as Taranto puts it, is a kind of "willed ignorance." Lakoff and Wehling advise their readers:
The most important practice to avoid is repeating conservative language. By repeating their language, you repeat their ideas, enabling the ideas and the values behind the language to enter the brains of the public.Taranto explains:
By intentionally refusing to challenge, disprove, understand or even acknowledge the existence of the other side's argument, you allow that argument to grow in strength and win converts.More:
This is an important insight, not only into the way the left debates and otherwise communicates, but into the way the left thinks -- or fails to think. The book's subtitle, after all, promises an instruction in "Thinking and Talking Democratic." Lakoff and Wehling command their readers not only to act as if opposing arguments are without merit, but to close their minds to those arguments. What comes across to conservatives as a maddening arrogance is actually willed ignorance.
Although it is self-imposed, this willed ignorance is a totalitarian mindset. One forbids oneself from thinking certain thoughts, from acknowledging uncertain realities.This does help things fall into place but it's a mistake to see the insight as applying simply in the context of left-wing "totalitarianism." I've seen it in religious disagreements, and, in the political realm, from conservatives too. Thinking of your opponents in cartoon terms, refusing to understand what they say before you go ahead and vilify them, is not a practice exclusive to the political Left.
Certainly, the habit is vital to the Darwin side in the evolution debate, as we know well. Refusing to look at the arguments from intelligent-design advocates, or even to acknowledge that they exist, equating ID with a phantom menace of creationism and Christian fundamentalism, remaining splendidly ignorant of what we say, presenting the debate to the public in sociological and religious rather than scientific terms -- all this is the typical Darwinist's rigid and unvarying practice.
Wisely or not, Lakoff and Wehling have simply made explicit in the political context what Chris Mooney notoriously did some years ago in the scientific-evolutionary one.