The other day, I followed a back and forth on Twitter between two smart people and one of them pointed out that the other had been wrong about the issue in the past. The details are not important as nothing serious ever gets discussed on Twitter, but what struck me is how even smart people can resort to this sort of score keeping. In the context of an internet exchange, it is about as sensible as claiming the other guy has cooties. It’s just a childish way of dismissing an argument or criticism without examining it.
It is a form of the fallacy of the undistributed middle. Someone could have a great record of being right about a topic, but those past predictions have little or even no connection to the current prediction. A gambler can get on a great roll at the craps table. It does not mean he’ll keep winning. This also means that the legendary loser at craps can win once in a while too. That’s the way it is with intellectual endeavors. You will get a lot wrong, but you can get a lot right too. Intellectual advancement is the story of trial and error.
Anyway, it got me thinking about something that turns up a lot on the dissident right. That is the quest to purify one’s past. It seems that a lot of people feel they should be ashamed of having been a libertarian or an unthinking conservative, who listened to Rush Limbaugh and voted Republican. Often you hear people talk about their journey to this side of the great divide as an awakening. It’s not a terrible way to frame it, as it certainly feels that way when you are going through it.
I know in my my case, I still remember when it dawned on me that the Bush people were serious about the spreading democracy stuff. From 2001 until 2005, I was quite confident that the democracy talk was mostly public relations. It was a way to troll the Left, by using their language as a justification for Afghanistan and Iraq. What was really going to happen is the CIA would find a friendly strong man to take over as an authoritarian. We’d install our guy and that would be that.
Even during the election with the purple finger stuff, I was quite confident it was just a show for domestic consumption. Then, it became clear they really thought they could turn Iraq into a European style democracy that would be an ally to Israel and help with the coming war with Iran. The scales fell from my eyes and I quickly moved from thinking the neocons were wrong to thinking they were crazy. Bill Kristol was just as deranged as the guys talking about the invisible imam and the end times.
Now, I take solace in knowing that I was not the only one to make this error. Tucker Carlson often talks about how he supported the war on terror and then realized it was going to be a catastrophe. John Derbyshire has written about his regret for having gone along with something he always sensed was a bad idea. Lots of smart and skeptical people were fooled by the Bush gang, so I don’t lose sleep over it. The neocons are very good at turning virtues into vices. It is their nature.
The thing is though, I’ve always thought the two best things to happen to our side are the Bush years and the Obama years. For men of my generation, the Bush year opened our eyes about the reality of the Buckley Right. Whatever the Buckley project was at the start, by the 1990’s it became a vehicle to undermine heritage America, every bit as toxic and dangerous as Progressivism. The Obama years created more race realists that an army of Charles Murrays and Steve Sailers.
The point is, mistakes have consequences, but they are often a necessary intermediate step in discovery. This is true of science and technology and it is true in the evolution of culture and society. The bungling of guys like Richard Spencer, which set off the aggressive campaign of censorship and de-platforming, has opened a lot of eyes, especially on our side, to the realities facing us. If the alt-right had been more prudent early on, the battle lines would not be so clear now.
A point I made on RamZPaul’s Christmas special was that the aggressive censorship and the fallout from it will make us better in the long run. James Edwards did not seem to like that point, but I am right about this. This is not a game you win by mastering the other side’s rules. There are no rules, just force. Our side will be better as we learn how to navigate around the searchlights, armed patrols and ideological enforcers. The path to victory is not in the appeal to their virtue, but the exploitation of their vices.
In a way, the dissident right is the result of error. Much of the skepticism that defines this side of the great divide is the result of having been wrong about a great many things, especially the integrity of the people in charge. Just as science and technology are the story of error, whatever comes next is going to be the result of many mistakes. It’s what an awakening is, when you think about it. It is that point when you realize you have been wrong about important things and begin to figure out the right answers.