In Any Debate, Just How Do You Know You Are Right?

My Recent Posts

Before I get to the main meat of my "opinionating," I would like to state up-front that I took to heart many of the comments made on the discussion thread of my first foray onto Writer Beat.  My first post is available here:  (I'm sorry for not rendering this as a hyperlink.  For some reason, every time I tried to make it a hyperlink the underlying URL inserted an extra "/articles" in the the URL tried to take you to  Weird.)


I’m proud to say that politically, I am firmly on the Right.  But so what?  That statement, in and of itself, has only a limited meaning.  It’s a label, sure.  But labels can only convey so much information.


I know many Left-leaning individuals.  Some of them are in my family in fact.  If you wish to know more about my background, feel free to visit my “About Me” page on my personal website.  No, I don’t earn money for hits to my website; I’m not trolling you to generate income.  The page is there if you wish to read it.  It matters very little to me if you do or don’t.


For now, (in case you don’t want to visit my “About Me” page) I’ll simply say that I once worked at the University of Virginia.  I worked at UVa for about 10 years before my cratering health forced me into an early retirement.  I’ve also had association with several local animal care/animal shelter organizations.  Because “Big Academia” and animal rescue organizations tend to be populated by Left-leaning individuals, I have had a great many opportunities to come to know—and come to love—a great many Left-leaning folk.


But enough of the preliminaries.  Let’s get to the meat of the matter, shall we?


If I may, I’d like to start by returning to the concept of labels.  Please bear with me:  I promise this will tie in to the title of my piece shortly.


As many of the commenters on my first WB post stated, there are some significant and profound disadvantages to harping on “Leftists” and “Righties.”  Chiefly, the way such terms can exacerbate the differences between us carbon-based life forms known as American Citizens.  For my part, I simply do not want to exacerbate the differences we have from one another.  In fact, I firmly and passionately believe that we Americans—we humans—have far, far, far more in common than we do that separates us.

I use labels only as guideposts.  On any journey, you are served by knowing your destination, certainly.  But also knowing your point of origin.  On the journey that Left-leaning individuals and Right-leaning individuals both seek in our efforts to find common ground, is it not beneficial to know our respective starting points?  Is it not helpful to define where we each are, to know which direction we each must travel to come together?


I think it is.  So, in what I wrote/posted several months ago, and what you’ll find here today, please understand that I do not seek to divide.  If I use labels, it’s only because I use them as road signs.  I do not seek to divide.


Challenge, yes.  Implore, certainly.  Stimulate contemplation, guilty as charged.


But not to divide.  Not to offend.  At least, not to offend on a personal level.  In the arena of ideas, I think it’s best to leave our personal egos at the gate.  The ideas may be the target of an attack.  And often rightly so.  But we must guard against attacking each other in an ad hominem fashion.  We’re adults; this ain’t high school.


And another thing: if we’re going to base our political policies on who is the most offended, then I think we’ve taken a wrong turn.  I’m offended by a great many things that Left-leaning individuals believe, espouse, and work to implement.  But so what?  My feelings are in many ways irrelevant.  The more effective tactic is to advance a better and more robust thought or idea, not lament how offended I am about some Left-wing ideological talking point.


I’ll now shift gears.  Yesterday I joined-in on the Disqus comment thread to a commentary published on American Thinker.  The title of the commentary was “David Horowitz Explains the Ruling Ideas of the Left.” I post under the screen name “TwoShoes.”


In response to a question I posed on the discussion thread, one person replied: “The left considers itself morally superior to you - that's what drives them.”


Right up front I will confess that this is the “vibe” I get from many Left-leaning individuals too.  That is, in my (anecdotal) personal experience the overwhelming majority of Left-leaning individuals with whom I have attempted a discussion display the following indulgence: they merely appropriate the moral high ground without taking the time or the effort to explain why they have a legitimate claim on such ground.


With many of these individuals I have plaintively, pleadingly asked, “Why are you right, and I am wrong?  How do you know that you are right?”  I’ve gone as far as saying, “Maybe I am wrong.  Maybe conservative ideology is wrong, unwholesome, destructive, and just plain bad.  But why?  Why is Leftist/Progressive/Collectivist ideology superior?  Where’s the evidence that socialism/communism/collectivism is the superior paradigm?  Why is your claim on the moral high ground legitimate, and my claim on that same moral high ground empty, false, or just plain bankrupt?”


To this day, I have not received a thoughtful answer.  (I still hope to receive one, though.)


Instead, the overwhelming majority—but not all—of Left-leaning individuals with whom I’ve interacted simply see themselves as morally superior—period. End of discussion; there is simply no debate. They are Good; they are Beautiful; they are Noble. And because I had the temerity to challenge their cherished and chosen Collectivist narratives, I was characterized and castigated as Bad, Ugly, and ignobly Deplorable.


(If you don’t believe me, I invite you to go to my Disqus user’s home page and read the volcanic venom vomited upon me by many Left-leaning individuals simply because I ask them penetrating questions.  Again, my screen name is TwoShoes.  Not that I particularly care about the bile dumped on me.  I mean, if I couldn’t take the heat, I wouldn’t join-in on the Disqus threads.  Or post my thoughts here on Writer Beat for that matter.)


For the sake of argument, let’s go with the premise that Collectivism is the superior paradigm.  I remain puzzled, however, by something. If Collectivism were truly Good, Beautiful, and Noble, the evidence would be manifestly obvious all over the world. Instead, what we see is the abject and abominable suffering that Collectivism has caused and continues to cause in such places as North Korea, Cuba, and more recently Venezuela.


Perhaps Left-leaning individuals are correct to operate under the rubric of moral superiority.  Okay, fine.  But from where does this moral superiority come?  What is the legitimate source of the superiority?  What is the underlying and foundational underpinnings to support it?  If it comes from Man, then how is it that we can rightly condemn a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Castro?  Each of them—and each tyrant of their ilk—operates under the moral superiority that they are Right (as in correct) and their opponents/enemies are wrong.


In short, from where I sit, the moral superiority displayed by Left-leaning individuals simply cannot come from factual evidence.  At least not when you examine the totality of facts available, rather than a carefully selected limited subset of facts.  So, again, from where does this sense of moral superiority come.  From what, exactly, is it derived?


It’s been my experience that many Left-leaning individuals are incredibly sincere in their belief that Collectivism is the superior paradigm. But, if I may be so bold, they are sincerely wrong.  One look at Venezuela's recent history ought be enough to demonstrate that.


In closing, I freely admit that I could be wrong to write that previous paragraph.  So, if I am wrong, please do me the courtesy of demonstrating how I am wrong.  Thomas Jefferson once stated, “Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”  If I operate under an error of opinion here in what I’ve written today, please show me in a substantive way.  Prove to me that I am wrong; demonstrate that I my interpretation of facts is incorrect—and I will heartily thank you for your corrections.  I honestly want my ideas and assertions challenged so that if any of them are exposed as faulty or weak, I may replace the defective opinions and interpretations with more robust and accurate ones.

But if all you have to offer is snark, bile, or vomit, then please do me the courtesy of exercising some self-restraint and please do remain silent.  I can handle the heat of volcanic blow back; I’ve got my “big-boy” pants on.  But that doesn’t mean I particularly enjoy suffering the venom-tipped slings and arrows of another ad hominem attack.


Thank you for taking the time to read my piece here today.  I really do appreciate it.  Grace and Peace to you all.


© 2018 Douglas D. Goode. All rights not previously surrendered are retained by the author.


Stone-Eater Added Apr 15, 2018 - 10:12am
In Any Debate, Just How Do You Know You Are Right?
Subjective. There is no "right" per se. That's why political parties are not meant to unite people who have the same opinion (because in fact they never have when they think independently), but are a power tool.
One can THINK he is right on certain subjects by comparing facts and seeing own experience. But I would be very careful with words like "know" or "true".....
Jeffry Gilbert Added Apr 15, 2018 - 10:40am
To answer the question contained in the title: by having the facts firmly in hand.
Next question.
Douglas Goode Added Apr 15, 2018 - 10:47am
Stone-Eater, if there exists no objective right, then how can we condemn what Hitler did?
Douglas Goode Added Apr 15, 2018 - 11:01am
You are correct, Jeffry Gilbert, in so far as you go.  Still, I humbly assert that you are indulging in a little bit of sophistry.  Or, at least indulging in a little bit of simplistic thinking.

"Having the facts firmly in hand" is only part of the problem.  What say you about interpretation?

Consider, in David McCullough's biography of the Wright brothers, titled of all things, The Wright Brothers,  Mr. McCullough interprets a set of facts about the Wright family differently than another biographer, Noah Adams, does in his book The Flyers - In Search of Wilbur and Orville Wright.  Specifically, Mr. Adams characterized the entire Wright family as insular and distrustful of others outside the family; whereas Mr. McCullough characterized the Wrights as only cautious of those "outsiders" of dubious moral character.

So, who's right?  That is, who is the more accurate in his characterization?  Noah Adams, or David McCullough?  The both had the facts firmly in hand, did they not?

Bottom line, "having the facts firmly in hand" is much like having access to a stack of bricks, bags of mortar, a mound of sand, and a supply of clean water.  While it is certainly better to have these building materials instead of just stacks of empty cardboard boxes, the bricks and mortar in and of themselves are inert.  It's up to us to make something of them.

Forgive me if I appear pedantic.  That is not my intent.  Cheers.
Stone-Eater Added Apr 15, 2018 - 11:06am
Stone-Eater, if there exists no objective right, then how can we condemn what Hitler did?
If there exists no objective right, then how can we condemn what was done in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Panama, Ruanda etc etc. ?
Did we ?
You see ? A so-called "objective right" is defined by the one who has the power to define it. Therefore it is not objective ..... but "subjective on purpose".
Dave Volek Added Apr 15, 2018 - 11:17am
Nice article. I would say that the political right too feels it is morally superior.
I like your usage of the term "guideposts" to explain the left and right. These terms are useful in a general sense, but they should not be taken too seriously. 
We have contributor here who on the right in many things, but when it comes war, this fellow is a pacifist. 
You ask for some substantive evidence that the politically left is in error. Look at Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. There's a lot of socialism in those countries. They are not going backwards. 
Stone-Eater Added Apr 15, 2018 - 11:31am
There's a lot of socialism in those countries. They are not going backwards. 
In one way, yes. But on the other hand their Gutmensch attitude (sorry, I don't know an English expression for that) also creates so many frictions. You can't play humanist and import n millions of people of other cultures which come from war areas or have another view of a "society" and expect that the native population keeps quiet.
I know it from Switzerland.
Capitalism is a good thing as long as it doesn't lead to exploitation. Socialism is a good thing as long as it can get the message across thal ALL have to work for a common good.
Douglas Goode Added Apr 15, 2018 - 11:32am
With all due respect, Stone-Eater, I humbly submit to you that with your reply you cleverly dodge my question.  Let me try this again:  was what Hitler and his Nazi fellow-travelers did right or wrong?

Indeed, when Hitler had dominion over Germany he defined the wholesale slaughter of Jews--even Jewish children--as right.  But his definition of right was his own.  And, more to the point, his definition of right was heinously wrong.

When I employ the term "objective right" I mean just that:  it is objective.  It is wholly and completely independent of the powerful people of the day.

C.S. Lewis once asked, how can we call something crooked unless we already know what straight is?  If "straight" is subjective, then yes, as you assert, "straight" is whatever those in power deem it to be.  But then words like "straight" and "crooked" are meaningless.

I get it that you may have disagreed with (and still may disagree) with military actions in Iraq, Libya, etc.  (News flash, I might be right there by your side.)  But invoking those war-torn areas with the question "Did we [object to those]?" is, again, a clever dodge.  However important that question is, it simply is not germane to my question about Hitler.

How can we condemn Hitler as a monster, how can we condemn his actions as heinous, if there exists no objective right?  If there is no objective right (a right and wrong independent of Man), then what Hitler, Stalin, Castro, and the other murderous tyrants did were merely manifestations of "survival of the fittest."  If there is no objective right, then any condemnation you may wish to pour out on those responsible for Iraq, Libya, etc. is simply moot.  For if there is no objective right, then you have no right to condemn those with whom you disagree.  Right?

Stephen Hunter Added Apr 15, 2018 - 11:35am
Douglas, we all have left and right thinking hardwired into our brains. A survival of the fittest thing. The first step is realizing this and only then can one have a thoughtful debate without the name calling, and stirring up the emotional(non-rational) side. 
Dino Manalis Added Apr 15, 2018 - 11:44am
I listen to the analysts and I see that my opinion makes sense with most.
Dave Volek Added Apr 15, 2018 - 11:47am
Douglas and Stone
It's interesting to see how you two have dovetailed the original conversation to something away from the original article. Maybe it needs its own article? 
I think their is a sliding scale of grey happening in terms of good/bad in political leadership. And of course, there are differing opinions on this: a current WB contributor recently tried to lump in Obama on the same part of this scale with Hitler and Stalin. I just could not see that connection. 
But these societies would not have produced these leaders had not the people somehow acquiesced to this kind of leadership. Like or it not, much of the world is not ready for western democracy. These countries do need a strongman to rule. And with this "wise" rule, social order is maintained. When social order is maintained, there are more opportunities for its people as compared to when the west tries to inflict democracy. 
And we could argue that the policies of George W. Bush, with support of much of the American public at the time, are responsible for millions of deaths and dislocations. 
Stone-Eater Added Apr 15, 2018 - 12:00pm
that the policies of George W. Bush, with support of much of the American public at the time, are responsible for millions of deaths and dislocations. 
Exactly. And the world has not forgotten that. And this is not a subjects that demands any justification by any -ism.
No ideology has caused that, neither socialism or capitalism as such but only personal greed, missing empathy (brain ?) and incompetence.
That's why I think all these discussions about -isms are just "Alibiübungen". Google translate: tokenism.
I hope that's a correct translation :-)
Stone-Eater Added Apr 15, 2018 - 12:03pm
we all have left and right thinking hardwired into our brains.
No. The more knowledge you have, the more you find out that ANY kind of one-directional thinking (and that's what -isms are) is pure theory and has nothing to do with reality.
George N Romey Added Apr 15, 2018 - 12:44pm
Stop by accepting black and white ideas. How is George Bush any different than Hitler? Did the Iraqi people call for our help? Were all the deaths we caused justification for removing their leader? What about Trump and Syria?
Tom C. Purcell Added Apr 15, 2018 - 1:47pm
I feel vindicated and validated in debate when the opponent can't address essential core questions but instead, tries to mutate the question into some character flaw of mine for having asked it.
Bill Kamps Added Apr 15, 2018 - 2:13pm
Douglas, the problem I have with labels is that they are a gross generalization.  Lately, many people have adopted this stance that if they disagree with someone on one matter, they stand against them in general.  Too often when I criticize the right for some statement or position, I am labeled a Lefty, and vice versa.  The truth is both the right and left have their flaws on various issues and all of us are open to criticism.  I criticize both the right, and the left and consider myself part of neither group in total.
Rather than looking for areas of agreement, too many  people are looking for that area of disagreement, and once found, dismissing the person as a result.
It is not a matter of whether I am correct or not, it is a matter of whether progress can be made.  This is best done by searching for areas of agreement, rather than areas of disagreement.  If people have to agree with us on a series of litmus tests before we will engage in constructive dialog, then little will get done.  Unfortunately, that is often where we find ourselves today. 
Toxic dialog gets us nowhere.  Generalizing about the left or the right, gets us nowhere.  Most Americans agree on a large number of things, and differ only slightly on many  more.  Yet we spend most of out time arguing over those things where the differences are greatest rather than on making progress where we can. 
Politics has lost the art of the compromise, it needs to return.  We arent going to convince those who have different political views of adopting our own.  We can work with people who have different political views to accomplish goals where we agree.
Dave Volek Added Apr 15, 2018 - 7:39pm
Bill Kamps
Politics has lost the art of the compromise, 
I think we need to move beyond compromise towards consultation. Consultation requires us to combine knowledge, wisdom, and experience of all the participants in the decision-making body. We are, more or more, shutting down those voices who are different than ours.  
Getting back to that grey again: if we were to implicate George W. Bush, then we also need to implicate the American public who wholeheartedly supported this movement. Even the left-wing media seemed to be onside at the time. 
And I feel for our political leaders. I really believed that Mr. Bush thought he believed he could have brought democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan--and that would have been his mark in history. 
For sure, I could not do any better job of managing all those intersecting forces that are hard to understand.
TexasLynn Added Apr 15, 2018 - 9:42pm
I think this is the 100th time I've posted this quote on WB... but it's insightful as to how debates generally go on WB and other forums.
To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil. -- Charles Krauthammer
We (conservatives) think the left is stupid because we generally see the preponderance of evidence (if not common sense) supports our assertions.  They (liberals) think the right is evil because our views contradict their notions of what is equitable and fair.
Personally, I like the various labels and thrown them about liberally.  It's just part of communicating general tendencies and stances of ideologies.  People who take offense need to un-wad their panties and reflect on why they're so offended in the first place.
TexasLynn Added Apr 15, 2018 - 11:15pm
Douglas >> How can we condemn Hitler as a monster, how can we condemn his actions as heinous, if there exists no objective right?  If there is no objective right (a right and wrong independent of Man), then what Hitler, Stalin, Castro, and the other murderous tyrants did were merely manifestations of "survival of the fittest."
I am glad to come across someone on WB who understands this basic existential truth.  Good luck with getting traction here (or anywhere).
If man is all there is then there is no such thing as morality or existential truths.  All such answers become subjective.  One man's truth today is just as right (and wrong) as another man’s opposite truth tomorrow.  The truth devised by your triad of tyrants (and their results) would be the same (equally right, wrong, valid, and meaningless) as that of Gandhi.
How sad for mankind if that is the case...
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing." -- Shakespeare, Macbeth
Thanks for the post.
Flying Junior Added Apr 16, 2018 - 3:10am
You are proud to be right-wing?  That's just so foreign to me.  It may explain how so many Writer Beaters vilify the left.  I always thought that only the center and the left mattered at all.  After all, Hitler was right-wing,  N'est ce pas?
Because “Big Academia” and animal rescue organizations tend to be populated by Left-leaning individuals, I have had a great many opportunities to come to know—and come to love—a great many Left-leaning folk.
Are not all good institutions primarily founded and funded by the left?  There does appear to be hope for you yet.  Ask yourself, why is CBS so left-wing?  Why are people that care about the dispossessed of the left-wing?  Actually there is no difference between the left and the right at all when it comes to animals.  We all love our dogs, cats and horses.  Just like we all love our families.  I am probably right-of center when it comes to animal policy.  I told my mom that we all want the same things we just have different ideas about how to go about getting things done.
Of course in my heart I know that the RW guys want the same things alright.  It's just that they want them for their own and that they are not particularly concerned about whether or not others less fortunate have those things or not.
With many of these individuals I have plaintively, pleadingly asked, “Why are you right, and I am wrong?  How do you know that you are right?”  I’ve gone as far as saying, “Maybe I am wrong.  Maybe conservative ideology is wrong, unwholesome, destructive, and just plain bad.  But why?  Why is Leftist/Progressive/Collectivist ideology superior?
Let us both just put one thing to rest.  This idea of collectivism as defined by the prophetess Ayn Rand in her epic poem, The Fountainhead, was born of the totalitarian movements of the 1920s and 1930s.  Fuck she was a Russian.
Collectivism aka Communism died with the CCCP and is more or less dying a slow death in our friendly neighbor ninety miles south of Florida.
We are democrats.  Social Justice Warriors.  We care about the little guy.  We care about minorities.  We care about the dispossessed.  If we can't have Universal Healthcare paid for with tax dollars, we supported the clumsy compromise that was Obamacare.  We care about a living wage.  But we are willing to make that come about incrementally with modest increases to the federal and state minimum wages.
Of course we are right and our republican opponents are wrong.  When you are right, you can just feel it.
My thing is that cold-hearted republicans are okay with condemning their fellow Americans to a life of poverty, to an untreated medical condition which will lead to an untimely death, to ride the bus, to work a minimum wage job with little hope of improvement...
Fill in the blank
But at the same time they are only to willing to sign on to the latest Pentagon budget or the wicked Trump bombing campaign.
Flying Junior Added Apr 16, 2018 - 3:27am
Re:  Fill in the blank.
Don't forget catastrophic medical bills which eat up assets including the primary home.  Bankruptcy.  An acceptable outcome.
Or maybe you throw in with Rush Limbaugh?  That fragment of human waste actually compared the right to adequate healthcare to owning a house on the beach.  Nice comparison for his beltway listeners.
Since Trump never could have survived two weeks in a house at La Jolla Shores, I'm not interested in his analogy.  Suffice it to say, he is a disgusting madman with a following of Brittle-Heads.
Bill Kamps Added Apr 16, 2018 - 6:59am
Dave: We are, more or more, shutting down those voices who are different than ours.  
It is even worse than that.  We are shutting down voices, when there is ANY difference.  As soon as some difference is found, people shut down the voice, even if there is agreement on many issues.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 16, 2018 - 11:32am
Douglas, I am in agreement with FJ about one element of your well-written post. You conflate the political left wing with communists and collectivists, and you posit that if you are liberal, you definitely are a follower of those positions.
I can only speak for myself, but I do have liberal positions, however, in no way do I support collectivism and the state ownership of the commercial enterprises of a nation. Instead, I am in favor of developing processes and procedures that enable all who purposefully participate in society, to enable them to live in the communities where they work.
A social policy that enables limited redistribution of resources is not a collectivist society.
You mention the differences between those who are on the right and left side of the political divide. My perspective is that it is as simple as this:  Conservatives believe that man is fundamentally flawed, and requires strict discipline to keep him in line; Liberals believe in the innate goodness of humanity, and look for ways to bring the goodness out in others.  Obviously, many conservatives may have been former liberals whose life experiences taught them that their belief system was faulty, but mine has held up for over 60 years, so it is not likely to change.
Benjamin Goldstein Added Apr 16, 2018 - 11:53am
As a rule of thumb: If you share my opinion, you are most likely correct.
TexasLynn Added Apr 16, 2018 - 12:01pm
I agree with Benjamin. :)
Benjamin Goldstein Added Apr 16, 2018 - 2:35pm
Lynn: You are right! :D
Morgoth Added Apr 16, 2018 - 9:12pm
It's all about perception and how one views things.  As someone on the Left I feel judged as morally lacking by those on the Right.  Just because some can Bible babble at me does not make them better than me.  I question how closely they hold to the Bible babble.
TexasLynn Added Apr 16, 2018 - 11:24pm
As one who does "Bible babble" I don't do it AT anyone... but since it's teachings are a key part of who I am and how I deal with the world, I will always quote those teachings to better explain where I am coming from.  I would expect no less from anyone else of different beliefs.
I do assure you JK, that anyone who follows Christ who thinks they are morally superior to you is indeed not following the Bible babble as closely as they should.  We are not perfect, we are not superior... just forgiven. :)
I wish you peace.
Morgoth Added Apr 16, 2018 - 11:55pm
I try and find peace, Lynn.  It helps to write and read, spend time with my children, love my wife and be the best person and man I can.  I try and live without hate, for anyone and anything.
The last thing I am is perfect, it’s the last thing I’d ever claim to be.
Forgive a contemplative mood tonight.
Flying Junior Added Apr 17, 2018 - 2:09am
Douglas Goode,
You only respond to the top three commenters for about two hours and then you are done?
Neil Lock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 4:55am
Douglas, thanks for an interesting article and comment thread. Myself, I don't see much difference between the political "left" and "right." The main difference I see is in their motivation; the right tend to be driven by selfishness, the left by a desire to impose their agenda on others.
As to "right" in the sense of right and wrong, I agree with Lynn that there is such a thing, and it is objective. (There exist objective truths, too; though our perception of them may not always be very good). But I don't find it necessary to posit a deity as the source of this "right." For me, what is right for human beings to do comes out of our nature as human beings.
Of course, many fail to behave up to the standards of what is right. And politics - of all flavours - encourages this failure. For it is a system that enables individuals with power to behave badly towards others, and to get away with it. And for that reason, my view of politics and of those that take part in it is one of contempt.