Right and Wrong: How to Teach Liberals a Lesson

The biggest difference between conservative and liberal may just be the difference between being "wrong" and being "threatened."

By Tom Gilson Published on May 27, 2023

“Wait … A private company made a mascot. You felt threatened by a mascot?”

Some liberal tweeted that line, jeering at conservatives for pushing back on Bud Light and its trans spokesman, Dylan Mulvaney. It’s just another example of what you see everywhere: claims that we’re “afraid of immigrants.” Trans people put us “in panic.” Pride month “threatens us.”

It’s all about fear. Just watch for it. You’ll see it, too. They use that language because it’s what they know.

I say it’s time we taught them another way to think. I’m not against homosexuality, transgender activism, or uncontrolled immigration because I’m afraid, but because I’m convinced they’re wrong.

Wrong things have bad effects, so yes, I’ll admit I fear the damage they’ll do our country, our culture, and people I care about. But the fear comes second. The wrongness comes first.

They Don’t Get It

We can’t expect liberals to understand that right away, sad to say. Liberalism is schooled by postmodernism, which has no place in it for right and wrong. You can’t use those categories to persuade people, says postmodern theory, because they’re not real. There’s no such thing as right or wrong, only private opinions on it. So to change people’s minds, we use the only other available method instead: Power.

Language is a power game for postmodernists. I have fond memories conversations with a postmodern commenter at my Thinking Christian blog. More than once I pointed out problems in his use of logic. He never answered by correcting or by defend his reasoning. Instead he said I was “deligitimizing” him. It’s a light-beer version of canceling, I take it. I was asserting my dominance over him, putting him down, etc., etc, etc. Power stuff. It never seemed to occur to him that I might actually mean there were rational problems in his use of logic.

But then, he was also the guy who said the reason we say 2+2=4 is because that’s what teachers teach kids, and the reason they do that is because that’s what they were taught they should teach. So “the child who says 2+2=5 will be corrected.” That’s a power thing, too. Try saying the unapproved thing, and someone in power is sure to correct you for it.

Power is All They Know

That was years before anyone heard of “misgendering,” but I’ll bet it sounds familiar if you’ve ever been “corrected” for it. I’d also wager they didn’t say your pronouns were “wrong.” Instead they complained you were “dehumanizing” them, “making them disappear,” or some such thing. This, too, is about power relationships. It’s not about what’s more nearly true, it’s about who’s more in control.

If you’ve wondered why college kids complain “Unsafe!” when a conservative comes to campus, it’s because they know there’s something about it they don’t like, something that doesn’t suit them, but they don’t know how to say, “I think it’s wrong.” Or it could be deeper than that, more than being unable to say it: They might not even be able to think it. It’s hard to think something’s wrong when the very category has been trained out of you.

That’s a power thing, too. Try saying the unapproved thing, and someone in power is sure to correct you for it.

They still have a category for “unsafe” though. That one’s familiar enough for them. It works, too: “I feel unsafe” is powerful language in some places, especially college campuses, so they use it freely there, for exactly that reason: the power it gives them.

Power is what they know. It’s all they think anyone knows. For most of them that’s an unconscious assumption, but if they’ve actually studied the postmodernism that created their culture, they’d take it as doctrine: There is no right or wrong, only power maneuvers.

Power Maneuvers are What They Expect

That’s why they talk “fear” and “threat” with us the way they do. Conservatives oppose liberal ideas because we feel them as a threat to our power. We might say words like “right” and “wrong,” but they never refer to actual right and wrong. Instead they’re code language for, “I like it this way, I feel nicely in control,” versus, “I’m losing control and it scares me.”

So it’s no wonder they ask us, “What are you so afraid of?” Power maneuvering is all they know, so it’s they only thing they expect, not just from themselves but from everyone. If we’re against some liberal idea, it’s because we’re afraid it will impinge on our power. We say, “wrong,” they hear, “threatened.”

This is endemic. It’s everywhere. It explains a lot, so much that I wonder whether this might even be the single biggest difference between libs and conservatives: The yawning chasm between decisions based only on being “threatened,” as opposed to decisions based in what’s right or wrong.

How Do You Deal With This?

That makes conversations hard sometimes, and common-sense persuasion even harder. Especially when you’re dealing with people who are fully indoctrinated in it. That’s not every liberal, but it’s a lot of them.

If they’re following a worldview that’s can convince them arithmetic is a power play, you can expect all your truth and all your logic to bounce off them the same way. You can still try it, of course. Tell them they’re wrong, show them your evidence, walk through your steps of logic. They’ll still just hear you saying, “That threatens me!” over and over again.

It might help to see them as handicapped, in a way. Everyone understands words like “fear” and threat.” Not everyone understands “right” or “wrong” anymore. They say what they say because they’re missing something inside.

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Or in other words, truth is still good policy but not such effective persuasive strategy. Untruth is worse, of course, so I’m hardly suggesting you try that. Use questions instead: “You think I’m afraid? Have you ever heard me actually saying I felt afraid? What gives you the idea that I feel that way? It seems to me you’re using that language to dismiss me. Are we playing power games or something?”

The point isn’t to start playing the game with them. You just want to get it out in the open. Name it for what it is. Once you can get that far with them, you can tell them you don’t believe in playing that game, that you believe there’s more to life and relationships and politics and policy than that. That it’s possible actually to be wrong about some things, and possible to be right as well.

Change the Conversation

You could help them with that. “It’s not about you and me and how we compare in power. It’s about reality itself, and finding out what reality says is real.” Say it with compassion. Expect it to take a while to get through: You’re helping them recover from a very real handicap, after all.

Being right isn’t about power relationships with other people, it’s about your relationship with reality: having an accurate picture of it in your mind.

Help them see that, and you start to change the conversation. No longer is it about who wins. Winning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, anyway. I’d rather know what’s real.

 

Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

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