Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Top Ten Warning Signs of Elitist Condescension

Because of a certain column, twitter has suggested that I post a top ten list of signs you might be engaged in some elitist condescension:
Here is my attempt:
  1. The title includes a description of the target that is just a bit overstated, such as liberal imperialism.  Indeed, any blog post that includes imperialism in the title automatically qualifies (is this the Noam Chomsky rule of elite condescension?).
  2. Any post that tells people that they are whom they hate might qualify.  Such as telling liberal internationalists/interventionists that they are akin to neo-cons.
  3. Saying that you have no right to an opinion if you have never visited a place or speak the language.  When a generalist tell other generalists that they cannot discuss stuff unless they are an area expert, he/she just might be an elite condescender.
  4. Accusing your opponents of hypocrisy when many are not.  Saying that liberal interventionists do not condemn Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, and other mis-deeds/abuses by the US seems just a bit inaccurate.  Plenty of liberal interventionists have been critical of the US and its allies.  Confusing liberal interventionists with neo-cons again?
  5. If you assert that believing that democracy can only work where there are no cleavages and that have much experience with democracy, you might be an elite condescender that ignores the progress democracy has made across the globe and the vast literature on democracy in plural societies, such as Lijphart, McGarry, Horowitz and the gang.
  6. If you accuse your opponents of having secret beliefs.
  7. If you suggest that your intellectual opponents might need a twelve-step program, you might be an elite condescender.
  8. Confusing hyperbole with good arguments.  Do liberal interventionists really say that staying out of Syria makes the US as bad as Assad? 
  9. You hold an endowed chair (damn, guilty!).
  10. At Harvard.
 The funny thing is that I agree with Walt's basic premise and its application to the case at hand:
decisions to intervene need to clear a very high bar and survive hardheaded questioning about what the use of force will actually accomplish 
But the message gets lost since it is covered in smug sauce.*  Again, I agree with Walt on the basic premise that intervention in Syria (and other places) is very hard and that some advocates underestimate the difficulties.  I have argued that the US has exceeded the war cap--that there has been too much intervention.  There is a reason why I have taken to calling the Mideast the Land of Lousy Alternatives. Of course, standing by has consequences, too.  Which is why I have gotten in the habit of posting this particularly song: "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."
*Yes, smug sauce, a new, somewhat bitter addition to Saideman's Sauces.  We know have Secret, Denial, Perspective, Awesome, Ignorance, Distraction (tastes like squirrel), and Scary.


Anonymous said...

So, what was the point of this post exactly?

Freddie said...

Ah, yes: condescension being a greater moral flaw than, you know, lending support to actions that kill, maim, destabilize, and contribute to American domination of foreign countries. Nice perspective you've got here.

Steve Saideman said...

One might have more success in opposing interventions/US domination/whatever if one does not engage in smug condescension. Just a thought.

prisonrodeo said...

Actually, you left out a sauce: Harvard. (And from the immediately preceding post, no less!)

Steve Saideman said...

I don't own the Harvard trademark so I cannot add that sauce to my collection.

Joerg said...

Good points.
And funny!

But why do you criticize that as "elitist"?

Usually its members of "the elite" who call for military interventions. Walt makes fun of them! I think condescension is a legitimate rhetorical device for this purpose.

IMHO most non-elites are not advocating military interventions since they have "real jobs" and no missionary zeal.

Are not there tons of polls that show that the American people are much less supportive of military interventions than the foreign policy elites inside the beltway?


Steve Saideman said...

The label was due to the twitter conversation that spawned this post. I could have just called it how to condescend...