I’ve noticed this pop up quite a bit on talk radio and also liberal commentators on tv and youtube. I never had a clear encapsulation of what I was witnessing until I read a retweet by Sam Harris of a passage in Hitchens last book.
“Hitchens: I had become too accustomed to the pseudo-Left new style, whereby if your opponent thought he had identified your lowest possible motive, he was quite certain that he had isolated the only real one. This vulgar method, which is now the norm and the standard in much non-Left journalism as well, is designed to have the effect of making any noisy moron into a master analyst”
And there it is.
An example from the left I never agreed with but now identify with this was the motivation of conservatives/neocons for starting the Iraq war. A lot of people just assumed it was about stealing peoples oil and perpetual war and Imperialism. Those are essentially the worst possible motivations I could think of to start a way, and those were essentially the only accepted ones ascribed to people who wanted to go into Iraq. Not Bushes statements that he wanted to spread democracy to modernize people in the region away from radicalism with an example in Iraq.
Now it turns out that theory of what would happen has clearly failed, but it’s also true that the US did not go in to steal IRaqi oil, or enslave the population or seek to use Iraq as a puppet state for our own Imperial ambitions. And the problem with ascribing the worst possible motivations to your opponents is that the opponents, not actually holding those motivations in their own minds, do not recognize the critiques as valid. IF the primary critique was focused like a laser on the practicality of remaking the middle east giving the sectarian issues that have persisted for generations, the anti war argument might have gained more traction earlier. It’s bad argumentative policy to assume the worst possible motivation of an opponent, that might be a motivation, but to just assume that and no other?
It’s a trash way to argue.
The conservative examples are dumber and more infantile, but this is the quality of argument you often hear on talk radio. “Obama wants to tear down this country” etc. etc. Of course this is counter productive because the truth is there are major disagreements over which kinds of policies will improve the country.
Look out for these tactics, they are ALL OVER the place (i.e. reading/listening to Glenn Greenwald/Chomsky is essentially like seeing someone describe US motivations as bathing in the blood of innocents)