Snidely Whiplash Is Not on Facebook

Are you frustrated with political polarization? Have you noticed that conversations between the opposite ends of the political spectrum are getting harder and harder? Do you wonder why it has gotten so ugly, and do you wish you could do something about it?

Read on.

The human mind is naturally ordered toward making sense of things. It wants to come up with explanations. When we observe something we don’t understand, we go through a mental process of thinking about possible explanations for it. This is something you can dwell on consciously, but even if you don’t, you come to basic conclusions without even thinking about it.

For any weird phenomenon, there are many possible explanations. How do we narrow down the list to settle on something to believe? There’s no perfect formula for this, but there are some healthy tendencies that we should all have. For instance, Occam’s Razor (Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected) is a good place to start. Also, we should seek explanations that explain all of the data, not just some of it. There are certainly other principles of rationality for evaluating the plausibility of various explanations, but there is one in particular that is severely underrated. I think anyone who adopts it will have more accurate beliefs and much better dialogue and understanding of people with whom they disagree.

There are no Snidely Whiplashes

Image: Snidely Whiplash tying a woman to a train track.

Any explanation that assumes the existence of a Snidely Whiplash is a bad, intellectually lazy explanation.

For those of you who don’t know, Snidely Whiplash is the arch-nemesis of Dudley Do-Right in various animated segments on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Snidely Whiplash is as stereotypically evil as they come, with green skin, a long curly moustache, a cackling laugh, and character motivations rarely more complex than the desire to do evil because it’s fun. For example, he is frequently seen tying women to railroad tracks. The hero he opposes is stereotypically opposite to Snidely Whiplash, even having “Do Right” in his name.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that there are no evil people. I’m saying no one thinks of themselves as evil. Not Democrats. Not Republicans. Not Hillary Clinton. Not Donald Trump. Not Planned Parenthood. Not even ISIS. Any explanation of a person’s behavior that assumes they’re doing what they’re doing “because they’re just evil and want to do evil” is an inherently bad explanation.

This should be obvious, but I see people making the mistake of assuming their opposition is Snidely Whiplash all the time. Republicans talked about Hillary Clinton as though she’s Snidely Whiplash and her supporters must be mini-Snidely Whiplashes because only an evil person could support someone so purely evil. Democrats talk the same way about Donald Trump. I think the evidence is quite strong that they’re both people that have done and said many, many immoral things. But they’re both more complicated than being purely evil.

It’s easy to just denounce the other side as evil. It’s hard to listen to them. It’s hard to try to understand them. It’s risky to treat the other person like a decent human being because then you might have to take them seriously. It’s always more comfortable to dehumanize someone you disagree with, and make no mistake, thinking of someone as though they are Snidely Whiplash dehumanizes them. If you don’t like it when pro-choice people dehumanize the unborn, then you have no business dehumanizing pro-choice people. [Tweet that!]

If you answer the question “Why do women have abortions?” by saying “They’re just selfish,” then you are part of the problem. I’m not saying selfishness is never involved. I’m saying that’s too simplistic an explanation. No one does anything because they’re just selfish. People rationalize what they do. They believe what they want to believe. They have motivations that we might not understand. They sometimes have wrong beliefs. It’s never because they’re just selfish.

Pro-choice people don’t hate babies. Their views on abortion are incredibly destructive for babies, but that isn’t their motivation. Really. They think their view is the more compassionate one. They might have selfishness going on subconsciously, but at the conscious level, they think they’re being loving. I’m sorry if that frustrates you, but if you don’t understand their motivations, then you will never dialogue well with them, and you are very unlikely to ever change their minds.

If you’re conservative, and liberal people confound you, I’ll give you a nudge in the right direction: liberals are motivated by compassion. You may disagree with their policies, you may think they aren’t good at helping people, but liberals don’t do what they do because they are just stupid or evil.

If you’re liberal, and conservative people confound you, let me help you. It isn’t that conservatives don’t care about poor people, refugees, women, or black people. Conservatives tend to be pretty practical and they think your policies don’t work. Disagreeing with your policies does not mean one doesn’t care.

If you believe or act or speak like the other side is Snidely Whiplash, then you have no business bemoaning how polarized people are. You are part of the problem.

One Snidely Whiplash error breeds more Snidely Whiplash errors. When people exaggerate against you or someone you like, you feel the human impulse to retaliate. Whenever someone you politically agree with seems to think those other guys are just idiots, the easier it is to conclude that they are just idiots. The more confident you become that the other guys are just idiots, the cockier you get.

You might think it’s okay to be a jerk once in awhile, but your jerkiness enables everyone else to be jerks too, and on and on we snowball into a world without listening or understanding. We live in a nasty, polarized place now. This isn’t the only cause, but it is one of them, and it’s a problem you can actually help to fix. Do your part.

 

Please tweet this article!

  • Tweet: Snidely Whiplash Is Not on Facebook
  • Tweet: Frustrated with political polarization? You can change it.
  • Tweet: Any explanation that assumes the existence of a Snidely Whiplash is a bad, intellectually lazy explanation.
  • Tweet: It’s easy to just denounce the other side as evil. It’s hard to listen to them.
  • Tweet: If you don’t like it when pro-choice people dehumanize the unborn, then you have no business dehumanizing pro-choice people.

The post “Snidely Whiplash Is Not on Facebook” originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”

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Director of Training

Timothy Brahm is the Director of Training at Equal Rights Institute. He is interested in helping pro-life and pro-choice people to have better dialogues about abortion through 1) taking care to understand what the other person means, 2) using more carefully-constructed arguments, and 3) treating each other with care and respect. He graduated from Biola University with a B.A. in philosophy and is a perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Jean Pergande

    Thanks Tim, great piece. Wish you and Josh and your team the best.

  • Michael Kelly

    Yes, clear thinking wins again – thanks Tim. Rocky and Bullwinkle were one of my favorites back in the day. :)

  • Val

    I have gone on abortion supporting websites, like Mother Jones, to try to logically make the pro-life case, but it is nearly impossible to be ‘civil’ when the posters reply with name calling, putting you in the same category as rapists, and, worst of all, death wishes.
    I only do it hoping to reach some quieter, less extreme abortion supporters who will hopefully see my posts, research what I am saying, and perhaps re-think their positions.
    Evan on a particular pro-life site that I frequent, I have learned (the hard way) that it is not a good idea to give your opinion on non-abortion issues that the certain higher-ups disagree with you on.

  • Thanks for a good article. A few points, though:

    You make it clear at the outset that your aim is to help readers do something about political polarization, and the bulk of the article implies that you trace a lot of the political polarization in our culture to demonized images of each other. So we need to be shown that demonized images of others in our culture are wrong, but:

    I’m not saying that there are no evil people. I’m saying no one thinks of themselves as evil. . . . Not even ISIS.

    This seems to leave open the possibility that a whole lot of the people in our culture are as evil as ISIS. They don’t think of themselves as evil, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t as evil as ISIS — maybe even more evil.

    Hillary Clinton. . . . Donald Trump. . . . But they’re both more complicated than being purely evil.

    Based on the foregoing, this seems to leave open the possibility that Clinton and Trump ARE purely evil EXCEPT that they don’t think of themselves as evil. A more likely interpretation of that paragraph would be that you think they may actually have some redeeming good traits, but this doesn’t seem completely clear to me.

    If you answer the question “Why do women have abortions?” by saying “They’re just selfish,” then you are part of the problem. I’m not saying selfishness is never involved.

    Moreover, you don’t say that selfishness is not a huge part of the picture.

    I’m saying that’s too simplistic an explanation. No one does anything because they’re just selfish. People rationalize what they do. They believe what they want to believe.

    Again, they don’t think of themselves as evil, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t evil.

    They have motivations that we might not understand. They sometimes have wrong beliefs. It’s never because they’re just selfish.

    Let’s take this in conjunction with the last of your arguments against the “purely evil” hypothesis:

    Pro-choice people don’t hate babies. Their views on abortion are incredibly destructive for babies, but that isn’t their motivation.

    But then it’s almost suggested, isn’t it, that pro-choicers, and women who abort, may hate babies and be destructive subconsciously — at least that we can’t rule out that possibility? —

    Really. They think their view is the more compassionate one. They might have selfishness going on subconsciously, but at the conscious level, they think they’re being loving.

    You say that women who abort are not “just selfish,” but in context, might not their selfishness be qualified only by the fact that they don’t think they’re selfish?

    It seems to me that up to this point, you haven’t really expressed any certainty that Clinton, Trump, women who abort, or pro-choicers have any good in them. I seem to be left free to think if I wish, for instance, that pro-choicers, though not so evil that they even think they are evil, are overwhelmingly worse on average than pro-lifers.

    (In fact, I would not tend to say facilely that “Morally all political alignments of people are exactly the same.” But I don’t want to get into the topic of my views on this.)

    At the end you do pay one right-hand compliment each to liberals and conservatives. So if we assume that Clinton, Trump, women who abort, and pro-choicers are all either liberals or conservatives, at the end they are all redeemed a bit. But I still might think that pro-choice liberals, though compassionate people overall, subconsciously hate babies.

     

    Is it possible that a step toward reducing the polarization on the abortion issue would be for all the antagonists to take a good look at those (few?) pro-choicers and pro-lifers who are NOT polarized? —

    “So how should we frame a face-off over a normal pregnancy, between pro-lifers [who give a lot of weight to bodily rights], and those few bodily-rights pro-choicers who genuinely see the unborn as persons? It would be like the pro-choice side declaring, ‘There is a close contest between bodily rights and the right to life of a full-fledged person, in which bodily rights prevail,’ and the pro-life side declaring, ‘There is a close contest between bodily rights and the right to life of a full-fledged person, in which bodily rights don’t quite prevail.’ For me personally, though it is clear that the outcome of the contest is on the pro-life side, I wouldn’t call the margin of the outcome (in terms of what should or shouldn’t be legal) a very pronounced one.

    “. . . Understanding those few conversations (such as the imagined one above) that are free from polarization helps illuminate the sources of the polarization that more typically occurs. Polarization stems mainly from widely disparate views of the unborn, so a conversation such as the above is bound to be free from polarization. Therefore there is another corollary of the ‘somewhat close balance’ view of the abortion issue: those few pro-choicers who really see the unborn as our little sisters and brothers will share that ‘somewhat close’ view with the pro-lifers who hold it, and those two groups will not be each other’s hated enemies. Both groups will agree that the issue involves a balance that could understandably tip the other way in the other person’s mind. There will not be the acrimony that is usual between pro-choicers and pro-lifers. They will be able to talk. (If the pro-choicers deprecate the unborn, on the other hand, there will be a big fight.)”

    ( http://www.NoTerminationWithoutRepresentation.org/why-its-not-murder/ )

    • “This seems to leave open the possibility that a whole lot of the people in our culture are as evil as ISIS. They don’t think of themselves as evil, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t as evil as ISIS — maybe even more evil.”

      No, that’s not a correct reading of what Tim intended. He was merely saying that nobody thinks of themselves as evil, and then pointed at ISIS as an example of an extremely evil group of people who also don’t think of themselves as evil.

      “Based on the foregoing, this seems to leave open the possibility that Clinton and Trump ARE purely evil EXCEPT that they don’t think of themselves as evil.”

      No, just that some people act and talk as if Clinton and Trump are purely evil, and Tim’s saying that this is wrong thinking, that Clinton and Trump are not purely evil.

      “Again, they don’t think of themselves as evil, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t evil.”

      Agreed. Did you think the article was implying otherwise?

      Original Post: “Pro-choice people don’t hate babies. Their views on abortion are incredibly destructive for babies, but that isn’t their motivation.”

      You: “But then it’s almost suggested, isn’t it, that pro-choicers, and women who abort, may hate babies and be destructive subconsciously — at least that we can’t rule out that possibility?”

      No, we don’t think pro-choice people hate babies. We do think their views on abortion are incredibly destructive for babies, and that destructiveness isn’t their motivation for being pro-choice. I think you’re reading too much into these sentences.

      • Thanks. I think I understood Tim’s underlying thinking in those sentences of his just as you did. But in each case, after framing the negative construction of a certain group (such as pro-choicers) that “some people” are prone to advance, he seemed to defend that group in a way that, when the language is examined, didn’t necessarily defend it in any meaningful way. (As meaningful as it may have been in his underlying thinking.)

        As I should have mentioned, I didn’t fail to appreciate the central message that “One Snidely Whiplash error breeds more Snidely Whiplash errors.” But to get that message across, it has to be clear that the errors people are making are significant errors.

  • We all seem to agree that, as the article suggests and is further clarified in the comments, selfishness is a contributing factor in abortions. The focus of the article is on exaggerations of the selfishness involved and of other evils involved (if there are other evils besides selfishness) and the dangers of those exaggerations, but after we have finished processing the valuable observations of the article about the exaggerations and the dangers, we will be left with a certain bedrock of evil.

    How about another article: “Flawed Human Beings ARE on Facebook, How Do We Navigate Their Flaws?”

    The whole pro-life movement from the beginning, on those (few?) occasions when it has avoided exaggeration, has been trying to deal with that question, but I don’t know if the question has ever been framed clearly. Framing it clearly might mean demarcating the latitude that exists between in-your-face at one end of the spectrum and completely destigmatizing abortion at the other end, and studying how each point along the spectrum works out in terms of dialogue.

    In a discussion some time back about whether to say “abortionists” or “abortion providers” or “abortion practitioners,” I believe that Josh Brahm agreed with Clinton Wilcox that abortion should not be completely destigmatized. After all, how to convince people not to abort if there’s nothing morally wrong with abortion? “The next Beethoven” isn’t a very good argument, and neither is “Babies are a gift. My cousin came to love her baby, and you will come to love yours.”

    but if you don’t understand their motivations, then you will never dialogue well with them, and you are very unlikely to ever change their minds.

    And if you DO understand their motivations, and their motivations are evil to whatever degree is simply accurate, then also dialoguing well with them is a minefield, and you have to somehow cross that minefield in one piece in order to ever change their minds.

    Please, another article!

    • ChristinaDunigan

      Here’s a very interesting article published by Priests for Life that covers the midset of aborting women.

      >>The Caring Foundation, a pro-life group established to reach the public via television, initiated two landmark psychological studies to address this question.

      The key finding of these studies is that women understand that abortion kills, but they also view the threat of motherhood to be so serious as to represent a “death of self.” Many young women have not incorporated the concept of motherhood into their self-image. Who they are and plan to be revolves around school, career, and perhaps marriage. Motherhood is so alien to their sense of self that if it is suddenly thrust upon them it is seen as a complete loss of self, a death. When these women consider abortion, they see it as a death to the unborn life within them, whereas motherhood represents a death to themselves (a psychological death but a death perceived as real nonetheless). Ultimately, the choice of abortion is perceived as a choice of self-preservation<<

      Selfish? Yes, but not in the shallow, "But I wont' be able to go to frat parties!" image that we typically have as prolifers. It's more the "I'll be ripped away from everything I know as being my life!" What somebody might feel at the prospect of being abruptly planted in the middle of a poor village in sub-Saharan Africa and told that we must remain their for 18 years. Who among us would not balk? And no reassurance that life in the village has its charms and that the villagers are happy would carry much weight.

      http://www.priestsforlife.org/library/2313-heart-and-soul

      • I think it’s incredibly important to be careful with words like selfishness. I’ve picked up on a lot of “But I won’t be able to go to frat parties!” understanding of selfishness from pro-lifers and that is not typically what we’re talking about. That kind of view of abortion-minded women is a terrible, terrible failure of empathy.

        • Agreed, and you would probably be equally careful about judging pro-lifers, but I will just mention:

          In discussions I sometimes bring up one of the few documented instances of someone aborting for frat-party-type reasons. But I don’t bring it up to suggest that that is representative as a reason for aborting. I bring it up as a kind of starting place: “Abortion even for such a reason as this is presently legal. Does that seem right to you?”

        • ChristinaDunigan

          I get prolifers really attacking me when I share the story about why I can understand why a poor woman can think abortion is the right thing to do. My husband and I were broke when I got pregnant with my son. We’d sold our wedding rings to buy food for our daughter. I felt SELFISH that I couldn’t pick up the phone and make an abortion appointment for the sake of my daughter. Fortunately a prolife friend stepped in and showed us how to improve our financial situation so we could afford BOTH children, when before we’d been broke trying to take care of one. But it really seemed at the time that NOT having an abortion was the selfish choice, because I was putting my own emotions above my little daughter’s well-being.

    • ChristinaDunigan

      We also need to take into account the way the abortion lobby in general, and abortion businesses in particular, knowingly or not, leverage the normal psychology of pregnancy into abortion sales.

      Every major life change has psychological steps one must go through. We’re most famililar with this in the context of grief.

      In pregnancy, the first step is to really grasp the reality of the pregnancy. How often have we seen the abortion lobby and abortion “counselors” treat abortion as if it merely returns the woman to the non-pregnant state? If the reality of the pregnancy hasn’t fully sunk in, a frightened woman or girl would easily fall prey to the image of abortion as a sort of “reset button” that can make the pregnancy have never happened.

      The next step is affiliation with the fetus. This used to happen around quickening, when feeling the baby move made it more real. Prolifers have seen more recently how seeing the baby on ultrasound or hearing the fetal heart beat totally banishes the idea of abortion from a woman’s mind. Why do you think abortion clinics so steadfastly avoid allowing women to see the ultrasounds or hear the fetal heart beat?

      Young women who have never been taught that the urge to bail on the pregnancy is normal and self-limiting can easily be made to believe that what they’re feeling at the moment is proof that they’re unprepared for motherhood and would just cause their babies irreprable psycological harm.

      http://realchoice.blogspot.com/2011/07/treating-normal-as-if-its-abnormal-to.html

      • Thanks very much for these two replies. This topic is timely for me because of my coincidentally being exposed to some other things about the mindset. Just yesterday I saw for the first time this video you have probably seen:

        Linda Couri — CONVERTED: From Abortion Provider to Pro-Life Activist

        LC describes in a very riveting way what the stress of being pregnant, as a student, was like for her. Suddenly she yields to the temptation to get an abortion, and at 12:16 she says of the decision, “How could anything that feels so good [in terms of giving me so much relief from my stress] not be right?”

        Regarding “18 years,” we do have to remember that no pro-lifer demands that any woman raise any child. I know that fact doesn’t automatically make the whole mindset go away, but we do have to keep it in mind.

        Thanks for the link to your blog post. I will write a comment there also, but right now I will be tied up for several hours.

        Please see also my below reply to Timothy Brahm.

        • ChristinaDunigan

          Thanks! I shared this both so prolife people could understand that good intentions are so often behind what people do in support of abortion, and so prochoice people can see that all the good intentions in the world can’t undo any well-meaning damage you inflict on yourself or others.

  • ChristinaDunigan

    I listened to tapes of many years of National Abortion Federation meetings and seminars, and it really struck me how astonished they are that prolifers think they hate children. To us it’s obvious — you have to hate babies to devote your life to killing them, right? But in retrospect, I must reflect that even the hunter doesn’t hate the deer.

    I love a Bambi burger as much as the next rural Pennsylvanian, but I also find the sight of a deer struck and killed by a car as very sad, was delighted to have a little fawn bound up to me when I was hiking, would never want to see a deer mistreated, etc. The entire Pennsylvania Game Commission and all the hunters want to see a healthy, thriving deer herd. Any hunter who wounded and animal and then just left it to suffer without tracking it down and killing it humanely is anethema to hunters. To the hunting community, hunting is just a natural part of where humans and deer are on the food chain. There’s no animosity toward deer at all. And as a supporter of hunting, I’d be immediately put off by somebody who characterized me (the game eater) or hunters as cruel and hateful and wanting animals to just die.

    • Kermit Gosnell doesn’t think he’s evil. He isn’t Snidely Whiplash. He’s deeply messed up, he has done hideously evil things the same way most people do: one little rationalization at a time. I think Christians should pray for him.