If the “what” and the “who” are established, we come to the critical questions of “where and when.” These questions are often referred to as “picking your spots” and “picking your shots,” phrases that resonate with a core truth about all combat of any sort:
A tactician chooses to fight or not to fight on the basis of:
- Whether victory is attainable;
- Whether a gain is probable.
Note that those conditions are distinct from one another, as King Pyrrhus discovered to his sorrow. However, in practice they must be answered together.
Of particular importance in addressing “where and when” questions is the sub-classification of persons to the left of political center. Whether nor not to engage such a person depends critically on his true allegiances and motivations. The following crude partition of those on the Left is probably the best we can do without extensive personal acquaintance with the person under consideration:
- The generally sincere and well-meaning;
- The activist, for whom “the Cause” is what gives meaning to his life;
- The leftist strategist or tactician whose true goal is power, any other consideration merely a means.
If you can assign your potential target to one of those three categories, it becomes possible to decide whether to engage him, and about what, with reasonable accuracy.
Type 1 is the sincere, well-meaning American who votes for left-liberals out of the belief that those policies are morally justifiable and actually will remedy the conditions at which they’re aimed. He is potentially reachable. However we must avoid the critical mistake of attacking his moral premises. Such a man is almost certainly proud of his moral premises, and at any rate, you cannot argue about premises.
Type 2 is the activist, the “Cause Person,” whose life without such an attachment would be empty and bleak. He might be as sincere about the Cause as his Type 1 fellow, but his emotional orientation is somewhat different: he needs the Cause to sustain his emotional health. He might be reachable on the specifics of his current attachment, but in all probability that would merely impel him to shift to some other Cause. The personal validation he receives from his commitment matters at least as much to him as the supposed end. Indeed, it might matter much more.
Type 3 is the politician a outrance. He’s in it for power, not for any end that involves the well-being of others. Whether or not he runs for office himself is irrelevant; if not, he seeks “gray eminence” status as one who steers elected officials and candidates. He is not reachable. The hazards of engaging him are considerable, most important among them the possibility that he might counter-target you for a campaign of destruction. If you can identify him, it’s best to avoid him.
The “where and when” question thus reduces to:
- Encountering a Type 1 (well meaning) left-liberal and seeing a prospect of persuading him that the methods of freedom work better than the methods of government for attaining his acceptable and sincerely held aims;
- Identifying a Type 2 (Cause person) left-liberal, determining that the putative intentions of his Cause are acceptable, and outperforming him at attaining them;
- Avoiding the Type 3 (power-luster) left-liberal at all costs.
But that is the beginning, not the end, of the subject.
The possibility of persuading a Type 1 or outperforming a Type 2 is necessary but not sufficient. We must still satisfy the second criterion for engagement: is there a gain in prospect that would make the effort worthwhile? This is determined almost entirely by the overt aim of your target.
In the case of a Type 1 engagement, the target is the left-liberal himself. If his aim is wholesome – e.g., the betterment of the race relations or urban poor, rather than something pernicious such as same-sex marriage or abortion on demand – it’s a case for the application of reason and evidence. This is not the place to delve deeply into the proper tactics; suffice it to say that your intention should not be to convince him, but rather to provide him with what he will need to convince himself. A man who reaches his own conclusions will “take ownership” of them. He’ll defend them much more surely and forcefully than if he feels he’s been beaten into them.
In the case of a Type 2 engagement, there’s little hope you can convert a Cause person left-liberal into a pro-freedom conservative; his Cause serves him the way religious devotion serves the devout. Rather, your hope is to suggest to others that political Cause activism is never constructive and frequently destructive toward a wholesome aim. This tends to be easier with some subjects (e.g., aid to the deserving poor) than with others (e.g., promotion of tolerance toward religious minorities or homosexuals). So the specific Cause will mainly determine whether you have a prospect of gain from the engagement.
As I said above, you should do your best to avoid a Type 3 leftist. His intentions are not good ones; if he should discover that you’re an adversary, he’s likely to counter-target you...and his tactics will not be nice ones. However, you can make use of the identification of such a person by making his aims known to others – preferably indirectly. Sincere Type 1s and most Type 2s usually react angrily toward those they conclude are using them for venal purposes, which is the essence of the Type 3. Once again, we veer toward the sphere of tactics, which I’ll leave for the “How” essay.
Those are the avenues I prefer to peer down in the quest for possible sociopolitical gains. There are others, but the probability of the reward justifying the effort is greatest when pursued along those lines.
Politics is about power, but ultimately all power arises from people, whether they yield it voluntarily over themselves, or assert it willy-nilly over unconsenting others. If we are to have any chance of restoring freedom and properly limited government to the United States, we must not forget that people – their aims, their commitments, their assumptions, and their emotional makeups – are the core of the problem.
Remember Father Charlie’s joke. There’s a lot more point to it than you might think.