People with different viewpoints often talk past each other because they’re using different lenses or paradigms to view things. Frequently one is not fully aware that one’s opponent is using a different paradigm, and trying to stuff their words into your paradigm greatly distorts what they’re actually saying.
In The Three Languages of Politics, Arnold Kling argues that only by learning to understand other people’s paradigms, even if we don’t agree with them, can we really listen.
I would add that each paradigm has its merits and demerits, and by understanding each we can gain a better understanding of any issue.
For example, a common criticism I’ve seen of men’s rights activists is that they think men are oppressed, which is noted to be ridiculous. However, I see something different. Few MRAs claim men are oppressed. Most say that in the modern Western world, neither men nor women are oppressed. Instead, society is bi-sexist: it privileges both men and women, and disadvantages both men and women, but in different ways. For progressives, however, this is incoherent – there have to be oppressed and oppressor groups.
I’ve also seen the criticism that MRAs want to return to the 1950s. Yet, men’s rights websites overwhelmingly oppose traditionalism, and MRAs treat “tradcons” (a derogatory label) with disdain. (This isn’t to say there aren’t traditionalists in the manosphere, but they generally don’t identify as MRAs.) I get the impression that the few traditionalists in the men’s rights movement are disproportionately female, and these women have their own agendas.
The problem, in my view, is that liberals and progressives are exclusively focused on the notion that society consists of the oppressed and the oppressors, who are traditionalists. It hasn’t occurred to them that there could be a third option. My contention is that the men’s rights movement, while diverse and complex, leans more libertarian than it does liberal or conservative.
Oppression is the liberal paradigm. Almost every issue is framed as one group oppressing another. This has made liberals strong advocates for change, and for educating society about the experiences of marginalized groups.
But it also has lead to black or white thinking. All members of the oppressed group are victims (unless they deny their oppressed status and/or align their politics with the oppressor). And all members of the oppressor group are guilty, like a secular version of original sin (though they can gain second class status among the oppressed by becoming penitents, i.e. “checking your privilege”).
This isn’t to say oppression doesn’t exist. It most certainly does. But when the only tool in one’s toolbox is a hammer then everything looks like the proverbial nail, even if it isn’t.
Traditionalism is the conservative paradigm. Traditional values and family values mean the difference between civilization and chaos. Hierarchical institutions such as church, the military, marriage, and family underpin these values. Liberal non-traditionalism and anti-hierarchicalism are why conservatives mistakenly think liberals are out to destroy civilization.
And we too often see conservatives siding with tradition even when it upholds injustice, as with their opposition to civil rights in the 1960s (because it would lead to a mixing of the races) and with gay marriage today (because gay marriage will destroy the institution of heterosexual marriage).
The rapidly aging Republican Party indicates that traditional conservativism is headed for irrelevancy. Young people today have no connection with pre-1960s traditions, and many older people who do are repulsed by it.
This doesn’t mean traditionalism is all bad. Liberals too often make the mistake of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. For example, the importance of character over popularity is a lesson our society needs to relearn. Most traditions were not put in place to oppress others (though some were). But sometimes the rationale, which made sense in the past, no longer applies because circumstances have changed. Adapting to new circumstances, however, is essential for civilization’s continued success.
Individual liberty is the libertarian paradigm. One may do whatever one chooses so long as one respects the equal rights of others. Government is the biggest threat to individual liberty.
Conservatives too make use of this paradigm, but it takes a back seat to traditionalism. That’s why conservatives oppose gay marriage, even though banning gay marriage means big government intruding into people’s personal lives. Liberals also embrace individual liberty when it means ending oppression, but they oppose liberty when compelling collective action furthers progress (such as opposing school vouchers because some parents might send their kids to religious schools that teach traditional rather than progressive values).
A key criticism of libertarianism is that its support for individual liberty means allowing discrimination, such as not prohibiting businesses from refusing to hire or serve African-Americans because such a prohibition infringes on an individual’s property (business) rights. For example, Barry Goldwater voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act because he thought the discrimination ban should only apply to government or to private business as a condition for receiving government funds.
Libertarianism’s opposition to any safety net for the poor, the disabled, and the elderly because that means increased taxes (i.e. government theft) is also a key criticism.
Progressives and liberals often fail to distinguish between traditionalism and individual liberty, and they typically but incorrectly refer to libertarians as right wing. Libertarians are neither left nor right wing, and they’re not centrists either. Pursuing individual liberty often means opposing traditionalism, as with libertarian support for gay marriage, legalizing marijuana, and opposing foreign wars. Instead, the libertarian orientation is orthogonal (that is, civil and economic liberty are measured on x,y axes).
That feminists make almost exclusive use of the oppression paradigm is clear. But while MRAs don’t believe women are oppressed in the modern Western world, they generally don’t believe men are oppressed either. Neither do MRAs want to return to a past that they know is long gone.
Instead, MRAs want autonomy over their own lives. Often this takes a non-traditional turn, such as not wanting to pay for a woman’s dinner on the first date, and not wanting to pay alimony after divorce. He expects her to be autonomous as well, which means her financially supporting herself.
It means she can make her own reproductive choices – no MRA will stop her – but she also must take responsibility for herself and not expect a subsidy from a man who didn’t agree to become a parent.
It means she must not expect him to be a white knight rescuing a damsel in distress, in contrast to the feminist expectations of #HeForShe.