When someone claims to support the policing reforms being won by the BLM protests but insists they can not support BLM because they prefer ‘all lives matter’ they are engaging in a disingenuous tactic I call Chickenshit Conservatism, taking a cue from the Dead Kennedy’s song Chickenshit Conformist.
I consider Chickenshit Conservatism to be a special case of what is commonly called bothsiderism. When used correctly, it’s a bad faith tactic for turning an indefensible position into an unquestionable status quo. This seems to be increasingly common on Facebook where racists, fascists and swamp dwellers want to spread a message even of just letting bad things happen to other people, even when that position is unpopular.
Step one: Agree to the liberal position or positions of your interlocutor. Start off by saying you agree that racism is bad. That police brutality is bad. They have no place in our society. You may be doing this because you agree or because you don’t think the status quo is actually racist. But you can just as easily do it because you don’t mind the racism but know it is indefensible.
Step two: Recite the litany of Clinton and Obama failings. And this is why this is such an effective strategy-the Democratic party doesn’t have a great record on policing, and have some responsibility for the awful policies on mandatory minimums, the war on drugs, mass incarceration etc, so they have a point. That’s all mostly true. By reciting the litany you can build the empathy those of us on the left crave and make totally sensible claims.
Step three: Ignore, dismiss or grossly misrepresent all attempts at reform while defending the counterargument with unsourced or just made up factoids.
They might say “Defund the police? But when happens if I call 911?” You can calmly point out that no one is actually talking about defunding down to zero dollars. Of course there will still be armed police officers. “But crime is going up!” they counter. You calmly cite figures showing that crime is in fact going down. Why aren’t they doing something about the looting? Well, that’s what the police should be doing, isn’t it?
What’s happening here is sometimes called sealioning and this can be exhausting. They will keep asking questions and citing reasons why they can’t support any change while ignoring anything you say in response. The big point here is that they will never actually defend the conservative position nor the status quo. They might appeal to bipartisanship but then ignore that only one party has interest in fixing anything. Don’t think you can ever satisfy their criteria for change. They aren’t looking for solutions, they want permission to support a position they know is indefensible in polite company. They want a clear conscience while they look the other way.
The closer: Insist that the status quo will get better if we are all just had more patience. Give it time.
At some point you just get fed up and your interlocutor either walks away or they walk away with some half-ass comment about the alternatives not being viable and we should just wait and see. This is the tell. Just as many people are being hurt by looting. No one is being helped by the rioting. Things will just get better.
There seem to be three ways to handle this
- Call it out. Say “I don’t actually think you want to consider alternatives, I really think you’re looking for an excuse to support the status quo.” and then walk away.
- Use judo. “Can you tell me what policies or changes you would support and why?” “Oh, you haven’t seen any or thought about any? well what news sources do you read?” “Oh, you haven’t read much news? Well what sources do you normally trust?” and keep going. What you want is to get them into some self reflection.
- Confront their lack of skin in the game. What if you are wrong? Who is hurt if you are wrong? Get them to admit they aren’t actually effected by the problem they are willing to stand by and ignore.
And stay tuned for more tales of chickenshit conservatism.