Ben Shapiro at Politicon, Los Angeles (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Politicon )

Feelings don’t care about your facts

Politics is about emotions at least as much as about reason

Artillery Row

The modern right has depicted itself as a bastion of facts, reason and logic. With the Intellectual Dark Web crusading against cancel culture and other manifestations of wokeness, the right has adopted the mantra of “facts don’t care about your feelings”.

How successful has the “debate me bro” mindset really been?

The Brexit campaign was won on emotion

We can judge the power of facts versus feelings by looking at one of the biggest political movements in recent history: Black Lives Matter. Compared to the left-wing narrative, the right’s facts and arguments seemed to hold no weight. Conservatives could list statistics all day long disproving the idea of endemic police discrimination and brutality, but it could not compare to the video of George Floyd dying with a police officer kneeling on his neck. BLM drastically changed the way the public saw the police and race relations through prioritising feelings above facts. By doing this, it pushed ideas that would have been viewed as preposterous a decade ago — such as that white people can’t experience racism, or that the police should be abolished.

Funnily enough, the biggest triumphs of the British right have come not from appealing to facts, but to feelings. The most notable example of this is Brexit. Britain did not decide to leave the EU based on the facts or the data. The Brexit campaign was won on emotion: with the frustration that Britain was becoming a declining power, that bureaucrats of Brussels had more control over Britain’s laws than the British people and that issues like immigration were outside British control.

This is not to say that facts are unimportant or that the right should abandon rigorous debate. Utilising people’s emotions is nonetheless a useful way to show how political issues can impact us and our surroundings. Feelings are more impactful than facts because it is easier to relate and care about an individual’s story than abstract data.

This can be shown through the transgender debate. It is not enough for the gender critical movement to simply argue on the basis of biological reality. The average person is happy to ignore the fact that there are two sexes, and that a woman is an adult human female, in order to be tolerant and accepting. The gender critical movement has made tremendous progress by exposing that the benefits of validating a “trans” person’s sense of themselves do not outweigh the cost of violating women and children’s comfort and safety.

Recently, a video went viral of a young woman crying. She was distressed about men walking in on her whilst she was trying on clothes in a unisex changing room in Primark. This violated the woman’s privacy, and it understandably caused her significant anguish. Pressured by the public’s outrage over the video, with other women coming forward about similar experiences, Primark quickly U-turned and made its changing rooms single sex again. It was through feelings, not facts, that the gender critical movement achieved this victory.

It’s funny to think that until recent history, it was generally understood that the conservatives were the arbiters of morality and the left was the rational and scientific side. Consider the prominence of the conservative activist, Mary Whitehouse, who campaigned on the basis of a feeling of concern against the increasingly permissive society of the late 20th century. Advocating against sexual content on TV, Whitehouse would speak of feeling offended — a concept leftists treasure and rightists mock today.

According to American psychologist Jonathan Haidt, the moral foundations on which conservatives diverge from liberals are respect for authority, ingroup loyalty and purity. The British right hasn’t been allowed to value ingroup loyalty and purity, for better or for worse. In fear of being accused of bigotry, many of the mainstream British right have overcorrected by rejecting any sense of nationalism and fleeing from traditional Christian values in favour of social liberalism.

Not only is the left mistaken, its aims are often immoral

By abandoning what makes conservatives different from liberals, British conservatives have become de facto liberals. It appears that modern British conservatives have forgotten that there is such a thing as society.

The right’s abandonment of arguments on the basis of emotions has resulted in the right arguing without the basis of morality. Meanwhile, utilising emotions, the left has managed to promote a caricature that conservatives are heartless. It is through feelings that the left could claim that the Tories were “starving children” when the government planned not to continue free school meals over the holidays. It is through feelings that the left can claim that the Tories “killed the elderly” by not responding to the Covid-19 pandemic “quick enough”. How can the Tories respond? After all, the past decade has proven they don’t believe that nanny-statism and high taxation is wrong.

The consequences of the abandonment of morality can even be seen within the party. In the past year alone, the party has had multiple MPs convicted or accused of sexual harassment, drug use, even driving offences after crashing a car and running (all whilst wearing a black leather mini-skirt and high heels). How very conservative!

The right needs to reclaim the moral high ground. We need to remember not only that the left is mistaken but that its aims are often immoral. It’s immoral to encourage confused children to go through mutilating surgery and hormone blockers. It’s immoral to leave the average person choiceless over their healthcare as they are compelled to pay even more tax to an inefficient and uncaring NHS. It’s immoral that the British public have to pay for the hotels and processing of thousands of asylum claimants who have illegally entered Britain.

If we want to win the battle of ideas, the right needs to be reminded that it is a battle. Like bullets to a gun, facts are only impactful if loaded with feelings — and the fact is that intellectualism and rationality alone will not bring about triumph, regardless of how conservatives might feel.

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