Friday 1 July 2022


One of the things that disturbs me, particularly when I waste too much time on social media, is the problem of conflation.

This arose this week when I was accused of hatred because I disagreed with someone, for example; and that seems to me to be a very common form of the problem. It contributes significantly to the polarisation and tribal hostility that is a feature of the culture wars. 

In the wake of the reversal of Roe v Wade, it has been very evident in discussions (or to be more accurate diatribes) about abortion; it is certainly a major feature of the continuing trans activist v gender critical disputes and so on. The claim is that if you don't accept my view of the situation, you must be motivated by hatred. This demonises the other, destroys any chance of meaningful dialogue and drives people further into their bunkers. 

I find this particularly odd, as I tend to like the company of, and conversation with, people who see the world differently from me. 

Many of my friends think that I am wrong to believe that the law should not sanction people killing unborn human beings; further they think that my formulation of the issue in that way is wrong too - and that my erroneous thinking will lead to great suffering and evil if enacted. But then, I think the same of their views: that to regard unborn human life as of less value, and therefore disposable, leads to great suffering and evil.  

But that doesn't mean that they have to attribute evil intention to me, nor that I have to attribute evil intention to them. In fact, no good purpose is served by such attribution. And it certainly doesn't mean that I have to dislike (or worse, hate) them; nor the other way around.

The conflation of disagreement and dislike is only one example, of course. With regard to the two topics mentioned, there is a tendency, on both sides of each debate, to muddy the waters by conflating lots of different things into one group. This is amplified, of course by sloganeering and the hashtag culture: which inevitably leads to over-simplification and conflation.

For example the more extreme end of the pro-choice lobby broadcasts that anyone opposed to abortions, wants to ban the treatment of ectopic pregnancy and thus kill women. This approach is designed more to fan the fuels of outrage on their own side of the argument, than to convince those who disagree with them (who, naturally enough, do not recognise themselves in such a mis-characterisation of their position).

And some of the nutters on the fringe of the pro-life lobby broadcast that pro-choicers want to kill children up to (and probably beyond) birth.

Likewise, some of the more militant trans rights activists say that opposing any man's ability to self-identify into (for example) a female rape crisis centre is to deny trans people's right to exist.

And on the other side of the debate, the more extreme gender critical feminists take the most egregious examples of bad behaviour by their opponents and attribute it to what they call trans ideology; and attribute that to all of their opponents.

And as I have mentioned, the result of this type of approach, practiced by those on all sides, is to drive people further into their bunkers, and to assure them of their own moral superiority and the idiocy or (more probably) malice of those who disagree with them. And we all pay a high price for such polarisation.  

The alternative, I suggest, is that we listen to each other, and try to represent what those we disagree with are actually saying; articulating the nuances and the details honestly, rather than seeking to stoke outrage by conflating them and overstating them. I have blogged before about one experiment in this regard, and the very positive outcomes. Harder work, and more boring, perhaps; but much more conducive of understanding, of generating possible ways forward, and of being able to live together with some good will.