I remember when John Cole was among the nuttiest of wingnuts, which makes it all the more entertaining to read him these days. You don’t see many people willing to call out the slavering hordes of their own comment section like this:

I keep seeing “warmed-over conservatism” and other petty bullshit like that, and all I have to say is that if you want the public debate about policy, you better get some more game. I’ve gone through every post Erik has written, and I have not once seen him attack liberals, dismiss other people’s ideas, or generally be the kind of petulant dipshit a lot of you are being in the comments.
You dislike his argument? Make a counter argument. You guys constantly claim you want to honestly engage thoughtful and decent people who will argue the merits of issues, and now you are presented with one, and your gut instinct is to insult or try to shut him down.
That, to me, is not the sign of a confident movement. You think his ideas are bullshit and warmed over conservatism, explain why. Make the argument. Make the case. What the progressive movement needs is not to emulate the Dan Riehl’s and Michelle Malkins, but to confidently make their case that their ideas are better.
…And I’ll bet a bunch of you were joking about Republicans and epistemic closure. Wankers.
It’s funny cuz it’s true! Herd mentality is a bipartisan phenomenon, sad to say. Some of the biggest progressive blogs have some of the absolute worst circle-jerking comment sections I’ve ever seen.
I’ve read a little bit of Kain’s stuff before, but I wasn’t even aware he was conservative until he started posting at Balloon Juice, and even then, like Cole said, I don’t see anything worth getting freaked out about. Really, I read other sane conservatives/libertarians like Radley Balko and Daniel Larison regularly, and there are long stretches of time where I can’t find anything at all to disagree with them about. Being exposed to a daily supply of shrieking batshit insanity from teabaggers has a lot to do with it, of course — that would make anyone look reasonable by comparison. But still, you’d think people would be overjoyed every time they find someone capable of having intelligent disagreements with.
It is a fine line to walk, though, knowing when to engage and when to walk away and not waste your time. To repeat something I just said the other day, open-minded is not the same thing as empty-headed. I don’t think there’s necessarily a blanket rule to follow, but there are times when it’s fair to say that you’ve heard all the arguments before, made up your mind, and don’t see any need to keep suspending judgment in case someone comes up with a brand-new idea. Atheists, for example, are frequently accused of being closed-minded to opposing arguments (something that curiously never seems to apply to religious apologists). But speaking for myself, how many times do I have to act as if I’ve never heard the ontological, cosmological or teleological arguments for God’s existence before? Wake me up when you have something besides another variation on those tired old themes. This isn’t Memento; I don’t need to treat every day as a blank slate where everything has to be learned anew, and imagination is the only limit.
And this also cuts to the heart of another issue: what do we mean when we call someone stupid or intelligent? We use those terms as if they describe something clear and easily measured, but of course, it’s never that simple. For me, the dividing line is more about attitude than anything like standardized test scores or a set of beliefs. Intelligent people are those who are capable of setting their own egos aside when arguing or studying, able to change their mind when necessary, graceful enough to keep their own identities from getting hopelessly tangled up in this or that doctrine. Stupid people are those who decide in advance what they want to believe, and only look for evidence that backs them up, while ignoring anything that suggests otherwise. Rhetorical cuttlefish, they resort to just about every logical fallacy in the book while pretending to argue in good faith, and if they do manage to get outwitted despite their efforts, they act like the kid who would overturn the table in a fit of pique when losing at a board game.
Just to make it even harder to define, though, it’s necessary to keep in mind that this line weaves through all of us. Individual people contain varying degrees of both; no one is ever simply “intelligent” or “stupid” through and through. Even mostly smart people have blind spots or emotional predilections that are unlikely to be noticed by themselves, which is why it’s always good to have people you can intelligently disagree with who might reveal them to you without the defensiveness that accompanies typical arguments getting in the way. Without them, you end up in the echo chambers.
I certainly don’t always live up to it myself, but the famous sentiment expressed by Spinoza is always a good one to keep in mind:

I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.