Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities

It's an underappreciated fact in political discourse that often the most successful points are made by telling a lot of narrative, and adding relatively little in terms of explicit commentary. Find a story that tells the main point, and just recount the story. The point gets made, but you come across as more detached. Even better, don't even tell the story, just show pictures.

In the case of leftist viewpoints, the strongest arguments are those that merely portray suffering and appeal to human compassion.

A great example is this story. It tells the story of the squalor of Harlem in New York City in the 60s. There are a few appeals to explicitly leftist agitprop about 'The Man' and such. But the essay is far more successful when the author is just showing photos of horrible living conditions and describing the people there.

It's a very powerful essay.

On the other hand, it's possible to do this equally successfully with right wing ideas too. Here, the ideal depiction is that of moral squalor - the debasement that occurs when men live for no ideal higher than themselves. The most eloquent of these is Theodore Dalrymple (read here for some great examples).

Another example was a description of Birmingham in Standpoint magazine. The author, an anonymous wife of a pastor, describes the hostility she received from the local, predominantly Muslim, population. It's far more compelling call for immigration restriction than just praising the good old days.

Both of these stories describe complete decay of the urban environment, but suggest very different ways of dealing with the problem.

Interestingly though, they both agree on the need for police to enforce the law. This is a point too often missed by the left - the main perpetrators of crime may be poor and black, but the main victims of crime are also poor and black, and there's a lot more of the latter group than the former. This of course isn't lost on someone who actually spends time around these areas, as Jakob Holdt did in the first essay.

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