Reflexive Contrarianism: A Dangerous Ideology On The Rise

Written By Daniel Bordman, Posted on December 27, 2022

A healthy dose of skepticism is a good thing, but there is a very good reason that the phrase includes the word “healthy” in it. There is a very big difference between being a skeptic or free thinker and a reflexive contrarian, in fact, they are antithetical to each other. Ironically, the latter will always define themselves as the former.

I use the term “Reflexive Contrarianism” to describe the phenomenon of people instantly taking the opposite position to the ones presented by their political or ideological opponents. Unfortunately, this is a mind virus that infects people of all political parties so you will be unable to share this article to easily own the Libs or dunk on the MAGA crowd. 

The most predominant iteration of reflexive contrarianism on the political Left was during the Trump years. Many people remember the phrase Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) which referred to people who lost all critical thinking capacity and their sole drive was just to oppose Trump at all cost. 

Famous Trump Inauguration “Nooooo” lady.

Now, in the name of nuance, many things can be true at once. TDS can be a real mental condition, not all criticism of Trump was because of TDS, there were valid reasons to criticize Trump, as there were valid reasons to like Trump. There was even an inverse version of TDS I called “Trump Adoration Disorder” that describes people who loved everything Trump did unconditionally, even if Trump was contradicting what he had said or done previously. 

The most stunning and high-level display of reflexive contrarianism I have seen came from Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in 2019 during the uprising of the Iranian people against the Islamic Republic. Many Iranians remember this time period as “Bloody November” where the security forces killed thousands for peacefully protesting, 1500 within a span of just 3 days. This is no secret, when a reporter asked an IRGC commander why they were shooting protesters in the head, he responded by saying that they were also shooting them in the legs. 

In response to this barbarity from the Islamic Republic, the Trump administration moved to condemn the regime. This was blocked by Nancy Pelosi and the majority of Democrats. Their hatred of Trump forced them to support mass murder and maiming of innocent people at the hands of a theocratic terrorist regime.

(Photo from CNN)

As I said, the political Right is not immune to this either. The recent invasion of Ukraine forced many people to instantly flip-flop on their foreign policy ideals. I say the recent invasion because back in 2014 Russia invaded Ukraine to annex Crimea. Many conservatives are skeptical of mainstream media for reasons like their downplaying of the failures of the Obama administration and outright ignoring the fact that Barack Obama was caught on a hot mic promising leniency to Dimitri Medvedev, giving Russia the green light to invade Crimea if they didn’t give Obama too much trouble during his 2012 reelection campaign. 

However, times have progressed and for whatever reason, the mainstream media is now hawkish on Russia. To me this is a good thing, I am glad that institutions I usually disagree with are putting out ideas that I agree with. Many people unfortunately do not share my perspective.

While it may be true that there was a group of people that could not find Ukraine on a map in January 2022 that became pro-Ukraine fanatics in February 2022, there are an equal or greater number of people who instantly became Russian apologists because they don’t trust the media or liberal politicians. Whether it be nonsense about biolabs, as if Ukraine was on the verge of releasing a chemical weapon or pathogen into a more powerful neighbouring country, hyperbolizing any amount of corruption in Ukraine, or screeching about Russia not wanting a NATO country on their border, despite multiple NATO countries already on their border the Right’s defence of Russia is equally as insane from a moral and intellectual standpoint of the left’s defence of the Iranian regime.

To indicate just how widespread the problem of reflexive contrarianism is, I have heard accusations on Twitter Spaces that anyone who backs Ukraine “cannot be considered a real conservative”. Just think on that for a minute, how far have we come that people would be comfortable putting out the opinion that opposing Russian aggression is no longer conservative? If your definition of conservatism excludes Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher you just might need a new definition.

Ronald Regan’s Berlin Wall speech.

I am a strong believer in the notion of individuality and challenging authority. Skepticism of media outlets, politicians and professed “experts” can be a good thing, like knowing Fox News leans Right, CNN leans Left, and Russia Today is controlled by the Russian Government. The difference is between cutting through the bias to see the spin on the truth and throwing the truth out along with the spin. It also helps to know a thing or two about a subject before you are comfortable wading into partisan debates. 

It is more than that though, to define ourselves in terms of our opposition is self-destructive. First, you give control of yourself to the very entities to which you claim to oppose. Second, you make yourself vulnerable to malicious external actors who will prey on you with confirmation bias-affirming propaganda. Finally, reflexive contrarianism leads down a very dark path to a society filled with only enemies and allies. Those who disagree with you are either stupid, corrupted, or outright duplicitous, making any type of social cohesion nearly impossible.

Our society is getting more and more polarized by the day, and we live in a world in which you can find “evidence” to support any position you want on any particular issue. Going further into the comfort of our respective echo chambers may seem comforting in the short term, but the eventual backlash when the comfort of the echo chambers is threatened is a danger to us all. As Dr. Jordan Peterson outlined in this 9th rule in 12 Rules for Life: Listen to other people thoughtfully, you might learn something.

Daniel Bordman

Daniel is the host of political satire show Uninterrupted, runs multiple podcasts and has written for a variety of publications. Daniel is also the communications coordinator of the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation. You can find him on Twitter here. Uninterrupted on YouTube

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