If one debates collectivists for any period of time, one will soon find that projection is the most common defense mechanism of all for those folks. All collectivists seem to use projection in copious quantities, and the vast majority of their arguments include some form of projection. Being ready to deal with projection is therefore an essential tool of the individualist debater.
So what is it? Basically, projection is a process by which your opponent pins on your position flaws which in fact are more applicable to his. Simple examples of projection may include:
(1) “Atheists are relativists and reject moral standards because they are ashamed of their sins.”
(2) “Anarchists want to live in a society where criminals can act in all impunity.”
It is easy to see that, in both cases, the believer is taking flaws of his own position and accusing you of them. In (1), it is the Christian, by following a moral doctrine that is wholly a cultural construct (as a religion) and purely subjective (as divine edicts), who is a relativist and rejects moral standards. But he wants to portray himself as a moral absolutist and portray the atheist as a relativist. If you do not recognize the projection, it distracts you from looking at his beliefs, and forces you to defend your own position.
In (2), the statist tries to portray the Anarchist as supporting criminality, when in fact it is the statist (through Special Pleading, which I will discuss in the next entry) who supports criminals acting in all impunity. He is ready to defend the extortions, thefts and murders of the State at the drop of a hat, as well as defend a ridiculous “justice system” which has very little to do with justice and creates more crime. But by accusing you of this desire, he takes people’s minds off the problems of his own position, forcing you to defend yourself in everyone’s eyes. Now you are the bad guy.
The effective response to any projection is not to assume a defensive position, but rather to restore the equilibrium of the discussion by pointing out the projection. Thus, the debate now moves to “which side really has this flaw” instead of “can the non-believer get out of this one.”
Why is projection endemic? My opinion is, because it’s the most effective way of arguing that exists. In one fell swoop, you can not only divert the attention to your opponent, but you hide the flaws in your own position. After all, people would be less likely to examine your position for the flaw that your opponent is suspected of harbouring!
When someone argues against your position (as opposed to arguing for his position), always check for projections and deal with them accordingly.
Here are two more examples:
(3) “Anarchy would just degenerate into one big monopoly what would rule over all of us like tyrants.”
This is perhaps the most direct example of projection one can find, since that’s what statism already is! The State is “one big monopoly what rules over all of us like tyrants.” So to attribute this to Anarchy is rather disingenuous. An Anarchist caught unaware might try to get into an economic discussion of monopolies and how they arise, but one aware of projections could easily make the statist look ridiculous at this juncture.
(4) “Atheists are very cynical and refuse to believe in anything. Because of this, they will never find the truth.”
This is a trickier case, but if you keep in mind the maxim “I contend that we are both atheists, I just believe in one less god than you do,” you can see that the atheists and the Christians are equally as “cynical” (if we accept the premise of the argument). Both reject the rich belief systems of hundreds and hundreds of past and present gods. But the atheist, at least, appears more principled than the Christian. Why should one reject hundreds and hundreds of gods, only to adopt a single one of all these to believe in?
As such, the atheist can point out that they are both as cynical, but that at least he does seek the truth, unlike the Christian, who merely seeks something to believe in.