Thursday, September 03, 2009

Getting Down to Basics

FEEDING TIME. I've got a grab bag of references I'll share with you before I make any points. Big hat tip to the National Review for the first four.

From Yuval Levin:

There has been a peculiar strand of commentary on Obama (from David Brooks, Jon Meacham, and a few others) describing the president as a “Burkean,” apparently for his understanding of, as that New Republic piece put it, “complexity and the organic nature of change.” I think this is downright bizarre.

A certain kind of progressivism and a certain kind of conservatism have long both claimed to possess a deep understanding of the “complexity” of society. The American progressives of the early 20th century (and here I tread on Jonah’s turf and he can surely correct me) insisted that traditionalism might have been suited to an earlier simpler time when the lives of individuals and communities were contained in their narrow circles, but now in modern times our lives were shaped by massive social forces that must be understood by social scientists and marshaled by policy experts who command the whole and understand its full complexity.

But the conservatism of prescription and practice, the conservatism of Burke, had never taken life to be simple. It argued against radical liberalism — and against ways of thinking we now call progressive — in just the terms the Left would later use against the Right: that their worldview was simplistic and naïve, and ignored the inescapable complexity of human things.

So there are left-leaning and right-leaning strands of students of complexity. But they have in mind quite different things. For the Progressives, the world is too complex to be understood in human terms — in terms of sentiment, experience, honor, habit, and piety. For the Burkeans, the world is complex precisely in those human terms, and is too complex to be understood in abstract rational terms — in objective, theoretical, scientific, detached, specialized terms. In this sense the Burkeans have an organic idea of politics, while the progressives have more of a scientific view of politics.

From Mark Steyn:

Paneled to Death

From the Daily Telegraph:

Patients with terminal illnesses are being made to die prematurely under an NHS scheme to help end their lives, leading doctors warn today.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, a group of experts who care for the terminally ill claim that some patients are being wrongly judged as close to death.

Under NHS guidance introduced across England to help doctors and medical staff deal with dying patients, they can then have fluid and drugs withdrawn and many are put on continuous sedation until they pass away.

Sarah Palin got it right on the "death panel" business, and finnicky conservative critics missed the point: Governmentalization of health care leads to rationing, and rationing leads to death panels — very literally.

From Mark Krikorian:

Smash the Shower-Head Enemies!

...The bathroom is getting to be a pretty depressing place. First low-flow toilets, then shower heads, and now light bulbs. Next, the greens will want to ban tubs in new home construction for using too much water and push for legal limits on how hot your shower can be. Sound ridiculous? Think again. This kind of thing really highlights the distinction between traditionalist conservationism and watermelon environmentalism (green on the outside, red on the inside).

From Iain Murray:

Re: Smash the Showerheads

A correspondent points out that life imitates Seinfeld.

More generally, Mark is of course correct. We are entering a time when the state will have a say on everything you do in every room in the house, for your own benefit or some greater good, of course. Those who naïvely think that this form of state will stop at the bedroom door have another thing coming.

All right. Now me. From a high-flown philosophical argument -- "In modern times our lives were shaped by massive social forces that must be understood by social scientists and marshaled by policy experts who command the whole and understand its full complexity" -- to death panels and thence to showerheads... what's the unifying thread for us ordinary citizens?

The real policy debate that's underway in Washington right now is not nearly as complicated as the beltway pundits make it seem. The Obama-Democrat agenda is not about healthcare or environmentalism or the economy or even social justice. It's about transforming the American people into cattle, tagged and penned and used and finally harvested like the domesticated (but dangerous) dumb animals they think we are. And it's also the reason for the growing split between elite inside-the-beltway conservatives and what they clearly regard as neanderthal reactionaries in the benighted regions that live in the other 99 percent of the nation's geography. The dirty secret is that they basically agree with the progressive social engineers; they just don't want the necessary animal husbandry regime to be quite so nakedly obvious. They want bigger pastures for us to graze in and smaller, less painful tags stapled to our ears. Maybe then we'll still think we're free. The vision of the government as scientific farmer, though, is the same.

That's why everyone involved -- from politicians to the media to the pundit class -- think they can get what they want by complicating and confusing and drawing out the various legislative processes until our sad little attention spans are exhausted and our anguished moos will subside into silent acceptance. They really think they are the sophisticated ones and we are the dolts. Which is their fatal mistake.

The truth is, if we would but realize it, we are the sophisticated ones. We are the inveterate consumers of government bureaucracy, while they are merely the perpetrators of it, slipping all the inconvenient rules themselves while they tighten their grip on the rest of us. We know what it's like to be in the pen of the DMV, feel the pinch of tags attached by the Social Security administration, medicare, and the IRS, not to mention zoning boards, building codes, CAFE regulations, property tax assessors, seat-belt and child-seat laws, child welfare agencies, and pissing in a cup to get a job. We know what life is getting to be like in the shrinking barn, where their science is invading even our most private bodily functions, to the point where we can't even flush away our own excrement without the government's hand on the toilet handle. The only free, private place left in this country is the interior of a woman's uterus, which when it comes to our own juvenile daughters, represents yet another invasion by the godlike farmer in charge of the herd.

They are going to try to baffle us with bullshit in the next few months. We'll be lectured and propagandized not to give in to feelings of paranoia, especially by the great intellects on our own side, because nothing nefarious is really afoot, and our own raging gut instincts are all wrong, ignorant, and laughable.

Here's how you survive the con job, which is all an exercise in herding. Focus on the picture up top. That's who they think we are. But it's not who we are. We're the productive members of the most remarkable species yet known in the entire universe. We are not cattle. We have done nothing to deserve this vicious attempt to turn us into farm animals. They have no right to legislate away the highs and lows of human experience, which are far beyond their poor powers of perception to comprehend, let alone sit in judgment of. We are in the right. They are the criminals. And absolutely everything they are proposing now is designed to lead us into a slaughter pen from which there is no escape.

I'll leave you with two additional references you can make of what you will. The first is not what I was looking for. I went searching for a passage in Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye in which the detective Marlowe explains to a tortured writer what life would be like if he got off the booze. I couldn't find it so I can only approximate: fewer, duller colors, lower highs, higher lows, a life more pallid but with fewer disasters. In a sense, that's the progressive dream of the well intended among the totalitarians, but the life they offer boils down in the final analysis to shades of gray that are drained of joy as well as tragedy. And it's a promise they can't deliver on. Because we are not statistics. We are people.

What's a statistic? In the current paradigm, it's a demographic that can be studied, and reduced to indistinguishable units, by federally funded surveys purporting to give us meaningful information about parts of the herd. Example? How about blondes? You've heard all the jokes. The last somewhat racial group we're all still allowed to jam into a tiny box of presumptuously stereotypical ridicule (forgetting that we're all being thrown into a similar box we're not supposed to notice). Well, here's what I found instead of the quote I was looking for. Draw your own lessons and conclusions. Since you're human I feel you can do that without a government manual:

"There are blonde and blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays. All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blonde as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very, very tired when you take her home. She makes that helpless gesture and has that goddamned headache and you would like to slug her except that you found about the headache before you invested too much time and money and hope in her. Because the headache will always be there, a weapon that never wears out and is as deadly as the bravo’s rapier or Lucrezia’s poison vial.

There is the soft and willing alcoholic blonde who doesn’t care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Roof and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pale and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She's very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading the Wasteland or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provencal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindesmith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.

And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap d’Antibes, an Alfa Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absentmindedness of an elderly duke saying good night to his butler."

— Raymond Chandler (The Long Goodbye)

Too abstract? Too literary? Too dated? Here's a YouTube video (h/t Brizoni) that makes exactly the same point in altogether other terms:

There's no need for any "ending." Unless we file blindly or obediently into the pen they are planning for us.

(uh, Don't be asking me to explain the connection between Chandler and Clarkson. I have more faith in you than that.)

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