Monday, October 12, 2009
The Incredible Pitfalls
of Attempting to
Prove the Obvious
THE KITTY-CAT PRECEDENT. I have so much personal and professional experience of this, and there's so much evidence of this on the Internet right now, that it's almost irresistibly tempting to turn this into a complicated essay that would entirely defeat the point while proving it yet again through another over-intellectualized example.
But there are a few points worth making that suggest the need for paragraphs rather than bumper stickers. I'll try to keep the paragraphs short.
As a manager in a marketing organization, I once (well, repeatedly) tried to convince my senior company executives that the market wasn't looking for excuses to indulge an automatic preference for products that bore our logo rather than that of our competitors. The market was looking for the best, cheapest, and safest investment of resources, period. I failed. The point was too obvious. They couldn't see past their own irrational loyalty to the entity that provided their living and personal identities. So they couldn't be dissuaded from charging a premium for a (yes, clearly superior) product the market regarded as far riskier and harder to justify than the one offered by their much (much) larger competitor with infinitely supeior brand name identity. Their idea of business was making a proft on every unit sold. If this idea cost them the market itself, then it was the market that had to be wrong.
The company I'm talking about is NCR, makers of the most successful cash register in manufacturing history. For a couple of decades they competed successfully in retail and banking automation as a computer company. But they were never a computer company. They were always a cash register company. Never about software and service breakthroughs; always about manufactured hardware margins. AT&T bought them in the belief they were a computer company and discovered they were, sadly, just a cash register company. Today, they survive -- having been spat out by AT&T in one of the most humiliating dis-acquisitions ever -- as an ATM company. Meaning they're still basically a manufacturer of the cash registers of the 21st century.
Does this matter and, if it does, why does it matter? Because every particular perspective on the world closes off other perspectives. It's not a matter of intelligence per se; it's a matter of the universe people choose to live in, which is usually a function of how they were brought up to regard the world itself.
The big news. You pick the world you live in. And after you've picked, it's very difficult to see the worlds other people live in, even if most people are living in a world vastly different from your own.
This is the source of the divide between conservatives and liberals, and even the divide between conservative "intellectuals" and conservative people in the country at large.What world are they living in?
Liberals are living in a world that has to be fixed, at once, by their own superior intellect and secular morality.Their belief in government answers is a manifestation of their own superiority complex; they, and some others, know what it takes to make everyone's life better, more equitable, more pain-free. That's why the only liberties they're concerned with are the liberties of the weak, the failed, the reviled, the lost, the listless, the aggrieved, and the vengeful to exact a price from everyone else. In the ideal society, everything should be great for everyone. If this isn't the case, the scales must be readjusted, no matter who else gets hurt.
Conservatives have a different view. They believe that life itself is a kind of market, that those who work the hardest and demand the most of themselves obtain the sweetest fruits. They believe that people who prosper in this fashion, untrammelled by interfering authorities, are also the most personally productive, far-seeing, generous, forgiving, and charitable towards those who are weak, failed, etc. (This is also synonymous with the view that capitalism is also fundamentally christian.) Their politics are notably simple. Government leads to bureaucrats. Bureaucrats lead to inhumane rules and illogical costs and penalties. Therefore: keep government from interfering in people's lives wherever and whenever possible.
Well. Most conservatives have that view. There are notable exceptions. In every population, the smartest are the most dangerous. They intellectualize topics others regard as obvious and even instinctive. Like opposing increased government control of the lives of average citizens. The average citizen says, with admirable aplomb, don't do it. Don't seek to control my life. The intellectual says, by golly, I can build the argument for why not.
That's where Bill Buckley came from. When it looked as if the the smart people had crated an inescapable argument for why the smart people should be in charge of the rest of us, he became necessary. An intellectual who could articulate complex arguments to counter the complex arguments of those who wanted the government to be in charge of everyone.
But that was always a ruse. It was just a matter of being taking seriously. When the intellectuals controlled all the communication venues, it became momentarily important to have an intellectual saying, "No, we can counter your intellectual superiority with intellectual objections of our own."
Which created a cottage industry of conservative intellectuals whose job it was to prove that all the idiotic assertions, positions, and notions of the liberals could be debated on their own terms -- and therefore had to be taken seriously -- even though the people who were actually making the country work never took their ideas seriously.
The Truth? Liberals were always a little in love with Marx, his rational model of how society worked and how it could be made better by the intellectual horsepower of the wise. This romance led them to awful dalliances and incredibly convoluted social engineering schemes. Meanwhile, the people who were living their lives outside of universities and labor unions just wanted to live their lives. Their conservativism was not an esthetic or philosophical formulation; it was a simple desire to be free, which does not have to be articulated as a contemporary restatement of the Constitution. All it has to do is accept the bald bias of the Constitution toward regarding government as the most dangerous evil in life.
You see, American conservatism is not as anti-intellectual as the Frums and Noonans insist. It's a-intellectual.. Meaning leave us alone or "Get off my lawn."
If we want to be intellectual, we'll talk about Shakespeare, Mozart, Dante, and Twain, not how much government we're prepared to accept in our daily lives.
I've withstood the temptation to quote people here and there in support of my beliefs. But I'm going to end with some links designed to make you think. For example, here's David Mamet confessing that he's done being a liberal, except that he thinks he's making a move toward a kind of pessimism about the human condition, which is ludicrous.
And here's conservative luminary Stephen Hayward, who we were of a mind to fisk (politely) for his patronizing defense of Glenn Beck, but instead we're only going to remind you that people who spend most of their lives in Washington, DC, are prisoners of their own devise.
Washington, DC, is the worst trap any conservative will ever face. It suggests, shouts, screams that it's the whole country, that what it believes or decides is somehow the will of the nation.
It isn't. People who spend too much time there fall prey to the worst fallacy of all -- that it's the mission of liberals to save people from themselves and of conservatives to refute in objective detail the sorriest arguments of the liberals in infinite detail. It isn't. All that marble. All that architectural grandeur. Everyone who lives there comes to believe that DC really is the whole country... or all of it that matters. Especially given how much smarter they are than everyone else. Because they live in a world of marble and immanent power. The FBI. The IRS. The Supreme Court. The White House. They think it outweighs Texas, Iowa, and Montana. Except that it's all a lie. Washington only thinks it's the nation. The nation is the nation, a place a million times more potent than the self-important capitol.
CONSERVATIVES DON'T NEED TO BE INTELLECTUAL GIANTS. They just have to know that the liberals are obviously, utterly, unbelievably wrong about key points. Namely, that the government has ever been efficient about anything that isn't cost-no-object and related to national security.
Everything else they've ever touched they've made more expensive, more inefficient, and more destructive of individual achievement. Everything. What makes us think they can fix health care, regardless of what the CBO says? What? Why shouldn't we all be running like hell for the exits when it comes to health care? Oh. Most of us are.
That's the ultimate "proving the obvious" point. The government always makes things worse when it intervenes in our lives. We all know that in our bones. Always have. If you take that as an invitation to debate Global Warming, think twice and three times. We can't wait to clean your clock on that one.
And as to conservative intellectuals... there's no need for chess players. The basic points don't require you to feel like you're Roman tribunes standing up for the abused plebeians. You don't even need to be as much smarter than we are as you compusively think you do. We never neeeded Buckley to utter our creed. We needed him only for the one thing he was good at -- being snootier and snottier than the Massachusetts libs.
Never EVER needed all the Thesaurus-based stuttering. After all, Yale isn't Oxford and the "uh, uh, uh, uh" prelude to a polysyllabic Greek root doesn't fucking matter in Ohio or even New Jersey. Still, you found it necessary to take seriously idiots like Galbraith, Chomsky, and Greenfield. Argue the niceties. Politely. What a crock.
All we know and ever needed to know: 1) Government is too big; 2) Liberals want government to keep getting bigger; and 3) Get off our lawn. That's how simple it really is. A lot of us never liked your politesse with the clowns who always, explicitly, wanted to rule us.
Just for fun and to show you we bear no ill will to Stephen Hayward... except maybe he reminds us of someone he shouldn't:
Stephen Hayward and Robert Benchley
Not the same guy... Almost certainly.
I mean, who are these luminaries -- like Larry Summers and Ted Geithner -- who keep explaining away what they've done to the economy? We should believe, accept, and listen to what they have to say... why? Because at least one of them is associated with Harvard? Well, so was a much abler man named, uh, Robert...
The conservative position -- the real conservative position -- doesn't have to be about much more than saying "no." All government sucks. Why do any of us need a Ph.D. in that subject to be taken seriously? The obvious?
A L L G O V E R N M E N T I N T E R V E N T I O N S S U C K.
Could anything be more obvious?