Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Billy Refines the
IP ADVANTAGE. It's great when readers get fired up enough to post
an essay in the Comments section. Billy Oblivion took exception to my
post about "Proving
the Obvious." Here's what he had to say. (The indented sections in
quotes are citations from the original post.)
And now for YOU, Mr. LocoPunk.
"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."
Most people *do not* pick the world they live in, they don't pick their perspective. They either take the one that their youth defines, or one that is useful to them in early adulthood (aka "college" these days). You could argue that accepting this default is still a choice, and I could not bring a strong argument to bear other than "pick" is active, and most people are not at all active in their selection.
This was, in part, the goal of a (true) Liberal Education, the understanding and learning that there are multiple perspectives, and many of them are "right" for the questions they seek to answer. Most however are myopic and delusional and only answer the question "how is it not my fault".
I would also strongly argue your definition of "liberals" (I do NOT think that we should surrender this word to the Progressives. I think we need to take it back) and "Conservatives". A true conservative (Burke) isn't really all that concerned about the hows and whys of the market or how people develop perspectives. That contemporary "conservatives" do suggests that they are much more Smith/Locke influenced liberals who desire to nail down the status quo in a time of relative freedom from state interference.
Conservatives are inherently reactionary--we tend to view society as a complex thing that needs care and a thing which cannot be safely changed rapidly. We tend to have a preference for the status quo, or for the past. We tend to view "new" with a bit of concern. Contemporary Conservatives (other than those who make their living off the government and even then some) tend to believe that Government is problematic almost to the point of illegitimacy, thus, other than evangelicals, we don't WANT to force our worldview (aka "perspective") on others, other than our children.
What some of us do develop--intentionally in some cases, is the ability to use a non-default perspective. This can be useful for analytical purposes.
"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."
Yes we do need them. Because Conservatism is NOT an ideology, it does not do battle with Liberalism, with Progressivism and its various splinter factions (fascism/corporatism, socialism/communism, communitarianism etc.) or with other big 'isms.' Much of what is ascribed to "Conservative" ideals would cause Edmund Burke to choke.
We need Intellectual Giants to continually go forth and pick apart the idiocy of left in ways that the pseudo-intelligentsia understand. We need someone who can turn their obfuscation against them, call them on their abuse of language (such as assuming the mantle of liberalism) (watch for an upcoming metalkort rant).
We have solved most of the simple and easy problems in the world. We *can* feed the world, no one goes to bed starving because of crop failures. Most of the "modern" world finds female circumcision and chattel slavery to be abhorent, and there are movments in the developing world along these lines.
Now we're on to the hard stuff, the stuff of deep complexity that can further the Enlightenment or destroy it.
Reconciling Christianity and Science, a process that has been going on since Copernicus, needs continual upgrading. Someone has to get in Dick Dawkins's face from time to time and let him have it.
Progressives, who are "our" main intellectual opponents (the militant Mohammedans are also opponents, but theirs is not an opposition that can be beaten intellectually except in their influence on Progressives and the more deluded Liberals) will not give up. They fundamentally disbelieve everything we believe in.
The problem is that MOST people, even those who claim to be conservatives, aren't conservatives. They are reactionaries only, without grounding principles or guiding philosophies, they simply want tomorrow to be like today.
Conservatism DOES require some intellectual capacity, and most people just don't want to devote what capacity they have to politics and social matters. They want do Fantasy Baseball, or go to the range and talk guns and hunting and dogs. Or old cars, or new cars, or whatever they enjoy.
And this is fine and proper if you don't vote. If you do vote, you need to at least bring some of whatever intellect you have left to bear for a couple weeks before the election; then you can stick your head back in the sand and let the rest of us cover you.
But we need the Intellectual Giants, or at least those [who are] intellectual strong and combative because the world doesn't break down more-or-less-evenly between the Progressives and the Conservatives. Especially since Progressivism is an ideology and Conservatism isn't. We need to do battle with those twits because there is a vast and mushy middle ground of people who can be swayed one way or the other, who CAN be swayed by arguments like, "The world has gotten too complex" and "The World Is Getting Warmer."
The first argument is true--the world HAS gotten more complex, but that is NOT an argument for more government, but an argument for LESS government. Government, ultimately, forces a one-size-fits-all solution on us. Maybe they'll be nice and give us 4 or 10 sizes. But it will NEVER fit right, and if you're a narrow or a wide your feet will ALWAYS hurt.
To put this in the context of WAAN's post [see Comments on original post], in a Conservative World if you want to get married, you marry a Person of the OPPOSITE sex. What you do in the bedroom, or the living room, or the spa is up to you, as long as everyone is a consenting adult. Don't do it where you can scare the horses and we don't really give a shit. And don't do it to those too young to give informed consent lest we kill you.
In the Progressive World, once the Experts decide that your lifestyle is unhealthy, they're going to come into your bedroom, living room, that little play room in the basement with the paddles and the whips and the lifelike silicon toys and MAKE you behave responsibly. No more riding bareback and bug hunting for YOU. Water sports? As a Conservative I just don't want to know. No, seriously -- LALALALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU. But as soon as the Experts decide it's dangerous it's OVER.
It wasn't conservatives that banned smoking in rental buildings in Belmont, California. It wasn't Conservatives that banned transfats (although they are a bad idea). It may be Conservatives (at least nominally) that often seek to ban or shut down sex stores, but we're not perfect.
Anyway, yes we all SHOULD tell them, "Get
off my lawn," but sometimes you need to bring a little more to the
I don't disagree with most of this. His characterization of
InstaPunk's opinion of him is flat wrong, however. (Look through the
site comments -- I'm too busy to do it for you -- to find the one
sometime back in which IP outed him as a smart and well educated man
who should drop the "aw shucks" routine he's using again here...) The
rest of it I'll buy with a few nitpicks regarding what I was saying and why.
I said, "Conservatives don't need to be intellectual giants." They
don't. The elite conservative braintrust, though, is arguing either
that they ought to be intellectuals or at least content to let the
intellectuals make all the big political decisions for them. I'm saying that in most
cases, and all the really big cases, the obvious answers are the right
ones. Hideously complicated solutions mostly don't work, and government
solutions are usually hideously complicated products of committee
compromises rather than common sense. In this context, I think Billy
overstates the rigidity and ignorance of what he seems to deride as a
'reactionary' mindset. For example, even so-called reactionaries can
accept change that's designed to correct a clear wrong they can
understand in terms of fundamental human decency. The eventual peaceful
success of the civil rights movement proves that. At the same time,
they're a natural and useful brake on all kinds of change for the sake
of change. Change that really is necessary will make itself known
through, uh, necessity.
I have no problem whatever with the kind of intellectual combat
Billy describes as valuable and important. Otherwise, InstaPunk itself
wouldn't exist. We wouldn't contend with Dawkins's
excesses the way we do or seek to delineate the anti-liberal
roots of the newest breed of progressives. But the most important
role of "conservative intellectuals" is not to lecture the base
about their inadequacies or "bring them up to speed" on what all the
smart people are thinking and talking about now. It's to say, "Trust
your instincts, the arrogant others are not unchallengeably right
because they say they are, and if you're that tuned in and vitally
interested, we can give you additional ammunition, maybe even some
interesting new ideas to think about."
There's also a bottom line point that needs to be made here.
'Intellectual' is not a synonym for 'smart.' Conservatives do need to be smart, alert, and
vigilant. They just don't need to know who Edmund Burke was. Yeah, he's
historically important and educational and all, but I don't really need
to be conversant with Burke to know that the current healthcare bill is
a clusterfuck of staggeringly sinister proportions.
As I said, intellectual is not a synonym for smart. But the
conservative elites are, disingenuously or not, suggesting that it is.
That's the basis of their attacks on Sarah Palin. She didn't go to one
of the elite schools so she's obviously not qualified to run for high
office. And it's not true that we have to accept gigantic federal
impositions on our lives because all the momentum has been in that
direction for close to a century. That's the nature of the bullying
this post was intended to deter. But we're also on record here as
saying that Palin
is not presently qualified to run for high office because she needs
to learn a great deal more about the issues and the way the country and
the world work. But there's no reason she can't learn it just because
her formal education probably didn't include all the names Billy drops
in his rebuttal. And if she can
learn it (still in doubt), there's every chance she'd make a better
chief executive than an intellectual. She'll be able to make hard,
clear decisions without all the paralysis through analysis that the
"multiple perpectives" of the eternally thoughtful tend to result in. I
don't think Billy would disagree.
Which is why I suspect Billy of being a "two hat" man. In real life
he's almost certainly a smart, decisive, no-nonsense action guy. In the
Comments section at InstaPunk, he's a "Let's look at all sides
before we jump to conclusions" sort of fellow. Sherlock and Mycroft by turns, depending.
We're onto you, Billy. Which is a good thing. Keep those comments coming. Even the slander's fine. But it doesn't really fool us. Mister Oblivion. :)
An afterthought. Billy went to great lengths to address commenter
Waan's points and examples. He did a good job of that. Except that most
of his (necessarily) tedious arguments boil down to the difference
between utopian good intentions and the unintended consequences of
government overreach. Which is the heart and soul of MY point. He
correctly identified the fact that our national security expenditures
and policies aren't always efficient even when they're ultitmately
effective. The point is not that government is great at cost-no-object
requirements, only that they're the only ones who can finance and
administer the degree of inefficiency necessary to be effective when
failure isn't an option. Which it isn't when the life of the nation is
And Waan himself is a beautiful example of why I wrote the post. He
was at pains to point out that he disagrees with the result of many
government interventions. He's maybe even not a big government guy at
heart. It's just that he's never bothered to imagine what the
alternative might be, that people can work things out for themselves at
a local level far better than lofty experts can. Which, incidentally,
is why I termed Mamet's 'pessimism' ludicrous. The specific examples
Mamet cited weren't based on the assumption that people are bad. To the
contrary. The one closest to his own experience was the difference
between a play with a director and a play without a director. He came
down on the side of the play without
a director. That's an argument for fundamental human virtue. That he
insists on seeing his 'conversion' in a light negative with regard to
human virtue is simply the persistence of dark vision. He's a dark man.
Esthetically, it assists his conversion to view it as a recognition of
greater darkness than his abandoned 'liberalism.' But everything he
says apart from his airy generalizations supports a kind of dawning of
light. Left alone, people work things out, despite their self-interest
and personal fears. Authoritarian interference, however well
intentioned, tends to make things worse. How is that not an affirmation of basic human
But Waan is at pains to repeat the obligatory and widely accepted
'liberal' contention that men are essentially evil and need to be
controlled by, uh, who? The makers of fire code regulations and
schoolmarmish education bureaucrats. Because the alternative would be
ever so much more catastrophic.
Billy himself is somewhere in between Waan's position and mine. Which is why he allows himself to get sucked into the briar patch of Waan's oh-so-tempting bureaucratic examples. Read the exchange. Watch what happens there. Instant descent into bureaucratic definitions of who was in charge of what, when, and why the whole thing went south or didn't but seemed to.
My position is no Pollyanna vision of sweetness and light. People are flawed. They have venal desires, selfish agendas, and bad (very bad) thoughts. But they also, in aggregate, have a truly surprising sense of decency, fairness, and virtue, even if it's, at times, only the desire to be seen as virtuous. This perception is not strictly my imagination. It's an inevitable inference from the history of human civilizations, which have moved gradually, with various awful exceptions, toward a social contract that has become more open and tolerant and forgiving and mindful of individual rights than any history of specific governments could take credit for in place of the basic dispositions of the human spirit. It is governments which have repeatedly failed in properly reflecting the desires of human beings, not that governments have, through the force of their intellectual wisdom, dragged people toward new and improved conceptions of justice.
Take a look at history, if you know any. Governments are almost uniformly stupid, self-destructive, and obsessed with petty but malignant ambitions for power. It's people through the aeons who have come to believe in themselves and one another enough to overthrow tyrannies and push the bureaucrats in the direction of human rights rather than government perquisites.
The United States of America represents the first full flowering of that victory of the people over their government. The belief in limited government is by no means a surrender to cynicism about human nature. It's the ultimate affirmation.
And, I submit, any presumptive 'intellectual' who can't see that fact and understand what side he should be on is an idiot, regardless of how many books he's read and how many degrees he has.
Yes, I'm saying what you think I'm saying. It's entirely possible to be an acclaimed intellectual and a fucking idiot.
UPDATE 2. And now the esteemed Peregrine John weighs in. (Maybe the rest of you should too.) He also favors Billy's take over mine. That's what makes a horse race -- or a damned good discussion. PJ says:
Bloody hell. If that's the result of misunderstanding the post, here's to misunderstanding!
My take on things is most similar to Billy's, since as a denizen of Kalifornia, I am hourly surrounded by draconian law motivated by good intentions (c.f. Lewis' essay on tyranny sincerely exercised) and supported by the most amazing collection of self-impressed rubes and lemmings to ever grace this golden land.
I should point out, though, that many or most people consider conservatism (with or without capitalization) to be an ideology, including most whose definition otherwise matches Billy's. But then, how many have read Burke, or for that matter, Paine? Outside of the intellectual conservatives, that is? Oh, the round of irony and paradox this produces; but it all boils down to using the right tool for the right job. As LP and Billy both suggest, you've got to untangle and discredit lies at their root and encourage the use of flat common sense.
That's a wordy version of the even more damnable, "Yeah, I agree," but this topic is one that affects us in the Blue Zone on a daily basis, where the reeducation of the masses has derailed common sense to the point where accepting that 2+2=4 makes one suspect. The end goals of the new progressives are dangerously close to being realized, here, and it is dangerous to even question the basic assumptions.
Good lord, do I have a lot of catch-up reading to do. Loco's been out throwing delicious bombs, I see.That's what we do here, Peregrine John. What do the rest of you think?