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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Why I am not a conservative—but I'm considering becoming one

Culture has gone cattywampus with malarkey and balderdash.

S ixty years ago Friedrich Hayek published his famous essay ‘Why I Am Not a Conservative.’ His reason was not that there was anything particularly wrong with conservatism, but that ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are just labels that confine belief and restrict thought. H.L. Mencken summed up the idea in a single sentence (see box). And last week the former Official Hair Sniffer Joe Biden inadvertently summed D.C. up in a single word: malarkey.

I sometimes call myself a libertarian, not because I hate the evil goobermint, er I mean government, but because I dislike people telling me what to think. But I might just become a conservative if the liberals don't stop shouting, which it looks like they will never do.

H. L. Mencken on politics The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

Everyone likes to think they're nonconformist, but there's less difference between left and right than commonly supposed. On both sides the vocabulary and the range of acceptable beliefs are strictly enforced. Both sides are reactionary, which is to say liberals become more extreme because conservatives attack them and vice versa. Both sides are pro-government and they're responding entirely to incentives provided by the government.

Before anyone calls me a pettifogger spouting balderdash who belongs in the hoosegow, some of my best friends work for the government. But as they say in Europe, it needs a haircut. As an active participant in the culture wars, government is not only driving social conflict, it's creating it.

I don't want to pile on to feminism, but feminism is a good example of how incentives drive ideology. If someone claims to be a feminist, it's because they think they'll get a social reward for it. That's how the mind works. It's what psychologists call motiva­tional calculus, or would call it if they knew how the mind worked (sigh). The budding feminist may believe all that cockamamie malarkey about the patriarchy, but it's the reward system, not the malarkey, that motivates the beliefs. Their beliefs themselves are unexamined, situational, and fragile.

Feminist goals—to mandate equal pay, to demand special laws that discriminate in favor of women in violence cases, and to mandate equal outcomes in other areas—are all appeals to the government. If the government told complainers to get lost, their movement would disappear.

The same is true of other activist movements. People are demanding special privileges, which is another way of saying more money, from the government. Without government to back them up, these complaints would fall on deaf ears. No sane person would consent to using nonsense words like xir and xe; unless government forces them (as they do in Canada), people will just tell them to talk to xe hand.

The demand for special privileges then turns into a colossal food fight. I've seen people pile on to others, acting as if they hate their guts, because that person has an opinion they don't like and publicly advocates for it. This convinces the person that they are right to feel revulsion for the other side, and makes them more determined not to listen, and they get sucked into the fight.

If we want this spiral of polarization to stop, we need to start looking at how belief is rewarded. That means looking at the goobermint—er, government. (I don't know why I keep calling it that. Maybe I do kind of dislike them a little.)

What conservatives are really like

Where I work, most people are conservatives. Insult Christianity or veterans in their presence, and you'll find yourself unloved faster than if you advocated blacklisting bongs in Berkeley. But you won't get thousands of people pounding on your employer's Twitter feed demanding that they unperson you. That's what progressives do if they find out you believe a man can't be a woman or if you wonder aloud just what it is that feminists want that they don't already have.

A couple months ago I happened to be at a VA Medical Center. It's a different world. This particular VA is near a military base. C-130s and V22 Ospreys often fly overhead. There are flags everywhere. People stand for the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. The vets you encounter there are mostly old men in their 80s or 90s. Many of them have limps. Some are what neurologists call hypervigilant: when they pass somebody on the sidewalk, they turn around and watch them, as if to make sure they aren't going to toss a grenade at them or shoot them with an AK-47. Their minds and bodies have been permanently injured by what they were asked to do.

While I was there I stopped in to buy a hot dog (aka the perfect food) at the cafeteria, what the VA calls a canteen. The cashiers and all the people behind the counter call the veterans “sir” over and over, showering them with unimaginable amounts of respect for what they gave for their country.

This is the world that conservatives live in. They have a sense of honor that is admirable. And maybe this is what leftists are missing in their lives. Maybe they're not trying to create a hokey religion as everybody thinks, but a sense of honor. Of course, they have no clue about that so they will fail.

But conservatives say some strange things too. When all those old Harry Potter movies showed up on TV, conservatives snarked on them. Why? Was it because He Who Must Not Be Deadnamed kept telling everyone that his pronouns were avada and kedavra? No, it was because conservatives, or some of them, believe magic is the gateway to Satanism. They believe spirits are real and nothing to joke about. They say the same about Ouija boards. When I first heard this I almost died of embarrassment.

It just occurred to me that we don't actually know Voldemort's first name. Could be Caitlin. Caitlin Voldemort.

Where does ideology really come from?

What is ideology and where did it really come from? The standard answer for the Left is Rousseau, Marx and Marcuse, but these are merely the myths constructed to justify its beliefs. The ideology is not the ideology. It is the government (ha, I pronounced it right this time).

The specific ideas and pejoratives that people use are like the tagging that bees do to you when you run over their hive with a lawnmower. They have no objective meaning. Whenever the government says it will give out money, people will invent an ideology to justify getting it. This is why we have so many conflicting ideologies, and it's why the universities are almost completely left-wing in outlook: whether they acknowledge it or not, universities are government contractors for ideas. Whatever ideas the government wants to buy, they will produce, no questions asked. And we all know what the government wants: an excuse to become bigger.

Universities depend entirely on tax money, and the information they create is designed solely to bring in more of it. Take that away and flowers will bloom, the sun of wisdom will come out, and the winds of cliché will rake the dead leaves of conformity into the leaf bags of history. But conservatism will disappear too because it exists now only as an opponent to leftism.

As H.L. Mencken said, the populace is being menaced with an endless series of hobgoblins,* all of them imaginary. For the progressives who invent them, the myriad specific issues are meaningless. They are all subsidiary to the primary goal, which is to so overwhelm the public with imaginary problems that they will agree to a wealth tax.

If that happens, the government will have all the nation's wealth, and shortly thereafter all of us will be boiling our shoes.

The big ‘but’

People are realizing that it's impossible to build a coalition by fostering hate between blacks and whites, gays and straights, boomers and zoomers, and men and women, as the left tried to do. People have also figured out that would-be aristocrats want to eliminate the meritocratic ideals that provided equality of opportunity, and replace it with a class system. What started out as political correctness has morphed into something seriously dangerous. It must be destroyed if our political freedom is to survive.

The left-right dichotomy that existed for the past 170 years is no longer adequate as an explanation or as a defense. The old liberal/conservative malarkey is obsolete. The issue of collectivism vs individualism is being replaced by something more potentially explosive. But here's the shocker: it was the grassroots conservatives, not the academics, who figured it out.

* For some reason I always read that as hemoglobins.

dec 10 2019, 6:58 am. edited dec 11 2019, 5:11 am

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