Friday, December 31, 2010

The Wasteland

2010 ended with a bang, intellectually speaking.  Coleman McCarthy shrieked that ROTC on campus would undermine intellectual purity, and Ezra Kline said that nobody could possibly understand the Constitution because it was written a hundred years ago.  Or 200.  Or something.

For double-plus extra crazy style points, one of Insty's commenters offers a 2500 year old quote from Thucydides back at McCarthy: The state that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.  Since this is more than 100 years old, can someone please explain this to Ezra?

It's easy to snark at the idiocy on display from the Chattering Class, but this springs from a particular source, and logically leads to a particular destination.  The source is, frankly, poisoned and the destination a wasteland.  Literally.

Peter Berkowitz looks at the political philosophy of the progressive left, and offers a summation that will surprise nobody:

But progressivism went astray owing to a defect in its basic orientation. It rejected the sound principles of government embodied in the Constitution, because of a critical difference of opinion about human nature. Progressives believed that great improvements in the moral character of humanity and in the scientific understanding of society had rendered the Constitution’s scheme of checks and balances — or better its separation, balancing, and blending of power — unnecessary to prevent majority tyranny and the abuse of power by officeholders. Whereas the makers of the American Constitution believed that the imperfections of human nature and the tendency of people to develop competing interests and aims were permanent features of moral and political life, progressives insisted that progress allowed human beings, or at least the most talented and best educated human beings, to rise above these limitations and converge in their understanding of what was true and right. Indeed, according to the progressives the Constitution’s obsolete and cumbersome institutional design was a primary hindrance to democratic reforms to which all reasonable people could agree and which upright and impartial administrators would implement. It is a short step from the original progressives’ belief that developments in morals and science had obviated reasonable disagreements about law and public policy and dissolved concerns about the impartiality of administrators to the new progressives’ belief that in domestic affairs disagreement is indefensible and intolerable.
I would suggest that the problem is not, as Berkowitz says, that Progressivism is now intentionally deceptive.  Rather, the problem is that Progressivism leads to a left that is simply unable to think clearly.  Obama is perhaps the greatest example of this.

The source is poisoned.  It springs from a feeling that society can be reformed, at least by the right sort of people.  That scientific advances will lead to moral advances.  However plausible this might have seemed in 1880, the subsequent 130 years have led inexorably to a disaster for the left.

Progressivism runs on a moral imperative - moral reform of society.  Progressives are, eo ipso, moral creatures.  It's but a short step sideways into tribalism, and suddenly their opponents are immoral.  A study of the Wilson Administration will show that this root runs deep.

The logical conclusion of this is Gramsci's Long March Through The Institutions.  Since the Universities are essentially run as a Medieval Guild - tenure can be denied for any reason by any member, in secret - a long selection process has turned the Academy into a reliable bastion of leftist thought.  As conservative (or even centrist) ideas get squeezed from the curriculum, generations of new journalists, film makers, and writers turn those industries into reliable bastions of leftist thought.

Note that this isn't opinion, it's observation.  Offered as a proof point is that many prominent conservative intellectuals started out as run-of-the-mill leftists.  I myself am an example of this.  Over time, they realized that their education was filled with gaps, and they started filling those gaps in on their own.  Suddenly, they found that they weren't leftists anymore.

And here's the problem for the left: if its philosophy were healthy, you'd see a lot of this happen in reverse, i.e. former conservatives becoming progressives.  In fact, you did used to see exactly this sort of thing, in the early Progressive era (say, through the 1920s).  You don't today.  What thinking person today would voluntarily choose to turn off part of their reasoning capacity?

And so we see the recent Progressive love of suppression.  Campus speech codes, labels like "denier" for people skeptical of Global Warming, and most interestingly the hysterical reaction to Sarah Palin.  She's supposed to be dumb.  So incredibly dumb.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Oooooh kaaaaay.  But it seems to me that she never said that the Constitution was incomprehensible because it was 100 years old.  She never said that ROTC would corrupt the Campus.  Both of those statements seem to me to be unarguably, objectively stupid.

And here we enter into the Progressive's collapse.  They rationalize their obvious failings - human as we all are - because of their "higher" moral imperative.  Palin is "dumb" and Ezra Klein is "smart" because of the tribes they chose, and Progressive intellectuals will square any circle to come up with justifications.  But this separation of action from consequence leads the Progressive to the Wasteland:
SACRAMENTO, Calif.— A cap-and-trade program approved Thursday by the California Air Resources Board includes damaging loopholes that would incentivize clearcutting in the name of reducing carbon emissions. The program — adopted as part of California’s effort to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions — would allow industrial polluters to purchase carbon “offset credits” instead of reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions. Among the options is buying offset credits from forest clearcutting.
Environmental Progressives are literally turning the Golden State into a wasteland.  Their policy recommendations are so clearly counter to their stated goals as to strike one dumb.  They are objectively stupid.  And this isn't cherry picking; we see this all the time.  Save the planet by starving the children, save the planet by killing pets, save the planet by banning grass.  The Wasteland.

The left has collapsed into a self-contained bubble where its Moral Imperative suppresses dissent as being against the interests of the Tribe.  It suppresses people who say "Are you really sure it's a good idea to propose childhood malnutrition"?  And so the inhabitants of this bubble become objectively stupid.  They never have to defend even the most absurd ideas.  In fact, they cannot - they'll be purged:
Rectification is not an electrical term. On the Left it means “power struggle” or purge. In the beginning it will take exactly the form we are witnessing now:  a signaling exercise on the Left ostensibly directed at the mythical right but essentially aimed at sending a message to leftist politicians and semi-respectable activists that they haven’t been militant enough.

And so the policy proposals are a disaster of unintended consequences.  Obamacare leading to people losing their children's insurance is only the latest sad example of the Wasteland.  Ignoring the objectively stupid we need to vote for it so we can see what's in it, who could possibly not seen what's coming?

A Progressive, that's who.  Their Moral Imperative prevents it.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
- T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland

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