Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it. It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. -- MaxedOutMama

I don't just want gun rights... I want individual liberty, a culture of self-reliance....I want the whole bloody thing. -- Kim du Toit

The most glaring example of the cognitive dissonance on the left is the concept that human beings are inherently good, yet at the same time cannot be trusted with any kind of weapon, unless the magic fairy dust of government authority gets sprinkled upon them.-- Moshe Ben-David

The cult of the left believes that it is engaged in a great apocalyptic battle with corporations and industrialists for the ownership of the unthinking masses. Its acolytes see themselves as the individuals who have been "liberated" to think for themselves. They make choices. You however are just a member of the unthinking masses. You are not really a person, but only respond to the agendas of your corporate overlords. If you eat too much, it's because corporations make you eat. If you kill, it's because corporations encourage you to buy guns. You are not an individual. You are a social problem. -- Sultan Knish

All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war. -- Billy Beck

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

How Could They

David Burge (Iowahawk) made this observation about the recent 10:10 Campaign "No Pressure" television ad:
(S)omehow, throughout this entire process, not one of the hundreds of people involved seemed to have questioned the wisdom of an advertising message advocating the violent, sudden death of people who disagree with it.
Many among those of us who disagree with the message have spent much of the last week obsessed with the question, "How could they?" As in "How could they not see what the reaction would be?" "How could they think blowing school children up would be funny?" Etc., etc.

But that question was answered long, long ago. In 2002 Charles Krauthammer put it in modern terms:
To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.
But it goes back much earlier in history.

I'm currently reading Thomas Sowell's Intellectuals and Society, volume III in his Conflict of Visions trilogy. The second book in that series is Vision of the Anointed: Self Congratulations as a Basis for Social Policy. In Sowell's lexicon, "The Anointed" are the Leftist intellectuals who believe they know best how the world ought to work. In the section of Intellectuals and Society entitled "Unworthy Opponents," Sowell has this to say (long excerpt follows):
Because the vision of the anointed is a vision of themselves as well as a vision of the world, when they are defending that vision they are not simply defending a set of hypotheses about external events, they are in a sense defending their very souls - and the zeal and even ruthlessness with which they defend their visions are not surprising under these circumstances. But for people with opposing views, who may for example believe that most things work out for the better if left to free markets, traditions, families, etc., these are just a set of hypotheses about external events and there is no huge personal ego stake in whether those hypotheses are confirmed by empirical evidence. Obviously everyone would prefer to be proved right rather than proved wrong, but the point here is that there is no such comparable ego stakes involved among believers in the tragic vision. (That would be those of us on the putative "right." - Ed.)

This difference may help explain a striking pattern that goes back at least two centuries - the greater tendency of those with the vision of the anointed to see those they disagree with as enemies who are morally lacking. While there are individual variations in this, as with most things, there are nevertheless general patterns, which many have noticed, both in our times and in earlier centuries. For example, a contemporary account has noted:
Disagree with someone on the right and he is likely to think you obtuse, wrong, foolish, a dope. Disagree with someone on the left and he is more likely to think you selfish, a sell-out, insensitive, possibly evil.
Supporters of both visions, by definition, believe that those with the opposing vision are mistaken. But that is not enough for those with the vision of the anointed. It has long been taken for granted by those with the vision of the anointed that their opponents were lacking in compassion. Moreover, there was no felt need to test that belief empirically. As far back as the eighteenth century, the difference between supporters of the two visions in this regard was apparent in a controversy between Thomas Malthus and William Godwin. Malthus said of his opponents, "I cannot doubt the talents of men such as Godwin and Condorcet. I am unwilling to doubt their candor." But when Godwin referred to Malthus, he called Malthus "malignant," questioned "the humanity of the man," and said "I profess myself at a loss to conceive of what earth the mad was made."

Edmund Burke was a landmark figure among those with the tragic vision but, despite his all-out attacks on the ideas and deeds of the French Revolution, Burke nevertheless said of those with the opposing vision that they "may do the worst of things, without being the worst of men." It would be hard, if not impossible, to find similar statements about ideological adversaries from those with the vision of the anointed, either in the eighteenth century or today. Yet such a view of opponents - as mistaken or even dangerously mistaken, but not necessarily evil personally - has continued to be common among those with the tragic vision. When Friedrich Hayek in 1944 published The Road to Serfdom, his landmark challenge to the prevailing social vision among the intelligentsia, setting off an intellectual and political counter-revolution later joined by Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley and others intellectually and by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan politically, he characterized his adversaries as "single-minded idealists" and "authors whose sincerity and disinteredness are above suspicion."

Clearly, however, sincerity was not considered sufficient to prevent opponents from being considered not only mistaken but dangerously mistaken, as illustrated by Hayek's belief that they were putting society on "the road to serfdom." Similarly, even in the midst of a political campaign in 1945, when Winston Churchill warned of authoritarian rule if the opposing Labour Party won, he added that this was not because they wanted to reduce people's freedom but because "they do not see where their theories are leading them." Similar concessions to the sincerity and good intentions of opponents can be found in Milton Friedman and other exponents of the constrained or tragic vision. But such a view of ideological opponents has been much rarer among those with the vision of the anointed, where the presumed moral and/or intellectual failings of opponents have been more or less a staple of discourse from the eighteenth century to the present.

While sincerity and humane feelings are often denied to ideological opponents by those with the vision of the anointed, whether or not opposition to minimum wage laws or rent control laws, for example, is in fact due to a lack of compassion for the poor is irrelevant to the question whether the arguments for or against such policies have either empirical or analytical validity. Even if it could be proved to a certainty that opponents of these and other "progressive" policies were veritable Scrooges, or even venal, that would still be no answer to the arguments they make. Yet claims that opponents are racist, sexist, homophobic or "just don't get it" are often advanced by the intelligentsia in lieu of specific refutations of their specific arguments.
In other words, they don't need to argue the merits. If you oppose them, you're morally repugnant and can be dismissed on those grounds alone.

Carried to its logical conclusion you get "No Pressure" - first as "humor" and later on as policy.

The Vision of the Anointed has existed since at least the beginning of the eighteenth century, and it has survived (I would argue) largely because those of us with the tragic vision attribute sincerity, idealism, and good intentions to our ideological opponents.

This has to stop.

Hayek called it "the road to serfdom" for a reason. Those with the vision of the anointed believe they are doing what is necessary to drag humanity into Utopia. Those of us with the tragic vision believe that what they are doing is dragging us into hell. I don't care how good their intentions are, I WANT THEM TO STOP. As James Lileks put it many years ago,
Personally, I’m interested in keeping other people from building Utopia, because the more you believe you can create heaven on earth the more likely you are to set up guillotines in the public square to hasten the process.
Or blow up children.

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