Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Barking up the right tree

His Imperial Majesty is debating the nature of those who attended the Yearly Kos meeting. Needless to say, Misha is unimpressed, but he makes some interesting points regarding the level and tenor of debate on Right and Left [Emphasis mine—DK].
Gather two or more conservatives in the same place and you’ll have furious debate about politics from the moment that you’re done shaking hands and introducing yourselves, sometimes it won’t even last that long, your main problem will be to get people to shut up for long enough to replenish the supplies of good eats and copious drink.

In your typical gathering of conservatives, nothing is sacred. Sure, there are issues more volatile than others, but everything’s open to discussion if whoever offering the challenge actually wants to discuss it. If you want to take it to extremes, Devil’s Advocate is a game that conservatives play better than any other group of people and it’s just about as much fun as you can legally have without taking your clothes off. And once you’re done tearing each other to shreds verbally, depending on how far you want to take it, you shake hands, agree to disagree and tear into somebody else. Once you’ve figured out where the heck the beers are hidden.

Am I stereotyping here? Oh yes I am, but my personal politics have been firmly anchored on both sides of the political divide, and I’m here to tell you that it’s not nearly as much of a stereotype as you might think.

So why weren’t the halls and corridors filled with furious debate at the Yearly Kotzfest? Forget about it being because it was a gathering of like-minded people. Again, try gathering a few “like-minded” conservatives and see just how long it takes before people are citing sources, splitting hairs and quoting literature while making snide remarks about each other’s intelligence. We don’t agree on anything. That’s our strength, it’s not a weakness. We don’t accept anything as catechism, unchallengeable and true just because it’s been decided that it’s true. There are issues that we rarely ever debate because they’ve been debated to death already and it’s not all that much fun repeating yourself, but if anybody feels like it, bring it on. And do make sure that the beer cooler is well-stocked first. It’ll be fun.

It’s because liberalism/socialism/progressivism (and I’ll call it “socialism” from here on out because I’m getting tired of typing it all out every time. Just substitute the whole mess if you feel that I’m being unfair, I couldn’t care less) is an ideology for young people who are looking for an anchor, a set of established “truths” that they can learn by heart and cling to for dear life. It’s also an ideology built on a desire for a utopian paradise that we’d all love to live in but, once reality smacks us in the face and we learn how the world really works, is impossible to achieve. Again, this is a religion for young, well-meaning people who just want everybody to be happy and content. Who could possibly see anything wrong with that? I can’t. I was one of them. I still don’t see anything wrong with the ideal that they’re striving for, but I’ve learned enough from studying the real world and the history of it to know that it’s not merely an impossible dream, the only way you can even hope to get there is by denying human nature and trying to force humans to be something that they’re incapable of being. And that’s why it inevitably leads to the horrors of the concentration camps, the gulags, the purges and G-d knows what else socialism is responsible for.

This is something that I have discussed before, and I agree with Misha entirely. I usually find that having debates with Lefties is fairly pointless (although it can be amusing, in a slightly puerile and increasingly irritating way): not only do they tend to argue as passionately—and with as little evidence—as a militant god-botherer, but they also do so from the heart.

And this is where it all falls down. You see, no matter how nice you are personally, to assume that everyone is the same is foolishness. But it isn't even this clear-cut: I have had arguments with Lefties who have acknowledged that people simply do not behave in the way that the Lefty would wish, but who pin their hope on a kind of "pay-it-forward" thinking. Even when they are being exploited to fuck by those to whom they "pay forward", these Lefties will continue to believe that their personal crusade will be effective. It will not be.

But at least I have a certain respect for these people; certainly more for them than I do for the Lefties who describe how they would like the human race to behave, and then behave just as badly as anyone else (it's called "hypocrisy").

Then there is the argument that "someone has to have the nice ideas and other, more cynical people can make it work". No. If you idea is based on a false assumption about human behaviour, then it is flawed from the out set. It is a fucking waste of time even considering it, let alone attempting to put it into practice.

As with any scientific hypothesis, you have to ensure that the original data are correct, that the building blocks of your end idea are sound. If they are not then, like a mathematical proof, the end idea will be valueless and your theory will collapse.

One cannot build any societal idea from a theory that humans are altruistic. They are not (there are possible exceptions, but these are so few as to be statistically irrelevent) and to attempt to build an idea on the basis of your belief that they are is delusional and stupid. It is far better to build a society out of the idea that humans are quintessentially self-interested.

This is why Adam Smith's invisible hand works, and Communism does not. As Misha says:
That’s what makes us different, and that’s why looking for independent thought at a festival of fools like the Daily Kotz is like looking for diamonds in a dog turd.


UPDATE: Via Timmy, Mr Pike Bishop (a vocal commenter at Comment Is Free who has just started his own blog) seems to be saying much the same thing.
What is socialism if not a utopian ideal, running contrary to human nature, with no evidential support whatsoever?

The lust for a mythic paradise has given us Uncle Joe Stalin, the Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot and Shirley Bloody Williams – here we still sit with comprehensive schools churning out barely literate kids, but equitably so, who think they’re Einstein ‘cus they’ve cracked the multiple-guess exam system. Great goal. All of us equal, cooperating, rooted in the here and now and striving for earthly perfection, but simply not achievable.

Run a cost-benefit analysis on anything, and one of the first questions you should ask yourself is; are the ends I’m seeking practically achievable?

Socialism fails that practicality test. Drop a hundred people on a desert island and they’ll turn to cannibalism before they turn to socialism – and you know what? It would be more fun. So why are we still allowing adherents of this batty policy, in government, and more dangerously, in the civil service, to push a dogma that not only is disagreeable to a great many people, but also isn’t going to happen?

I can’t make up my mind if socialists are simply immature, and can’t get it though their heads that this daydream is a childish longing that won’t cut it in the adult world, or if their ideology is closer to a religious mania. Both could be true of course.

Again, spot on. MrPB could be one to watch...


Anonymous said...

Hmm. I think I have a problem with the part about equating liberalism and progressivism with socialism. His Imperial Majesty implies that they are the same thing, but they're not.

Crucially, I think progressive ideals are very much within the realms of human nature, and very much achievable. The battle for equal rights - be they racial, gender, or sexuality - are examples of such 'norms' that were once described as being beyond human capabilities. I wouldn't say these are socialist ideas as such, although socialists have campaigned for them.. but I would call them progressive and liberal. And I would call those who opposed these changes conservative.

What is interesting is the extent to which conservatism (a definition of which Andrew Sullivan has been outlining at the Daily dish and in his new book) keeps the progressives from over-reaching, moving to fast, and generally fucking up society as a result. We need both attitudes, constantly antagonising each other.

Anonymous said...


How do you explain in this simplistic left/right split market socialists like me, Chris @ S&M and John Stuart Mill?

Market socialism takes people as they are, and accepts that markets work and are efficient, and tries to ensure workers aren't exploited by letting them own their own businesses (co-op, partnerships, mutuals, etc) and compete within a marketplace.

State Socialism (or Utopianism) is building false perceptions of human behaviour. But not all socialisms require nationalisation, and a true liberal is in favour of a small state.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Yes, of course the real difference is statist versus non-statist, but I was using it in the same way as AI Rottie (living in a two party country) meant it.

The answer is that you, Chris and JSM are actually on the right; you just don't know it yet... ;-D


Anonymous said...

Actually, I do; I've defined myself as both extreme right and extreme left at the same time on more than one occasion; political compass style tests always annoy me, they make me look like a statist when I'm 100% sold on markets, I just also believe in safety nets.

D'you think I could persuade anyone that I'm a right wing socialist? They'd think I was in the BNP. I'll stick with market socialist, liberal socialist or just plain loon if'n you don't mind...

US politics is messed up anyway. Kos is now trying to get the attention of the Libertarian party. Um, good luck to him, I guess...

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