A Freeway in Hell

My thoughts on the nature of our late capitalist society. The title should give some clue what I think of that! US 101 or I-80 as metaphor for our imperatives. Besides worrying about what sort of black hole we are speeding into, I like airships. One reason being the almost inescapble desire to have one to get out of a traffic jam!

Location: Sonoma County, California

Grew up a military brat, Californian-in-exile, reactionary libertarian-essentially spent the 70s on Mars, for I am hearing impaired and I did not know what the music was saying. Generally still don't unless I listen to it over and over or find the words captioned on a movie or somewhere on line. Came "back" to California to begin my adult life, have not lived elsewhere since. No regrets there despite our problems here. Have studied physics, more math than most human beings will ever need, worked on spaceship projects (well, one) at JPL. Lived with a wonderful disabled person who lives no more--L Natasha Littletree RIP October 2004. I have a life plan, just kind of vague on some of the short-term stuff.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

On "Conservative" Misperceptions of Their Own Nature

At Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte once again questions the wisdom of compromising reproductive rights in the misguided effort to "legitimize" progressives. Frequent reactionary commentator Dana expressed his puzzlement at why we regard choice as a basic right anyway, on "philosophical" grounds. My response was so massive I decided to put it here, as a courtesy to Pandagon.

Dana Jun 23rd, 2007 at 8:55 pm On more of a philosophical note, I have always found it a bit strange that liberals, in general, are pro-abortion, while conservatives are, in general, pro-life.

Well, then, has it occurred to you that perhaps this might be because you've badly understood the broad, fundamental bases of the "liberal" and "conservative" positions? If you have a theory that's a bad fit to reality, perhaps you should revise it or reject it in favor of one that works better. (Like, maybe, one that has an excellent track record of accurately predicting the nature of the real-world evolution of capitalism for instance.)

When I look at the positions of liberals, it seems to me that they can be broadly summarized as believing that society and government have more of a role in people’s lives, to promote the things they see as being of social value, which leads to the left being in favor of more government intervention to equalize wages, provide universal health care coverage, Affirmative Action and more government regulation of business.

That's the moderate version of the Republican/reactionary view of what "liberalism" is all about. "Moderate" in the sense that here you refrain from condemning out of hand "the things they see as being of social value" in themselves, as being obviously evil in themselves, which is what the rightist mantra generally assumes or asserts.

Just on those terms, without spelling out that these "things they see as being of social value" are supposed to be some kind of totalitarian dystopia--Communism, Islamofascism, the end of masculinity, whatever the boogeyman of the day is--these items you mention really don't seem that bad. I mean, would you really say that equalized wages, universal health care, an end to racial discrimination, or even "government regulation of business" are bad things in and of themselves? If so, why? If not, why wouldn't being for these things be to our credit?

Nope, the anti-liberal rant has to go on to explain why these apparently benign things are actually bad, either in themselves (which is a tough sell, unless one is dealing with for instance racists or other kinds of bigots who explicitly think that some people should be worse off than others) or because they are stealthy steps on a path to a hidden hell on Earth that we either seek to lure others on out of wicked disingenuity, or blindly and foolishly follow because we lack the wisdom and insight you have to forsee where this is headed.

But now to open your eyes a bit to a reality-based world--how aware are you of the actual historical processes whereby these "liberal," or more properly progressive, goals were approached? Was it a matter of a cabal of society-minded liberals attaining power out of a blue sky, or did these concrete manifestations of a supposed collectivist agenda not actually emerge out of concrete historical crises, in which there came to be a broad consensus as much on practical as ideological grounds for adopting them?
Did not a sentiment for regulating businesses, for instance, emerge out of very specific incidents in which unregulated business discredited themselves by their obviously dysfunctional behavior? Didn't a broad array of businessmen themselves endorse their own regulation, as a means both of redeeming themselves socially as a class and also to enable them to function more effectively as businessmen?
Was not the drive for higher wages for working people in general a movement that had and still has wide popular resonance?
Have you examined the history of affirmative action enough to realize that it was actually a very conservative and limited response to the obvious injustices and general social risks posed by systematic racism in America, and that as a conservative, non-radical response to this challenge, its results have been limited, mixed, and pose minimal challenge to the basic social order?

Already there is clearly something very unsatisfactory about your theory of what "liberals" are all about. Onward.

Conservatives, on the other hand, are more generally in favor of the right of individuals to be free of government regulation, and for people to be more responsible for their own fortunes — for good or ill — in life. We generally oppose government intervention to equalize wages, provide universal health care coverage, Affirmative Action and more government regulation of business, being of a more libertarian bent.

Now here is where your notions obviously take complete leave of real history and for that matter everyday reality in modern America. Throughout our history, and generally all over the world and through all time, "conservatives" have never distinguished themselves by demonstrating any kind of consistent, general passion for any particular universal human rights, certainly not the specific theory of government and society--less and weaker government--that you claim for yourselves here. I think you have enough broad knowledge to realize that you are at best flattering yourselves by claiming that.

What best characterizes "conservatives," who certainly in the modern context of an ever-changing global and national society can't claim much credit for "conserving" many things, is a paramount concern for themselves--for whatever degree of power and privilege they and a limited set of allies have--and for social hierarchy in general. Far from being meaningfully libertarian, conservatives throughout history, certainly throughout American history, align themselves with the most powerful, and repress the less powerful without compunction. They are always on the lookout for some out group, be they foreign devils or pariahs within their own society, that they can scapegoat for all the routine evils of the society they uphold, and seek to maintain the social tensions that enable their own social hierarchy to functions at a state just short of general breakdown, so that there are large reserves of resentment and repressed violence they can unleash on designated enemies, foreign and domestic.

In fact, far from being rugged champions of individual freedom and responsibility, conservatives, in everyday and historical experience, are typically sycophantic suck-ups when they are not vainglorious, overprivileged, unrestrained misleaders of society into general disaster.

If you try to understand the behavior of Republicans, for instance, in or out of power, in terms of a passionate committment to human freedom, you will be puzzled all across the board, not just on the issue of abortion--or reproductive rights and sexuality in general, where, consistent with their stand on abortion if not your theory of conservatives as libertarians, they are generally reactionary too. But take any issue. Take fiscal conservatism. Take immigration policy. Take foreign policy. Take torture, the abolition of habeus corpus, surveillance--it is ridiculous to maintain that Republicans have stood for human liberty. But quite obvious that they have stood, consistently, sometimes even forthrightly, for social inequality and enhancing the wealth, power, and privilege of the already wealthy, powerful, and privileged, at any cost whatsoever to anyone they think they can get away with plowing under.

The idea of greater income redistribution is repugnant to us.

I'm right with you there. You are being forthright and clear on this matter. The name of the "conservative" game is to uphold wealth and power, period. The social hierarchy is the one thing, the only thing, that conservatives seek to conserve--and extend.

If the above was all you knew, you’d guess that it would be the liberals who are pro-life, seeing the right to life of the child as something society should protect, even though it involves sacrifice on the part of the pregnant woman; I’d have thought that it would be conservatives who would be more supportive of abortion, not liking government intervention in people’s lives.

Yet that’s completely backwards: liberals, who have views which are more societally-oriented, are absolute libertarians when it comes to abortion, while conservatives, who are far more individualistic in their outlooks on most things, are far more likely to be pro-life.

That would be an interesting subject for our gracious hostess Amanda to address (if she hasn’t in an older article that I’ve missed.)

I believe she and we have done so time and again. Since it's your paradox, not paradoxical in our terms at all, how do you explain it?

BTW, Dana--that whole "gracious hostess" thing is the kind of thing I mean about reactionaries being sycophantic suck-ups. Naturally I interpret this little tic of yours as being sarcastic and patronizing. But even if I believed you were doing it out of some bizarre compulsion of chivalry, it's inherently patronizing anyway. Amanda is indeed far more gracious than she needs to be, as she shows by actions and not just words. In general, progressives judge by actions and not words. I think Jesus had something or other to say on the subject too.

Anyway, our "societal orientation" emerges from real-world experience. We seek and find realistic explanations of the world we live in, and those guide our priorities. In the dominant, conservative-controlled, social rhetoric we have pounded into our heads at church, at home, in schools, and throughout the mainstream media, we are supposed to be fuzzy-headed, half-baked idealists and conservatives are supposed to be hard-boiled, tried and true realists (and at the same time the true guardians of morality and decency). But the dogmas ring false even to little children, who often see right through the Potemkin village facade of conservative ideology.

In fact human beings don't exist without some sort of cooperation or other. The question is, should the necessary machinery of society serve everyone and enable a maximum of real individual development, or should the majority go on being coerced into a "division of labor" that seeks to concentrate all the benefits and glory of individual development into one narrow segment of society.

In fact it is generally necessary to have some compromise on these matters. A society of absolute equality is not attainable or much desired by anyone. There will always be those who are more or less central to the social machinery, particularly in a society with an elaborate enough economic system of cooperation, in any form, to sustain the basic biological needs, let alone opportunities for general development, of 6 billion and rising people on this planet. It is rational for ordinary people to accept disparities in opportunity to the extent that the privileged use their position to improve opportunities in general for ordinary people. The thing is, concentrated power inherently has the potential for positive feedback. History is best understood in terms of the quest for a sustainable, liveable balance of social interests in that context.

Your premises are at best a sophomoric first attempt, obsequious to the already powerful, of trying to grasp the issues at hand. And persisting in holding that frame in the face of all the evidence of its inadequacy and mendacity casts doubt on either the intelligence or honesty of its proponents.

The matter at hand here is whether progressives ought, for any reason, to compromise on abortion in particular--or for that matter on reproductive rights in general, because generally the opponents of choice there are also against birth control and sexual freedom. *

If abortion were a wrong, evil thing in and of itself, then the question of compromise would be a side issue. For reasons we have gone over time and again at Pandagon and I have also mentioned here, I for one think it can't be, certainly not in the early stages, and that the very best way to manage the whole question of reproduction is to leave each case up to the decision of the woman who might actually be pregnant, and everyone else should support whatever decisions these women make. Insisting on this standard is inherently the right thing to do, and (this follows as quite reasonable, given that I have framed history as a struggle between the interests of ordinary people versus the privileged few) also tends to subvert the mechanisms of social repression and favor democracy. Democracy, I should point out, is not about putting the "best" people in power, but about asserting and effectively enabling the inherent power of all people, demanding that everyone's interests be considered in any decision that affects them.

By pretending to be overwhelmingly concerned with the interests of persons who do not actually exist yet as people, "conservatives" seek to absolve themselves of guilt for all the offenses they routinely commit against real people. "Thou shalt not abort the innocent babe in the womb; after it's born, open season" quite encapsulates the right wing's revised concept of the commandments.

I don't see much value in seeking compromise with such mentalities. Subverting them (that is, opening the eyes of the vast majority to the disadvantages for them of continuing their allegience to a system inherently prejudicial to their interests, and the positive potentials of helping, even at the cost of risk and likely sacrifice, develop alternatives with their interests in mind) seems far more appropriate.
*In reality, of course, "conservatives" often have recourse to abortions, and use BC, and have extramarital sex, and are even GBLT--but in my frame, their problem is not consistentcy between what they say versus what they do, but how likely they are to get "caught" breaking the taboos they think (for good reasons in their terms) must be sacred in principle, because they are fundamentally about enforcing a social hierarchy. They practically solve this problem by using their social privilege and power for the purpose that they think these exist, to exempt themselves from the ostensible rules, which exist for no real reason other than as tools and structure for repression in general, and are therefore used selectively.