On Politics Part Six — Barbarism, Inequality, Tyranny

Here we venture into an area where the philosopher can no longer rely merely on observations of patently obvious natural truths. In discussing the different opinions about the directions and degrees of danger, we enter into judgments where reasonable men can differ, and a perfect rigor of logic is not possible. It is possible, without any self-contradiction, for example, to regard the danger to peace and good order created by sedition to be paramount above the danger from the sovereign infringing on the freedom of speech; and likewise, it is possible, without any self contradiction, to regard the danger to the public weal caused by manufacturers fraudulently introducing defective and dangerous goods into the stream of commerce to be paramount above the legal necessity of proving negligence before tortuous or criminal liability attaches. These are not questions mere logic can solve. These are judgment calls, which depend on a nicety of discrimination, sober prudence, and a sense of proportion rightly to decide.

The central paradox of politics is discovering how to win the maximum benefit from civilization while minimizing the discontents. Political theory concerning specific forms and policies of government will differ primarily over a difference in judgment about the discontents of civilization.

On a national level, difference of political theory will differ as different opinions read the character and history of a people differently or the character of the era in which they live. On a universal level, difference of political theory will differ as different opinions read the character of man differently.

At the current time, among the nation in which I live, there are three distinct political theories in competition for the minds and souls of the next generation.

Each theory is based on a distinct view of the character of the nation and of mankind; each theory identifies a different discontent with civilization in general or our current laws and customs in particular. That is, the reason why there are three theories is because there are three general opinions as to the main danger facing mankind in general and the nation in particular.

Those who value civilization are called conservatives. For them the enemy is barbarism.

Those who value equality are called liberals. For them the enemy is exploitation, that is, the abuse of the free market by the rich or by the many to oppress the poor or the few.

Those who value liberty are called libertarians. For them the enemy is slavery, that is, the abuse of the authority of the sovereign to oppress the citizen.

The conservative view is that Man is fallen and sinful. Hence, the conservative expect that all men are equally prone to corruption and self-serving, and that no one can be trusted with untrammeled power. Their view is that each man is primarily responsible himself for his own life: hence, ironically, conservatives tend to trust voluntary mass cooperative efforts, and organically organized collectives such as churches and communities, and to mistrust bureaucracies and hierarchies.

As partisans of civilization, conservatives place a high value on the continuity of laws and customs across generations, and would prefer gradual, local changes toward the improvement of society rather than sudden wide-sweeping changes.

The liberal view is that Man is evolving. Hence, liberals expect that all men will be better, and eventually perfect, once social institutions and education has the opportunity to create better men. Their view is that the social conditions and institutions are primarily responsible for man, as well as primarily responsible for the failures and evils of man. Hence the liberal view, for example, that poverty causes crime. Their view of man is collective: liberals are more concerned with the injustice done by one group to another than individual wrongdoing. Their view of history is that primitive forms evolve or progress into more perfect forms, leaving behind injustices as progress marches on. For this reason they sometimes call themselves progressive. The primary collective injustice liberals seek to mollify or reverse is the exploitation of the poor by the rich, and the primary means is the restriction of private property or its outright abolition, if no lesser means will abolish the inequalities created by variations in ownership of property or possession of talent.

Ironically, even though all gains made by liberals in this nation have been through invisibly gradual means, or through the operations of the courts of law (which are innately conservative institutions) as partisans of equality, liberals place a high value on widespread and radical reform of an immediate, preferably violent, nature, as by a nationwide or worldwide rebellion or mutiny. This is because they see the injustice as collective, hence caused by the social institutions and conditions, and therefore logically the institutions must be abolished from foundation to crown, and new institutions based on theoretical conceptions take their place. The new institutions must be based on theory because they cannot be based on history, since historical models exist at a more primitive evolutionary stage.

The libertarian view is that man is utterly autonomous , and that civilization and law exist only to protect the innate rights of the individual. Individual liberty is absolute, and has no just limits on its exercise, except that no man may use his liberty to invade the liberty of another man. In this scheme, the sovereign power is limited to those acts of retaliation against invaders which the individual himself could have rightly exercised in the absence of a sovereign, that is, self-defense. Libertarian theory, depending on its strictness, may also allow for retaliation against trespass against property rights, theft and conversion, or defense of a third party.  Their view of man is atomistic: the conservative idea that the sovereign power should or could be used to encourage virtue in the people by the censorship of pornography or the criminalization of vice or regulation of marriage is inadmissible. Likewise inadmissible is the liberal idea that the sovereign power should or could rectify injustices or inequalities between competing classes or masses of subjects, redistribute wealth, or levy taxes to feed and house the poor or to educate the unlearned.

As partisans of untrammeled individual liberty, libertarians see the main role of the citizen is to be vigilant to curtail new encroachments on personal liberty by the sovereign power as they arise. When it comes to lawful exercises of the sovereign power, such as how (or whether) to levy taxes and raise standing armies, libertarian theory is mostly silent.

The reason why political discussions between partisans of these theories are so often futile is that their goals are unrelated to each other, and the fears of one seem highly theoretical, if not ridiculous, to the other.

The conservative, for example, sees the main enemy of civilization as the barbarian, which includes both barbaric enemies abroad and domestic elements in society which (through negligence or folly, sloth or active malice against civilization) create deterioration of the habits of virtue needed for the maintenance of peace and public order. Sloth includes  a lack of love for civilization, a lack of patriotism for the nation. Barbarians include domestic elements conspiring to alter or abolish healthy social institutions.

While the conservative has no particular opposition to liberal causes such as seeing the poor fed or the wilderness conserved, he is appalled when those causes are used to introduce radical changes or abolition to institutions such as the institution of private property, which he sees as a main bulwark against threats from anarchy at home and enemies abroad. Because he has an individualistic view of man, the liberal contention (for example) that the poor cannot through their own application and industry accumulate property and substance of their own strikes him as unrealistic and absurd, something which happens in a few extraordinary cases, not as a matter of course. The liberal accusation that he hates the poor, perhaps due to a racist desire to demean and torment the poor, is bewildering and unanswerable.

While the conservative has no particular opposition (and indeed may have a great deal of sympathy) for the libertarian zeal to protect individual liberty from government encroachment, he is appalled when that argument is used to undermine vice laws, blue laws, marriage laws, and abolish the defense of territorial boundaries around sovereign states. The libertarian view is primarily intellectual, and sees men as independent sovereign individuals making an express covenant for their mutual protection. The conservative view is primarily passionate, and sees men as heir to the legacy of the past and fathers to the legacy of posterity which must be protected, tied by countless invisible threads of loyalty to family and community and church and homeland, and inevitably requires that the state have a role in protecting, by coercion if necessary, a certain degree of civic virtue in the citizens.

On the other hand, for the liberal, to whom the primary enemy is the oppressive institutions erected either by unseen inhuman forces of history or by a conspiracy of the rich and powerful, any defense of those institutions is seen as prime evidence of support for any evils those institutions have done. Again, the notion of man is he is a collective creature: hence all Whites can be accused of participation in the institution of antebellum plantation slavery of Negroes, or all Christians accused of participation in the institution of the Spanish Inquisition. The presence or absence of Northern Abolitionists who died on the battlefields of the Civil War are irrelevant to the shared guilt, and likewise the presence or absence of Papal Bulls condemning the Inquisition, or Protestant kings who warred against Spain.

The prime source of mutual misunderstanding between liberal and conservative political theory is the matter of foreign enemies. Liberal political theory is silent on the issue, and has no stance on the matter. If communist spies in the pay of the Soviet Empire are indeed infecting the State Department, or if Muslim terrorists are plotting to plant bombs in skyscrapers or in airplanes, these dangers are secondary or imaginary compared the main and real danger of Senator McCarthy using the power of Congress to subpoena witnesses to accuse the innocent of being communists or the danger of a general pogrom of lynching and race riots as White all over the world erupt into a roaring slaughterhouse bedlam of bestial violence against innocent Arabs.

In the first case, the Senate is an institution and hence an instrument of inequality and oppression. It is the only source of danger. Or perhaps the ideal of patriotism, the idea that communists are enemies of the American Way of Life is the institution, and its presents a looming and immediate danger of encouraging jingoism, imperial conquests overseas, and fascistic oppression of dissent at home.

In the second case, the religion of Islam, and the terror masters funding acts of sabotage and acts of war are not an institution of the American establishment, and hence cannot even in theory be a source of threat or danger. If the Twin Towers were blown up, all the deaths are attributable to world political conditions created by American institutions, such as American institutional racism. Hence the attempt to blame Islam for conditions created by American institutional racism is not just an act of blaming the victim, it is a psychopathology of seeing a danger where none exist, a phobia, and hence a new word is coined: Islamophobia.

For the liberal theory, there simply are no foreign enemies. The category is an empty set.

The enemies are imaginary, or deliberately created, in order to justify the continued operation and oppression of American Institutions. Wars are always fought in order to benefit Oil Companies, Arms Manufacturers, or Jewish Banking Interests, never fought to curtail foreign aggression or kill tyrants or drive back the barbarian.

The idea of barbarism is as impossible and absurd to the liberal theory as the idea of Islamophobia is impossible and absurd to conservative theory.

To be thorough, I should also give the liberal theory’s view of libertarianism, but I happen to be utterly unaware of what it might be. Liberals do not regard Libertarians as an institution, hence they are not instruments of oppression, so therefore there is no need to expostulate a theory concerning them.

Libertarian views of Liberals is one of deep seated and scathing contempt. Where Libertarians are fundamentally intellectual and conservatives fundamentally men of passion and honor, Liberals are entirely emotional, and do not have the metaphysical or philosophical groundwork needed to erect an intellectual defense of their position to Libertarians, or to mount an intellectual criticism of Libertarianism.

I can only speculate as to the cause: Liberal theory holds that the Church is an instrument of oppression, and an opiate of the masses, since the theory holds all institutions are instruments of oppression.

The Church kept alive the philosophy and learning of the classical past, and incorporated it into the scholastic philosophy of the Middle Ages. Hence, in order to reject Church teaching, one must also reject classical teachings. You cannot throw away Saint Thomas and keep Aristotle.

Because Protestantism came after Catholicism, liberal theory holds Protestantism to be a needed first step in the direction of greater equality and liberty for the masses; the Enlightenment program of separation of Church and State was a second great step; the abolition of private property and contractual obligations is a needed third step which is underway.

However, Protestantism is primarily an attempt to introduce emotionalism and private feelings into religion, and the Enlightenment is an attempt to sever all ties between secular and spiritual institutions. The awaited third step is the abolition of all spiritual institutions. For the liberal, if he thinks about religion at all, he regards it as something which is beneficial only to the degree that it is private, non-institutional, spiritualized, apolitical, and offers no opposition to the political program of radical equality, especially the equality between men and women, adults and children, men and animals, mad and sane, virtue and vice.

For the liberal, if he thinks about religion at all, he regards it as something which is beneficial only to the degree that it is purely emotional without any intellectual component. There is nothing liberal theory despises more than metaphysical and theological speculation.

Ironically, liberals consider themselves to be more highly educated and more intelligent than the common muck of humanity, and especially their enemies, the conservatives, but their theory forbids the use of the intellect to address any basic matter concerning metaphysical or supernatural reality. The field is off limits.

This speculation is admittedly harsh.

It would have been gentler had I been asked my opinion in the days before I exchanged many, many arguments with liberals of all stripes. The one thing they all have in common, and this includes Catholic liberals as well as atheist liberals, male and female, young and old, all of them, all of them, all I have ever met: their argument is primarily emotional, and they interpret disagreement as a moral failure, not just an intellectual one.

They do not think you are wrong, my dear conservative and libertarians readers, they think you are evil. Not one I have met thinks that there can be honest disagreement with their positions, or that the matter is one where reasonable men can differ.

This is not due to the personality of the liberals I have met, but it is due to their theory. I have had an angry Catholic socialist denounce me angrily as wicked for not believing his nonsense, but I have also had a gentle grandmotherly socialist do the same in mild tones, and sneering atheist socialists utter the same denunciation in sneering tones without even bother to discover what the argument is or the objections are. The tone depends on the personality of the liberal, and they are as different as the whole spectrum the human race affords.

But the the automatic imputation of vile motives and conspiracies by one mass against another mass is not due to a character flaw in the liberal psychology. Rather, the flaw is built into their theory. It is what they have to say. They can say nothing else, since if they did, they would no longer be liberals.

The institutions of civilization are the enemy, since they and only they are the source of mass-oppression and inequality. The theory does not allow them to regard traitors or corrupters or criminals or anarchists or foreign soldiers or spies or saboteurs or terrorists as enemies because the only enemy is the institution.

Hence the liberal soon arrives at what (to the conservative) seems patently absurd results, such as: Bush is the source of danger, not Saddam. Reagan is the source of danger, not Stalin. General Motors is the source of danger, not Mao, not Pol Pot, not Timothy Leary, not Hugh Hefner.

To use a final and pointed example: for the liberal, the institution of marriage is the source of danger, since it promotes an inequality.

Redefining marriage so that it is no longer a sacrament, but merely an expression of sexual emotion, that is to say, abolishing marriage, is for the liberal a simple act of civic equality akin to allowing Coloreds to drink at White drinking fountains in the Democrat-controlled South during the Jim Crow laws.

For the conservative, it is abolishing one of the three main pillars of civilization and the basic mainstay and bulwark against encroaching government tyranny. (For the Libertarians it is a non-issue, since their theory prevents them from seeing any public purpose to the institution of marriage whatsoever).

Small wonder there is so much venom at large.

The liberals cannot even see the barbarians whom the conservative fear, and cannot imagine the general breakdown of society. Their evolutionary theory of history does not allow for such breakdowns to occur, except when caused (as it did in the ancient world) by the Christian Church. The evolutionary theory, or perhaps their native optimism, does not direct their attention to historical models and parallels.

Likewise, conservatives cannot see the sinister nature of the Patriarchy oppressing women, the Whites oppressing Blacks, the Banking System and Oil Companies oppressing whoever it is they oppress, the Jews oppressing the poor, the heteronormatives oppressing the homosexuals, the use of “he” as the neuter pronoun oppressing women, images of Speedy Gonzalez oppressing Mexicans, use of the abbreviation “A.D.” in the Julian calendar oppressing Jews, the Circuses and Chicken Farms oppressing animals, and so on. Their fixed attention on the moral and financial and military degradation of the West, which in their (and my) opinion threatens all these groups and more, make such trifling nuances or alleged signs of disrespect to the various victim groups almost invisible to the conservative mind set.

This is not due to any lack of intelligence or any evil motive or deliberate blindness on the part of conservatives. It is an outgrowth of their philosophy and worldview. The danger from Speedy Gonzalez to the Equality of Man seems frivolous, if not hysterical. It is due to a disinterest in abstractions. To a concerned and well intentioned liberal, the use of any stereotype holding any race up to mockery has the same sinister overtones and Nazi race-cleansing. They differ only in degree, not in kind. The liberal identifies disrespect for one’s fellow man as the primary cause of race-hatred, and this implies any slightest sign of disrespect on the basis of race leads to and is akin to enslaving or exterminating that race. And the same logic applies to any identified victim-group which the institutions of the West have ever oppressed, including those, like Muslims, who have never been oppressed but were often the oppressors. On the abstract level, if the logic applies to the one case, it perforce applies to all similar cases.

Conservative pride in the pragmatism of their approach — they are often (and I do not include myself here) heard to boast they conservatism is not an ideology — makes them impossible to move by such purely abstract categorizations.

 

74 Comments

  1. Comment by Mary:

    “If the Twin Towers were blown up, all the deaths are attributable to world political conditions created by American institutions, such as American institutional racism.”

    Oddly enough, they can, in my experience, be shut up by pointing out that since this means that the Islamists do not control their actions, but Americans do, then the relations between Americans and Islamists are naturally identical to those between an adult and a small child, or a sane man and a lunatic: the adult/sane man is in charge.

  2. Comment by Mary:

    The libertarian view is that man is utterly autonomous , and that civilization and law exist only to protect the innate rights of the individual.

    I remember a discussion of autonomous man from Locke where I put out the obvious objection that it hypothesized a man who originated “perfet formes, Limb’d and full grown: out of the ground up-rose” which is not very useful because it has no relation to reality.

    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

      Neither do frictionless surfaces, ideal gases, perfect pulleys, extensionless points, or infinite heat sinks.

      • Comment by Mary:

        I presume you are saying that these things do not exist, which is irrelevant. My objection to the autonomous man is that he is not very useful because he has no relation to reality. You can get him only by truncating at least twelve years of history off of him, and society can not run on the basis of “children don’t really exist.” If for no other reason that it will cease to go on if those capable of approximating autonomy do not replace themselves and raise their children to also approximate autonomy.

        I say approximate because he is not autonomous. He was born into relationships he never chose, he is probably incapable of physically supporting himself in isolation, and he is certainly going to suffer mentally from it — except for a small handful of hermit types, who are very, very, very rare indeed. It is for this reason that we never find in nature anything close to the Lockean vision of adult human beings scattered over the landscape like tigers.

        • Comment by dda:

          I’m not Rolf but I think what he meant was that all those examples (frictionless surfaces, ideal gases, etc.) are extremely useful in understanding how the physical world works; while they do not, in fact, exist, they are helpful approximations that can actually get one pretty far in understanding and predicting physical interactions.

          It is, however, vital to remember they are approximations and that a new theory may come along that will be closer to the elusive reality.

          • Comment by ChevalierdeJohnstone:

            But frictionless surfaces etc. do exist. They exist in form: we can conceive of them and draw depictions of them and calculate their hypothetical physical effects. They are not observable empirically, but to say that they do not “exist” is true only for a very myopic and benighted view of “existence”.

            However Lockean Man does not exist. It is not possible to conceive of an utterly autonomous man, for the simple reason that such a being would not possess any of the qualities that we associate with humanness. He couldn’t even possess the basic biology of DNA, since any genetic endowments would owe to generations of prior ancestors.

            I can draw you a representation of a frictionless surface, complete with mathematical formulae and force-diagram to convey its property of frictionlessness. You can type the words “autonomous man” but you will find it impossible to portray this utterly autonomous character.

            • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

              I can draw you a representation of a frictionless surface

              And I can draw you a representation of a unicorn! That does not make the unicorn exist.

              They are not observable empirically, but to say that they do not “exist” is true only for a very myopic and benighted view of “existence”.

              Well then, colour me myopic and benighted. Having got your insults out of the way, would you like to tell me more about how imagining something makes it exist? For example, can I make the New Soviet Man exist by imagining him?

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                You are myopic and benighted. You yourself are making use of the very ideals and categories you deny exist in the act of denying them. You are conflating the act of imagining something with the act of contemplating or comprehending an ideal. The first is something you control, the second is not. I can imagine a unicorn but I cannot imagine a right angle properly so called that is unequal to all other right angles. That is because right angles and their properties do not depend on my imagination for their properties but unicorns do.

          • Comment by Mary:

            The point was that I was objecting to the autonomous man not on the ground that he does not exist — you can read my own comment and see I say nothing about that — but because he is NOT extremely useful in understanding how the world works.

  3. Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

    the conservative idea that the sovereign power should or could be used to encourage virtue in the people by the censorship of pornography or the criminalization of vice

    This is workable provided that the “sovereign power” itself is generally wielded only by the virtuous. However, I agree with you that

    all men are equally prone to corruption and self-serving,

    which is why we need a Constitution or equivalent document in order to circumscribe the sovereign power even in the cause of what that power perceives as “virtuous”.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      The paradox is that men who are not virtuous can write anything they want in a Constitution, and to them it is just paper. See the Soviet Constitution, for example.

      I should hasten to add that Conservatives do not adhere to the Puritan theory of government, that anything and everything done in the name of purity and godliness is allowed. The essence of Conservativism is to allow the private sphere to maintain virtue by informal means, aided by the coercive power of the state only in a few and limited cases, i.e. anti-pornography laws but not sumptuary laws; blue laws but not compulsory attendance of mass.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        On what grounds do you draw the line at those particular points? After all there have been sumptuary laws, and states that compelled attendance to their churches; and presumably those laws were justified along reasonably similar lines as anti-pornography laws, as preventing liberty from turning into license, freedom into anarchy. To be sure, everything is a judgement call and a tradeoff; but I find it odd that you choose to draw your lines around “conservatism” at rather precisely the battlegrounds of the time when you were growing up. What is special about those precise points, so that they compel your judgement?

        • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

          Robespierre famously styled his ideal state the “Republic of Virtue”, and I have no reason to doubt that he was sincere in the conviction that the nation could be made more virtuous by the shortening of some of its residents.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            Nu, it depends on how the virtue of a state is to be calculated. Is it the sum of the virtues of the residents? Then unless some are negatively virtuous, no man’s death can improve the state. Is it the virtue of, say, the best (ie most virtuous) men? Then, again, you cannot improve using the guillotine. But if it is the average virtue, or the virtue of the worst men, then clearly the guillotine may do good work. But all this aside, I do not quite see the connection to the question I asked?

            • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

              My point was that by defining “the promotion of virtue” as a proper object of state power, one opens up the possibility of the most barbarous acts being committed, albeit in all sincerity, in virtue’s name.

              It is because I (along with most traditional conservatives) am well aware of man’s propensity to self-delusion that I fear such a result and seek to constrain its possibility.

              Perhaps I should have addressed the comment to our host. Sorry about that.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          I did not in this essay say where my particular loyalties rest, albeit it should be obvious from context. To the best of my knowledge, the main purpose of sumptuary laws was to prevent the lower classes from dressing like the upper classes. Being an American, the notion of classes is alien to me, so any law tending to promote class distinctions is anathema to me. My objections to pornography I have answered at some length here: http://johncwright.livejournal.com/274771.html et seq. I am unaware of any parallel argument resting on those grounds supporting sumptuary laws.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            Sumptuary laws may also be grounded in the desire to avoid wastefully conspicuous consumption, so as to channel resources for war. This is perhaps not very good economics, since jewelry probably does not actually displace genuinely war-useful usages of gold; nonetheless, in my Komneniad, the exiled Romans forbid excessive ornamentation for that reason, and also because

            [T]he Komnenoi believe that the accumulation of vast personal fortunes led to the Fall of Rome, that men who are allowed to compete for the distinction of being the wealthiest will forget to compete for the distinction of being the most honourable, or the best servant of the state. Hence they have revived the ancient sumptuary laws of Rome, and the women of Senatorial rank take pride in wearing ornaments no larger than those of the meanest equestrian’s daughter.

            and again

            The Citizens themselves will tell you that the drabness of their city is a deliberate choice; “when Rome was built in brick it conquered the world, when Augustus covered it in marble the Fall began”, they say.

            Again one may enforce dress codes to create unity among one’s citizens, as when England forbade the kilt to be worn since it was associated with rebellion.

            The original Sumptuariae Leges were partly an attempt at adjusting the balance of trade; the prohibition on silk was intended to keep silver in Rome, rather than being exported along the Silk Road! The Romans also considered that, as every citizen was in principle a soldier, he had a duty not to get too luxurious in his lifestyle; but it’s true that these laws were perhaps not very effectively enforced.

            How do you justify blue laws?

            • Comment by Mary:

              Then you end up like the First Emperor, engaging in endless war to ensure that your subject remained ground down in poverty to think about plentiful food, or rites, or virtue, or music. . . .

      • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

        By “blue laws” do you mean the prohibition of doing business on the Christian sabbath?

          • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

            Two questions and two thoughts.

            (1) The blue laws cases which have been brought before the Supreme Court have been brought by observant Jews who feel that such laws are an anti-competitive restriction of their freedom to do business. Should they be told, (using the vernacular) to just suck it up?

            (2) Do you see any problem with say, the borough of Brooklyn banning all business activity between sundown Friday-Saturday?

            While I am opposed to “blue laws” as requiring the closing of a business, I see no problem at all with a law that would forbid an employer from requiring an employee to report for work on that employee’s declared weekly day of worship.

            And in closing, I suspect that any intention to reimpose a Sunday blue law would face less opposition from libertarians and atheists than it would from the NFL and NASCAR…..

  4. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    Your explanation of the three theories is very similar to Arnold Kling’s three-axes model. Are you drawing on his work, did you invent it independently, or are you both getting it from somewhere else?

  5. Comment by Stephen J.:

    “The danger from Speedy Gonzalez to the Equality of Man seems [to a conservative] frivolous, if not hysterical. …To a concerned and well intentioned liberal, the use of any stereotype holding any race up to mockery has the same sinister overtones and Nazi race-cleansing. They differ only in degree, not in kind.”

    I agree that philosophical disinterest is part of this assessment, but I think there is also a matter of purely factual disagreement: the Liberal and the Conservative disagree on the vulnerability of the human mind to propagandistic influence. Both will generally acknowledge that enough exposure to or reiteration of a stereotype as “natural” or “correct”, especially in the absence of contraindicative data, will tend to reinforce negative attitudes towards or uncritical acceptance of that stereotype; but the liberal generally believes that the prevalence of such exposure necessary to achieve a measurable effect is much lower than the conservative thinks and the scope of the effect much greater, and thus has a much lower tolerance for “acceptable” contexts and frequencies of such stereotyping.

    This is further complicated by the fact that proving, or even demonstrating a satisfactorily strong correlation for, such indirect effects requires the use of statistical analysis, a branch of mathematics so poorly understood and whose use is so badly politicized (see wmbriggs.com for many articles on the topic) that it is frequently taken for granted to be biased in favour of whatever conclusion it reaches. It is also complicated by the tendency to treat this vulnerability to unconscious influence as varying by topic; liberals worry far more about the conditioning of images and philosophies adumbrating violence, while conservatives worry more about the conditioning of images and philosophies adumbrating sex and sexual activity.

    Whether this issue can ever be resolved or not seems questionable to me, as the fundamental requirement of empirical testing — the ability to reproduce conditions exactly save for key control factors — is, I have come to believe, basically impossible to achieve when comparing groups of human beings.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I respectfully disagree. If it were true that the difference between conservative and liberal on this point were only the degree of sensitivity to repeated stereotypes, first, the liberal would not act just as offended by a negative as a positive stereotype (Speedy Gonzalez is always the hero in the cartoons in which he appears, as is Mr. Moto, as is Charlie Chan); and second, Liberals would be very worried about encouraging hateful stereotypes against Whites, Christians, males, Fathers, Southerners, Businessmen, Bankers, and Jews.

      I respectfully disagree that this has anything whatever to do with an issue open to empirical investigation.

      • Comment by Stephen J.:

        Well, I didn’t say that the factual difference in perceived vulnerability was the only difference, but I do believe it’s a difference, and a significant one; I think that one’s belief about the factual correctness of the thesis is at least in part the reason for adopting the philosophical positions found in correlation with that belief.

        After all, the progressivist mindset opposes negative stereotypes about oppressed groups for the same reason it does not oppose, or sometimes even promotes, negative stereotypes about oppressor groups: because it believes, as a matter of fact, that they work, objectively and measurably, regardless of intent or context. This can be shown by the willingness of most progressivists to censor speech, art and imagery: they genuinely believe that some ideas are objectively so toxic, and yet so contagious, that prevention of initial exposure is an objectively better approach than trying to inculcate antibodies through opposing speech, which is exactly why they see toxic speech as differing from toxic actions only in degree and not in kind.

        To me this sounds like something that might actually be proven or disproven empirically. Does such “unconscious propaganda” exist? Does it affect people the way they fear it does? In what way, and for how long, and how strongly? What levels of exposure produce saturation, or backlash? How much of this influence is diffused by countervailing imagery? And if it could be shown that stereotypes or toxic speech had far less influence in practice than most liberals feared, would their philosophy not change as a result?

        (It may be that it will always be practically impossible to know this, but I would argue that’s not to say that it’s irrelevant.)

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          If by “empirically”, if you mean proven by comparing something perceived by the five senses (such as mass, length, duration, candlepower, temperature, moles of substance, current) against a standard so as to measure it in units that can be manipulated mathematically, and then repeating the perception and confirming the measurement, I respectfully disagree. If my “empirically” you mean noticing something either obvious or subtle about your fellow man and drawing a rational conclusion from it without being hasty or subjective, I agree.

          My opinion of the objectivity, or even the rationality of Leftists is very dim indeed, due to my overexposure to debates on the internet (which, naturally, are not inclined to be rational) but I do certainly agree that Leftists in general will believe that such a thing not only can, but has been, proven by science, even if it never has been nor can be.

          My suspicion is that most Leftists do not believe in imponderables. They do not tend to believe that harm to the soul is harm. Many do not believe in the soul. So they believe (1) the only truly harmful thing is violence (2) therefore signs of dishonor which offend designated victim groups cannot be called dishonor (3) therefore it must be pretended that dishonor leads to violence

          Also, (4) the only truly true thing is science (5) therefore the conclusion that it is wrong to dishonor people cannot be maintained by itself (6) therefore the conclusion it is wrong to dishonor people must be pretended to be a scientific conclusion that dishonor leads to violence

          Also, sadly (7) Leftist believe that their beliefs are not judgments nor opinions but unquestionable fact, proven scientifically by experts. Such beliefs are axiomatically defined to be scientific especially when they are not. (8) therefore the conclusion that dishonor leads to violence is defined as being a result of a scientific study, even if no study has been or ever could be made.

          Why only members of designated victim groups are protected by this rule, is based on Liberal’s skewed morality, which does not recognize the existence of absolute right and wrong, but only of power and impotence. Whatever the impotent do the power is justified, as the impotent have a right to escape the chains the evil institutions of civilization have placed on them. Therefore interpreting Speedy Gonzalez as an insult rather than a compliment is right, and using the most vicious imaginable stereotypes and bigotry against White Male Christians is also right.

          The side effect of this type of thinking is that the Leftist is conditioned to be as hypersensitive as a hypochondriac to any imaginary slight against any member of the designated victim-group, but also to attack without chivalry, hesitations, scruples, honor, honesty or any trace of fairness against any member of the designated oppressor group.

          You would not believe this until you see a upper middle class black woman professional berating a lower class mom with two deaf children for daring to claim that all men are created equal, and should be judged on their character and not their skin color, calling the lower class poverty-stricken mom a racist on the grounds that the mom enjoyed the benefits of “white privilege” which allowed her to “oppress” the upper middle class black woman professional.

          It did not matter to the liberal termagant what she said or how hurtful it was or whether or not it had any relationship to the truth. The lower class woman’s comment that men should be treated equally was denounced as racism because the theory that any opposition to giving preferential treatment to blacks can have no cause aside from racism triggered the hypersensitive hypochondria I mentioned. The rich woman looked up the friends list of the poor woman, and found a number of people (including yours truly) whom they then also harassed and slandered, slanders sufficient, I should add, that words like racist and bigot show up in search terms when you type their names into Google (including yours truly).

          Am I clear? Even though my poverty-stricken friend was poor and weak, the theory labeled her as a member of the oppressor class, and the upper middle class black woman was labeled by the theory as an oppressed and weak victim, even though she was of a higher tax bracket and had gotten breaks and preferences her whole bratty sheltered life.

          Even in talking about doing some sort of study comparing the use of stereotypes to the rise or fall in violence assumes the liberal axiom of treating men as classes, rather than as individuals. What is wrong with saying that, because all men are equally made in the image and likeness of God, we should not insult each other? What is wrong with that?

          I will tell you. Speedy Gonzalez is not an insult to Spaniard any more than Bug Bunny is an insult to kids from the Bronx or Yosemite Sam is an insult to Southerners.

          • Comment by bensen.daniel:

            First of all, I am a huge fan. Your books are some of the few I buy without bothering to read the descriptions, and I am never disappointed.

            By your definition, I’m a liberal, in that I prefer policy that reduces oppression. (I don’t prefer equality as an end in an of itself, but let’s not quibble over semantics).

            Yes, I do not believe in imponderables. All questions can be answered, even if the effort or time it would take to answer some questions is beyond the scope of what we can at present achieve. I also do not believe in the empirical or objective reality of souls or god. I am willing to be convinced in the possibility of a science of morality as an outgrowth of game theory and evolutionary psychology, but I don’t think such a science would conform to what I personally think is right and wrong.
            I think that by your definition I am therefore liberal.

            However, I do not think that (1) the only truly harmful thing is violence. Lack of opportunity is also harmful. So is lack of self-determination (either as an individual or a group)

            (3) therefore it must be pretended that dishonor leads to violence
            Dishonor (could I say “defamation”?) is a sign that there might be oppression going on (in which case it is a sign of a larger problem, and should be ignored while that larger problem is addressed). Dishonor might be an attack in and of itself, however, causing emotional or physical suffering, in which case it’s a violent act and should be discouraged.

            (4) the only truly true thing is science.
            Yes, if by “true” you mean “factual.” Part of my belief system is that there is no fundamental, unchanging truth, but if by “true” you mean “factual” then yes, science (empirical observation and testing of hypotheses by more than one person) is the only true thing.

            (5) therefore the conclusion that it is wrong to dishonor people cannot be maintained by itself
            Yes, although if you want to be a successful person you should avoid being rude, in general.

            (7) Leftist believe that their beliefs are not judgments nor opinions but unquestionable fact, proven scientifically by experts.
            I hope that I am not so closed minded. Empirical evidence is the only way to know something, and if you present enough evidence to me, you’ll convince me. Although, of course I will need a lot of convincing to change my definitions of “bad” and “good” and whether I should put value in faith or believe in the existence of souls or God.

            As to this specific example of “why is it okay to stereotype majority people but not minorities” there is no objective reason why this should be so. Hurtful behavior is hurtful behavior, and the particular reasons for that behavior are less important than making sure the attack doesn’t happen again.
            However, we live in a society with certain rules of conduct, and if we want to be taken seriously and enjoy success, we should be polite.
            I would be interested in seeing a study that looks for correlations between the “success” of a group (by whatever metric) and its rules of conduct. American society exerts powerful social pressure against insults directed at minorities. China does not. Do these habits of public discourse have anything to do with the US and China’s relative success? It would be interesting and useful to answer that question.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              I thank you from the depths of my heart for your kind words concerning my humble books. You are a noble man if my harsh and crabbed opinions about your faction do not deter you from continuing to read them. If it is any comfort, while I am a conservative Republican, I do not think my Muses, Urania and Polyhymnia, is of any one particular party.

              I did know that many liberals, if not most, regard the lack of economic opportunity as a type of harm — indeed this is one of the main points of difference in worldview between liberal and conservative, so I admit I should have included that. However, that raises the question of whether in your worldview dishonor is bad principally because it is dishonor, or because it lowered economic opportunities?

              “Part of my belief system is that there is no fundamental, unchanging truth, but if by “true” you mean…”

              There is something of a paradox here. Is it true under all times and places and under all conditions that there is no fundamental, unchanging truth? If so, at least that statement would seem to be both fundamental and unchanging.

              There is a second paradox. If by “true” we mean only scientific, that is, empirical facts, then the statement “three is no fundamental, unchanging truth” would have to be something we can confirm with empirical evidence, that is, something we can see with our eyes or touch with our hands. But the statement is a universal negative: it applies to all things everywhere at all times, including in the first second after the Big Bang and including whatever is taking place in the Corona Borealis Supercluster of galaxies one billion lightyears away. I am aware of no observer in those locations which could confirm the hypothesis that no unchanging fundamental truths are found there. So the statement would seem to rest on a philosophical rather than an empirical basis. It would seem to be, technically speaking, not a fact.

              The same paradox arises again here “Empirical evidence is the only way to know something” The statement itself is not one which can be confirmed by empirical evidence. Indeed, one can think of fairly obvious counter-examples: the Pythagorean Theorem is both known and non-empirical, as is the statement “it is wrong to punish the innocent.” Likewise again, “bad” and “good” are non-empirical entities, so your conclusions about what is bad and what is good cannot be based solely on empirical evidence. The scientific method has nothing to say about bad and good. It only talks about mass, duration, length, candlepower, current, temperature, moles of substance.

              If you are not so closed minded as your fellow Liberals, I salute you. My experience with your kith has been rather negative indeed, so I hope I can meet and talk with a better sample of your faction and come to a better opinion. I am closed minded, and am slowly and painfully trying to open my mind. Any help you can give would be welcomed.

              I hope you are aware that there are at least some among the Left (I have met them) who do not agree that it is equally hurtful to insult a rich white Christian straight male as to insult a poor black Muslim homosexual female. In announcing that there is a standard that applies to both and applies to all, you have found a point of agreement with me, who am much concerned with questions of honor and courtesy. I am grateful for the company.

              Myself, I would not be interested in such a study because I believe that the deduction can be made from moral first principles that insults against the poor and weak (what you inaccurately call ‘minorities’ which is defined by number, not by rank or strength or status) are both craven and evil.

              I would say further that the abolition of slavery diminished — at least for that generation — rather than augmented the ‘success’ of the nations behind the abolition, both in the cost in economic losses and (in America) the cost of a Civil War. Likewise, abolishing insults against the poor and weak is meritorious even if there is no worldly success or worldly reward affixed to such a behavior. Whether something is successful or not is indifferent to whether it is moral or immoral.

              I note the same paradox against arises in your statements, however: “Hurtful behavior is hurtful behavior, and the particular reasons for that behavior are less important than making sure the attack doesn’t happen again” This seems to me to be a truth that is true under all times and places and conditions, that is, not only a tautology (therefore logically valid by definition) it is also a great moral principle that we should not harm nor libel each other. But your philosophy seems not to admit that principles exist, or at least not universal principles.

              When I call these things paradoxes, I am not saying that they are necessarily logical self-contradictions. I am saying they seem to be at first glance, so some additional explanation is required. I would welcome any comment you care to make along these lines.

              I thank you yet again for your kind patronage of my work. Bless you.

              • Comment by bensen.daniel:

                Re:I thank you from the depths of my heart for your kind words concerning my humble books.
                Thank you for writing such fun and thought-provoking fiction. And blog-entrees. I’ve been thinking about this one all day.
                And in fact before I continue, here’s a question that occurred to me: what is civilization? What makes it an end rather than a means to an end?

                Re: If it is any comfort, while I am a conservative Republican, I do not think my Muses, Urania and Polyhymnia, is of any one particular party.
                Well I live in Bulgaria, and American politics looks less intractable from this perspective.

                Re: I did know that many liberals, if not most, regard the lack of economic opportunity as a type of harm — indeed this is one of the main points of difference in worldview between liberal and conservative, so I admit I should have included that.
                Yes. After some thought I think “maximization of opportunity” is a pretty good working definition of political “good.” So then if someone lacks opportunity, that’s “bad.”

                Re:However, that raises the question of whether in your worldview dishonor is bad principally because it is dishonor, or because it lowered economic opportunities?
                I would say the second, how about you?

                Re:There is something of a paradox here.
                Those certainly are paradoxes. What if I said “It is more pragmatic to inform action with reference to changing facts, rather than unchanging truth”? In the same way I cannot prove souls don’t exist, but when predicting the behavior of other people, it’s more useful to think of their memories and brain chemistry.
                As for empirical fact, how about this: “Only by citing by empirical fact can sway my opinion on a given matter”? I’m sure I’m as prone to bias as anyone else, and there are some ideas that are harder to make me accept than others. But I believe that I am not close-minded. I believe that, give me enough evidence, and you can convince me of something, even if I am originally opposed to it.
                One flaw in my worldview you have brought to light is the fact it isn’t scalable. Although I do not believe in objective morality in the abstract, I certainly go through the day behaving as if there were moral and immoral actions, and I plan to impress my moral system onto my children. But then as a self-replicating communication-machine with no free will, I WOULD say that, wouldn’t I? 

                Thanks again. I enjoy dialogue about ideas and it isn’t always easy to find people willing to play. 

                Re:the Pythagorean Theorem is both known and non-empirical
                How is the Pythagorean Theorem non-empirical? I can test it with a ruler and a protractor. I assume it’s true and all my math works out and the bridges I build with it don’t fall down, so I can feel confident in it’s factuality.

                Re:”it is wrong to punish the innocent.”
                “Wrong” in this case is shorthand for “not useful if you want a working civilization.” Governments that rise above a certain level of innocent-punishment fail. Or at least, I think they do. I would have to have data to be sure about that.

                Re:The scientific method has nothing to say about bad and good. It only talks about mass, duration, length, candlepower, current, temperature, moles of substance.
                You’re right. Bad and good are useful concepts in a discussion about morality, but they don’t empirically exists like heat or duration. I do think, though that there are understandable laws that govern the interactions between self-replicating agents, and most of what we call bad and good does empirically exist in game theory and evolutionary psychology.

                Re:My experience with your kith has been rather negative indeed, so I hope I can meet and talk with a better sample of your faction and come to a better opinion.
                People have an unfortunate tendency of forming groups and hating anyone outside the group. It’s an instinct I think that can only be quashed through education on rational discourse…which not everyone is fortunate enough to get. I won’t apologize on behalf of liberals, since, by your definitions, I’m not sure I am one. But I am sorry that irrational people have wasted your time.

                Re: I am closed minded, and am slowly and painfully trying to open my mind. Any help you can give would be welcomed.
                Right back at you.

                Re: I hope you are aware that there are at least some among the Left (I have met them) who do not agree that it is equally hurtful to insult a rich white Christian straight male as to insult a poor black Muslim homosexual female.
                *sigh* I am. I can see the logic in tilting the scales so that the disadvantaged (not necessarily minorities, good point) get the benefit of the doubt in conflict with the advantaged. But there are limits. And it’s certainly possible to have too much White Guilt.

                Re:In announcing that there is a standard that applies to both and applies to all, you have found a point of agreement with me, who am much concerned with questions of honor and courtesy.
                I’m concerned with courtesy, but I’d like to hear you talk more about what exactly “honor” means. I usually use it as a formal synonym of “respect,” but I get the feeling you have a different definition in mind.

                Re:Myself, I would not be interested in such a study because I believe that the deduction can be made from moral first principles that insults against the poor and weak (what you inaccurately call ‘minorities’ which is defined by number, not by rank or strength or status) are both craven and evil.
                I think so too, personally, but how do you convince people who don’t agree except by citing data?
                For example, I could tell my Bulgarian students that they shouldn’t make jokes about Gypsies and Black people because it’s evil. I don’t because I want to keep my job, but also because the response would be “no, it isn’t evil.” How can I bring them about to my way of thinking except with evidence?

                Re: I would say further that the abolition of slavery diminished — at least for that generation — rather than augmented the ‘success’ of the nations behind the abolition, both in the cost in economic losses and (in America) the cost of a Civil War.
                Oh man! I’ve been planning to use that example in this discussion all day! Yes, exactly. People talked about equality for centuries before economic imperatives finally forced white men to give black men the right to vote. My theory is that improving technology (and hence both any individual’s control over their environment and the increasing amount of cooperation necessary to maintain our technology, not to mention better communication and transportation) forces us to expand Singer’s “circle of personhood.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Singer) I’ve written on the subject myself here: http://www.thekingdomsofevil.com/?p=2153

                Re: Whether something is successful or not is indifferent to whether it is moral or immoral.
                That is where we disagree. You and I (it seems) share most basic concepts of moral and immoral behavior, but I think those concepts evolved either literally through natural selection on ape behavior or through the interaction of agents in economic games. The moral standard that you and I uphold (or aspire to, at least in my case) is just one of the notable winners so far.

                Re: I would welcome any comment you care to make along these lines.
                How did I do?

                Once again, it’s an honor to talk with you, Mr. Wright, as well as a pleasure. I love discussions about ideas almost as much as I love big-concept science fiction with anime influences.

                • Comment by Pierce O.:

                  Your idea of morality seems to be pragmatic, am I correct? Useful=good, not-useful=bad. Let me present a hypothetical to you then. Suppose I am an incredibly powerful entity, with powers such as Marshall Atkins, Superman, etc. possess, immune to all mortal retribution. Why then, should I not do as I please? Would it be wrong for me to slaughter whole cities with atomics or cut the left hands off of all red-headed southpaws with my heat vision? Alternatively, for historical illustration of the same problem with pragmatic morality, wasn’t the abolition of slavery wrong, since it economically disadvantaged the United States?

                  • Comment by bensen.daniel:

                    And indeed, when some people become more powerful than others, they often start doing what’s I (and I’m sure you) would call ‘evil’ (http://www.ted.com/talks/philip_zimbardo_on_the_psychology_of_evil.html)
                    As someone more likely to be the victim of the actions of a powerful person than their perpetrator (you know, statistically), I can only hope that the disparity in power between individuals becomes less, and the systems that connect us become more stronger, so that it is more difficult for a person to emerge who is immune to moral retribution (i.e. mad with power).

                    Did the abolition of slavery economically disadvantage the United States?

                    • Comment by Pierce O.:

                      Re: power

                      Would it be accurate then, to sum up your moral system as, “There is no good or evil, only power,” since your definition of good seems to be “what is useful,” or, “what I can get away with,” and your definition of evil is “what is not useful,” or, “what I can’t get away with,” all of which are tied to the power of the moral actor. If I possess the One Ring, and, rather than choosing to settle this debate with words and ideas like civilized men, don it, become invisible, and push you off a cliff or something else suitably dramatic, would an outside observer be able to judge my actions as evil?

                      Re: slavery

                      I was going off of what our host wrote earlier:

                      I would say further that the abolition of slavery diminished — at least for that generation — rather than augmented the ‘success’ of the nations behind the abolition, both in the cost in economic losses and (in America) the cost of a Civil War.

                      Going off of this assumption (and if it prove false, let us substitute a hypothetical situation in which it would indeed be disadvantageous), would it not be evil, according to your pragmatic view, to abolish slavery?

                    • Comment by Mary:

                      Nah, you can also hope that the strong break the fetters with which they have been unjustly bound and wreak the havoc that is their right. It’s as good as yours.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      How can you entertain the hope you mention without reference to a moral standard? I would like to imagine your hope is not to suffer evil because it is evil, not your hope is not to suffer evil because it is unpleasant. Any number of pleasant evils — such as the government by force addicting you to a euphoria-inducing deadly opiate, or a bank falsifying your account to make it seem as if you have more money than you do — can be imagined which a rational man would hope to avoid.

                      If you are saying that you don’t mind doing or suffer evil, just so long as it is pleasant, then you have undermined any foundation for making any statements about good or evil, including this one. Saying that you don’t mind doing or suffering evil so long as it is pleasant is the same as saying ‘evil’ is a meaningless word.

                • Comment by Mary:

                  “Wrong” in this case is shorthand for “not useful if you want a working civilization.”

                  What do you do if someone else says, “So what? Let civilization stop working”?

                  Or if someone else argues that it’s incorrect, that good show trials will prevent all the harmful effects you foresee?

              • Comment by Asher Jacobson:

                The claim that there are no fundamental and unchanging truths is similar to tha assertion that there is no such thing as an absolute truth.

                Looks like an absolute truth, iself, doesn’t it? Well, frmulated correctly, it’s not. Here’s the correct formulation:

                Human beings, in their present form, are functionally incapble of accessing unchanging truth.

                Voila! No more paradox.

                Further, if we restrict truth to knowing subjects then the logical extrapolation from that statement is that there is no such thing as an absolute truth. That conclusion, itself, is also not absolute since it was deductively arrived at from a non-absolute premise.

                Where the “absolute” part comes in is in the application of deductive reasoning. However, deductive reasoning is, itself, NT a category of “knowing” and, taken by itself, says nothing about the truth of various claims and statement we might make about things.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  I beg to differ. That statement if uttered by a human being in our present form contains the same paradox we were discussing. It impeaches itself.

                  If you can find and elf or an angel or a Martian to utter the statement, then he can speak it without contracting himself. But you cannot (that is, if you are a human in our present form — on the internet one never knows).

                  And, by the way, it is not a logical deduction from the statement “Human beings, in their present form, are functionally incapable of accessing unchanging truth.” to conclude anything whatever about the nature of unchanging truth itself, in the same way that the statement “a blind man in his present state of blindness cannot see the full moon” proves or disproves anything about whether the full moon exists.

                  In order for the conclusion to be valid, you would have to establish two things: first, that human beings, and all rational beings, both in their present forms and in all forms past and future and possible, cannot access unchanging truth, and, second, that if unchanging truth existed some rational being in some possible form would have accessed it. Only if both those premises were true, could the conclusion that unchanging truth does not exist follow.

                  Do you see what I mean? Can you follow what I am saying? I mean no disrespect, but I do not know how much formal training you have had in logic.

                  • Comment by Asher Jacobson:

                    I have had a fair amount of instruction in formal logic but it was mny years ago and I don’t practice regularly. I am on my phone and my prior comment was too truncated to get my full point across but I will try to respond more fully when I get home.

                    I would not make the deduction myself from the limitations of huma beings to the assertion that there is no such thing as absolute truth, as that is a very sloppy and imprecise one, but it is a reasonable deduction for a layperson.

                  • Comment by Asher Jacobson:

                    You seem to have two different uses of the concept of truth:

                    A). Reality as it is
                    B). Statements we make about reality that are acceptable explanations of our experiences

                    These are two compleely different things and require completely different things and require separate labels. Now, I don’t particularly which of these you decide to label “truth” but you can’t label them both with the same label.
                    s.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      It would be more polite and more logical if you asked me how I defined a term rather than putting words in my mouth. However, even granting your strawman argument, the set A and the set B do not necessarily lack any overlap. There could easily be a statement which is or alleges to be in both, such as the statements you here and now are making. If the statement you yourself are making are members of B, a statement about reality explaining your experience, but not a member of A, noumenal reality, then the statement is inaccurate at best and false at worst, depending on the relationship of A and B. But unless A and B overlap, then by your own admission, your statements are false.

                  • Comment by Asher Jacobson:

                    Still on my phone but here’s another way of approaching it:

                    A). Truth is a property of a knowing being
                    B). Absolute truth is a property of an infinite being
                    C). Non-absolute truth is the product of a finite being

                    Now,thestate of existence of what we call infinite being is what human beings refer to as “God” szo when you lay a claim to absolute knowledge it is tantamount to calling yourself God.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      This argument would certainly refute anyone who claimed that he knew absolute truth defined as a property of an infinite being. However, no one defines it that way except you.

                      For the rest of us, the word ‘relative’ means conditional, that is, dependent on something that changes, and absolute means unconditional, that is, dependent on something that does not change. So that, for example, saying the Earth is 92,960,000 miles from the sun is conditional. In the far past Earth has been a different distance from the sun than this, and also in the future, as orbital characteristics slowly change over eons. It is a dependent or conditional truth. On the other hand, saying the Earth is 1 AU from the sun is unconditional, since the distance of 1 AU (Astronomical Unit) is defined as being the distance from Earth to sun.

                      It requires no godlike powers to say that “Earth by definition is 1 AU from the sun.” Nor is a man calling himself a god who so says.

              • Comment by ChevalierdeJohnstone:

                Sir,

                Drawing from experience, I don’t think that those of a liberal mindset think in terms of “harm” or “evil” nor do liberals tend to care about unjust oppression. These are rational explanations by non-liberals for what is at heart, as you say, an emotional reaction. Psychological studies have indicated that those of “conservative” sociopolitical views are more likely to feel disgust, but I think this is because the liberal mind is continually and constantly disgusted, such that measuring additional disgust is like a geiger counter measuring an X-Ray machine at Chernobyl.

                Everything appears to disgust liberals, so much so that the feeling of disgust is their natural reaction, and they become so inured to it that they actively seek out new things to disgust themselves, so that in the act of being disgusted by something they can ignore the disgust they feel about everything.

                In my experience I find that the liberal mindset always reduces decision-making to emotional disgust. A liberal can engage in a rational conversation regarding firearms and gun control, cede all points regarding the ineffectiveness of gun control laws, potential for oppression of minorities, social basis for the means of self-defense vested with a citizenry…and yet still say that they “don’t like guns and don’t want them around.” Likewise with abortion or birth control: liberals will cede all points of rational argument (if argued politely and convincingly) but still maintain that they “don’t like the idea” of not letting a woman choose to terminate the life of an unborn child.
                Liberals tend especially to have no sympathy for minorities (including those groups of which they count themselves members) or for the oppressed; however, they feel disgust when confronted with (or imagining confrontation with) someone acting in a bigoted manner. It is never the actual effect that liberals seek with the policies they promote, but the virtual effect of masking or diminishing their feelings of disgust. Liberal thought is narcissist: it is concerned not with external effects on the world, but with internal effects on how the liberal mind feels.

                As you have described the mindset, I would suggest this narcissist emotional disgust is the true core of liberal thought. Of course many people do still support liberal causes who do not do so based on emotional disgust; given the widespread decay of sociointellectual knowledge and death of critical philosophical thinking in what was formerly known as “Christendom”, some people of a conservative or libertarian mindset are simply badly misinformed; they are capable of rational decision-making. The goal – successful thus far – of what in some areas of the WWW is called the (progressive) “Cathedral” has been to train generations of Westerners who are so brainwashed by education in the liberal mindset that they are incapable of reasoning for themselves but can only react with liberal disgust towards those things that liberal institutions (often not staffed or run by those of a liberal mindset) tell them to be disgusted by.

                I would venture to say that in America a majority of females are liberals and the majority of males are (narcissist) libertarians. The feminist agenda has taught women that they are entirely on their own and neither ought to nor can depend on anyone else. Liberalism is a natural reaction to anything that reminds them that they might have to depend on someone else. The American creed of liberty sans responsibility has taught men that they ought to be able to have anything they want; confronted with the obvious reality that they can’t the natural reaction is to suspect that someone else is taking it away. The narcissistic libertarian American male thus wants perfect freedom for himself but protection from everyone else, since he knows what he wants to do with that “freedom” and doesn’t want anyone else doing the same to him.

                These natural attitudes are moral and justifiable when subsidiary to the family: a female naturally is afraid of and disgusted by anything that might threaten her family, but is ensured that this vigilance is not hers alone to bear but is backed up by the support of her husband, parents, cousins, and extended community. Likewise a male naturally wants every good thing for his family, but pursues these goals in cooperative and communal partnership with his wife, parents, and extended community. But as you say, we have all-but-destroyed this idea of marriage and family, as evidenced by the fact that many would call me misogynist for daring to suggest that there are basic differences in thought and brain chemistry depending on how many X chromosomes one possesses.

          • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

            most Leftists do not believe in imponderables

            Can one be a conservative and not believe in imponderables?

      • Comment by Nate Winchester:

        Mexicans Love Speedy Gonzales is the trope name for the embrace of a stereotype by the stereotypee.

        Just FYI. :D

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Do you have a link which says who first called this a stereotype? Mexicans are not known for having swiftly running mice, or being swift runners themselves, any more than police scientists from Central City, Ohio like Barry Allan, or mutants from o Mount Wundagore in the country of Transia, like Quicksilver. But no one has every said The Flash was a stereotype for police scientists.

          That is what I cannot fathom. How can anyone call the character a stereotype if he does not exhibit any of the characteristics stereotypically associated with other members of his alleged victim-whining group? Is Zorro a stereotype for Mexicans because Mexicans are known for being sword-fighting vigilantes?

          • Comment by Nate Winchester:

            Well I think this is what you were talking about earlier. People like you and me notice what makes him different from others, whereas others notice what makes him like others.

            From the trope page itself (which I guess is the best answer we’ll ever get):

            The Trope Namer: surprising to many, Speedy Gonzales of Looney Tunes, despite being an obvious stereotype of Mexicans, is actually quite a popular and beloved character in Mexico and throughout Latin America, where his cartoons still run to this day. From 1999 to 2002, the cartoons were banned in the USA by Cartoon Network, who had exclusive broadcasting rights, and discontinued by Warner Bros., but a massive fan campaign and lobbying by the League of United Latin American Citizens eventually led to this practice ending. Of course, the most offensive aspect of Speedy (his broken English and terrible Spanish) is not present in actual Spanish-language dubs of the shorts for export, so this may explain some of his appeal outside of the United States. Mexicans point out that Speedy is actually a positive figure rather than an Ethnic Scrappy – not only he has a good heart and is more physically capable than his opponents, he more often than not defeats them through cleverness than speed. Even Slowpoke Rodriguez, Speedy’s audaciously ridiculous Erudite Stoner cousin, is “fast upstairs in the cabeza,” and hypnotizes Sylvester in seconds.

            In other words, some see only insult, but some see only praise.

            For an example I can speak from experience:

            An odd example would be King of the Hill. The series began as a jab at Southern, Bible-thumping, redneck, middle-class Americans. However, the show found itself to be a smash hit among that exact demographic. After the first season, the show became less ‘look at this dumb white guy’ and more ‘laugh along with this hard working father and his loving family’.

            Having now watched EVERY episode of KotH, I can say that when you go back and watch some of the early episodes, they were a bit ‘harsh’ on the characters, one could draw insults from them. But by season 2 already it was far more affectionate tributes (like the Andy Griffith show) than insulting. Maybe, when you’re looking for a “mirror” in art, even a vague insult of “your type” still ends up being more positive on the whole than nothing at all or the worst villains elsewhere. Leading to an audience embracing it and the portrayal turning more and more positive to court said audience.

            Then again, maybe we just like to see mice run fast and we all wish we could be the man Hank Hill is. :)

            • Comment by ChevalierdeJohnstone:

              Not true regarding King of the Hill: Mike Judge is often silent on specific political policies but is generally sympathetic to populist conservatism. Beavis and Butt-head was a parody of modern liberal youth culture (and the quickly-cancelled “Goode family” of what this looks like in “adults”). King of the Hill was a paen to conservative family values wrapped up in a parody of liberal stereotypes of ordinary conservatives. Note that while Hank Hill is just as much an idiot as every other father you’ve ever met (present fathers included) AND fulfills many liberal stereotypes of conservative American men, he always ends up being right or “doing the right thing” in the end.

              Judge wrote, directed, produced, and released “Idiocracy” despite it being canned by the studio. That movie is about as dystopian a view of the end result of present liberal politics and culture as you can find.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            But Speedy Gonzales does have traits which are (at least in perception) Mexican: The broad-brimmed hat and the accent. (And, I suppose, the name!) It is not his speed which makes him a stereotype. You might as well argue that, if I make up a blond, blue-eyed character named Oluf Olsson who wears a hand-knitted lusekofte, eats fish dunked in lye, and says “Uff da” when annoyed, he is not a Norwegian stereotype if he also has X-ray vision. The superpower is not the relevant trait.

            • Comment by DaveSomething:

              I am in complete agreement with Dr Andreassen. Uff da! ;)

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              Is there anyone who finds it offensive if a character from Mexico is portrayed wearing a hat from Mexico, a type of hat the Mexican made famous? If so, what is the basis for the offense? Is the image of Rich Uncle Pennybags from the Monopoly game a stereotype? He is pictures in a silk top hat of the kind made famous by British and New York grandees, not to mention stage magicians. Is the image of Zatanna the magician from DC comics offensive? She also wears a silk top hat, but in this case it is a shorthand or a stereotype intended to tell the audience that she is a stage magician.

              I will set you a simple question. Invent a Mexican character for a children’s cartoon, but do not give him any Mexican characteristics, neither a hat, nor a sombrero, nor an accent, nor a Mexican name but at the same time dress him in a costume and give him clearly identifiable tics or mannerisms which will identify him to an unsophisticated audience as being Mexican. Can you do it?

              • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                Is there anyone who finds it offensive if a character from Mexico is portrayed wearing a hat from Mexico, a type of hat the Mexican made famous?

                I did not say it was an offensive stereotype; I said it was a stereotype. This being said, it seems that Speedy Gonzalez, or at least his friends and acquaintances, are rather fond of their siesta; in other words, lazy. The accusation of laziness, at any rate, I could see as being offensive.

                Further – I am not endorsing this view, but merely explaining it – it appears to me that many liberals object not only to directly offensive stereotypes, but to any stereotypes whatever – even positive ones. “Jews are clever”, “Asians are good at math”, “Norwegians are tall, blond, and phlegmatic” – you probably ought not to make these statements at a convention of liberals, even if you intended to compliment someone. The reasoning appears to be that you ought not to deal with people as representatives of a group, but as individuals; in reducing them to group-members, you are taking away their individual importance even if the group is a positive one. (Again, I’m not arguing in favour of this, I’m just trying to report the theory as I understand it.) Possibly this is a reaction to the trend you point out in liberal thought, of taking groups and their relations as the important thing?

                I will set you a simple question. Invent a Mexican character for a children’s cartoon, but do not give him any Mexican characteristics, neither a hat, nor a sombrero, nor an accent, nor a Mexican name but at the same time dress him in a costume and give him clearly identifiable tics or mannerisms which will identify him to an unsophisticated audience as being Mexican. Can you do it?

                I’d have him dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, and his response to every possible problem would be to say “Well, on the tough streets of Mexico City we would deal with this sort of thing by…”

                However, the point of objecting to stereotypes seems to be that the task you set is inherently an undesirable one, which nobody ought to attempt. The character ought to be identified by his traits such as bravery or speed or stupidity or whatever, and not by his membership in a group.

              • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

                I think that doing so would open you up to a charge of racism, as we saw with the movie, Avatar, the Last Airbender, which was pilloried on this very board for not using the “Proper Ethnics”.

  6. Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

    A very recent quote from Pope Francis which I think is on point here:

    Moreover, the goal of economics and politics is to serve humanity, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable wherever they may be, even in their mothers’ wombs. Every economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one’s own human potential.

    Now, given that the free market (a term which I use in preference to “capitalism”) provides the greatest possible opportunity for every human being to achieve his potential, I might see my way to endorse the Pope’s comments as sensible and realistic.

    However, the choices of usage here, “the goal of economics”; “Every economic and political theory or action must set about providing”; give me serious pause.

    Economics properly understood does not have a “goal” or is tasked with “setting about” anything other than to explain the behavior of human beings in response to financial conditions and inputs. (No flavor of economic theory does this better than the Austrian, but that’s for another thread).

    And the idea that economic policy (as opposed to economics) should have a “goal” of specific results for specific societal groups has been demonstrated, throughout the world and throughout recent history, to be a catastrophic failure.

    This letter is yet another example of the capture of many of the world’s religious institutions (many Protestant and Jewish leaders have equally been misled) by a species of wooly headed liberalism when it comes to economics.

    (source for the quote)
    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/letters/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130615_lettera-cameron-g8_en.html

    • Comment by Mary:

      If economics does not have a goal, what does it matter that the free market produces better than any other?

      • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

        Economics is a science of observation and prediction, and as such it has no “goals” other than accuracy in those two ends. One could spend one’s life in the study of the economics of socialism and be adjudged a success in that endeavor, regardless of the conclusion one would draw that socialism is a protracted train wreck.

        Government fiscal and monetary policy should not be confused with economics.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          This is basically correct, except that while economic history is concerned with observation and prediction, economics as a science is itself a priori and non-empirical. It is a set of rational deductions about human action from first principles concerning human nature. The law of supply and demand is not a prediction of behavior, since all it says is that the price of a good or service is lower than it otherwise would be due to an increase in supply. Other factors might drive the price up even if the increase in supply is driving it down. Those other factors are too numerous to list or measure. The knowledge that the price is lower than it otherwise would be, since the realm of “otherwise would be” is no more visible to the human eye than the remote future, or the land of elves, is not empirical knowledge, and cannot be confirmed nor denied by empirical experiments.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      You are conflating two unrelated concepts, namely, (1) the goal of economics within economics, that is, the moral purpose of the study of the invariant relations between marketplace actions — which you correctly define as a null set, since there is no moral purpose one way or the other with this or any science (2) the goal of economics as a human action, that is, the moral purpose of the economists and those who use their findings to do things like recommend policies and write laws and participate in the market place.

      Likewise, there may be no innate moral purpose to political science as a branch of learning, that is, merely the study of the laws and legal institutions and their relationship to their outcomes, while there is very clearly a moral purpose to the act of politics as a branch of human action, that is, using the laws and legal institutions to achieve certain ends, such as life, liberty and happiness.

      Do you see the distinction? The Holy Father is talking about the second, the use to which the study of economics is put, not the first, the final cause of economics as a field of study.

    • Comment by Pierce O.:

      I read that more as “the free market was made to serve man, not man the free market”. I tend to see Church teachings on economics less as policies that can be implemented by the government, but as guidance as to the attitude with which we should approach commerce. For example, if you enact a living wage law to ensure that all men receive from their labor enough resources to sustain themselves, putting aside the difficulty of calculating a living wage for each employee, I think businesses will fall into three camps: those with high profits who will cut into their profits in order to keep their current workforce at the new wage, those with high profits who will fire many employees to keep their current profit margin, and those with low profits who will have to fire employees to stay in business. The first group’s attitude is in line with Catholic social teaching, but, barring the American people deciding they prefer a just wage to cheap goods, they will probably end up being driven out of the market by the second group, who has more money to work with. End result: lots of jobs lost by trying to implement a living wage through the law. It would be more, ah, profitable, I think, to try and convert the hearts of businessmen, so that there is no need to implement a living wage through law.

      The flip side to this is to change the hearts of consumers to prefer a living wage for all to super cheap goods. Otherwise, as above, they will patronize the company with cheaper goods, driving the living wage companies out of business. I do think one way in which tariffs could actually be useful would be to disincentivize producing goods in countries that do not treat their workers fairly (NOT because the goods won’t be “Made in ‘Murica”, make them in France for all I care so long as the workers are being treated right). Doing this would at least make us used to paying more for things, as a preparation for being used to the higher prices that would result from a living wage.* The downside though is that the cost of living will rise, which would hurt those making less than a living wage…so scratch that idea. I leave it written here in case someone more knowledgeable than I can find a way to make it work.

      *it is possible that if you removed minimum wage laws prior to businesses paying a living wage, prices would fall and the living wage would end up being small compared to what we think of now. Historically, does anyone know of any cases of the market “resetting” itself after deregulation?

      • Comment by Nate Winchester:

        *it is possible that if you removed minimum wage laws prior to businesses paying a living wage, prices would fall and the living wage would end up being small compared to what we think of now. Historically, does anyone know of any cases of the market “resetting” itself after deregulation?

        That’s the point right there, the “living wage” is going to be pointless because it is entirely going to be determined by cost. As the econ lesson goes, there’s a reason we don’t just put the minimum wage at $1 million as a way to end poverty. If you can see why raising wages up to an absurd amount won’t “solve” anything, then I trust you can figure out why raising it any smaller amount will have the same non-effect.

        Thus, those who work at increasing the quality of good while lowering the price of said goods (aka increasing “purchasing power” of existing money) are doing more for instituting a “living wage” than any boss just throwing an extra dollar onto a paycheck.

        As far as “resetting” itself, are you talking about the price normalization that occurs after deregulation? Then I’d say just do a search for Thomas Sowell who writes on the topic with such frequency (and with so many examples) the odds are in your favor of getting one completely at random. I think John Stossel has also done a lot of examples as well but I’d need to understand your question better to say for sure or provide specifics.

        • Comment by Pierce O.:

          As far as “resetting” itself, are you talking about the price normalization that occurs after deregulation? Then I’d say just do a search for Thomas Sowell who writes on the topic with such frequency (and with so many examples) the odds are in your favor of getting one completely at random. I think John Stossel has also done a lot of examples as well but I’d need to understand your question better to say for sure or provide specifics.

          Yes! I knew there had to be a better word for it. Thank you, I must now away to le google.

      • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

        It would be more, ah, profitable, I think, to try and convert the hearts of businessmen

        Yes, yes, yes!

        It is not only a legitimate role of the Church to do this, it is also a method which any advocate of human freedom should endorse.

        It is when the Church (or any church) becomes an advocate for forced redistribution by the state that it weakens its position to speak with any authority on issues of economics.

  7. Comment by bensen.daniel:

    Excellent conversation and powerful fuel for thought. I’m looking forward to the next post.

  8. Comment by dda:

    You wrote, “…the liberty theory’s view of libertarianism…”

    Did you mean liberal’s or have I misinterpreted what you were trying to say?

    You also wrote, “…I have had angry Catholic socialists denounce me angrily as wicked for not believing his nonsense…”

    Should that be their there? Or is the he considered plural when used this way?

    I do find this piece very thought-provoking and, it seems, a cogent explanation of modern liberal thought.

  9. Comment by The Ubiquitous:

    There are three major political parties in Britain today: Socialists, represented by Labour; Conservatism, represented by the Tories; Liberalism, represented by the Lib Dems. For many reasons, not the least of which is a fallen human nature, they undoubtedly fail to hold up their own principles. With that in mind, each of these three traditions does represent, broadly, a real ideology.

    Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg, MP, once summarized these ideologies very well in a speech I know nothing about except that definitions from them appeared on Wikipedia. (Yes, yes — but the ideas are just fine, even if the attribution were bogus.)

    Socialists support the idea of the good society, typically judged in terms of equality of income. In order to bring about this end they use the state quite aggressively in terms of labour market regulation, centralised public services and through tax and benefits.

    Socialism is, by design, the nanny state. No man can be trusted to run his own affairs. The State cannot help but know better. As an ideology it has an obvious weakness, which is the same as the weakness of a weight-loss program which begins with double amputation. Yes, I suppose you do loose weight that way. But does the sum total of all the effects of your method, not to mention all the effects your method ignores, really end with your desired result? And if that is your desired result — a caged man, a cowered mind, a cowed demeanor — who will do the caging, the cowering, the cowing on you?

    Yes, but you do know better. For the good of the whole, you bear the same sad smile of Jadis and Uncle Andrew.

    Conservatives support the idea of a big society, with responsibility shared throughout society — people are responsible both for themselves and each other. The emphasis is naturally on non-state institutions such as marriage, the family, churches and voluntary organisations.

    Conservatism, by this definition, is remarkably freeing. It is by definition self-rule and democracy. It is not merely the harsh republicanism of the socialist. It is self-rule, selflessly, for the sake of all those alive with deference to the collected wisdom of all those who are not. Unlike socialism, our society is not at the mercy of Controllers. It is allowed to grow. It is not a collection of individuals, as it has an identity of its own. It is truly collaborative, and it really does allow space for what has ever worked for us creatures.

    We do not have to reinvent the wheel. Because of that, we as a society can really move forward. It is almost Chestertonian: Only the conservative is progressive.

    The liberal ideal is of the open society, where power is vested in people, not in the state or other institutions. This means that individuals need the capabilities and opportunities to chart their own course through life, and to hold institutions to account. So while the good society needs a strong state, and the big society needs strong social institutions, the open society needs strong citizens.

    Liberalism really does believe it is progressive. It really does believe that by tearing off every thing that binds a man to anything, men find their fullest expression. It really does believe in the hardened individualist, and it really does believe in couples professing custom vows, and it really does believe that the couples’ vows mean nothing if one of the two — or however many — recant. (It really does believe that vows mean nothing.)

    By cutting off every fetter, you do not have a man free to roam the earth. You merely have chained him to the winds of his passion, the whims of whatever he will. Every man for himself, even at the expense of others. Liberalism has no freedom but license, and no government but anarchy.

  10. Ping from Lightning Round – 2013/06/26 | Free Northerner:

    […] You cannot reason with a liberal for he is not reasonable. Related: Liberalism is emotion, conservatism, passion and honor, and libertarianism, intellect. […]

Leave a Reply