Of bad writing and free markets


Modern writing is truly atrocious. Content is sacrificed to form, which is repetition of tropes in new form more than any sort of inventive fiction. Style and voice are dead, subsumed to the need to be quirky, oddball, and ironic… and yet, it all reads the same. Let’s hear it from this week’s trend article: Why I Bought A House In Detroit For $500:

I made my kitchen counters out of century-old maple floors, rock-hard and pried from an abandoned soda-pop factory by a neighbor. I plucked my kitchen cabinets from a school that was being demolished. Aside from the cabinets made from old-growth oak, strewn about the school were beakers and other science equipment, books splayed open like dead birds, desks, marble slabs in the bathroom, granite tables, chalkboards that still contained notes. It looked like some catastrophic event had stricken the nation, nuclear war perhaps, and the teachers and students had fled at a moment’s notice. After I got out what I could, it was all pushed into the ground with a backhoe. They say the functional illiteracy rate in Detroit is nearly 50%.

This is what I like to call the “NPR style”: dumb it down, make it a cliche, and then throw in just enough cultural confetti that only those who are “educated” under the new regime can recognize what’s going on and appreciatively clap their elite little hands. It’s shibboleths for the self-congratulatory chattering classes.

Never mind the fact that in the past, writing meant communication of information in an interesting way, not carving away and distorting the information to make it interesting. This article barely tells anything of the process of renovating this home, but gives us a grab bag of vignettes and metaphors.

Such is the problem we face when it comes to communicating conservatism to a mass audience: they are brainwashed and brain-dead, expecting to be spoon fed simplistic truths in stylish packages. They think in one dimension only, and thanks to decades of self-esteem counseling from our schools believe themselves to be good judges of writing and critical thinking.

This leads us to the question posed by the image above, which is an oblique take on the what-is-conservatism question: is conservatism a defense of free markets only?

The reason I turned to conservatism from other viewpoints is that fundamentally, conservatism is a reality-based philosophy. I could not under leftism “prove” any of the things I knew to be true because leftism is formed of an artificial reduction of reality to a simplistic version of itself. No other political philosophy availed itself to me, either, since all political ideas are derived from the two opposites: reality-based (conservatism) or human-based (liberalism).

Conservatism is that reality-based idea which is the basis of non-utilitarian consequentialism: we measure things by their effects, not our intents. Thus we pay attention to how to achieve certain results and we are (very) suspicious of unproven assertions that come coupled with wildly positive claims, as such things are almost always scams. One way to describe liberalism is as a scam, or at least as clever marketing: it promises universal social and political acceptance and offers absolutely zero method of making that work, other than a vague assertion that human nature will change in this new found age of Enlightenment.

Enlightenment? They’ve been promising us that scam for five centuries now, and we have yet to see it. What we do see is that the more we follow the Enlightenment path, which might be called radical individualism or egalitarianism, the more nasty and frustrated people get. The more accepting we make society, and the less clear we draw the lines between wanted conduct and unwanted conduct, the more people become selfish, criminal, petty, lazy, slovenly, vandalistic and unlikely to lift a finger for anything but their own immediate self-interest. This is because the Enlightenment, which proposed human individualism as being more important than a natural or divine order, was a scam and remains so. It’s a friendly bon mot delivered to the herd to make them feel good about themselves, and a secret handshake they can use to advance each other. “Bill’s a good believer in the perfectability of humanity and universal goodwill, might as well put his name on the list for a management position.”

This is why Enlightenment and conservative ideals are at odds. They’re hard-wired to be incompatible. And this is why conservative ideals are broader than economic policy or fiscal policy alone, or even together. Conservatism is a framework for understanding life, a background philosophy to all philosophy, a sense of finger to the nose guidance when confronting the unknown. It is not as simple as liberalism, which is either egalitarianism (1789-1945) or egalitarianism with state subsidy (1965-present). All liberal policies flow from this one simple idea.

This shows us that conservatism is an ur-theory that underlies economics, but does not limit itself to free market economics. What then is the conservative approach to markets? The options are few: we either allow them to be free, or we attempt to “manage” them which requires entrusting a bureaucracy with even more influence over an economic system than it has through the passing of permits and licensing of street addresses. Since that’s a terrible option, we endorse free-market economics. We also, per both our sense of Platonic justice — good to the good, bad to the bad — and Social Darwinism, endorse markets as they parcel out reward for performance, instead of for merely being human as all liberal systems from Democrats on up through Communism want us to do.

The quote above is a classic example of bad writing of a different type:

“The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.” – Milton Friedman

This passage very cleverly hides the question that Mr. Friedman wants to make sure you never ask which is, “What is the value of having people who hate one another in the same society?” He focuses instead on talking about how neutral free markets are as a system, and how in this state of great freedom, the vast democratic experiment will work… he hopes.

It’s time for an update to Friedman here. Conservatism embraces free markets, indeed. However, it does not do so at the expense of trumping its primary principle, which is paying attention to consequences. Under that principle, societies allow markets and government to dominate over organic principles like culture and identity are just as doomed as those who think that forming a coalition of people who hate each other is a viable plan.

In fact, if we remove ourselves from the fuzz of contemporary thinking — the same fuzz that trains us to accept both these examples of terrible writing as “good” writing — we can see how laughable an idea this is. Yes, let’s form a nation of people who hate each other. And then we can use product sales to control them.


  1. 1349 says:

    Conservatism embraces free markets, indeed.

    (Free markets is probably another contentless term.)

    Should conservatism associate itself with any particular type of economics at all?
    A reality-based political system will probably use the tools that are effective in every given situation – and there can be situations when/where state – “bureaucratic” – interference in economy is necessary.
    Worldview (or religion) should be above and guide politics; politics should be above and guide economics; it’s the traditionalist model. If the political power doesn’t keep economy in check, your society will eventually (actually, it does) live by the bare logic of the capital. That which must be below will be (is, actually) above.

    The options are few: we either allow them to be free, or we attempt to “manage” them which requires entrusting a bureaucracy with even more influence over an economic system…

    This is a simplification.
    Do you really believe that mantras like “demand creates supply” should guide economy?
    Or – isn’t the bad writing that you complain of right here, as well as bad music, junk food etc., a direct effect of the “free markets” philosophy?
    Are you sure your nation can do fundamental scientific research and large-scale experimental development if all economy is “free”? I’m not sure.
    After all, it’s the American state, “bureaucracy”, that flew into space.

    A country is essentially an enterprise (corporation), except that its “production” is very diverse and its goal function is (or at least should be) not financial profit.
    What are the economic relations among the employees inside a succesful enterprise (Google, Siemens, Bosch, TDK, LG etc.)? I guess they’re much closer to feudal than any of the egalitarian pair of socialism/free-marketism.

    1. Vigilance says:

      I don’t believe conservativism should align itself with a particular economic scheme. Doing so is not fluid enough to be adaptable to changing conditions. Free Market economics is only applicable in money economies. What happens when real wealth evaporates? Money, being a yardstick, is representative of jack at that point. An overcommitment to money based economic theory will have us shuffling and scrambling according to abstractions which don’t fit the conditions of the real world.

      I’ve long been an advocate of virtue based economic activity. What you see when a natural disaster collapses a local commercial economy is not survival of the fittest but a rebuilt community economy upon which a commercial economy can rest. Those Randians who stockpile and refuse to participate are usually left to rot in their fortresses.

      1. Vigilance says:

        Then there is the theory that Markets are the greatest enforcer of equality. In practice, what is profitable is not the best, but what appeals to the lowest common denominator. Applicable to both product and ideology. I’m surprised, frankly, to hear this endorsement.

        1. Repair_Man_Jack says:

          Which is why I’m no honking fan of “equalizers.” A market is nothing more than a tool. Use it wisely and its awesome. Use evilly, and you buy or sell lots of meth. Use it stupidly, and Miley Cyrus is your A number 1 product. The market should not be fetishized any more than your seat cushion or your ashtray.

          1. Use it stupidly, and Miley Cyrus is your A number 1 product.

            Extending this a bit, if the market is unsupervised, it ends up producing excellent products that are not necessarily excellent objects. As a product, a Big Mac is superior to a grain-fed half-pound burger on a cibatta bun. But the latter is a better hamburger.

            1. Vigilance says:

              I don’t know that the market is as much of a tool as it is a phenomenon which appears when your labor isn’t tied to feudal aristocratic society. I suppose that’s neither here nor there. The salient point seems to be that better objects are produced when the end customer is nobility or royalty as we saw in Mozart.

              I will depart from popular consensus here and say that Beethoven’s 9th, despite individual moments of brilliance, is horrible on the whole. Especially the ill conceived crowd pandering addition of ode to joy in the closing movement. Honestly, later Beethoven is significantly degenerated due to his desire to please the crowd.

  2. Repair_Man_Jack says:

    I think an estimation of other people’s time value is leading to dumbed-down writing. If you are afraid of getting TL-Dr’d right out of the BLogosphere, you will put the Bottom Line Up Front and support it in a cursory fashion. Then you will repeat the BL and get out.

    That’s not a bad mode of communicatiing in a fast-paced professional environment. If your boss’ calendar is packed; that is how you should write. But letting the magical 750-word rule prevent you from properly unpacking an intelligent topic cna cheat your audience out of a lot of insight.

    1. This is all true. It’s a difficult balance.

    2. Vigilance says:

      I tend to become disinterested in lengthy pieces if the prose is atrocious. Unfortunately, such is common place.

  3. crow says:

    I have difficulty in identifying ‘bad writing’, and tend to view writing as writing, rather than as good, or bad. Any writing is probably better than being completely unable to write, and there are many who (are) never (able to) write anything at all.
    What may be termed ‘bad’ is more about what the motivation for writing is, rather than the style of the writing, itself.
    I sometimes run across things I wrote years ago, and can see that emotion played a major part, back then. I wrote more to emotionally manipulate the reader, than to communicate anything much. It was probably good-enough writing, but the intent wasn’t particularly good.
    Style plays a part, like it or not: I admit to writing one-word sentences, along with four word sentences: Yes. I can see that’s a bit odd.
    I see the best writing as clearly describing and communicating, as opposed to engaging and impressing.
    Like, yeah man, it’s all subjective, innit?

    1. I see the best writing as clearly describing and communicating, as opposed to engaging and impressing.

      I agree and will distill that down to this: communicating. Good writing communicates; bad writing misleads, deceives, etc. I don’t think there is good/bad in that use of language is relatively easy and almost anyone can do it. The problem is that people hide behind pretense and say nothing where there is something to be said.

    2. Repair_Man_Jack says:

      Yep, bad writing is like bad midget pron. You’ll know it when you see it.

  4. NotTheDude says:

    Yay! Buying useless trinkets will save the Earth and fill our souls with love for ALL of Mankind (Ltd)!

  5. Meow Mix says:

    The rightwing can be broken down into three factions: ethno-nationalists, theonomists, and techno-commercialists. These factions can only act as temporary allies for in the long run they will destroy each other. Ethno-nationalists see universal religion and capitalism as the seeds of race-traitors and mongrelization. Theonomists see nationalism and capitalism as the enemies of God’s brotherhood of mankind. Lastly, techno-commercialists see the other two factions as closet communists (all nationalists ultimately become socialists, all Christians and Muslims are Marxists). Only a fusion of the tendencies can provide stability to counteract the left.


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