“As one judge said to another, ‘Be just and if you can’t be just, be arbitrary.'” – Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs
A discourse on the place of accepted conflict as perpetuator of distraction in modern politics, and hence the need for intervention by extra-political means.
If you want to render a population neutral, divide them along lines they cannot help but feel within themselves. This enables equal groups to oppose each other and thus cancel out their influences, all while believing that what they do is “natural.” Although it sounds like conspiracy fodder, this practice most commonly happens through a process like that of erosion: successive similar actions produce radical, almost grotesque, results when each individual action is as non-threatening as pouring water.
Our modern populations are conveniently divided among those who feel and those who judge; conveniently, these groups are not only the two largest on the Meyers-Briggs personality assessment but correspond, through balance of hormones, to female (inductive) and male (deductive) approaches to logical process. Just in case you’re like most modern people and cannot tell the difference between categorical logic as demographic and categorical logic in an absolute and religious sense, this does not mean all males behave one way and all females another; it states that the archetype on which males and females are built has this general structure, and while it can be modified, the overwhelming tendency is toward this behavior. (Most of you are inexperienced enough with logic to think that because something is a member of a category, that implies it is a rigid duplicate of the archetype of the category — if you think about this for a minute, you’ll see that this kind of categorical logic reflects mechanical-material thinking and not logic and you’ll grow out of this practice.)
How this process of erosion happens: we’re all in a room arguing about how to put out a fire. All agree the fire must be smothered. One person suggests water; another suggests sand. The room is divided into three camps now, which are water, sand and neither/undecided. In the meantime, the goddamn fire is getting bigger. So, smart Politician from the water group realizes he must do the same thing advertising execs do, which is to make sure his viewpoint is distinctive. Where once upon a time his slogan was “Water — smothers better than sand,” he’s now catchily humming a new jingle, “Water is the opposite of fire.” The sand camp reacts in horror, and releases their own little bombshell, “Sand is rock and rock isn’t changed by fire.” Where they formerly agreed on 80% of the task — smother the fire — and differed only on the materials used, they now agree on nothing and have constructed two radically different approaches. This is a simplified version of the erosion that in every democracy creates a radical-ish party and a reactionary-ish party to oppose one another; ideas, distinct narrowly at first, are by thousands of repetitions of this differentiation process made into extreme opposition for the sake of currying votes.
Dysfunctional, isn’t it?
In the status quo, we have two major poles — right and left — and variants inbetween. The left is united by its intent to feel (empathize) its way through existence, believing that if we are compassionate to every individual we will achieve justice and thus an end to strife; the left feels strife rewards the stronger, and that the stronger will then abuse the weaker, and that this is inherently terrible. The left stretches from neo-conservatives to Communists, with its moderate element being the American Democratic Party or in Europe, the Social Democrats. The right judges more than feels, but its judgment eschews the individual to avoid being bitchy and thus tends to rest on natural law, or the idea that the smarter get ahead and the slower, more criminal, stupider are deprecated. The right extends from some neoconservatives to John Birch Society style radicals, with its moderate arm being the American Republican Party. At its most extreme, rightism is a philosophy more than a political action, and can be expressed best in the work of Aristotle and (contiguously) F.W. Nietzsche — of course, in one of the great paradoxes of history, modern rightists are in bed with the Christians who fear excessively that their dualistic religion might be made-up nonsense and thus are very, very, very, very sensitive to any critique, and thus force rightist parties to reject Nietzsche (a form of ideological suicide none of them have yet been intelligent enough to recognize!).
We say these right/left splits are arbitrary because they serve no purpose in getting us closer to the truth. From all indications, one or the other wins and, having a partial picture of what must be done, is replaced by the other. And the changes? With the right you get an explicit link to heavy industry (Reagan) but with the left you get a clandestine assumption of the necessity of the entertainment media (Clinton). The right tends to focus on foreign policy/defense, cultivating industry and protecting families; the left will explore civil rights, welfare and protecting individualism. The arbitrary swing factor that causes these paths to differentiate themselves in order to market themselves becomes influential here, and we see areas where these ideas overlap ignored in favor of dramatic conflict. They both play the roles: the right as the towering Authority Figure come to drive away evils, and the left as the slightly-hip older brother who hangs out with black people (knows the “secret handshakes”) and offers a clumsily rolled joint when the parents are gone. We say the result is arbitrary becomes one comes to power, cancels out what the other did, and then is in turn replaced. The result is schizophrenic policy: we can expect no consistent leadership and each side has items it will not change, taboos not because of fear of consequence but fear of public image: if the left lets off of its civil rights agenda for one moment, it will be seen as less lefty and lose many constitutents; if the right accidentally cheered a gay pride parade, many of its constituents would pull back. This is not a response to logic, but to image, and this is the root of the exaggerated division between the political houses: we must appear unique and as alternatives to whatever is in power.
If you’ve grown up with the benevolent words of government and hysterical words of mass media in your mind, this is alien information. You have been brought up to believe that democracy solves all ills, and that the triumvirate of “freedom” — democracy (political freedom), capitalism (economic freedom), civil rights (personal freedom) — is somehow not only inseparable but is the only option to both godless Communism and Jew/Negro-hating Nationalism. You run (don’t walk) to the self-erasing system of two oppositional outlooks because you are conditioned to think that without constant conflict, you will fall into the hands of egregious Control… not yet aware, perhaps, that control can happen obliquely. If all one must do is convince a crowd of people to vote for something — well, salespeople do it all the time, as the procession of defective cars, slow computers, ugly clothing, disgusting foods, etc. attests. People make bad decisions. In fact, they do it more commonly than they make good decisions. Yet we do not consider this a form of control; we consider it “freedom” from control. Even working through this series of thoughts is beyond most ordinary citizens. Unlike philosophers, they deal in tangibles or things that sound like them. They can identify an invader, decide drugs are generally bad, or ban personal nuclear weapons, but beyond that, they are driftwood in a sea of equally incomprehensible ideas.
But even more than allowing a kind of passive control, or authoritarianism by keeping the citizens distracted and operating behind the scenes with the legal favoritism of business contracts and other rewards for silence, this type of system guarantees us a headless control: it has no goal and no controllers. Anyone who learns to use the system is able to influence it, and thus society at large wanders without direction while people inside find a way to make themselves a retirement income and retreat to mountain homes in Aspen. The poor rise to become rich, and the rich might get richer or rub themselves out with distractions, but the fact remains that society is not something with a purpose to it; it is carcass off which we feast because we lack a forward direction that might provide nutrition. We do not look forward to great deeds, or to a society that existentially and qualitatively rewards us with a higher type of living; we carve up the wealth of the past, and fight endlessly over how we distribute it. Both left and right are complicit here: the left wants more equal distribution, where the right wants to reward the most productive. Yet neither criticizes the overall direction of society, something that author Tom Wolfe refers to as “cynicism”: a hard look at, behind the rhetoric, what a system is designed to achieve. If I set up a prison camp where the most violent offenders are given their own cells and televisions, it enforces a type of “natural selection” that promotes only the most violent; the camp, whether deliberately or not, is designed to produce a stream of aggressive people because it rewards aggression. Cynicism is a look at this design behind the marketing, propaganda, pleasant speeches and social conventions of a society.
As we have established, the left/right divide obliterates its own leadership, removes our focus on leadership at large, and obscures the inner workings of society and thus makes image more important than reality as a means of political control. It is superior to dictatorship for the purposes of control because it contains all dissent within its process, innoculating itself against the threat by weakening it through committees, public debate, and of course, absorption by the two-party system. How can you rebel against a system that gives you the right to start a political party of your own and run against it? On paper — according to the rules and statements of its public agencies — the system is perfect. In reality, and behind the scenes, it is ruled by money: your political party needs a half-billion dollars in order to influence enough voters to stand a chance of election, assuming that you can convince them your message is more important than the endless stream of platitudes from right and left. The public show of elections and debates is entirely irrelevant, because its goal is not the finding of direction but the maintenance of directionlessness; its purpose, in the design of our society, is to allow those with money to distract the voters with pleasant fictions while carrying off more wealth, consuming more natural resources, exploiting more workers… in short, the dominant theme of our society is individual profit at the expense of the whole, and the two-party system facilitates it by distracting us with a plausible but unlikely scenario for change.
Politics happens to us like the sky. Far away, options occur; we hope for one or the other, but then we take what falls. While the formation of left and right parties may be motivated by pure behind-the-scenes manipulation for profit, the emotions and ideas that draw individuals to these parties are worth exploring. Both sides have some merit and some incoherence; like halves of a puzzle, they only make sense in combination.
When we look into not what parties state are their ideals, nor what people who have absorbed propaganda as well as criticism claim to think, we can see the emotions and germs of logic that motivate people to pick one or the other. As with all things in life, it is a chaotic spectrum, and although each party has a dominant outlook, people choose them for many reasons. If we look at the desired outcome of those reasons, we can break down the partisan illusion and see what is of importance to those who become politically active.
If the fundamental principle behind conservatism is that tradition must be upheld, the quasi-opposite principle of liberalism is that the order of things has excluded people from its benefit without reason. Conservatism reasons that the order of things has purpose, where liberalism emotes that it is unkind. This leads to further schism in that while conservatives discuss values, liberals are more concerned with a change in the distribution of wealth as the result of a values shift.
Since neither of these doctrines upholds any more dramatic change that the introduction of compensatory influences favoring the doctrine, it is fair to say that they are united in their approval of modern society as the chassis upon which politics operates. Yet if we read more closely into each doctrine, there is a compelling sense of an underlying desire for vast change — a complete alteration in how we view civilization and our roles in it.
Conservatives in their hearts of hearts want to throw out what they see as an immoral and directionless system, and liberals want to tear down the world and replace it so that the poor are equal to the rich. It is almost as if each partisan vector has become stalled by its need to make its offering palatable to politics as a mass phenomenon, and thus, each has neutered its fundamental impulse. To look behind that veil is to see that underlying both systems is the recognition that our functionalist, materialist, utilitarian modern society has lost sight of values in favor of a pragmatic adaptation to itself. (As Plato was wont to note, each political system excels at one thing — furthering itself. William S. Burroughs would refer to this tendency as “the control virus” based on “the algebra of need.”)
Let us then for a moment praise liberalism. The stories of factories run by greedy manipulators who gleefully pay their workers whatever minimum is currently acceptable, without a concern for how those people turn out, as well as contemporary experience with the ruthlessness of moneymakers should show us there is some sense to the liberal — or more properly, socialist — impulse. Why are we willing to let people be used by their jobs, taxed by the government despite their poverty, and then made bankrupt by their own uneducated and inept spending?
It is not as if our system, despite being called “Social Darwinism,” is using this as a mechanism of eliminating these people; they are kept alive, and kept doing the low-paying but profitable jobs like working in fast food, mall shops, factories, security guards, and the like. Liberalism asks, rightly: what is our intent regarding these people, both as function in society and as individual lives? Where other systems may appeal in sterile terms to our functional minds, liberalism address our hearts.
Most sensible people recognize that the denizen of an organized civilization, or one where division of labor requires power structures and economics and forms of mass control, walks a fine and dangerous line between being restricted by government and being restricted by the flaky, criminal, predatory, parasitic or simply selfish behaviors of fellow citizens. Liberalism focuses most intently on the abuse of power by centralized authority, and as such is inherently both anarchistic and anti-money.
These are admirable tendencies even if for now we do not have to consider them as in themselves solutions. They touch something in all of us: to love justice is to hate injustice, and to love people is to hate the idea that they can be used by some crazy abstract system like industry, government or even the social pressures of the mob. We want to stand up for all of us to be sure that our sacrifices and labors mean something and come to a good end, and that in the process we are not treated like rapidly-obsolescing equipment.
Liberalism is also critical of situations where one ethnic group is the slave-crop of another, or where women are given no recourse against being essentially sexual vassals, and any case where personal ability to choose lifestyle or belief is regulated. Does it make sense, a good liberal asks, that a wealthier nation beat up a smaller one? Or that women have a career choice of “wife” or “courtesan”? Or that every black person in a large nation is impoverished and futureless while the children of fat imaginative white bankers have any option open to them?
Belatedly, the left has added environmentalism to its list of concerns (until the mid-twentieth century, it was exclusively a conservative position) — delaying in part because to make any choice in favor of the environment is to deny some individual something they would prefer to have. It is a paradox of freedom that often its preservation requires its denial, but we’ll come to that in a moment. This cuts a paradox into the core of liberal values: we have compassion for the environment as well as for people, but their needs are in conflict.
Look to your inner feeling. It is unlikely you want to live endorsing a system that ruthlessly makes much of its population into pack animals for the wealth of others, or keeps one group hopeless while another prospers. Whatever your opinion of the leadership abilities of women, it is doubtful you want to see them confined to an abusive cycle. If you have any sense at all, you will recognize the constant threat of allowing any central control or power regulate what is acceptable behavior, as this empowers the small cranial capacity bureaucrats to impose punishment for their own masturbatory sense of strength.
No one wants to endorse a society of legitimized bullies, or an unspoken economic war against a certain ethnicity or gender. It is this feeling that sweeps people up into liberalism, and means that despite bluster in other areas, it remains a partisan force for (a) civil rights and (b) wealth redistribution or class warfare.
At the same time, even the most die-hard liberal has to admit something beautiful about the ideal of conservatism: we know that without a traditional culture our values become replaced by what is profitable. No one argues that radio pop music is superior to Beethoven. Most of us if we search our souls will admit that we want some higher value to step in and stop the construction of yet another mall or fast-food restaurant or ugly factory.
We would like a governmental force that blocks entities which although profitable for their owners create a socialized cost distributed to the rest of us — whether that cost is pollution, crime induced by predatory activities, imported labor to pick chicken cheaply or simply completely ugly cities covered in advertising. This our mind, and not heart, speaking; if we define conservatism, it is as a response as much exclusively logical as liberalism is exclusively emotional.
Conservatism is based upon the concept that, whether determined by relativity or not, our world operates consistently and therefore some values are both universal and eternal. These values, in the conservative mind, are not preferences but mathematical optimizations of human behavior based on the most powerful responses to the mechanisms of nature — physical reality, genetic reality, personal decisions — as have been discovered through the history of humanity. These values are eternal in that no matter what changes in our abilities or society, they are enforced upon us by existential conditions — mortality, scarcity of resources, the need for leaders.
What is inspiring about conservatism is that underneath its quasi-reactionary exterior there is a profound love of normal life. Not the extreme pleasures, but the mundane happiness found in doing good work in which one believes, having friends and family and local community, and finding some spiritual (although not necessarily Christian: many of the greatest conservative writers have loathed Christianity but praised spirituality) connection to the mechanism of life, e.g. finding a way to value the end product of life so much as to “forgive” and overlook its dark and morbid side. This transcendent ideal is at the root of conservatism as much as compassion is the root of liberalism.
Sex is understood with the knowledge that no matter how advanced our technology, those parents who are more sexually selective and lead normal balanced lives and have a few children and invest heavily in them will turn out happier, more productive offspring. Conservatism recognizes that for each person with whom one fornicates the potential for romance becomes more calloused. Conservatism recognizes that life is a long and winding journey of which one of the greatest joys is a family, and a family is best based on (relatively) chaste parents who express stability by making that most powerful of decisions to opt for a lifetime partner.
These high-investment chances require the decisions behind them to be thoughtful and balanced, the produced of a mentally and spiritually and socially balanced personality. Conservative views on intoxication, on laziness, on criminality and useless activity (television) reflect this core impetus: those who find a way to accept life and live out its processes in the fullest are the stablest and most apt to become not only “good citizens” but contributing people. They are balanced by the nature of their lack of struggle against the constraints of reality and their consequent determination to turn these to the best advantage.
Although our postmodern view of conservatism is colored by the somewhat useless and fun-dampening right wing parties of our time, it is important to remember that these are both hopelessly reactionary — believing the cause to be at some level lost — and manipulative, in that when conservatism abandoned the aristocracy for voters it had to find some way to pander, to make its “serious” outlook on life palatable to the average person. It did so through moral superiority and a kind of condemnation/reaction that has conservative parties today picking targets before they pick goals.
Of all the people out there, only a few are actors on the political stage. The reasons are simple: the poor are too busy being destitute and intoxicated and lack the education to act; the rich do not work within politics but in economics and manipulation of public perception. The lower middle class, while often the most politically active, is accustomed to a partisan “ground-holding” mentality often defined as much by their professions as neighborhoods.
Throughout all of history, it has been the upper two-thirds of the middle class who have been the political fulcrum of each nation. Hard-working but with enough leisure time to read and with jobs that do not require exhausting physical labor and leave them still energetic at night in the time of solitary thinking, the upper-half-middle-class have the education and career tendencies to organize, to motivate disparate groups of people, and to find complex design solutions.
Although this group has the greatest political potential, they also face a great pitfall: decadence. Anyone can make fun of soccer moms and guys in fantasy baseball leagues, but often the middle class tendency is to “stay occupied” and then, in guilt at being somewhat inactive, to leap toward emotional rather than pragmatic political solutions. These fail because the motivation behind them is a social gesture and not a design decision. In times of cataclysm, however, these same people leap toward crises with a kind of joy in having found purpose that is otherwise missing from most administrative and professional careers.
When we look at this group, excluding those with resentments (abused children, marginalized groups like homosexuals or BDSM participants, genteel alcoholics) we find a cross-section of our society evenly divided between the two political camps. On economics and foreign policy they tend to be liberal because to them rapid growth is not important; they know a comfortable life can be had and are more interested in raising families, furthering their own career accomplishments and having healthy local communities.
On social issues and domestic rule they tend on the whole to be conservative, wanting to preserve the family-friendly nature of their neighborhoods and make sure society’s institutions stay intact so their own youth can take advantage of them. They vacillate here in that during times of wealth, they relax into liberalism because there seems to be some slack in the system that can be used to pacify other groups; they do not appear to honestly believe in eradication of poverty or world unity except when listening to U2 albums.
They have had enough experience in the world to know the poor usually stay that way for a reason, and that the world is always in some kind of disaster that is best ignored unless one wants to get saddled with stewardship and then blamed by all parties involved for its imperfections. Their goal is to provide quality of life for themselves and as much justice as they can afford for others, with the overall goal of having a stable society.
If they have a failing here, it is in attempting to buy off other special interest groups by sharing some of the wealth, not realizing that this falls under the same problems of stewardship mentioned above. They are polite but self-serving, having found out long ago that carrying the weight of the world does nothing for it or the self, and mean well but temper that with a certain pragmatism that believes in elbow grease, (relatively) clean living and meritocracy: the best rising to the top.
That this group swings between left and right with the flavor of elections can be explained by the cycle of conservative and liberal power. Conservatives tend to build infrastructure, and liberals use that infrastructure to increase the possibilities of the average citizen, but by overpromoting individualism create fragmentation. This splintering causes social problems, so the conservatives are called in during the next election to get back to basics. Liberalism is a nurturing psychologist but conservatism is a gruff architect.
The problem with this system is rooted in that inconsistency.
The policies of one group, obliterated by the next, are later reinstated and similarly erase the changes of the last group. Since absolute power does not exist, this constitutes a compromise of a compromise of an originally compromised idea, and soon the parties are reduced to inching forward without effecting any real systemic change. On top of this is the dirty secret of democracy, which is that while all citizens have the “freedom” to vote, most lack variability in their thought process and pick comfortable symbols and emotional responses from their television screens and conversations with neighbors.
In addition to compromise, democracy further adulterates clear action by running every proposed idea through this “popularity filter” which requires ideas both not offend and provoke some kind of simple feeling in their audience. You cannot simply go to war because it’s a good idea; you have to invent a devil and pursue him to an ugly end. Social problems cannot be simply a “good idea” to fix, but there must be helpless innocents ravaged or other mournful disaster. Every single decisions becomes threatre in which good symbols combat bad, with the idea that the direction of a liberal democracy (the term for modern democracies, independent of the term “liberalism” for our argument here) is the best and we are enforcing a “progress” which is inherently not only beneficial but morally right.
This brings us to a series of contradictions.
We want to treat people well, but we know from experience and history that most people treat themselves badly and make poor decisions (buying color TVs instead of investing in retirement funds). They would be better off with many of these decisions not being theirs to make. We can educate them, and give them welfare, but ultimately they determine their own path through decisions that are often quite poor.
We want freedom, but too much freedom for destructive-minded people results in all of us suffering more, paying more, and living in alienating and dangerous cities. Destructive people can be criminals or predatory businessmen, and may “intend to” be destructive or not: what matters is their effect, and whether it acts by creating junky strip malls and tearing down trees or by stealing car stereos for meth money is immaterial. They destroy. They are either held back or we absorb not only the financial cost but the cost to our way of life.
We want traditional values but do not want them imposed upon us. The idea of some government bureaucracy, and we know from experience that bureaucratic power draws its share of small-minded people who experience a nearly sexual thrill from exerting that power of negation on others, telling us when to fornicate, where to go to school, etc. terrifies us. It is for this reason among others that modern citizens are adamant about separation of church and state; we know that even if it is stamped Benevolent Government or Benevolent Church, power can attract abusers who will wreck us if given the chance.
We want the ability to succeed economically but we do not want such excessive competition that we are forced to become predators or be assimilated as choiceless labor. We like the idea that we can with a reasonable amount of effort walk into a decent living, and that if we have a need for more we can within reason attain it. We fear the super-equalization of Communist Russia but also would rather not live in a world where literally everything is for sale (images of opium dens and brothels flash through our minds).
Although it will never be said in these terms, we want natural selection — but not by money or obedience to dogma or any other mechanically linear path. We like the idea of living in a system where those who live sanely prosper more than those who are destructive, knowing that with even a little nudge the lesser elements can be induced to not breed more of their type. No one with experience is fooled into thinking you can educate out small-minded tendencies; they have to be bred out, and the best way to do that is to ensure that the small-minded find it even slightly less inviting to survive and breed.
Most of all, we want a social order that we feel is working for the “good people” among us. While we are not against subsidies for those who have fallen on hard times or are “disadvantaged” in some way or another, we want our resources to go toward those of basically sound character, mind and body. This might be pure aesthetics, but to live among healthy fit and intelligent people is preferable to the other option, unless one is so underconfident or deviant that it becomes an appealing camouflage. Drug-addicted child molestors prefer oblivious neighbors, but happy homesteaders like alert responsible people around them.
When we get over our tendency to group positions by political polarity, and thus stop categorizing as left/right and us/them proposed ideas, we can see how simple our actual desires are. Each includes a benevolent impulse with a caveat that abuses must be prevented, albeit by some system other than abuse-potential-high government. And if it’s this simple, why do we not have such a system? That answer rests in the methods by which our society regulates political power.
Looking into the hearts and minds of the healthy among us, we can see that all of us on some level want to replace modern society. We are exhausted with the constant infighting and manipulation by special interest groups that democracy creates, and we are drained by the constant questions of regulating economic selfishness in a system based on economic accumulation for the self. We are caught in the middle between two extremes that have been artificially enhanced by the need to create democracy-friendly alternatives.
None of us are pure liberal or conservative, and the positions liberals and conservatives embrace flip-flop enough to show us how futile it would be to try to define ourselves as such. Our real focus is less on idealistic concerns and dogmatic divisions but on how well life treats us, because we’re busy — busy creating art, busy raising families, busy discovering that next important iota of research or rule of law. We like life and we like living well. This for the most part is why we are inert to anything but looming disaster; why rock the boat?
However, we are also depleted by that same impetus. Each broken thing we see wears us down and makes us expect more. Each frustration — some insane bureaucrat, the ghetto invading our neighborhoods, a war that seems right until it blows up in our faces, global warming coming “out of nowhere” into our collective consciousness — drains us further. We feel a subliminal dread that not all will work out alright, and that we are like passengers in a boat piloted by committee, careening down rapids while votes are taken and arguments are placed about whether the upcoming waterfall is “a real threat.” We fear for our children.
Immanuel Kant, that sage among philosophers, wrote that evil is not a diabolical, intentional force but a consequence of ignorance. He believed it takes a conscious effort to recognize evil, and that the only redemption is to turn from it and to begin doing good without feeling guilt for the past. No doctrinal conversion can achieve this, nor can any charity — only a thorough changing of our daily behavior. Kant stressed the mundanity of evil and its prevalence. In his mind, most people exist by error and in fact, the way most live engenders a form of unexciting but destructive force that creates long-term decay. As Kant saw it, evil never showed its face as a demon, but as a slightly lazy easy choice because “everyone does it.” Evil is not intention, but a lack of intent to do better.
When we contemplate the horrors of the past century and the fact that they show zero signs of abating in the future, we have to ask ourselves: it is possible that our basic assumptions of what life should be lead us to a form of evil? That despite our good intentions, both compassionately liberal and architecturally conservative, we have strapped ourselves into a system that does not do enough to seek a better path and thus leads us through the rapids of mundane evil? …we fear for the distant consequences of our actions, and suspect in invisible paranoia that perhaps without change our future will be one of “a whimper and not a bang” slowly grinding our society and world into a wasteland from which no future greatness, or even normal health, will emerge.
We are right to have these fears. The divisions of democracy enslave us with false symbols; the method of democracy encourages us to be isolated agents of selfishness; the very “freedoms” we praise give rise to horror; the freedoms we have relinquished are tools we badly need. After years of being able to deny it, we are finally seeing that our path is a mundane evil that will end inevitably in error.
Also we finally notice that our assumptions (of what is “good” but might actually be “evil”) prevent us from changing from this path. We are given choices of right and left but neither fits. We cannot find a popular candidate who will speak more than popular illusions. The solution is to be fearless and redesign society toward what in both heart and mind we know is right.
They: “It’s disgraceful the way Bush has embarked upon this war in Iraq, justifying it with lies and all that.”
Me: “I think he’s a democrat in disguise. He’s setting us up so we run screaming into the arms of the other party.”
They: “Why would he do that?”
Me: “He could make a lot of money, among other things. If he knows the Democrats are going to win, he can have his stock portfolio bought in advance. And who’s the Democrat candidate going to be? Probably a former business partner or his. He’s set.”
They: “The city must not care at all about its gardens. Look at this damage!”
Me: “Gardens don’t win elections. Large masses of illiterate people who want new pickup trucks do.”
They: “Well, that seems uncharitable. I like to place trust in my fellow humans.”
Me: “When you go to a mall, you ignore most people because you wouldn’t want them as your friends. In fact, for a hundred people who pass you, probably only two or three interest you. If you’re like almost everyone I’ve met, you think most of the people who pass you are stupid — you have a kind of distaste for their ostentatious dress, their ignorant conversation, their bad personal hygiene or other signs of less than sterling intelligence. But all one hundred vote. And the 97 you don’t like have more influence than the three who do.”
Me: “Didn’t we just get a new sports stadium this month? Oh, and tax breaks for oil companies. I’d like to be a shareholder at one of those. Maybe I’ll buy some stock and get rich so I can run away to the hills and laugh at this disaster from a distance.”
They: “I’m glad President Clinton has improved race relations.”
Me: “He’s certainly got all of government working hard to promote minorities. The problem is that this takes away their authority over themselves as a cultural group, so you get people who are going to resent those they see as having done this in the future. We’re going to have to pick a culture as a nation and even if we choose a hybrid culture, we’re cutting them out of the equation. So they’ll be pissed.”
They: “Well, at least now they have jobs… they’re going to have more money and that will end the epidemic of inner city poverty. We don’t have any more race riots.”
Me: “We’ve deferred the issue. Through all of history, can you name a single place where different ethnic groups coexisted peacefully? At some point, decisions need to be made, and they’re going to end up favoring one group or another, so ethnically-mixed places collapse in warfare.”
They: “Well that’s just racist.”
Me: “It’s practical. I haven’t said I don’t like minorities. I’ve said that ethnic groups don’t mix. Whether that’s two white ethnic groups or a darker and lighter one is academic. I notice you haven’t provided a historical counterexample. Is that because one does not exist?”
They: “They made a record drug bust last night. I’m glad they got those creeps off the streets.”
Me: “More creeps will come, because drugs are a hot commodity. People want to pay money for them, so someone will provide them, and then we’ll call them a creep and put them in jail and they’ll be replaced.”
They: “Good people don’t use drugs.”
Me: “That’s irrelevant — someone is paying for them and someone will rise to the occasion. That’s capitalism. In fact, it’s even a form of democracy. Voting with dollars. Your fellow citizens want drugs, but somehow we’re afraid to admit that as a society. Why are we so dishonest?”
They: “These gay rights groups piss me off. They want to make marriage legal between two men, or two women. That entirely violates the sanctity of marriage.”
Me: “Why is government involved in legislating marriage, if it’s so sacred? You’re letting some bureaucrats determine the bond between two people in love? Maybe it’s a terrible idea to mix government and religion. Or even culture and government. Heck, maybe government isn’t the solution after all. If government wasn’t involved in marriage, your church could decide who was eligible to get hitched.”
They: “But then in some places, gays could get married…”
Me: “That has always been true. Just keep them out of your community.”
They: “But that would be intolerant!”
They: “I don’t understand why these slimy, conniving conservatives are trying to make abortion illegal. That’s going to put us back in the dark ages.”
Me: “You’re right — it’s a stupid idea. They should just outlaw excessive sexual relations like was done in traditional societies.”
They: “But what about our freedom? That will make women vassals of the kitchen… slaves to the stove… our careers, our freedom would be gone.”
Me: “What does sexual freedom have to do with your ability to get a job? And how many sex partners do you need? Look at what feminism and sexual liberation has gotten us: a higher divorce rate, fewer smart people breeding, and most of our women ending up divorced lonely and self-hating in their forties. That’s progress?”
They: “Without sexual freedom, we might be limited in our choices, and that would be bad.”
Me: “Is that a single choice or fifteen dozen choices? People aren’t making choices. They’re settling for convenience in lovers like they are in everything else. They’ve made love a joke by making sex a commodity. Are we really happier? You think you think you want freedom — but are you really thinking? You want a good life, a sane life, but that requires fewer random choices and more thoughtful ones. Did you want to date, childless, for the rest of your life or be an irresponsible parent? Admit that you’re going to die and at some point it makes sense to settle down and have some kids. If you’re going to do that, you want family built on something better than wondering which of your spouse’s 500 previous lovers he or she is thinking of when they choke out a name during orgasm.”
They: “Environmentalists are preventing Global Oil from building the new plant. That’s terrible because it would have created 30,000 jobs!”
Me: “You’re right. They shouldn’t be preventing the factory now. It should be built into the system from the start that we respect nature and don’t do anything destructive. Global Oil has been planning to build this plant for five years, and only now have the environmentalists spoken up.”
They: “But what about the 30,000 jobs?”
Me: “There’s always plenty of jobs for people who have a brain. This plant is not creating new jobs as much as transferring them here. And how many of those who are hired will be local people?”
They: “Well, they’ll spend their money at local stores.”
Me: “How important is that in exchange for altering your community? These people come from all over, and they’re going to hang on to their ways of doing things. Soon this place will no longer be its own thing, but a collection of people and ideas from elsewhere.”
They: “Oh, well it’s always good to get new ideas.”
Me: “New ideas? No, these are ideas that have been in place in other places for a long time. In fact, probably since time began. There are no new ideas, only new combinations, when you think about it. We haven’t invented a new system of government, philosophy or language since the time of the Greeks — we’ve recombined what we have. All we have now is new technology. But I’ve got to ask: do you care more about new ideas, or the profit these jobs are bringing in? We should figure out whether we’re talking about getting rich or what’s best for the community here.”
They: “New ideas, new faces, new money will help the community!”
Me: “By replacing it with the same stuff every other city is made out of. Great. Now, instead of being a place with its own character, its own culture, and its own way of life, we’ll be like a little chunk of New York or San Francisco. Except we won’t be those places, so we’ll always be second rate. Living in a second-rate town to which you’ve got no allegiance… well, let’s just say we’re not giving our citizens any incentive to behave themselves. It’ll become another trash dump like any other.”
They: “Well, some people will get enough–”
Me: “Some people? I thought we were thinking about what’s best for the community. Who cares about making a few people rich? Think about all the good people you know: they want steady jobs and a comfortable living, but they’re not addicted to money. They found a way to make enough and have time for their families and non-job pursuits like learning, being outside, experiencing life, growing spiritually. Isn’t that more of a foundation of a healthy community than a few jerks getting rich and us importing 30,000 dummies to work dummy jobs?”
They: “The people have voted–”
Me: “The people are thinking just like you: they see money coming in and they salivate Pavlovian. They’re not thinking about the good of the community, or the future, or even whether this is actually going to benefit them. They see dollar bills and assume it will come to them. Weren’t you saying earlier today that most of the people you meet are stupid? That’s who is voting. And you want to trust that?”