Aloha, Mr. King, I am So Wasted! And What is a Conservative, Really?
For example, we recently had a liberal visitor to One Cosmos who has repeatedly called me a jack-booted nazi who wishes to murder people with whom I disagree. He is annoyed because I will not debate him on the matter. But how does one respond to such unalloyed mooonbattery? One cannot respond, because this is an apperception, not a perception. In other words, it is pure projection, a type of thinking that is not based on any actual facts about me or about conservatism. I am by definition what he says I am, which is another way of saying that, for whatever reason, he has an emotional need to experience me in the way he does. Again, I understand this process because I was the same way when I was an untutored moonbat in the clutches of conventional wisdom.
Last night a representative of this kind of pseudo-thinking was on Larry King Live, Sean Penn. I rarely watch television, but I watched the entire program because I was fascinated by the prospect of a prototypical moonbat mind being given free rein to air his views in an entirely uncensored manner. Larry King was the perfect interviewer, because he is so utterly vacuous that he lulls the guest into free-associating in an unguarded manner, whereas even a raised eyebrow or cocked head might have reminded Penn that reality exists. It’s the same technique a therapist uses with a paranoid patient, except consciously. If you betray your understanding that the patient is crazy, they immediately clam up.
If you actually read the transcript, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but in the course of the interview, Penn accused President Bush of bringing fascism to America, of “devastating our democracy,” of doing “enormous damage to mankind,” and waging a bogus war on terror to “distract us from reality.” In 2002 it was to distract us from Enron, whereas now it is to distract us from “another situation” (although in classic paranoid fashion, he didn’t say what the situation was; I think he means that Bush is waging the bogus war on terror to distract us from the fact that he is waging a bogus war on terror). Penn also discussed his friendship with Fidel Castro, who confided to him over dinner that he thought sanctions against Iran were a bad idea, because the American sanctions against him had helped keep in in power (I know, it makes no sense).
Since I admire President Bush, it stands to reason that I am either hopelessly naive, or else I too am a fascist who wants to wage a bogus war in order to conceal my real agenda of destroying democracy and damaging mankind. Never mind that I and President Bush specifically want to create a democracy in the Middle East so that human beings in the Islamic world actually have the opportunity to achieve their potential instead of living as slaves.
Penn suggested that he too would pick up arms if the United States were invaded. First of all, if he is correct, the U.S. is being invaded by fascists, and yet, he somehow feels safe enough to verbally attack the fascists on national TV. Probably not very smart. But Penn is also saying that if he were an Iraqi, he would side with the fascist insurgency against the democratic liberators. Really stupid.
(Mr. Hand: "Am I hallucinating here? Just what in the hell do you think you're doing?" Spicoli: "Learning about Cuba. Having some food. Rappin' with Mr. King.")
Penn and my moonbat commenter have their own implacable fantasies about conservatism, but what is it really? I am of the view that conservatism is an inclination, temperament, or “cast of mind” as much as it is any set doctrine. And this is why the movement is so diverse, containing ideological factions that may lack superficial commonality, say, traditionalists and libertarians. But on a deeper level, it has been said that conservatism is “an inclination to cherish the permanent things in existence,” which I think is as good a definition as any. As such, conservatives are naturally distrustful of radical schemes to alter society and perfect mankind. As Robert Frost wrote, “Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor.”
Temperamental conservatives also have much more of an appreciation of the dark side of mankind, and an understanding of the fine line between civilization and barbarity. You don’t have to literally believe in original sin to appreciate how much wisdom there is in such a view, especially when compared to the inveterate liberal naiveté about human character. Evil is not merely an “accident of history” or “the creation of a few antisocial men,” but the “immemorial tendency of man to do the wrong thing when he knows the right thing” and to “define value in terms of his own interests” (in Nash ).
Liberals tend to view human being as basically good, which is why they are so naive about human evil and impervious to real-world feedback about the failure of their ideas. For most liberal programs to be effective--say, pre-reform welfare--you must assume at the outset that people are basically good and won’t abuse the system. But liberal programs typically put in place a structure of incentives that encourages people to act out their greed and selfishness in antisocial ways. The whole point of free market capitalism is that it acknowledges self-interest and greed at the outset, providing it a with pro-social outlet without anyone having to force the issue from on high. Yes, tinkering at the edges of capitalism is fine, so long as you think things through and realize that most of your tinkering will make matters worse, not better (which was true of the vast majority of FDR's counterproductive ideas--not to mention LBJ).
The conservative mind is also more likely to be endowed with a tragic sense of life, which spurs the transcendental imagination. In the absence of this transcendental reality, we are reduced to a horizontal, secularized mind “for which material existence is everything and spiritual life is nothing” and “all that is symbolic becomes ever more incomprehensible” (Lindbom, in Kirk). And without the tragic sense of life, one will be much more inclined to think that life should (or could) be fair; in short, it nurtures the victim mentality.
Russell Kirk summarized the six canons of conservative thought as
1. Belief in a transcendent order; and that most political problems are moral problems resulting from bad values. (To cite an obvious example, if Hispanic or Black Americans adopted Asian American values, they would be just as successful--unless you are a liberal who believes that intelligence is a function of race.)
2. Appreciation of the mystery of existence, and with it, opposition to the tedious uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of of most radical systems.
3. An understanding that liberty and equality are contradictory aims; a belief that there are distinctions between men and that classes will emerge naturally and spontaneously in a free society. “If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum.”
4. A belief that property and freedom are intimately linked. “Economic leveling... is not economic progress.”
5. Distrust of radical schemes by liberal intellectuals “who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs” that simply mask the intellectual’s lust for power.
6. Recognition that change and reform are not synonymous, and that “prudent change is the means of social preservation.”
Contemporary liberalism has entirely different assumptions and attacks the social order on the following grounds:
1. “The perfectibility of man”; the belief that education, environment or legislation “can produce men like gods; they deny that humanity has a natural proclivity towards violence and sin.”
2. Contempt for tradition. “Formal religion is rejected and various ideologies are presented as substitutes.”
3. Political leveling: “Order and privilege are condemned,” accompanied by “an eagerness for centralization and consolidation.”
4. Economic leveling: “The ancient rights of property... are suspect to almost all radicals.”
I used to believe the latter four points. I now affirm the first six. But only because I secretly wish to destroy mankind and put more holes in Sean Penn's aluminum boat.