The Left has No Means of Becoming Less Stupid
This is one of the theses of Kevin Williamson's The End is Near, although he is apparently too averse to hatemail to express the sentiment so candidly.
Rather, he demonstrates how government is intrinsically inefficient, dysfunctional, and irrational, because it has no means of becoming less wrong. In short, it cannot evolve. So it stands to reason that the people -- i.e., leftists -- who support this way of allocating our resources and organizing our collective life will suffer from the same deficit, either as a cause or consequence. They too cannot become less wrong about politics.
"In biological terms, the operative mechanism of evolution is... death. Species evolve because death sorts out the reproductive success of individual members of that species" (Williamson). But the state is more or less immortal. It cannot go out of business, no matter how wrong, how inept, how unsatisfactory its products. Obama is trying as hard as he can to prove this.
Take most any product in the marketplace, and see how it has evolved in recent decades. Williamson cites the example of the cell phone. I remember a friend in the late 1980s who had one of these gizmos -- it was the size of a car battery and didn't work especially well. But at least it only cost 10,000 in today's dollars.
I am not what you would call an early adopter. Rather, I'm a late-to-never adopter, but even my rudimentary cell phone is exponentially better than the Gordon Gekko brick-style model of a quarter century ago. Why is this? And why is the Post Office just as bad as ever?
Imagine if, in 1990, the federal government had decided that cell phones are so important a human right that everyone is entitled to one. They throw billions of dollars at the Cellyndra Company to produce millions of the BrickPhones we still lug around to this day. Because the company has been freed of marketplace constraints, it has no need to evolve, adjust, improve, reduce costs.
Williamson asks us to think about Social Security, which was instituted in 1935. What other consumer products from that era are still in use? Now try to imagine all the innovation that has been lost as a result of Social Security being spared the need to evolve. President Bush attempted one tiny innovation to bring the system up to date, and look what happened. An entrenched government system doesn't know how to improve, but it certainly knows how to defend itself. It does so by enlisting a legion of left wing crockpuppets and sneermongers to come to its defense.
It seems that everything improves except government and those things government deeply involves itself in (we'll leave culture and morality to the side for the moment, but there is a latent relationship there as well, if only because of the educational establishment's monopoly on access to fresh young skulls of mush).
Williamson writes of how "middle-class people have access to things that either did not exist a generation ago or were restricted to the very wealthy." And common consumer goods -- automobiles, for example -- are vastly superior to what existed a generation ago. Today's average car is much better than a luxury car of 30 years ago.
"But there is another class of goods that either stagnates or follows the opposite trajectory: lower quality, higher price. These goods include education, health insurance, and many basic governmental services" (ibid.)
Nor could you improve these things by having even the Most Intelligent Man in the Universe at the top, for the same reason that, say, the visions of Steve Jobs couldn't become reality in the absence of a competitive market offering a continuous stream of corrective feedback, so the company could become less wrong over time.
We again come up against Hayek's knowledge barrier, which the left, by definition, imagines it can break through. But as Williamson points out at the beginning of the book -- citing the famous 1958 essay by Leonard Read -- no one even knows how to make a goddamn pencil (i.e., has personal knowledge of forestry, mining, metallurgy, engineering, machining, chemistry, marketing, sales, et al), so someone who presumes to know how to remake the healthcare system is truly delusional. There's really no other way of putting it.
You might say that ignorance of complexity is a measure of the depth of ignorance. Thus, no amount of knowledge can replace the most important knowledge of all: that the system is too complex to be reduced to some pinhead's abstraction.
And in politics there is no penalty for being wrong, because you're always playing with someone else's money and shifting responsibility to third parties, and no one can see the connections unless they go off grid and exit the educational/media matrix controlled by the left.
I want to shift gears and enter into the cultural/spiritual aspect of this question. By coincidence, this weekend I read a couple of typically clueminous essays by Schuon, one called Modes of Spiritual Realization, the other The Anonymity of the Virtues.
In the first, Schuon highlights the axiom that there exist three principle modes of approach to God, i.e., knowledge, love, and action. Here we are concerned with knowledge, because naturally we want to become less spiritually stupid: less blind, less deluded, less lost in subjectivity.
As an asnide, imagine if government invented a religion!
You don't have to imagine. It's called liberal statism.
Anyway, let's say I'm some kind of presumptuous brainiac who wants to possess Total Knowledge of God. Well, first of all, if there's a knowledge barrier preventing total knowledge of pencils, what makes you think there's less of a barrier vis-a-vis God?
So, do we have to remain in total ignorance? Yes and no. Schuon writes that
"Strictly speaking, a man should not wish to 'acquire' a particular virtue" -- in this case, knowledge of the Divine -- "but to eliminate a particular vice; to realize a quality is to destroy the fault that is contrary to it..."
Now, speaking of Obama, "There are men with the vain ambition to be exceptionally intelligent, and this makes them all the more stupid." In other words, intelligence is rendered stupid if it is unaware of its intrinsic limitations.
Intelligence is a mirror, and a mirror doesn't require much in order to accurately reflect its object -- basically "purity," or lack of contamination. You could say that the mirror belongs to God, whereas we are responsible for the smudges -- insane passions, envious resentments, quests for domination, pretenses to omniscience, tenured stupidity, etc.
"In a certain metaphysical sense, only our faults belong to us; our qualities belong to God, to the Good as such. By eliminating the vices, we allow the qualities of God to penetrate our soul." Or, "from another point of view... it is we who enter into the virtue" -- in this case, intelligence.
So, as in politics, we become more intelligent by slowly ridding ourselves of the stupid.