But beyond that, it is also a statement about the order of reality, about first principles and primary ideological commitments. You will have noticed that Obama was quite passionate when he made the statement, and that the audience was whooping it up and egging him on -- as if he were auditioning to replace the Reverend Jeremiah Wright in the First Church of the Perpetual Victim.
Yeah, all you millionaires and billionaires out there who pull down 250K -- okay, $167K after taxes to pay for roads and teachers -- you may attribute your success to brains and sweat, but there are plenty of smart and hardworking folks out there, so you're just wrong -- not to mention, greedy and selfish.
Are there people who are just lucky? Of course! That is not a bug but a feature. Thanks to the freedom that is built into the market, it's not like some kind of linear machine, whereby you insert intelligence at one end and extract cash and other valuable prizes at the other. Sometimes intelligence and hard work will pay off. Sometimes they won't. Rule #1: Life isn't fair.
And sometimes a crass idiot -- say, Barack Obama -- will reach the pinnacle of success. But do I believe we need to tear down and reform the whole system just because this dimwit makes more money than I do? No, not at all. Thanks to this feature of the system, it gives hope to every moron that they too can make it in America. Imagine the despair if this weren't the case?
In places where self-appointed elites who are smarter than the rest of us attempt to impose a "fairer" order from on high, it never results in more fairness, or justice, or general affluence. Thanks to the Wisdom of Crowds, the unruly crowd demonstrates more wisdom than the pinheads who imagine they know better -- for which reason William F. Buckley famously resnarked that he would prefer to be governed by the first 100 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty.
The critical point is that the Order of Things is not static but dynamic. This dynamic order, as Mises and Hayek recognized, contains an infinitude of intelligence, dispersed throughout the system. In this context it is perfectly acceptable to say you didn't built that. Why? Because the hidden hand of the marketplace converts your intelligence, your ideas, your desires, even your greed, into social goods.
This is something the leftist refuses to believe: that order emerges from chaos. Instead, he believes that order emerges from order -- specifically, his own special insight into the order of reality. This is the impulse that prompts the leftist to believe that he can design a medical system superior to what the market would produce (if it were allowed to do so instead of being distorted by the state), or that he can steer the entire macroeconomy -- at no cost and with no unintended consequences -- simply by stealing from the future and pouring it into the present.
Why does the leftist refuse to believe in the order of reality? Pride would appear to play a predominant role. In particular, the tenured class is perpetually aggrieved at the fact that its economic station doesn't reflect its brilliance, whereas some businessboob lives on his own tropical island with a stable of supermodels. It's not fair!
Which only goes to show their own intellectual shallowness, because the privilege and pleasures of the life of mind -- of the true philosopher -- greatly exceed those of the sensory nervous system (to say nothing of the "pleasures of spirit," so to speak, or, even better, when all three -- body, mind, and spirit -- are integrated, which one might say is the "unsurpassable order" for human beings. Nor would the Raccoon exchange this proper dynamic order for anything in the world).
Taranto discussed this the other day. He was pondering the question of what seems to be eating at the perpetually embittered former Enron advisor Paul Krugman -- who would appear to have it all, except for sanity, charm, looks, and non-beady eyes that don't dart around like Scrat searching for his missing acorn:
"Status anxiety, that's what. He is part of America's intellectual elite. By the measure of his credentials -- Ivy League professorship, Nobel Memorial Prize, New York Times column -- he arguably is at its very pinnacle, the elitest of the elitists and, thanks to the Times, one of the most famous. He is also, as any observer can attest, a very self-important person."
So in a just world, Krugman's economic acumen shouldn't only be acclaimed by all, but by all rights he should be running our lives, no?
"It's common for eggheads to nurture ressentiment against fat cats. Intellectuals are apt to hold a self-serving belief in cognitive meritocracy, in the idea that the brightest are also the best. They envy the rich because wealth is a concrete measure of status that is out of proportion to what the intellectual believes to be true merit. If they're so rich, how come they're not smart?"
At the moment it's a little difficult to imagine a more frightening scenario than the order of the world reflecting the order of Paul Krugman's head.
Let's get back to Voegelin. He directly addresses the issue we've been discussing, writing of how symbols become erected into the "entities" of ideology, which is to say, how reality -- which is always a verb -- is transformed into the nouns of ideological doctrine (which is an instance of Whitehead's fallacy of misplaced concreteness).
Intellectuals are obviously much more prone to this fallacy than the ordinary intelligent person, say, a businessman, who, if he were to operate his business along Marxist lines, would be out of business in a week. Sure, Marxism works: in the land of the tenured, where one is generously compensated for producing ideas that do not work in the real world because they are detached from said world.
Such a thinker "pays for his intellectual cleanliness the price of denying truth altogether." But actual truth only exists in the messy field of tension between knower and known. Or, as Voegelin explains, truth is not "a bit of information that has escaped" the notice of others, but "a pole in the tension of order and disorder, of reality and loss of reality."
Man's epistemophilic instinct actually has two components. On the one hand we are repelled by disorder, on the other, moved by a kind of longing for truth. You might say that there is an attractor, O, which provokes our desire and pulls us toward it; but also a kind of "inverse attractor" (Ø) that repels us, even though we must always tolerate it on pain of magically eliminating the tension between Ø and O via some defective dogma.
One of the most adequate formulations of this tension was set forth by Paul, who called it the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. To imagine one may reach the other side of this tension is to convert truth into a kind of "absolute object" that derails us into "doctrinaire existence."
For those who subsist in such an impoverished and unhappitat, "the subfield is a closed world; there is nothing beyond it, or at least nothing they care to know about, should they uneasily sense that something is there after all." But truth remains: "When it is excluded from the universe of intellectual discourse, its presence in reality makes itself felt in the disturbance of mental operations," i.e., a state of pneumapathology.
Just to wrap this up, we know that Obama didn't build you didn't build that. Rather, this defective idea was built by a quintessential man of tenure, George Lakoff. Now, Lakoff is the same intellectual who counsels those on the left to counter conservative arguments by placing their hands over their ears while chanting LALALALALALALALA!!!
In other words, don't just do something about reality. Shout over it!
Lakoff hasn't discovered anything new, since denial is a well known psychological defense mechanism. But shifted to the intellectual and spiritual planes, it results in "a whole class of phenomena" being "denied cognizance" and therefore existence. Which wouldn't trouble us if not for the fact that "every now and then, there happens along" an assoul
"who takes himself seriously and faces everybody else with the alternative of either joining him in his intellectual prison or being put in a concentration camp." Thankfully we don't have concentration camps. Rather, we just toil for the state for several months of the year, or are herded into the leftist seminaries called "public schools," or are corralled into "insurance exchanges" on the way to socialized medicine.
There is another alternative for the ideologue, but this "would release a flood of anxiety, and the dread of this flood keeps the doors of the prison closed.... The alternative to life in the paradise of his dream is death in the hell of his banality."
And yeah, he built that.