Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Wanted: One Honest Liberal

Apropos of yesterday's post, Jay Nordlinger has a piece in the latest National Review in which he asks if anyone out there has a "go to" liberal writer or thinker, someone who is actually intellectually serious -- and honest -- and "who will give me the best arguments of the other side," without the usual smugness, comic evasiveness, girlish hysteria, high-minded name-calling, educated ignorance, Timesworthy narrow-mindedness, Koch-headed bigotry, and deep shallowness -- all of it with the best of intentions, of course.

I can't think of any. Perhaps you can. But in order to qualify for the role, one must not only be able to put forth rational and factually supported arguments for one's own positions, but just as important, make the best possible arguments for the opposing position. If one can't do that, then one is not being intellectually honest, but simply engaging in a logical fallacy, i.e., the straw man.

For example, Nordlinger mentions Richard Cohen -- who is a fairly innocuous middlebrow hack, and not even close to being one of the worst offenders -- and yet, he "imagines conservatives who do not exist. He seems unwilling to debate, or consider, conservatives as we truly are. He is a caricaturist..."

As are nearly all of them. MSNBC is really a cartoon network, not a news operation.

One exception who comes to mind is Lanny Davis. I've actually heard him be fair, honest, and self-critical. Still way wrong, but that's okay. Wrong is educable. And he seems to have a conscience, i.e., a capacity for shame which is totally missing in a Clinton, Obama, Pelosi, Reid, and all the rest. The problem is (for I remember it well), snobbery, projection, smearing, superiority, intellectual dishonesty -- these are addictive, and not susceptible to correction, since the person who wants to correct you is an evil racist, or homophobe, or one-percenter, etc.

I am quite sure I can make the pro-abortion case in a dispassionate manner -- well, not the constitutional case, which is impossible -- but simply the argument that abortion should be available to a woman in the early stages of pregnancy. The problem is, they even lie about that, for example, by suggesting that abortion is only legal during the first trimester, when the fact of the matter is that there is no such practical or enforceable limit. There is a huge difference between what liberals say they believe vs. what they actually believe. They only discuss the latter amongst themselves, since they know the average person would be offended if not disgusted.

At any rate, you never hear a liberal abortion advocate acknowledge the unassailable principle that animates the pro-life position -- that it is unjust to take the life of an innocent human being. Instead, they will accuse the person of wanting to "control women's bodies," or some other nonsense.

Back to the OUTSTANDING book under review, The Betrayal of the Masses. I'm thinking Siegel must be an ex-liberal, because he is so thoroughly familiar with their literature of the past 100 years. No way would I want to voluntarily enter that swamp, for which reason alone we should thank him for his yeoman sewer service.

Another reason is that the left is deeply ahistorical about itself. If we treat the left as a "collective patient," so to speak, it is very much like a neurotic person in denial about his own past, and thus compelled to make the same mistakes over and over (the "repetition compulsion"), without in-sight. But in all honesty, "neurotic" is too mild a term.

Without getting too pedantic, a neurotic person has intrapsychic conflicts of which he is at least dimly aware, and which cause him pain. At the other extreme of psychopathology are psychotic individuals, who are frankly out of touch with reality, subject to delusions, hallucinations, and the like.

In between are borderline personalities -- not necessarily Borderline Personality Disorder per se -- but rather, people who rely upon more primitive defense mechanisms because of structural deficits in the psyche (generally rooted in early attachment).

Where is Dr. Sanity when you need her? Oh. Here she is. I forgot about the google machine. At any rate, she used to write a lot of good stuff on this very subject.

To simplify, there are neurotic and relatively healthy defense mechanisms such as repression, sublimation, and intellectualization; and intrinsically unhealthy ones such as denial, splitting, and projective identification.

One of the problems with the latter is that, instead of being intrapsychic, they tend to be intersubjective, meaning that they are acted out with other people or with the wider culture. They always induct others into their psychodramas, and cast other people as either villain (e.g., Koch Brothers), or savior (Obama), or some other primitive archetype yoinked from their intrapsychic swamp.

Siegel touches on this in the book, quoting Edmund Wilson, who wrote of how the liberal/progressive has "evolved a psychological mechanism which enables him to turn moral judgments against himself into moral judgments against society."

The liberal converts personal problems into collective ones -- conveniently located outside himself -- so the real problem can never be addressed, which leads to the cycle of repetition compulsion, in which we see the same discredited arguments time and again. For the left, it's always the same old whining in new battles.

Thus, "Liberal social programs to combat poverty and reform the schools, their failures long institutionalized, have produced a government whose grasp far exceeds its competence and whose costs are carried by the private-sector middle class" (Siegel). Nevertheless, "Liberalism, as a search for status, is sufficiently adaptable that even in failure, self-satisfaction trumps self-examination."

That is a perfect example of a primitive defense mechanism analogous to addiction: deny the reality, project the problem into others, and generate dopey good feelings via a dopamine rush -- e.g., sanctimony, self-righteousness, and intellectual superiority, not to mention the high from acquiring and wielding power over the contemptible citizenry -- so we're really dealing with a dual-diagnosis involving addiction and structural (i.e., borderline) deficits in the psyche.

No wonder they hate us.


julie said...

Siegel touches on this in the book, quoting Edmund Wilson, who wrote of how the liberal/progressive has "evolved a psychological mechanism which enables him to turn moral judgments against himself into moral judgments against society."

Otter: Ladies and gentlemen, I'll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests - we did.
[winks at Dean Wormer]
Otter: But you can't hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!
[Leads the Deltas out of the hearing, all humming the Star-Spangled Banner]

mushroom said...

There is a huge difference between what liberals say they believe vs. what they actually believe.

This is the key.

And to be fair, since I am not a liberal, the same is true of most politicians. Candidates from both parties are apt to campaign against intrusive government only to embrace it in office. Which leads to another ploy of the left, saying that such-and-such Republican did something just as bad or worse.

mushroom said...

I never thought about that. I guess we can now say that Obama has gone Full Animal House.

ted said...

Apropos of yesterday's post, Jay Nordlinger has a piece in the latest National Review in which he asks if anyone out there has a "go to" liberal writer or thinker, someone who is actually intellectually serious -- and honest...

The only one I can think of is David Brooks (but hey, he's a conservative... wink wink).

Magister said...

In the corridors of power, it's probably vain to search for leftists who are intellectual let alone "serious" intellectuals. They're not academics: they're in DC to exert power and spread lies for the powerful.

DC = direct current. Figures.

mushroom said...

Was Brooks the one who thought Obama was be great because he had such a nice crease in his pants?

I'll give some of them the benefit of the doubt about honesty, in that we should never attribute to malice that which can be fully explained by stupidity. Clinton, who is not stupid -- at least not in terms of policy, did say something about us having too much freedom.

That's really a bedrock principle with the left. You can't have all these people running around doing whatever they want. Just imagine the horror that would result if rich people could save, invest, and spend their money without government oversight, or if working people didn't have to cough up 14% of their salaries to fund Social Security and could invest it on their own.

ge said...

...now there's a liberal you might trust!

Gagdad Bob said...

Not a bad choice, since he really knows his jazz, too.

julie said...

Watching WallE with the kids tonight, it occurred to me that the humans living on the spaceship, though they are portrayed as being in thrall to a kind of fascist Walmart dictatorship, actually exist in a leftist paradise.

Everyone's equal, except the captain, who is only slightly more equal. There is an elite class of perfect robotic overlords. People are relieved of the necessity to do anything but entertain themselves, and children are immediately turned over to the state to be raised by the elite. And the result is that they have become, essentially, jellyfish.

julie said...

Taranto today touches on the snobbery of the elites, as well:

Harrop herself puts on quite a show of such antagonism toward West Virginians, for whom her column drips with aristocratic disdain. She "can't understand" why West Virginians resist calls "for reforming the state's famously lax [environmental] regulations." After all, "birds don't dirty their own nests." She goes on to observe that "the hard-luck people of Appalachia" suffer from "servility" and are "bursting with prideful self-pity." She concludes that they "should know that the outsiders pity them, as well."

Christina M said...

Julie, we agree with you about WallE. The boys and I saw it in the theater in 2008, and we still, to this day, refer to it as an example of a movie we truly disliked, mostly for its contempt for humanity and its preachiness. It was definitely a picture of a leftist paradise.

I'm enjoying these posts.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I reckon if there was honest liberals they ain't very honest with themselves or they wouldn't be liberals.
I suppose Pat Caddel comes close, though. If I'm thinking of the right guy.

Van Harvey said...

"Wanted: One Honest Liberal" Yep. Good luck with that.

The leftists I know that are honest people, will let that honesty go only so deep. When they hit that touchy spot where what they want to be true, begins to conflict with what they can't deny is true... they wave it off with a "Oh, that stuff is beyond me, I just...", and so on.

I've been searching for years, I've never yet found one who would walk their ideas back with you, to reality.

They Kant go there.

Van Harvey said...

Julie, Animal House!

Next thing you know, people will forget about the Germans bombing Pearl Harbor.


Gagdad Bob said...

Ben -- I agree about Caddell. He seems to have something resembling soul.

On a related note, we're having an 80th birthday party here for my mother-in-law, so many of the Jewish relatives will be here. I plan to accidentally leave Podhoretz's book, Why Are Jews Liberals?, on the coffee table, but say nothing.

Gagdad Bob said...

On another related note, there are new biographies of Maimomides and Abraham Heschel that look enticing.

Christina M said...

Sprinkle some nazar boncuğu around the book on the coffee table. They're Turkish eye-shaped amulets believed to protect against the evil eye. Liberalism/Leftism is a nazar boncuğ.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Good luck, Bob!
Be interesting to see if anyone is intrigued by the book's title.

julie said...

Bob, I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that scene. Just to capture the facial expressions would be fascinating.