Monday, August 4, 2014

"I Will Defend Americans from the Bullies"

I am trying to think how the next Republican nominee for President of the United States can tell the ordinary American people that he is on their side.

And that's how I came up with this: "If you elect me as your President," my candidate will say, "I will defend the ordinary American, not the just educated elite, not just the unfortunate that need the help of government, not just the well-connected businessman, but the ordinary American people that obey the law, that go to work, that follow the rules.  And I will defend them from bullies, foreign and domestic.  I am talking not just about foreign powers and local thugs.  I am talking about government officials that abuse their powers and call ordinary Americans potty names, and I am talking about the All-American moral bully."

"Men like power and will seize it if they can." That's straight from the horse's mouth, Nicholas Wade in The Faith Instinct. Next sentence: "But if they can't rule, their next preference is that no one rule over them."

No kidding!  Hey, I get it!  Let's adapt the sound bite for the Obama Age. "Liberals like bullying, and will bully if they can get away with it.  But Americans hate being ordered around, and sooner or later they rise up and kick the bullies in the keister."

I have no idea, no idea in the world, what "keister" means, but if Ronald Reagan used it, it's good enough for me.

The point is, of course, that liberals have developed, since Marx in the 1840s, a cunning trick for justifying their bullying.  They insist that all the bullying is in a good cause, helping the helpless.  First it was the working class that was being worked to death in the mines and the factories, and liberals had to help them. (Actually, according to modern analysts, the workers were getting a premium wage, for the times, in those mines and factories; that's why they migrated to the city in their millions. Duh!)

But once the working class got on its feet and started voting Republican, the lefties needed a new gig, and they found it with advocating for minorities and women.  Then it was gays.

In a long post, Alistair Roberts puts a name to this politics.  It is the politics of taking offence.  If you don't agree with the advocate of minorities you are a racist and a hater.  If you don't agree with the advocate of women you are a sexist and a rape enabler.  If you don't agree with government benefits for the workers you want children to starve.

The person that benefits most from this politics is the advocate of the persons "supposed to be offended."
The ‘subject supposed to be offended’ is especially powerful as a construction as it can include more empowered and privileged people in the offence game. In fact, the power of the culture of offence arguably owes more to this ‘subject supposed to be offended’ than to anything else. There are few people more zealous in offence-taking and outrage-making than persons doing so on behalf of the ‘subject supposed to be offended’. Few people who actually stand in a position to be personally hurt display anything approaching the degree of offence or passion for political correctness that the person taking offence on behalf of this posited individual can. Such persons regard themselves as sensitive and caring protectors of the weak and oppressed. Offence-taking and outrage-making is not a mere prerogative for them, but is a noble duty and calling. The more of an outrage they create on others’ behalf, the more virtuous they feel.
Amazing how that rings true!  But Roberts points out that the politics of taking offence does not just benefit the activist.  It has another effect; it can hurt the person "supposed to be offended." He quotes a couple of feminists that are concerned about the negative effects of Women's Studies on its students.
No doubt there were students who gained confidence and a sense of belonging from the sharing, caring, and calls to empowerment that pervaded feminist pedagogy. But we found that others felt excluded by the strict enforcement of whatever the prevailing feminist norms happened to be. And those who did fit in were taking on a worldview that militated against anything but a life as a feminist activist – and this by design. It is right for women to be alerted to the possibility of rape and violent assault and apprised of methods of prevention and legal recourse. But if such topics are to be discussed in a classroom setting, they must be dealt with carefully and analyzed as a complex social issue using the tools of social science. All too often the definitions and doctrines espoused within Women’s Studies seemed calculated merely to make women feel besieged. Their sensitivities were being sharpened to such an edge that some were turned into relentless grievance collectors or rendered too suspicious to function in the workaday world outside of Women’s Studies and were left with few possible roles in life beyond that of angry feminists.
Now the politics of "taking offence" is often called post-modern or multicultural, as though it is something more modern than modernism.  But viewed through Roberts' lens you can see that it is distinctly pre-modern.  And indeed this is true of the whole Left project.  It seeks to re-feudalize, or at a minimum, maintain feudal social relations for people struggling with adapting their lives to the ways of the city and the public square. That's when the Left rushes in and says: We will protect you from all this nastiness. The Left's agenda is not to ease the adjustment from feudal collectivism to modern responsible individualism.  It seeks to maintain pre-modern collective structures, or even reintroduce them.

When feudalism broke down in China about 500 AD, the Chinese people became individuals within families.  There was no longer any great lord to take care of them: they were on their own.  The Chinese people responded to this challenge by becoming the world's hardest workers.  If you worked hard you could buy land and distribute it to your sons.  Without enough land to support a family, your sons would have to sell their land and would regress into becoming hired laborers and would never marry and have children.  Social Darwinism, if you like, avant la lettre.

A related thing happened in Europe when feudalism broke down.  People became individuals, responsible for their own lives.  In Britain they responded to the challenge by kicking the kids out of the house at puberty; they became apprentices or domestic servants.  If the kids could figure out a way to earn a decent living they could afford to marry and reproduce.

Our friends on the Left like to call this event a cruel and anti-social disaster.  They have a point; but the change is also clearly the parent of today's growing economy.  As a serf, you might as well ease off on the work department, because hard work isn't going to get you anywhere.  But under individualism, hard work does make a difference.

Just to make the point clear.  In last two hundred years, in those areas of the world that allowed economic individualism to flourish, the daily income of ordinary people has gone from about $1-3 per day to $100 per day.  The average poor person in the US today has air conditioning.

Individualism is hard, as longshoreman Eric Hoffer admits in The Ordeal of Change.  The modern worker works hard because he has to. But he reckons that there really are only two choices for a society if the work is to get done.  Either the worker takes on the burden of supporting himself on his own back, or he works at the direction of a master, who really then amounts to a slave-master.

And we have seen how things work out when the state takes on the responsibility of getting the work done.  It has made the masters of the old slave plantations look like pikers.

Last week I watched a YouTube video of investment guru Peter Schiff at Occupy Wall Street in 2011. He was telling the Occupiers that government was their problem, not Wall Street, although he agreed that Wall Street was complicit in the whole mess.  But the protesters mostly would have none of it.  What they wanted was a government with a gun to the head of Wall Street and a gun to the head of their employer.  They wanted force, because that was the only thing they understood.

That is the basic political philosophy of the Left.  They believe, starting before Marx, that the only thing that will yield prosperity for the working man is for a new class of revolutionaries to get political power and hold a gun to the head of the titans of business.  Doesn't matter whether it's a labor union striking the greedy bosses, or government legislating wages and hours and safety and benefits.  They don't believe that the market delivers those benefits.  They think that only political force can do it.

Let's say that the factory owners of the Industrial Revolution were bullies.  They knew they had power over the workers and they exploited it. So what about union bosses?  You don't think that union bosses take advantage of the workers?  What about political bosses?  You don't think they take advantage of their power over business to exploit them and to shake down business for money in return for favors in the practice we call crony capitalism?

I say: Sure, let's come down like a ton of bricks on corporate bullies.  But let's level the playing field.  Let's ride herd on union bosses, as the Obama administration does not do. Let's ride herd on crony corporate public-private partnerships as the Obama administration does not do.  Let's ride hard on proud federal bureaucrats that use potty language to describe opposition activists. That is the minimum that we expect from the next Republican president.

But now we have a new kind of bully.  Let's call him the activist bully, and let's go back to Alistair Roberts and his discussion of the offence culture and the person leading and representing the "subject supposed to be offended."
One of the effects of the ‘subject supposed to be offended’ is a sort of competitive offence-taking on the part of certain persons in positions of power or influence. The most virtuous person is the person who is most successful in kicking up a fuss on behalf of the subject supposed to be offended. The accumulation of such virtue is generally fairly painless, but can win people great adulation, and a sense of moral superiority (which can conveniently serve as absolution for other faults). It is also a perfect way for officials to deflect attention away from other issues and to feel good about themselves. The temptations of this easily-won virtue are considerable, especially when the espousal of politically correct views can be sufficient to outweigh the personal vices of a life that demonstrates little evidence of a commitment to self-binding virtue.
I tell you, does that guy nail it, or what?

There surely is a place in this world for activists to lead the marginalized, the folks in this world that are getting a raw deal in the new individualist society where you have to shoulder the responsibility of organizing your own life. It's new; it's frightening; it takes a generation or two for people to learn. But the problem is that, in order to get on in the modern world, people need to get out of their collective silos and into the public square.  They need to measure themselves against the world and if they find themselves wanting, they need to do something about it.  Roberts again:
Strengths are developed as people refuse to pander to our weaknesses, viewing these weaknesses as obstacles that we both need and are sufficient to overcome. While we may not yet be prepared to face certain challenges, and need support and protection in such cases, we need to be pushed beyond our existing limits, to attain to new levels of independent strength.
You mean flush the positive self-esteem racket down the toilet?

Where can you find, in the system of left-wing activism, any process that actually encourages and leads people to develop strengths as individuals and to overcome their weaknesses?  The cycle of left-wing activism is: 1. Identify a marginalized community; 2. Show up and demand that injustices be addressed through government benefits; 4. Celebrate victory; 4. Head off to your next activism gig.  Emile Zola already had the activism game nailed a century ago and more in Germinal.

What we have seen, in the years of the Obama administration, is that these left-wing activists are not just hungry for the street power of leading peaceful protesters to demand justice and benefits.  They also want to bully and humiliate anyone that disagrees with them.  As culture and political warriors they understand that there is no high ground that can compete with the moral high ground.  And once you have captured the moral high ground you have your opponents at your mercy.  If people disagree with you then they must be a hater or a bigot.  Or a racist, sexist, and a homophobe.  And a fascist.  Of course a fascist.

There is something wrong with this.  Do you know what it is?  I will tell you.  These liberal bullies deny their opponents the right of moral agency.  They say: if you don't believe as I do then you are a bad person, a hater, a racist or a bigot, and you don't even deserve to stay in your job.

I say it is the job of government, especially a government with a First Amendment that says that there shall be no establishment of religion, to make sure that the people are defended not just against foreign invaders, not just against domestic criminals, but also against moral bullies.

And that is why I say that the next Republican that runs to become the Next President of the United States must run under this banner:
"I will defend the people of the United States against all bullies: against foreign princes and potentates; against domestic thugs and crooks; and against the most despicable of them all, the moral bullies that want to criminalize people for having the wrong opinions."
 I am not just blowing smoke here.  I think that it is a powerful message for the GOP nominee to make.  It gets around the difficulties of getting down to detail.  But it appeals to the millions of people in America who are frankly afraid today of saying something wrong, doing something wrong, and waking up to find that some left-wing activist has decided to make her career on exposing them as moral monsters.  And it stands on the unquestionable responsibility of any government, and that is defense against enemies, foreign and domestic.

I am not saying that we need a bunch of new laws about this. I am just saying we need a president who calls out people that deny their political opponents the right to believe in their own vision of America.  And not only that.  They deny their opponents the right to be wrong.

If there is one thing we have seen from President Obama it is that he doesn't accept the right of people to disagree with him.  Republicans that disagree with Obama are apparently all cynical and playing politics.  Well, of course they are: they are politicians.  But they also fundamentally disagree with his political agenda and they have a right, under our system, to disagree with the president and to push that agenda to their best ability and appeal to the American people to support them.

I can't predict the future, but I have an instinct that a president that called out the bullies would find himself a very popular man.  Of course he'd have to call out a conservative or two, but this would be an opportunity for a bit of moral discourse.  I can see liberals calling for the head of some conservative and the president saying, in a Reaganesque way with a dip of the head: "Well, he was a bit forthright, but you media mavens will recall that my problem is with moral bullies that deny the opposition the right to moral standing.  I don't think that Ron Righty's comment violated that standard."

Do you see how this approach trumps the left's game of grabbing the moral high ground with their politics of offence and then denying their opponents the right to disagree?

I'm going to be writing more about this.

1 comment:

  1. I've been a fan of yours for nearly four years. This particular essay is wonderful. But for me, it's spoiled by a small number of technical/editorial issues:

    (1) The "keister" aside is disingenuous and beside the point. (2) Factories tend to be in cities, but mines do not. (3) You say "Let's ride hard" when you mean "herd." (4) In the cycle of left-wing activism, you list "Celebrate victory" as Item 4. But it should be Item 3. "Head off to your next activism gig" is Item 4.

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