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I've said before, back in April and in August, that one of the things that makes political arguments so villainous is that the two sides think that any reasonable person who looked at the facts would come to the same conclusion that they have. Therefore the other side can't possibly mean what they say, there must be some evil motive behind their opposition. So to address this, as an ex-conservative who's now a liberal, I wrote the following two essays, and promised one more:
The promised 3rd one was going to be about the first principle of lifestyle liberalism, which follows. I had to break this into two pieces because honestly, there isn't a single principle that binds together economic or classical liberals with the lifestyle or counterculture liberals. They're bound together by a handful of charismatic writers and leaders, and by a mutual loathing of conservatives ... which is why, in times when the conservatives don't have a charismatic or powerful leader for both kinds of liberals to hate, the liberal coalition has a hard time agreeing on what to do. But I digress.

To oversimplify what I've already written before, the first principle of conservativism is that there is one obviously best way to live, one prescribed by social and religious pressure, and that when you deviate from that path in any way you're (at the very least) less productive than you otherwise might be, and so you're hurting yourself, letting down those who are depending on you, setting a bad example for others, and by inspiring charity being an economic drain on your loved ones and your whole country. Therefore it is appropriate to stop you.

In a rare moment of candor, in an essay I wish I could forward you a copy of entitled "In Defense of Hypocrisy," conservative morality czar (and problem gambler) William Bennett made the following case, and I am indebted to him for clarifying my thinking on this. The following wording is my own, though, because I'm going to be even blunter than he was. What he and I agree on, more or less, is that for the purposes of this discussion, there are three kinds of people:
  1. There are a lot of people for whom the straight and narrow is comfortable and comforting. It is no trouble for them to stay on the straight and narrow. At the end of their life, they may express some wistful feeling that they wish they'd taken more risks and broken more social rules, but they really know better, because they enjoy the rewards that staying on the straight and narrow gave them and left for their children. For now, let's call them the "naturally compliant," if only because it's more polite than what I usually call them ("mundanes").

  2. There are a few people who simply can not live on the straight and narrow, either because they are badly broken, or because they are biologically wired for urges that are outside the straight and narrow, or because they are a member of some minority group that the other people on the straight and narrow won't accept in their midst. For now, let's call them "deviants," not specifically for the pejorative sense of the word but because their unpopularity comes from the fact that they deviate from a popular and successful way of life.

  3. There quite a few people who can live on the straight and narrow, but who find it uncomfortable and depressing. Given a choice, they'd leave the straight and narrow, and live some alternative path. For now, let's call them "potential deviants."
In "In Defense of Hypocrisy," William Bennett laid out the argument that it is for the protection of the potential deviants that we must suppress all deviation from the straight and narrow. If the people in group 3 (the potential deviants) are allowed to see the people in group 2 (the deviants) surviving and thriving, then they too will deviate, and thereby impoverish themselves, impoverish their loved ones, and impoverish the nation.

Ah, but suppress them how? Even Bennett admits that it is impossible for even the most draconian police state to prevent, in his example, all homosexual conduct. And decades of "war on drugs" haven't put a dent in the $6,000,000,000.00 a year cocaine trade, let alone any other drugs. Back in the 14th century, the Pope declared a literal war on the nation of Languedoc over their informal policy of tolerating protestant heretics and Jews, raised an army that murdered whole cities and annexed the territory to the supposedly more pious nation of France. The result was not the prevention of protestantism or heresy, but a steady rise from there on of anti-clericalism in France, the victor. There is no way to suppress all of group 2, and even Bennett admits this. So what does he advocate?

What conservatives advocate to keep as many people as possible on the straight and narrow is that from time to time, members of group 2 be singled out for public draconian humiliation at the very least, lengthy and mind-breaking jail sentences at best, and if such campaigns mean that from time to time that the police must look the other way while an angry mob attacks or even kills a deviant or two, that's an acceptable price to pay.

A lifestyle liberal, then, is simply someone who disagrees, on one or more of the following grounds:
  • It's unfair. Anti-deviance campaigns can't possibly affect all deviants in the same way, so they ensconce in law and public policy a kind of "scapegoat principle" where an unfortunate few must be murdered or otherwise destroyed for the benefit of the greater number. That's human sacrifice.

  • It's unnecessary. Even if it was once true that the only best way to make an economic contribution to society was to work hard all the time and spend no money or time on pleasure, that may not be true in a world that needs more creative workers and not so many grunt workers. And even if it is still true, there is more than one kind of contribution that individuals can make to society. The great artists and musicians and inventors of history haven't always been economic producers, but their creations once harnessed by the naturally compliant have unmistakably improved quality of life for all of us.

  • It's corrosive. Anti-deviance campaigns sanction selective prosecution, create situations where the wealthy are most tempted to use their wealth to bribe or otherwise suborn the law, put public officials into the position of being vulnerable to blackmail by criminals over their own deviant conduct, and encourage mob violence. All of these things, when tolerated in the long run, are corrosive to civil society and the rule of law. When civil society and the rule of law collapse into either anarchy or machine politics or totalitarianism, then even the naturally compliant aren't very productive any more.
So to a lifestyle liberal, it seems obvious that a social conservative is someone who advocates human sacrifice, waste of creative human potential, and descent into anarchy by way of mafia rule or totalitarianism.

Comments

( 46 comments — Leave a comment )
chipuni
Sep. 9th, 2004 11:30 am (UTC)
Count me in as number 2 and number 3 among the reasons for being a lifestyle liberal.

Think of it this way: as the world grows, and as more of the world becomes industrialized (that is, as our work becomes more multiplied by machines), each person necessarily becomes more specialized, and we require more creative, autonomous workers.

In other words, industrialization and computerization requires the end of "natural compliance": the unwillingness to break rules.
(Deleted comment)
athelind
Sep. 9th, 2004 12:16 pm (UTC)
And that's the greatest threat of all.

I long ago realized that people aren't nearly as threatened by others claiming that they're BETTER than everyone else as they are by those who claim that they're JUST AS GOOD.
for varying values of "survive and thrive" - bradhicks - Sep. 9th, 2004 10:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
ponsdorf
Sep. 9th, 2004 12:26 pm (UTC)
ayn rand and objectivism
You have previously broken conservatism and liberalism in into subgroups which provides a more cogent framework for discussion (assuming discussion is part of your purpose in writing) than the mostly 'one-size-fits-all' approach above.

But it did bring to mind of the writings of Ayn Rand. Not so much the specifics but the tone. What's odd is that I don't think of Rand as a liberal.

But to your final point:

"So to a lifestyle liberal, it seems obvious that a social conservative is someone who advocates human sacrifice, waste of creative human potential, and descent into anarchy by way of mafia rule or totalitarianism."

I dunno what category I fall into so please forgive that I can't use your frame(s) of reference to describe the above sentence.

Liberals require sacrifice by humans, I'm a human.... my taxes and blood, sweat and tears are required to support things I don't believe in or want to support. Liberals seem to be suggesting that if we take energy(money) from the wealthy and give to the poor the world will magically become a better place. Or that if we condone and embrace (not simply accept) behaviors we dislike the world will be a better place. That is sacrifice.

Humans can tend to be lazy... human creative potential is wasted when it isn't provided with challenges. There is not now, nor has there ever been a level playing field for life. In trying to create one liberals are squashing the life out of humans.

I always thought of 1984 and Brave New World as depicting a liberal ideal not a conservative one. And the USSR as a liberal nirvana. One doesn't have to make descisions to live. One doesn't have to worry about retirement or health care.

"The great artists and musicians and inventors of history haven't always been economic producers, but their creations once harnessed by the naturally compliant have unmistakably improved quality of life for all of us."

Well said (no suprise)....but a point might be made that most did all that IN SPITE of the naturally compliant and IN SPITE of not being economic producers. Leading to a question... would they have been more creative without those challenges? I prefer to believe that humans rise to challenges.
felax
Sep. 9th, 2004 06:48 pm (UTC)
Quick point
You've suggested that liberals want us to embrace and condone deviant paths rather than simply accepting them. In this, you've struck on one of the major differences between the conservative and liberal mindsets: what constitutes simple acceptance vs. condonement. To a liberal mindset, simple acceptance includes equality under the law. The first example that comes to mind would be homosexual marriage, so I'll go ahead and use it. Homosexuals who have chosen a life partner currently can not receive tax breaks for marital status, amongst other benefits I'm not going to list. To a liberal mindset, then, they are not equal under the law. To a conservative mindset, this union under the name of marriage somehow embraces and encourages homosexuality as well as somehow degrading the sanctity of marriage.
Exhausted ramblings - felax - Sep. 9th, 2004 06:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Quick point - ponsdorf - Sep. 9th, 2004 08:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Quick point - felax - Sep. 11th, 2004 01:39 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Quick point - etherial - Sep. 16th, 2004 02:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Quick point - pope_guilty - Sep. 21st, 2004 07:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Quick point - pecunium - Mar. 10th, 2009 11:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - en_ki - Sep. 13th, 2004 11:20 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: ayn rand and objectivism - pecunium - Mar. 10th, 2009 11:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
ponsdorf
Sep. 9th, 2004 01:54 pm (UTC)
oops I'm a No. 2
Forgot to suggest that I'm a No. 2 by your definition.

BTW: 'Economic Producers' are not the bad guys.... If your premise is based on that issue. The only job a poor person creates is in the government (excluding NGO's, like churches, and charities).

And I neglected 'and descent into anarchy by way of mafia rule or totalitarianism'.

Anarchy and totalitarianism are mutually exclusive. That you might lump them together is troubling.
bradhicks
Sep. 9th, 2004 10:15 pm (UTC)
Re: oops I'm a No. 2
Economic producers are not the bad guys. Economic producers who insist that all of us have our total worth be judged only by our skill as economic producers are the bad guys.

Think of all of the great artists who never made a dime in their lives, or who barely scraped together enough cash to buy materials and a starvation level diet in substandard housing. They certainly did create jobs ... just mostly not for themselves. For crying out loud, for all that those paintings barely made sandwich money for him, there's probably an entire subset of the population making their living off of little more than selling posters of Van Goh's "Sunflowers" and "Starry Night." Considering that the original of "Sunflowers" sold for $15,000,000.00 a few years ago, but only about $2 when it was made, was Van Goh an economic producer by your standards or not?

In the late 1920s there were a bunch of unemployed and unemployable bums with English degrees and bad manners who could only find government jobs with the WPA, and barely that. The government put them to make-work jobs compiling county histories. Two of them, John Steinbeck and William Faulkner, went on to win Nobel Prizes in literature, and huge sums of money to the tune of millions of dollars have been made from book, TV, and movie rights to their works. By your standards, were they only parasites feeding on the public trough, or were they economic producers?

To you, it's obvious that only people with "real jobs" that make real money are economic producers. To me, it's obvious that not all economic production is recognized in the person's life, or easily quantified and reimbursed at the time it occurs, and that there are ways to contribute to human happiness and human wealth that have nothing to do with money.

As for the other point, totalitarianism leads to anarchy when it collapses, as is obvious in the former Soviet Union now. That's why I said "by way of."
Re: oops I'm a No. 2 - ponsdorf - Sep. 10th, 2004 03:56 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: oops I'm a No. 2 - bradhicks - Sep. 10th, 2004 08:54 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: oops I'm a No. 2 - ponsdorf - Sep. 10th, 2004 12:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: oops I'm a No. 2 - bradhicks - Sep. 10th, 2004 01:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: oops I'm a No. 2 - ponsdorf - Sep. 10th, 2004 01:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: oops I'm a No. 2 - bradhicks - Sep. 10th, 2004 01:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: oops I'm a No. 2 - ponsdorf - Sep. 10th, 2004 01:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: oops I'm a No. 2 - pecunium - Mar. 10th, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: oops I'm a No. 2 - bradhicks - Sep. 10th, 2004 01:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: oops I'm a No. 2 - ponsdorf - Sep. 10th, 2004 01:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: oops I'm a No. 2 - nancylebov - Sep. 12th, 2004 06:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - en_ki - Sep. 13th, 2004 11:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bradhicks - Sep. 14th, 2004 10:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: oops I'm a No. 2 - pecunium - Mar. 10th, 2009 11:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
thesigother
Sep. 9th, 2004 09:27 pm (UTC)
Hmm having some issues with terms
There are a couple of contradictions that I caught, and could not let go right away.

#1) If the Deviants are seen as being surviving / thriving then the potential deviants may become deviants.

#2) Deviants do not walk the straight and narrow, and therefore deviate from a "popular and succesful" lifestyle.

Depending on how you define surviving/thriving, and popular and successful, then #1 can never come true BY DEFINITION.

Let me put it another way.

A) Potential Deviants will become Deviants if Deviants become an attractive lifestyle.

B) Deviants shun a lifestyle that is Productive and Successful.

C) Productive and Successful lifestyles are attractive.

D) Therefore Potential Deviants will not become Deviants.

I have read some Bennett, so I am not sure he would try to push this issue this far. Although he does like to push both sides of a view point pretty hard.

I guess I am having a problem with the Deviant definition. It also does not take into account the joys of deviation. There must be some benefit to them for not walking the straight and narrow. Does it hurt the conservatives if there are people who do not walk this path? Does it help the conservatives if EVERYONE walks this path? I am thinking some game theory may go a long way here, and perhaps some random forgiveness may be in order.


phierma
Sep. 10th, 2004 08:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Hmm having some issues with terms
> Let me put it another way. > > A) Potential Deviants will become Deviants if Deviants become an attractive lifestyle. > B) Deviants shun a lifestyle that is Productive and Successful. > C) Productive and Successful lifestyles are attractive. > D) Therefore Potential Deviants will not become Deviants. This argument is invalid. C) asserts that Productive and Successful lifestyles are attractive. It does not assert that ONLY Productive and Successful lifestyles are attractive. Deviant lifestyles could be attractive for other reasons. (I would, in fact, argue that that's the case. I once deliberately took a significant cut in pay in order to reduce my stress level and have a more comfortable work environment.) (Yes, Brad, I've been skimming the Wikipedia articles on logical fallacies.) :-
Re: Hmm having some issues with terms - phierma - Sep. 10th, 2004 08:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hmm having some issues with terms - nancylebov - Sep. 12th, 2004 06:05 am (UTC) - Expand
thesigother
Sep. 10th, 2004 10:39 pm (UTC)
Cut in pay
As did I. I learned my computing/networking skills in the School of Hard Knocks. My degrees are in 2 other completely different things. And the Fact that C does not compute, means that we are probably in the Cat 2 or Cat 3 range. Since a Cat 1 person would not bother to look around that viewpoint.


See, I get that there is something more out there than being successful, productive and popular. I am not entirely sure the standard right wing Conservative would get it though.

Although I think I like the previous discussion of Liberals a little better than this one on the Conservatives. IE Liberals think that there is a minimum standard of living that all citizens should be able to have, whether they can be economic producers or not. I think the conservative point of view is, "Well I don't want to pay for that." OK, that is reductio ad absurdum, which I am sure you will find in Wiki. The point is that the Conservative/Liberal dichotomy makes it possible to balance the Gov't should pay for all vs. I don't want to see money going for that points of view. I think it is possible to be a hardline conservative without having to be Religious, or wanting to impose your views on others. I think you can just say, "I don't wanna pay for that." and call it good.

However, it is interesting that it seems to be that they conservative gets "married" to the religious right mentally, although I am not sure that the two are necessarily, er, uh necessary.

See, for example what we have in charge now, is a Republican who is conservative when it comes to welfare, but extremely liberal with trying to fund his own private war.

I think it may be fairer to say that Conservatives do not want to pay for someone else's lifestyle choices. They don't want to pay for crack babies, they don't want to pay for abortions, and they don't want to pay additional health care because someone's bad decision (heroine addiction, dirty needles, HIV transmission from unsafe sex) is going to cost a tax payer LOTS of money.

The conservatives don't want to make the government be the magic wand that gets waved when someone screws up. I can't say I blame them.

See, you can get into a Conservative/Liberal conversation without bringing religion or personal beliefs into it. When I think of Conservative/Liberal, I am thinking in terms of more the fiscal side of politics, without getting into the Social pressures that go along with it. After thinking about it that may be more my issue since I believe, whole-heartedly in the separation of church and state. That being the case, I may not be aware of points of views that smoosh them together.
pecunium
Mar. 10th, 2009 11:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Cut in pay


I think it may be fairer to say that Conservatives do not want to pay for someone else's lifestyle choices. They don't want to pay for crack babies, they don't want to pay for abortions, and they don't want to pay additional health care because someone's bad decision (heroine addiction, dirty needles, HIV transmission from unsafe sex) is going to cost a tax payer LOTS of money.

But they do want to pay for lifestyle choices. It's just which lifestyle choices. They want taxes to be set up in this way, not that. They talk a good line, but the things they do affect others lifestyle choices. What they outlaw is making me pay for their desires to see drugs illegal. To see consenual sexual acts illegal. To restrict what I may read, see, hear. Those restrictions cost money.

And they impinge, both directly, and indirectly, on how I live my life. They have second order effects (the rise of crime in relation to the profitability of drugs, the people who can't be as productive as they might be, because they had to have children, because family planning was forbidden to them; the people who are in Emergency Rooms, and so raising my medical costs, etc.).

The real difference, seems to me, that the Liberal says, "Everyone should have an equal chance to be happy and healthy, and I am willing to help them out" and the Conservative says, "Everyone who is like me can be happy and healthy. If they aren't like me, I won't help them out."
fengi
Sep. 16th, 2004 03:00 pm (UTC)
Fascinating
I find your essays fascinating. To me the most important part is this about #2: "or because they are a member of some minority group that the other people on the straight and narrow won't accept in their midst." I would argue the majority of "deviants" fall into this group.

This is where conservatism falls down. The First Conservative Principle posit an ideal definition of straight and narrow which is just and practical, based on logic and economics. But this definition has never existed. The group which defines straight and narrow does so to benefit themselves by excluding others who are hardworking and moral, but not of their kind. Besides self-interest, there's religion, superstition, perverse fears, delusions of granduer and other factors which have nothing to do with economics or logic.

Conservativism also assumes - or pretends - that those with wealth and power always acquire it through hard work and fair play.

Your essay on the First Conservative Principle traces the tradition to groups who burned witches at the stake, kept slaves and acquired land by slaughtering those who owned it.

The idea Conservatives function on empiricism is a lie. The Indians worked hard, kept a strict moral code and were functioning in a sustainable economic environment before being killed off by a bunch of people who excused it because they were "deviants."

Conservatism harkens to idealism whenever reality exposes this lie.

Take the discussion about welfare mothers in the comments of your First Principle essay. Conservativism claims that having a "welfare net" encourages people to take the risk of having unwanted children. This supposes a) every woman takes this risk by choice, b) an ideal world where every child can have a father who can find a job to support it unless the mother selfishly chooses otherwise.

It also presumes that the naturally compliant never have extramarital sex. The very conservatives spouting this crap are often on their second or third wife and have had plenty of non-marital sex, even illegitimate kids and abortions.

Yes, there were single mothers who didn't work but just squeaked by on welfare checks. The idea this was the majority of those who receive the programs which make up welfare is a falsehood existing only in Ronal Reagan's head. The majority of children receiving aid had working and/or two parents.

This assumes there's no rape, no husbands who die without adequate pensions and anyone who loses a job can find another before they run out of money. The same conservative values which advocate preventing sex ed and contraception, supposedly because children are vulnerable, deems these same children no longer worthy of protection if their vulnerability results in a mistake. Then they are getting what they deserve. And I guess orphans are born sinners.

The same thing holds true for homosexuality. First, plenty of these conservatives are closet cases. Second, there is nothing in history and statistics to prove the steady percentage of homosexuals has any impact on the functionality of the hetero majority.

I'd argue the whole point of conservatism is creating a facade of reason on what is boils down to "We've got power, so we make the rules and these rules will keep us in power." It is morality created by those who are priveleged and can keep their own deviance hidden, their own mistakes easily fixable.

This is why I think Conservatives are evil. Their system is based on a lie by the powerful.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 28th, 2004 01:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Fascinating
Phil Agre wrote a long piece that agrees, largely, with fengi's points. It is definitely an argument against conservatism. It is here: http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/pagre/conservatism.html .
tyrsalvia
Sep. 21st, 2004 06:31 pm (UTC)
I found your journal through en_ki, and am very impressed with your political essays and others. I've added you, hope that's ok. I'd really like to forward these on to the people in my political rhetoric class.

Also.. just noticed you have an icon that's the tower card. Me too. I hadn't expected to see anyone else with one.

Yeah. Hi.
bradhicks
Sep. 21st, 2004 10:32 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've got a bunch of Rider-Waite tarot icons. I ended up with five of them, to represent the moods I'm most likely to refer to via tarot in my journal: 4 of cups (reflection), 7 of rods (conflict), Temperance (balance or negotiation), Devil (carnality), and Tower (disaster). If offered a chance to pick my own significator, I generally take the 4 of cups.
(no subject) - tyrsalvia - Sep. 21st, 2004 10:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
metaphorge
Sep. 21st, 2004 11:31 pm (UTC)
You're quite good at this.
bradhicks
Sep. 21st, 2004 11:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I just have my good days.
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