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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

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.
felax
Sep. 9th, 2004 06:58 pm (UTC)
Exhausted ramblings
Actually, I'm a #3 by your definition. As proof of this, I'll point out that I can fit with the greatest of ease into the mundane world, it just leaves a rather sour taste in my mouth. Frankly, I find that one of the reasons for my perpetual funks is that I spend too much time in the mundane world. I was raised in the "straight and narrow" and have, admittedly, been able to shuck off a lot of the programming. The interesting part, though, is that as I've gotten older, I'm finding my mental programming to now include some very fundamental differences that set me apart from the mundane world. I can still fit in, but it requires more effort than once it did.
ponsdorf
Sep. 9th, 2004 08:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Quick point
"You've suggested that liberals want us to embrace and condone deviant paths rather than simply accepting them."

Yes if we mean 'deviant' as Brad defines it in his post.

"To a liberal mindset, simple acceptance includes equality under the law."

This would be great if it were accurate.... But therein lies the rub in your example. Instead of going thru the process of getting the applicable laws changed, that is, get a majority of voters to convince a majority of lawmakers to do so, the 'liberal mindset' seems bent on using a short cut via the courts and other (political, for one) pressures to do so.

However, if others choose similar short cuts to oppose gay marriage they are deemed bigoted and 'conservative' (usually used interchangeably).

Dragging Brad's "naturally compliant" folks in a direction they don't care for (even if it's good for them) is certainly a sign of intolerance, and should be viewed with the same dismay as forcing the "deviants" into a mold they don't fit.

Aside: Gay marriage is not an example I would have chosen for several reasons. For one thing it's too wrapped up in elements that cross into all 3 of Brad's categories, for another I personally don't care much about it one way or the other.


felax
Sep. 11th, 2004 01:39 am (UTC)
Re: Quick point
Frankly, I used the first example to pop into my head. I understand why you dislike it, but it seemed a reasonable one to use. If you have a clearer example, feel free to use it--it's the mindset that I was trying to discuss. This argument of acceptance vs. condonement is one that I'm well familiar with, as I was raised in an extremely conservative family and still hear a lot of these arguments from both mother and sister. From the liberal standpoint, though, it becomes difficult to see how conservatives can see themselves as even "accepting" deviant paths.
etherial
Sep. 16th, 2004 02:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Quick point
Instead of going thru (sic) the process of getting the applicable laws changed...the 'liberal mindset' seems bent on using a short cut via the courts and other (political, for one) pressures to do so.

See, that's just it. Equality is already written into the laws. Discrimination based on gender is already forbidden. You cannot have a law that prevents a man from marrying a man.
pope_guilty
Sep. 21st, 2004 07:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Quick point
Liberals are using the courts because history has shown that lawmakers are either unable or unwilling to do the right thing. If the left hadn't used the courts to force integration in the 50's, we'd still be a segregated society.

That's the problem with democracy- just because 51% of the populace has an idea doesn't mean it has any moral legitimacy. Hypocrisy: Conservatives want to outlaw abortion over the objection of more than half the country, and point to the unpopularity of gay marriage as a reason to not have it.
pecunium
Mar. 10th, 2009 11:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Quick point


This would be great if it were accurate.... But therein lies the rub in your example. Instead of going thru the process of getting the applicable laws changed, that is, get a majority of voters to convince a majority of lawmakers to do so, the 'liberal mindset' seems bent on using a short cut via the courts and other (political, for one) pressures to do so.

That would be great, if changing the applicable laws was working. The Court's job is to uphold the laws, and interpret them, in consonance with the other laws, and the constitution. Brown v. Board of Education was because one law (the 14th Amendment) was being violated. Lawrence v Texas ruled on similar questions.

Laws are not some divine thing, to be reified and obeyed slavishly. You complain that when "conservatives" try to legislate discriminations into the law they are called bigots, well that may be because they are, in fact, bigots. Tolerance doesn't require acquiesence.

I believe in your absolute freedom to swing your fist, right up to the point it touches my nose (and I reserve the right to decide if you intend to stop, and engage in measured defense of my person). I am willing to tolerate a lot of belief.

I am not willing to acquiese to action. When you tell me something like marriage (a social contract; defining the relationship of two people to the state, which establishes a priveleged class) is to be reserved to a specific group of people; because of gender, then I am going to disagree.

No one is forcing anyone to marry someone they don't wish to. There is no "forcing" of condonement. There is a desire to mandate legal acceptance. No aspect of the law requires any church to solemnize such a ceremony. All that is being demanded is equality under law.

The same is true for equality in housing, wages, opportunity. When there are systemic violations of this, it's the courts' job, and duty to reddress it. This isn't activism, it's part of what they are supposed to do.
en_ki
Sep. 13th, 2004 11:20 am (UTC)
I suspect the phrase "human sacrifice" is meant to be read as sacrifice of humans rather than sacrifices by humans. One is the destruction of the essense of one's life ("living a lie"), the other is just paying your dues. As a "lifestyle liberal", I'd call living closeted the former and paying taxes the latter. I suppose a conservative might reasonably say both fall under "just paying your dues", but I'd be shocked if they reversed the relation entirely.
pecunium
Mar. 10th, 2009 11:15 pm (UTC)
Re: ayn rand and objectivism
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.

There's a lot bundled into this.

All social constructs require sacrifice. The Conservative wants to sacrifice various liberties of action, in exchange for a sense of stability. A lot of them want to sactifice my blood and treasure (having done a combat tour in Iraq, I am not being rhetorical when I say blood), in support of things I don't believe in, or want to support (such as an overused military; again, I say that as a 16 year veteran of the Army [SSG 97E/Interrogation]).

Consersatives (to use the dualism in play here) want to sacrifice my time, energy and labor, to maintain the inequities of the status quo. I say inequities because I've heard them say the less well-off don't deserve to be better off. Rush Limbaugh says the minimum wage is high enough, and the workers don't add anything to the process. The employer, by his lights, is the only productive member of society.

The politicians of the Republican Party seem to agree.

When you say magically, what do you mean? The places like Great Britain, France, Canada, which have higher taxes, and greater social suport networks appear to be happier. The people there have more time with their families. They have more money to spend, and fewer worries about things like job-loss, and medical emergency. As an empiric the conservative mantra seems to fail in the real world.

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.


How heinous. You would rather make people, as a whole, suffer, in the idea that such sufferig will make it possible for some small number to "rise to the challenge"? There's some magical thinkig going on there too. You assume that without the social pressures to conform there would be no good art? One wonders at Florence, where the Medicis' patronage allowed people like Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Titian, etc. to live unconventional lives. They weren't rising above challenges. They had the challenges removed from them.

I'm an artist. Believe me, I have challenges, even without being persecuted for being "different." I have no desire to have to choose between being an outcast or an artist. That's a cruel world you seem to favor.