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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.


Sep. 10th, 2004 03:56 am (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."

Perhaps we ARE inadvertently mixing terms (or I am). Those who you describe in your second sentence are fools, perhaps, but not necessarily 'bad guys'.

RE: your second and third paragraphs

You said earlier: "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."

And I responded: "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."

So I don't understand your point. I agreed with your premise but took it further to speculate that the very struggle to create may have contributed.

"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."

I'm lost here... or I misunderstand your comment?
Economic producer = money.
That there are OTHER equally valuable ways to contribute to society is a simple fact.

"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.""

I guess I did misunderstand your point.... and would add; the collapse of nearly EVERY social construct or form of 'government' can lead to anarchy.

In re-reading your comment:

"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 was struck by the notion that the "lifestyle liberal" advocates the exact same level of human sacrifice and waste of creative human potential as the "social conservative". For different (maybe even 'better') reasons, to be sure.
It doesn't stretch that idea too far to suggest that abortion and homosexual relationships are robbing humanity of a genetic potential for another Leonardo or Hawking. Or that a business may be forced to sacrifice workers due to higher taxes or medical costs, etc.

luv ya, gene
Sep. 10th, 2004 08:54 am (UTC)
Re: oops I'm a No. 2
The Bad Guys: Let me expand on the source of my anger here. Ever since Reagan's first term, we've been inexorably on a path where the top economic performers are the only ones who live comfortably; average economic performers live one missed paycheck away from losing everything and sub-par economic performers either become couch-surfers or die of hypothermia in cardboard boxes on the waterfront. We've created an economy so obsessed with maximizing productivity that we can't find any use whatsoever for something like 10% of our population. We then encourage social and employment discrimination against maybe 15% of our population based on in-born traits or lifestyle, and that drags those people down economically; we then criticize them for not getting rich. Imagine how much better off the economy would be if that quarter of the population were able to live halfway normal lives and actually buy something from time to time?

"Overcoming Obstacles:" In other words, Vincent van Gogh wouldn't have been worth jack as a painter if he'd lived a more comfortable life? I don't buy it. This "you have to suffer for your art" thing strikes me as something that the comfortable conformists tell themselves to so they don't have to feel guilty over the fact that creative people get screwed over. Michelangelo was living pretty comfortably on government grants, it didn't stop him from sculpting David or painting the Sistine Chapel. Neither Steinbeck nor Faulkner were doing a lot of writing when they were couch surfing; they only had the time and energy to write after they got minimum-comfort level WPA jobs; the same thing can be said for Thomas Hart Benton who could never have afforded even the canvas he painted on if it weren't for the WPA.

Human Sacrifice: I'm blown away that you could compare having to pay taxes or the idea that business owners should have to pay a living wage to what Matthew Shepherd or Alan Turing went through. When your taxes are literally killing you, not figuratively, then we'll talk.
Sep. 10th, 2004 12:12 pm (UTC)
Re: oops I'm a No. 2
RE: your first paragraph:

It's just too broad to deal with simply. Any society would seem to have elements built in that impact some more than others. However, I will easily agree that there are those 'fools' (or bad guys) who are driven by things I find disgusting and of little real worth.

In our case most of those who are "economic performers [who] live one missed paycheck away from losing everything" simply spend more than they make. And I AM emphatically talking about things beyond actual needs. Needs might include creative stuff.... but probably not a big screen tv or a new car.

Further, I'm afraid there will never be a practical human society where everyone has exactly the same 'stuff' and can do the same jobs, and are treated exactly the same by those around them. I tried communes and found them to be depressing, for example.

"In other words, Vincent van Gogh wouldn't have been worth jack as a painter if he'd lived a more comfortable life? I don't buy it."

He was largely supported by his brother... He was driven to paint by his demons and would (and did) paint to the virtual exclusion of all else. I doubt a 'government' grant would have impacted his art or extended his life.

"Michelangelo was living pretty comfortably on government grants"...

Actually he was mostly simply paid for his work.

"Neither Steinbeck nor Faulkner were doing a lot of writing when they were couch surfing"

But look at what they finally wrote about... it had little to do directly with the WPA. I suggest that they (and we) benefited from all their life experiences. It's wonderful that they had the means to write.

There are, without a doubt, creative types who have benefited from a 'government' program or two.... but there are thousands (if not millions) of them who have used to their struggle to create to give us uplifting stuff. And they did it WITHOUT 'government' help. Of course, not all creative types have to struggle at all to be creative.

Your last paragraph surprised me.... But at least you've set a baseline for discussion. Dying?

Here's how it works:

Your "economic performers [who] live one missed paycheck away from losing everything" work several months a years to pay taxes (lower middle or middle class).... They certainly sacrifice. But then... it's rarely involves the threat of death.

A small or medium business has to at least break even to stay open... assuming they don't want to expand (more jobs). Wages can't go up when a business is static. Add to that increasing taxes and other costs and the only thing left is to shrink (less jobs). This causes the the business to sacrifice workers and is a downward spiral. Everybody sacrifices. But then... it's rarely involves the threat of death.

Defining a problem is usually the first step in solving it. You have defined 'it' with a clarity that I envy.... but where is your practical solutions?

That I might disagree with some of your points shouldn't be taken to mean I disagree with your larger definition as I understand it.

Our society is full of easily perceived injustices.... some of them deadly.... some of them crushing.

Carefully annotating them is a start, like outlining a novel or blackboxing a program.

But it's only a start.... I happen to think your perceptions can offer, at least, some solutions.... that's why I hang around.

I've learned here. Do you want me to send $50 bucks for the priveledge... or better yet why don't you do as some have suggested and move most of this to a paid site. It ain't cybersex but it might work.

luv ya, gene
Sep. 10th, 2004 01:01 pm (UTC)
Re: oops I'm a No. 2
Actually the point of these three essays wasn't to even begin talking about the solutions or the problems. The point of this thread of discussion was to point out that conservatives versus liberals is not a battle of good versus evil. We should ever be so lucky. Battles between good and evil tend to wrap up on the side of good in a single generation or less. No, the worst and longest lasting wars and struggles are between good and contradictory good.

Will we all starve if the majority of the human population were to leave the straight and narrow to suck down tons of drugs, screw each other in heaps, and write crappy poetry or paint crappy paintings while living in comfort funded by the handful of remaining saps who insist on working at real jobs? Absolutely.

Will we pay a harsh price as a society if we prevent this outcome by making social pariahs and jailed criminals out of everybody who can't live on the straight and narrow? Absolutely. Will we gain as a society if, from among those supported in minimal comfort, some of the people who have the leisure to create and care for the unfunded parts of our society do a really good job of creating things for the people on the straight and narrow to exploit? Absolutely.

Two conflicting goods. Two conflicting evils, where we can choose to prevent one but only at the expense of the other. We can't even talk about solving this equation, we can't even begin to strike a balance, until there's a broad agreement that both wrongs must be prevented, both goods must be served somehow.

Interestingly enough, we may be going there by way of the very avenue you suggested to me a while back: Social Security Disability Insurance as applied to mental illness. We've pretty much dismantled AFDC, because it created a powerful incentive to irresponsible behavior. But now the people who would have been single parents on AFDC don't have to have kids to get paid, they just have to be sufficiently crazy as to be unemployable. I already know people who are being paid not to work, collecting SSDI for their mental illness. Some of them are perfectly reasonable functioning members of society, making contributions to the world around them. Some are learning to be artists, or entering the clergy, or working in volunteer organizations. They can be perfectly productive ... as long as we keep them out of the workplace. Inside a modern productive workplace, trust me, you don't want to be there with them. Even if they don't snap (again) in a way that gets people hurt, they scare the other people enough to drag down everybody around them's productivity.

How many people can we as a society carry on SSDI? Well, a lot more of them if wages went up enough that the taxes on those wages were enough to keep the SSA solvent. And a lot more of them if we take every immigrant who wants a job and put them to work here instead of back in their home country, here where the companies don't benefit from being out from under US law and scrutiny. Frankly, we're going to need their wages to support the Boomers just in retirement, even without the creeping expansion of SSDI. (Ironically, this is one of the areas where Dubya and I come close to agreeing.)

Sep. 10th, 2004 01:19 pm (UTC)
Re: oops I'm a No. 2
"They can be perfectly productive ... as long as we keep them out of the workplace. Inside a modern productive workplace, trust me, you don't want to be there with them. Even if they don't snap (again) in a way that gets people hurt, they scare the other people enough to drag down everybody around them's productivity."

That's my story with little embelishment. SSDI and the VA pay me to stay out of the workforce.

Of course I'm old enough that I don't much care what may happen when the money runs out.... I'm just happy to stay out of jail or a mental hospital!

Sep. 10th, 2004 01:01 pm (UTC)
Re: oops I'm a No. 2

Other than that, as a lifestyle liberal my top priority is to thwart the Puritan impulse to use politics to force people into the straight and narrow, whether they can survive it or not. I want to dismantle all of the structural, economic, and legal forms of discrimination that keep the potential deviants who want to choose happiness over wealth from doing so. Yeah, that means telling landlords that yes, they do have to rent to deviants, and telling the courts that yes, the deviants' marriage arrangements are just as sacred as anybody else's, and telling bullies and lynch mobs that when they threaten to beat or kill deviants, it's them that are the threat to society, not the deviants.

I'm also willing to trade a certain amount of economic productivity for workplace fairness. I know a woman who used to be in management in the financial industry, good at her job, who's a lesbian. At one point in an argument over workplace discrimination against gays, lesbians, and the transgendered she reminded the brokers that worked for her that it would be perfectly legal under her state's law for her to fire every single one of them for being heterosexual. That gave them something to think about. If your productivity is being impaired by the fact that there's a black man working in the next cube, or a witch, or a swishy gay man, or a woman with two husbands, then it's not them that has to change; your boss (and society) needs to tell you to just get the hell over it.

Way back in 1942, Philip Wylie warned us in Generation of Vipers that squeamishness about sex and sexuality was getting lots of us killed. Conservatives fought and fought and fought that line of argument. 40 years later Surgeon General Koop got into a fight with President Reagan, and won: sexually explicit instructions on how to not contract AIDS were mailed to every house in America, over the President's and Congress's objections. Why? Because silence=death. Because squeamishness was feeding a pandemic. That should have been the lesson that learned us, the time that we were taught that giving in to the preferences of squeamish Puritans is deadly. Yes, I'm saying who cares what they want, even if they're the majority -- if the majority are going to get us all killed, then we stop them. They can complain about it later all they want.

(Or, I suppose, we could salvage the squeamishness of the Puritans in the workforce by putting homosexuality and so forth back into the DSM, and declaring them to be disabilities eligible for SSDI. Paying taxpayer money to submissives to wear collars, paying dominatrixes to beat people, paying lesbians to wear comfortable shoes, paying gay men to bugger each other in bath-houses. Hmm. I don't suppose that'd be any more popular, would it?)
Sep. 10th, 2004 01:40 pm (UTC)
Re: oops I'm a No. 2
"thwart the Puritan impulse"

Yeah, well... I certainly agree.... but I still don't know where I fit in the spectrum of your definitions. That's why I'm having so much fun here.

to wit:

I think the abortion is awful but also believe that population control is paramount.

I think a woman should have a right to choose but don't think that the taxpayer (who might disagree) should pay for it.

I think that homosexual behaviour is largely a choice but that are are those few who don't have a choice.

I think that SOME homosexuals are pursuing an agenda that squashes the rights of those who deem it wrong.

I think that war in general is abhorant but that sometimes we have to pick a gun and kill to protect ourselves.

Shucks... I went on too long... And I certainly don't have the answers.

Oh yeah... I'm heading over to DC from the hills this weekend to join the KERRY LIED rally on the 12th. If I survive the big city long enough, and the press covers it... look for a guy (6-3 260lbs with a white ball cap and shorts and a beard) waving at you.... If I moon you it sure won't get on the air.

thanks, gene
Mar. 10th, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC)
Re: oops I'm a No. 2
I think the abortion is awful but also believe that population control is paramount.

I have mixed opinions on abortion. But I don't give a damn about "population control". I care that a person be allowed to live life as they see fit. I'm not female, no more than I think someone can tell me to get/not get a vasectomy, should I (nor anyone else) tell a woman she can't have an abortionl; for whatever reason pleases her.

I think a woman should have a right to choose but don't think that the taxpayer (who might disagree) should pay for it.

Right. How about those taxpayers who don't believe in supporting the DoD? The Interstate Highway System? SSDI and the VA (which are, you say, paying your bills... which seems to me to remove you from the realms of the economic producers, and into that category which, "only produces gov't jobs")?

This is esp. interesting because the Gov't has never been willing to pay for elective abortions. It's a red-herring.
Sep. 10th, 2004 01:12 pm (UTC)
Re: oops I'm a No. 2
I've learned here. Do you want me to send $50 bucks for the priveledge... or better yet why don't you do as some have suggested and move most of this to a paid site. It ain't cybersex but it might work.
Because LiveJournal isn't my work, even as a writer. It's my practice field, my playground. I'd feel embarrassed making money off of any of these essays. I'm not good enough yet, not ready. A couple of years from now I'll sell stuff as a writer. Now I'm just writing.
Sep. 10th, 2004 01:47 pm (UTC)
Re: oops I'm a No. 2
"I'm not good enough yet, not ready."

Typical artist response.... I (Gene) gave up trying to write 'cause I could never decide when I was done.... not that I claim to be as good with words as you (or an artist in any form) I just couldn't handle the frustration.

luv ya, gene
Sep. 12th, 2004 06:00 am (UTC)
Re: oops I'm a No. 2
Brad? Why not let your readers decide whether what you're writing is good enough to get paid for?

I can tell you that what you're writing is more interesting than the average newpaper editorial, and the people who write those presumably get paid. There isn't a "good enough to get paid for" standard floating out there in the universe.

The idea that you shouldn't get paid because you're having fun is outrageous--it's a way of condemning yourself to work you don't like.
Sep. 13th, 2004 11:26 am (UTC)
These three essays have unquestionably been good enough that I want to pay you for them. There are two approaches that would satisfy me: one would be to see you in a newspaper or magazine like The Nation and pay you indirectly along with many other people, and the other would be to do what I do for people whose writing and art I like on the web and Paypal you $100 every now and then. As far as the latter goes, you've reached the threshhold for your first payment. Want it or not?
Sep. 14th, 2004 10:39 pm (UTC)
In case you didn't see the posting about it, I've set up a link to my personal PayPal account (it's in the name of dionysus_at_stl, but it's my personal account. Your donation would be quite welcome, yes, thank you. Click here, please.
Mar. 10th, 2009 11:16 pm (UTC)
Re: oops I'm a No. 2

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). See above (my comment re Rush Limbaugh).

That's only true if one believes poor is equal to unemployed. I am, at present, defined as poor. I am making less than $15,000 US a year. I earn that money. What I do to earn it adds to the economy. I buy things with that money. I keep other businesses in business. I contribute to my local polity.

I, actually, don't (apart from the DMV, and the VA) require, nor draw, any specific attention from the Gov't. I am, straitened though my circumstances may be, paying my own way. I am an economic producer, and I'm poor.

I happen, in fact, to be more than a little put out by your implication that I ought to be suffering. That absent "STRIVING" against social pressures (and at this point they seem conflated; am I expected to be struggling against my desires to live as I see fit, and so sublimating those energies into my art, or am I suppposed to be struggling against being poor? The latter is false. Shakespeare wasn't poor. Nor was Chaucer [depsite "the complaynt against mye purse"]. Gainsborough didn't suffer poverty either. We revere, "the struggling artist" but there are any number of great artists who weren't such. Byron was a wealthy aristocrat. Darwin was a comfortable member of the upper middle classes, Bach, and Haydn were comfortably enconced).

I think we console ourselves with the stories of the Van Goghs, and the Coleridges, pretending they couldn't have been productive if they'd not been desperate for their next meals.