A Phantom of the Mind

Liberalism often gets defined narrowly. This is true at least in mainstream American politics, by which I mean the present dominant society with its dominant frame.

It isn’t just conservatives and right-wingers misrepresenting liberalism, as seen with the arguments of Russel Kirk (also, consider Thomas Sowell, whose view of conservative constrained vision is similar to Kirk’s conservative claim of balance, both arguing against the imbalance supposedly expressed by liberal and left-wing extremism). Even certain kinds of liberals will fall into the same trap. Take for example the strange views of Jonathan Haidt.

This wasn’t always the case. In earlier 20th century, liberalism was praised widely by major politicians (including presidents) in both of the main parties. What this implies is that liberalism was seen more broadly at the time.

Consider Eisenhower’s words when he stated that, “Extremes to the right and left of any political dispute are always wrong,” and that “The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.” Yet, in speaking of extremes, he saw liberalism as part of the moderate and moderating middle:

So that here we have, really, the compound, the overall philosophy of Lincoln: in all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human. In all those things which deal with the peoples money or their economy, or their form of government, be conservativeand dont be afraid to use the word. And so today, Republicans come forward with programs in which there are such words as balanced budgets, and cutting expenditures, and all the kind of thing that means this economy must be conservative, it must be solvent. But they also come forward and say we are concerned with every Americans health, with a decent house for him, we are concerned that he will have a chance for health, and his children for education. We are going to see that he has power available to him. We are going to see that everything takes place that will enrich his life and let him as an individual, hard-working American citizen, have full opportunity to do for his children and his family what any decent American should want to do.

Even in his brand of fiscal conservatism, he advocated for the wildest fantasies of progressives (unions, social security, etc) and defended a top income tax bracket at 91%. It is obvious that what he considered conservative back then would be considered liberal today. He was much further to the left than today’s Democratic Party. So, his moderate middle was also much further to the left than it is at present.

What stands out to me in Ike’s worldview is how he perceives liberalism. Political ideologies in the US get defined by governance and economics, which he sees as the territory of conservatism but not of liberalism. Instead, liberalism is at essence about people. Liberalism expresses the human quality of a good society. In that society is created by and for people, liberalism is an atmosphere that permeates the concerns for the public good. It is the broader guiding vision, the moral standard for our shared humanity.

* * * *

Let me return to the narrow view of liberalism. I came across a Clark L. Coleman who argued for the position of Russel Kirk. He writes that,

Kirk’s point is that conservatism is based on a balancing of numerous principles that society accepts as social goods. For example, we balance the need for law and order with the desire for individual liberty. We balance the desire to propagate our Christian heritage, and the benefits of having a religious populace, with the desire for religious freedom and the wariness of the problems of having an established state church. We seek equality under the law, but temper that with the recognition that institutions (church, marriage, military, et al.) must be exclusive to some degree to accomplish their missions. We desire the strength that nationalist feelings produce, but recognize that they lead to a warlike nation if untempered by other concerns, etc. A kind of Aristotelian moderation is central to conservatism.

Whatever that may describe, it isn’t the actual existing tradition of mainstream American conservatism. So, what is he describing? I really don’t get the argument being made. Obviously, this conservatism is envisioned as an ideal state, rather than the mundane reality of politics as it is. But what purpose does that serve? If this conservatism doesn’t accurately describe most self-identified conservatives, then whose conservatism is this? Is it just a conservatism for detached intellectuals, such as Kirk?

Anyway, Coleman goes on to offer the other side. He explains what forms the basis of everything that isn’t conservatism, most especially liberalism:

In contrast to conservatism, liberalism is an ideology in which a particular concept of “fairness and equality” is the principle that trumps all others; libertarianism is an ideology in which “individual liberty” is the principle that trumps all others; and Marxism is an ideology in which a certain definition of class struggle is at the center of all policy decisions and all analyses of the world. Empirical evidence to the contrary means nothing to ideologues; telling them that their One True Principle is insufficient to analyze all public policy would require them to undergo a complete change of world view.

I’m not familiar with the details of Kirk’s views. I don’t know if this is a fair and accurate presentation. But I do know it is a common view among conservatives, specifically more well-educated conservatives. It is even found among conservative-minded liberals such as Jonathan Haidt, who sees conservatism as a balance of values in contrast to liberals as inherently imbalanced and hence prone to extremism.

This argument is a rhetorical trick, so it seems to me. It’s a strategy of the Cold War. The 20th century was a conflict of ideologies. Those ideologies can be labeled and categorized in various ways, but this version of conservatism gets safely removed from the entire ideological debate. It is a declaration that conservatism is above and beyond all discussion and disagreement. This is a stance of refusal to engage.

I felt irritated by that argument. It felt dishonest. In response to Coleman, I expressed my irritation by saying that, “If conservatism isn’t an ideology, then neither is liberalism. Only an ideologue would make an argument that one is an ideology and the other not. That would be a classic case of projection. It isn’t helpful to make caricatures of and straw man arguments against opposing views, attitudes, and predispositions.”

Coleman responded in turn with a defense that touches on the heart of our disagreement. He writes that, “Your comment does not engage my explanation at all. Kirk’s definition of ideology was standard until the common usage became fuzzy. It is not a caricature or straw man.” He is accusing me of not engaging because I don’t accept his premise, but I don’t accept his premise because it is an unproven assumption.

That is intriguing. Coleman is so confident that his view is right. He claims that it was only later that “common usage became fuzzy”. Even many other conservatives would disagree with that claim. This would include Eisenhower, who began his presidency the same year Kirk published The Conservative Mind. Of course, the likes of Kirk and Coleman would simply assert that anyone who disagrees with them aren’t True Conservatives, a pointless assertion to make but it sure does end debate.

* * * *

Both Eisenhower and Kirk were arguing for balance and against extremism. It was something in the air at the time. Across the political spectrum, many Americans were seeking  a new vision  to unify the country in the post-war era. For certain, conservatives like Kirk didn’t have sole proprietorship of this early Cold War attitude. It was the frame of mainstream debate at that time, rather than simply being one side of the debate.

For a while now, I’ve been trying to disentangle the mess of American political ideologies and labels. It’s been on my mind going back at least to the early Bush administration, at a time when I was studying the social science research on personality types and traits, but my questioning has grown stronger in recent years. I began to articulate a new understanding of what liberalism and conservatism mean, both attitudinally and historically (also demographically). I was forced to think more deeply and challenge my own previous assumptions, because the data I was looking at indicated a much more complex social reality.

It is because Coleman and Kirk take a dogmatically ideological stance that they can’t deal with this complexity that refuses to conform to narrow categorical boxes. I didn’t want to fall into the same trap. I want to fully understand various positions on their own terms, even if not on their own rhetoric.

My own views have shifted a lot over time. More recently, I’ve been moving toward the almost the mirror opposite of the Kirkian position, without even knowing that was what I was doing (as I have little direct familiarity with Kirk’s writings):

It seems to me that liberalism isn’t inherently or inevitably opposite of conservatism, at least in American politics. Conservatism has become conflated with the right-wing in a way that hasn’t happened on the opposite side of the spectrum. There is still a clear sense of distance and disconnection between liberalism and the left-wing for the Cold War turned the left-wing into a scapegoat that liberals felt compelled to disown or else be attacked as commies and fellow-travelers. Liberals have instead for the most part embraced the role of the middle, the moderate. I’ve even sensed that liberals have taken up the role of the traditionalists in defending the status quo which is what traditionalists did in the past. I’ve speculated that conservatives or at least reactionary conservatives attack liberals for the same reason they attacked traditionalists in earlier times. Left-wingers are the revolutionaries and conservatives have become the counter-revolutionaries, meanwhile liberals have sought to moderate between the two.

Much of my thought has been driven by social science research. I’ve sought to make sense of the insight that, “It is much easier to get a liberal to behave like a conservative than it is to get a conservative to behave like a liberal” (Skitka et al). That indicates an aspect of the broadness of liberalism. The ease of the liberal-minded to switch ideological positions points to something fundamental to liberalism itself and hence something lacking in conservatism. The liberal worldview is able to cover a larger area of ideological terrain. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it demonstrates how little conservatives understand the real weaknesses of liberalism.

One political philosopher that has forced me to rethink even further in this direction is Domenico Losurdo. He is a Continental European left-winger and a critic of American liberalism. His book on the counter-history of liberalism is challenging for any American, for the framework of his thought can feel alien and perplexing.

In my first analysis of his views, I ended up conjecturing that, “Maybe liberalism is more of a worldview than an ideology, a worldview that happens to be the dominant paradigm at the moment. As such, everything gets put into the context of and defined by liberalism.” I elaborated on this point later on, in a discussion with C. Derick Varn (AKA skepoet), the person who introduced me to Losurdo’s work:

In response to Losurdo, I’ve played around with a broader definition of ‘liberalism’ than even he offers. I see ‘liberalism’ in some ways as the ultimate product of the Enlightenment, the basis upon which everything else is built, the ideology everything else is defined according to or against.

Liberalism isn’t an ideology in the way conservatism, libertarianism, Marxism, etc is an ideology. No, liberalism is the ideological framework for all of those ideologies. It is the paradigm of our age.

This connects to why I don’t see conservatism as the opposite of liberalism. Instead, I see conservatism as the opposite of leftism. Liberalism is both the center and periphery of modern politics.

I’m not sure any ideology has yet fully challenged the liberal paradigm. So, I’m not sure any ideology has yet freed itself from liberal taint. We’ll need something even more radical than the most radical left-wing politics to get the thrust for escape velocity.

Now, that is turning Kirkian thought on its head. And I did so without even trying. My purpose was simply to make sense of evidence that had been perplexing me for years. This conclusion emerged organically from a slowly developing line of thought or rather web of thoughts. It makes sense to me at the moment. It has great explanatory power. Yet like anything else I offer, it is a tentative hypothesis.

* * * *

It is now more than a half century since Kirk wrote about his views on conservatism.

It is true that back then, prior to the Southern Strategy, conservatism was a more moderate political movement and may have played more of a moderating role. However, that is most definitely no longer the case, which implies that Kirk’s view of conservatism was historically contingent, at best. He failed to find the heart of conservatism, whatever that may be.

Still, even in the context of the 1950s, it would be hard to take conservatism as some genuinely non-ideological framing of and balance between the ideological extremes. Conservatism, as Corey Robin argues, has always had a central element of reactionary extremism. Or, as I’ve often said, there is a good reason American conservatism is linked to, rooted in, and identified with classical liberalism rather than classical conservatism or classical traditionalism.

My approach is influenced by a larger view. Both larger in terms of historical time and larger in terms of spectrum of positions. The historical is particularly important to my understanding, and I find myself pairing the historical with the etymological. In a comment from a discussion about liberal bias and the meaning of liberalism, I explored some of the background:

If we look at the history of the word ‘liberal’, it didn’t originally relate to an ideology. The original meaning was related to freedom (liber). The earliest use of it was in terms of “liberal arts”, i.e., free inquiry. Another early use was in terms of a free person, i.e., not a serf or slave or indentured servant. In modern history, the main meaning of ‘liberal’ has always directly referred to being liberal-minded: not literal or strict; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms; etc.

Even in its earliest use, ‘liberal’ meant the same as we mean it today such as being free from restraint, the main difference being that only after the Enlightenment did it take on a more clearly positive interpretation. In the 18th and 19th centuries, people would use liberal in the sense of being free of bigotry or prejudice which has the exact same meaning today. All of these basic meanings haven’t changed over the past centuries since it was first used in 1375. It was only in the mid 19th century that liberalism became a politicized term, long after classical liberalism had become a defined ideology. Limiting liberal to a single ideology is a very recent phenomenon and one that has never been agreed upon since a number of ideologies have been labeled as ‘liberal’.

Conservatism, as a descriptive word applied to people, is a much more recent term. It is for this reason that conservatism has a much more narrow context of meaning than liberalism. So, conservatism always has been defined in contrast and reaction to liberalism, specifically within the parameters of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought.

* * * *

An issue that has been gnawing at mind for longer than almost any other single issue is a particular inconsistency in conservative thought. I’ve come to call it symbolic conflation, which is just to say that conservative identity uses symbolic rhetoric that obscures its own real meaning and purpose.

This isn’t meant as a dismissal, but more as a sociological assessment. As I argue about symbolic conflation, it plays a far different role in society than does the liberal approach. I tend to see conservatism and liberalism as psychological predispositions and social phenomena. They are patterns of cognitive behavior, both individual and collective. “Liberals,” in challenging conservatives, “want to loosen up the social order, but they don’t want to pull out the lynchpin.” As I further explain:

This is why liberals can be more conservative than even conservatives, moderating the extremes. The reason conservatives rule to the extent that they do so is because liberals allow them.

Social order is a strange thing. It would seem even stranger that conservatives take social order for granted more than do liberals. I suppose this is the case because for conservatives social order always has to largely play out on the level of unconsciousness.

None of this is meant directly as a criticism of conservatism. Conservatism can be used in the service of beneficial social orders just as easily with destructive social orders. The deal conservatives and liberals have is the following. Liberals won’t do an all out assault on the symbolic conflation that holds social order together and conservatives will incorporate liberalism into the social order so as to strengthen it. Whether this is a good deal, whether this is symbiosis or codependency (certainly not opposing ideologies in a simplistic sense) is another matter. I offer it just as an observation and analysis of how society seems to operate.

In thinking about this inconsistency, I realize how it connects back to the Kirkian theory of conservative balance. It also occurs to me that this goes back to Edmund Burke. The critics of Burke complained about his inconsistency, something I’ve discussed before. That is important since many conservatives, Kirk included, have seen the Anglo-American conservative tradition as having its roots in Burkean politics. Kirk is using Burke’s claim of balance as a defense against inconsistency:

[O]ne who wishes to preserve consistency, but who would preserve consistency by varying his means to secure the unity of his end, and, when the equipoise of the vessel in which he sails may be endangered by overloading it upon one side, is desirous of carrying the small weight of his reasons to that which may preserve its equipoise.

I guess Kirk isn’t necessarily offering anything new.

* * * *

Going by Coleman’s explication, there are two basic ways of thinking about ideology.

The first definition is as a system of beliefs (or ideas). But that isn’t what Kirk’s conservatism is concerned with.

That brings us to the second definition which, “roughly, is a set of one or two principles from which an adherent attempts to see all of life, and which he refuses to broaden even when empirical evidence indicates that his one or two principles are insufficient for deciding correctly all the great matters of life.” Ideology, in this second sense, is directly related to the ideologue as in a true believer who is dogmatic, narrow-minded, and rigid.

The problem with that view is that what is being described is precisely liberal-mindedness. By definition, liberalism is generosity of mind and spirit. Conservative’s are being haunted not by some dark shadow cast by liberal ideals, but by their own imaginings. They project their own fears onto all other ideologies, while denying their own ideological culpability.

If one thinks too long on all of this, conservatism begins to seem like smoke slipping through one’s fingers. Burke was a progressive reformer who belonged to the party on the political left, but was remembered by most for his reaction against the French Revolution. He never settled into principled position that defined his politics. By his own admission, his politics was the shifting of a boat on an ocean.

All in all, Burke was more like a mainstream Cold War liberal reacting to (real and perceived) enemies of the state and of the status quo. Maybe Kirk himself was just another one of those liberals being pulled by fear. Maybe that is what Anglo-American conservatism has always been about.

That reminds me of the quote by Irving Kristol. He said that a neo-conservative, the central form of modern American conservatism, is “a liberal who has been mugged by reality.” There are a number of things interesting about that.

First, he defines neo-conservatism using the same Burkean argument as Kirk, as here described:

an ideology but a “persuasion,” a way of thinking about politics rather than a compendium of principles and axioms.[12] It is classical rather than romantic in temperament, and practical and anti-Utopian in policy.

Second, I sense genuine insight in the admission that conservatism has its origins in liberalism. The liberal in reacting to fear becomes a conservative, but conservatism as such only exists in the reaction. That fits the social science research about liberalism.

It’s possible that, as Corey Robin theorizes, all of conservatism is defined by reaction. The supposed mugging could be literal or metaphorical. The point is that the conservative is responding to something with fear, even if it is only in their own imaginings. Some people find themselves temporarily in reaction while others get permanently stuck. The latter are what we call conservatives.

Permanent reaction is a strange way to live one’s life, for reaction isn’t anything in itself. An independent non-ideological conservatism is a phantom of the mind.

66 thoughts on “A Phantom of the Mind

  1. By the way, over time, I’ve increasingly come to think of Burke as a liberal. His ideological legacy is highly contested, as described by Drew Maciag in his book “Edmund Burke in America”. The main critic of Burke was Paine. The two of them were Enlightenment thinkers who were squabbling over the emerging liberal social order.

    Burke isn’t a variety of liberal I prefer. I sometimes call people like him conservative-minded liberals or just conservative liberals, although maybe they are better thought of as simply mainstream moderate liberals. However one wants to label them, it can’t be denied that their worldview is defined by a broad liberalism, even as they are filled with doubts and fears.

    This kind of liberal is common in the Midwest, especially among the urban working class (with high rates of union membership and Democratic partisanship). I’m quite familiar with it. I’m also quite familiar with the even more reactionary right-wing conservatism that is more common in the Deep South. The two are quite different.

  2. I wrote this post in response to a particular comment on a review. But that was just what instigated my thinking.

    I decided to take the opportunity to bring some of my previous thoughts together. I like to do that on occasion.

    My thoughts develop and change over time. It’s helpful to look for the connections across the years of blog posting. Maybe few other people would find this post interesting. That is fine.

  3. I do not believe that these are deliberate “technical” failures on the part of the right.

    Remember this article?

    What I didn’t understand was that these weren’t cognitive failures at all; they were moral failures, mistakes that were hard-wired into the belief systems of the organizations and professions and social classes in question. As such they were mistakes that– from the point of view of those organizations or professions or classes–shed no discredit on the individual chowderheads who made them. Holding them accountable was out of the question, and it remains off the table to- day. These people ignored every flashing red signal, refused to listen to the whistleblowers, blew off the obvious screaming indicators that something was going wrong in the boardrooms of the nation, even talked us into an unnecessary war, for chrissake, and the bailout apparatus still stands ready should they fuck things up again.

    At least some of this appears to be failure by design. In the case of the SEC, there is evidence to suggest they deliberately hid evidence that the banks were in trouble.



    The fact that this is in the mainstream media and yet has not been acted on is of course, reason for concern.

    • They seem to have a certain blind faith in the markets and there seems to be an incredibly high tolerance for hypocrisy when things don’t turn out the way they should (as the bailouts shows, as does the War in Iraq when no nuclear weapons were found).

      I think that it’s become a matter of a test of faith just like global warming denalism.

    • I sometimes think that reactionary politics is more of a modern phenomenon. Civilization has developed in a direction that is extremely different from the conditions under which our psychology developed. We live in a society that makes us feel constantly anxious and uneasy.

  4. I’m not trying to be mean, as sometimes it’s good to know history. But so what in regards to what people thought decades ago? I mean, I even have some criticisms towards Eisenhower. During the 50s we got things like “in god we trust” and those godless communist” talk. He supressed gays. You also have to remember that Eisenhower was coming off a period that when americans were very leftwing radicalized. He was fairly conservative compared to say, FDR.

    • I don’t see the present as separate from the past.

      Liberalism has always been conflicted. That is just the way liberalism is, both historically and psychologically. Liberalism is so broad as to include conservatism within it. Yes, Eisenhower was fairly conservative and he also was fairly liberal. The same thing could be said of many politicians today, Obama most of all.

      If we don’t understand the conflictedness of liberalism in the past, we will have a harder time understanding the conflictedness of liberalism in the present. Knowing history is extremely important. Besides, the past never remains in the past.

  5. Few people seem to understand liberalism. I still struggle to understand it. I used to have a basic idea about liberalism, but I came to realize that my understanding was too simplistic.

    Lliberalism has and always had a diversity within it. Liberalism is more of a broad framework than it is a specific ideology. There is radical liberalism, moderate liberalism, and conservative liberalism… and yet they are all liberalism.

    If one doesn’t recognize this complexity, actual functioning liberalism really makes no sense. Liberals easily switch to a conservative mindset. That is what makes liberals what they are, the ability to shift.

    I came to this conclusion reluctantly. Nonetheless, it is the only conclusion that was able to explain all of the evidence. I had to ponder the polling, demographic, and social science research for many years before I finally accepted this conclusion.

    I still don’t know entirely what to make of it. I’d like there to be a consistent and principled liberalism, but that apparently is a hard thing to accomplish. Liberalism requires perfect conditions to be implemented well, and that is precisely its Achille’s heel. Conditions are pretty much never perfect, and so liberalism remains what it is, eternally conflicted.

    Still, I love the beautiful dream that is liberalism.

    • Utopias don’t exist. And I bet you would hate it if you ever got your dream uptopian idealism. And I gotta be honest, it makes for a more boring blog read those that have already made u[p their minds on things. I think people should have a degree of uncomfortableness in their lives.

    • I must say that your comment seemed strange.

      First, I never claimed to believe in utopias. I’ve never met any liberal who believes in utopias. That is the kind of comment made by someone who has no clue what liberalism is about. Liberalism is a beautiful dream in the sense that Paine and MLK described. Without such idealism, our entire society wouldn’t exist.

      Second, what the heck are you even talking about in the last two sentences of your comment? You aren’t communicating clearly.

      I assume you are claiming my blog is boring because you think I already have my mind made up. That is bizarre. I have to assume you’ve never read anything I’ve written. I’ve thought about these issues a lot, but I’m the opposite kind of person who thinks he has everything figured out. I just explained that very thing to you, in saying that I had changed my mind over time. My mind is in a constant state of being changed, as I come across new info and insights.

      Liberalism is all about allowing a degree of uncomfortableness in one’s life. Social science research shows that liberals have a higher tolerance for cognitive dissonance, which is a technical way of saying they are more accepting of life being uncertain. That is why liberalism is hard to pin down, why it can shift.

      If you’re going to comment on my blog, please at least leave statements that make sense.

  6. Ok, my apologies. can you please delete all the comments I have made onto your blog with this post? Sorry for posting here. Please accept my request.

    • Request denied. You chose to start a discussion. You have to take responsibility for your comments. The evidence of your views will remain. Maybe the next time you decide to comment somewhere you will be more thoughtful. Consider it a lesson learned.

    • By the way, you might want to learn basic ettiquete. You obviously found my blog interesting or you would not have spent the time to comment. Then you have the audacity to call my blog boring, once you found out that I strongly disagreed with you. Then you act like your feelings are hurt because of how I responded. Your interpersonal skills need some improvement.

    • Why make a dismissive commment like you did? There are more mature ways to deal with disagreement.

      I don’t think you actually found my blog boring. The very explanation you gave didn’t even make sense. You implied that it was boring because I had my mind made up, even though I had just before that explained to you that I had changed my mind over time. So, if the ability to change one’s mind makes for an interesting blog, then for that very reason you should love my blog.

      Your dismissive comment wasn’t actually about boredorm. We disagreed with each other. That is fine. Disagreement is just part of life. You don’t need to attack the character of someone just because they dare to disagree with you. We could have still had an interesting discussion.

      I was purposely being intellectually humble, so as to invite a positive response. I said that, “Few people seem to understand liberalism. I still struggle to understand it.” I was making the precise point that I don’t have everythig figured out. That was my way of showing that I’m receptive to new viewpoints and willing to listen to those who disagree.

      You could have responded in kind. I was hoping you would have.

      The response you gave instead, that of dismissal, is sadly typical in online interactions. If we were talking in person, I’m willing to bet you would have less likely called me boring to my face just because we disagreed. So, why do you think it appropriate to act in a way online that you wouldn’t do in person?

      This discussion was a missed opportunity. I’m a genuinely curious person. I would have loved to hear more of your persepctive. But I do like to be treated with basic respect. I don’t think that is too much to ask. Don’t you prefer people treating you with basic respect?

    • All of that said, I no doubt could have responded better myself.

      I’m always in a process of learning, especially about how to interact with people better. That is why I try to be careful in how I commmunicate, using words in an intentional way. I want to invite people to respond and feel welcomed in my blog.

      So, I apologize for my harsh response. I admit that I took it quite personal, your accusation of my blog being boring. I pour my entire life into my blog. It is an expression of what interests me, an expression of everything I believe and care about.

      My blog is the one thing that most centrally gives my life meaning and purpose. I idenityf as a writer. It is what I do and have been doing for most of my adult life.

      This blog is an extension of myself. It is part of my personal space. I invite people into my blog, but I expect them to act like politie guests or even friends, depending on the person.

      I did take offense at your comment. But know that I rarely hold grudges. If you left a respectful comment after our little spat, I’d treat it and you with respect. If we then had a nice discussion, I would entirely forget the temporary bad feelings.

      Life is too short to worry about such things. What is said and done. I just wanted you to know that you are still welcome in my blog. But do realize that your being welcome here is as a guest. Treat me as you would want me to treat you if I were a guest in your home.

  7. The wealthy seem to be in control these days:


    The underlying reality of how people in the West are governed now compared to hundreds of years ago is surprisingly unchanged, much the way the rules governing how chemical bonds form have not changed despite a long and great parade of events and discoveries in the visible world. Despite all the revolts, revolutions, congresses, constitutions, and great movements over the centuries, we are in fact governed in the same essential way people

    Of course to see this, you have to strip away the forms and rituals we have constructed over the centuries, forms and rituals which create impressive effects much like the green smoke and thunderous voice of the Wizard of Oz, a wizened old man who worked from his curtained control room, pulling levers and hitting buttons to create intimidating effects. Most Americans remain impressed with the smoke and thunder and cheap magic tricks, it requiring some dedicated effort to shake off well-done illusions, and, as I’ve written before, Americans work extremely hard in their jobs or live a kind of marginal life trying to scrape by on low wages or part-time work, either of which situations leaves little time or inclination to question what government is really doing and for whose benefit.

    That’s the source of all of the problems of the past couple of decades really – they are governing at our expense.

  8. I get the feeling that there will have to be change someday. Either that or the elite will destroy society – including themselves.

    Only this time, the stakes are much higher than say, Ancient Rome. Global warming comes to mind, but other dumb things like nuclear war are a danger.

    • Conditions are changing and they will keep changing. Changes are cumulative and in some ways exponential. Larger changes will seem to be coming faster, at least until a stable and sustainable social order is established.

      That is the one thing that can’t be controlled through traditional forms of weatlh and power. Changing conditions has the potential to be an equalizing force or anyway a destabilizing force toward the inequality of the status quo.

      Both technology and environment will force new responses. But I’d also say that new conditions will to some extent create new people. We are products of our environments. Change those environmental factors that make us who we are and we will be different. This is particularly true for younger generations who have no memory of how it was before.

      That is the wild card, human nature itself.

      Take industrialization that began centuries ago. No one at the time could have predicted what would have followed from the first factory being built. It destabilized the entire social order and set the stage for revolution.

      That actually is a useful example. It parallels our present experience with technologization.

      Early industrialization led to the end of feudalism and so was the direct cause of the land enclosure movement. This suddenly created a massive population of landless and jobless peasants, and most of them headed to the big cities where they were homeless and hungry. These people were constantly starting mobs and riots, but also politically organizing. They had time on their hands and they were crowded together.

      We are at a second period of mass job loss a second wave of further urbanization. It took industrialization a long time to solve the problems it created, and only after decades of revolutions. It required political and economic reforms to re-establish a stable social order. How long will it take for this new technological age to do the same?

      Also, how will humans and human society be changed in the process?

    • @chris

      So I think I asked this somewhere else, but as a Canadian is the reason why Vancouver seems so much more racist than other Canadian cities due to the percievment of wealth on the immigrants’ part? Why does Vancouver seem more racist than other major Canadian cities. Of it is because the immigrants buy up stuff/are wealthy then why do the immigrants hate each other?


      • Hong Kong for historical reasons tends to look down upon mainland Chinese. It happens in China itself as well.

        Another problem is that a disproportionate number of immigrants from Asia are often wealthy and they have been buying off property for speculation purposes, which has made housing very expensive in Vancouver.

        Canada, although less racist than the US is by no means perfect.

  9. The question becomes which side wins? If the very wealthy can use technology to create a more sophisticated 1984, then society is pretty much finished.

    If advancing technology can enable a Star Trek like egalitarian society, then society should have hope for the future.

    • America is not a country ruled by Americans. This country is the plaything of a global ruling elite. As for the American people, we are just highly propagandized pawns.

      Americans experience a wide variety of stress, some of it cultural but much of it from a highly oppressive order of social control. If you make a mistake or something goes wrong, then there is no mercy in America. You can go bankrupt from a single sickness in the family or go to prison for a single victimless crime. You can become unemployed or homeless for no fault of your own.

      It’s not just stress. Americans live in fear, but it is muted fear that is always in the background. It is so much a part of our daily experience that we hardly even notice it. Low level anxiety blunts all emotion. We become numb and seek anything to keep us mindless and unaware (from drugs to tv), lest thoughts of how fucked we are slip past our mental self-defenses.

      The stress of Americans is that of a population just trying to get by, while knowing on some level that everything is just going to get worse and worse. There is a learned helplessness that has taken over the population, a sense that there is no possibility of hope from the system in place. No one who is being honest with themselves thinks that we have a functioning democracy and that politicians represent the American people.

      Damn straight, we’re stressed! We’re just trying not to fall into complete despair, grasping onto straws of temporary comfort and pleasure, trying not to think about the future.

  10. I’d argue that most of the global elite right now are in the US.

    It’s a combination of both really – a ruthless elite and a population that in the best of times, was apathetic.

    Today the cruel truth is that most people in most nations just struggle to get by. Living costs rise faster than wages and there are other problems that seem to get worse every week.

  11. Two articles from Counterpunch on this one:


    The other:

    Yes I am inclined to agree there is a state of despair.

    Most people do not have enough money for example to save up for a crisis. I have wondered about this one – it seems like in Europe in particular (Switzerland, the Nordic nations), there is the best preparation for the future. Australia’s Superannuation is also worth looking at.

    • The US gives away enough money in corporate subsidies, big ag subsidies, bank bailouts, reduced cost natural resources, military contractors, foreign aid, etc to pay for all welfare programs, all education, all healthcare, housing for all the homeless, and a basic income on top of that. There is no lack of potential funding and resources. We are the wealthiest country in world history and yet there are children going hungry and living on the street. None of that would be possible without a highly advanced and massive system of propaganda and oppressive social control.

      • Bootstraps Benjamin. What you’re suggesting is soshulism.

        So I’m wondering. I’m no communist, but why is the US so visceral in its reactions towards communism? It’s almost knee jerk and mindlessly reactive rather than for any intellectual reason. Ex: all the wars, McCarthyism, our reaction to the Russian revolution, etc. I am no communist either but the US attitude seems almost childish, nkt any thought out political views or anything. Our feelings towards communism are way more intense than those of other western nations as well, in that ours seems more extreme… And more childish.

  12. You know, it’s kind of like living in a Matrix (like what the film suggests).

    So few know the reality.

    I would contrast say, the film Dirty Wars with the reality. (Good film btw if you haven’t watched it):

    This is what the War on Terror is actually doing.

    • I just finished watching it. It offers useful insight to some of what is going on. Sadly, you are correct that, “So few know the reality.” That can be quite frustrating. All of this type of thing is more or less an open secret. It’s known and yet rarely spoken about in the MSM, and certainly not in any detail.

    • Anyways, since this film, the Yemen government has collapsed. Apparently there was a revolt.

      The War on Terror is estimated to have killed at least 1.3 million people:



      The study examined direct and indirect deaths caused by more than a decade of US-led war in three countries, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but did not include deaths in other countries attacked by American and allied military forces, including Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Syria.

      • When you consider the fact that this does not count the 4 nations listed, it must be higher.

        All 4 nations are engulfed in civil war or total anarchy.

  13. Off topic kind of, but while we are at it, the 2016 defense budget was requested several weeks ago:

    Click to access national_security_spending_for_fy2015-16.pdf

    The 2015 actual spending was a bit less than requested, but for 2016, they bumped it past $1 trillion again.

    Anyways, POGO is one of those watchdog organizations and they do quite a bit of good work in addressing the serious issues in the US government.

  14. Elite?


    “a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively—that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.

    it would be like telling admissions offices at elite schools that they should seek a form of student-body “diversity” that’s mostly cosmetic, designed to flatter multicultural sensibilities without threatening existing hierarchies all that much. They don’t need to be told — that’s how the system already works! The “holistic” approach to admissions, which privileges résumé-padding and extracurriculars over raw test scores or G.P.A.’s, has two major consequences: It enforces what looks suspiciously like de facto discrimination against Asian applicants with high SAT scores, while disadvantaging talented kids — often white and working class and geographically dispersed — who don’t grow up in elite enclaves with parents and friends who understand the system. The result is an upper class that looks superficially like America, but mostly reproduces the previous generation’s elite.

    No, it’s better for everyone when these questions aren’t asked too loudly. The days of noblesse oblige are long behind us, so our elite’s entire claim to legitimacy rests on theories of equal opportunity and upward mobility, and the promise tha

    That the actual practice of meritocracy mostly involves a strenuous quest to avoid any kind of downward mobility, for oneself or for one’s kids, is something every upper-class American understands deep in his or her highly educated bones.”

    • Well I’m not particularly ”ambitious” or career-focused in the conventional way either. I don’t really care to join the corporate rat race really. I never even cared to join the résumé padding rat race. I just like doing my own thang, yo.So what does that leave me?

  15. For all the nurture/nature debate concerning elitism (ivy leagues, ‘gifted’ industrial complex, etc) Networking and knowing the right people trumps both

    • You won’t get an argument from me. This is how a frame (e.g., nurture/nature) can exclude some of the most important issues. This is how mainstream politics and media operates. If you control the debate, you can control what is debated and how.

  16. Lol

    “Of course people tend to marry others from similar socioeconomic and intellectual backgrounds. It has ever been thus. What would Ross Douthat have in common with a partner with a high school education and an IQ of 95?

    And of course members of the upper middle and upper classes try to send their children to the best schools. What is sad and shocking is how many don’t even try. Every time the topic comes up, I see comments to the effect that elite schools don’t matter. Talk about things we don’t talk about, to whit, the curious sad fact that low social class is as strongly self-imposed as high social class.

    And when have the wealthy ever chosen to live in slums, or the poor been able to live on Fifth Avenue? Housing has always been segregated by income.

    That being said, I think your point is a good one. Educational opportunity in this country is still largely class-based. It is also disbursed on the basis of ugly racial, ethnic, gender, wealth, fame, athletic, and geographical preferences that seem to favor everyone except the talented, hard working kid.

    However, opening up the Ivies to kids of all backgrounds wouldn’t change much. All told, the elite colleges have enough places for only a tiny fraction of college age kids.

    So, what is the solution? Public education, of course. But that’s been starved of funds by conservatives and dumbed down by liberals who won’t sort by ability and conservatives with their teach-to-the-test nonsense.”

    • In that case, why is it far from uncommon for there to be marriages between rich men and women of a lower economic class? Even in the same economic class, often one spouse is more well educated or more intellectual than the other. That was the case with my parents. People get married for all kinds of reasons, often having nothing to do with having careers or hobbies in common.

      This is obvious by observing people. How can this commenter not notice the obvious? I’m amazed by ignorance like this. Even such simple things as his statement that, “Housing has always been segregated by income.” Until a generation or two ago, it was common for people of different economic classes to live near one another. Suburbanization is only around a half century old.

      So, I assume this ignorant person thinks they should be a part of a meritocratic elite. Conservatives and liberals are wrong. All our problems would be solved if the neoreactionary authoritarians were allowed to rise up through the ranks and rule society.

  17. Do u sometimes feel you have emotional investments in your beliefs? Like, “hey, neoreactionaries are right, I’m just too PC to admit it!!!!” I say so since as recently as a few months ago that was me. These days though I did most of them don’t know what they’re talking about and don’t actually know much about what they talk of. Or basically,


    • I’ve always sought to understand other viewpoints. Most importantly, I’ve always sought to discover what might be true or of value in other viewpoints. I’m not afraid to acknowledge that some neoreactionaries have important pieces of the puzzle.

      I say that about some HBDers. You know my opinion about hbdchick. She offers quite a bit of interesting data, but I’d combine it with other data and put it into a larger context.

      The same goes for conspiracy theorists. Their theories are crazy, even as they do bring up important points. They will say what others are afraid of saying and sometimes it turns out that they are right. Many things that were assumed to be conspiracy theories in the past have since been proven to have actually happened.

      We should always be intellectually humble. I don’t assume I’m always right. And when I’m wrong, I’ll try my best to be forthrightly honest in apologizing for or retracting what I previously believed. My views are always changing, as I’m always learning. I state my sense of truth with force, which isn’t to say that sense of truth is written in stone. I care more about truth than being right. I’d feel like a worthless human being if I acted any other way.

      My thinking is dominated by a guilt mentality, not a shame mentality. There is a difference between the two. I have no interest in winning debates at any cost. I don’t care if I’m perceived as right. I actually want to be right or else to be humbled in acknowledging I was wrong. Truth is more important than pride. That is my moral code.

      I’ve never said that neoreactionaries are wrong by default. For the most part, it’s just that they speculate a lot and then take their speculations as facts. That said, just because many of them are ignoramuses, it doesn’t follow that every neoreactionary hypothesis will prove wrong. I’m just one who prefers to wait to see the data.

      In that light, I’m a steadfast supporter of speculations, even that of neoreactionaries. I want people to think crazy thoughts and to imagine all possibilities, even those that are dark. That said, I will always demand intellectual humility and I will ridicule anyone who falls short of that. If they don’t humble themselves, I will help to humble them as best I can.

      I admit that I fear the dystopian path we could go down and, one might argue, that we are already going down. I’d like to believe that the advocates of dystopia are wrong, but I’m not sure how to prove them wrong other than promoting a better vision and hoping that it will lead to new possibilities. Still, I’m no starry-eyed optimist. I can be rather cold-blooded in my realism. I’m a possibility thinker, and I can envision the bad as easily as the good. I see infinite paths before us.

      Ultimately, my mind is ruled by curiosity. I just want to understand what it all means. My curiosity and sense of wonder is what compels me. It is the daimon that possesses me.

      My complaint about neoreactionaries is that both their curiosity and their imaginations can seem so limited, and so their sense of truth is narrow and confined. They are the kind of person who gets lost in their own rhetoric. They are true believers looking for some grand vision to believe in, and that is what makes them dangerous. It’s the dogmatism that they push, not the few truths they may possess, that I fear. I dislike the whiffs of authoritarianism that I get from them.

      They want truth to serve a greater role than it is capable. They don’t want to accept how messy is reality and how uncertain our knowledge. This simultaneously leads them to dismiss the truths that don’t fit their beliefs. Even if some of their beliefs turn out to be true, the risk is that they will sacrifice all other truths to put their one narrow truth on a pedestal. They want to turn their ideology into an idol to worship.

      The person who knows a little bit can be more dangerous than the person who knows nothing at all. A partial truth serving a dark vision.

    • There are many things most Americans will never know. Then again, the same thing goes for most people in the world. Americans merely have the misfortune of living in the heart of the global empire, which means fully entrapped within the propaganda machine. America is an open air prison of the mind.

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