Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

What Conservatism Is

T.S. Eliot won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. Of his many works, one is the poem “Four Quartets” in which he writes “about the still point of the turning world, were motion and stasis are together, the hub where the movement of time and the stillness of eternity are together”. Elsewhere he declared “Liberalism, Progress, and modern Civilization” self-evidently contemptible. He praised Baudelaire, a French poet and art critic “who, in an age of “programmes, platforms, scientific progress, humanitarianism, and revolutions,” of “cheerfulness, optimism, and hopefulness,” understood that “what really matters is Sin and Redemption” and perceived that “the possibility of damnation is so immense a relief in a world of electoral reform, plebiscites, sex reform, and dress reform … that damnation itself is an immediate form of salvation—of salvation from the ennui of modern life, because it gives some significance to living.”

from The American Conservative, The Critic As Radical we learn that:

At the root of this condemnation of modernity lay the conviction of Original Sin. Eliot believed that most people have very little intelligence or character. Without firm guidance from those who have more of both, the majority is bound to reason and behave badly. In “The Function of Criticism,” he derided those in whom democratic reformers place their hopes as a rabble who “ride ten in a compartment to a football match at Swansea, listening to the inner voice, which breathes the eternal message of vanity, fear, and lust.”

The obtuseness and unruliness of humanity in the mass meant that order, the prime requisite of social health, could only be secured by subordination to authority, both religious and political. “For the great mass of humanity … their capacity for thinking about the objects of their faith is small”—hence the need for an authoritative church rather than an illusory Inner Voice. Likewise, “in a healthily stratified society, public affairs would be a responsibility not equally borne”—hence the need for a hereditary governing class. Underlying these social hierarchies is a hierarchy of values. “Liberty is good, but more important is order, and the maintenance of order justifies any means.”

Order, long preserved, produces tradition—“all the actions, habits, and customs,” from the most significant to the most conventional, that “represent the blood kinship of ‘the same people living in the same place’.”

Well! Doesn’t this sound just like a conservative? “Maintenance of order justifies any means”. This might explain why we are steadily moving to a police state. “…hence the need for a hereditary governing class”. What they aim for is a true aristocracy, with people like Dick Cheney and George Bush acting as the ‘deciders’ over the ‘people who have very little intelligence or character’. This statement shows the disdain conservatives harbor for people, it explains also their detestation of democracy: (“ride ten in a compartment to a football match at Swansea, listening to the inner voice, which breathes the eternal message of vanity, fear, and lust.”

Philip E. Agre wrote What Is Conservatism And What Is Wrong With It? in 2004. There are many insights into the conservative ‘sensibility’ in it. You find yourself nodding your head and you realize that this or that point is dead on but you never thought it that way. It is very long but here’s a few things he points out. Go read it if you find it as compelling a read as I did.

Q: What is conservatism?
A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.

Q: What is wrong with conservatism?
A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.

…From the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the self-regarding thugs of ancient Rome to the glorified warlords of medieval and absolutist Europe, in nearly every urbanized society throughout human history, there have been people who have tried to constitute themselves as an aristocracy. These people and their allies are the conservatives.

…the most central feature of conservatism is deference: a psychologically internalized attitude on the part of the common people that the aristocracy are better people than they are. Modern-day liberals often theorize that conservatives use “social issues” as a way to mask economic objectives, but this is almost backward: the true goal of conservatism is to establish an aristocracy, which is a social and psychological condition of inequality.

…People who believe that the aristocracy rightfully dominates society because of its intrinsic superiority are conservatives; democrats, by contrast, believe that they are of equal social worth. Conservatism is the antithesis of democracy. This has been true for thousands of years.

…Conservatism in every place and time is founded on deception. The deceptions of conservatism today are especially sophisticated, simply because culture today is sufficiently democratic that the myths of earlier times will no longer suffice.

…This is a central conservative argument: freedom is impossible unless the common people internalize aristocratic domination.

…Conservatism promotes (and so does liberalism, misguidedly) the idea that liberalism is about activist government where conservatism is not. This is absurd. It is unrelated to the history of conservative government. Conservatism promotes activist government that acts in the interests of the aristocracy. This has been true for thousands of years. What is distinctive about liberalism is not that it promotes activist government but that it promotes government that acts in the interests of the majority.

…Conservative arguments are often arbitrary in nature. Consider, for example, the controversy over Elian Gonzalez. Conservatism claims that the universe is ordered by absolutes. This would certainly make life easier if it was true. The difficulty is that the absolutes constantly conflict with one another. When the absolutes do not conflict, there is rarely any controversy. But when absolutes do conflict, conservatism is forced into sophistry. In the case of Elian Gonzalez, two absolutes conflicted: keeping families together and not making people return to tyrannies. In a democratic society, the decision would be made through rational debate. Conservatism, however, required picking one of the two absolutes arbitrarily (based perhaps on tactical politics in Florida) and simply accusing anyone who disagreed of flouting absolutes and thereby nihilistically denying the fundamental order of the universe. This happens every day. Arbitrariness replaces reason with authority. When arbitrariness becomes established in the culture, democracy decays and it becomes possible for aristocracies to dominate people’s minds. Another example of conservative twisting of the language of conscience is the argument, in the context of the attacks of 9/11 and the war in Iraq, that holding our side to things like the Geneva Convention implies an equivalence between ourselves and our enemies. This is a logical fallacy. The fallacy is something like: they kill so they are bad, but we are good so it is okay for us to kill. The argument that everything we do is okay so long as it is not as bad as the most extreme evil in the world is a rejection of nearly all of civilization. It is precisely the destruction of conscience.

…Or take the notion of “political correctness”. It is true that movements of conscience have piled demands onto people faster than the culture can absorb them. That is an unfortunate side-effect of social progress. Conservatism, however, twists language to make the inconvenience of conscience sound like a kind of oppression. The campaign against political correctness is thus a search-and-destroy campaign against all vestiges of conscience in society. The flamboyant nastiness of rhetors such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter represents the destruction of conscience as a type of liberation. They are like cultists, continually egging on their audiences to destroy their own minds by punching through one layer after another of their consciences.

…Some conservative rhetors have taken to literally demonizing the very notion of a democratic opposition. Rush Limbaugh has argued at length that Tom Daschle resembles Satan simply because he opposes George Bush’s policies. Ever since then, Limbaugh has regularly identified Daschle as “el diablo”. This is the emotional heart of conservatism: the notion that the conservative order is ordained by God and that anyone and anything that opposes the conservative order is infinitely evil.

There is a lot more there. I’d be interested if anyone thinks any of this is not an accurate description of what conservatism is. I wonder who else fits these characteristics? It seems we could call the Taliban an authoritarian hierarchy whose leaders believe they are more moral than their ‘subjects’. Any country with royalty as the governing body, Saudi Arabia for one. Hmm, who else? Iran’s religious leaders who are actually in control there, not the elected leaders.

Because conservatives think “damnation is an immediate form of salvation from the ennui of modern life, because it gives some significance to living”, it is clear that conservatives will never be happy because what kind of person thinks life is boring without the threat of damnation? Well, an unhappy one.


TV Viewing By Political Persuasion?

These shows were chosen as people’s favorite ones. Notice that not one show chosen by one group overlaps with shows chosen by the other group. Although we all watch a lot of them we don’t all feel the same about them. Hmmm. The whole story is at The Hollywood Reporter. Another thing I notice, Bill O’Reilly is not on the list.

The Reign of Right-Wing Primetime

VOTE, People!

In Brazil, voting is mandatory. If you fail to vote, you must present yourself at a voting place to pay a small fine and make an acceptable excuse. If you fail to do that, there are a  number of things that will happen:

  • -You cannot apply for any public position or function.
  • -You cannot receive any remuneration or salary from a public post.
  • -There are restrictions on the types of loan you can obtain from federal or local government sources, or from any credit institution administered totally or partially by the government.
  • -There are restrictions on your obtaining a passport or identity card.
  • -There are restrictions on your renewing your teaching licences in public educational institutions or those that are controlled by the government.

This extends to what is known as external (overseas) voting. You are to pay the fine immediately upon returning to the country, if you haven’t within two months you will face the same sanctions. This is rather draconian but I will bet they have a much better turn out than we get. I went looking for this kind of example when I heard on television earlier we will be lucky to see 30% participation. I am uncomfortable with forcing someone who doesn’t care enough to do it, to do it but I can see there is an argument that could be made, it is a duty of a citizen just like jury duty is. Democracy can’t work when left in the hands of a few. What do the people who stay home tell themselves? “I’m too stupid for my vote?”, or “It doesn’t matter who wins, they’re all the same?” Of course it matters! With someone else in office at the time (if  just a few more people had voted in strategic plces) we wouldn’t be embroiled in two wars. People can argue the right and wrong of the wars but it seems obvious to me that it certainly does matter who wins elections.

Some other things interesting about Brazil’s voting procedures include the fact you can vote at the age of sixteen and that Brazil was the first country to implement fully electronic elections. The system allows for easier voter identification, secure voting, helps prevent fraud, and creates a much easier tallying procedure. They have their share of kooks running for office too.  Tiririca, the supposedly illiterate clown from Sao Paulo, was not only elected to Congress, but received an overwhelming number of votes, many more so than “serious” candidate. Then there’s the ethically challenged Joaquim Roriz, who was barred from running due to his involvement in a massive corruption scandal. So he put his wife up as a candidate instead, despite the fact that she has no real political experience and has proved very lacking in knowledge and intelligence on the campaign trail, becoming something of a Sarah Palin as the constant butt of jokes for her many blunders. I didn’t say that, it comes from here: The arguments for compulsory voting are not new, I’ve heard them before but I am looking at this in a new light. Some of them are:

  • Such a system guarantees that the government represents a majority of the population, not only individuals who vote.
  • It is a measure to prevent disenfranchisement of the socially disadvantaged.
  • If voters do not want to support any given choice, they may cast spoilt votes or blank votes or none of the above. This is preferred to not voting at all because it ensures the person has not been intimidated or prevented from voting.
  • Compulsory voting will potentially encourage voters to research the candidates’ political positions more thoroughly, since they are going to have to vote. This in turn may force candidates to be more open and transparent about their positions on many complex and controversial issues, instead of playing to their reliable ‘base’, they would have to appeal to all the voters.
  • No large campaign funds are needed to goad voters to the polls, the role of money in politics will decrease.
  • Compulsory voting acts as a sort of civil education and political stimulation, which creates a better informed population which will become involved in other political and community activities.
  • High levels of participation decrease the risk of political instability created by crises or dangerous but charismatic leaders.
  • And this is where they are winning me over: if fewer people vote then it is easier for smaller sectional interests and lobby groups to control the outcome of the political process.

I don’t know what we can do to get people to take their obligation to vote seriously but it is clear buttons are a big fail. We need people to start caring about the state of the nation, I can’t think of a time when we’ve had more problems. They need FIXING!