Saturday, September 29, 2007

All Sane Conservatives are Now Liberals

Have you noticed? All sane conservatives are now liberals.

We see them all the time now. The ex-Reagan officials like Paul Craig Roberts who repudiate the administration's conduct of warrantless surveillance, among other things. The battalion of retired generals speaking out against our ill-conceived escapade in Iraq. Past and present officials of the justice department appalled at the politicization of law enforcement. Even Bill Buckley has registered his patrician displeasure.

Conservatism has retreated into a bunker so far to the right of reality, that these lifelong Republicans and defenders of the establishment find themselves on the right side of liberaldom, happily playing footsie with the likes of Keith Olbermann and Amy Goodman. Their core beliefs have not changed, but they sure are taking a fresh look at who is lucid enough to partner with in achieving their goals. It is as if they fell asleep of an evening safely in their suburban McMansions, and woke to find themselves deep behind enemy lines with Birkenstocks where their wingtips used to be.

Dazed they are. Glassy-eyed, filthy, malnourished, and too shell-shocked to speak. We find one unconscious, face down in the grass. We roll him over.

"My God, he's a rational conservative."

"Poor blighter."

"Let's get him back to the commune."

We feed him vegan organic miso broth to renew his strength and let him soak in patchouli scented baths.

Several days later, when he has recovered sufficiently, we come to speak with him. He knows now that he is in the hands of liberals. He is filled with trepidation. If even half of what Ann Coulter has said is true, what monstrous fate awaits him?

We meet in a light-filled solarium, the window curtains billowing in the morning breeze. An angelic child brings a fresh pot of herbal tea and scampers away.

So begins our attempt to recruit this once-mortal foe. We do not hope to convince him of the merits of socialized medicine, affirmative action, or legalized marijuana per se. We ask only that he join us in pledging commitment to reason-based policy-making. To set out our case, we first offer our perspective on why he has been cast out, why the American body conservative is convulsively expelling its rational elements in a desperate bid for self-preservation. It is a tale of an ancient pas-de-trois between conservatism, rationality, and established authority.

The instinct of conservatism is at least as old as human tribalism. It is a tendency towards prudence, risk aversion, and skepticism about change. Studies have shown that people who identify as conservatives are inclined see the world in black and white. This is likely to be genetic, and is not to be disparaged. When the cornered woolly mammoth turns to charge, natural selection does not favor the hunter who pauses to consider the nuances of enraged woolly mammoth behavior, but rather he who runs like hell.

Archetypal conservatism is joined at the hip with rationality for the simple reason that acting like an idiot is dangerous. It leads to broken bones, starvation, and uncomfortable venereal diseases. So conservatives have historically been deliberate, cautious, and above all, sensible. It does not make them very much fun at parties, but it keeps them out of trouble.

Conservatism's bond with established authority is less fundamental, but strong and ancient in its own right. Historically, as ever more complex civilizations proliferated, conservatism became practically synonymous with the interests of the establishment, both kingly and priestly. These were the forces that guaranteed the stability and safety that conservatism values. Did this attachment to the establishment strain the bonds of conservatism's marriage with rationality? No, because rationality was a tool of the ruling classes, employed for the creation of state infrastructures like legal codes, military organization, and systems of trade. So rationality served the needs of the establishment.

The rise of science as a formal discipline--as opposed to something that medieval barbers did on occasion by accident--only enhanced the utility of rationality to established authority. Nothing insures stability like prosperity. America's brief history is a perfect example. Science has given us mechanization, industrialization, and the ability to develop our natural resources. The result has been an unprecedented explosion of highly distributed wealth. Despite numerous unnerving social and economic upheavals engendered by the blistering pace of our growth, on the whole mouths have been filled, roofs erected, and physical safety insured to a degree that would once have been thought impossible. Thus conservatism, rationality, and the establishment have been skipping hand in hand (in hand) through the ages all the way to the bank and a little candy store called World Domination. It's been such a successful partnership that many conservatives consider affiliation with the establishment to be an inherent facet of their belief system.

But what if the establishment stopped behaving in ways that ensured long term security?

Consider the challenges facing America right now, and our reactions:

  • As the economy goes global, the lion's share of growth goes to nations that are behind the curve, like China and India. It is impossible for the U.S. to maintain its economic preeminence without borrowing beyond our current means, effectively mortgaging our future. Does America have the discipline and self-restraint necessary to soften the inevitable landing? If you're wondering whether discipline and restraint are something we can purchase with a credit card, I think you have your answer.

  • A huge proportion of our wealth has been derived from the easy availability of natural resources. Now supplies are tightening, yet industry is loathe to disembark the gravy train before it has come to a complete stop. It is difficult to think of a resource that isn't becoming scarce--water, oil, metals... Oh well, at least there's still plenty of coal. Wait, why does that ring a bell?...

  • Oh, right: coal is our death warrant. Science tells us that there's a global environmental crisis on our doorstep. If it isn't addressed, there will be massive dislocation. Thankfully, it appears the impact will be disproportionally borne by brown and black people--I use the term "people" loosely--who live in lands far from us. Still, it will be ugly. There will be flooding, starvation and masses of refugees. Refugees will be issued torches and pitchforks for effect. Thankfully, we Americans have recognized that we are the biggest single cause of this impending disaster, and we are responding to the challenge in a manner consistent with our historical role as a beacon of freedom and compassion: we are erecting electrified fences along our borders. That ought to deter the riff raff.

There is a common thread in all these examples. Our Republican leaders and prayer-obsessed middle America are desperately trying to preserve the status quo at the cost of longer term stability. It's not like it's in their nature to think long term in any case. The end of the world is never more that six years away for senators, and evangelical Christians expect to be raptured long before campaign season arrives. So rational conservatives must now regard the wide fanatical eyes of their once-staunch allies with profound uneasiness. If the Republican party and salt -of-the-earth America have thrown reason under the bus, where does security lie? Can America resist global pressures indefinitely? Or must we accede to change--gradual or not--to insure a secure future?

Don't take too long to think about it, for as the lords of the establishment discard the ballast of reason, they become drunk on the thrill of liberation. Their personal ideology is a far more permissive guide to decision making than the sour and unimaginative counselor we call reality. Perhaps they will awake to the danger they court, but more likely, hopelessly enamored of license, they will become increasingly untethered, and will pilot our ship of state gleefully over the falls.

So here you are. Your erstwhile friends may hold the reins of power, but they have deserted the field of reason, and it so plainly and completely belongs to the left that to be rational is to be liberal as well. I'm sure that's not an easy notion to swallow, but there it is.

And if the idea of being pitied by liberals causes you to recoil in revulsion--have no fear. For we need you as much as you need us. Surely you realize we are incapable of surviving on or own. Inevitably we will end up coddling terrorists. We will get so stoned that we'll forget to plant crops. We will cut ourselves when trying to use scissors. We need your cynicism, your common sense, and your facility for accounting.

You might as well join us. You're already here.


Anonymous said...

I can't believe there are no comments on this, it's beautiful. Found this blog via Crooks & Liars, haven't been this entertained and excited by writing since I first found driftglass.

Keep it up!

Anonymous said...


Say, that's some damn fine writing you done put up!

Saw your comment at castle driftglass, and stopped on by.


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