why I am not a neoconservative

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar Dan
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    says:

    An excellent post!

    “I realized, for one, how utterly naive this belief in American power (and goodness) was. Not only did I lose faith in the idea that meddling in the name of “humanitarian intervention’s” could be effective, but in the belief that it was even humanitarian to begin with. The neoconservative agenda, it turned out, was far more about expanding military might than it was about bringing peace or sanctuary to the weak and oppressed.”

    And yet you still hold the mirror position on domestic issues (Health care, public education, etc.), why do you have more confidence in domestic humanitarian intervention?Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Dan
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      says:

      I believe in the necessity of the “public” which I do not view as intervention. We form societies and governments as a way to operate together and to work together toward a larger good. I don’t believe that anarchy, for all its theoretical sense, is possible. And so some areas within a society I see as having a particularly public function. Beyond that, the way our society is structured is particularly prone to the creation of social cracks and thus we as a people must form safety nets – health care is one such area. Education is another. Pizza is not.Report

      • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        Congrats on recognizing the evils of neoconservatism. But, why not jump all the way into the deep end, i.e. your embrace of : “the way our society is structured is particularly prone to the creation of social cracks and thus we as a people must form safety nets – health care is one such area. Education is another. Pizza is not.” You have identified the problem but the statist solution is, I believe, wrong. A better solution is by addressing these ‘social’ problems by de-centralizing Leviathan and addressing them on a state/local level with a combination of public/private funds, voluntarism, and church/civic organizations, you know that thing we used to call community! We don’t need no stinkin’ gov’t telling us what community is.
        Globalism has to be turned back to restore ‘jobs’ in America and to rebuild the devestated middle class.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Bob Cheeks
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          says:

          Because I’m not sure it’s possible at this stage of the game, Bob. Honestly, the extent to which the corporations and globalists have grown – I think a scale-back of the state now would simply open new doors to increased corporate hegemony. For instance, all the “limited govt” initiatives begun with Clinton only transferred operations to private contractors thus not really shrinking government at all. That’s the real danger of limiting government at this point. It only happens as a pretense.Report

          • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to E.D. Kain
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            says:

            “Honestly, the extent to which the corporations and globalists have grown – I think a scale-back of the state now would simply open new doors to increased corporate hegemony.”

            Yes, you may be right! Or this opinion is just a manifestation of your ‘feelings,’ intuition, and anecdotal information. I’m not so sure the globalists can’t be subdued (new job creation is or was mainly with the ‘small’ business sector) and the politicans can be subdued by the voters getting their collective heads out of their arses and ‘good’ candidates running. Or… that condition may lead to chaos, which we may be seeing the beginning of now. So the question may devolve to one of recovery and how we’re going to order a society rising out of anarchy. In such a condition I don’t think there will be any of the usual issues related to modernity, rather society will be addressing much more fundamental issues. But, I do like your perspective and outstanding post!Report

        • Avatar Consumatopia in reply to Bob Cheeks
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          says:

          A better solution is by addressing these ’social’ problems by de-centralizing Leviathan and addressing them on a state/local level with a combination of public/private funds, voluntarism, and church/civic organizations, you know that thing we used to call community!

          The problem you immediately run into is that the federal Constitution prevents states and localities from restricting interstate commerce. Thus, in the absence of federal regulation, every community has to live by the law of Delaware or whoever else is currently winning the race to the bottom. Because of the interstate clause, we’re stuck choosing between dominance by big business or dominance by federal government, with locals powerless to resist either.Report

      • Avatar Dan in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        Isn’t the Neoconservative case exactly the same though? That there is a way in which the world stage is a commons and, “We form societies and governments as a way to operate together and to work together toward a larger good.” That the commons must be protected and that humanitarian intervention is necessary to prevent “Anarchy” and the general lawless tyranny? Why is their a nation “public” but not an international?Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Dan
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          says:

          Well I think it’s important to not oversimplify or get caught in the net of easy dualities. For one thing, I follow a sort of neo-subsidiarity philosophy. I believe that local government is certainly the place where most government functions should take place, including education. However, I think that practically speaking, we are a nation (not an internation) and there are things that can only be performed on a national level. I don’t think local governments have the capacity in this system to provide meaningful health care options. And local co-ops would be almost entirely powerless in the larger insurance industry. If circumstances were different and localities had more sway and more autonomy, perhaps things would be different. But I’m not sure how to turn the clock back or go in that direction safely, without losing too many people through the cracks we’ve created. And this is health we’re talking about, so to me it is a very, very vital issue and one we cannot wait on.Report

    • Avatar ChrisWWW in reply to Dan
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      says:

      Dan,
      The difference between invading Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people is astronomical units away from providing medical care with tax revenue.Report

      • Avatar Dan in reply to ChrisWWW
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        says:

        Chris,

        Iraq is an example of neoconservative humanitarian intervention but an extreme example. What about Kosovo? Both the health care crisis and preventing or stopping genocide are issues of justice that the government can address. Why is it that their is a moral duty to provide health care domestically but no moral duty to stop or prevent genocide globally?Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Dan
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          says:

          The answer’s in the question. We’re a nation and are thus bound to different standards within our borders than without. So we have a duty to protect our borders, for instance, but not to protect others’ borders. Otherwise, what’s the point of having a nation at all? And you may not want one but there is no reasonable or practical way around that.Report

        • Avatar ChrisWWW in reply to Dan
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          says:

          The type of global intervention favored by neocons usually involves using military force, which has unpredictable – if not uniformly bad – results. In Kosovo, for instance, the acts of genocide did not occur until after our bombing campaign started.

          It also involves more than a little bit of imperial hubris to say we know what’s best for other nations. On the other hand, our internal attempts to address societal problems are usually the result of democratic processes.Report

          • Avatar Dan in reply to ChrisWWW
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            says:

            Doesn’t it take a little domestic hubris to say we know whats best for individuals and communities? Are not our imperial projects the result of the democratic process (And directed against nations that lack such a process)?Report

            • Avatar ChrisWWW in reply to Dan
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              says:

              How is hubris involved when a community is trying to solve its own problems with its own resources?

              Did I just step into an argument with an anarchist? 🙂Report

              • Avatar Nathan P. Origer in reply to ChrisWWW
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                says:

                Perhaps there’s confusion on the “we” here? If by “we” Dan means government at the federal level, he’s right. If by “we” he means at the local level, then he’s wrong, and not even an anarchist, but a libertine.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to ChrisWWW
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                says:

                As a brief addendum to Nathan’s comment, I think Dan’s point has a fair amount of validity at the federal and sub-federal level.

                The democratic idea of 51% deciding for 100% is certainly a step up from <1% deciding for 100% but by no means should it imply community consensus.Report

              • Avatar Dan in reply to ChrisWWW
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                says:

                Chris,

                All politics requires a little hubris and you don’t need to be an anarchist to recognize that 😉 Speaking of which communities solving their own problems with their own resources sounds positively Bakuninesque!

                Nathan,

                I didn’t realize libertine was a genuine option, where do I sign up?

                Kyle,

                Yes.Report

              • Avatar ChrisWWW in reply to Dan
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                says:

                I can never decide what’s better… anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-collectivism or anarcho-communism.Report

              • Avatar Dan in reply to ChrisWWW
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                says:

                Anarcho-syndicalism, Barcelona is wonderful this time of year.Report

            • Avatar Kyle in reply to Dan
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              says:

              To split the difference here, I think Dan’s saying that it makes sense as a mark of consistency to say that one is pro-human rights/humanitarian action across the spectrum. An example might be supporting equal pay for women in America and promoting basic human/women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

              What E.D. is saying, as I understand it and which makes complete sense, is that while one may support similarly themed positions, one doesn’t have to commit resources to both preferred policies. So it would be appropriate to lobby, fundraise, or litigate to further women’s rights here in America, while deferring to the political processes of Saudi Arabia. That appropriate paths of advocacy may differ on either side of the border.

              On a smaller scale, we accept a similar divide between society and our families. How we treat family and non family members may fall under a similar framework of interaction, but that boundary matters and different standards apply.Report

  2. Avatar Nathan P. Origer
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    says:

    Fabulous posting. I’m much in the same boat. I still shudder when I think about having written this to the campus daily at Notre Dame back in 2003:

    http://media.www.ndsmcobserver.com/media/storage/paper660/news/2003/10/08/Viewpoint/Consider.Facts.Carefully-521798.shtml

    *shudder*Report

  3. Avatar Kyle
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    says:

    I was going to make a comment about the frightening nature of democratic empires, but I should hope that concept is self-evidently troubling.

    In light of your experience with (misguided?) idealism, I’m curious, what you think should take the place of humanitarian interventionism as an exercise in furthering human rights/liberalism?

    Assuming, of course, that the promotion of human rights and liberalism are still reasonably appropriate prerogatives?

    To follow up Dan’s question, if neoconservatism can marry well-meaning and seductive goals with counter-productive, corrupt, and destructive methods, how has such a reflection affected your view and understanding of the pursuit of well-meaning goals in domestic terms?Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to Kyle
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      says:

      Also, great post.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Kyle
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      says:

      I’m not sure “promotion” is the right term. And in any case, I say we lead by example, nothing more. War is the last resort, and meddling should be as close to non-existent as possible.

      Domestic issues are also easily manipulated and certainly fall into the “even the best laid plans” category, but I think we still need to try.Report

      • Avatar Kyle in reply to E.D. Kain
        Ignored
        says:

        It’s not that I disagree with you, but considering colonial legacies, corporate involvement, and security alliances, I just wonder if our entanglements abroad really put us in a damned if we do, damned if we don’t position.

        After all, the implicit guarantee of American protection, surely prevents humanitarian disasters by affecting regional security. That guarantee, in turn, affects the options available to other nations and their leaders.

        So I guess I’m wondering what it means if by not actively working towards better living/working/political conditions for foreigners, we’re left with simply abetting the continuation of poor conditions.

        If through corporate involvement and global stability/war prevention we’re inadvertently helping to maintain a repressive status quo…

        In which case, much like your view on the level of corporate entrenchment, inaction is still action.Report

      • Avatar Dan in reply to E.D. Kain
        Ignored
        says:

        E.D.,

        Couldn’t a Neoconservative argue in good faith that even with some of the adventurism falling under the “best laid plans” catagory that they still need to try?Report

  4. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    To label neo-con goals, such as invading Iraq, as humanitarian is a bit charitable. Bestowing a dollop of democracy was/ is a good cover story for when we want military bases and access to oil. There is a big difference between honest humanitarian efforts and using nice words to cover bad motives.Report

  5. Avatar Kyle Cupp
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    says:

    “I realized, for one, how utterly naive this belief in American power (and goodness) was. Not only did I lose faith in the idea that meddling in the name of “humanitarian intervention’s” could be effective, but in the belief that it was even humanitarian to begin with.”

    What in particular (events, writings, etc.) led to this realization and loss of belief?Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Kyle Cupp
      Ignored
      says:

      Kyle, I’m not really sure. It was a lot of things I suppose all happening at the same time. I’d probably need to devote an entire post to it, and I’m not quite sure whether I’ve fully come to a conclusion. Mainly I began reading and thinking about the importance of family and community. Perhaps I owe it all to having a daughter and just asking the fundamental questions about how I wish the world would be for her… From there it was all – uphill?Report

  6. Avatar matoko_chan
    Ignored
    says:

    I said this before, but it is worth repeating.

    Teacher: Earth-That-Was could no longer sustain our numbers, we were so many. We found a new solar system, dozens of planets and hundreds of moons. Each one terraformed, a process taking decades, to support human life, to be new Earths. The Central Planets formed the Alliance. Ruled by an interplanetary parliament, the Alliance was a beacon of civilization. The savage outer planets were not so enlightened and refused Alliance control. The war was devastating, but the Alliance’s victory over the Independents ensured a safer universe. And now everyone can enjoy the comfort and enlightenment of our civilization.
    Young River: People don’t like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don’t run, don’t walk. We’re in their homes and in their heads and we haven’t the right. We’re meddlesome.

    And yes, for domestic policy too.
    Get out of bedrooms and schools. Stop trying to impose your mores and traditions on culture.
    You will fail anyways.
    It is just a matter of time.Report

    • Avatar Nathan P. Origer in reply to matoko_chan
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      says:

      Does — Can — “culture” exist without mores and traditions?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Nathan P. Origer
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        says:

        It depends. If we’re talking about my mores and traditions, then they are mores and traditions that our culture was founded upon and, without which, we would become some other, lesser, culture.

        If we’re talking about your mores and traditions, we’re talking about superstitious crap that we outgrew more than a generation ago yet is kept around because the powerful find it a useful social tool with which to jerk around weaker people who don’t know any better.Report

        • Avatar Nathan P. Origer in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Which mores and traditions are yours? Which are mine?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Nathan P. Origer
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            says:

            Does it even matter?

            What matters is that mine are essential and yours are vestigial.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Nathan P. Origer
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                says:

                Sure. Any given culture is going to have the perspective that its own mores and traditions are the bedrock of why they survived for however long but the mores and traditions of “The Other” will always be seen as backwards, or tribal, or rustic… or, on the other extreme, libertine and corrupt.

                While it is, I suppose, possible to stand back and give a measurement of what is and what is not a human right, what is and what is not the responsibility of society, so on and so forth, the vast, vast majority of the dynamics can be categorized in one of the following:

                A) This is how they did it in the idealized past and so that is what we need to get back to.

                B) This is how they did it in the absolutely awful past and so that is what we need to get away from.

                And both will have a dash of “this is how they do/did it over there” with either “and that’s why we shouldn’t do it that way” or “and that’s what we ought to do” on top.

                It strikes me as all very “gut check” stuff and neither side of the debate really reaches conclusions from first principles but instead feel something exceptionally strongly and work backwards and dig for principles that would fit from there… while, of course, misreading what they’ve done as coming to conclusions from first principles.Report

  7. Avatar matoko_chan
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    says:

    If we’re talking about your mores and traditions, we’re talking about superstitious crap that we outgrew more than a generation ago yet is kept around because the powerful find it a useful social tool with which to jerk around weaker stupider people who don’t know any better.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    No, *YOUR* mores and traditions are superstitious crap that we outgrew a generation ago yet is kept around because the powerful find it a useful social tool with which to jerk around stupider people who don’t know any better!Report

  9. Avatar mike farmer
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    says:

    “So I re-evaluated everything, not just the foreign policy positions I had found so faulty, but the wider implications of the foreign policy itself, which it turned out were merely extensions of a wider domestic policy: expansionism, exceptionalism, and the push for a global economy which had at its core the cult of the individual.”

    I’m a non-interventionist, but aside from my belief, I sometimes wonder if the world has become dependent on the US, and if the US pulled out — quit funding the world — quit protecting the world — what would happen? I would hope other countries would be forced to take up the slack, but would their economies be sufficient to do so unless they allowed more economic freedom? Oh, and I’m an individualist — in the true sense — not the “atomistic”, cartoon version.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to mike farmer
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      says:

      A powerful question.

      Where would the state of medical science be without the contributions of the US since, oh, WWII?

      For my part, I suspect that there would be a lot more equality.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to mike farmer
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      says:

      I sometimes wonder if the world has become dependent on the US, and if the US pulled out — quit funding the world — quit protecting the world — what would happen?

      This is the same way I worry about shrinking government at home. Or why I think that at some point some form of universal health care is necessary. It’s not because I’m a “statist” but because I think that our society has reached a point where we’ve become addicted in some sense, but also coerced, into this place of dependency. And simply pulling the rug out (or doing “nothing” whatever that means) on people will end up hurting those most dependent the most. Which seems like an impossible solution to an impossible problem. And I think largely this dependency rises out of our hyper-capitalistic – or rather hyper-corporatist and consumerist – society. So to shrink government, we also need to shrink the size and scope of these massive corporations, and I’m very unsure how either will ever be done….Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to mike farmer
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      says:

      Very good questions, Mike. I wouldn’t care to guess as to the consequences of economic disentanglement.

      However, if we quit protecting the world, I think the relative post-WWII global stability we’ve seen, the UN, and nuclear non-proliferation would all go out the window.

      The countries that would likely take up the protection racket slack (BRIC minus Brazil) don’t get along, have long standing territorial feuds, and regional counterweights that – for the most part – haven’t been all that belligerent/concerned/antagonistic because they’re backed by the full faith and credit of the United States Navy and a few nuclear tipped Peacekeepers.

      Some may be less pessimistic, but power vacuums are always filled and rarely by friends.Report

  10. Avatar matoko_chan
    Ignored
    says:

    Do you kno what is fascinating Jaybird?
    The conflict in Iran right now is not about a “free westernized student culture” attempting to throw the oppressive yoke of al-Islam…..it is about two competing visions of Islam. Nejad’s fundies are the near perfect analog of conservatives in the US (except for that Israel thingy)….they are rural, less educated, lowtech, fanatical promotors of “virtue”, socially conservative. The Greens are the analog of US liberals– socially progressive, technologized, educated, urban, young.
    I wonder if most cultures segregate this way?Report

  11. Avatar matoko_chan
    Ignored
    says:

    Also the fundies complain they have no voice….they dont have cells or computers, they don’t know how to use the interwebs or twitter.
    They resent this……it is like conservatives complaigning about media bias.Report

    • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to matoko_chan
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      says:

      MC, that last comment hurt, ouch, you got me!
      One of my favorite authors, an anarchist, Carolyn Chute, (whose work you might enjoy) says:
      “No phone, No TV, No Computer,” or something like that…she’s truly ‘back to the land,’ and what a beautiful, fecund, mind…Report

  12. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    I appreciate this post for its cohesion and though-going critique of our society and politics. Since the Left abandoned Marxism, I find that the traditionalist conservative critique of society that E.D. advances here, and that I think is at the moment most impressively sustained by Larison, to be the most serious, honest, and fundamental critique of our society that now exists within it. (I suppose if I were to inquire about it more I would be told with a smile that this is inevitable, as it has in fact been around since the rise of modernity and is the one true way of construing the world.)

    I unfortunately cannot share in the critique, and not only because I do not share the fundamental beliefs that underpin it (man’s subordination to God, this as a fallen society as Larison puts it, the untruth of the centrality of the individual), but also because I have rather more faith in the potential of humanity to help itself improve. But I am glad of the conclusions that it leads its adherents to — the rejection of overconfident intervention by one people into the affairs of others, the questioning of modern consumer culture, a general disposition toward humility, etc., — and I deeply respect and admire the sincerity and depth with which the basic beliefs that lead to these positions are held.

    I appreciate the window E.D. offers us into his own personal evolution, and am inspired by him to work to clarify the basis for what beliefs I can articulate for my self at this time about what the right choices for us to be making as a nation and as a species are now.

    Thanks, E.D.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Michael Drew
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      says:

      Thanks Michael. I would say that I do have a great deal of faith in humanity – it is what humanity has created and become, in a sense, captive to that I have less faith in. I suppose the fundamental flaw in my critique at this point is a way out. That’s the second step I suppose. I really need to read Rushkoff’s latest…Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        I didn’t mean to suggest you don’t have that. I just meant that in general, while I share a degree of reservation about progress, by and large I think that it is far less ambiguous that those things that have seemed to advance human happiness, including at the level of the individual, (increasing material prosperity, work-saving technology, even the constant evolution of entertainment options) have in fact done so than I think your (or particularly Larison’s) critique would allow.

        If you don’t have time for the book itself, there was a very illuminating interview with him on the radio show On Point — onpointradio.org. Check the archives for last week, I think.Report

  13. Avatar James
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    says:

    Two texts related to this: firstly E.H. Carr’s What Is History? This has a fantastic take-down of individualism, which is about the most concise dismissal which I’ve ever encountered of the ideology. Certainly worth a read.

    Secondly this: http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/15143 where a rather bedraggled & bloated C. Hitchens (even by his standards) elegantly explains why neo-conservatism is the not conservative, & why this makes it right for him.

    Your piece (which was excellent) brought both of these to mind. Glad you found a way out. It’s a highly alluring ideology, but ultimately inane (liberalism can be fostered through high-explosives, internationalism twinned with American Exceptionalism, a mixture of implicit, an opposition to tyranny mingled with praise for the Contras…).

    & above all, irritating.Report

  14. Avatar matoko_chan
    Ignored
    says:

    I am a technodroid Bob.
    I would loathe that person.
    I made a twitter account and DM’d a proxy id to someone distributing unblocked accounts to Iranian students. A lot of young american technodroids have done that.
    If the citizens in NK had cells and knew how to use them, how long could the Hermit Kingdom stand?Report

    • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to matoko_chan
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      says:

      Sweet desert flower you are indeed a techno-whatever. Also, your heart is in good order, I sense a great deal of love for your fellow humans-dudes and dudettes.
      But, my dear, sweet, gun-totin’ Carolyn not only fights the good fight in a real place, she lives the good fight in her place and in her art!
      You must take care, my friend, that in the end the search for the truth means more than the truth itself.Report

  15. There are still neo-cons in the world?Report

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