Sacrificing Ideology at the Altar of Culture


Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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37 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    I think you are mixing two points together. I’m not sure J’s point was that the hidden welfare state is bad , although I think we could all find ways that it is. The point was that we do things without transparency or admitting we do them, so we get some bad outcomes because the process is, at times, thoughtless. Lib’s want to make those decisions consciously and explicitly. This makes sense to me. I don’t think there is any value neutral option or policy free state. Having no or minimal regulations is a type of policy. R’s slam L’s for wanting this or that explicitly without admitting we already do a version of X, just not consciously.

    In terms of cultural markers I think you have a reasonable point. It is often hard for two heavily ideological groups to work together. I think the focus needs to be on common goals and less on methods. Of course some people will always be stuck on certain methods based on their ideology, but that is not necessarily wrong, its just different ideas. However in many debates we can’t even agree on common goals ( see Care, Health).Report

  2. Avatar mike farmer says:

    Very good. Another reason why liberals don’t fight corporate welfare is because they want to use it as a form of control — this is what statists do to implement central planning — in a way, it’s an end around socialism, making it appear we actually have a free market while getting socialist results (see Mises). The right is guilty of the same thing, just not as enthusiastically — the guilt must be awful if any still have a conscience.Report

  3. Avatar david says:

    Can I make a semi-defense of not taking seriously anyone who doesn’t accept evolution? It’s not simply some indicator of cultural preference in the way that, say, “I can’t take seriously someone who likes Nascar” would be. Rather, it reveals a person’s capacity for critical-thinking, openness to evidence, and willingness to face unpleasant facts. These are non-trivial characteristics when it comes to forming political opinions. A person who displays a lack of these traits on the specific issue of evolution is probably not worth listening to on some other unrelated subject, eitherReport

    • Avatar M.Z. in reply to david says:

      Generally the person making belief in evolution a test is the same person that has a 3rd grade understanding of evolution. There’s a certain irony in making a barometer of education something the inquisitor couldn’t competently discuss.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to david says:

      It may indicate something of a person’s capacity for critical thinking and whatnot, but some critics of the standard narrative in theoretical biology are fairly knowledgeable and erudite fellows (Michael Behe being the most prominent example).Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Art Deco says:

        Not according to their performance in court. They aren’t actually knowledgeable, they are skilled manipulators of facts. Their scholarship is laughable.

        Behe and his ilk at the discovery institute are ridiculous people and should not be trusted on any subject. Evolution is a fantastic screen as it weeds out the crazies who don’t understand science from a religious perspective. On the other hand go it along people who don’t say they disagree with evolution are not proved to have any idea what science is either.

        The evolution question can only disqualify a person not qualify them.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

          Can’t we just put up a sign? “No Muslims or Evangelicals need apply” or something?

          Or is that too obvious?Report

          • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Jaybird says:

            Depends on the job 😉

            Carpenter come on in. President, senator, school board member well you can apply but I sure hope you don’t get it. In addition This criteria doesn’t actually rule out people from either of those categories just the ones who don’t or won’t understand science. If they think the world is 6000 years old they don’t have the judgement required to run a modern superpower. I don’t care if they think god guided the evolution, it is more they need to understand it and not use their power to undermine education and research.Report

  4. Avatar RobF says:

    Conservatives have a tendency to spend an inordinate amount of time denouncing the liberal elite culture of the coasts. Meanwhile, I’ve seen too many liberals rave about how they simply cannot take anyone seriously who doesn’t believe in evolution, regardless of what the topic of discussion may be.

    It’s a nit, but I’m struggling with the equivalency you draw between the cultural bigotries of conservatives and liberals.

    A liberal coastal elite is someone who lives in Massachusetts, subscribes to the “New Yorker”, and went to Columbia. Someone who doesn’t believe in evolution is someone who is willing to ignore the overwhelming consensus of the world’s best science for the past one hundred years.

    Are these biases really equivalent?

    Determining that someone can’t be reasoned with because they have demonstrated a preference for doctrine-based reality over evidence-based reality seems less arbitrary than determining they can’t be reasoned with because they live in Cambridge and drive a Volvo.

    (I see that David has made the same point — and is a faster typist than I am)Report

  5. Avatar z says:

    I think it does matter, especially when it comes to gender politics. If someone embraces regressive gender roles, how can they be trusted to negotiate with women in good faith? If someone thinks women’s participation in politics is utterly illegitimate, women shouldn’t be asked to trust them as a coalition partner. It’s a foundational necessity.Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to z says:

      If they’re upfront about their regressive goals, that would seem to be good faith negotiating, if unlikely to be successful at the very least. It wouldn’t if they obscured such motives.

      I don’t think anyone today thinks women’s participation in politics (Paging Palin) is illegitimate so I’m not sure where that particular question is coming from/going?

      However, you can’t gatekeep in a democracy and say well only people who agree on X, Y, and Z have a say in developing policy. The irony here, is that the more government is involved in issues of advocacy, equity, and social justice the more right people opposed to those measures have to involve themselves through the political process, precisely because it is political. Of course by setting out what regressive and progressive gender roles are as a condition of admission/involvement its begging the question to the some degree.Report

  6. Avatar Kyle says:

    Le sigh.

    @David & Rob, without defending evolution-deniers

    1.) Both of you make the classic mistake of assigning to the theory of evolution the weight of scientific law, neither of which is as ironclad as most think. Evolution is at best a very good theory for explaining things using data, reconstructions, and really good guesses. The funny thing about theories, however good they are, is they have a history of being incomplete or outright false, so just on general principle skepticism of a good theory is hardly conclusive evidence of an incurious mind.

    2.) For points about critical thinking and open minds, both fail to recognize that uncritical acceptance of a belief in one area may carry over to other areas of thought just as easily as it may not. After all, lack of belief or a willful disbelief about evolution speaks not at all to a person’s competence in mechanical engineering, salesmanship, legal analysis, or any number of thousands of unrelated fields.

    To david specifically, I fail to understand what value “willingness to face unpleasant facts,” has.

    To the larger point Mark’s making, each cultural marker has some justifiable reason for its selection as such. Liberals it seems highlight scientific and cultural shibboleths as reflections upon qualities of critical thinking and cultural enlightenment respectively. While conservatives seem prone to highlight faith and values as reflections upon the stalwart character or humility of a person. They aren’t chosen randomly, nor – for that matter – are they as conclusive or directly related as they’re made out to be.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Kyle says:

      at the risk of getting in trouble with the TSA for a thread jack, you are making one of the classic errors of evolution deniers. you are saying that just because evolution is only a “theory” that somehow it is not completely proven. there are very few things in science that are called laws however that does not mean they are not proven beyond a doubt. Evolution is the basis for modern biology and all that flows from it.Report

      • Avatar Kyle in reply to greginak says:

        Actually, that’s precisely what it means and frankly this science-as-certainty religion that the left dogmatically adheres to is as misguided as it is common.

        The thing that makes science what it is empirical study, falsifiable hypotheses. The very limits that exist in verifying or falsifying a hypotheses leave open the ever present possibility of error or inaccuracy in any known scientific proposition.

        When one speaks of scientific controversies like climate change or evolution as settled as historical fact, they fail to recognize that true science, good science always has the implicit caveat, so far as we know attached. If you forget that you’re no longer thinking but believing. You are no longer in the realm of empirical science but in an anthropocentric religion.

        Doubt is ever present in science – arguably it is what makes science useful, that we recheck, continue observations, etc… When you deny that to claim certainty, you undermine the essential value of science.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

        {evil Jaybird}

        While the diversity deniers love throwing the term “deniers” at anyone they wish to excluse from the debate, I would like to argue that the debate would benefit from being more inclusive to allow more cultures to be involved, allowing more viewpoints, and letting more of the colors of the rainbow that is the human experience shine through.

        Those who say oppose these things remind me of homophobes and racists.

        {/evil Jaybird}Report

  7. Avatar Art Deco says:

    The broad Right has as much or more problems with the “hidden welfare state” as do liberals. There would be, in fact, a fairly easy coalition to be built in favor of simplifying the tax code, doing away with various subsidies, etc. If this common logic is correct – ie, that existing social injustice is largely a result of the “hidden” welfare state – then removing the “hidden” welfare state would obviate the need for much of the “visible” welfare state.

    To which ‘liberal’ and ‘conservatives’ do you refer? Michael Kinsley and Alan Keyes have no vote in Congress. Jimmy Carter had a plan; the administration abandoned it as hopeless when Mr. Carter had been in office just six months. Another effort to simplify the tax code (in 1985 and 1986) was an initiative of Sen. Bradley (D-NJ) and Donald T. Regan (Mr. Reagan’s Secretary of the Treasury and Chief of Staff, formerly of Merrill Lynch). It was Bradley’s signature issue. It had only modest success. Legislators without regard to affiliation make use of the tax code to build and maintain patron-client relations; politicians like Mario Cuomo (a lawyer with no background in business or economics) fancy that their preferred subventions help approach some sort of social optimum; other politicians like Barber Conable (another lawyer who was put in charge of the World Bank for some incomprehensible reason) fancy that a rococo tax code is good for its own sake. With some exceptions, there is not much of a constituency for a clean tax code among political actors who matter. This is deplorable.

    (I have also seen no indications, in thirty years of reading newspapers, that soi-disant liberals not named ‘Michael Kinsley’ or ‘Robert M. Kaus’ show much interest in reviewing and reconstituting according to plan extant programs for redistribution of income or service provision. The preferred course of action seems invariably to chuck some new scheme atop the heap of old schemes which have been accumulating since 1933).Report

  8. Avatar Rufus says:

    Personally, I find the cultural stuff pretty amusing. I have a feeling that for some voters the distinctions really do come down to which candidate drinks imported ale vs. domestic beers, hunts and fishes vs. plays basketball or squash, rides snowmobiles vs. rides a segway, eats cheeseburgers vs. eats salads. In the future, one imagines these debates ending in violence. Give me leaders with cool hobbies, or give me death!Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rufus says:

      You have a choice of who is going to kick you in the junk. Person A or Person B.

      Person A reads the books that you like to read, watches the sports that you like to watch, and drinks the beer that you like to drink.

      Person B doesn’t read books, only criticism. Sports? Pshaw! Beer? Person B only drinks wine.

      Who would you prefer to kick you in the junk?Report

  9. Avatar Koz says:

    Mark is right that our political differences are often exacerbated by more or less irrelevant cultural indicators. Unforunately, we can’t just get around this by spurning cheap putdowns about NASCAR or San Francisco or whatever.

    The substance of the disagreement is fundamental enough so that it’s difficult to really interact at that level because and be heard. The short story is, liberal participation in the political process is contributing nothing to the public weal and hasn’t for at least thirty years. The difficulty with addressing this problem isn’t so much liberals disagree with this diagnosis (though they would), as much the fact that they can’t or won’t comprehend it in the first place.

    Politically speaking, conservatives have had a good year for the first time in quite a while. The fly in the ointment is that health care has stayed on the table too long and prevented liberals and conservatives from really being able to talk turkey with each other outside of an election season or something else that generates a defensive mentality.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Koz says:

      gee can i stay in the country? do i get too vote? should i start looking to emigrate?

      but anyway the cultural BS that some people use to divide is nothing. there have always been cultural differences in this country and we have survived. there are 300 million freaking people in this country, or course we like to all sorts of different things. Our sainted founding fathers were not ordinary joes and were elites. there were even significant cultural differences between the regions, but somehow we were a country then.Report

      • Avatar Kyle in reply to greginak says:

        Didn’t some guy make a speech a few years ago about not being a red america and blue america but one america. Yeah whatever happened to him?Report

        • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Kyle says:

          Well it seems like we thought he didn’t believe it…Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kyle says:

          I think it’s precisely the cultural indicators valence in the political sphere that that guy thought he could bridge or at least tone down somewhat. Which was actually always quite a remarkable claim given who and what he was. It showed in retrospect an almost preposterous faith that the public would go along with him in the endeavor in practice. But either way they sure ate it up at the time, didn’t they? It always sounds so much better beforehand when you can still imagine that it is the other guy that’s going to be moving past his cultural biases toward a new harmony, doesn’t it!

          In any case, I think the ‘bitterly clinging’ gaffe pretty positively shows that in an unscripted, thought to be off-the-record moment, that candidate thought it was overinflated cultural rifts that could be bridged, not fundamental political commitments. Obviously, to whatever extent he thought by the force of his being he could get us to transcend those, that expectation was worthy of ridicule.Report

  10. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Things will always come down to brass tacks eventually. As with fantasies about a Hamsher-Paul marriage, the surface attractiveness of the idea of a union simply misdirects us from the fact that when the question of what actually to do about health care, rather than just of what is thought of current proposals, became unavoidable, the honeymoon would be over in a New York minute.

    So to take just one example here, while without a doubt tax code simplification is a broadly desirable goal on which people of all ideological persuasions can agree to work in theory, in practice those discussions will inevitably include people who see a flattening of the rates in the tax code as an essential part of any supposed simplification. I would hardly respect anyone’s basic ideological integrity who came to that discussion from anywhere on the “broad Right” who didn’t draw that basic line in the sand as a necessary component of anything they’d be willing to call simplification — because that is a constitutive, nonnegotiable part of their political programme that it simply is nonsensical to ask them to give up on. And the rainbow-like quality of the discussions would come to a grinding halt right there, just as every initially bipartisan discussion of tax-code simplification has done since the beginning of time 9or at least the biginning of Americans for Tax Reform) has done. This the way of the world, ans there’s really. Politics is always to one extent or another initially the game of proving one’s opponent to be humiliating wrong about their most basically held values and commitments (or at least the specific policy manifestations of same) to the extent they differ intractably from one’s own (because the easily negotiable matters are always easily hashed out well before the real fight gets started in earnest), or in any case convincing a decisive segment of interested stakeholders that you have done that for the time being. That’s what makes politics fun — it’s why people get into it. Only failing a satisfactory victory for one side or the other in clashes of fundamental ideology (which do occasionally happen) do the sides agree to work on real negotiation on matters involving fundamental principle, and quite often, as in the case of tax “simplification” discussions, the sides find that basic principles are simply too greatly implicated for negotiating to bring them at all close to an accord.

    But hope can certainly spring eternal as far as I am concerned.Report

  11. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    If Mark’s point is that he is suspicious that in the hackneyed liberal protest against welfare reform, “Welfare reform, sure, but we don’t seem to be reforming corporate welfare!” liberals were only using that concern for corporate welfare as a rhetorical device, well, he’s absolutely right. Liberals, at least in that debate but also generally, cared about declining material well-being for the least well-off in the country first, foremost, and exclusively. It’s absolutely true that in a vacuum, they may very well not have launched a campaign against corporate welfare — they make no claim, after all, to being doctrinaire free-market ideologues. Many liberals, in theory as well as in practice, have no real problem with the idea of a corporatist welfare state in which government props up and assists the major corporations and employers in the country to provide the best material circumstances for the working and middle classes as can be devised through such a scheme. Liberals are in this way precisely not inherently reformers and cerainly not radicals or ideologues. They tend to be pragmatists. In their view, post-war prosperity and the corporate welfare state arose in tandem, and to a large extent, broadly speaking that was a very good thing compared to other possible eventualities. Obviously, things have gotten somewhat off track since then — most liberals would say this is because reforms carried out in the name of “free market” ideology took the form of various assaults on the “welfare” (in the sense of concern for the welfare of the common, and less than common, person) part of the corporate welfare state, without following through to the dismantling of the corporate-state component of that societal arrangement. If libertarians can somehow convince liberals that the solution — materially speaking for the broad welfare of the average person (i.e. not merely according to a theory of justice that libertarians merely claim everyone should assent to) — to that partially-completed fundamental renegotiation of the social contract would be now to complete the dissolution of the corporate-state alliance, then more power to them. I don’t see any reason that liberals in theory, pragmatists that they are, were they truly convinced that that was the materially wise thing to do for their interests, should resist it. That would represent really nothing short of the completion of an economic revolution of epochal magnitude in the history of this country, and again, more power to that ideology. But keep in mind, that project — the dissolution of both the welfare component and the corporate-state components of the corporate welfare state — was never remotely a liberal ideological commitment. They were never ideologically or practically on board with it. They merely had to go along with it when their major achievement — broadly-shared prosperity produced by the corporate welfare state — began to show signs of strain and a powerful new idea took hold in the halls of power and among the swing electorate, and was began to be implemented in pieces.

    So if, while that implementation was taking place, liberals raised certain alarms about the prartical consequences of the idea, or were suspicious of the order in which the pieces of it were being implemented (hmm, dismantling human welfare programs now, break-up of corporate-state alliance later…), and did so in the terms of the idea and the promises made for it (“Welfare reform sure, but we don’t seem to be reforming corporate welfare!”), it is at this late date a bit rich in my view, after the seeming failure of the revolution (partial though it was, and however much that incompleteness caused the failure), to find fault with liberals now for failing to exhibit sufficient enthusiasm for the completion of a revolution for which they were never partisans, often opposed furiously, and in rare did cases more than reluctantly went along with to get along.

    So no, Mark it’s true. Liberals (at least those who were formed by and acted decisive upon events in Twentieth Century America) are not fundamentally committed breaking the bond between corporations and the (welfare) state. Some progressives, perhaps. Leftist anti-corporate anarchists? Of course! But Liberals? Quite to the contrary. In fact, liberals consciously, deliberately, were largely the ones who oversaw and guided that bond to its most developed state, with their aim being the advancement of human welfare in the American nation. Indeed, at a certain point in the last century believed that as a result had achieved one of the most salutary states of affairs economically and politically that had ever been achieved by any civilization in the history of man: the most wealth — and the most broadly-shared wealth — ever seen in one country. But it did take the alliance of the major institutions of power in the society to make it happen (in the Liberals’ view), and because that arrangement is vulnerable to a critique liberty, and because the laws of nature dictate that which goes up must comes down, and that any superlative state of affairs cannot be sustained indefinitely, the ideological pendulum of history swung. Liberals believe their Great Society could have been sustained technocratically, if at more realistic levels of happiness, for a great deal longer. But the operation of historical-ideological change is not a neutral, mechanistic process, but rather a rough, contingent, contested — political — one, and new agents with new ideas stepped into the space created by the waning of the Liberal moment and took control of it. And here is where those ideas have taken us. Liberals would have been perfectly pleased to be allowed to steer the ship they built as far as it took them, but they were not. From the liberal’s perspective, he sees radicals, reformers, populists, anti-corporatists, progressives, localists, ideologues of all stripes, both continuing the initial line of critique (ie for liberty), as well as those who have changed emphasis (against the enduring corporate-state alliance) as springing equally from (and merely reacting to different aspects of the results of) the original rejection of the corporate welfare state, and merely thinks, “If only…” He wryly smiles at being told that he hasn’t held up his end of the bargain implicit in the observation, “”Welfare reform sure, but we don’t seem to be reforming corporate welfare!” Perhaps by the time he uttered that, he had given up his ideological purity and had adjusted to the political winds, but that was in fact a radical bargain to which he never willingly agreed. But that shouldn’t be surprising because being a liberal committed in principle only to the pragmatic pursuit of human welfare, he was never long in the ideological purity department to begin with. 😉Report

    • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Michael Drew says:

      All true – but less so, I suspect of Jamelle’s and my generation, who grew up in the post-Reagan era and thus never had the luxury of taking for granted that there even was some kind of liberal-corporate welfare-state consensus agenda.

      I think your paranthetical – “(at least those who were formed by and acted decisive upon events in Twentieth Century America)” – is key to this. We millennial kids, who were only around for the tail end of Twentieth Century America, are often I think far more skeptical of the liberal-corporate bargain, having reached maturity only after the welfare half of the bargain had begun to be disassembled or rigged to benefit corporations significantly more than the general populace (principally by right-wingers disingenuously claiming to be acting in the name of the free market). I may be totally of base here, but I think younger progressives are therefore far more inclined than both old-line liberals (much less neoliberals) toward anti-corporate left-libertarianism.

      But your point about liberal pragmatism is well-taken. Schlesinger called hi pro-New Deal, anti-Communist manifesto The Vital Center for a reason. The liberal corporate-welfare state has always been a compromise, which – more than any right-wing oppositional agenda – is the real source of its lack of durability.Report

  12. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    I believe libruls devolved, or evolved from monkeys. My proof: Algore!
    Great thread gentlemen.Report

  13. Avatar JosephFM says:

    And of course, the reason those “centrists” are centrists is that they actually are pretty okay with the status quo, which is why making deals with them ends up with worse results for those on either end than making deals with the opposite partisan extreme would for either party.Report