Ideology is the Enemy: The Creeping Victory of “Consistent” over “Judicious”

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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219 Responses

  1. Avatar North
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    says:

    Pretty good post my Tod. Makes me feel better than my own liberal tribe (or it is associated conglomeration of liberal tribelettes?) are such a fractous crazy mess most of the time, especially when it comes to ideology.Report

  2. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    Good post, Tod. It brings to mind two of my favorites sayings:

    1. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
    2. “Have too many principles, and you will soon have none.” -Me

    The problem with ideology, as you say, is not when it is used as a beginning, but instead as an end. What this means, in my view, is that it is important to have a handful of broad, perhaps amorphous first principles. Where the trouble begins is when possible means to those ends become viewed as ends unto themselves. When this happens enough times, the original, broad and amorphous principle slowly becomes at best just another principle to be discarded as necessary when it conflicts with some other “principle” in the name of a consistency that has forgotten how to distinguish between means and ends.Report

  3. Avatar Kimsie
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    says:

    WHAT — what is wrong with people?? That they think that they ought to be allowed to buy and sell others, with the various tools of the trade: threats (oh, call them promises), blackmail, bribes which turn into blackmail, sex (the more scandalous the better, naturally), drugs, the list goes on.

    This man merely justifies reality. His reasoning for justifying it is idiotic, of course.

    But I find myself questioning the worthwhileness of picking on the poor bloke,
    particularly when there are far worse villains out there.

    Your essay was well written, and definitely deserving of consideration. I regret that I will not be giving it such. In fact, I don’t believe a word of it, because I know that our true enemies are unprincipled fools, who twist any ideology to suit what they want at any given time.Report

    • Avatar Barry in reply to Kimsie
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      says:

      Seconding this, and also asking just how far his ‘consistency’ goes. Does he obey every single verse of the Bible? Does he ban the collection of interest, divorce (except for adultery by the wife)? Are his policies on foreigners resident in the USA 100% in line with Biblical teachings? When he has to take a dump, does he take a stick and go outside the city walls?

      I grant that it’s *possible* that he is 100% biblically consistent, but I know which side of the bet I’d take.

      In the end, he’s a f-ing racist and slaver sympathizer and propagandist, and deserves – well, I won’t comment on what he actually deserves, but he certainly doesn’t deserve respect or the benefit of the doubt.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Barry
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        Hmm. That brings up an interesting thought — even the inerrant Bible types tend to pick and choose a little bit (mostly ignoring vast swathes of the OT as no longer relevant after Jesus. Mixed fabrics and a lot of dietary stuff, for instance).

        And what it seems to boil down to is “I obey the important rules“.

        Which raises interesting questions. Why is homosexuality important, but not slavery? (Or vice versa). Why are dietary rules not important, but monogamy is? Why these rules and not those?

        Homosexuality, more than slavery, seems to be a weird little outlier. Not many Christians, at least in America, quote the Bible in support of slavery — but quite a few (relatively speaking) dig into the weeds of Leviticus to oppose homosexuality, even as they skip over 90% of the other rules in Leviticus. (Admittedly, some because things like temple prostitution don’t actually exist in America).Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Morat20
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          We live under a new covenant now.Report

          • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            Yes, I hear that a lot. And I get the theological reasoning behind it. (In fact I sorta mentioned that in my post, though I didn’t say it by name).

            And then some of the same people that say that go on to quote Leviticus to explain why homosexuality is wrong. Apparently the New Covenant doesn’t cover everything in the Old Testament.

            Which they pretty much pick and choose. Obviously Jesus is great with mixed fabrics, but not so much with the gays.

            So sure, New Covenant and all that Jazz. Yet the OT gets brought in whenever it’s convenient, and ignored when it’s not. Seems a bit…prone to rules lawyering, eh?Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            For people who have not read those verses, they only _ explicitly_ void food laws, and actually only the ‘Which is clean and unclean animals?’ food law. They are silent on things like cheeseburgers and eating blood, and also silent on shaving the sides of your beard, which I see pretty much every Christian male doing. All they literally allow is eating shellfish and pigs.

            In _actuality_, those verses are about Jew vs. Gentile distinction, a big issue at the time, and the person _experiencing_ the vision, Paul, says that what has been revealed to him to to not call anyone unclean. This is one of the very Biblical metaphors where the _person who told of about it then proceeded to tell us what it meant_.

            Now, removing _all_ rules about what is ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ would appear to cover both how people shave and who they have sex with, in a universe where people actually tried to read the actual text of the Bible instead of making up crap and then trying to find ways in which the Bible supports it.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DavidTC
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              says:

              The New Testament isn’t silent about eating blood.

              Eating blood is explicitly forbidden to the faithful. But many of them do it anyway:

              http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+15%3A28-29&version=NIVReport

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                Go to Scotland and tell them they are going to Heck for Black and White Pudding. Let me know how that goes.Report

              • Avatar Jim McBride in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                I’m going to burn in hell for my love of the French Dip.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                I didn’t mean to imply it was. I was just pointing out that the verse that supposedly gets rid of the food rules (Although it actually just speaks to clean vs. unclean animals and nothing else) does appear to get rid of all ‘cleanliness’ laws, period, or at least that’s the interpretation of the guy who _had_ the vision.

                Without that interpretation of the vision, it’s still not allowed to cut the edges of your beard or wear mixed fabric clothing or eat cheeseburgers or eat blood. Or have gay sex. The only thing the _vision_ literally says is ‘Pig are cool’. The metaphor, however, (Which is specifically explained.) is that there is no such thing as ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’ behavior, and hence it’s hard to see why homosexual behavior wouldn’t be allowed under that.

                Although, as you point out, it may not actually be okay to eat blood at all…although that verse is a bit vague, and it actually seems like that’s a specific requirement for those specific circumstances. It’s described as ‘James’ judgement’ and not some actual judgement from God.Report

              • Avatar Pub Editor in reply to DavidTC
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                says:

                OK, David, you seem to be focusing on Acts chapter 10 (the vision of Peter), while Jason and others are pointing to Act chapter 15, where the the Apostles and elders, assembled as the Council of Jerusalem, provide a much more explicit and comprehensive statement.

                Decision and Letter of Council > Opinion and Vision of One ApostleReport

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Pub Editor
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                says:

                Okay, first of all, this has somehow turned into a religious debate about who is correct, which is, uh, not what this is. (_I_ happen to think that all Jewish law is basically that, Jewish law, and as the vast majority of Christians do not consider themselves ‘Jews’, those laws are actually fairly irrelevant, and even if they _are_ important, they should be interpreted the correct way to read Jewish law…by thousands of years of decisions by Jewish rabbis, not some random Christian guy reading the text without context.)

                What I was doing here I was simply explaining how ‘The New Covenant’ thing worked to those people unfamiliar with the concept. That taken without the explanation, it literally only means no animals are unclean, and thus while it might void some dietary laws, it doesn’t say anything about mixed fabrics. Taking metaphorically, however, which is how it is explained in the text, it voids pretty much all the purity laws.

                I was explaining this because I get tired of people bringing up dietary laws and mixed fabrics to point out that Christians are hypocritical about gay marriage and other stuff in the OT, and then Christians manage to turn around and be exactly as hypocritical as they are accused of by asserting that all that magically disappeared via the new Covenant, when in actuality either _just_ specific dietary laws disappeared, _or_ all such laws disappeared.

                There’s no real logical interpretation where mixed fabrics and cheeseburgers are okay but homosexuality is not. Waving ‘The New Covenant’ around (Which Jaybird was doing jokingly, but I’ve seen done seriously.) is not an explanation.

                Secondly, the idea that the Decision and Letter of Council is more important than what is explicitly a _god-given_ Vision seems a bit dubious to me.Report

              • Avatar Kimsie in reply to DavidTC
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                I thank you for the ellucidation of a faith that is not my own.
                I learned something!Report

              • Avatar Pub Editor in reply to DavidTC
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                says:

                It’s described as ‘James’ judgement’ and not some actual judgement from God.

                I thought it was described as a decision by the council, speaking on behalf of God.Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Morat20
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          says:

          I hope that cotton-rayon blend feels nice and cool when you’re burning in hell.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Morat20
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          says:

          Homosexuality appears to have been condemned in both the Old and New Testaments.

          Liberal Christians have their reasons for discounting the New Testament passages, or for arguing that they don’t mean what they have usually been translated to say.

          It is still a source of unceasing puzzlement to me that some Christians take the apparent Pauline prohibition on homosexuality very seriously, but completely ignore it when Jesus tells them not to swear oaths. The prohibition on homosexuality is harmful, because it stops no one from actually having a homosexual orientation. But I suspect that a social taboo against oath-taking would do a great deal of good.Report

          • Avatar Kimsie in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            Mostly male homosexuality, to be fair.
            And the Jewish interpretation tends to be “this was associated with idolatry, and that was bad…”Report

          • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            I actually hear the OT stuff a lot more than the NT stuff about homosexuality.

            A lot more, mostly because the only really clear statement is from Paul, and Paul has…I wouldn’t say credibility issues, but his writings are a degree further away from Jesus than the Apostles, and once you add in some of the other things Paul says….

            Well, the OT makes a much less complicated argument. Except for that New Covenant thing.

            Which is why a great many Christians happily add “homosexuality” to “mixed fabrics” and “shellfish” and “slavery” and “women as second class citizens” to the things that God doesn’t really think, despite the fact that Christians for generations felt quite differently about it.

            Which circles back to the point: In my personal experience, I have met few Christians who felt the Bible banned something they personally were in favor of or felt was moral. No equivalent of “I don’t eat shellfish because God says not to, although I don’t think there’s any reason not to other than the Bible”.Report

            • Avatar Kimsie in reply to Morat20
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              Occasionally I am at this level of silliness:
              “I don’t eat shellfish because God says not to, although I don’t think there’s any reason not to other than the Bible”
              … more often, I am respectful to the dead.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Kimsie
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                That’s understandable. I’ve met a few folks like that. “This is my culture/society/religion, that’s how we live. It’s not for everyone, I’m not even saying it’s more moral other than this is what God said and we do that”.

                It’s more common in some religions and sects than others, and I’m most familiar with protestants (the traditional, evangelical, and fundamentalists sects — all three, not all three at once), and it’s…less common. Not unknown, just…

                Well, it’s not just the common method of looking at the Bible, protestantly speaking.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Morat20
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              I have had arguments over whether Jesus turned water into wine.

              Not “it’s not possible to turn water into wine” arguments, but “Jesus would not have made alcohol” arguments. “He made a really good grape juice.”

              You can point out the original Greek and it doesn’t matter.

              We’re talking about people who have a special relationship to God and, therefore, a special relationship to Truth Itself. So even though The Bible Itself says that Christ turned water into wine, we know in our hearts that this did not happen. It was grape juice.Report

  4. Avatar J@m3s Aitch
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    says:

    Very good post, Tod. For me it serves to highlight my on-going frustration with certain commenters here who insist that libertarianism must be perfectly ideologically consistent, or else it is not libertarianism at all. In doing so they (unwittingly?) accept the claim of those uber-libertarians who are (or at least fancy themselves to be) so undeviatingly consistent, that such consistency is an absolute requirement–the very thing you criticize here.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to J@m3s Aitch
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      James, there’s a reason libertarianism can be justifiably criticized for being inconsistent: academic as well as other formal treatments of a Theory of Libertarianism accept that a theory of libertarianism is just like any other formal theory, governed by the same theoretical principles and constraints, one of which is consistency. You may have a different conception of libertarianism than those who view it – and treat it – more formally. No problem there, of course. But my guess is that you don’t accept inconsistencies in your theory either.

      I’ll just leave it at that.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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        Eh. There’s also the problem of Libertarian being a particularly philosophical position… and by that I mean, there are really, really smart Libertarians (insert familiar list of names here) who are analytical in their approach to Liberty, to Economics, to Government, and so on.

        There are also… well, let’s call them Libertarians who are more existentialist in their approach to Libertarianism. Instead of being able to do math to explain some economic concept, they take more of a “read this poem” kind of approach to Liberty, to Economics, to Government, and so on.

        And if you say “What in the hell does Louise Gluck have to do with Government? What in the hell does Mock Orange have to do with Liberty???”, the main answer is either “Um, read it again?” or “Eat this piece of paper, wait an hour, then read it again?”

        And there will be a lot of inconsistencies between the Analytic and the Existential schools of thought. And, shit, there will be even more inconsistencies *WITHIN* the Existential school.

        And this really bugs the Analytic folks out there. And it really doesn’t bug the Existentialists. Which really bugs the Analytic folks out there even more.Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Eh. There’s also the problem of Libertarian being a particularly philosophical position… and by that I mean, there are really, really smart Libertarians (insert familiar list of names here) who are analytical in their approach to Liberty, to Economics, to Government, and so on

          And if that really smart, analytical approach leads them to “Freedom includes the freedom to sell yourself into slavery”, some boldly go where no sane man has gone before. Which is what Tod’s talking about.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to MikeSchilling
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            says:

            And the people who don’t go there can be mocked for not being analytical, or of not having the conviction to take them to the places where their beliefs take them, or of not being “real” libertarians if they’re not caricatures of libertarianism.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              Anyone can be mocked for anything at any time. If you don’t want to be mocked, stay the hell off the intertubes. But if you’re so in love with your theory that you don’t stop frequently to check it against reality, you deserve to be mocked good and hard.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                Of course.

                I’m not complaining about the mockery as much as the whole “Libertarians who do P are wrong. Oh, and Libertarians who do not P are just as wrong” dynamic going on there.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                On this side it’s “Unless you can give me the guiding principles which tell you exactly when a situation is serious enough to call for government intervention, clearly you’re just making stuff up as you go.”Report

      • Avatar jam3z Aitch. in reply to Stillwater
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        James, there’s a reason libertarianism can be justifiably criticized for being inconsistent…

        Groovy, but pointless, because of course there’s no requirement that libertarianism be treated as a formal theory any more than conservatism, liberalism, socialiam or zoro-astrianism. Let me know when you’re willing to apply the same standards to your own ism, and then we’ll have a real talk.

        But my guess is that you don’t accept inconsistencies in your theory either.

        I think this validates my theory that you’re actually playing an Andy Kaufman-type long-con gag. If you’d actually been paying attention during our discussions and wanting to have a serious conversation, this line would make no sense.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to jam3z Aitch.
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          If you’d actually been paying attention during our discussions and wanting to have a serious conversation

          James, more than anyone else here at the League I’ve paid attention to what you say and have engaged in serious discussions with you about both libertarianism and liberalism.Report

          • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Stillwater
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            says:

            Dude, paying attention and thinking I don’t accept inconsistencies in my theory isn’t nearly as plausible as Andy Kaufman being a pro wrestler. I’m in on the joke now, but go ahead and keep playing it straight; I’m getting a kick out of it.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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              says:

              Well, James, I don’t know what to say to you anymore. You’ve trolled me under aliases, trolled me straight up, tried to instigate me into fighting with you…. Now you’re engaging in this strange passive-aggressive game of personal accusations and character assessment. Knock yourself out. But I won’t play with you, dude. It’s gonna be a solo act.Report

  5. Avatar J@m3s Aitch
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    says:

    Very good post, Tod. For me it serves to highlight my on-going frustration with certain commenters here who insist that libertarianism must be perfectly ideologically consistent, or else it is not libertarianism at all. In doing so they (unwittingly?) accept the claim of those uber-libertarians who are (or at least fancy themselves to be) so undeviatingly consistent, that such consistency is an absolute requirement–the very thing you criticize here.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    Is this really the case though? I think a good argument can be made that we were just as ideologically divided in the past as we are now but that limited technology made us largely ignorant of the divisions. It could be more about willful blindness to ideology than anything else.Report

  7. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
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    says:

    “Our humanistic and democratic culture regards slavery in itself as a monstrous evil, malum in se, and it acts as though this were self-evidently true. The Bible permits Christians in slave-owning cultures to own slaves, provided they are treated well. You are a Christian. Whom do you believe?”

    There are actually two very good answers to this dilemma.

    One of them is simply not to be a Christian, because if the Christian morality can be this flawed, then it’s clearly not the product of divine revelation.

    The second has been noted by Dan Savage, and it disgusts and angers the Christians: He notes that Christians routinely ignore many different parts of the Bible without the slightest pangs of guilt. Christians aren’t supposed to swear. Or divorce. Or pray in loud, ostentatious ways.

    Jesus himself said these things. Christians routinely ignore his commands.

    If that’s okay, then ignoring Paul’s advice about keeping slaves is clearly okay as well. And maybe gay marriage is okay too. But by then we’re into liberal Christianity, in which we have to think for ourselves, and apparently whole huge congregations of Christians don’t really care for this approach.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      I think most Christians are basically good people who behave morally, for the most part. Their adherence to and interpretation of their religion has little to do with their moral goodness and the only thing surprising about that is the forceful articulation of a moral vision set forth by Jesus.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Burt Likko
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        “I think most Christians are basically good people”

        Which is a way of saying they are no different at their moral core than the rest of us, which given Jesus’s radical teachings about morality, makes you wonder how Christian most people called “Christian” really are.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Burt Likko
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        I think most Christians are basically good people who behave morally, for the most part.

        Most ‘basically good people’ who lack the ability examine their notions of good, to let that ride on someone else’s say so, do great harm. So we got native American children taken from their families and fostered by strangers, for instance. This is in my lifetime, Burt. People my age. Done to make them Christians.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to zic
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          Everyday, routine experience indicates to me that people who self-identify as Christian are as a group neither any more nor any less moral than any other kind of person.

          As individuals? There are individual specimens of morally awful Christians. There are morally awful individual atheists, too. There are morally awful specimens of everything.

          That religion gets used by some to justify morally awful things is well-documented. It’s for Christians to either apologize for or disown the sort of conduct you describe.

          Religiosity and morality appear to me, in practice, to be simply different characteristics.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to zic
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          says:

          ‘basically good people’ who lack the ability examine their notions of good,

          Most people, even those who claim to examine their notions of the good aren’t particularly reflective about it. Given that a full and critical reflection about the good probably leaves us in a place of wide ranging and almost complete scepticism about the good*, I tend to be forgiving of people who are not so reflective. Also, it seems that most of us only appear to be more reflective because our web of beliefs are in disequilibrium: Something happenned to us to create a dissonance within us which we find uncomfortable and thus seek to remove. I don’t know that it demonstrates any more love for truth than one who just failed to have such an experience. In the end, people still remain in their comfort zones, thinking comfortable thoughts.

          *How would we know that slavery is really bad or that freedom is really good? Many people seem to think so, but that is no evidence one way or another.Report

          • Avatar zic in reply to Murali
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            How would we know that slavery is really bad or that freedom is really good? Many people seem to think so, but that is no evidence one way or another.

            I think there is plenty of evidence. You might start with the Library of Congress’s Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer’s Project.
            http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to zic
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              says:

              That doesn’t prove things one way or another. Sure, it shows that slavery was deeply and horribly unpleasant to the slaves. But why should we think pain bad and pleasure good? Or let me put it another way. The slaves themselves thought that slavery was bad. Why is that evidence for slavery actually being bad?Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Murali
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                Actually, it doesn’t show that at all; it shows a mixed range of human reactions. But these are stories collected during the depression; the bearers of those stories living though Jim Crow and poverty before poverty swept most everyone up in it’s grip. There’s more then a goodly amount of longing for the good ‘ol days here.

                And yet only a voice or two amongst the crowd that would trade the freedoms of both Jim Crow and the depression for a return to the ‘comfort’ of slavery.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to zic
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                There is still no legitimate line of inference from what life they would choose for themselves and what is objectively and genuinely good.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Murali
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            “How would we know that slavery is really bad or that freedom is really good?”

            This is a good example of what my father used to call being so clever that you can cut yourself.Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to Tod Kelly
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              I know it kinda looks like I’m proving your point for you, but I’m not trying trying to argue that slavery is not wrong. All I’m trying to show is that it is not a good idea to start pointing fingers at people and saying that those people do not think very deeply and hard about their conceptions of the good. No one really does an adequate job, and outside of academia it is difficult to sustain the required critical stance.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Murali
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                Murali, you’ve repeatedly suggested this throughout this post.

                And I just gotta say: hogwash.

                I’ve known people who don’t think about good, thinking here meaning introspection and questioning, self doubt; instead, they’ve fashioned their beliefs on bedrocks of bible or politics or union or whatever. The spout dogma, not thought. Do they do this all the time? No. But we all do it some of the time. (Perhaps you’re doing it now, here, with, “No one really does an adequate job, and outside of academia it is difficult to sustain the required critical stance.”)Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to zic
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                But we all do it some of the time.

                Yes and we do it very selectively. And we almost never think critically about critical thinking itself. If we consistently thought critically about everything, we would be likely drawn into an self-paralysing doubt. Look, sure there are some people who probably don’t do the critical thinking as much. But if you think that that is genuinely a bad thing, I would ask you to take a look in the mirror. You’re not doubting yourself hard enough. There are lots of things you yourself are taking for granted.Report

    • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      There’s an even simpler answer: Christianity allows slavery; it doesn’t require it. Of course Christians who own slaves should treat them kindly, because that’s better than treating them unkindly. Freeing them is better still.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      As I read, I thought the dilemma you were going to mention was going to be the Euthyphro problem, and then it wasn’t. But then I realized it was.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      Well, see, some Christians are Originalists and some are Living Biblists. 🙂

      (Actually, that is kinda true. There is a strand of Christianity that is quite wedded to Biblical literalism. Although I think Catholics actually consider that a heresy, or at least bad theology. Many Christians see the Bible as the work of flawed men, and thus try to get what it ‘means’.

      You know, the more I think about it — there’s probably a pretty good piece on the Constitutional interpretation and Biblical interpretation. Something to annoy and offend everyone, right there. 🙂 )Report

      • Avatar Wardsmith in reply to Morat20
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        You haven’t started writing it yet? Come on, get with the annoy and offend program!Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Wardsmith
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          says:

          I didn’t mean it in the deliberately annoy people sense. I meant it in the sense that a thorough examination would probably end up goring a lot of people’s oxen, so to speak, and end up pretty much exactly where it started.

          “Well, some people try to figure out what it exactly meant then but everyone’s dead so it’s subject to interpretation, especially when you try to tie it to stuff that’s not explicit. And some people try to diving some guiding spirit or overarching concept, which is open to interpretation as well. And everyone claims everyone else is making it all up to suit [insert ulterior motive here] or fooling themselves. And some probably are, and some aren’t, and really it’s no way to run an Empire, but what can you do?”Report

    • Avatar Barry in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      “One of them is simply not to be a Christian, because if the Christian morality can be this flawed, then it’s clearly not the product of divine revelation.”

      To be technical, this isn’t true – God, after all, doesn’t *have* to be good.
      And in the internal workings of the theology Wilson is claiming to represent, us mortals don’t understand the goodness of God’s commands[1].

      “The second has been noted by Dan Savage, and it disgusts and angers the Christians: He notes that Christians routinely ignore many different parts of the Bible without the slightest pangs of guilt. Christians aren’t supposed to swear. Or divorce. Or pray in loud, ostentatious ways. ”

      This is what I posted (after your comment), above. The ones I can recall would be things that they don’t like to do, and that’s not getting into ‘turn the other cheek’ or the early Christians pooling their possessions[2].

      [1] This does not apply to any commands that they don’t like.
      [2] They can come up with other verses which are basically ‘Kill the Infidels!’, but if he wants to claim biblical literalism, that’s his problem – he has to obey *all* verses.Report

    • Avatar Jack in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      Fred Clark at the patheos slacktivist site, is the most articulate explainer of what Savage is getting at. He spends quite a bit of time hammering on his fellow evangelicals that ignore the “Christward Arc” of the bible. Well worth you time to look into any of his posts on the subject. The Abominable Shellfish, for instance, is a classic example.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      Both of these are good points and observations.

      I grew up in Reform Judaism. As I understand Reform Judaism, we believe that people wrote the Torah. It is an allegorical document of man searching for the Divine or answers to existential questions (Who are we? Why are we hear? etc.) This means that sections that might have been relevant a few thousand years ago are no longer right today. Or they were simply wrong then and are wrong now.

      http://urj.org/learning/my/books/?syspage=article&item_id=1564

      However as far as I can tell even liberal branches of Christianity don’t go this far into claiming that the New Testament/Bible was written by humans. I find this strange.

      Just because these books were written by humans does not make them less worthy of study. If anything, it means we need to study them more. We need to look at what can be useful to life today and what is not. They will become like Plato or Aristotle and other Classical philosophers.

      This is probably a fairly radical doctrine on my part.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      The institution of slavery has been practiced differently in different societies. It’s been a mobile debtors’ prison, an internship program, a system of destroying a conquered culture, a private army, a variant of serfdom. It’s been racial, religious, both, and neither. Wilson’s mistake is to think that the Bible endorses chattel slavery.

      The Catholic position has been to very rarely endorse or condemn any particular system of government or economy, but to steer the practices of those governments and economies into a more moral path. The Catholic follows the Bible, which does give authority for sorting out the moral inconsistencies between the Old and New Testaments to the apostles and their successors (the pope and bishops). Evangelicals sometimes say that the Bible interprets the Bible, which makes no sense. Rather, the Bible points to the Church and the Church points to the Bible.

      I didn’t mean to get so sermony there. The point is, Wilson creates a false dichotomy. Either you support the Southern form of slavery, which was the most degrading, dehumanizing form of slavery in human history, or you oppose the Bible. Nonsense.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      Or they could follow the Jewish solution and lawyer around their scriptures to get the result that they want. If the Torah is the constitution of the Jews than the Talmud is the living constiution interpretation of it.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      Or they could follow the Jewish solution and lawyer around their scriptures to get the result that they want. If the Torah is the constitution of the Jews than the Talmud is the living constiution interpretation of it.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      Or they could follow the Jewish solution and lawyer around their scriptures to get the result that they want. If the Torah is the constitution of the Jews than the Talmud is the living constiution interpretation of it.Report

  8. Avatar Burt Likko
    Ignored
    says:

    It must have been a real challenge to stop yourself from using the word “hobgoblin” in your essay, particularly in your description of Mr. K_______.

    Why do you think Republicans and libertarians embraced consistency as a standalone virtue faster than Democrats? Is the “left’s” preferred constellation of policies that much more complex that distillation of an ideological theme is that much more difficult?Report

    • Avatar David in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      Wouldn’t you say that the remaining Republicans are the ones who embraced consistency? It seems to have required the shedding of “Rockefeller Republicans” and other interest groups. Consistency among those that remain seems easier because we do not count the absent ones who would, in other imaginary counterfactuals, still be there and still be muddying the ideological waters.

      So I guess perhaps a more precise question might be why or how some aspects of the Republican party were able to purge it of others, and whether this had to do with media changes and consolidation, demographics, the Tea Party groundswell of outrage around issues such as the Wall Street bailout and the election of a black president, redistricting, or other reasons (all of them obviously contributed, but the degree to which they did is interesting).

      Personally, while I don’t think it’s primary, I am fascinated by the idea that redistricting was intended to make seats “safe” for a given party, and those who oversaw it greatly underestimated how a challenge from within their party could represent a serious threat to the direction they sought, perhaps too easily dividing the world into just R and D rather than different coalitions of interests within them.Report

      • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to David
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        says:

        Wouldn’t you say that the remaining Republicans are the ones who embraced consistency?

        They are pretty thick.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to David
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        says:

        This is a good point. There are no more Rockefeller Republicans like Rockefeller.

        Jacob Javits was one of the most liberal and most important Republicans in the 20th century. I doubt he would get elected today as a Republican. Democrats and Independents would love him though. Republicans will take social liberalism in very small doses like getting someone elected to NYC Mayor but they often end up driving those people away.Report

    • Avatar jam3z Aitch. in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      I don’t think the left’s ideological theme is that much more difficult or complex, I think it’s just broader, in the sense of how it can be put into practice. To radically oversimplify (but not to be at all dismissive), the left’s ideological theme can be thought of as “helping people in need of help.” There are endless ways in which people can potentially benefit from being helped, so the liberal constellation of policies is at least potentially very extensive.

      By contrast, conservatives and libertarians (to simply state their position, not to argue for it, and again, radically oversimplified) are not only more likely to be skeptical that helping policies will actually have the desired effect, they object to the very unlimitedness of the helping theme (seeing in it the potential slide to Harrison Bergeron terrain). So they either reject the helping idea as a whole* or at least want to insist on clear standards for determining stopping points in the helping regime. Either way, it works to circumscribe the preferred policy constellation, while the liberal approach tends to expand it.**

      ________________________
      *Not necessarily as applied to individual action, but as applied to government action.
      **Within what can reasonably be argued to be helping–I’m not implying that liberals love any and all interventionist government policies.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to jam3z Aitch.
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        says:

        I think that’s a very fair broad characterization of the liberal left’s (as distinct from the communist left’s – who don’t just want to help people, but in fact want to institute a maximally distributively just political-economic order) basic impulse. For a libertarian. 😉

        …But seriously, that is indeed almost exactly what I’d say it is, as well.Report

        • Avatar jam3z Aitch. in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          Well, I used to be a pretty left-liberal (market socialist, Green Party registered, etc.), so on a good day I can remember with some degree of fairness what I used to believe.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          …Of course, many liberals also “want to insist on clear standards for determining stopping points in the helping regime.” So if many libertarians do want to help but also want those limits it’s not at all clear there’s much of a distinction at all between those liberals and those libertarians.

          Also, my agreement with your characterization was directed just at the “wanting to help those needing help” bit; the second paragraph looked to address the libertarian mindset, but I see now that it makes a final claim about liberals, which I don’t agree with as a general matter. I have been always unclear about whether libertarianism will always work to constrict government no matter what the status quo situation is, but as far liberals go (a category which in my mind excludes communists, though “leftists” doesn’t), whether they seek to expand the government really depends on what the present situation is. I think most liberals have a sense of what they’d like the government to do, and aren’t seeking to expand the government as a matter of principle. (My sense is that’s the same for libertarians, but I’d prefer not to speak for them.) So the aim is not directional; the aim is toward some particular final outcome. In a sense, then, the distinction between liberals and libertarians of the type you suggest (who want to help, but want to place limits on the helping regime) is not fundamentally in the direction of movement toward larger or smaller government, but just in what place they’d like government to occupy on the scale. I know for a fact that a number of liberals would be in favor of making government smaller if it were sufficiently large and intrusive, and I believe many libertarians would be in favor of expanding it if were sufficiently limited. So I actually wonder whether directional preference is the wrong way to describe these preferences.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Michael Drew
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            says:

            There always has been government most liberals want less of. Almost all liberals want less of at least one if not more of the the WOD, oppressive policeing, the surveillance state and the military industrial complex.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to jam3z Aitch.
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        says:

        These are good points. The arguments on the left about how and what will best help the broadest number of people. I think I explained this a bit below.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to jam3z Aitch.
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        says:

        James, I thought that Harrison Bergeon was intended to be a satire on the conservative view of liberalism/socialism rather than an illustration of it.Report

        • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to LeeEsq
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          says:

          Lee,

          I honestly don’t know. I only know that libertarians are wont to reference it, or at least a hypothetical state similar enough to it to spook them, which is why I referenced it. Perhaps the joke’s doubly on them?Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to j@m3z Aitch.
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            says:

            I just remember reading that Vonegurt (sp?) intended Harrison Bergeon to be a parody of how Ayn Rand views socialism. Considering his typical politics, this views seems more plausible than the idea that Harrison Bergeon is a straight satire of socialism.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to j@m3z Aitch.
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            says:

            I just remember reading that Vonegurt (sp?) intended Harrison Bergeon to be a parody of how Ayn Rand views socialism. Considering his typical politics, this views seems more plausible than the idea that Harrison Bergeon is a straight satire of socialism.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to jam3z Aitch.
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        says:

        So they either reject the helping idea as a whole* or at least want to insist on clear standards for determining stopping points in the helping regime. Either way, it works to circumscribe the preferred policy constellation, while the liberal approach tends to expand it.**

        Ha. I’ve long thought the problem with the ‘welfare state’ stems from this conflict; the urge to help vs. the urge to not help too much.

        Ends up with silly rules that don’t do enough to empower people to help themselves out of poverty, reinforcing dependency and black market economies — working under the table, etc.Report

        • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to zic
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          says:

          Along with the urge to help, but only if I get to control what they do with my help. My wife and I were just tonight laughing about when we qualified for WIC. I understand wanting to help expectant and new mothers with nutrition, but, my god, who could eat so damn many eggs? We were feeding them to our dog, when we really would have liked some hash browns or biscuits and gravy. Your tax dollars at work, feeding my egg sucking hound dog, because if they’d just given us cash we might have bought bacon instead.

          But if course we might have bought Pall Malls and Boone’s Farm, too, so what’s a well-meaning policy maker supposed to do?Report

    • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      The New Deal wasn’t an ideological enterprise. It was a series of experiments to try to find ways to improve an awful situation. Ideology is required to argue that the consequences of that are necessarily worse than the Depression was.Report

      • Avatar jam3z Aitch. in reply to MikeSchilling
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        says:

        But ideology is not required to think that the experimentation may have prolonged the economic slump.Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to jam3z Aitch.
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          says:

          Though it helps in hand-waving over why things had gotten so much worse over the preceding four years, and in ignoring that much of it remained during the postwar expansion.Report

          • Avatar jam3z Aitch. in reply to MikeSchilling
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            says:

            In contrast to the hand-waving over why this particular economic panic lasted so very much longer than any others. As well as the reliance on the enduring myth that Hoover did nothing in response (and the hand waving away of FDR’s campaign criticis of Hoover for trying to do too much).Report

        • Avatar Barry in reply to jam3z Aitch.
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          says:

          Yes, as a matter of fact, it is. Google a graph of economic decline/growth in the 1930’s, and compare it with what the right says. Before you do the Googling, draw a right-wing hypothesis graph, and compare it to reality.Report

          • Avatar Barry in reply to Barry
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            says:

            Two follow-ups – first, find somebody on the right who admits to the sort of growth experienced under FDR (pre-WWII), and who admits that economic growth during the war was in fact due to government spending.

            Second, review Krugman’s columns. I believe that last week he compared the Latvian (? Lithuanian?) right-wing success story to a comparable graph of US economic growth.Report

            • Avatar jam3z Aitch. in reply to Barry
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              says:

              Barry,
              Of course there’s no other economic view of the Depression worth considering other than Krugman’s. What was I thinking?Report

              • Avatar Kimsie in reply to jam3z Aitch.
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                says:

                That’s Helicopter Ben’s specialization, ain’t it?Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to Kimsie
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                says:

                Kimsie, Bernanke, Friedman, Reed…nobody needs to read anybody but Krugman about anything at all, even if the specialty that won him the Nobel was just specialized applications of trade theory. He’s the only economist who knows anything about anything, and the fact that he suits our ideological precommitments has nothing at all to do with it. Just read him–he’ll tell you he’s right and all the others are wrong, and there’s the proof right there.Report

              • Avatar Barry in reply to j@m3z Aitch.
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                says:

                You’re saying that, not me.

                What I *will* say is that:

                1) He’s covered a lot of issues in a an approachable way.
                2) For many current disputes he’s had something say, especially when it comes to debunking ages-old bullsh*t.
                3) He’s been right more often than any other economist, or at least living economist.
                4) I notice that I see rightwingers b*tching at him, but I don’t seem them saying ‘Read X, because he’s been right when Krugman has been wrong’.Report

              • Avatar Kimsie in reply to Barry
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                says:

                Barry,
                I hear fucking leftwingers saying read Mises because he’s right when Keynes is wrong.

                Maybe it’s because I listen to folks who have worked with Krugman (who is, for the record, a good guy with decent insights).

                3)??? Jeepers, talk about silly. Him and DeLong, and a bunch of other folks have all been talking the same talk for so long that they can finish each other’s sentences. Besides, you haven’t even mentioned Dr. Doom…Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to Barry
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                says:

                Barry,

                I have repeatedly encouraged people to read Krugman’s pop econ books. And his textbook is deservedly one of the most widely used.

                My objection is not to Krugman, even though I am not always in agreement with him. My objection is to people who think that they only economist they need to ever read in order to understand things is Krugman. The answer “read Krugman” is exactly equal to the answer “read Friedman” or “read Mises,” etc. etc. If all you read is Krugman, all you’ll have is Krugman’s take on the argument. And just because he makes a critique of someone else’s argument does not mean he’s always right, or that they don’t have a good rebuttal–but you’ll never hear their counterarguments if the only economist you read is Krugman.

                You want some enlightening reading? Here’s a nice list of articles showing what’s wrong with macroeconomics. Ultimately it’s naive to cling to any particular economist’s macroeconomic arguments because macro is a hell of a messy field, with not a helluva lot of consensus. And Krugman’s op-eds are his approach to that field, which of course he tries to sell with all his abundant rhetorical skill (as would any of his critics, were they in his place), but they are not unvarnished proven macroeconomic truth, no matter how often he asserts that all the data (he sees fit to address–again, no differently from his critics) is on his side.

                He’s not the problem, I say again. And I encourage everyone who wants a quick but valuable introduction to economic thought to read his pop econ books. The problem is those for whom Krugman is their only economist.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot4 in reply to Barry
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                says:

                “My objection is to people who think that they only economist they need to ever read in order to understand things is Krugman. The answer “read Krugman” is exactly equal to the answer “read Friedman” or “read Mises,””

                Well, the thing is, if you believe one, it is hard not to believe the other is a crank.

                I don’t need to read a bunch about 9/11 trutherism, even if it is clever and presented carefully, and well respected by a lot of people. I’ve been exposed to the idea and believe that it is bunk, and it won’t pay for me to keep reading more and more about either Mises or 9/11 trutherism.

                That’s not to say that Mises is as crazy as a truther, just to say that some controversies between the views of X and Y should be mostly ignored by most of us and only X’s view learned and thought about.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot4 in reply to Barry
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                says:

                Here is Delong not respecting Mises at all. Mises Vs Delong isn’t two views that respect each other as being “maybe right,” but one must be crazy and the other not.

                IMO, Delong and Krugman are the non-crazies and Mises is the truther. Maybe you think Mises is right. (Maybe someone thinks trutherism is right.) But they can’t both be reasonable approximations of the truth that reasonable people disagree about.

                IMO.

                “In comments, rootless_e warns:

                Attempts to make sense out of right wing Austrian economics can never amount to anything.

                Nevertheless, like a moth to a flame–or like a dog to vomit, or like a dog to something worse–whenever I see something like:

                Ludwig von Mises: Attempts to carry out economic reforms from the monetary side can never amount to anything but an artificial stimulation of economic activity by an expansion of the circulation, and this, as must constantly be emphasized, must necessarily lead to crisis and depression. Recurring economic crises are nothing but the consequence of attempts, despite all the teachings of experience and all the warnings of the economists, to stimulate economic activity by means of additional credit…

                I find myself under a mysterious but inexorable and irresistible compulsion to waste what would otherwise be productive work time trying to make some kind of sense of it–to at least understand wherein lies the error, and how somebody trying very hard to understand the economy (never mind that he is a big fan of the political leadership of Benito Mussolini) can go so pathetically wrong.”

                http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2011/11/fictitious-wealth-and-ludwig-von-mises.htmlReport

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Barry
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                says:

                Well, the thing is, if you believe one, it is hard not to believe the other is a crank.

                No, the thing is if you only read one, you’re in no position to judge him/her vs. others.

                And I’m not talking about Mises, but I suppose from your perspective it’s necessary to assume that, instead of a more serious target. There are a number of serious living economists–non-Austrians, as a matter of fact– challenging Krugman. That you have to resort to a dead guy, and automatically assume just the Austria s, instead of knowing any of Krugman’s contemporaries, tends to reinforce my point.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot4 in reply to Barry
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                says:

                I was responding to this:

                ” The answer “read Krugman” is exactly equal to the answer “read Friedman” or “read Mises,” etc. etc.”

                That is why I used Mises. Just using your example. Didn’t mean anything by it.

                Sure, there are some people who are a little closer to Austrians in their outlook whose ideas are within the bounds of reasonable, even if you accept the Delong-Krugman-Avent-Baker-WrenLewis-Wolf-Summers axis’ view. Maybe Greg Mankiw is a good example of a right-leaning, or Austrian-leaning, mostly New-Keynsian guy who should be read on occasion.

                But you can be aware of their general approach just by reading Krugman and a few others. And most of the differences between the mildly Austrian-leaning and the Delongs and Krugmans matters so little that you can just read the Delongs.

                You can ignore the Austerians and the goldbugs and those too far to that pole altogether once you have any sense that the Krugman-Delong-etc. axis is correct, which you should.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot4 in reply to Barry
                Ignored
                says:

                Who are the serious Austrians?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Barry
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                says:

                I’LL TELL YOU WHO A SERIOUS AUSTRIAN WASReport

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Barry
                Ignored
                says:

                Sigh, you’re still focusing on Austrians. Forget about the Aystejans, they’re neither here nor there. Focus on the non-Austrian critics of Krugman, and if you don’t know their names, and can’t identify them with their schools of thought, then you’re still demonstrating my point.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Barry
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                says:

                Who are the serious Austrians?

                Not that I said anything about serious Austrians, but I’d their Arnold Kling’s name out there. Reading him can help dispel the cartoonish vision so many people (libertarians included, mind) have of Austrian economic theory. There is some good stuff in there if you have eyes to see, but it can be hard to look past all the whackjobs who mistakenly think it’s all about goldbuggery (and so provide a convenient foil for those who want to dismiss it in toto without really understanding it).Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Barry
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                says:

                By non-Austrians, are you thinking of Hayekians, like the guys at Cafe Hayek? Russell Roberts is the main guy there, IIRC. Everything I say about the Austrians applies to the Hayekians too. If you accept the Delong-Krugman-WrenLewis-Wolf-etc. view, then hard-core Hayekians are as reasonable as 9/11 truthers, and the mild Hayekians are probably mostly wrong, even if more reasonable.

                Here is Delong using scare quotes around describing Roberts as an “economist.”

                http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2010/02/economist-russ-roberts-liar.html

                If you mean that there are people who disagree with Krugman and whom Krugman disagrees with on some details of economics within the axis I’m referring to, sure. No two people agree on everything, and I suspect no two economists agree on all the details.

                But if you don’t have time to learn about the minutiae of economics, I suspect you will find a tremendous amount of basic agreement amomgst the non-Austrian, non-Hayekian, non-goldbug economists, and so if you only need the basics, reading Krugman (or Delong, or Wren Lewis) is enough to be pretty well-informed about the truth.

                By analogy, you don’t need to read all the Rationalists to understand the basics (and what is important) in Rationalism.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Barry
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                says:

                Not sure (really I don’t know) if Kling is only a part-time, not very influential academic, who mostly blogs simple explanations of laissez-faire politics and economic ideas. (Is he really a serious economist? Maybe he is. Still, Mankiw is a good example of a serious economist, even if Kling isn’t.)

                There is a paper from Kling arguing that Krugman has understated the problem that government debt causes for future generations. But it is pretty mild and the Krugman axis has a response along Noahpinion’s lines here:

                http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/is-debt-burden-on-future-generations.html

                I think if you read Krugman, (and or Delong or Avent or someone from the axis) you’ll see them explaining these possible objections and refuting them or pointing out how they are resolved.

                I wouldn’t say Kling is an essential read for anyone. If you need important economic basics, you don’t need him, and serious detailed scholarship (maybe with exceptions, what do I kmow) largely runs around him, not through him.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Barry
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                says:

                Shazbot:

                1. Hayekians are a branch of Austrians, so you’re still showing that you don’t know who else is out there.

                2. Of course Krugman, et al, have responses. Others have responses to those responses. Apparently you don’t read them, so you’re assuming that Krugman’s, et al’s, responses are conclusive, but you don’t really know because you are unfamiliar with the responses to their response.

                For the record, I do read Krugman and DeLong. I have their blogs bookmarked, along with a number of others. This is a large part of my point–I’m not limiting myself to a narrow range of economic opinion, in contrast to many devout Austrians as well as many Krugman devotees.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Barry
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                says:

                P.S. if you think Kling only makes simple laissez fairs explanations then I think you don’t understand how his argument about patterns of sustainable specialization and trade are a challenge to Keynesian arguments. Is he right? I don’t know, but if you understand his argument, it’s not so readily dismissable as “simple laissez faire.” The question is, are you willing to challenge your preconceptions bt making a serious attempt to understand his argument ( and I mean serious, not just skimming if looking for the things you don’t like, and not immediately turning to Krugman to justify rejecting it, but chewing on it for a while before coming to conclusions).Report

              • Avatar Kimsie in reply to Barry
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                says:

                Shaz,
                Look here: I just read that portion you quoted from Mises. He’s right. MOST monetary policy makes bubbles (perhaps a very well tuned one might not). The policy we’re employing right now will probably make a bubble.
                And more importantly, for the time he was writing, he was right.

                Many people have had important insights. (Milton Friedman’s insights are most interesting, because he changed his mind on a variety of things…)Report

              • Avatar Barry in reply to jam3z Aitch.
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                says:

                You notice that I told you to look at the f-ing data. I understand that is unpleasant, but so be it.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Barry
                Ignored
                says:

                Dude, you don’t know me, and you don’t have any idea how many times I’ve looked at that data and how many different interpretations of it. That I’ve almost certainly given serious attention to more contending interpretations than have you is why I’m not too impressed with your insistence. As Darwin said, ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to MikeSchilling
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        says:

        Mike,

        I think the actual implementation of the New Deal was a-ideological, or at least the ideologies were diffuse and contentious, more a struggle by interested parties to get wheat the could out of the deal.

        However, once the New Deal state was in place, its defenders (as well as its opponents) could be intensely ideological.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      “Why do you think Republicans and libertarians embraced consistency as a standalone virtue faster than Democrats?”

      I’ll be discussing this in greater detail later in the month, but for now the short answer:

      I think it’s because since the mid-90s, conservatives have chosen to increasingly partition off mainstream information sources in favor of sources that do little but champion “conservative ideals.” They’ve chosen to praise consistency more because an increasing number or them have been in a self-made box that reinforces the wisdom of never wavering from dogma for a decade or more longer than Dems.

      As I say, more later.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat”-Will Rodgers.

      More seriously:

      The Democratic Party has always been made of too many disparate parts to be ideologically consistent. The older Democratic Party was made up of the white South (which caused plenty of problems and shameful history) and a more urbanized and often working-class Northern base. New York City was a Democratic town from the early days of the Democratic Party. The Tammany base was largely filled with working-class and often recently arrived immigrants starting with the Irish. Even during the Gilded Age, you had arguments between “Bourbon” Democrats like Grover Cleveland and those that wanted more social justice like William Jennings Bryan. Roughly the same dynamic between “Blue Dog” Democrats/DLC types and the Paul Wellstone/Elizabeth Warren Democrats of today.

      The Southern base is largely gone but the factions still remain. They are just different. Now the conservative wing of the Democratic Party tends to be technocratic, prefers things like the Earned Income Tax Credit to direct redistribution, etc, and is still wary of unions.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Also, you know, they got a lot of Republicans who joined. And the far left hasn’t really joined the Greens or anything, not in any real numbers.

        Democrats have a very strong conservative wing, a sizeable moderate wing, and a small very very liberal wing — and a sizeable number of very liberal folks who vote for Democrats because, well, there’s no one else to vote for. It’s not like the GOP is an alternative, and everyone’s still angry at Nader.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      I think its because many Republicans and libertarians have a relatively static, un-changing view of what government should or should not do and in case of conservatives what society should and should not look like. Libertarians have less static social views than conservatives. If your ideology requires a relatively unchanging version of government and society than you see consistency as a virture.

      Liberals have a more loosely-goosey view of what government should and should not do and what society should look like. During the heyday of the Great Society, most liberals would have been revulted by open homosexuality and same-sex marriage. In fact, JFK’s adminsitration actively persecuted homosexuals out of the federal government. Now equality for homosexuals and same-sex marriage is part of liberal orthodoxy and a self-evidently correct. This was a pretty fast and radical change over a period of forty or fifty years. It practically snow-balled after the end of the Clinton adminstration.

      There are doctrinaire leftists like Orthoodox Marxists and Anarchists that do stick to consistency though and have the same problems as Conservatives and Libertarians. They play a very small part in American politics becasue they are much further to the left than any elected official and do not participate in the Democratic Party actively.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        I think its because many Republicans and libertarians have a relatively static, un-changing view of what government should or should not do and in case of conservatives what society should and should not look like. Libertarians have less static social views than conservatives. If your ideology requires a relatively unchanging version of government and society than you see consistency as a virture.

        Bwahahahaha.

        Yes, those consistent views that caused them to invent, then reject, cap and trade. Or invent, then reject, a health insurance mandate. Or invent, then pass, Medicare Part D.

        I forget, are conservatives for or against immigration? (It rather depends on whether or not Hispanics vote for them.)

        War? For or against? Jackbooted thugs, yes or no?

        And those ‘static’ idea of suddenly deciding they were always against contraceptives.

        Oh, and let’s not forget the ‘Let’s get rid of all taxes and replace them with a national sales tax’ supporters.

        Right now, conservatives are against changing anything _solely_ because the group in power is not Republican, and it’s easy to stand there and assert they have a ‘static view of government’. But that is not actually true in any sense.

        During the heyday of the Great Society, most liberals would have been revulted by open homosexuality and same-sex marriage. In fact, JFK’s adminsitration actively persecuted homosexuals out of the federal government. Now equality for homosexuals and same-sex marriage is part of liberal orthodoxy and a self-evidently correct.?

        During the heyday of the Great Society, most conservatives would have been revulted by racial intergration. Now equality for the races is part of conservative orthodoxy and a self-evidently correct. This was a pretty fast and radical change over a period of forty or fifty years.

        I would point out that this is an example of the fact ‘conservatives’ are not ‘static’ as much as ‘three decades behind liberal but changing at the same rate to maintain their gap’, but the actual fact is, civil rights have very little to with ‘the role of government’ in the first place.Report

    • Avatar James Vonder Haar in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      The left had its experiment with intellectual consistency viz. Bolshevism. It didn’t work out too well.Report

  9. Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark
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    says:

    Ideology has always been with us, and most of the time it seems pretty useful: it is a structured way of thinking about moral arguments that can help produce intellectually and ethically coherent outcomes.

    Where ideology goes astray is when it becomes not much more than a signifier of a tribal identity. That is what I see prevailing now, particularly on the “right.”

    There are currently a broad set of orthodoxies that don’t so much come from a moral-intellectual framework, but are believed simply because others we trust believe them (rather like Doug Wilson in your essay). There is no reason in the world that belief in global warming should be polarized along partisan lines, or civil rights, or conviction in the essential “foreignness” of President Obama. These attitudes seem to be more akin to a badge or a vest–something adopted to assure others in our peer group that we are one of them.

    The sad part of the politics of the last 30 years (and most particularly of the post-Gingrich 18 years) is that, in the name of ideological “victory,” we are all being trained to hate and mistrust one another. (Remember, Gingrich trained his caucus to speak of liberals and liberalism using such words as “abuse,” “betray,” “bosses”, “cheat”, “corrupt”, “decay, “shame”, “traitors”–see
    a copy of his famous memo Language: A Key Mechanism of Control .)

    Ideology is no longer being used for moral reasoning, but primarily as a way of discerning “us” from “them.” And to the degree that it continues, our political dark age will persist.Report

  10. Avatar Murali
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    says:

    Nice post Tod, just a few points:

    1. My own college experience has been different. As I strive for greater and greater consistency, I find myself less and less sure of what I thought I was sure was right. More and more I find that the set of things I can prove with any reasonable confidence shrinks. Of course, getting back to the real world may involve me having to make judgments and guesses which I believe now I cannot rationally endorse, but it seems that consistency would involve me becoming less ideological not more, or is this wide ranging academic scepticism just another kind of ideology instead?

    2. I like consistency. I really really like consistency. But I don’t think it would be inconsistent for Doug Wilson to endorse a broadly liberal order (which of course would not have slavery). He does not have to think that the liberal order was the best. He of course could not consistently think that. But it could be good enough. So, I don’t think you have to sacrifice consistency in order to get people to go along with their second best.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
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      says:

      So, I don’t think you have to sacrifice consistency in order to get people to go along with their second best.

      Could you elaborate on this Murali? I’m a bit confused by what you mean.

      Suppose that a broadly liberal order excludes the possibility of slavery. Suppose that Christianity includes its possibility. That’s a pretty big inconsistency, it seems to me, and can only be reconciled by rejecting one of the two conflicting principles.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater
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        says:

        All ideologies may pick out one set of institutions as the best. In this case, slavery may well be part of the first best set of institutions as evaluated by Christians. But, some broadly liberal regime would be second or third best. Not perfectly just, but still within acceptable bounds as evaluated by the pro-slavery Christian. The pro-slavery christian (PSC) does not need to contradict any of his beliefs if he acknowledges that while there are some parts of the liberal regime that are contrary to his maximally preferred one, it does not alienate him from his values to such an extent that he has no all things considered reasons to accept the liberal order.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Murali
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      says:

      “More and more I find that the set of things I can prove with any reasonable confidence shrinks. ”

      This seems healthy, and a sign of growth. More later, but I would argue that history’s greatest evils are perpetrated by “good” people who set out to do very large acts of “good” after the prove to themselves that they have proved a great Truth.

      “But I don’t think it would be inconsistent for Doug Wilson to endorse a broadly liberal order (which of course would not have slavery).”

      Nor do I. But one of the consequences of cultures that value the purity of consistency is that they never end up leaning toward “live and let live” attitudes. Ultimately, dogma followed without judiciousness cannot abide unbelievers. Sooner or later something goes wrong (because that’s the way the universe works), and consistent ideology will demand an inconsistent scapegoat.Report

  11. Avatar zic
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    says:

    Another word for consistent might be stubborn; an inability to change your mind in the face of new information is not a feature, it’s a flaw. My grandmother thought lead paint was awesome, it went on smooth in a single coat, and even out in the weather, it lasted. My father liked DDT, used to spray it everywhere.

    What gets me in these discussions about slavery is where the crimes of slavery stop. Wilson sees rape of female slaves as wrong. That’s great. It’s actually progress of some sort. But what about the children of those female slaves? The fathers? From reading TNC, I know that the #1 impetus for slaves to run away is the breaking of their families; children and spouses sold away to another owner. Not beatings, not rapes. Family breaking. The longing for freedom was longing for the right to your family.

    So when I hear some dumbass saying it’s not a sin because it’s in the bible, I want to go and take that person’s family away. Sell ’em off. We’ll see what they think is a sin, after. Recognizing that what we did yesterday, things like smearing lead paint on our windowsills, is wrong today is a good thing. Embrace your inner flipflops, wear them with pride.Report

    • Avatar Barry in reply to zic
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      says:

      ” Wilson sees rape of female slaves as wrong. ”

      But he wants to put people in the position in which rape would be commonplace, and not very preventable. It’s sort of like me abducting a woman, selling her to somebody, and disclaiming her rape as Not My Fault.Report

    • Avatar Kimsie in reply to zic
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      says:

      You’ve never had someone volunteer to sell their kid to you as a “sex slave” (I think it involved marriage — this wasn’t me, but a friend of mine). They firmly believed that she’d have a better life with the “Nice American.”

      … I repeat, when people talk about slavery, this is fucking reality. and for a lot more people than you might think.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to zic
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      says:

      “Another word for consistent might be stubborn”

      Perhaps, but I believe there is more there when we discuss followers of ideological dogma.

      I am very stubborn about many things, but my stubbornness about them does not eventually lead to a conclusion that those that are not stubborn about those things are evil and must be “corrected,” willfully or otherwise.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Tod Kelly
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        says:

        If I believed in the Christian concepts of heaven and hell, I’d think most roads leading to hell are paved with good intentions. I’m certain that’s one of the major flaws to be aware of as a liberal.

        But I also recognize there’s no hell for the creator of that evil resulting from good intention; no payment made in the afterlife. Instead, others live in the hell they create.Report

  12. Avatar Russell Saunders
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    says:

    Fantastic post, Tod. As is typical.

    I think part of the reason the ideological purity demand is worse within the Republican tent is the GOP’s recruitment of evangelical Christians to comprise a reliable base. Conflating political and moral ideals made compromise on the former much more difficult, and that lack of compromise has bled into other non-“moral” issues. The Christian Bible is chock full of exhortations to beware of false prophets and warnings to avoid becoming “lukewarm,” and a certain kind of Christian takes those warnings literally (well… not the lukewarm part) and very seriously. Asking for compromise is anathema.

    It’s naive to rely on a certain kind of voter and then expect that their worldview won’t permeate into your political thinking.Report

  13. Avatar Pinky
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    says:

    Tod – I’m reluctant to comment on this article because I had disagreements with your original article that set up your premises. But I think I can make this comment without stirring any unnecessary pots.

    The problem isn’t consistency or inconsistency; it’s shallowness. Shallowness often looks like consistency or defends itself on its consistency. But there’s no pure R or D options among health care reform possibilities, for example. The more shallow D’s assume that anything that’s more government is D, without considering the benefits and drawbacks of various plans. The more shallow R’s make the same assumption about anything that would decrease government being more R.

    There are also shallow centrists who think that anything too D or R is too extreme, and feel very proud of themselves for walking the line between unanalyzed policies of both parties.

    I think my analysis holds truer to the real world than yours. For example, talk radio isn’t just rising out of nothing; it’s a medium that’s clearly oriented toward shallow observation. You don’t have to be consistent or inconsistent on the radio, but you have to be shallow. And take the immigration debate: no one’s discussing the merits of particular policies (well, maybe 8 people are, but I don’t know if even they are). They’re labelling things as “amnesty” or “obstructionism”. One last example: the health care reform bill. It grew by something like 1000 pages in the 24 hours before its vote. Why? Were its supporters including well-reasoned policies that were consistent with the bill’s goals? No, they were going shallow: this makes things bigger, and bigger is good, so let’s include it.

    This shallowness is reflected in the libertarian movement as well. There’s definitely a consistency among libertarians, but knee-jerk responses can be motivated by shallowness as well as by consistency. Rather than arguing how gay marriage, for example, is conservative, they cut themselves off from other conservatives and engage in the kind of white hat / black hat thinking that we saw recently when Rand Paul said something that didn’t sound like Ron Paul.

    This comment’s getting long, so I’m just going to submit and hope it stimulates some interesting discussion.Report

    • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Pinky
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      says:

      There are also shallow centrists who think that anything too D or R is too extreme, and feel very proud of themselves for walking the line between unanalyzed policies of both parties.

      That’s a heckuva good point.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Pinky
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      says:

      It grew by something like 1000 pages in the 24 hours before its vote. Why?

      Wouldn’t assuming it was for shallow reasons BE a sign of a shallowness? Offhand, I would wonder how much of that were amendments — most of them scheduled and considered in advance, but whose chance of passing was unknown.

      (Better to add them as amendments so only that part fails, than package a deal breaker into the bill proper).

      Too much of politics is..shallow like that. Let’s assume that a complicated tax code is a bad code. Why? Because it’s complicated. A long bill is a bad bill, because it’s so long. Senators don’t read every word of a bill, ergo they don’t know what they’re voting on. (And yet CEO’s and Board members who make critical decisions based on summaries and recommendations from expert staff do know what’s going on).

      We boil so much down into simplicities….cardboard cutouts of real life, because complexity makes things into shades of grey instead of absolutes.

      The same instinct that says “The correct answer must be half-way between each side” can be seen all over the place. Unwarranted assumptions based in ideology, disdain for complexity and fact, leaping to conclusions that fit your preferences instead of researching.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Morat20
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        says:

        Yeah, possibly. As I recall many of the late additions to the health care bill were proposals that had been floating around for years. Certainly there hadn’t been enough time to integrate them.

        I’m not sure if you’re saying that a long bill is a bad bill because it’s long, or if you’re saying that “a long bill is a bad bill because it’s long” is an example of shallow thinking. Maybe both?

        Maybe I can illustrate my point with an analogy. A small town wants to increase its economic activity. There are possible road projects, an airport proposal, talk about a convention center, and deals in the works for an expanded port. R is shallow if he says “no” to all of them because they’d expand government. D is shallow if he says “yes” to all of them because they’d expand government. Either move would kill the town. The intelligent debate would consider each plan’s costs and benefits within each party’s consistent ideology.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Pinky
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          says:

          Not really aware of many Democrats who are “pro” government in that sense. Seriously, the R’s have a very sizeable ‘small government’ wing, but there really is no “big government” wing on the left.

          Democrats want to expand government where they think government works best, not because a bigger government is an goal in of itself. Sure, there are a lot of places they think government might work best….but there really is no Democratic counterpart to the folks on the right who think small government is a political goal in it’s own right.

          As to the bill — I’ve heard people claim a bill is bad just because it’s long. Page count was greater than X, ergo the bill must be bad. Seriously.Report

          • Avatar Pinky in reply to Morat20
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            says:

            There’s something to be said for the small-page-count argument. The larger the bill –

            the more likely it is to be confusing or unthought-out.
            the more likely it is to have unintended consequences.
            the more likely it is to contain measures that wouldn’t be accepted otherwise.
            the greater the pressure to support “monumental” legislation.Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Morat20
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            says:

            Not really aware of many Democrats who are “pro” government in that sense. Seriously, the R’s have a very sizable ‘small government’ wing, but there really is no “big government” wing on the left.

            Indeed. Every position officially taken by the Republican party, seems to be ‘The government should always been smaller’. In fact, often when the smaller government option is taken, the GOP turns around and _demands it becomes even smaller_, even if we just did exactly what they said. Witness health insurance mandate, the ‘small government’ version of fixing health care. Or cap and trade, the ‘free market’ version of stopping pollution.

            The _few_ examples of Republicans wanting government to be bigger in _any_ sense is when it makes sprawling bureaucracies to create some sort of private industry partnership that exists solely to funnel money out of the government (Aka, Medicare part D, our military using mercenaries, etc.)

            Otherwise, the answer is _literally_ ‘make government smaller’ as the solution to every conceivable problem. Their policy is simply their policy.

            So Republicans often seem to assume that Democrats are operating in the opposite manner. That their answer is to make government ‘bigger’.

            Democrats…do not think like that. The Democrats, for better or for worse, still exist to attempt to solve problems. And, yes, the answer in politics is usually ‘Use the government’, but that’s just because, duh, the politicians are _in charge_ of the government.

            Or, in other words, the Democrats are carpenters who suggest building every structure out of wood. Which is, indeed, sometimes not the correct solution. Sometimes the free market will make metal structures, and sometimes nothing actually needs to be built at all. But the Democrats are at least trying to solve problems, and, as the people we have put in charge of the government, attempt to solve them via the government.

            Republicans, OTOH, are carpenters who insist that nothing new ever be build using wood, under any circumstances, and that all wood structures be modified to use less wood, and it appears by ‘less wood’ they actually mean ‘no wood’. Structures should instead be build out of metal…which means, as carpenters, they will just _stand there_ and hope metal structures appear out of thin air. And then they complain that the lack of magical metal structures is due to too many wooden structures.

            (Or, rather, this _used_ to be true. At this point, it’s clear the Republican’s entire operation exists solely to foil Democrats in whatever way they can. They are, in a phrase that seems to be making the rounds, ‘post policy’. They exist solely to say and do random things that will cause people to vote for them, and would be completely happy if they never actually had to cast a vote. I am describing the Republicans of a decade ago.)Report

            • Avatar Pinky in reply to DavidTC
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              says:

              Functionally, is there any difference between seeing everything as a problem that needs more wood and being in favor of more wood?Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Pinky
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                says:

                Yes. The difference is whether or not a problem is there to _be_ solved in the first place.

                Democrats may say ‘Well, there’s a hole in the side of that, and we only have wood, so we have to patch it with wood’. (Which is workable for a house but not really for a car.)

                What they don’t say is ‘We need to use more wood, let’s just pile it on the roof and in front of the door and keep having shipments of wood delivered everywhere.’ That would be the equivalent of being in favor of ‘more government’ as some sort of abstract.

                Democrats are using wood to solve problems, sometimes well, sometimes poorly, but the problems really do exist. And they only reason they seem fixated on wood is that they are only in charge of wood…they have no other options.

                Meanwhile, Republicans are wandering around removing wood from already existing structures that work just fine. Structures where there is not actually a problem, or where the problem that a hole exists already. And they’re just sorta _imagining_ that something replaced the wood.

                I think I’ve taken that analogy about as far as I can go.Report

              • Avatar Pinky in reply to DavidTC
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                says:

                Can’t think of a single piece of wood that Republicans have actually removed. In most cases, they’re saying that we’re running out of wood, we owe trillions of trees already, you’re asking for 5% more wood every year, and what are you doing repairing the first floor of a skyscraper with wood anyway? This needs a more solid foundation than anything you’re using, and the whole thing is going to collapse.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Pinky
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                says:

                actually, they’re busy selling off the trees to the highest bidder on the free market and to then mining the land that used to be a forest.Report

              • Avatar Pinky in reply to zic
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m not sure what you mean – maybe we really have pushed the analogy too far.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Pinky
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                says:

                Can’t think of a single piece of wood that Republicans have actually removed.

                ‘Running around removing wood’ was an exaggeration on my part. They almost never got anything passed like that. That’s mostly because there have been two different trends in the Republican party, and they sorta cancel out the other, causing nothing to happen.

                The first is the what I’m describing, where all government is bad, period, and all government should be removed, period. This is getting stronger and stronger, and started skyrocketing the instant that Obama took office. Let’s call this trend A. (This has always been sorta the stated position of Republicans, but they clearly didn’t _believe_ it until recently.)

                The most ‘pure’ example of this was during the last election, when various candidates asserted they would remove multiple _entire Cabinet Departments_.

                The other slope is their willingness to actually make policy, which has constantly decreased since Obama took office. Let’s call this trend B.

                So at some point in the past, Republicans would sometimes propose insane ideas, like Bush trying to privatize Social security. But other Republicans were not not as high on A, and shoot it down.

                Nowadays, of course, Republicans are willing to literally do anything like that as they are all have high enough A, (Witness the Paul Ryan budget, which privatized Medicare)

                But the Republicans are not even _trying_ to get actual laws passed anymore by the actual government…bills exist solely to vote for or against and than run around yammering about how they voted. Yes, yes, it would be pretty hard for them to get things passed now, but they are not actually trying to come up with anything that could pass. They have hit bottom on B. Their sole remaining policy seems to be ‘tax cuts’.

                The only ‘wood removing’ ones that passed were ones that no one actually understood what was going on when they did pass. NAFTA and crippling then repealing Glass–Steagall spring to mind. (Which also, you may note, got Democratic support.)Report

            • Avatar Pinky in reply to DavidTC
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              says:

              And let me clarify my point. There are plenty of shallow people on the left/right who root for anything representing bigger/smaller government or a victory for a D/R just because it’s their team. It doesn’t matter how many experts there are who can articulate the D/R position well; there is an increasing and increasingly vocal number of D’s/R’s who will support little more than caricatures of their party’s or side’s policies. If you can’t see that this is true on both sides of the “/”, you’re missing something.

              Now, it’s tough to tell who the reasonable or dim people are a lot of the time. This is because we talk in shorthand. This is a bigger problem than we realize. The thoughtful conservative may support the reduction of tax rates on investment earnings along with the elimination of tax loopholes, believing that this would be revenue-neutral and have a positive impact on the economy. He may express this by saying “the rich pay more than their fair share”. Another thoughtful conservative would hear that and know what he means. A dim conservative may hear that and think “the rich pay more than their fair share”, and believe that’s a fully-formed opinion. A dim liberal may hear it, think “no they don’t”, and think that’s a fully-formed opinion. The intelligent liberal may use that short-hand statement against the intelligent conservative to score points. Of course, as above, this applies to either side of the aisle.Report

              • Avatar kenB in reply to Pinky
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                says:

                +1. The BHL post that Murali’s Self-Criticism post referenced had in turn referenced a Bryan Caplan post along similar lines, though specific to macroeconomics.Report

              • Avatar Pinky in reply to kenB
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                says:

                Good link. Krugman’s comment is like a how-to guide for selection bias. It’s a common enough failing, but it’s particularly ugly on an economist.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Pinky
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                says:

                I don’t entirely agree, because you’ve changed it from what you stated the ‘shallow’ opposition was. There are shallow people on both sides. What Morat20 and I were disagreeing with was that shallow people on the left were in favor of ‘more’ government.

                The ‘shallow’ position on the right is, indeed, less government. Anti-government.

                The ‘shallow’ position on the left is _not_ more government. It might be just randomly giving large amounts of money to the poor, or demanding that businesses hire minorities, or demanding that no one ever build anywhere that animals live, or whatever.(Although those are more parodies of the left that don’t actually exist, but I will assume that they exist in real life _somewhere_.)

                But the left, even the shallow left, is not ‘pro-government’. If, for example, someone were to propose that the government build an FBI station in every single town and staff it, the shallow left would be just as confused as everyone else.

                Even the most shallow person on the left is only ‘pro-government’ to the extent that they think they have a problem and they think they have come up with a government solution to it. They’re not ‘pro-government’ in some sort of abstract. (1)

                OTOH, if someone were to propose closing down post offices…hey, wait, the right actually is trying to secretly do that, right now. And there no problem with the post offices right now, and the right is working, right now, to get rid of them, for no reason other than they are ‘government’.

                1) Well, I presume there’s some shallow left person who has come to the conclusion that to create jobs government should make up pretend jobs and hire everyone for them, and to do that the government should become huge as a goal in and of itself to ‘create jobs’. But even this imaginary person is only ‘pro-government’ in that they think the government would be solving a problem.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Pinky
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      says:

      One last example: the health care reform bill. It grew by something like 1000 pages in the 24 hours before its vote. Why? Were its supporters including well-reasoned policies that were consistent with the bill’s goals? No, they were going shallow: this makes things bigger, and bigger is good, so let’s include it.

      This was (and still is) silly. It’s like suggesting ‘big’ or ‘small’ are good measures of government.

      There are rules of how legislation is written; silly little rules. Documents that fit into a handfull of pages can take several times that amount when finally formatted for print as an official bill. That’s a very big part of the ‘why,’ and I’m sure there are lawyers here who can explain it better; but I do know that formatting legal language into actual bills is highly specialized, complex, and uses reams and reams of unnecessary paper if things were, instead, printed compactly like the average magazine or newspaper.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to zic
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        says:

        I can speak to the formatting rules for Colorado’s state legislature from experience. The legislature’s perspective is that there is an enormous mass of existing statute. Bills make changes to that corpus, and are structured to allow someone reading the bill to see: (1) what existing language remains unchanged, (2) what existing language is removed, (3) what new language is being inserted and where, and (4) how will the modified statute read. So you end up with a document that consists of a list of “deltas” like, “In Colorado Revised Statutes, 39-26-703, amend (2) (d) as follows…” with existing language in normal font, parts to be dropped in strike-through, and new language in small caps. Setting your mind in the right mode allows you to do all four of the things mentioned above. Bills that touch existing statute in several places can quickly become quite large. Committee reports are written as deltas-to-the-deltas, or deltas-to-the-deltas-to-the-deltas. During the session that I was lead staffer for the House Appropriations Committee, it was my responsibility to proof all of that committee’s reports. A former career that included computer programming was useful experience — mismatched punctuation is mismatched punctuation, no matter the setting. There was a certain amount of brain-damage — I still think that ending a sentence with ;”,”.;”. is an okay thing.

        Health care financing was already complex, touching lots of parts of the tax code, lots of parts of other human services programs, etc. Even if the approach had been something conceptually simpler — eg, Medicare for all replacing all other government spending on health care — the document would have been enormous, just because there are so many places that changes would have to be made.Report

    • Avatar Jim McBride in reply to Pinky
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      says:

      Talk radio is for the goldfish-brained conservative core believers. You have to fit your points into 5 minutes of screaming before the commercial break and then be ready to repeat the screaming after the commercial break. It helps to have an audience with all the short-term memory of goldfishes who come round the bowl after the break saying “hey look, a castle” all over again.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Pinky
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      says:

      “The problem isn’t consistency or inconsistency; it’s shallowness.”

      I agree that this a large part of it, but it is certainly not all of it. I mean, Sean Hannity is certainly shallow, but having read and watched Wilson it is difficult to make that assessment of him. He is remarkably well read, and I would argue, deeply thoughtful. So I’m not sure that I conclude that you have to be shallow to get to a place to approve of evil acts like slavery.

      If anything, I would argue that what he lacks isn’t depth, but empathy.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Tod Kelly
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        says:

        See, I began that sentence with “the problem”. That’s sloppy on my part. So let me clear it up.

        I’m saying that “the problem” isn’t that some guy supports slavery. The problem that you are addressing in this series of articles, as I understand it, is the weird, paralyzing partisanship and/or ideological stiffness we’re seeing more of. You used the slavery guy as an example of the problem.

        I see the problem of partisan/ideological whatever as being driven by a different force. Let me tell you about a friend of mine: a huge Georgetown basketball fan. Ridiculously high expectations for the team. Every call that goes against them is bad. He watches their games with the sound off, because he can’t handle the commentators saying things like “the other team is playing well”. He’s also a political junkie – in the exact same way. I’ve never seen this kind of sports-fan thinking in politics before, but I’m seeing it a lot lately. It strikes me as uniquely shallow. Any congressman who votes on our side is a good guy until he votes against our side, then he’s a bad guy. If a reporter doesn’t cover the latest scandal, he’s a bad guy; if he does, he’s probably deflecting or covering up the real dirt.

        It’s a type of paranoia, and no matter how complicated paranoid fantasies get, they’re simplistic in their view of The Opposite Side. Any type of analysis of our current political problem should deal with this shallowness as a major element.Report

  14. Avatar Annelid Gustator
    Ignored
    says:

    Ideology helps us make sense of a world rife with randomness. Also helps temper the dissapointments from a Just World worldview.Report

  15. Avatar Barry
    Ignored
    says:

    Tod, one thought that I have about your article is that if we have to actually re-fight the intellectual battle against slavery, then perhaps your philosophy is wrong. Frankly, we know what Wilson is – a BEEEEEEEEEEEEPing racist BEEEEEEEEEEEP, who uses the Bible in the most selective manner possible, to justify his pre-existing racist BEEEEEEEEEEEPery.Report

  16. Avatar Kazzy
    Ignored
    says:

    Really interesting piece, Tod. It challenges many of my assumptions. As you can see from some of the questions I pose here, I can be doggedly consistent, often to a fault. “Hey, if I have a natural right to a gun for self-defense, obviously I have a right to a nuclear weapon. As does Iran.” Pulling back, I often realize that this is not actually what I believe, but is the logical conclusion I either arrive at or see off in the distance absent a principled change of direction. “Well, that’s just different,” or, “That’s just the way it’s done,” doesn’t work for me. But once a principle is articulated that can reasonably justify why a strict adherence to consistency is unwarranted, I can accept it. I just need that principle to be there.

    I don’t know what this says about me but I appreciate this essay for giving me a different way to think about how I view the world and arrive at my positions and perspectives.Report

  17. Avatar NewDealer
    Ignored
    says:

    As others have said, an excellent post.

    I agree with LeeEsq though and think that partisanship might be natural. So is living among like minded people for a variety of factors. I know it is fairly fashionable to bemoan political parties and bring up Washington arguing against them. However, political parties are natural. People are going to join together for a bunch of like minded goals. There is strength and pooling of resources in numbers.

    Same with the Big Sort type of stuff. Living among like-minded people might produce more extreme politics but it also reduces a lot of blood pressure issues.Report

  18. Avatar Barry
    Ignored
    says:

    ” In his earlier work Southern Slavery, As It Was, Wilson makes the profoundly odd and inflammatory argument that “slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since.” ”

    Well, that’s ‘Thou shalt not lie’ as a verse which doesn’t seem to bind Wilson much.

    ” I want to stress once again that despite these statements, Wilson is not an outlying pariah in the mold of Fred Phelps; he is greatly respected by peers, allies and opponents on the left alike. He just also happens to be someone who has reasoned out that it’s perfectly acceptable (and in certain cases, good) to own people.”

    This says more about the people who respect him. One the right it’s probably a simple matter of slavery not being a deal-breaker,. On the – very likely not left, but squishy ‘why can’t we all get along?’ sorta liberals – the fact that they have neither the integrity or b*lls to stand up for something.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Barry
      Ignored
      says:

      Before we go too far declaring that Wilson speaks for a growing number of people, I have to say that I’d never heard of the guy. He’s a preacher in Idaho. It’s not like Hitchens or Sullivan are tough to coax onto stage for a debate. Wikipedia says that New Saint Andrews College has an academic staff of 17.Report

      • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Pinky
        Ignored
        says:

        To be fair, Hitchens is getting tougher.Report

      • Avatar Ardith Betz in reply to Pinky
        Ignored
        says:

        Wilson probably speaks for a growing number of people, but it’s a quite small number of people that isn’t growing astronomically, although it probably is growing in certain circles where formal Classical educational systems and very conservative Reformed thinking overlap.

        Basically, he’s what I’d consider a fundamentalist-minded Reformed type with some rather unorthodox theological positions. (Federal Vision, if anyone cares to get into the weeds) I can’t actually tell if his extreme focus on hierarchy is a result of the theology, or if the theology is used as a defense of the hierarchy obsession, but I’d almost wager money that the two are related. The slavery defense is one aspect, his praise of patriarchy (yes, actually, full-on male-dominant, father-as-king-of-household patriarchy) as a Good Thing is another.

        But he’d really, really like it if lots of people started assuming he speaks for a wide swath of Christians, I’m sure.Report

  19. Avatar Barry
    Ignored
    says:

    “… he is greatly respected by peers, allies and opponents on the left alike. ”

    BTW – are any of these ‘opponents on the left’ black?Report

  20. Avatar greginak
    Ignored
    says:

    Great post Tod. A couple things: Wilson’s statement that slavery produced a genuine affection is bit more then odd and inflammatory. It’s a direct rationalization that slave holders used. He isn’t even really re-framing it at all. Its a bit much to laud the intelligence of a guy who uses the rationalization of the powerful to justify the predations of the powerful.

    Lot’s of pixel have been spilled over the idea that people are naturally partisan or ideological. I’m not really sure about that so i’ll push back. For most of human civilization people have lived in small villages, tribal groups or in small areas of cities. The life we have now where we can frequently travel far away from our home and also interact with many people from all over the world is relatively new and open to far more people than in years past. So most people had to be able to get along with the same darn people you were raised with and going to die with. You had to keep the peace with your extended family and every body else in the smallish circle of people that likely made up most of all the people you would ever know. Given that situation i tend to think people used to prize getting along with each other and finding ways to avoid partisan fights with each other. Of course that could also mean people kept their partisan battles for people on the other side of the next hill and all believed the same things in their own village. But i think there is a point to be made that people used to have work at getting along with each other when you lived in small communities. Being to partisan is not good for the peace in a small community.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to greginak
      Ignored
      says:

      But being partisan is especially good for the tribe. When you are partisan, you think that even if Joe is a bit different, since he is your tribe he is okay. That’s why lots of Democrats are willing to forgive Obama on what would be uncoscionable if done by a Republican. Partisanship is all about the tribe and not about the ideology. (Which is why I think partisanship is the opposite of the impulse to be ideological)Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Murali
        Ignored
        says:

        But to much partisanship also risks serious friction. Inside tribes/groups/villages there is a need to get along with people. Sometimes people deal with that by stuffing all their emotions until they are a barely contained stew of anger or they just move away. But for most of human history people had to be able to work and live with people for most if not all their lives. That requires some ability to see past ideology or keep the partisan hate focused on the out group.Report

        • Avatar Kimsie in reply to greginak
          Ignored
          says:

          lol. no, it meant stealing from your sister when the gypsies were in town.
          and boinking your brother’s wife, who then mysteriously has a changeling.
          (oh, the second’s just england. in France, they’d boink the next town over’s wives).Report

    • Avatar Barry in reply to greginak
      Ignored
      says:

      “Great post Tod. A couple things: Wilson’s statement that slavery produced a genuine affection is bit more then odd and inflammatory. It’s a direct rationalization that slave holders used. He isn’t even really re-framing it at all. Its a bit much to laud the intelligence of a guy who uses the rationalization of the powerful to justify the predations of the powerful.”

      To me “slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since.” is far more than a ‘bit more then odd and inflammatory.’.

      I can’t see how anybody could read that, and conclude that Wilson is either severely and persistently deluded, or a liar.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Barry
        Ignored
        says:

        But his slave was a slave!

        No! His slave was a black guy!

        His black guy was a slave?

        Shit… I know it’s something like that…Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Barry
        Ignored
        says:

        I dont’ know why Wilson would be a liar. He seems honest enough to me. He just has a Gone with the Wind level understanding of slavery among his other faults. He clearly doesn’t know Jackpoop about what slavery was like which likely makes his rationalizations and rigidity easier for him.Report

        • Avatar Barry in reply to greginak
          Ignored
          says:

          “He just has a Gone with the Wind level understanding of slavery among his other faults. He clearly doesn’t know Jackpoop about what slavery was like which likely makes his rationalizations and rigidity easier for him.”

          Well, we have two major possibilities:
          1) He’s been writing on this for years, but somehow never found out what slavery was really like. He wrote an entire book on slavery, and somehow never found out what slavery was really like. He’s been giving lectures and sermons and debates on slavery for years, and and somehow never found out what slavery was really like.

          2) He’s a racist liar who hides behind the Bible as needed.

          Which would you bet on?Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Barry
            Ignored
            says:

            I’m not sure the point of this. I don’t think he is a liar. I think he’s a crank, a brittle rigid ideologue and ignorant of what doesn’t suit him and especially ignorant of the conditions of slavery in the US.Report

  21. Avatar DBrown
    Ignored
    says:

    Not sure why this particular subject (justifying slavery) should even be posted here but because I don’t see any need to bring up this hateful subject except to denounce its practice (since it still goes on in our world.) Anyone who how thinks owning another human being as property is good or ever was good is either crazy or very evil. As for the bible, who cares what it says on that topic – that book is confused, and says all sorts of strange things that are often sick, murderous, and frankly, at times unhinged (this being one of those.) Really, religion is not useful as a source of moral authority in today’s world or to prove any moral point.Report

  22. Avatar Ethan Gach
    Ignored
    says:

    Great post Tod.

    One quibble (which someone might have raised above):

    “When judged on the merits of Christian conservative consistency, everything Wilson says about slavery being an acceptable thing is completely, absolutely, one hundred percent correct.”

    I think that’s highly debatable.Report

  23. Avatar James Vonder Haar
    Ignored
    says:

    “Judiciousness” seems to be carrying a lot of water in this conversation, but I’m not quite sure I understand precisely what you mean by it. At its worst, I suppose it would look like a kind of mushy centrism that strives to stay firmly planted in the center of the Overton Window, no matter where the fringes have managed to pull it in their tug of war. At its best, a kind of hard-nosed pragmatism that concerns itself with the art of the possible in governance, not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    The problem with this approach, as I see it, is two-fold. The first I already alluded to – even taking the most charitable interpretation of the principle, it places Inez’s judgment, to my mind, at too much the mercy of what’s occurring on the fringes. What seems reasonable and centrist is largely determined by the piles the extremes hash out; a judicious person in this sense seems to me to simply be swept along in history’s currents, not really an active particiReport

  24. Avatar James Vonder Haar
    Ignored
    says:

    “Judiciousness” seems to be carrying a lot of water in this conversation, but I’m not quite sure I understand precisely what you mean by it. At its worst, I suppose it would look like a kind of mushy centrism that strives to stay firmly planted in the center of the Overton Window, no matter where the fringes have managed to pull it in their tug of war. At its best, a kind of hard-nosed pragmatism that concerns itself with the art of the possible in governance, not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    The problem with this approach, as I see it, is two-fold. The first I already alluded to – even taking the most charitable interpretation of the principle, it places Inez’s judgment, to my mind, at too much the mercy of what’s occurring on the fringes. What seems reasonable and centrist is largely determined by the piles the extremes hash out; a judicious person in this sense seems to me to simply be swept along in history’s currents, not really an active participant. What he believes to be reasonable was settled by the ideologues two decades earlier. As Keynes said, “practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

    The other problem is that the principles of justice do not shift with the Overton window. No one was more injudicious in your sense, I believe, than the fire-breathing abolitionists. Stonewall was certainly injudicious. So was Selma, probably. The judicious view in 1970 was to support no-fault divorce, but not liberalization of sodomy laws, in 1990 the repeal o sodomy laws but not gay marriage, and in 2000 to support civil unions rather than gay marriage. Without injudicious people, we would make no progress at all.Report

  25. Avatar Shazbot4
    Ignored
    says:

    Why say that consistency in ideas (I think you mean in ethical and political normative theories, not mathematics or physics, say) is not always a good thing?

    Why not say that holding this dude’s ideas consistently is an awful and crazy thing?

    I see no reason to blame consistency but rather these ideas. What am I missing?Report

  26. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto
    Ignored
    says:

    What happens when more and more Christian conservatives realize this, and decide that ideological consistency is a higher ideal to strive for than judicious governance? If we were all good Christians, Wilson claims, such a world might be quite harmonious indeed.

    What do you mean “when”?Report

  27. Avatar Troublesome Frog
    Ignored
    says:

    “slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since.”

    I think that David Sedaris said it best:

    I think history has proven that something usually comes between slavery and friendship, a period of time marked not by cookies and quiet times beside the fire but by bloodshed and mutual hostility.

    Report

  28. Avatar bstr
    Ignored
    says:

    I did not read the other comments, so someone has likely already asked the question, How much would it cost to buy the gentle preacher? I’ve got a yard that is too large for me to handle these days and a great shed that he could sleep in at night. I would never beat him nor deny him water, but I would not stand for any preaching. bstrReport

  29. Avatar James K
    Ignored
    says:

    This is a great post Tod, but I do have a couple of quibbles:
    1) I think Wilson’s problems are due more to epistemology rather than consistency. Wilson’s problem is that he believes that a morally perfect, extra-dimensional entity arranged to have a book written that is the single correct guide to morality. That guide endorses slavery, so he has little choice but to try and reconcile what he knows with what he believes to be true. He’s trying for the good kind of consistency, making your beliefs consistent with the facts, he’s failing so badly because he has bad facts.

    2) To follow on from above, I’n not sure consistency is precisely the right word for the problem you identify. I think the real problem is with having an overly simple ideology, the simpler your ideology is, the less recognition of trade-offs you all, then the more sacrifices you have to make to maintain consistency.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to James K
      Ignored
      says:

      There is a larger consistency problem here right? Because if he has an epistemological problem, it is due to inconsistently applying sceptical scrutiny. i.e. he does not apply the same level of scrutiny to his own beliefs that he does to others’ beliefs.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Murali
        Ignored
        says:

        Although that’s the exact opposite type of consistency problem that Tod was talking about. In any case, I would categorise Wilson’s problem as trying to be consistent and failing, rather than being too consistent.Report

        • Avatar Barry in reply to James K
          Ignored
          says:

          With a particular and highly non-random failing.

          What amazes me is that we have a history here, folks.
          Do you think that he was just flipping through the Bible, and noticed verses on slavery, and slapped his forehead, saying “OMG, I’ve been not preaching in favor of this thing called ‘slavery’!”.Report

          • Avatar James K in reply to Barry
            Ignored
            says:

            The funny thing is, that based on what Tod wrote, he doesn’t seem like a standard Neoconfederalist type, he accepts that American slave owners did horrible things to slaves, he just doesn’t think enslaving them was one of those bad things.

            Don’t get me wrong, his morality is clearly utterly deranged. And maybe he harbours some racism that informs his views, after all I can’t read his mind, but I think the real problem here is that he’s earnestly trying to have a Biblical morality, that there’s just no way that can end well.Report

    • Avatar Barry in reply to James K
      Ignored
      says:

      “Wilson’s problem is that he believes that a morally perfect, extra-dimensional entity arranged to have a book written that is the single correct guide to morality. That guide endorses slavery, so he has little choice but to try and reconcile what he knows with what he believes to be true. He’s trying for the good kind of consistency, making your beliefs consistent with the facts, he’s failing so badly because he has bad facts.”

      And as I’ve pointed out, that book says a lot of things, many of which would get him in trouble with his congregation, society in general, and would have been noticed.

      He’s lying. My question is why do people accept that particular lie?Report

  30. Avatar Jim Heffman
    Ignored
    says:

    “So how did we get here?”

    We got here because modern Americans have been conditioned since birth to explode into pure angry emotion when they hear the word “slavery”. It’s like trying to have a conversation about alcohol with a member of the WCTU.Report

  31. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto
    Ignored
    says:

    So uh…why isn’t this dude out protesting in front of Red Lobster?

    I mean if the Old Testament mores on slavery are to be followed, prohibitions on shit like eating shell fish should be, too, right?Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Nob Akimoto
      Ignored
      says:

      I’m pretty sure the New Testament was pro-slavery too. He can consider the old testament obsolete, and still have to be pro-slavery.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to James K
        Ignored
        says:

        The Bible also looks approvingly on slaughtering masses of people, so I dunno.

        But can someone who believes in inerrancy really just write off an entire testament?Report

      • Avatar Barry in reply to James K
        Ignored
        says:

        The New Testament is rather clear on respect and obedience to be accorded to Caesar, as well. Has he stood in front of any slavery-tolerating audiences and condemned Birtherism or *any* disrespect in *any* way to President Obama? BTW, not just once, but with every single reference to slavery.

        Just watching the heads explode would be funny.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James K
        Ignored
        says:

        Nether Testament is pro-slavery. “Remember, you were slaves in Egypt” isn’t a recommendation of it.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Mike Schilling
          Ignored
          says:

          The New Testament spends a lot of time condeming a wide range of behaviour, but not slavery in a society where slavery was rife. This strikes me at least as tacit approval, add it to Romans 13:1 and 13:2

          Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

          And you what sounds an awful lot like an endorsement of the political status quo, which included slavery.Report

  32. Avatar Wardsmith
    Ignored
    says:

    I was busy all day yesterday and only made the one post to Morat about him writing an OP (which I still think he should).

    As to the subject matter of /this/ OP, I concur with the folks who wrote this webpage. Kidnapping someone and forcing them into chattel slavery was not only forbidden in the bible, it was punishable by death. That is why in the story of Joseph, the brothers are well aware of the grace they have been given.Report

  33. Avatar Kolohe
    Ignored
    says:

    So, can we consider the question “Does your epistemology condone slavery?” a Michelson-Morley experiment for morality and ethics? (I think we can)Report

  34. Avatar Jim Heffman
    Ignored
    says:

    Consistency is objective, though.

    This is what’s behind “Zero Tolerance” policies in schools. We always hear about the ridiculous stuff, like the valedictorian who got expelled because his sister had a butter knife in the car when he dropped her off at another school, or stupid stuff like that. We don’t hear about how before that policy was in place, a black kid who said the word “gun” got suspended while a white kid who actually shot a gun on school property got a stern warning not to do that again.

    The problem with “judicious” is that it’s very easy to look at a judicious result and say “he got a harsher punishment because he’s (targeted group)”. This is how we get the blind adherence to procedure versus a reasoned, nuanced, intellectual approach.Report

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