Sunday, February 19, 2012

After Some Reading and Internet Arguing

I've recently read David Frum's very sharp column from last year on the tendency to equate sacred liberty with common 'folkways'.  "there are many people to whom that pattern of life means more than trial by jury or even freedom of the press."  And I've also revisited Jonah Goldberg's hackneyed (as if this needs to be said coming from him) interpretation of 'Groundhog Day' from the 'top 25 conservative movies' list. 
"For the conservative, the moral of the tale is that redemption and meaning are derived not from indulging your 'authentic' instincts and drives, but from striving to live up to external and timeless ideals"

You've probably heard the phrase 'mindless confomity' bandied about quite a bit in your life.  The truth is that conformity is rarely mindless at all, but rather based upon genuine moral ideals that are no less than half-conciously realized, and often thouroughly considered.  There is a genuine belief here that a utilitarian morality, in which anything that picks no pockets or breaks no legs is allowed, is demeaning and beastial.  Any dog can eat, drink, sleep and screw based on its own arbitrary whims, without any elaborate dance of custom or ritual about it, so that the universe may know that it has a mind and a sense of self capible of such a dance. 

It is also often said that conservative authoritarians are against happiness and pleasure.  This is only half-true.  Happiness and pleasure are bad only if, again, they come from feeding some arbritary desire from with in.  When happiness is a brass ring to grab, a mountain to climb, a goal imposed by the greater external authority of God/nature, than it is not only good but glorious.  Or, to put it another way, the conservative understanding of happiness is best defined as...

Knowledge is all well and good, but gaining a college degree is first and foremost an act of victory.  Believing in good things is all well and good, but the most important aspect of choosing the correct beliefs is that the holder is first and foremost victorious for having chosen them, and the validity of any belief system is measured in no small way by how much it emphasizes this personal victory. 

At the social level, true love is fine, sure, but marraige is the victory.  Financial security is grand, but it's the big house in the suburbs with the three big cars in the driveway that let's the world know that you have won.  And these are trophies that must be universally aspired to in order to maintain their rightful level of prestige.  Any suggestion that there is not a single, eternal American dream that all instinctively long for is an attempt to cheat the winners out of their victories.  And if those who sincerely do not want this dream are socially broken into persuing it anyway; well, anything that adds  struggle and sublimity to the game is only for the better. 

Whenever you read or hear some zealots rant about the universal, externally mandated nature of his beliefs, you will get the more or less overt implication that their beliefs are true precisely because they are universal.  Where the egalitarian feels oppressed by the thought of imposed universal truth, the authoritarian feels empowered by it.  Not just by their imagined right to enforce therse values upon strangers, though that's no small part of it, but by the idea that everything about their lives and their Selves; their religion, politics, occupation, love life, culture, nationality, language, wardrobe, material possesions; is an act of soldierly duty to the eternal and divine. 

To give one example of how this works, think of the arguments of how gay marraige will 'destroy marraigs as we know it', or even simply 'destroy marraige'.  In as much as this is anything more than bullshit sloganeering, the implication here is that straight couples are entitled to the sense of being exceptional for being normal.  Obviously this claim of entitlement is a hopeless contradiction; imaginary and impossible to satisfy.  Yet it pokes its head into just about every facet of our politics, culture, and lives. It is clearly the most precious thing that many people hope to gain from the greater society, and they will not easily surrender the notion that simply living within the mainstream is in itself an act of transcendent glory.

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