Things Change

We thank Kevin Kim once again, this time for calling our attention to a gratifying piece by David Mamet about a road-to-Damascus event regarding the standard liberal worldview.

We read:

I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind. …

[I’ve observed that we] are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.

For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.

To that end, the Constitution separates the power of the state into those three branches which are for most of us (I include myself) the only thing we remember from 12 years of schooling.

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

Rather brilliant. For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms.

I found not only that I didn’t trust the current government (that, to me, was no surprise), but that an impartial review revealed that the faults of this president—whom I, a good liberal, considered a monster—were little different from those of a president whom I revered.

Bush got us into Iraq, JFK into Vietnam. Bush stole the election in Florida; Kennedy stole his in Chicago. Bush outed a CIA agent; Kennedy left hundreds of them to die in the surf at the Bay of Pigs. Bush lied about his military service; Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for a book written by Ted Sorenson. Bush was in bed with the Saudis, Kennedy with the Mafia. Oh.

And I began to question my hatred for “the Corporations”—the hatred of which, I found, was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live.

And I began to question my distrust of the “Bad, Bad Military” of my youth, which, I saw, was then and is now made up of those men and women who actually risk their lives to protect the rest of us from a very hostile world. Is the military always right? No. Neither is government, nor are the corporations—they are just different signposts for the particular amalgamation of our country into separate working groups, if you will. Are these groups infallible, free from the possibility of mismanagement, corruption, or crime? No, and neither are you or I. So, taking the tragic view, the question was not “Is everything perfect?” but “How could it be better, at what cost, and according to whose definition?” Put into which form, things appeared to me to be unfolding pretty well.

And much more. Another small defeat for unwisdom. Read the full article here.

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13 Comments

  1. the one eyed man says

    If you think that “the standard liberal worldview” means believing Americans are villains, hating corporations, and despising the military, then you have posited a straw man which does not exist.

    Let’s take some prominent liberals: Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Harry Reid, Russ Feingold, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the New York Times editorial page. Pick others if you want. Do you think they hate America, corporations, or the military?

    I’m not interested in what some nutjob on Kos decides to post for the masses. Let’s discuss responsible people in positions of authority, such as the group above, which is ideologically somewhat diverse but encompasses contemporary liberalism.

    This is as fatuous as saying that “the standard conservative worldview” means shredding the Constitution, running record budget deficits, and invading a country on phony intelligence. Oh, wait: that is what the current conservative administration has done. My bad. However, I wouldn’t burden conservatism with the sins of those who claim to espouse it. I have too much respect for true conservatives and their ideology to do that. You should have equal respect for liberals.

    Posted March 12, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    What took you so long, Pete?

    Perhaps I could have chosen a more felicitous phrase, but the worldview described is indeed standard enough on the Left that I have encountered it in luxuriant profusion, and indeed, I don’t think that your roster of liberal politicians is a tremendously effective counterexample. How about this: “a road-to-Damascus event regarding his political sympathies.”

    “Straw man”? To quote John McEnroe, “you can NOT be serious.” Visit any college campus to hear a Chomskyesque academic treatment of American villainy, or to see them tossing ROTC off campus, in much the manner of the city of Berkeley’s attempt to eject the Marines. One need only listen to the populist speeches of the Democratic presidential campaigns to see corporations demonized. I know these sentiments are real enough, as I used to hold many of them myself, before I knew better. An awful lot of people still do. I meet them all the time. Constantly. Every single day. To live in New York, particularly Park Slope or the Upper West Side or the Village, or in my adopted home of Wellfleet, is to have one’s nose rubbed in this ideology without respite.

    It is easy enough to imagine this as the beginning of another long thread, which will probably get us nowhere. To those who, like Mamet and like me, who have weaned themselves from the Leftist ideological teat, with its unshakeable delusion that human nature is infinitely malleable and improvable, what he expresses in this essay makes clear and obvious sense. And your call for respect rings a little hollow if you are going to attack Mamet as a “nutjob”. He seems sane enough to me.

    Finally, I think it’s perfectly fair to burden ideologies with the sins of those who claim to espouse them. Otherwise we’re just back to saying who’s a “true conservative” or a “true Scotsman“. So yes, I’ll burden Marxism with Mao and Castro, Islamism with the Taliban, liberalism with Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky and ELF, Christianity with Jerry Falwell and Fred Phelps, and so forth.

    Posted March 12, 2008 at 1:37 pm | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    What took so long? If you’re going to give me a fat pitch, I can’t just let it go by. Sort of like leaving a rook hanging. Sometimes you just gotta go for it.

    There is a difference between Ward Churchill and Nancy Pelosi, or between Micheal Moore and Hillary/Bill Clinton. I don’t deny that there are people in Berkeley and Ann Arbor and Cape Cod and elsewhere who fit the caricature of the loony left. However, conflating them with mainstream liberalism is as fatuous as suggesting that the ravings of Tom Tancredo or Michael Savage is emblematic of conservatism.

    Nor do I think that the Democratic candidates demonize corporations. I’m not a populist and I disagree with Hillary and Obama on these issues, but I don’t think they are demonizing corporations by suggesting limits on corporate activity. If you want to see the demonization of American corporations, watch Lou Dobbs.

    If Mamet went from being a bomb-thrower to a Republican, then it’s a free country and he can believe and espouse what he chooses. However, one of the saddest things in contemporary politics is the constant demonizing of those who hold different views. There is nothing dishonorable about liberalism: you may disagree with it, but it is a coherent and ethical ideology. Same with conservatism. One can view the world and its problems differently without hating America or its institutions.

    Also, didn’t call Mamet a nutjob, was referring to Kos posters.

    Posted March 12, 2008 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Ah. I misunderstood the referent of “nutjob”. It certainly seems appropriate as you are using it.

    I wouldn’t say Mamet was “demonizing” anyone, but, rather, articulating a viewpoint (which, yes, includes a tenet that America is generally a negative, not a positive, force in the world) that is indeed common enough on the Left — common enough that I see it expressed all the time, and common enough that both he and I (and you) once held some version of it ourselves.

    Of course there is a spectrum, on both sides, from extreme to moderate. The article is more about which side of the watershed one feels oneself to be on, and why.

    Posted March 12, 2008 at 2:19 pm | Permalink
  5. Justin K. says

    I hope not to get into well, much of a p’ing contest here but I’ve always been a bit confused. Just how is “mainstream liberalism” defined?

    I am an Independent myself although I have voted far more toward the Republican side than to the Democrat. Some years ago I self described as “a Patrick Buchanan Republican” but now consider I am a “Patrick Buchanan Independent.”

    But really, just what is “mainstream liberalism?”

    JK

    Posted March 12, 2008 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    It means you don’t put sugar on your porridge.

    Posted March 12, 2008 at 3:58 pm | Permalink
  7. Justin K. says

    Thank you Malcolm, I needed this one sentence, “the definition of the subject is silently adjusted after the fact to make the rebuttal work.”

    But I continue to have a question concerning subject/verb agreement. We’ll leave that for another day?

    JK

    Posted March 12, 2008 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Grammatical questions are always welcome.

    Posted March 12, 2008 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
  9. Rounding up librals, conservatives or cats to corral them into any meaningful composit of coordinated effort just does not work…

    Librals as a whole are much more forward thinking and seeking (for ” progressive improvement” -yes, when possible…)- than the ever back-ward looking conservatives, who may be seeking to hold onto whatever it is that gives them the power to want the status-quo to stay as is…

    my 2 cents-
    These are questions of power and how it is used.

    Liberals by and large – seek change towards a spreading out of power. Conservatives seek to maintain it where it is… at the top…

    Posted March 12, 2008 at 5:30 pm | Permalink
  10. bob koepp says

    Well, as a traditional liberal, I guess I’m the odd man out. For me being a liberal, or better, liberal minded, means respecting things like freedom of conscience, freedom of inquiry, freedom of expression, freedom of association — right up to the limit where Smith’s freedoms impinge on those of Jones. While I also think that compassion for one’s fellows should be second nature, I can’t follow the newfangled sort of liberalism in the quick resort to force in the vain attempt to compel compassion. Following that path we get neither compassion nor freedom, just an animal farm.

    Posted March 12, 2008 at 6:24 pm | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    Hi Pat and Bob, and thanks for joining in.

    Pat,
    “Spreading out” power by force actually requires some very unequal arrogations of power away from the individual and toward the state. Proponents of extreme versions of “worker’s paradise” socialism are often irritated to see that the workers themselves prefer the opportunities of capitalism. As Churchill said: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.”

    Of course when one compares “forward-looking” liberals to “backward-looking” conservatives”, the latter sounds nobler, but the essential difference is whether or not one has an unjustifiable faith in the perfectability and malleability of human nature.

    Conservatives are reluctant to take naturally evolved societies that actually work quite well and radically alter them based on optimistic schemes that assume the fundamental goodness of Man. Indeed, the most tragic catastrophes of recent political history have been the “forward-looking” programs of Mao, Stalin, and others, programs that sought to impose a radical “spreading out” of advantages. Conservatives, I would say, prefer building ladders to lowering the ceiling.

    Bob,
    I don’t think of myself as a liberal these days — though I’m not a typical conservative, perhaps, either — but I find myself respecting exactly those freedoms you enumerate here, and right up to the limit you prescribe. But maybe I am more of a “traditional” liberal than a modern-day, Daily Kos liberal.

    Posted March 12, 2008 at 7:24 pm | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    Just plucked this apt quote from Bill V:

    [T]hose who attempt to change the world before understanding it are apt to make a bloody mess of it. The Commies broke 100 million eggs, but where’s the omelet?

    We are along way from the understanding we need. Till then, let’s be careful.

    Posted March 12, 2008 at 7:32 pm | Permalink
  13. Justin K. says

    Pat, then bob,

    I simply do not see Liberals, (or Librals) as anything other than as Will Rogers described. Perhaps we do not disagree, I see you describe “rounding up cats”

    However your: “Librals as a whole are much more forward thinking and seeking (for ” progressive improvement” -yes, when possible…)- than the ever back-ward looking conservatives, who may be seeking to hold onto whatever it is that gives them the power to want the status-quo to stay as is…” is a bit too conclusive, and lumping.

    I described myself as first: “a P. Buchanan Repub then went on to Independent.” Perhaps for me it is simply an age thing, having done 5 some odd decades upon the planet. Not that decades confer wisdom, however-changing the “sugar on porridge” description does not alter the contradiction that to Liberals the argument[s] change(s) with the tide.

    Conservatives change too, albeit a bit more slowly and circumspectly. Radical change begets disruptions, disruptions beget confusion. Confusion invites (as Malcolm recently pointed out) “Radical Multiculturalism.” Pat, you will not find me in that camp with Mr. B invoking religion as the foundation from which he (Mr. B.) bases his conclusions, my individual consideration is: your beliefs are your own and as our Constitution enumerates-secular as it is, necessarily-not a means to disqualify.

    It is common, in the present discourse, to describe Liberals as “without faith, without themselves”-is likely not the case- but nonetheless descriptive of how we’ve come to this secular schism. But the Liberal view that Conservatism necessarily equates to membership in some Evangelical Movement is also faulty.

    For me at least, religiousity ie proselytization for the unreligious, matters not a whit. I don’t care. What I do care about is the language and intent (forgive me, Spirit) enshrined in the Constitution. “Congress shall make no law…” I see no reason to declare whether I subscribe to catholicism or islamism so long as I follow the dictum I’ve seen elsewhere and heard in school, “when in Rome…” We (I think) should all… in coming to this country, “do as the Romans do.”

    As to bob? I second that. Let’s vote.

    JK

    Posted March 12, 2008 at 7:41 pm | Permalink