Friday, February 04, 2005

E-mail Of The Day

From a reader (a good friend):
I've been enjoying your blog for a while now, and I thought I'd write and tell you so before registering my disagreement with part of today's post. I often want to comment on this or that, but 1, I typically don't have a lot of time to do so, and 2, I typically don't feel so strongly about it in the first place. This is not to say that I don't have strong feelings about politics or things in general. On the contrary. What I mean is that I'm usually happy to learn from you or from those to whom you link, and leave it at that. In short, I would be merely picking nits. I feel that your posts are fair, well thought out, and insightful, so thanks for that.

Sometimes I read your blog and have the thought, "Okay, well, I'm not so sure about that." It gets me thinking, but you're very far removed from those I regard as creepy, dogmatic goofballs, so it's a good thing. Half the time, that's what you're actually saying. "Hmm, I'm not so sure about this." I like that.

I can understand why this story of a "woman touched by Sullivan" is inspiring, and I have to agree with you, but I really disagree with you that "rigid leftists are as dangerous as right-wing nutjobs." What does this point have to do with this woman learning to think for herself?
Well, my comment was probably a bit flippant. After all, what are the precise definitions of "rigid leftists" and RWNJ's? The point I am trying to make is that rigid views are by definition contrary to rational thought. You may have seen my recent posts professing my belief in enlightenment liberalism: "In contrast to systems of thought where the sacred had dominated and where questioning was discouraged, Enlightenment thinkers viewed human reason as dominant."

I think this applies to left-wingers as well. Granted, they (usually) don't let "the sacred" dominate their thought, but they often let outside influences, inertia and ideology dominate their world view. We're all prone to this, and the stronger we identify with a particular group (or school of thought) the more careful we should be. Like our female friend wrote:
I changed from being oblivious about politics to being a serious left-wing, anti-war, Republican-hating straight party-line Democrat. I believed every word that Noam Chomsky wrote. It was all so simple: Republicans wore black hats; Democrats wore white hats. All of my friends believed unquestioningly that peace, love, agnosticism, secularism, enlarged federal programs, and reduced military budgets would save the world form the evil American empire.
My reader goes on:
I'm not sure, but I think I might, by some, reasonably be described as a rigid leftist, as there are very few things on which I am personally willing to bend. I don't want to oversimplify too much here, but I feel that a general disregard for the well-being of large portions of people, be it the American populace or some unfortunate group abroad, has shown to be far more destructive than pretty much anything a rigid leftist ever does these days. This is a right-wing hallmark, and it's usually perpetuated in the name of some overly idealistic, twisted, nut-jobbish concept of "equality of opportunity". I'm all for open-minded, independent though, but if Sullivan or anyone else, even the razor sharp, wants to claim that the vast majority of conservatives in this country are truly interested in equality of opportunity, then I have a bridge to sell him.
I certainly think your views are "strong", but I'm not sure that makes you "rigid". As to what conservatives want domestically I largely agree. Matt put it well on TAPPED:
It's a mistake to caricature conservatives as thinking that people should get sick, die, and spend their years poor, miserable, ignorant, and choked by pollution. But it's not a caricature to say that American conservatism has always been defined by a belief that preventing this stuff isn't the responsibility of the federal government. The states, or individual intiative, or private charity, or technological growth, or anything else under the sun -- anything but the federal government -- are supposed to accomplish these goals.
But what I meant (and possibly failed) to comment on was the source of one's views rather than their relative position on the left-right scale. If a person reaches (and can defend) the conclusion that the state should take over all means of production that's fine with me. Ditto for a person who wants to abolish Government altogether. But when people start following either person without thinking for themselves then we're in trouble.

The other point here is that the center of gravity of political thought in America today is fairly right-wing (at least in the context of historical Western thought). So I agree that right-wingers are more dangerous in that sense - they simply have a lot more power. Where we might disagree is on the historical merits of left-wing thought. Most of it has been well-intended but there are numerous examples of policies that have been wasteful and downright counter-productive. A good topic for a follow-up discussion perhaps.
Whoa, I really got going there! Sorry. Independent thought is wonderful, but sometimes I think people go too far in order to stress their penchant for fairness and open mindedness. If you condemn rigidity in any form, you come across as being very flexible and fair, but there is a point at which this flexibility can serve to distort actual facts and actual values. I feel that this is the real problem with contemporary journalism, by the way. The dedication to truth has been greatly overshadowed by an ersatz dedication to fairness. Everything is this side's opinion vs. that's side's opinion, and giving both equal time and consideration is passed off as open mindedness. Both sides are granted magical equal footing. Which side's opinion seems to fit the truth, given the evidence we have? That question is no longer regularly investigated. This is why people find themselves behind the war in Iraq, despite the facts, and this is why we face a second term of George W. Similarly, creationists have used this shortcoming of ours to get their foot in the door for an "evolution debate". They say they're scientists, they say that scientists are supposed to have open minds, and they question the fairness of anyone who attempts to dismiss them on logical grounds. And it's working.
No disagreement there.
I feel that a rigid leftist is nowhere near as likely to cause harm (and thus be a "danger") in this world than a rigid right-wing nutjob. I stand by this, and I'd be willing to bet, based on the stuff you write, that you'd say the same thing, upon reflection. The fact that being overly rigid can be a bad thing does not mean that the ideologies are equally dangerous. Am I wrong?
Well, again, it depends on the definitions of Left and Right. In post WW2 Europe I would argue left-wingers posed more of a threat than right-wingers (even counting McCarthyism). But in today's America the risk of a socialist/communist takeover is extremely low.

Certainly the US could tolerate a strong left-turn in domestic policy and still be the most capitalistic and individualistic country in the world. But in foreign policy a takeover by the Kucinich Left could have destabilizing consequences for the balance of power in the world. Like it or not the current world order is principally assured by American power. If this power went away it is far from clear what would happen. Like with the Roman Empire, civilization might collapse.

Anyway, thanks for the e-mail, hope you don't mind me posting it, please write again!

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