Friday, May 28, 2010

Permanent Reaction

John Holbo at Crooked Timber points out that Jonah Goldberg has come up with an interesting metaphor for the way he feels liberal reporters create misleading, straw-men caricatures of conservative thought.  Colorfully, he describes the phenomenon as Conservatives in the Mist - where conservatives are looked upon as fascinating, although obviously pathetic creatures where attempts are made to understand their simplicities, while ultimately never really taking them seriously.
Like the real Dian Fossey, they manage to saunter into the leafy thickets of conservatism, and are welcomed into a band of gorillas. They hold out the equivalent of a banana or maybe a fistful of grubs for long enough and eventually we come sniffing around. We’re intrigued by the creature lavishing attention on us. And the reporter eventually begins to feel as though he has been accepted into the band. Eventually, we conservatives grow comfortable enough around them to return to our old patterns. We scratch and fight and do our gorilla things and the chronicler dutifully takes notes. The notes eventually make their way into an article for the New York Times or The New Yorker or Vanity Fair.
 Holbo assumes that Goldberg finds no parallel on the right:
It is also true – I take it this is Goldberg’s point, by implication – that there is no corresponding ‘Liberals in the Mist’ genre. Writers from National Review do not venture forth, attending academic seminars on John Rawls’ philosophy, or examining the inner workings of Acorn or the ACLU or the Sierra Club, in some spirit of bend-over-backwards interpretive charity and anthropological tolerance, which eventually bears fruit in the form of surprisingly favorable reports brought back to NASCAR-loving red staters, who turn down their Glenn Beck and Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh to peruse over whatever non-latte coffee product they favor. “Who knew? The people behind ACORN and the ACLU aren’t a bunch of America-hating, election-stealing traitors at all. True, they aren’t conservatives. But still, it’s quite understandable how … Conservatives should understand better the deep appeal of … We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the arguments for … But still, in the end …”
Which is strikingly clear.  I've always been fascinated by how much more seriously liberals take conservative thought.  They tend to actually analyze it and rebut it on the merits.  I think this is due to what liberalism and progressivism are by nature: they are concerned with critical analysis of accepted wisdom and traditions, with emphasis on overturning what it views as inequity in power structures.  Conservatism is generally concerned with defense against change, especially against traditional structures.  Liberalism is about academic deconstruction and renewal through investigative reporting and social understanding, i.e. "tolerance".

The right generally has no use for why liberals believe what they believe, seeing only a generalized threat.  Holbo provides an example from an interview between William Bennet and Andrew McCarthy, author of Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America:
“Does Barack Obama want the imposition of Sharia Law?” (Tough, but fair.) And McCarthy answers: “No, I don’t know that he wants that.” (A fair question deserves a fair response.) But then, perhaps realizing the suspense is killing us – is Barack Obama going to turn out to be the Smoke Monster? – he tries to put the few pieces we’ve got together, come up with a theory. There’s obviously some sort of partnership, because …. But setting that aside, the basis for the ‘partnership’ [“a good, working partnership, an effective working partership between Islamism and the modern left” (minute 5)] is probably that Islamism and Barack Obama-style liberalism are both ‘transformative movements’: “in order to establish their respective utopias they need to push out of the way American constitutional republican democracy. That’s the biggest obstacle to both of them.

A lot of conservatives are just in a mode of permanent reaction. Conservatism is correct, so by definition any attack on it is false. So when they hear liberal arguments, instead of bothering to understand what they’re basing their arguments on, all they see is an unwarranted attack.

Liberals, indeed like children, just want to destroy their way of life and impose big government. So instead of each individual regulation or spending project being considered on the merits, its all part of the larger “agenda”. So liberals don’t really care about worker safety, gay rights, environmental protection, discrimination, etc. They just want to take over.

I think a fair case can be made that this is actually projection. Because on many of these issues, conservatives don’t actually want to look at the merits themselves. Instead they hew to their own agenda – which is free markets and small government at any cost. To those who think this way, it would make sense to see others as thinking the same way too.

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