Monday, September 12, 2005

Liberals and Conservatives vs. Modernism

Last time I referred to the way the word “liberal” has mutated over the years... as has “conservative” and, indeed, a label we are trying to resurrect here -- modernism. Speaking of which, this next piece is fascinating. Apparently, the US meddled in the new Iraqi Constitution in lots of ways, not all of them beneficial to Halliburton, the Saudi family and the mullahs of Iran. (Of course, those three are the principal beneficiaries of this mangled and botched war, so far.)

Pause: I speak elsewhere of the odd alliance of three antimodernist movements that together make up today’s ruling troika. (See: The Real Culture War: Defining the Background) The kleptocrats, apocalypts and neocons. Together, these movements have pushed the three major programs of this administration and Congress - theft, fanaticism and an aggressive American Imperium. (As opposed to a judiciously assertive Pax Americana, which makes some sense. Lefties who oppose that simply do not grasp that we are still living in history. At best we will help make a better world. We do not live in perfection. Not yet.)

Nevertheless, having said that, let me concede that the Troika Model is simplistic in many ways. It turns out there are some quirky elements to the neocon ideology that go beyond those three dismal priorities. Some... the least objectionable neocon notions... are quasi-libertarian views that get slipped in between the cracks. In fact, they are called neo-liberalism, because, in classic terms, “liberal” means opening up both society and markets, removing artificial barriers to opportunity -- whether those were feudal privilege, excess tariffs, racial stereotypes, bureaucratic paternalism or lack of education -- in order to maximize instead creativity and freedom.

Just as the neocons have horribly corrupted conservatism, many on the left have corrupted liberalism by forgetting that compassion is not its only goal and virtue. Compassion is great and must always be a paramount aim. But the deepest and oldest roots of liberalism are based upon the practical goal of helping to ensure fair and creative competition instead of the typical pattern of rampant cheating. This pragmatic side justifies freedom of speech (CITOKATE:  Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote to Error) and equal opportunity on totally non-mystical grounds... that these things will help us all generate more creativity and wealth. The wealth that then feeds satiation and compassion.

Over the long run, these reasons are good in their own right. There was never any need to abancon them.

But, just as some liberals DO remember this, it turns out that some neocons cling to a bit of the same lesson, here and there, sincerely mulling notions about how to unleash human potential, instead of habitually locking it in chains of unearned privilege. Glimmers of the modernist agenda still clings to life -- like blades of grass in Sodom -- even amid an anti-modernist firestorm on the right.

Now, some neo-liberal ideas like the flat tax and the “wise use movement” are simply loony, playing into the hands of aristocrats. Others should get a fair hearing, instead of simply being rejected out of hand by mainstream liberals. (e.g. tariff-free investment). These are at least sincere subjects worthy of discussion and even experimentation. Anyway how interesting that this - the one worthy part of the neocon agenda - is called “neo-liberalism”!

Enough of that rambling aside. Here’s the link. How the US Got Its Neo-Liberal Way in Iraq. “By the time the revised constitution was served on the table on August 28, the final draft of the Iraqi constitution must have tasted very different from previous servings. Not only were some of the key ingredients of the previous drafts removed outright, new ingredients with distinctly neo-liberal flavors were added. As direct occupiers, the US enacted laws that give foreign investors equal rights with Iraqis in the domestic market; permit the full repatriation of profits; institute the flat tax system; abolish tariffs; just to name a few.”

Fascinating! Yes, some of the motive is exploitation. And yet, I am sure there are elements that are truly sincere, aiming to bring "market liberalism" to the Middle East.

Lesson: never make a strawman of your enemy. Admit it, when he shows surprising quirks and complexities. For one thing, it shows that you are the one willing to negotiate. You are the one who knows a path out of ideological hell.

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Along with authors Stephen King, Amy Tan, Peter Straub and others, I have joined a fundraising auction to help the First Amendment Project, - an online campaign to support free speech. Most of my peers are offering the highest bidder a chance to have naming rights for a character in a coming novel... or to be "killed" (in Stephen King's case, naturally). To be different, I am auctioning the right to have your name given to an alien race, a garish building, or a uniquely gruesome and inexplicable disease. Hey, it's for a good cause. Bidding opens Thursday Sept. 15, and runs through Sept. 25.


Anonymous said...

I fear that neo- is rapidly getting old. It seems to be the label du jour. However, the first half of William Safire's On Language column this week may be of some interest. It seems there is a growing movement among movers and shakers which opposes the neocons going by the name of neorealism. There also seem to be neoidealists and some sort of blend of the two. Let Safire explain.

Compassion ... must always be a paramount aim.

I have to disagree. Compassion is not and should not be a goal. It is and should be a tool and an attitude of modernism. But if it becomes a goal, in and of itself, you get a lot of the things that make up the loony lefties. If compassion is a goal, then you need people who need your compassion and either new needs get invented or expressions of compassion tend, consciously or unconsciously, to make sure that people continue to need it. Compassion is important, it is a component of empathy and sympathy, but it is not an end.

Lastly, a thought about CITOKATE. It is certainly true, but I fear it is open to misapplication; not because it is flawed, but because of what tends to pass for criticism these days. Taking a look at most political discourse over the last 10 to 20 years, I see a growing amount of flaming and indignation couched as "criticism". The word may be losing its proper meaning and if it does or has, then it seriously weakens the CITOKATE meme. I'm not sure that I have any remedy to suggest. CCITOKATE (constructive criticism...) loses something (for one thing you can't pronounce it) and no other word occurs to me. Still, I think it's something we should consider.

Rob Perkins said...

I've never thought the apocalypt leg of your troika was all that convincing, and it really is nice to see that the conversation can continue.

And I certainly don't trust a source like to be more than a shill for looniness. It's too bad really, since there you are harvesting this or that gem. I can't spend any more time with them than I can with Fred Barnes or Rush Limbaugh, without rolling my eyes and looking for something else to do.

On the subject of rebuilding NoLa, and since you mentioned him on another topic, I found this, which is Orson Scott Card's idea about what to do with NoLa. Get past the rant about Geraldo and the news media (though there are a couple of good points there); It doesn't sound at all different (except technically, but he's a playwright; you're a scientist) from what you've proposed: let the river flow where it wants.

It's part of a weird disconnect I get. You say he doesn't like you, but he keeps having your ideas...

@demetriosx -- Are you kidding? Without compassion...

But I agree. Ofttimes I watch a White House briefing and wonder about CITOKATE run absolutely wild. Without a common premise or two, which it seems many reporters *don't* share with the troika, we get, who could really be doing a much better job, so that I don't have to hunt through the mud for those gems!

Or I'll just let David be my specialist! :-D

Mark said...

Since you mention the "flat tax", when are liberals going to come up with a marketable "simplified tax" proposal and stop letting conservatives get away with conflating the two?

Rob Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


No surprise that Card has an entirely sensible position about what to do with NO. This is a purely pragmatic issue that doesn't connect with his hardcore ideology. Thus his basic smarts are actually allowed to determine his view.

Now, get some homosexuals involved and you'll see a different side of Orson Scott Card...

David Brin said...

Actually, Scotts post did have a generally ugly and typically venomous tone... though in this case, the actual explicit proposals weren't as bad.

Oh, while I'm on: Some interesting exchanges over on the Brin-L discussion list. Here are a few snippets:

Robert G. Seeberger quoted: > The letter that follows takes us on a darkly imagined excursion into> the future. A military coup has taken place in the United States--the
> year is 2012--and General Thomas E. T. Brutus, Commander-in-Chief of> the Unified Armed Forces of the United States, now occupies the White > House as permanent Military Plenipotentiary. (...)

Alberto Monteiro quoted: Bah. Heinlein must be spinning on his grave, because 2012 is the year he turned the USA into a religious dictatorship, when Nehemiah Scudder wins the "election" by getting a little over 20% of the voters of a little over half the states - enough to win in the "Electoral" College.

I will eventually get around to my electoral college rant. But the depressing approach of Nehemiah Scudder is worrisome...

Tony Fisk said...

Lesson: never make a strawman of your enemy.

Sound advice which is difficult to put into action when your 'enemy' continually acts the hayseed.

For instance, have a look at what Worldchanging's Jamais Cascio has to say about a very useful link he discovered, and ponder the inference. I think you will find the pattern is familiar.

Then again, what's past is past. It's what your glorious leader does next that will be interesting.


On WCN for NO: my take is to let the river flow where it will but, in replanning the Newer Orleans, take into account that the river will change, and change, and change again. What about a floating city that can 'up sticks' and move with the river?

(Darn, didn't Douglas Adams describe a similar idea when he had the descendants of the 'longest running party in the galaxy' install anti gravity devices in the venue?)

You can take me away, now.

Tony Fisk said...

On Scudder:
Taking Ray Bradbury's attitude on writing to prevent the future, I think Heinlein did his job well.

The fact that we must contemplate the Scudder scenario is depressing. The fact that we can do so 7 years before his ascension is cause for optimism.

But never complacency.

Anonymous said...


I used to be very impressed by Heinlein's notion of a radio preacher turned dictator.

Then I read Sinclair Lewis's Elmer Gantry (1927).

Scudder is a dead ringer fot the scheming, ruthless, charismatic preacher of Lewis' novel.

It's a fun read, by the way. A sharp, sometimes satirical look at the religious scene circa 1900 - 1925.

Lewis went on to write It Can't Happen Here (1935), about a fascist takeover of the U.S. I haven't read it, and have heard it isn't all that great, but it shows that the guy was working on warning stories quite apart from the SF community.


Rob Perkins said...

Being as I'm one who supposes the Scudder scenario absolutely will hit us, perhaps I'm a pessimist. I merely think the threat will come from coopted secular humanism, rather than coopted Christianity.

Thus far, I've found I'm pretty much alone in that one. But think about it: which common metaphysical premises do *all* Americans share?

Re OSC's post, yeah, it had quite a bitter tone about the media. That's why I asked y'all to try and look past it: It was polemic, designed more to attract readers (especially of the neocon newspaper he writes the columns for) than the optimist-modernist mindset DB puts forth.

Personally I think that his crit of Geraldo and other journalists was not at all appropriate. I personally reserve the term "Jackal" for people like Nancy Pelosi, and, now, Michael Brown, albeit for different reasons in each case.

Re OSC and homosexuality, if you're thinking of that Salon article, I'm not with you. Gonzo style journalism isn't designed to report the interview subject's actual views, and I thought that particular journalist did a rotten job of conveying his actual viewpoints on the subject. Card was strawmanned and maligned, and not a little unfairly.

*Never* make a strawman of your enemy.

Anonymous said...

On the contrary, I'm creating no strawman. Card has written a number of terrible things about gays outside of any interview. Consider the following:

Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those whoflagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.

The entire article is here:

Rob Perkins said...

Yes, you are.

Blowing that sentence alone out there, without including Card's very detailed explanation why he thinks so, or who his audience is. That sentence and that article, which was written over two decades ago for a niche magazine, has a specific context which you do not share. That is the strawman.

(In fact, I may be the only one around here who *does* share that context.)

I don't really expect anyone to understand it, and I've despaired at explaining it, since the people who get bothered about it are usually too hopped up on indignance at the idea I'd speak at all against homosexual behavior to take a step back and try a different paradigm, or see any scintilla of kind-heartedness in what I might have to say.

Instead, it's all, "You disapprove!?!?! How DARE YOU!"

Well, I dare to disapprove, but I won't lift a finger to stop anyone from doing it. And just for the record here, our family employs people, and interacts with them, without asking first if they're gay.

As far as his "typically venomous tone" goes, DB, don't *you* do the same things about the elements you think are destroying your favorite bits of civilization, in your own polemics against anti-modernist behavior?

I'm reading you both, and each approach seems similar, and the ideas seem similar, and you've said you're not conversing. Only the SOA is different! How delightfully American of you both! :-)

Anonymous said...

You're right, Rob, I think there is something like an unbridgeable gulf between those who have a problem with gayness and those who don't. For what it's worth, this is a source of despair for me as well. All the more so since I seem to be on the losing side.

I don't think I mis-represented Card too badly by posting the quote from the Nauvoo article (especially since I included the URL). It's not like he doesn't believe what he wrote. And many people, myself included, would deny that such a view could possibly be justified, no matter the rationale.

BTW, do you visit Hatrack? I post there sometimes (sn: Destineer).

Rob Perkins said...

I've long thought that the proponents and opponents of "gay rights" were talking well and truly past each other, so that comes as no surprise whatsoever. However, it remains true that you can't take an essay directed at a quirky minority religion and expect that sentence to translate into hatred or bigotry, especially considering the qualifiers you didn't quote.

I think if Card had a debilitating problem with homosexuality, it would appear in his fiction without his even thinking about it. They'd be simple strawmen, to knock down. As far as I've read, the only persecutions heaped on homosexuals in his books come from the worst kinds of antagonists. Judge for yourself whether that's true.

Rob Perkins said...

Ohyeah, I do visit hatrack, for Card's movie reviews. (I don't always agree with his movie reviews.) Find "Oobie Binoobie" and take 20 points for yourself if you can ferret out my obscure movie reference in that name!!! :-)

Anonymous said...

Point of order here: I never said Card was hateful or a bigot. Just that he has a political view that I think is unjustifiable.