Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

How is an American Left Still Possible? Four Theses – Letters from Flyover Country

Posted by M. C. on November 28, 2020

Opposition to any given Leftist policy constitutes a threat to their dual cosmologies, that must always be kept in harmony:(a) the inner, mental egalitarian fiction that we are all equal despite overwhelming evidence of the senses and the conduct of Nature and (b) the outer, environmental fiction that Nature, far from being indifferent, is actually taking sides. Stranded dolphins, for instance, somehow become a symbolic demonstration of Earth’s revulsion with Donald Trump’s coiffure

by L. Q. Cincinnatus

“… the methods of thinking that are living activities in men are not objects of reflective consciousness.” — Charles S. Peirce (1892)

The history of the modern physical sciences in the twentieth century is strewn with instances of discipline-shattering “thought experiments.” Perhaps the most famous is Einstein’s 1919 prediction of a solar eclipse proving his theory that light is bent by gravity. It was so dazzling that it cemented his Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.

Such exercises reveal that the human mind can so fit itself to empirical reality that remote events may be understood with pinpoint, and even life-saving, accuracy. My favorite example of the pyrotechnic splendor of inductive inference was how NASA scientists predicted, to the very second, when a radio signal would reach the Apollo 8 command module upon emerging from the first orbit of the moon on the morning of December 24, 1968. No proof for this event existed; it had to be logically inferred from the laws of wave propagation.

So, my question is: can you call to mind even one remotely comparable mental experiment from the so-called social sciences? I would venture that most people can’t, and for the very good reason that inductive reasoning is simply the wrong logic tool to use in matters of human behavior. While this is not the place to explore the methodological differences between the physical and the social sciences, the idea that society and human behavior can be conceived as operating under the same laws as Brownian motion or Bernoullian distribution is—or should be—laughable on its face. More on this in a moment.

I would argue that Ludwig von Mises’ 1920 analysis of economic calculation is one of the great, unsung thought experiments in modern science, but because it was conducted as an exercise in deductive, as opposed to inductive, reasoning that it is either wholly ignored or, more likely, not understood.

Through a series of strict deductive inferences anchored in the primary “given” of socialism—the absence of private property—Mises demonstrated that a functioning price system would never emerge, and, as a result, no method of rationally calculating the relative scarcity or necessity for higher order goods of any kind could be used to sustain an economy. Mises stated flatly that a socialist economy was was not merely a contradiction in terms, but impossible (unmöglich).

His analysis was immediately seized upon by socialist theoreticians and planners and the history of its reception, both in the free world and in the countries behind the former Iron Curtain, makes for fascinating reading. In the final analysis, of course, Mises was proven right. Resoundingly so. Because  in 1920, before Lenin had even consolidated power, Mises had already foretold the fate of the Soviet Union. And it would take another seventy years and scores of millions of human corpses for him to finally be vindicated.

And not only was Mises right about the practical matters of socialist planning—about where shoe laces were needed most and how cotton could be sourced and delivered to mills where such laces were to be woven and produced—he was also right about epistemological matters. It is impossible for one mind to command the distributed knowledge of millions of decision-makers conducting and executing valuations in real time in markets that fluidly and without explicit command from a central authority, redirect capital, goods, and labor to match consumer demand. This “knowledge problem” became a centerpiece in the work of his protégé, Friedrich von Hayek, and was rolled out in exquisite detail when he stood to receive his 1974 Nobel Prize in Economic Science.

The central point is that: (1) for fully a century the logical proof of the impossibility of socialism has been known and accepted as the central, indeed fatal, flaw in the socialist project, and (2) that with the fall of the Soviet Union, to say nothing of the real-time, parallel path experiment provided by East and West Germany across four decades, the logical proof was borne out empirically, in social and behavioral form, and in real time.

Even socialist economist Robert Heilbronner had to fess up in 1989 declaring, “Mises was right.” So, with the awareness that one can deduce axiomatically the conditions that produce human poverty, misery, and state-sponsored genocide of its own populace (“democide”), how is it even remotely possible that there can be an active political movement, comprised of millions of people, who seek to reenact the most destructive political and economic experience in human history?

And even more to the point, since the statistical analyses put forth in The Black Book of Communism (1999), to say nothing of the revelations of the Venona decrypts, what kind of human being can countenance the notion of reviving any of the ingredients of this kind of inhumane catastrophe for the reenactment of globally-scaled human misery for life in the twenty-first century?

In Misesian terms, how is the Left even possible?

I would like to lay out four theses that might be used to explain the residual existence of this suicidal theology, this system of faith whose believers are unable to value their own existence—physically, economically, and morally. In all honesty, I think we are looking at a situation where, given differences in age, experience, and cultural milieu, two or more strands are continually being braided together at all times. So while it is important to see various elements in play, the chances are high that there is always some “reverb” between each of these components of this mass political madness at work.

Our political culture was shaped and matured in historical conditions that knew nothing of deliberate cognitive infiltration as a political strategy; therefore, our task is to restore the principles which allowed that political culture so elegantly and effortlessly yield an explosion in life expectancy, quality of life, and per capita wealth—McCloskey’s “great enrichment.” We take this enrichment for granted, as do the enemies of human well-being. So, let’s take a deep breath and consider an array of explanations.

First Thesis: Romantic Ignorance. This is the easiest layer to grasp because it is  seen everywhere. Romantic ignorance as a pretext for “social action” is the adolescent response to the absence of a theological argument against state charity. The Judeo-Christian tradition, broadly speaking, addresses the development of conscience and character by demonstrating how direct acts of compassion, unmediated by coercion or compulsion by others, benefits both receiver and giver.

In the traditional model, charity flows from one’s empathic recognition of distress or injustice, and one engages with the subject or victim without institutional mediation. The moral merit of this scenario is that effort is made to correct the preconditions of the pathology, not merely the conditions. And these preconditions center on the human heart and are communicated non-verbally. Moreover, charity becomes contingent on recognition of the sacrifice involved in providing the relief but also in the correction of behaviors and the evidence of a change of direction and a change of heart. The Right, regardless of the the reflexive contempt of the Left, posits charity on the basis of an inward change; the Left, shallowly and materialistically, believes that redistribution is enough. You give the victim enough “stuff,” and his life will improve; that’s the Left’s answer for every imbalance, inequality, and difference. Fix the optics. I believe it was James Burnham who provided the most excoriating expose of piebald, left wing materialism ever penned.

We recognize the shame of genuine victimhood—just as one does its subjection—by tracking the visual signals of that inward change though outward expressions: dilated pupils, facial responses of recognition, and eventually specific behaviors and the emergence of pride and self-respect. This “soul change” is predicated on the acknowledgement of the existence of the soul which is anathema for all post-religious charity work. The Left, in its thrall with self and sensation, disregards the soul altogether, or sees it where it isn’t. 

The “romantic” dimension comes in the artful self-delusion that one’s efforts can “change the world.” It is horribly selfish (all about the giver), ego-centric (as if single acts can change another’s heart), and hubristic (the simplistic materialism of giving someone a fish to make them less hungry never ultimately works). But there is an enduring enchantment, a romantic delusion that “doing something” is preferable to “doing nothing,” and demanding that others comply with the objective is all part of the experience of collective enthusiasm. The late Murray Rothbard explained how the “romantic ignorance” of Progressivism had cultural roots in the Yankee post-millennial pietism of the Puritans; his belief was that seventeenth-century theological injunctions for the salvation of the individual soul had slowly morphed into a primary ingredient in the Progressive contagion of compulsive and unreflective do-gooder activism that emerged in the course of the post-Darwinian Protestantism of the late nineteenth century.

Irving Babbitt (1865-1933), one of the great humanist scholars of the Right who beheld the sweep of modern culture as as grand coarsening of the spirit, declaimed in his Rousseau and Romanticism that the Romantic impulse led to an unconstrained personality—that the normal inhibitions of the Classic temperament were deactivated by the Romantic germ, and one’s sense of self flowed like an omelette spreading evenly and thinly into the heated pan. Babbitt believed that the Romantic’s “merely aesthetic” consideration of social hypotheticals—scenarios of pity and sin, for instance—was capable of delivering emotional rewards and thus could serve as an unconscious green-light for the conscious contemplation, and ultimately acting out, of self-destructive behavior for aesthetic enjoyment. In his world Romantic impulse was a form of slow-motion suicide undertaken as a racily pleasurable form of aesthetic delectation. Of course with it comes an implicit refusal to contemplate the end-state of a chain of inferences that begins with soul death, and continues with an insensate separation of self from society and indeed from pain. This was all part of the allure of transgression that in revolutionary France saw the emergence of a de Sade and its fulfillment in a Fourier. Babbitt’s romantic was Wolfe’s radical chic in powdered wigs and silk pumps.

Second Thesis: Seeded Deception. The second thesis is a darker, indeed anti-romantic counterpoint to the first. Here, socialism as charity is tacitly accepted to be a failure in reality, but it is simply too good a ruse to ignore as a business model for creating public procurement schemes and related activities to reallocate assets in such a manner as to create cash streams that benefit the “organizers.” Of course, there will be anecdotal case studies describing in great detail and replete with emotional imagery explaining how the charity has immeasurable “human impact.” This is the marketing equivalent of the Madison Avenue huckster who shows you what you want while selling you what he has.

One might say that this is the central operative feature of the modern American educational career: selling socialist ideology as both a science and an aspiration. It is, of course, the career path that individuals who choose a career in “government service” buy into, including many in the military and even seemingly mundane work of the GSA or some other semi-submerged bureaucracy. It was originally called “service” because an educated person with professional training, as an attorney or physician for instance, could certainly command higher pay in the private sector. That is clearly not the case for millions. Indeed, average government wages have, since the Obama years, surpassed private sector remuneration in aggregate. And with this, not only is there no conception of the parasitical nature of this unnatural and anti-economic asymmetry, there is a kind of hubristic pride attached to it—as if one “does well by doing good.” The layers of delusion and economic nonsense are so tightly fused that now everyone is compelled to buy into the deception, quite literally, with every taxed transaction of your financial existence. Is it still abuse if the victim is not conscious of the crimes being perpetrated? 

This kind of seeded deception requires seed (the ideas of Marx), a sower (the educational systems), and intent (the public’s naive trust in the educational system). It may be hard to believe because it all seems so fresh—especially given the cratering of traditional educational standards of the 1980s that were still able to produce an occasional Republican voter—but the deliberate skewing of the educational system for both financial gain and cultural advantage has been underway in this country since the 1840s. I know, I know. You will wonder why, if this is the case, how it is that we didn’t become Sovietized before the Russians! I will describe it in greater detail at another time, but the case has been made in elaborate, forensic detail by the late John Taylor Gatto (1935-2018); it is one important chapter in the long and deep cultural history of the impact of “left-ish” forces since the Reformation that has been part and parcel of the modern Right’s critique prior to the emergence of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s “new” Right in the 1950s.

Ignorance of our own intellectual heritage is one of the intended byproducts of the seeded deception—with the advent of Reconstruction, “current events” evolved from being inert facts to being objects of deliberate propagandistic distortion in the classroom since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. The easiest case in point: every Boomer has been force-fed ideological gavage about the United Nations, probably, since grammar school. The fact that this organization’s objectives and personnel from our own country were dedicated to the victory of international communism is still actively denied by the professional Left. 

We will get as much deception as we tolerate.

Third Thesis: Affective Impairment. This is not a particularly new thought vector. Rossiter and Haidt have looked at the phenomenon of the psychological structure of the liberal Left from the point of view of personality development and the Big Five personality traits, respectively. To simplify, both see the “leftist mind,” if you will, as either not whole, not healthy, or both.

The most pristine example of the practical reality of a cognitive defect on the American Left is, paradoxically, completely understood by the political leadership of the American Left! The classic “Exhibit A” will always be Prof. Jonathan Gruber’s recorded statement that the entire pretext for the wording of Obamacare was, “the stupidity of the American voter.” More specifically, this is a tacit admission that those who were against the bill had correctly understood the fundamentally flawed, indeed criminal, deception involved. Gruber explains that the proponents of socialized “health care” could in fact rely on the intrinsic stupidity of Democrats. The implicit strategy was made explicit:  people who are routinely persuaded by intention alone and habitually ignore the labor of comparing factual and counterfactuals, to say nothing of performing a “gut check” on the potential significance of a bureaucratic shell game—these people could be relied on to miss the deliberate deception.

Indeed, the typical Democrat/Leftist is barely capable of reproducing the basic arguments in support of whatever cause is being marketed to them at any given time; just as certain is their inability to reproduce any rational argument against their cause. In lieu of argument and demonstrations, they rely on aesthetic heuristics—the conformity of an image with the tenets of their belief system. For instance, a taste for a certain stylistic alignment between one’s attire and one’s home furnishings is not a simple matter of “lifestyle preference.” Stylistic immersion and saturation in anti-human systems of form are a dead giveaway that the individual in question sees neither clothes nor dwelling as a fitted environment for the body, the family, and the community. Rather, these objects are seen as props on a stage, where one’s life becomes a platform for the communication of an ideological commitment that is intended to be read as “self expression.” More on the heuristic value of aesthetics below.

Opposition to any given Leftist policy constitutes a threat to their dual cosmologies, that must always be kept in harmony:(a) the inner, mental egalitarian fiction that we are all equal despite overwhelming evidence of the senses and the conduct of Nature and (b) the outer, environmental fiction that Nature, far from being indifferent, is actually taking sides. Stranded dolphins, for instance, somehow become a symbolic demonstration of Earth’s revulsion with Donald Trump’s coiffure. Instances of apophenia of this magnitude are no longer reserved for asylums for schizophrenics; this kind of thinking can be heard from Protestant pulpits, talk show hosts, and even nature programs. 

See the rest here

Be seeing you

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