Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why Liberals Don't Read Their Bills, Evade Their Constituents, but "Penetrate the Message Wars"

Much has been made of the fact that Democratic congressmen have admitted to not having read the monstrous bills that they are attempting to ram through the House. Says Rep. John Conyers:

“I love these members, they get up and say, ‘Read the bill,’” said Conyers.

“What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?”

Meanwhile, as anger over the legislation being debated in the Congress spills over into town hall meetings, news is emerging from all over the country that Democratic congressmen are simply avoiding meeting with their outraged constituents. As I discussed in my last post, the Democrats in Congress have condescendingly dismissed these protests as "manufactured", "astro-turf" protests carried out by racist "anti-reform mobs", or as Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid recently called them, "evil mongers". (I should note that Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee did graciously make time for the town hall protesters, although, the speakers did have to talk loudly in order to be heard over her cell phone conversation! And, Barney Frank managed to insult and disrespect his constituents very nicely as usual - although give him props for showing up.) For the latest example of their tactics, consider this post which details a left wing organization's attempt to pressure Glenn Beck's sponsors into pulling ads:
We're making incredible progress. As Glenn Beck's advertisers learn of his hateful rhetoric, and how deeply it concerns thousands of organized people across the country, they're deciding that they don't want their companies associated with Beck's divisive fear-mongering. [emphasis mine]
As always, there is no discussion of the content or validity of Beck's claims - only the accusation that he is "hateful" and a "fear-monger."

When liberals take time off from ad hominem and smears in order to broach the subject of proof, what do they offer as "evidence"? Consider this
op-ed written by Obama himself arguing for socialized medicine in which he offers nothing but mushy sentimentality, vague platitudes, and outright contradictions [1]. Additionally, recall Harry Reid's reference to Sen. Mark Begich's melting glacier "pictures" as evidence, and Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk's "feeling" that glaciers were melting - while literally in space. And finally, we can now add this smoking gun offered by Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Stabenow:
"Climate change is very real," she confessed as she embraced cap and trade's massive tax increase on Michigan industry - at the same time claiming, against all the evidence, that it would not lead to an increase in manufacturing costs or energy prices. "Global warming creates volatility. I feel it when I'm flying. The storms are more volatile. We are paying the price in more hurricanes and tornadoes." [emphasis mine]

While scientists like Dr. Will Happer rely on scientific reasoning to explain the causal relationship of CO2 to climate, economists such as Dr. George Reisman soberly demonstrate how individual rights and capitalism allow for the best possible way to adapt to any circumstance, and rational businessmen, like CEO John Mackey, offer intelligent approaches to health care that address the causes of the crisis, the liberals offer us anecdotes and expressions of their feelings.

In a previous post, I attempted to explain the reasons why such tactics are necessitated by their approach to ideas. Since they take a non-conceptual or non-objective approach, they must rely on faith or belief in the absence of evidence which necessitates appealing to others on the basis of non-cognitive factors such as emotion or mysticism. Consequently, the left must urge others to believe their ideas, not because they can prove that they are right, but because it feels good, or equivalently, because the opposing view scares them. Any rational scientist would be eager to stand up and demonstrate the validity of his theory by reference to the facts and the use of logic. Conversely, the intellectually bankrupt left hides from their opposition and offers nothing but slurs and appraisals of their emotions.

This is part of the reason that liberal congressmen, in defiance of economic and scientific logic, impetuously vote for Byzantine bills that threaten to upend a significant portion of the economy without bothering to analyze the details. The bills appeal to them on an emotional level - the level on which they are accustomed to operating. While it is a fact that the bills appeal to them emotionally, the question of why the particular content of these bills appeals to them still remains. I believe the answer rests on further consequences of the denial of objective epistemology and ethics.

To start, consider a another popular leftist tactic. Quoting an Obama adviser on their failure to pass health care:

Another adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, "We always knew how challenging health care was. We knew it in the campaign. It's really compounded by trying to do it in a very tough environment. I think a lot of the stuff we've been doing lately is right. You've just got to figure out how to penetrate the message war." [emphasis mine]

This sentiment is expressed over and over by members of the Left. In other words, they never question the logic or reasonability of their own position - only the notion that the message is not being conveyed properly, i.e., people are not being properly conditioned by their appeals to emotion or the public smearing of the opposition. Consider their absolute obsession with Fox News, their threats to impose censorship of conservative talk radio (excuse me, a "fairness doctrine"), and their own diabolical emphasis on propaganda [1,2]. It is also not a coincidence that they connote these efforts as a form of "war".

When an individual rejects the efficacy of his own mind, like an animal, he must turn to a group for guidance, protection, and a sense of pseudo-self worth. The subjectivist left regards people, not as individuals, but as members of collectives whose identities are determined by the attributes of their group. Accordingly, they do not evaluate an idea in terms of truth or falsehood. That is too "simplistic." According to the left, people are conditioned by their circumstances, their "environment", or their race, socio-economic class, or gender. Therefore, it is not necessary to reason or offer a policy that is logically consistent with abstract principles pertaining to individual rights or the laws of economics. One must condition the opposition or "penetrate the message war" by finding some non-cognitive form of appeal, i.e., by offering warm and fuzzy platitudes or demonizing the opposition.

Accordingly, the left must view ideas as the arbitary products of warring mobs. "Of course you would argue for capitalism," they might say, "you are a white male." "Of course you would argue that 2+2=4", they might say, "you are funded by the math lobby." The view that the validity of an idea is a function of group identity is the root of the now famous statement made by Justice Sotomayor in a lecture:

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

It is also the root of the fact that in the same lecture "she raised the possibility that people of different races 'have basic differences in logic and reasoning'" which would imply the existence of "Black Logic, White Logic, or Latino Logic." Such a view combines two theories: determinism and collectivism. Determinism holds that man is a product of factors outside of his control. Collectivism holds that the factors which determine him are a function of his membership in a particular group. Both reject volition and the efficacy of the independent, reasoning mind.

As I argued in the previous post, a faith based approach to knowledge has a frightening corollary. If there is no objective frame of reference by which to resolve truth and thereby provide a rational means for persuasion, the only alternative is physical force or violence. This has particular implications in the case of collectivism. Quoting Ayn Rand:

The philosophy of collectivism upholds the existence of a mystic (and unperceivable) social organism, while denying the reality of perceived individuals—a view which implies that man’s senses are not a valid instrument for perceiving reality. Collectivism maintains that an elite endowed with special mystic insight should rule men—which implies the existence of an elite source of knowledge, a fund of revelations inaccessible to logic and transcending the mind. Collectivism denies that men should deal with one another by voluntary means, settling their disputes by a process of rational persuasion; it declares that men should live under the reign of physical force (as wielded by the dictator of the omnipotent state)—a position which jettisons reason as the guide and arbiter of human relationships.

For a practical example of this, consider my previous analysis of the philosophy of Cass Sunstein, Obama's regulatory czar, who holds the view that people are an amorphous blob that needs to be "nudged" by the state into performing their duty as "citizens". Quoting Sunstein:

...If people are mostly watching a conservative station – say, Fox News-they will inevitably be affected by what they see. Whatever one’s political view, there is, in an important respect, a problem from the standpoint of freedom itself. This is so even if people are voluntarily choosing the limited fare. [emphasis mine]

In other words, people are "inevitably" conditioned by what they experience which implies that people do not have volitional control over their own mind. Apparently, according to Sunstein, once an idea impinges upon someone's consciousness, they are helpless to stop it. This, he declares, is a problem "from the standpoint of freedom" which implies that the government must monitor and control what people "experience" so that they are not conditioned improperly (meaning conditioned by non-liberal ideas.) In principle, such an idea leads directly to all out dictatorship. No problem for him. Consider another Sunstein whammy related to your "duty as a citizen":

...If people are constructing a Daily Me that is restricted to sports or to the personal lives of celebrities, they are not operating in the way that citizenship requires. This does not mean that people have to be thinking about public affairs all, most, or even much of the time. But it does mean that each of us has rights and duties as citizens, not simply as consumers. As we will see, active citizen engagement is necessary to promote not only democracy but social well-being too. And in the modern era, one of the most pressing obligations of a citizenry that is not inert is to ensure that “deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary.” For this to happen, it is indispensable to ensure that they system of communications promotes democratic goals. Those goals emphatically require both unchosen exposures and shared experiences. [emphasis mine]

(Do not ask what an "unchosen exposure" might be.)

In effect, he is implying that since people will act in accordance with how they are conditioned by their group identity or by the nature of the ideas which they unconsciously assimilate (mostly from Fox News), it is up to special philosopher-kings to rule (or "nudge") the masses into performing desired behaviors and effecting desired outcomes.

So, what is a desirable outcome and how will our leftist philosopher kings ensure that they can achieve it?

The rejection of objective reality leads to the belief that anything is possible as long as one believes it is possible. Quoting Ayn Rand:

A later school of more Kantian Pragmatists amended this philosophy as follows. If there is no such thing as an objective reality, men’s metaphysical choice is whether the selfish, dictatorial whims of an individual or the democratic whims of a collective are to shape that plastic goo which the ignorant call “reality,” therefore this school decided that objectivity consists of collective subjectivism—that knowledge is to be gained by means of public polls among special elites of “competent investigators” who can “predict and control” reality—that whatever people wish to be true, is true, whatever people wish to exist, does exist, and anyone who holds any firm convictions of his own is an arbitrary, mystic dogmatist, since reality is indeterminate and people determine its actual nature.

In other words, at some level, the politicians believe that they can control reality. If they can form a consensus, condition people to accept their ideas, or "keep hope alive", they can make anything "work". Since anything is possible (as long as the right people are in charge), anything can be made to happen. The government can create prosperity by taking over auto companies and forcing them to make cars that no one wants. They can prop up toxic banks with money they create out of thin air. They can create prosperity by robbing the earnings of some to literally buy junk or "clunkers". They can stimulate prosperity by increasing the costs of energy. They can enslave doctors, increase quality, and decrease the cost of medical care all at the same time!

And what is a desirable outcome?

The philosophical pragmatist does not hold any explicit moral theory but absorbs it from others. Obama's default morality is altruism, or self-sacrifice which has dominated the West for two thousand years. In particular, he upholds liberation theology which fuses Marxism with Christianity. As a Marxist, Obama views the world in terms of two warring collectives, the capitalists and the proletariat or, in their terms, the exploiters and the exploited. Since the "exploiting" mob is evil, any idea espoused by the"exploiters" must be tainted or "manufactured" in order to acheive some selfish end. Conversely, since Obama regards his goals as morally "pure", i.e. based on religious altruism, any claims made or actions taken in defense of the exploited are morally valid, i.e., the ends justifies the means.

A moral theory that upholds sacrifice must uphold egalitarianism, the belief in equal outcomes regardless of effort, ability, or character. Since such a theory is a contradiction, in practice, it means that the state must punish the most productive in order to serve the least productive. Quoting Ayn Rand:

Since nature does not endow all men with equal beauty or equal intelligence, and the faculty of volition leads men to make different choices, the egalitarians propose to abolish the “unfairness” of nature and of volition, and to establish universal equality in fact—in defiance of facts. Since the Law of Identity is impervious to human manipulation, it is the Law of Causality that they struggle to abrogate. Since personal attributes or virtues cannot be “redistributed,” they seek to deprive men of their consequences—of the rewards, the benefits, the achievements created by personal attributes and virtues. It is not equality before the law that they seek, but inequality: the establishment of an inverted social pyramid, with a new aristocracy on top—the aristocracy of non-value.

The premise underlying virtually every welfare scheme, every intervention into the economy, and every strangling regulation is altruism and egalitarianism, i.e., the idea that those who pursue their own life and values are evil and that the government is morally justified in expropriating the wealth of those who have earned it and redistributing it those who have not.

In summary, leftist ideology can be reduced to the following: People need to be ruled in order to effect outcomes that are consistent with the default morality of altruism or self-sacrifice. Why do people need to be ruled? Because, people will act in accordance with how they are conditioned by their group identity or by the unconscious assimilation of evil ideas. It is up to special philosopher-kings to rule (or "nudge") the masses in order to bring about desired behavior and outcomes, i.e., behavior untainted by the pursuit of selfish motivations leading to equal outcomes regardless of individual effort or character. Therefore, as long as a proposed bill is morally consistent with altruism and practically entails state control, the liberals will vote for it. The details are irrelevant.

The similarity in form to secular leftists in government to theocratic dictators in the Middle Ages or the Inquisition is not a coincidence. The difference between the non-conceptual left (who reject objectivty on secular grounds) and the non-conceptual right (who reject objectivity on religious grounds) is nominal. In both cases, a non-objective approach leads to appeals to faith, bizarrely arbitary or contradictory claims (such as religious miracles or Keynesian economics), warring mobs, violent censorship of dissenters, philosopher-king power lust, economic stagnation, and human misery. Conversely, historical periods associated with belief in the efficacy of reason and the power of the human mind give rise to the valuation of freedom and individual rights, scientific progress, technology, economic prosperity, and human happiness - and individuals who proudly and explicitly defend their ideals.

8 comments:

Doug Reich said...

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601039&sid=aNjLN73fQVj8

I thought this article by Caroline Baum was interesting. She makes some similar observations to the ones I have made in this post and others related to the left's smearing of their opposition rather than answering their very real and very reasonable concerns.

p.s. Yes, I realize that I now write posts and comment on them to myself. The life of a blogger...

Kevin said...

The tendency for social scientists and people on the left to prefer feelings and belief over actual fact and logic was effectively and humorously proven a few years back when a physicist wrote a completely nonsensical article that he got published in a social-sciences academic journal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair). I found the social scientists' explanation to be particular self-incriminating. They explained that while they thought the work was of poor quality they felt that he was "reaching out" to them from another discipline and that they should therefor publish it. As though "reaching out" somehow gives it scientific merit.

Doug Reich said...

Kevin,

LOL. I remember reading about that incident, but I didn't know about the "reaching out" claim. That is a perfect illustration of the point. They obviously had no idea what he was talking about, but it was complicated "so it must be profound" (to quote The Fountainhead).

One aspect of this that I find amusing is that in the absence of objectivity, these social scientists seem to want to act like scientists so they emulate the "form" of physical scientists which in their mind means "writing about really complex topics that seem unintelligible and using mathematical equations". That makes them "feel" scientific although they are actually expressing nothing.

I have been trying to work on part II of my "modern intellectual virtue of complexity" post and I think I will use your example. I'm also going to use a recent Economist article that breaks down the two different "alternatives" currently in modern economics which is nonsensical theory vs. brute empiricism.

Anyway, thanks for linking that one.

Perplexio said...

Excellent post (as always)... but I would argue that there's even a little more to it.

In order to better flesh out my own arguments and thoughts I often listen to talk radio from BOTH ends of the political spectrum... On my evening commutes I often find myself switching between the conservative Michael Medved and the liberal Thom Hartmann.

The other day on Thom Hartmann he had a caller who was admonishing Obama's call to African-American fathers to take more responsibility. The caller argued that (paraphrased) "We're all adults and should be treated as such. Thus Obama's comments were out of line as they insinuated we aren't adults."

I thought to myself as I was listening-- therein lies one of the biggest philosophical differences between liberals and conservatives in this country...

Conservatives believe that things like respect and trust must be earned.

Liberals believe that trust and respect are a given. We are all entitled to these things.

I think that also speaks to how/why liberals and conservatives view certain rights differently. I'd argue that most conservatives believe that most rights come with responsibilities... Rights aren't freely given, they're earned by acting responsibly. The Constitution grants us these rights with the understanding that we will exercise them responsibly.

Liberals on the other hand look at rights as entitlements-- we're given them freely. Thus there are certain rights we shouldn't have as we aren't responsible or smart enough to exercise those rights properly-- we need Big Brother Government to tell us how to exercise those rights responsibly.

Doug Reich said...

Perp (may I call you Perp...?)

Thanks for the comment. You raise a great discussion topic. Let me give you my take on this because there a many issues involved.

Part I (response)

First, you said that the caller "was admonishing Obama's call to African-American fathers to take more" responsibility" and was upset because he thought "Obama's comments were out of line as they insinuated we aren't adults." The caller appears to be criticizing this very common liberal paternalism in which the all knowing, all seeing Dear Leader condescendingly offers us guidance and insight on how we should all live our lives. (For instance, I received a David Axelrod - White House.gov email a few weeks ago which urged everyone to “wash their hands” to avoid swine flu).

I will talk about the root causes of that paternalism in a minute, but let me say that perhaps for the first time in history, I am actually going to agree with Obama on this one! (Everyone take a second to grasp what just happened…Okay, let’s go on.) Gus Van Horn wrote a really good piece discussing a recent Walter Williams op-ed related to “profiling” (http://gusvanhorn.blogspot.com/2009/08/williams-on-profiling.html) in which he discussed the need to distinguish “genetic” factors from “cultural” ones. I think there are cultural differences and by that I mean certain philosophic and moral precepts adopted predominantly by certain cultures which very much influence and affect those cultures. Since people have free will not every member of a culture has to adopt such precepts but it does mean people will tend to be influenced by it. One of the facts that can be observed about black culture is the tremendous number of single mother families relative to other cultures. I think it is appropriate for Obama to admonish black fathers to take responsibility for their actions and their families. Rather than blaming outside factors and encouraging some form of collectivist victimization, this appears to be an example of Obama actually urging individual responsibility for which I applaud him!

Typically, this is not the case. This liberal paternalism which leads to the “nanny state” type of programs is a result of the exact opposite approach. For example, programs like affirmative action that hold minorities to a lower standard than white males denies individualism and is insulting and racist. This type of thinking follows directly from the premises I cited in my post. In other words, liberals hold that people are determined by class, race or gender. To them, your membership in a group determines your identity. This, for example, is the root of the “slavery reparations claim”. In other words, they see blacks as appendages of some giant collective whole, and so, if in the past, an injustice was done to one part of the whole then justice can be served by punishing a part of the white collective. This approach represents a total denial of individual sovereignty and responsibility.

end part 1

Doug Reich said...

Part II continued

This type of approach is inherent in Marxism which informs virtually all leftist thinking. Marx saw the world in terms of exploiters and the exploited – the capitalists and the proletariat. He held that the value of any finished good was solely equal to the amount of physical labor that went into it. Therefore, any profit made by the owner of the means of production was a form of exploitation of the worker. Therefore, the state has a moral duty to expropriate the wealth of the rich and redistribute it to the poor who actually deemed to be responsible for the wealth. Of course, this is all consistent with the morality of altruism and egalitarianism which acts to reinforce this economic theory and leads to the equation of Marxism with “social justice.”

What gives the “leaders” the right to direct the mob? They are Platonic philosopher kings who by virtue of their own group membership (usually the offspring of rich parents who can afford to send them to an Ivy League school), are able to divine truth and serve to mete out social justice to members of warring collectives literally unable to choose or determine their own values - who left to their own devices would rape, pillage, and exploit the weaker collectives. Accordingly, the philosopher kings must determine what a company should produce, how much it should produce, what salary is appropriate, how much premium an insurance company should charge, what conditions it should cover, when to wash your hands, what you should be able to watch on state media, how much gas you can use, how much tax to withhold from your income, how much you should save for social security, what type of energy is “good for the planet”, what qualifications you need to obtain a license, etc. etc. etc.

They are the all-knowing, all-seeing Central Planners carefully and busily pulling state levers to insure egalitarian outcomes to their human chattel.

end part II

Doug Reich said...

Part III continued

Let me take partial issue with something you said although I may be misunderstanding.

You said: I'd argue that most conservatives believe that most rights come with responsibilities... Rights aren't freely given, they're earned by acting responsibly. The Constitution grants us these rights with the understanding that
we will exercise them responsibly.

I do not know what you mean by “responsibilities” in this context and your comment that “they’re earned”. If you mean that individuals are responsible for their own actions, then I agree. However, usually, this sentiment is expressed to mean that rights are “granted” and necessitate some form of altruist duty to society.

First, by “right” I mean a “moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.” (aynrandlexicon.com) I would say that liberals completely invert the concept of rights. They see rights as entitlements to a particular good or service with a corresponding obligation of others to provide it. This conception of rights follows directly from what I wrote in my post related to egalitarianism, altruism, and collectivism.

Properly, rights pertain to freedoms of action – not to outcomes. Rights are not “granted” in this sense. We possess rights by virtue of our nature as humans. The Constitution or any legal document does not “grant” rights, it should merely codify an acknowledgement that these rights exist and that the function of the government is to protect them. It should therefore state what the government is allowed to do in the context of these rights. I say this because I think this is one of the flaws of “constitutionalist” political arguments. They almost seem to imply that the Constitution is the basis of our rights rather than understanding that we are endowed with rights by virtue of our nature. Your comment almost seems to imply that the government “grants” us these rights but can take them away.

Let me state this in a positive way. Individuals are sovereign, independent, and have free will. By nature, they possess the right to live, think, act, and own property as long as they don’t violate others rights (by initiating force against someone else). The government’s job is to protect these rights. Everyone is responsible for their own actions legally and morally and must deal with one another voluntarily.

I hope this helps – sorry so long.

Perplexio said...

My comments regarding responsibilities associated with rights is more focused on the idea that the responsibilities associated with rights are the responsibilities of the individuals to exercise their rights in a way that does not violate the rights of others.

The difference between liberals and conservatives being that conservatives believe the individuals are intelligent enough to know how to exercise their rights responsibly-- the responsibilities associated with the rights are implicit as they are natural and come not from the government but from God/Yahweh/The Creator/Allah/Nature/etc. The liberals believe a paternal father-figure entity (the government) is necessary to tell us how to exercise our rights responsibly.

As for Marx and his pal Engels-- neither of them were working men. They had the luxury of wealth that allowed them to come up with their egalitarian philosophies. They didn't have to work to contribute to the society that they saw as being so unjust. That being said, they were also the products of an era in which the class system was a bit more rigid-- when wealth was accumulated more through inheritance than hard work. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with inheriting money-- as truly it is the right of people to determine what happens to their posessions after their passing. However, I would argue money that is earned is generally more appreciated by those who earn it than money which is inherited. But again-- this goes back to personal responsibility. Responsibility is a mandate of the individual not the government. Some of us will exercise responsibility in how we exercise our rights-- others will not. And those who don't-- due to the natural order of things (not anything the government says or does) will suffer the consequences of their actions or inactions.