Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
November 23, 2008 - November 16, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Good Question...

Kathleen Parker stressing over her email. Or is it existential angst?

THE CONTINUING FRACAS. From commenter Jayteee:

"I'm a mite confused, IP, by all this talk that the GOP must jettison cultural conservative and become neo-Rockefeller-ites. What exactly has the Religious Right wrought that so upsets the likes of David Brooks? From what I've seen, it's succeeded in passing a few popular no brainers like parental notification for pubescent abortions and one or two supposedly unpopular measures like the ban on federal funding of embryonic research, soon to be overturned by Obambi. I'm a Catholic and for 30 years I've been told by the media that theocracy is right around the corner, with Jerry Fallwell standing in as a modern day John Calvin/Torquemada. What the hell am I missing? Conservatives lost the cultural battle decades ago and all these whiners like Kathleen Parker think the key to a GOP comeback is for conservatives to give it a rest and embrace our inner Larry Flynt. Please enlighten..."

It's complicated and it's also simple. What's complicated is all the infighting among the conservative intelligentsia. They can't figure out what to do about the social conservative base, and when anyone takes a hard position on it they get offended by it, angry, or otherwise emotional without clarifying the dilemma much. For example, Kathleen Parker has written yet another column complaing about the mistreatment she's received since writing her multiple, insulting dismissals of Sarah Palin. An excerpt:

As Republicans sort out the reasons for their defeat, they likely will overlook or dismiss the gorilla in the pulpit.

Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D.

I'm bathing in holy water as I type.

To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn't soon cometh.

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth — as long as we're setting ourselves free — is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

So far, Jonah Goldberg, bless his heart,  has responded twice. First with a scathing personal riposte:

Quit It Kathleen.

To my friend Kathleen Parker — This act is getting really old....

I don't know what's more grating, the quasi-bigotry that has you calling religious Christians low brows, gorillas and oogedy-boogedy types or the bravery-on-the-cheap as you salute — in that winsome way — your own courage for saying what (according to you) needs to be said. Please stop bragging about how courageous you are for weathering a storm of nasty email you invite on yourself by dancing to a liberal tune. You aren't special for getting nasty email, from the right or the left. You aren't a martyr smoking your last cigarette. You're just another columnist, talented and charming to be sure, but just another columnist. You are not Joan of the Op-Ed Page. Perhaps the typical Washington Post reader (or editor) doesn't understand that. But you should, and most conservatives familiar with these issues can see through what you're doing.

But that didn't settle all the questions that are swirling in the air, so he came back for another stab at it:

My email box runneth over with nice attaboys and more than a few interesting criticisms regarding my post about Kathleen Parker. Keying off some of the criticisms, here's one thing I want to know, as I sit here at the Whither Conservatism conference.  What aspects of the Christian Right amount to oogedy-boogedyism? I take oogedy-boogedy to be a perjorative reference to absurd superstition and irrational nonsense. So where has the GOP embraced to its detriment oogedy-boogedyism? With the possible exception of some variants of creationism (which is hardly a major issue at the national level in the GOP, as much as some on the left and a few on the right try to make it one), I'm at a loss as to what Kathleen is referring to. Opposition to abortion? Opposition to gay marriage? Euthanasia? Support for prayer in school?

Which, Jaytee, you'll probably notice is essentially a restatement of the question you asked me. But it's a better departure point for providing the simple answer because of this one reductionist query: "What aspects of the Christian Right amount to oogedy-boogedyism?" And because of Jonah Goldberg's own revealing response to it: "I'm at a loss as to what Kathleen is referring to." (He doesn't make much progress beyond this in the remainder of the post, fyi...)

Chances are, Kathleen doesn't know, either. The real "oogedy-boogedy" factor is belief in God and the Christian faith. That's what's so alarming about most of the Religious Right. Conservative intellectuals in general believe in the family values they espouse, the right to life of fetuses from conception, and the right-wrong morality taught by organized Christian denominations. They may even belong to one of the older, less proselytizing denominations themselves -- Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic. Which is to say they endorse religion for its cultural value. But the dirty secret is that in their heart of hearts they don't really believe in God as he is described by Christianity, and they are both frightened and repelled by people who do.

Many of them do not even know this about themselves. When asked, they answer affirmatively to the question, "Do you believe in God?," but they are not seeing Christ on the cross in their mind's eye. They are seeing an abstraction, possibly an incomprehensibly intelligent one, behind the existence of the universe. They do not believe in miracles, divine incarnations among men, divine interventions that breach the laws of physics, and more than that, they see no divine hand in the creation of moral laws by which believers seek to govern themselves. To the extent that such conservative apostates profess belief in Christianity, it is an intellectual belief in the positive power of a beautiful and philosophically resonant metaphor. It takes a semantic trick and a certain willful blindness for them to see their allegiance to metaphor as a kind of immutable truth, but many of them manage it.

I grant that there are exceptions. William F. Buckley was in all likelihood a devout Roman Catholic. But he is also gone, and there is a significant generational erosion underway even among those whom, like Kathleen Parker, he may have personally mentored. What they admired in him was his sparkling intellect, which to their eyes distinguished him far more as a person than his private dialogues with his God.

There's nothing oddball about my diagnosis. As has been documented many times, the elite conservative intelligentsia were mostly educated at prestigious colleges and universities squarely in line with the tradition of "liberal" education, which has waged a systematic and successful long-term campaign against the embrace of the irrational which Christian religion represents to believers in the scientific method, modern psychology, and contemporary cosmology. The bigger the universe gets, the smaller human beings get, and there's no room left in their worldview for an intimate, personally available god. If you think this trend isn't intentional or all-conquering, consider that most major seminaries spend most of the curriculum deconstructing the provenance of the scriptures. Training for the priesthood involves learning that the gospels are a fairy tale written in the context of complex Roman and Judaic politics in the first century A.D. Any faith which survives this process is probably a helpful semi-delusion that serves principally to energize the sermons and personal advice a priest is required by doctrine to offer his parishioners.

This is the source of the schizophrenic back-and-forth we see in the relationship between conservative elites and so-called social conservatives. They agree with the Religious Right on many points of policy. For example, they do oppose abortion, but they do so because it makes no logical sense to infer that a cluster of cells which exhibits all the attributes of life -- ingestion, growth, excretion, development along predictable, repeatable lines that will if left undisturbed produce a human being -- is somehow not a human life as valuable and as deserving of protection as any other. They don't need to believe in God to believe in that. They may believe in the moral value of the Ten Commandments and defend their display in public buildings because there is no historical basis whatever for concluding that the authors of the constitution ever dreamed of prohibiting same. They almost certainly believe, based on pure common sense if nothing else, that the traditional family unit of a man, a woman and their children bound together by vows and publicly accepted responsibilities to one another for life is absolutely preferable to a society in which everyone does whatever he likes and expects everyone else to overlook, forgive, and pay for the consequences without protest. But they don't need the Judeo-Christian God for that. They just need his example as a part of our cultural tradition.

The problem arises when significant numbers of the Religious Right, as they most certainly do, haul out their Bibles and insist that their actions and intentions are backed by the Almighty himself, regardless of what words are written into the law of the land or what behaviors are sanctioned by a broad, indifferent consensus. When the believers stand up to claim that they are absolutely right, without reference to logic, science, political theory, or human psychology, that's oogedy-boogedy time. The elites are embarrassed to be seen in the same room or on the same stage with such people. Their honest, matter-of-fact belief in God and Jesus Christ is the exact reason they are idiots. Kathleen Parker actually got it right; she even spelled it out for us -- "G - O - D."

What can the elites do about that, even in their private hearts? They can't admit it. But they can't change it, either. These people, with whom they share so many fundamental cultural traditions and values, are idiots because they haven't learned to amputate good ideas from their entirely mythological source. And consider the difficulty of defending the declaration in the previous sentence. It's somehow smarter to accept an idea in the full knowledge that it was produced by a bogus set of ignorant superstitions than it is to affirm that the superstitions may not be so bogus if their output has been so helpful in building successful human societies? Uh, go away, please.

The elites don't want to open up that can of worms. To them, the Religious Right is in the best of circumstances a kind of crazy uncle in a lowbrow doubleknit suit. At worst, he is the horrifying skeleton in the family closet that may one day expose the bastard genetics of the whole lineage.

Oogedy-boogedy. When they see it, they cross themselves (metaphorically speaking) and cross the street. Some of them don't want to admit their de facto atheism to themselves. Others don't want to admit it to their political opponents, who will be quick  to articulate and win the legitimacy argument. Still others don't want to piss off the Religious Right because they are still needed, however much they make you cringe at cocktail parties. That's why all the "intelligent" conversations about the Christian Right get so confused, opaque, and circular. They'd rather the problem never came up at all. Which is why the only real response they can make is, "Quit it, Kathleen."


The House Within

The Christ figure of ultimate rationalism.

AFTERTHOUGHTS. Now that IP has just raised the issue of religious faith in the conservative coalition, I'm having kind of an "aha" moment. When he reproduced the comment that got him banned from DailyPundit, I was intrigued by the TV shows he pressed on Bill Quick. South Park and AbFab seem pretty self-explanatory; puncturing self-absorbed self-importance and skewering fads of the moment are their stock in trade, and viewing them would obviously be therapeutic to anyone who's gotten the cockeyed notion he might be saving the world with his latest obsession of the moment. The recommendation of House, though, didn't make immediate sense to me. Now it's beginning to.

I watched it frequently during the first two seasons and enjoyed it for a while as a truly dark comedy, which is unusual fare in commercial American TV. (If that sounds snobbish, I don't mean it to. Americans like comedies, and they also like dark dramas aplenty, from Law and Order SVU to Lost and Fringe. But Neilsen ratings would tend to suggest that comedic dark dramas haven't exactly become a genre.) The ratings success of House produced at least one attempt at a copy, 3 lbs, but it was cancelled after a handful of episodes.  From the start, the show's biggest attraction was the star, Hugh Laurie, who succeeded amazingly well in making his character magnetic, if not likeable, and I enjoyed his performance in the role, which was actually quite extraordinary. He somehow contrived to translate broad acting methods appropriate for the theatrical stage into the miniature world of TV acting without looking like John Barrymore hamming it up in all his terrible movies.

Then I grew weary of the formulaic plots and the, well, darkness of it all. In a typical episode, and they got increasingly typical, a patient would present to the Princeton-Plainsboro hospital with curious or contradictory symptoms which required the sagacity of the world's greatest diagnostician to decrypt. The unrelievedly misanthropic Gregory House would then proceed to bully and insult his not terribly attractive underlings into testing his unconfirmed diagnostic theories by proceeding immediately to treatments which usually resulted in making the patient progressively worse until, at the last possible moment, he just saw the answer and saved the day. Along the way, House also pursued a series of petty personal vendettas and obsessions that seemed designed to drive everyone as far away from him as possible. It didn't help that the historical antecedent for his character was Sherlock Holmes, cold, blunt, ruthlessly analytical, uniquely arrogant, and at least professedly unconcerned with anything but the parts of the puzzle that contained "a few points of  interest." Also like Holmes, House was a drug addict, employing Vicodin the way his antecedent used cocaine to keep his mind separated from the demands of the body, which in House's case is embodied by a crippled leg in constant pain. But Sherlock Holmes was a paragon of human empathy compared to House, who mostly couldn't be bothered to see his patients in person or even remember their names. I stopped watching.

It would have ended there if it hadn't been for the election season. House was a one-trick pony, and the trick had ceased to entertain. But with the saturation of pro-Obama politicking in all television programming from news to late night to everywhere, I began of an evening to scout the reruns on lesser cable channels. There's one that seems 100 percent allocated to NCIS and House, curious combination, and I fell into a month-long habit of avoiding Fox News and other annoyances by watching the reruns of these two shows. And I made a discovery. House is every bit as bad as I've suggested it is. But it's also much better. There's a long arc to the show that transforms even its worst, most formulaic aspects into a kind of contemporary parable.

I'd have kept all this to myself if it hadn't been for IP's citation and his subsequent elevation of the importance of belief. So I could be completely wrong about this, but here's my brand new diagnosis of House.

It isn't a dark comedy at all. It's a tragedy. That's why Hugh Laurie's surprisingly stage-oriented acting style is so successful. He's a tragic hero, an archetype of a fatally flawed world view which all of us share to one degree or another without the annihilating self-awareness Gregory House exemplifies and struggles against to no avail. (I concede I almost have to be wrong about this because how could it happen on a network entertainment show?  Some subliminal effect conveyed to the writers by Hugh Laurie's talent, Oxbridge education, and dramatic instincts? Don't know. Just take my theorizing with a grain of salt. It could be post-election dementia, after all...)

House is the reductio ad absurdem of rational man. He scorns the possibility of God, or any god, with particular malice toward those who believe in a loving, interventionist, salvational god. And because he is so pure in his application of reason -- a la Sherlock Holmes -- he is ruthless about exposing the illogic and fuzzy compromises of those who want to have it both ways, believing in science while still giving lip service to the ineffable in human beings and their individual lives. He is the lone honest man in a schizophrenically dishonest culture. In this context, it's interesting that he is surrounded by a veritable constellation of dishonest compromisers, all of them physicians who understand and believe in the essential physicality of the human animal but seek to avoid the consequences of that belief in their own archetypal ways. There is the best friend (?), every bit as neurotic and damaged as House, who nevertheless believes that romantic love can save him. There is the hospital administrator who defers to House at every truly critical moment and who nevertheless believes that motherhood in some (any) form can save her. There are the three smart young staffers who work for House and yet believe that they can be saved by, respectively, self-sacrificing human empathy, absolute professional integrity, and yearning half-belief in God. Trained to disbelieve in meaning, they make it up out of their own deepest hurts to stave off the dark night of the soul. Only House has the guts to live without meaning. He makes mincemeat of all of them. He continuously exposes their hypocrisies, ridicules their delusions, humiliates their pretensions, and asserts his ultimate dominance by remaining absolutely pure in his rationality -- and his misery.

But it's not the case that he's never confounded or brought up short. He is, on an intermittent basis, by the patients he saves so cavalierly and so painfully (to them), as well as by characters who are expressly introduced as villains in terms of plot. His greatest frustrations occur when he encounters those who are clearly religious, or good, or committed to something more important than their own lives. There was the nun whose promiscuous pre-religious life he ruthlessly rooted out only to discover that her faith was proof against his disdain and that it had been strengthened by the seeming arbitrariness of her impending death. In this case, the cause of her illlness proved to be a long-forgotten copper IUD -- cruciform. There was the police detective who ran a House-style vendetta against House for his drug use and would have sent him to prison if all the disapproving physicians who alternately tolerated and contemned his addiction hadn't closed ranks around him and lied to get him off the hook. This outcome made no sense until the episode which began with a disgruntled House customer who shot him. In what was revealed at the end as a prolonged hallucination, House wound up in intensive care in a bed next to his attacker, who served as a kind of Grand Inquisitor on House's life.

In fact, this show produced the "aha" moment I referred to earlier. The shooter was the widower of a woman House had, in fact, healed, though his relentless search for the truth extracted a medically irrelevant confession of infidelity from the husband which House still shared with his patient. After leaving the hospital, the woman killed herself. The shooter acknowledged that he himself was principally responsible for his wife's death, but he also pressed House with the question, "Why can't you admit that you are at least partially responsible, too?" With typically checkmate logic, House retorted, "You can shoot people or you can ask for an apology. You can't do both." But later on, it's the shooter who has the upper hand. Referring to House's dependence on Vicodin, he points out (I'm paraphrasing now), "You use drugs to separate yourself from your body, so that life can be all about the mind, reason, intellect. But you despise people because they're physical in a way you refuse to be. So you wipe out all the value of what you do. It's all meaningless, and your existence is also meaningless as a result."

There is a moment in the episode where House turns to the shooter, unexpectedly and out of context, and says, "I'm sorry." Importantly, I believe, the rest of the episode closes slowly on the fact that House's brilliant mind is gradually deducing, a la Sherlock Holmes, that he is hallucinating an unreality that makes no sense. Which might very well be the permanent condition of House's life.

That's the fatal contradiction this show is slowly hammering into its audience, blow by blow and repetitive episode by repetitive episode. The supremely and exclusively rational view of the human condition as a purely physical phenomenon makes no sense because no one has any reason to survive if that is the truth of it. House's perseverant courage -- and it is courage, which is the core of his charisma -- notwithstanding, there is nothing more soul-destroying than the existential humiliation of the slowly closing grip of death, which squeezes all dignity from our lives in the form of piss and shit and pus and other disgusting symptoms of decay and futility. House is never more eloquent than when he is arguing for people to keep on living because there is nothing afterwards to look forward to and the process of dying itself is inevitably, invariably, ugly and terrible beyond imagining,

House dares to act out the real consequences of regarding all human life as a combination of physiology, genetics, and environmental influences we are powerless to control.  Yes, he has the doomed wit of an Oscar Wilde, but he is also as doomed as Wilde. As are the people around him who share his rational perspective but try to deny it in dishonest ways. We're being asked to look at a laboratory experiment involving some of the personal and professional credentials we've been taught to admire most. Their exclusively or predominantly rational worldview doesn't work. Surely, this is the reason why Al Gore stays on the national stage by predicting an environmental doom that is somehow emotionally pleasing to millions of people. It's how Obama got elected decrying all the terrible, inveterate flaws in the nation so many of us love for its idealism, hope, and aspiration. It's why Richard Dawkins can get away with making a religion of purposeless existence and atheism. The part of us that responds to these abysmal visions is the part that believes the wordview we've been taught in school for a century or more.

The message for those who oppose this dismal "liberal" view is not to devise a new political marketing strategy. It's to dare to return to the fundamentals. Does life have meaning? If it doesn't, there's absolutely no point in living it. Especially not as a schizophrenic hypocrite, half Leninist ideologue about the unitary indistinguishability of human animals and half feel-good delusionary about the transcendence of crystals, Wicca, and Gaia. If your philosophy of life is an oxymornic lie, you don't have it right. The mission for those who believe in life is to remember that this is the central question of existence and endeavor to answer it in a way that revitalizes our society and our nation.

Told you I was suffering from post-election dementia. I'd bet dollars to donuts that Hugh Laurie is tickled to death by the election of Obama. Such is life. But maybe IP was suggesting to DailyPundit that such questions are more important to our nation's future than the political platform of the American Conservative Party. You'd have to ask IP about that.

Just Because...

MYSTERIES OF LIFE. I firmly believe that dogs and modern humans created each other. Something to remember in a time of international stress. Pet your pet. You probably owe him more than you can comprehend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

YouTube Wednesday:

Looking Back

Hip-hop values become the mainstream. Even in the White House.

DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO. Here's the latest from one of the leading liberal arbiters of race relations in the United States, Salon Magazine:

First lady got back

I'm a black woman who never thought I'd see a powerful, beautiful female with a body like mine in the White House. Then I saw Michelle Obama -- and her booty!

By Erin Aubry Kaplan

Nov. 18, 2008 | Free at last. I never thought that I -- a black girl who came of age in the utterly anticlimactic aftermath of the civil rights movement -- would say the phrase with any real sincerity in my lifetime. But ever since Nov. 4, I've been shouting it from every rooftop. I'm not excited for the most obvious reason. Yes, Obama's win was an extraordinary breakthrough and a huge relief, but I don't subscribe to the notion that his capturing the White House represents the end of American racial history. Far from it. There is a certain freedom in the moment -- as in, we are all now free from wondering when or if we'll ever get a black president. Congratulations to all of us for being around to settle the question.

But what really thrills me, what really feels liberating in a very personal way, is the official new prominence of Michelle Obama. Barack's better half not only has stature but is statuesque. She has coruscating intelligence, beauty, style and -- drumroll, please -- a butt. (Yes, you read that right: I'm going to talk about the first lady's butt.)

What a bonus! From the ocean of nastiness and confusion that defined this campaign from the beginning, Michelle rose up like Venus on the waves, keeping her coif above water and cruising the coattails of history to present us with a brand-new beauty norm before we knew it was even happening.

Actually, it took me and a lot of other similarly configured black women by surprise. So anxious and indignant were we about Michelle getting attacked for saying anything about America that conservatives could turn into mud, we hardly looked south of her neck. I noted her business suits and the fact she hardly ever wore pants (unlike Hillary). As I gradually relaxed, as Michelle strode onto more stages and people started focusing on her clothes and presence instead of her patriotism, it dawned on me -- good God, she has a butt! "Obama's baby (mama) got back," wrote one feminist blogger. "OMG, her butt is humongous!" went a typical comment on one African-American online forum, and while it isn't humongous, per se, it is a solid, round, black, class-A boo-tay. Try as Michelle might to cover it with those Mamie Eisenhower skirts and sheath dresses meant to reassure mainstream voters, the butt would not be denied.

Well, it goes on like that. Yeah, I know. it's not racist when black people say it or write it. What about the rest of us? Are white males allowed to drool over and write odes about the gigantic ass of the First Lady of the United States? I doubt it. Frankly, I don't think anyone who presumes to be a respectable opinionmaker should be writing this way. Not even Peggy Noonan or Ann Coulter ever wrote an essay about what nice tits Laura Bush has. The operative rule is decorum. Or is this article a signal that decorum is one of those rotten old conservative values that will be discarded in the brave new world of African-American "rule"?

Probably not. I think it's rather a kind of trap. The anointed ones are allowed to talk this way, but woe betide those who are seduced into following their lead. Any white man who slobbers over the First Lady's butt the way Erin Aubry Kaplan does will instantly be condemned as a white trash slavemaster straight out of a William Faulkner novel. It will be seen as a kind of rape. We're supposed to admire the great First Butt, mind, but strictly in silence. And if any of us should happen to think the First Butt is a mite too big, then we will be tarred as racists.

Yes, we've entered the age of butt politics. Snoop Dogg and Kanye West will probably write million-selling raps about the celestial booty of Michelle Obama. If Toby Keith writes a song about it, he'll wind up in a holding cell in whatever comes to replace Guantanamo. It's part of the change we were promised. Did we mention that not all change is good change?

I think we did.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Not understanding the Hillary
Secretary of State gig

The worst job in the new administration?  Snake handling in foreign capitals.

DOES CAESAR EVER SERVE?  This isn't a post designed to share insights. It's the exact opposite. I simply cannot imagine how serving as Secretary of State is going to advance Hillary's career in any way. If any of you do, please let me know.

I can sort of see why Obama might offer it to her, though I'd regard it as a bad decision on his part unless he's desperately looking for cover on the likelihood that he's going to stay in Iraq despite his many promises to pull the plug. But he can't entirely escape the blame he'll receive from the far left if his policy turns out to be Bush Lite, and if he lets Hillary become the punching bag for it, he'll just look weak.

And what's in it for her? She'll have to give up her only ever elective office, so it's not likely she'd be signing up for just a year or two. Which means she'd be subjecting herself to a terrifying gauntlet of opportunities to look bad -- Iranian nuclear weapons; more disasters in Israel, possibly unthinkable ones; a ticking time bomb in Pakistan that will probably explode into chaos while bin Laden continues to elude capture; ongoing humiliations for the U.S. at the U.N.; double-dealing from the European Union, which is bound to go on no matter how much they profess to love Obama; futile negotiations with Saudi Arabia about everything, complicated by Bill's problematic financial ties to rich Arabs; the mounting threat to European peace from Russia; and the possibility of further terroristic attacks by Islamofascists in a legal and military environment considerably diluted from the national security first policy of the Bush administration. Even her occasional past hawkishness on such issues wouldn't net her much in an administration committed to talking first, second, and third before any firm response can be attempted.

Consider: if she stayed in the Senate, she'd always have the freedom to express reservations about administration policy on this, that, and the other foreigh policy crisis. As a member of the administration, she'd be a hostage to Obama's inexperience and naivete, the well demonstrated capability of the U.S. State Department to come to "own" every Secretary of State since Dean Rusk, and the unquestionable treachery of every government in the world which thinks it has something to gain at U.S. expense; i.e, all of them.

In fact, the only reason I can conceive of for Hillary entertaining such a personally disastrous appointment is, uh, patriotism. Did I just say that? But no other explanation makes any sense at all. The only one that computes is that she's thinking, "However bad the Obamessiah turns out to be, at least I'll be there to provide the only toughness, common sense, and pro-American determination to be found in this administration."

Feel free to explain where I'm wrong about this. I have no objections whatever to Hillary proving herself a patriot. It's just that I don't believe I'm seeing the whole picture somehow. Please remedy my blindness if you can.

P.S. Well, there is one horrendously Machiavellian reason I can think of, but it's such a slim chance I don't even want to mention it. So I won't. Your assignment still stands. If one of you mentions what I'm thinking about, I'll come clean. I promise.

What is the liberal
'Vision' of America?

Life as allegory rather than romance. Cool? No.

NEVER SURRENDER. I think it's a fair question. Heaven knows they've hung the "vision thing" on every Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan left office. Needless to say, they've all been found wanting in this regard, and even conservatives have gnashed their teeth about their leaders' inability to describe the elusive, oh-so-necessary 'Vision' that should animate voters' desire to work for a Republican president. Which is the clearest symptom of just how dumb conservatives have gotten, with special emphasis on the intellectual wing which is so anxious to tell the rest of us how thick-headed we are in the contemporary political context.

[Excuse me. Time out for a completely private and personal tantrum about all the pseudo-intellectuals who are trying to destroy the conservative movement in the name of saving it through their superior intellectual command of governance. God damn them all to hell.]

Where was I? Oh. Vision. Not the job of a conservative, not even Reagan. As he was at pains to point out to Americans who weren't so infatuated with their own brilliance as to misunderstand everything he ever said. Vision is not the job of brainy columnists for the New York Times, the Washington Post, or even National Review. It's the job of the American people. That's the reason for the amazingly simple agenda of American conservatives: limit government to the handful of things only government can do, like defending national security, guarding the borders, negotiating treaties that benefit the American people, passing and enforcing laws that keep people from hurting each other and government from interfering in the people's right to life and pursuit of happiness.

In short, conservatism is about confining government to the smallest possible impact on the lives, ambitions, and values of the people it serves. Indeed, the foremost role of government in the conservative model is to prevent government from having a 'Vision.'  That would be an infringement of the people's right to live their own lives in a state of  liberty, autonomy, and individual aspiration. If our government has reached the state where professional conservative bureaucrats feel the need for elite, highly specialized professionals to define the conservative 'Vision' for the rest of us, the battle has already been lost. What remains is picking the flavor of the authoritarian regime they intend to impose on the ignorant, contemptible masses.

The Democrats labor under no such constraint. It has always been their position -- since FDR at any rate -- that the people are helpless, stupid victims of life and require strong, interventionist policies to keep them from screwing up their own prospects for relative (and I do mean relative) contentment. They want to be in charge. They want us to let them decide what equality means, what justice means in domestic and international affairs, what rights people have and should have vis a vis government's ability to reallocate resources from individuals to the authorities, however conceived, and they insist that we trust them to rectify every injustice claimed by every group which can organize itself into a bloc of resentful malcontents with a lobbyist presence in Washington.

Which means that the 'Vision thing' isn't a Republican or conservative problem; it's an absolute requirement for the liberal ideologues who insist they can make our lives better by letting them have more control over our lives. So what constitutes a better life in the liberal worldview? Do you have any idea? I don't.

All we've heard from Obama is the need for "change." How much change? When will things have changed enough? Do you know? Have they said? No. They haven't. We know they want more government. But when will the government be big enough to suit them? Will they ever say, "At last. The government is now big enough. No more." There's no way to answer that question because they define their policies, always, by their opposition to Republican 'laissez-faire' immorality. What are they for?

Will they be content when all incomes are equal? When no one anywhere believes in God? When everyone in every nation on earth can break all the immigration laws of the United States and roost in our cities with full medical care and complete immunity from deportation on any grounds ever? Will they be happy when everyone is subject to the same incredibly expensive government-financed healthcare that has turned into a people-killing but equal rationing system in the U.K., Canada, France, and other EU nations? Will they feel us all ennobled by a mandatory unionization of all businesses, large and small, such that all small businesses die and all big businesses are too big to fail and thus become part of the government as institutional parts of an egalitarian welfare system? Does their sense of social justice extend to include every victim in the entire world, meaning that our progressive impoverishment as a nation in favor of benighted, failed countries in other parts of the world actually accords with their sense of morality, which they cannot justify in any sort of religious terms, given their secular atheism, but only to their ideological preference for punishing their own country and its citizens in the name of racial, ethnic grievances we should all accommodate based on their superior sense of political right and wrong?

How many generations back must we look to correct the sins of ancestors nobody remembers anymore, and will there ever be a day when there is no political original sin associated with being born white, or male, or of European or Celtic ancestry rather than African, Native American, hispanic, meso-American, muslim, or whoever else is endlessly owed because some crime was committed against their ancestors by our ancestors?

Will their disgust with the most effective economic system ever devised finally end when every blue-collar worker works for a union that can paralyze the economy with a single publicly recorded vote, or will it continue until every last man, jack, and boy works for the government itself and every job is paid on the basis of comparable worth, reparations owed, and affirmative action compensation for ever receding future worth?

They don't tell us where their "Vison' ends. They don't describe for us the world we will live in when all their mandates and judgments have been levied. They don't tell us what role they see even for the human race after their ferocious judgment of civilization itself has resulted in the repeal of technology in favor of snail darters, polar bears, and homosexual vegans.

Don't they owe us their 'Vision'?

I think they do. And I'll also add a footnote. The presumably missing conservative 'Vision' isn't really missing at all. It just doesn't look like a Vision because it's a romance. Conservatives believe in the beauty and pathos of individual lives, struggles against the odds, triumph in the face of daunting obstacles. These are the things which make life beautiful, exciting, inspirational, passionate, and fulfilling. Oddly enough, Hollywood agrees. For every lockstep liberal actor, there is a movie which has made that actor famous in which the plot celebrates the courage and idealism of a protagonist who refused to join the safety of the herd and instead took every conceivable risk to accomplish something brave, improbable, and important. The empty souls who play those parts in costumes and makeup are the liberals in the body politic. The movies themselves, the stories, the great romances which intensify our experience of life are the conservative vision that's supposed to be missing in action.

To put the case in brute simplicity. If you're a liberal, you probably prefer the political stylings of Viggo Mortensen to the character of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. You're welcome to Viggo. A symbol of social justice. Is that Vision? Ha.

What will the liberal national anthem be when they have accomplished their social and legislative goals?

Thanks to Laura Beth for that  glimpse of Paradise.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Obamatrix

BUTTERFLIES. The fabric of reality has been disrupted, violated. If the United States of America can elect Barack Obama as president, we are either living in the Twilight Zone or we are being given proof that reality itself is not what we think it is. There's plenty of precedent for questioning the reality of the reality we're told about. Here's the latest in a long line: a guy who argues quite seriously that  we're all living in a video game:

[T]he generation of a full-immersion simulation is not only feasible, but also likely some time in the next 20-30 years. So who is to say that we aren't already in one? In fact, Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument makes a compelling case that we probably are.

The argument goes like this…

Someday, we will have the ability to generate and experience these simulations (the time at which this occurs is called the posthuman phase). And when we do, we would generate millions of them. From a logical standpoint, he says that one of three scenarios must be true:

1. We never get to the posthuman phase because we destroy ourselves.

Or do we? (Not if our wife is Claudia Black Ours is.)

2. We never get to the posthuman phase because we make a conscious decision not to pursue this technology. Personally, I throw out this scenario as unrealistic. When faced with any technology that has inherent dangers (nuclear energy, nanotech, cloning, generating energies in particle accelerators that are sufficient to create a black hole), when have we ever made a decision not to pursue it?

Sure. But bad examples are instructive. Learning can occur.

3. We do achieve posthumanism. And, since the odds that we are living in one of the millions of generated simulations is much higher than the odds that we just happen to be in a reality musing about the possibilities 20 years hence, we are most probably living in a simulation.

We all have this power. That's why Instapunk didn't die at 19.
He was every bit as doomed as Neo. Didn't die. Bug? For sure.

Therefore, if you subscribe to his logic and have an optimistic view of where we are going as a species, you have to conclude that we are probably living in a simulation. [YouTube inserts mine]

I'd add a few other points to his argument. If we're experiencing simulations, some of them at least are experiments designed to see if we can recognize that that's what they are. Everybody who's experiencing this particular simulation has already experienced at least three impossible anomalies given the understanding we're supposed to share of human history.

1. We didn't die in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Nothing in human history the way we were taught it explains the fact that a desperate totalitarian regime would choose to yield power rather than call down all the thunder and lightning at its command in an act of self-immolation such as Hitler wanted and tried to effect. It makes no sense. Those of us who ddn't experience that end of the world but a miracle instead are probably locked in a video game that lets us live multiple lives.

2. We didn't experience a technological armageddon on January 1, 2000. As we've even discussed here before, there's no very good explanation for that non-event. Another video game reboot we just don't remember.

3. Now we have elected the most inexperienced and unqualified president of the most powerful nation on earth ever. You'd have to go back to Caligula to find an appropriate analogy. It's Level 7 of the hardest part of the game. Are you up to it?

Yes. You are. You're in the same simulation with us, and we aways survive. It's always the others who feel the worst effects, the violence, the disease, the poverty, the genocide. We're going to be okay. Just don't lose your head. Keep looking in every nook and cranny for all the weapons, supplies, and rejuvenating good stuff it's going  to take to enable us to survive to the next level.

It's a game. It's not real. And we know what we're looking for. A simulation that wants us to go along with the loss of individual identity in favor of bureaucratic groupthink is also going to have software that doesn't quite work. Because it was written by groupthink cartoon dudes.

Don't tell me you haven't encountered the blue screen of
 death at MSNBC during the past two years. Nothing but.

Don't you notice that it's all dumber and slower than it should be somehow? The DailyKos is a major political influence? The New York Times and the Washington Post are really written by intelligent professional journalists? Andrew Sullivan is conscious? Maureen Dowd is an example of an intelligent woman? Chris Matthews is a journalist? Keith Olbermann is a high school graduate? Please. Please! Cease being alarmed. These are all symptoms of effed up gaming software. We're living in an indescribably bizarre video game experiment, programmed by morons. Look for the Microsoft moments in everyday life. And don't forget them when you see them. That's how you survive the Obamatrix.

See you on the other side. After the reset.

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