Thursday, July 3, 2014

What conservatives are not

Lately, I've had a theme going on with these posts lately: I point at the seemingly perpetual, incoherent rage among "progressives", I note how seemingly widespread it is, and I ask what conservatives - or hell, just plain non-"progressives" - are to do about it. I haven't offered up much on that front except to argue that 'reasoning with them' mostly isn't an option. These are not people amenable to sitting down and discussing things with those who disagree with them, at least not when it comes to issues rather than methods. They regard political or cultural disagreement with visceral hatred, an indication that they are dealing with subhumans who are to be wiped out culturally, or through the machinations of the state, end of story. You cannot reason with people for whom a mob mentality is a way of life, and hatred is a default attitude towards simple dissent.

And I admit, I've wondered if the proper response to such people is tit for tat. "Progressives" draw power - real political, gets-results power - not just from their outrage, but from the mob's resistance to reason. People who can be reasoned with can be talked down - they may well be convinced they should go away empty handed, because what they wanted was unfair, or a bad idea. Mobs are not reasoned with - they are either crushed or appeased, and appeasement is usually the default response because it costs less up front. On a certain level, they've figured that out, and the smarter ones have decided to therefore keep the rage machine going 24/7 whenever possible.

So why shouldn't conservatives do the same?

I've had trouble putting the 'why we shouldn't' into words until very recently. In fact, on the surface? It seemed like the only response we could offer, at least if we wanted to survive. Let's misread and misrepresent our opponent's intentions, their desires, their meanings. Let's try to match anger with anger, let's crucify a progressive for a single verbal misstep, or anything we could dishonestly paint as a misstep. It works for the "progressives." It may work for us. Is that not reason enough, if we're dealing with enemies who are historically bloodthirsty when they get into power? It makes sense on the surface.

But I don't think it's desirable, and I don't think it would work. It's not just that there are downsides to that kind of thing (progressives, when lacking an enemy, tend to eat their own - and let's not forget the obvious practical, policy-related downsides of refusing to admit the possibility of being wrong.) I have a strong suspicion that conservatives in general aren't psychologically suited for perpetual, hair-trigger outrage. For most of us, a state of calm is a desirable thing. We're after something other than revolutions and the excitement of perpetually chasing down dragons and threats - our collective natural response to heretics in our midst seems to be to expel them and get on with our lives, not ceaselessly hunt for them. Even when we're faced with threats, we tend to react by building walls. If our neighborhood becomes threatening, pitched battles are a last resort - we're more likely to leave for more peaceful locales. Put short, we don't have the progressive love of rage and outbursts. We don't "trigger" so easily, or with such animation.

So no. Even if it could be justified in a sense, I don't think conservatives would be wise to mimic the progressives. We would be outgunned on that front.

At the same time, we can't just ignore this anymore. We cannot just roll our eyes at the rampaging rage-machine when it's gotten as big as it has. So if we can't match rage with rage, then what's left?

I tentatively have an answer, and I'll post about it later. But for now, I offer my current analysis up for consideration and response.

9 comments:

Mr. Green said...

So why shouldn't conservatives do the same?

Simply, because it would be wrong. There is to some degree a necessity to fight fire with fire, of course; but then again, firemen actually use water a lot more. People who are wrong have more avenues open to them, because they can cheat, to put it crudely. You cannot lie to serve the truth, but lying to serve lies at least has a certain consistency. Now there definitely should be more people promoting the truth with vigour and shrewdness — I'm thinking of the likes of Feser, who is tough and not beyond smacking down fools without descending into nastiness, and most of all is intelligent.

I have a strong suspicion that conservatives in general aren't psychologically suited for perpetual, hair-trigger outrage.

I think that's true — and related to my previous point, that that kind of attitude simply isn't right in itself, and thus not desirable in the first place. But also most people fit more into that psychological category, I think. Well, it's probably something like a bell-curve; there are folks who seem perpetually outraged on both sides, but there's a large mass in the middle who just follow the advertising.
As I've said before, we live in the advertising age, and that means manipulating emotions (and manipulating reason too, but of course the former is easier). Outrage naturally provides a good opportunity for manipulation, but it has to be the right kind of outrage. "Conservative" outrage doesn't get the same airplay (unless it can be used to portray them as mean-spirited, bitter, vindictive, etc.).

And, frankly, advertising is the answer. In your previously post you said something about "if the goal is to convince said progressives they are wrong" — but of course that's the wrong goal. You basically won't convince the people pushing that stuff anyway, and you don't need to. You just need to convince the majority not to follow along. People are mostly exposed to what I broadly call "Hollywood mentality" because that's what they're fed on TV for hours every day. The really surprising thing is that society isn't so much more "progressive" and modernist. It's a stunning indictment of how unnatural this "progress" really is that decades of non-stop propaganda still hasn't taken over completely.

I've rather taken it for granted that the answer — in very general terms — is fairly obvious. Presumably there just aren't enough serious Catholics/Christians/traditionalists to pull it off... or maybe like so many things, it comes down to having enough money... otherwise if it were feasible it would be happening by now.

Crude said...

Green,

Simply, because it would be wrong.

While I do think it's wrong, I also think at this point it's getting into a touchier situation. I think lying to the nazi at the door is wrong too, but given the context I can respect dissent to a point.

So I think it's important to also illustrate why it's just not going to work so well in a practical sense either. I do not think the sort of person who is or even becomes conservative (I'm mostly thinking socially conservative here) is given to it.

I don't think there's comparable perpetual outrage on the conservative side. I do think there are some, say... news outlets or media figures that may try to present that image. That's different.

but of course that's the wrong goal.

Here I disagree, and I know I'm the odd man out on this front. I think convincing them that they are wrong is a worthy goal, and a reasonable one. I also think it's potentially possible. But we need to figure out how to do that, what will work and what will not. That's part of why I'm writing this up.

Jakeithus said...

" I do not think the sort of person who is or even becomes conservative (I'm mostly thinking socially conservative here) is given to it."

I think there is a great deal of truth to this. I think the outrage on the right most often comes from those I would classify as reactionaries, rather than just conservatives. Those individuals who have a clear vision of how society should be ordered, and wish to turn back many of the changes instigated by progressives.

Small-c conservatives on the other hand, mainly wish for nothing more than to be left alone with efficient government services. They distrust the claim made by both progressives and reactionaries that if we only follow a specific plan, we can make our society better. Because of this, they don't get as outraged when things aren't going according to what the "experts" say the plan should be.

This is not to say that conservatives don't show outrage; for my local situation there has been incredible conservative outrage over government mismanagement and waste. There is just something different about this type of outrage however, as opposed to the outrage shown by progressives when a boss wont pay for a woman's abortion. I'm struggling to find the words to explain what the difference actually is; I think you're right that it has partly to do with a higher triggering point and desire to build walls rather than looking to fight.

I think this explains my thoughts on the conservative mindset as opposed to progressives; when faced with an undesirable situation, the conservative's first thought will be "what can I do differently to adapt or make the best of the situation I am in", the progressive thinks "what can I change about society or others to better suit my desires". It's easier to be outraged when one's focus is pointed elsewhere rather than internally.

Crude said...

This is not to say that conservatives don't show outrage; for my local situation there has been incredible conservative outrage over government mismanagement and waste.

Oh, there's absolutely that sort of outrage. But I don't think it's the same type. There's rarely ever -hatred- with that kind of thing, as near as I can tell - and if there's hatred, it's of an attitude or an act. The person is rarely the point, if that makes sense.

I think even the conservative reactionaries tend to be different. I watch them, I'm critical of some of them, supportive of others. I do not see with them what I see with the progressives. Even on the most extreme end, there seem to me to be pronounced psychological differences.

Syllabus said...

I think one of the distinguishing features of progressive outrage is that they are convinced, for lack of a better metaphor, that they are spreading the Gospel, and anyone who disagrees with them is disagreeing with the Gospel, and therefore their version of, I don't know, an apostate or something and worthy of whatever they choose to dish out. (It's not a terribly good metaphor.)

Crude said...

I used to think that, the whole 'spreading the Gospel' thing. But... I question that now. Gospels have a logic to them, even if the logic is weird or flawed - and spreading it is predicated on understanding it. At least that's my understanding, and a a result, I don't see them as operating from that vantage point. People are not rage-progressives because of some logical system, consistent system of arguments and such that they reason by - or at least that strikes me as 'off'.

Right at this moment, I'd classify it more as... they operate within a superstitious world filled with bogeymen and witches and heroes, and there's very little way to tell the difference between them all other than collective agreement at the moment of who or what IS the big scary thing to hate. When you dissent, you're evil not necessarily because of your argument itself, but because you've done something to set you apart from the group, and the group is all they know. People in the group do THIS and people outside do THAT and that's the end of it, and if you're outside you get treated like THIS and you're the worst possible person and asking someone for a cup of sugar has a horrible subtext of RAPE and you've TRIGGERED people and... etc, etc.

Mr. Green said...

While I do think it's wrong, I also think at this point it's getting into a touchier situation. [...] I do not think the sort of person who is or even becomes conservative (I'm mostly thinking socially conservative here) is given to it.

I have to admit, I often find myself wishing some of these guys could get a taste of their own medicine... but it probably wouldn't be enough to have a practical effect without crossing the line. And your typical social conservative is not inclined to sort of thing, though I'm not sure what we can make of that. All positions have their share of jerks, and I don't have a good sense of how they are statistically distributed. That nasty side is less likely to come out with someone you agree with, so it just more obvious to me when I see that behaviour in my opponents? Or is it because it's more likely to come out on the rebellious, revolutionary side — if our positions were reversed, would the nastiness be on the other foot as well?

Of course there is one obvious factor that wrecks this hypothetical symmetry: Christianity. If it were purely a political fight, if it were about government vs. business, or individualism vs. authoritarianism, or some other division, I wouldn't be surprised to find that neither side had a monopoly on hostility. It's (fallen) human nature to treat "them" aggressively. But the whole point of Christianity is that you're not allowed to hate your enemies — not even when they really are horrible, wrong, wicked people. That's not to say that Christians have been great at practising this through the ages; but they were good enough at it to distinguish themselves from the surrounding pagans, whose duty extended only to their own tribe. If you don't accept that Christ died to save even the most repulsive human being, then what reason do you have left to respect that person? I think we're seeing the effects of loss of Christian principles... the progressives assume that Christianity was incidental to building the great civilisation we live in, but it wasn't.


Here I disagree, and I know I'm the odd man out on this front. I think convincing them that they are wrong is a worthy goal, and a reasonable one. I also think it's potentially possible. But we need to figure out how to do that, what will work and what will not.

Well, I was thinking of the leaders — ordinary people (apart from a percentage who are just schmucks/nitwits) can be convinced, I'd agree. But it's not by rational argumentation — at least not that alone, or they'd already be convinced. They need to be breathing it in, it needs to be part of the atmosphere; then they'll be open to filling in the details. That's why I harp on the TV thing: most people are being subliminally "argued" into the modern view all the time. The only way to counteract that is with counter-TV. Not so long ago, the general societal world-view was formed by what people heard at the pulpit, but half an hour on Sundays (if that) can't compete in today's world. Why isn't there a Catholic/Christian TV network that broadcasts decent programs so people can absorb that this is a normal, natural, decent way to behave?

Crude said...

Green,

All positions have their share of jerks, and I don't have a good sense of how they are statistically distributed.

It's not the jerks I'm worried about here. It's the lunatics. I'm not connecting lunacy to broad policy positions, but discourse. The recent incident with George Will was instructive. It's easy to say 'They think Will was saying women want to be raped? That's some mere tumultous minority.' when it's just on the internet. When that outrage provokes senators responding in writing and newspapers firing him - or what we saw with the Eich scenario - then it's time to start wondering what's up with the population. This can't be an isolated case of wingnuts.

if our positions were reversed, would the nastiness be on the other foot as well?

I think we can get an answer to that question to a degree - when polls numbers were switched on (say) gay marriage, were conservatives demanding people be fired from their jobs for supporting it? My recollection is no. They'd oppose a politician, but that sort of thing would have been regarded with embarrassment by most.

But in another way, it doesn't matter to me. I'm more interested in solving the problem I have in front of me than wondering about hypothetical situations that don't seem likely.

They need to be breathing it in, it needs to be part of the atmosphere; then they'll be open to filling in the details.

I agree about the TV thing, but TV is becoming less relevant anyway. We're in an internet age, and we're not shoring up that end of things either. But I think, even before we consider that, we have to ask what sort of attitude we should have, what approach, what vocabulary. I can't create a mass media broadcast team ex nihilo, but I can work on the level of words and personal communication. So hey, start there, see what happens - that's the goal.

Mr. Green said...

This can't be an isolated case of wing nuts.

No, but I think they set the tone. Or rather, society has set a certain tone: this kind of "crazy" behaviour will be tolerated and even encouraged, so that brings out the limited number of nutters; it encourages others to join in (those who aren't really crazy themselves, but are easily led); it discourages those who might object (including a huge number on either side who don't really like the nastiness but don't want to get involved, or are afraid of being attacked themselves). And of course it's a vicious cycle, so once it gets a foot in the door, the situation continues to get worse.

when polls numbers were switched on (say) gay marriage, were conservatives demanding people be fired from their jobs for supporting it?

But go back a ways before that... it was certainly possible in the past to lose your job because of some scandal or other "inappropriateness" from which it would simply be expected that you would tender your resignation. It's the viciousness that's new. Once upon a time, certain things just weren't done in polite society (whether the inappropriateness that could cost you your position or bullying you about it). But "polite society" no longer exists. The idea that every citizen has a duty to act according to a certain code of social etiquette has pretty much evaporated. Our new code is, "You're not the boss of me."

I agree about the TV thing, but TV is becoming less relevant anyway. We're in an internet age, and we're not shoring up that end of things either.

Yeah, of course I mean TV, movies, newspapers, music... you've even mentioned video games (although to me the level of influence would seem to rank somewhere around carrier pigeons, but I understand the kids these days think they're the bee's knees). The Internet is bit uncertain — it certainly opens up the opportunities for presenting solid cultural influences, but it also works the other way. I don't know how much influence it has shaping people's views as much as reinforcing the views they get elsewhere and then go looking to support. Or at least, for people who go looking for answers in the first place — a huge part of the problem is too many people don't, they simply accept whatever they come across.

But I think, even before we consider that, we have to ask what sort of attitude we should have, what approach, what vocabulary.

The matter of vocabulary is an interesting one. I think it's a genuine problem that by and large everyone adopts the progressive/leftist terminology. (Again back to the pervasive influence of TV and co.) On the other hand, if you don't, will anyone understand you anyway? But you may be thinking more of tone, etc.

I can't create a mass media broadcast team ex nihilo, but I can work on the level of words and personal communication.

My sense is that talking to the lunatics is not constructive in itself. The rest of the population, yes (if you can distract them from their TV long enough...). Of course, sometimes that means engaging the loonies in conversation for the sake of the potential lurkers — this is something you seem to be good at. More important, though, is talking to reasonable people, and even people who already agree with us. I think we take for granted that if someone is already "on our side", we don't need to talk to him, but most of those folks have no idea that there is a solid intellectual tradition behind proving the existence of God, or evaluating the nature of marriage, etc., which leaves them easily susceptible to bullying. Even if they aren't emotionally led out of their positions, they have no ability to defend them to others. (So frankly, I think a lot of the recent push to, say, debate with atheists is missing the point. We should start by teaching theists what theists believe and why.)