The Conservative version of the dichotomy, Liberal and Conservative
So, I’ve not been writing much lately, because I’ve been working to get this house ready to go through winter acting less as a direct heat radiator to the environment, thus keeping more of the heat inside the house longer, making it more than just a crude shelter from the long winter rain we have here in the Willapa Watershed. I have a kitchen now, newly sculptured concrete counter tops, a gas cook top set into the concrete converted to propane, and for the first time since leaving Oakland I’m cooking on gas. I love to create meals with the much greater flexibility of gas in the chemical transformation process that is cooking. I can now drag all my cook books and cooking magazines out of their boxes and start having some art in that aspect of my life again. And I have a brand new oven set in the wall that I got off eBay for less than two hundred dollars because it needs a new facade on the door. It’s functional, and some day I’ll get that facade, maybe if I sell the house or I get tired of looking at it the way it is, and if I can’t figure out how to make one that looks good to me.
This entry is a return to the blogosphere from summer and fall’s efforts. I have been dabbling on message boards and keeping up with the election arguments, of course. We are headed for a long wet winter, one can presume, that’s the norm here, and it’s raining steadily as I write on this Fall Back daylight savings nonsense day. I expect no matter who is elected that we have a new era on our hands. So my first piece is going to be about Liberals and Conservatives. I heard a radio broadcast (over the Internet of course, I don’t have radio or television to listen to) on the conservative Dennis Prager Show from the Townhall.com website. He interviewed the pundit and what some call a conservative intellectual, if you don’t mind oxymorons, George Will. You can listen to that interview here. For a less "intellectual" presentation of George Will’s ideas about liberals and conservatives, I found this YouTube presentation of a Dennis Prager speech:
Part of my ongoing critique of American politics involves the marketing/propaganda process of idea dissemination, so if you first listen to Dennis Prager interviewing George Will, and then you listen and watch Dennis talking to the crowd — I always enjoy the crowd reactions that go with these events — you can get some idea of how ideas and Crowds and Power (a book I enjoyed some twenty five years ago or so by Elias Caneti) sort of works in action. If you see enough of this over time, you can get the sense I do, perhaps, that there is really a deep seated script that all this operates from, and that script may even be in our DNA. It’s not possible to say with certainty, but the possibility does intrigue me.
So, without further ado, I want to share my comments on the Prager/Will interview:
After listening to Dennis Prager interview George Will, I was struck by some of the ways the issues that have evolved to differentiate liberal thought from conservative thought for more than thirty years now, and especially since the so-called Reagan Revolution, have evolved into some form of intellectual dogma that passes for thought. Normally I would ignore this kind of opinionizing, after all, I don’t really know George Will from any other form of will or won’t. But I find so
many problems with Will’s version of the political landscape, that
after reading it I want to believe no one would take him seriously. But
sadly, I see from a simple Yahoo search alone that many do. So since
this is the sort of thinking that formulates debate, it might be worth
an effort at expressing some thought.
That first basic formulation of the liberal/conservative argument is not what I would call descriptive of anything I’m familiar with, it’s conservative-oriented philosophical prescription
— better known as a preconception, preconception being the basis for
prejudgment — and from there he begins an analysis that is already
fundamentally flawed with assumptions derived out of binary
conceptualizing. It might be worth pointing out that binary reasoning,
or dialectical reasoning, is a traditional form in Western cultures,
encompassing a duality of rational analytical thinking, which linearly
preposes two opposing forces working dialectically in a kind of
spiraling fashion as resolving opposing tensions through time. Embedded
in this cultural tradition of thought is much of our hegemonic trespass
upon other cultural traditions, and also, perhaps, the very basis of
what can be identified now as American Exceptionalism,
by which the US democratic Republic expanded over the continent of the
US, and which was reasoned by the various elites involved in decision
making at a national level to be inevitable. It’s neither science nor
sociology to conclude that kind of national identification imagery, and
it’s little more than mythologizing to believe it. So, at best it’s a
form of myth making.
In the past Century, the anthropological structuralists like Claude
Levi Strauss employed this cognitive structuring well in analyzing many
cultural systems — it was handy because he could do it from his desk
in his office at his University using the works of other
anthropologists who went into the field and did the participatory
observation. It’s a convenient and even amazingly believable form of
analysis, but sadly, it does not do much to reveal the subtle and
fascinating complexities in human reality, rather it tends to sift out
most of what really goes on from that which is presupposed to be the
"fundamental" paradigm once it’s put into nice little two by two
The question of why this is done in the first place, and why the
various disciplines of the social sciences — which include economic
behaviors, of course, a favorite conservative social science often
based on these "observed" and analyzed principles that make up the
"blank slate" version of psychology — underlies these comments I’m
Paradigm making obviously works well in this process, obviously,
because it’s the creation of this sort of paradigmatic structuring
that’s taken seriously enough to bring people to debate the assumptions
as if they happen represent something real to them. So the key thing to
recognize about any of this is that basic underlying human feature of
creating the myths we live by through a form of paradigm structuring.
Even though Levi Strauss may have got it misapplied in analyzing and
categorizing a given culture, he did find a means of making sense of
the data. I call attention to that because it’s an important human
psychological drive to recognize — our drive to make sense of things.
Once you recognize that’s a cognitive framework, which implies rule
sets and the setting up of structures of thought, you can begin a more
serious analysis of what’s going on. You can begin to look at the human
fundamentals that go into making up the worlds we each live in and
through as a representational phenomenon.
It disheartens me imagine that anyone would be willing to accept the
frame George Will sets out here: Freedom and equality are in tension.
Conservatives own "freedom" and liberals own "equality." But sadly, it
is a familiar paradigm, and perhaps all the more powerful for that,
because he proceeds to set out the "standard conservative mythology
(otherwise known as "talking points".) of which one is which, and how
each works itself out in this conservative vision of politics. That’s
why myths have always had great power in all societies. They help
organize the world people each make up in their minds.
To illustrate what I mean, I’d like to call attention to the
fundamental revelation of his flawed preceptual theology in this
formulation from the interview:
takes us very directly back to very basic philosophic questions. Do you
believe that man is simply born a blank slate to be written on by
society? And therefore, as liberals tend to believe, if you engineer
society with sufficient skill, you will engineer people with sufficient
perfection. Conservatives tend to take seriously, whether they’re
religious or not, the doctrine of original sin – that man is a problem.
[James] Madison said that democracy is a good thing but democracy is
inherently a problem because the people can be dangerous, they can be
tyrannical, they can be foolish, and therefore you need what he called
‘republican remedies for the diseases to which republics are prey.’
The flawed perception is actually grounded in what could be called the
"philosophy of science." This is a description for a grand, multi
disciplinary argument that’s been going on for centuries now. It would
appear that George Will brushed aside the last hundred years of that
argument in his studies. He seems to be stuck at the turn of the last
century when the "blank slate" theory of the human mind came out of the
philosophy of the Humean logical positivists — or logical empiricists
depending on your preference of terms — who would trace their roots
back to Aristotelian observational empiricism rather than theory driven
Platonic idealism that we find has won out in the sciences today.
Now here we do have a very real binary tension that’s been going on in
academia for a long time. The question that arises between these two
philosophical traditions is whether there is a reality that can be
observed and accurately verified or if that reality is fundamentally a
theory driven reality, based on innate forms, sort of as Plato
conceived it to be, as described in his Republic.
The concept that the human mind is a blank slate that can be formed by
an empirically accurately observable world is the very basis of the
behavioristic tradition that was par of the philosophy of science at
the beginning of the 20th Century. This behaviorist psychological
tradition has recognizable names like Pavlov and Skinner, who
considered what they were doing to be science.
To sum what I’ve just said, the question in the debate between these
traditions might be simplistically phrased as by these questions:
Do we observe an objective reality and then create theories about it
(the driving philosophy of the blank slate)? Or do we begin our lives
as infants with theories embedded in our very biological cognitive
structures and then create a theory-driven, ongoing hypothesis testing
reality some of which we come to believe is a factual reality, but one
that we ultimately are constrained to observe through the "mediating
instrument" of our very bodies themselves, instruments which bring
about questions of accuracy which we cannot yet satisfactorily answer?
The old Nature/Nurture controversy which we now consider to be not an
either or but a both.
Did George Will recognize that, or did he make it a "one or the other"
binary proposition? It’s always helpful to look and see if that’s what
someone is trying to do, because that’s at the very basis of the nature
of framing arguments and creating debates — inconsequential debates,
perhaps, but they do seem to keep people entertained.
To be clear, it’s not that simple as those two questions, but they can
help to organize a way of thinking about it — if one keeps in mind
it’s more complicated. If you want to find out how complicated it can
get, I recommend: The Philosophy of
by Richard Boyd, about 800 pages of some of the more prominent thinkers
in science and philosophy on this subject as they present their
different cases over the last 100 years or so.
To cut to the chase, the "blank slate" argument died and was buried
during the fifties and sixties. Logical positivism as the favored
perspective in science has been replaced by a science that doubts any
human ability to actually objectively measure reality, and recognizes
that we are primarily theory driven in our approach to reality, by the
very nature of our own phenomenolgical interface with reality. This
theory-driven awareness that is assumed for each human being is also
theorized to be the underlayment for the power to create a mass society
that behaves within certain guidelines that can be instituted through
propaganda tactics. This is the underlayment for all institutional
management procedures and is the very structure that brings about the
search for the fundamental principles in any question of freedom.
Freedom to self actuate or freedom to behave within normative
guidelines for a common purpose, and within a structure that can be
There, I think, we will find a significant difference worth exploring
in the philosophies that separate people in their approach to life. I’m
not sure I’d categorize it as "liberal" and "conservative" but that
seems to be the draw these days.
Propaganda can be used by any human social system, be it the tyrannies
of communistic behavioral control or the private tyrannies that
together develop system called capitalism. The question raise by the
"blank slate" concept is whether humans are "programmed" or whether
some far more complicated elements are involved in this process. We now
know it’s far more complicated than imprinting information on a blank
slate. George Will demonstrates sheer ignorance in this area of his
education if he really is not aware of that. If he is, then something
more sinister is afoot because he’s potentially employing propaganda
techniques of the sort that Thom Hartmann introduces in his very
accessible book: Cracking the Code.
As an aside here, in Thom’s book you will also get a reference to the
cognitive, or the NLP version, of the conservative’s basic belief that
human beings are the problem because they are born basically with
"original sin" versus the liberals basic belief that human beings are
innately good, and thus will innately behave in humane ways if the
social circumstances don’t sway them with programming in other
directions. Here we may have the Madisonian observation that won out in
creating a Republic rather than what has been characterized as the
Jeffersonian view of democracy. I don’t know how accurately those
represent the two thinkers themselves, as they are no longer here to
explain themselves in modern day terms, but they represent two
different ways of viewing the individual human being, and what is
important in my analysis here is that either are very different from
the "blank slate" concept as presented by George Will as being the
liberal way of thinking about it.
Regarding this notion of societal programming. We have plenty of bits
and pieces from lots of thinkers now, of how propaganda has been used
over the past Century to do population management. The Nazism that took
root in Germany is just one extreme example. There are subtler ones at
play as well.
We have a century’s worth of orientation on the self, certainly a
result of the liberal philosophies that emerged in Renaissance
thinking, and the marketized commodification of our sense of self in
relation to consumption here in the US; anyone could look into this if
they wished, and they’d find all sorts of interesting things, not the
least of which is the influence of Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays.
If you can’t create a narrative of your own for how this can be working
in the world societies right now, and you want to get an interesting
read on how inverted totalitarianism of the latter can be described by, I would recommend Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Spector of Inverted Totalitarianism — by Sheldon S. Wolin.