Posted on | July 1, 2014 | 81 Comments
A few months ago, Ace of Spades pissed me off — entirely by accident, I’m sure — when he recommended Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, a book that I have been recommending for years. (In 2003, I actually wrote Neil Postman’s obituary in a freelance article for the Guardian.) Of course, there was no logical reason for me to be pissed at Ace, and my sense of proprietorship over Postman — his leading advocate in the conservative blogosphere — was utterly irrational. In a situation like that, however, you feel as if you have been cheated out of a hat-tip; alternately, if your frequent writing on a particular subject has been so overlooked that your friends didn’t even notice it, you feel a sense of futile insignificance.
One must be proactive and future-oriented to maintain the crucial sense of psychological agency necessary to good mental health. Therefore deeming it necessary to preempt any further erosion of my self-esteem, I took notice when Ace wrote this yesterday:
It occurs to me that the Left is attempting to create a system wherein there are two different classes of citizenship, one fully possessed of its right to speak and act politically, the other whose rights in this regard are sharply curtailed. . . .
The Left, were it to have its way, would forbid anyone who is not primarily in the business of politics (or working for the government or university) from exercising their full political rights.
If you work in any other industry, your rights are substantially reduced. . . .
The only people who would be permitted to speak on political issues, or at in accordance with their social/cultural/religious/political principles, would be the Political Class Itself, which is of course largely “progressive.”
Read the whole thing. The truth of Ace’s observations is indisputable and, of course, nobody has a copyright on truth. But this idea, that the Left desires to constitute itself as an elite with special privileges, is not new. Nor is Ace the first one to observe that the Left is different from the Right in terms of both its motives and purposes. Therefore, let me get ahead of the game with some recommended reading:
- Friedrich Hayek, “The Intellectuals and Socialism” — Everybody knows Hayek for The Road to Serfdom, but this 1949 essay — a mere 14 pages long, packed with brilliant insights — answers rather definitively the enduring question of why intellectuals almost invariably ally themselves with the Left. The short version: There is simply more work for scholars and writers to do in the imagining of a new scheme of things than there is in conservatism. Explaining and defending an existing traditional way of life against its critics can be an extraordinary intellectual feat at times, but is inherently less “creative” than the business of the Left, i.e., dreaming up untried social, economic and political experiments. The claim that conservatives are “anti-intellectual” can be understood as arising from this factor; because intellectuals are so naturally inclined toward idealistic experimental Progress, their predominant leftist orientation makes it appear that all the Smart People are in agreement, despite the fact that other equally intelligent people — though less numerous, and less celebrated within the academia/media axis – make strong arguments against them.
- Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements — Anyone who is interested in understanding the psychology of politics simply must read this 1951 classic. Written at a time when memories of the Third Reich were very fresh, and when the menace of Communist aggression was the greatest threat facing the world, Hoffer analyzed the personal and emotional facts that attract misfits and malcontents to what he called “mass movements.” Hoffer’s insights in this matter have universal application. There are certain types of personalities who, dissatisfied with Ordinary Life, seek psychological satisfaction in the pursuit of an Ideal World. Do yourself a favor: Buy a copy of The True Believer and put it on your nightstand for bedtime reading (or, perhaps, in your bathroom) so that you can just pick it up and re-read it from time to time. It will help you remember that progressives are suffering from a kind of mental disorder, and do not deserve to be answered as if they were entirely sane.
- Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy — This is the book that I most often recommend as the best one-volume analysis of liberalism ever published. What Sowell demonstrates is that liberals pursue certain “crusades” in order to prove to themselves their own moral superiority — the Politics of Narcissism, essentially. The fact that the policies resulting from these liberal crusades actually harm the people they were supposedly undertaken to help? Oh, never mind that, and also never mind any data which prove the harmfulness or futility of liberal policies. Sowell has an entire chapter called “The Irrelevance of Evidence,” wherein he demonstrates how no liberal can ever accept factual proof of liberalism’s errors.
So there’s three very valuable recommendations, and if Ace starts quoting or name-checking these works in the near future when discussing the progressive Political Class, the lack of a hat-tip won’t inflict such a wound on my fragile psyche. This is not to say that the whole point of exercising influence is to obtain recognition for that influence. However, the feeling that one’s influence is being wrongly ignored – however irrational that feeling may be — can become a wound that festers unless it is recognized for what it is. Having seen what untreated cases of butt-hurt can do to vulnerable minds, concern for my own mental health requires this confession.
Blogger Mood Disorder is a persistent problem in this business. Readers can help treat this disorder: Hit the freaking tip jar.