"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, July 15, 2013

How Did Liberals Get So Uptight?

Quick! When you think PC, what comes to your mind? Liberal or Conservative? Liberal, of course. So-called ‘progressives’ are the ones who freak out about too much sugar, fat, trans-fats, germs, car-seats, playground risk, and a thousand other issues. Why is this?  Why are liberals always worried, whether it’s about disease, war, the status of women, gender and civil rights?

It certainly seems that liberals don’t seem to have anywhere near as much fun as conservatives who tuck into BBQ, a nice fatty ribeye, and a second slice of gooey chocolate cake without batting an eyelash.  Right-wingers kill animals for sport, throw their trash into one big bin, are never shy about cracking ethnic jokes, and simply don’t sweat the small stuff.

Of course, there are the right-wing fanatics holed up in Coeur d’Alene or in a trailer park in Alabama, but they have consolidated their worries – Big Government.  It is Washington which is spreading mind-bending fluoridation; planning a take over of family farms; joining with the World Jewish Cabal and Socialist International to turn America into a gulag. There is no need to spend timing worrying about the sugar content of cupcakes or the calories in Bud, or about invasions of privacy or the removal of God from the classroom.  Get rid of go’ment, as Ronald Reagan used to say, and all will be well.

Not so for ‘progressives’.  Every aspect of daily life has to be parsed, examined, filtered for political purity.  Read a newspaper? Think of the trees. Drive a car? Think of environmental degradation. Eat fish? Worry about mercury, fish-angst at the hook, depleted stocks, invasive species, Omega-3, and herbicidal runoff.  And on it goes. Of all the  words and phrases outlawed by worried liberals (e.g. dog leashes are now leads; cripples are now otherly-advantaged because ‘handicapped’ was still to demeaning) ‘laissez-faire’ is the most scurrilous, insensitive, and backward term ever. 

Laissez-faire not only recalls robber barons, fat-cat Monopoly capitalists, and the dog-eat-dog world of early American enterprise, it is an unhealthy and totally unacceptable attitude. Laissez-faire means go ahead and eat the whole box of cupcakes; let your children use the metal slide and the see-saw; duck when someone shoots at you, don’t ban guns;speed when you can, toss your cigarette butts over the side, and don’t rein in your animal kids at McDonalds.

So, where did this all come from? First of all liberals see the world as flawed but perfectible.  Conservatives see it as shit happens, get over it, life is a necessary Purgatory; we are all predestined anyway, so why bother? Liberals are convinced that they can break the eternal, predictable, unchanging cycles of history; change humanity for the better, and ride to a happier world.  Conservatives say nonsense.  God alone determines what life is like.  He picks some people he likes, but the rest have to perennially suffer for the sin of Adam and Eve.

Second, liberals tend to be better educated than conservatives.  I am not talking about Beltway pundits like George Will, Bill Kristol, and Charles Krauthammer; but your run-of-the mill right-winger who is more likely to be Southern, Evangelical, poor, and marginally educated.  When you have Harvard, you have reasonableness, on-the-one-hand-on-the-other rationality, tolerance, and fairly-considered opinions.  When you have squirrel meat, corn pone, and Bible-thumping, life is simple, uncomplicated, and predictable. You worry about the roof leaking, paying for a new transmission on your pickup, and staying one step ahead of the IRS – not about global warming.

Put most simply, Eastern Establishment liberals have more time on their hands to worry about the environment and playground safety. I don’t fully understand why these concerns cannot simply be kept within the family, and why ‘progressives’ have to ring alarm bells from every church tower and holler “The End of the World is coming!”, but they do. They insist, they badger, they hector, and they never relent.

Mark Oppenheimer, writing in The New Republic (7.15.13) shares this bemusement and recounts a birthday party for one of his young daughter’s friends:

Like any moral panic, nobody was immune to its contagion. Soon, I was fretting—but for different reasons. For all I knew, some of these kids weren’t immunized, and they were fed only unpasteurized milk. The other parents were worried about germs and microbes and genetically modified apricots—I was worried about the parents. I was surrounded by the new Puritans: self-righteous, aspiring toward a utopian perfectionism, therefore condemned to perpetual anxiety—and in their anxiety, a threat to me and my children.

It is one thing for liberals to worry privately about everything; or to be the new self-appointed Chicken Lickens of the 21st century; but it is another thing altogether to spread their contagion like measles.  After a certain point, the collection of individual worries reaches a critical mass, and the worrier goes off his rocker.  His panic spreads like the flu or psycho-social diseases (e.g. students all get ‘sick’ but are only suffering from social contagion). Watch the movie Contagion and substitute liberal concerns for the flesh-eating virus, and you have some idea of the threat.

Oppenheimer offers these clues to liberal angst:

The Puritan parents I encounter are nearly all liberals, and they represent the persistence of two unfortunate tendencies liberals have inherited from the Puritans, queered along the way by Progressive-era reformers. The first is the fun-smothering tendency of Progressive-era moral uplift, the tendency that brought us Prohibition and the first laws proscribing opiates and narcotics.

Oppenheimer also wonders what happened to The Sixties, the era of social laissez-faire, love the one you’re with, let it all hang out, do your own thing, and Let It Be? A flash in the pan, apparently.  The Fifties were too much for anybody, and there was enough of a critical mass of Baby Boomers to make a fuss – to have their own liberal contagion spread from coast to coast; but then they grew up, returned to their Puritanical roots, and moved on.

Except for a few thousand (there can’t possibly be more) unreconstructed Sixties Liberals who are simply unable to let go of the idealistic, utopian, and unrealistic vision they had fifty years ago.  They are still bleating on about social causes, express their outrage at every possible blip in an otherwise perfectible world.  There is still waaaaay too much racism, sexism, capitalism, materialism, anti-intellectualism in the world, they say, and it is their job is to lead the Crusades against them.

So, being a conservative is a lot more fun.  We can say ‘Bah, humbug’ and combine our trash, unrepentantly drink a few dry martinis before our steak dinner, smoke, drive SUVs, and escape to the most privileged enclaves we can find – far from the hectoring Left.

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