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

Monday, June 1, 2020

A Conservative Trapped In A Progressive Never-Never Land Of Cant and Received Wisdom

It is difficult to be a conservative in these troubled times – or rather difficult to live in the warrens of progressive idealism with no refuge or safe haven.  Life in Northern Idaho, Mississippi, or Wyoming – the last redoubts of frontier individualism and self-sufficiency – might be different, but living in in the Northeast Corridor, badgered, hammered, and attacked requires mettle, reserve, patience, and most of all counsel. 

Melody Jones had always dismissed politics as ‘acquired commitment’.  One was liberal in one’s youth and conservative later.  So as she grew older and as much as she hated to admit it, the blush was fading from the bloom of the rose.  She found herself angered at the selfish shenanigans of Black Lives Matter, the persistent embrace of a culture of entitlement instead of individual responsibility, and the constant, interminable howls of protest against rape, abuse, and dismissiveness of women.

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Her trips to Africa disabused her of any notion of the rightness of foreign aid.  Most African leaders were autocratic kleptocrats who enriched themselves with international largess, made sweet deals for natural resources the profits of which never trickled past Swiss bank accounts.  Famine after famine was lamented in the world press.  Musicians, Hollywood film stars, and European royalty all sponsored events to raise money for Ethiopia, when corrupt leaders, endless and pointless war, savage ethnic conflicts, and retrograde politics simply siphoned off newfound riches to further their ends.

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Decades of liberal concern for the inner cities resulted in nothing but increased violence, social and family dysfunction, failing schools, and political favoritism. ‘A woman’s right to choose’ became distorted and expedient.  Any deliberation about the morality of abortion, the inevitable erosion of the dignity of all life, and the Biblical injunctions against it was considered off the table.  Abortion was settled policy, Pope John Paul II notwithstanding.

Environmentalism ignored economic reality and evolved from a movement of legitimate concern to an angry defiance of capitalism and economic progress.  There were never two sides to the question of alternative energy, no objective risk analysis, no cause-and-effect analysis.  Environmentalism became received wisdom insulated against criticism.

In other words the more Melody saw of progressivism and its assumptions of right; its sanctimony, and its rejection of objective logic, the less respect she had for it. Most importantly she came to appreciate the conservative assessment of human nature which was indeed self-protective, territorial, aggressive, insistent, demanding, and all-powerful.  No civilization, society, or community has ever been exempt from its demands.  All social groupings whether families, communities, or nations act in the same, predictable, and similar ways.   No matter how much one may have tried to alter the interminable cycle of human nature, wars, civil conflict, ethnic and religious rivalries not only still exist but are in no way diminished in frequency, severity, or scope.

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In short anyone who had lived a moderately long life and who had kept their eyes open at least part of the time can only have concluded that unless human nature is altered, human activity will remain nasty, unchanged, and unimproved.  No matter how high the ideals nor how generous the investment nor how intelligent the planning, human society will continue to revolve around the same, millennia-old axis.

Yet here, because of profession and ambition Melody found herself embedded deep in the Northeast Corridor, ironically surrounded by exactly those people she had discarded ages ago. In fact the ensuing years had only hardened her classmates’ Utopianism, and Trump's victory had emboldened them to pursue their idealistic, aspirational, and anti-historical notions of a race- and gender-neutral socialist homeland even more passionately.  Given the religious nature of these convictions - progressivism was not just a political movement but a God-ordained principle - it is not surprising that there was no room in the big tent for what they considered ragged individualism, brutal laissez faire economics, and social Darwinism. Those who subscribed to a conservative philosophy - reasoned and not ragged at all - were attacked and dismissed as retrograde, ignorant, and hopelessly racist.

Not only had the conservative vision of Trump failed to budge anyone in the big tent or tempt them away from the all-you-can-eat free buffet, it had hardened progressive opposition to even the simplest and least controversial conservative principles.  For these now obstinately angry and hostile voters, the accession of Donald Trump to the White House was not simply a change of party leadership and policies, but the rise to power of the very incarnation of the misanthropic, elitist, and unimaginably retrograde convictions of the cracker Right.  Whereas progressives had always been committed to social reform, now they were less concerned with promoting their Utopian vision, than they were with sending emergent Devil back to the fires of Hell.

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Animosity for both Trump and conservatism itself gained new traction in the age of Corona and racial protest.  The ‘Open America’ demonstrations were considered anti-social and immoral – a resurgence of the me-first, capitalistic, venal, and hungry sentiment that had always been endemic in America but tamed by liberal sentiment.  Anyone who put economic vitality and individual freedom over communal solidarity and human concern was in league with the Devil and were complicit in murder.  Conservatives who looked dispassionately at data, calculated assumed risk, estimated he value of personal freedom and enterprise, and demanded an end to the Corona confinement, were retrograde sinners.

Then came the race riots stemming from the death of a black man at the hands of police – another case, rioters and their radical supporters insisted, of endemic police brutality, the corrupt nature of adventurist, elitist capitalism, and American inhumanity.  Cities across the United States were subjected to racial mayhem as violent, destructive, and universal as that of 1968.  Rioters protested and rampaged through city downtowns, ravaging and destroying shops, vehicles, and incidentals willy-nilly; and looting for personal profit. 

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Of course Melody was outraged.  Not only was she incensed at the civil disobedience, the unprovoked violence, and the destruction of private property; but at liberal complicity.  Liberal media exclaimed that black people who had long suffered under the iron hand of racist, white-privileged elitism and who had never been really freed from the yoke of plantation overseers and Southern hegemony, had every right to demonstrate their anger and frustration through violence, destruction, and civil disorder.  The accommodating lessons of Martin Luther King were now dismissed and relegated as examples of Uncle Tom-ism at its worst.

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When Melody voiced her opposition to both the Corona lock-down and the race riots, she was quickly and dismissively shut up and shut down by her progressive friends. She was dismissed as supernumerary by her family, friends, and colleagues – marginalized and sent to an intellectual gulag.  In the enlightened, woke, and progressive community in which she had chosen to live there was no room for dissent.  Better sent into exile than tolerated.

So Wyoming was appealing – a place where she could speak her mind un-assailed, and be rid of the progressive hectors which had pestered her for decades.  She had second thoughts.  Was she fleeing from intellectual combat? What about her respect for the Oxford Debates – high-toned expressions of difference of opinion and the best form of dialectic enterprise? By leaving Washington was she not retreating to a convenient, protected cove? An intellectual coward?

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Far from it.  An environment of illogical contention, a priori belief, and self-serving political cover was neither congenial nor useful to anyone. Better be done and gone.

So Melody, disaffected and increasingly emotionally incontinent, decided that she had had enough of her friends' virulent hatred of Trump and anyone who promoted conservatism. Life was indeed too short for the bile, the anger, the ill-concealed contempt, and the abusive self-righteousness.  She kept her mouth shut and her own counsel while planning her move; but her mind was made up. There was no point in remaining among a pestilential swarm; an incessantly buzzing, stinging, unthinking hive of political venom.

It was not so much peace and solitude she sought but remove.  A quiet distance and one final political transformation in a place of intellectual neutrality. Not only was the political acrimony of Washington debilitating and corrosive, the whole idea of political identity was disheartening and bleak.

Perhaps her move to Wyoming was indeed like going to a remote Carthusian monastery where vows of silence were taken and never broken, and where spiritual evolution and a higher spiritual consciousness were one's only preoccupations. In any case it was not abnegation so much as it was adoption, or at the very least a favorable exchange.

Melody lost contact with her friends and colleagues back East without regret.  They, and memories of them had no place now.  She was finally and happily free from cant, polemic, and no exit thinking. She was at last a true conservative.

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