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

Monday, May 30, 2022

Coming Of Age - The Wondrous Metamorphosis From Progressive Pupa To Conservative Butterfly

Although liberals now refer to themselves as progressives to emphasize the distinction between the classic free-market liberalism which they abhor and communal efforts to create a better world, they are no different from Lafollette, Brandeis, Dewey, and Lippmann who fought for the rights of the disenfranchised, sought to alleviate poverty through government largesse and social programs.  However similar they might be in foundational principle, they have little of liberalism’s intellectual discipline and even less of their moral generosity.

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Progressivism today is a circus side show, a shell game, all quick fingers and no substance; a burlesque show with tits and pasties, booty and promise but nothing for sale but wiggle; a vaudevillian act with a pull-by date, an exhausting show of face-paint and mime; a familiar, predictable, crude repertoire. 

Early liberalism was as ideologically shaky as present-day progressivism.   Both were founded on the conviction that progress towards a better world is possible, that Utopia is not fiction, and that with will, enterprise, and belief it can be achieved – a conviction which, given the violent , chaotic, and impossibly brutal course of history, is airy, happy, and wrong.

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The early Twentieth Century liberals picked their fights carefully. Capitalism’s exploitation of labor, the central idea of Marx and Engels, was enough of an evil to require the full force of righteous action.  The rights of the working man, for so long ignored and abused by Robber Barons and their straw bosses, were to be restored.  Unionization not only meant the restoration of a countervailing force, a political equilibrium with teeth and purpose; but a moral victory. 

The union movement, as discredited as it would become in later decades was at least  based on sound philosophical principle, guided by political intellect, and combining both Darwinian survival and Marxist synthesis to produce systemic change in the economic system.  Today’s progressivism is a catch-all jamboree of emotional idealism, solidarity, and good times.  As flawed as liberalism’s faith in socialism was, it at least had a moral fulcrum.  Progressivism has no such foundational center – no one guiding philosophical principle.  In its conflation of all social ills – misogyny, homophobia, sexism, racism, economic inequality, and environmental destruction – its stuffing all America’s problems into one big grab-bag, it has lost intellectual focus.  It has become one big revival tent with only salvation, redemption, and promise in the wings.

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Progressivism is a youth movement, a reprise of the Sixties demographic bubble, a time when those under thirty were the majority, collective adolescence the character, and idealism the meme.  Older liberals who cut their teeth on civil rights and Vietnam are now tolerated, but given a back seat, and expected to applaud at the prompt.  There is no room in the tent for their brand of reflection.  Logic and exegesis went out with Augustine; and passion for reform, anger at injustice, and an embrace of anything that tastes sweet and good is in.

The progressive bolus of sanctimony and righteousness has finally been coughed up.  Conservatives, and many moderate Republicans have had enough hectoring and badgering; and are rolling back the most offensive measures imposed by the hysterical claque in Washington.  The electorate today, fat and happily middle class as it may be, is no different than it was in Jefferson’s day - still individualistic, enterprising, and suspicious of government.  The more autocratic its policies and the more indifferent it is to public sentiment, the greater the people’s resentment. 

This, however, is only the most obvious sequela of the reign of faux idealism. More fundamental, transformative changes are underway.   Progressives are becoming conservative.  The inevitable resetting of moral and political perspective from adolescence to maturity is happening.  Toys and tin soldiers are put away and big boy guns and cannons are replacing them. 

Conservatives has always understood that the recurring cycles of history are no accident.  As Shakespeare understood when writing his histories, the actors, script, and sets of historical drama may change, but the plot remains the same.  History has been one irresistible soap opera of palace coups, family jealousies, insidious schemes, and strange bedfellows.  Regardless of character, pomp, and circumstance, the outcome of history is forgone. 

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As long as human nature remains unchanged, such predictability is assured; and anyone who assumes that the merry-go-round will stop and that a new world order will replace the likes of  Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot is just whistlin’ Dixie. These men were not the bloody despots of the distant past, but today’s men of influence and a future certainty.

The Twenty-first Century has begun in turn.  Vladimir Putin has invaded his small, defenseless neighbor Ukraine and has brutally caused thousands of civilian deaths, urban devastation, and a siege of destruction.  His territorialism, tribal interests, and complete carelessness about the use of power is no different from Hitler’s putsches or the marauding armies of Genghis Khan. History indeed repeats itself.

What keeps adolescent idealism alive for so long? Why is political fancy perpetuated so long after it should have gone the way of toy swords, buckles, and princess outfits? Why have history books remained gathering dust on bottom shelves? What has fed such dreams? 

Perhaps more importantly how and why have age-old progressives become conservatives.  What are the mechanisms that finally re-introduce Genghis Khan, empire, and African tribal warfare into common perception? What makes formerly died-in-the-wool idealists committed democrats?

Most idealists see every repeat of history’s most nasty bits only as incentives to do more.  Progress is not denied but only delayed.  It is not that Putin’s violence is a demonstration of the perpetual resurfacing of malicious intent, but an incidental, unfortunate, unexpected blip in history from which lessons can be learned.  Realists see his actions as expected, predictable events from which there is no evasion.  Aggression will always be an expression of human nature; and if met with equivalent force will result in peace, victory, or compromise.  The post-war environment will be changed as the result, neither better nor worse than the previous one, a temporary hiatus in the waves of self-interested advance. A modern Pax Romana.

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Liberals do not become conservatives overnight.  There has to be a  gradual unclogging of arteries, more fluidity, clarity, and accelerated thought; but it takes only one illuminating event to bring the past to a close.  If, after all the predation, territorial wars, brutality, and inhumanity of the Twentieth Century, such offenses still continue; and if the same disregard for polity and community continues to be repeated despite the most optimistic predictions, there must be something to the idea of historical permanence.  Once grasped, never forgotten.  A progressive early, a conservative late, a historical imperative as conclusive as quenching a thirst.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Changing Sex–The Used Car Market Of The Gender Spectrum

Blanton de Williams was a blue-blooded Boston Brahmin with a storied lineage that went back to the kings of England, and whose American history was one of Revolutionary patriotism, enterprise, and culture.  The de Williams family had played a major role in New Bedford shipbuilding, the Newport three-cornered trade, mercantile banking, and early industrial development. 

Fairchild de Williams was the eldest of three children, two boys and a girl, all of whom married well.  The combined de Williams, Leverett, Grafton, and Ponsonby families accounted for a significant proportion of early 19th century Boston wealth, and were the veritable icons of high culture, breeding, and education.

Their wealth and social status were conferred on successive generations, and their names were inscribed on plaques, monuments, lintels, and friezes throughout New England.  The Alton B. Grafton School, the Thomas A. Ponsonby Park, and the Lenten R. Leverett Library were parts of an institutional legacy admired by all.

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There was no more of a rock-ribbed, traditional, conservative group of families than the de Williams group.  They took their heritage seriously.  They were proud of their Dukes of Shropshire, Hereford, and York, their English manorial estates, their membership in the Royal Colleges of the Arts and Sciences, their patronage of Wordsworth and Blake, their diplomats and emissaries, their furniture, appointments, and good taste.  They were Anglican first and high Episcopalian second, burghers, attorneys, and landowners in the colonies.  They had no shame in admitting their royalist allegiances, for they did so with respect and honor for tradition and history, not allegiance.

So there was perhaps no better canary in the coal mine than the de Williams family.  They were the first to notice signs of social travesty, insult and injury to established tradition, and the tremors of cultural insurrection.  They were among the first to oppose the radicalism of the Sixties, sensing the cultural anarchy within the movement and the threat not only to the American commonwealth but to the polity of their English past.

They denied the assaults on wealth, capitalism, received religion, and social manners;  shored up church and state with political and financial support, and fought what they called The Second Battle of Bunker Hill.

The Sixties came and went, were folded into capitalism’s absorbing ectoplasm, and by the end of the Twentieth Century they believed or at least dared to believe that the world had come to the end of history.  Communism was dead, socialism was in retreat, and American exceptionalism was ascendant.  They breathed a collective sigh of relief and once again enjoyed their garden parties, philanthropy, and social prestige.

The inhabitants of this redoubt of American historical conservatism was unprepared for the next wave of assault.  Progressivism, and its woke extremism, was far more corrosive to American values than any simplistic re-adjustment of civil rights or economic redistribution.  At its most radical, it aimed not only at socio-political institutions but at the nature of family organization.  Men and women, the hearth and home, the procreative unit, the mirror of the Trinity, the focal point of culture and civilization were now dismissed.  The assumption that sexual identity was not heterosexual but omni-sexual, and that the new sexual normal had no prescriptions or historical standards was upsetting to say the least.

However to Blanton de Williams the idea was as maladjusted as they come, a circus side show, a comic fantasy, a hilarious comedic riff.  How could ‘agender, androgyne, demigender, gender queer, gender fluid, man, transgender man, non-transgender man, questioning or unsure, woman, transgender woman, non-transgender woman’ be anything but caricature?  The stuff of bearded ladies.

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Although many if not most Americans were nonplussed at the gay theatre of the Castro, Bay-to-Breakers, and especially the Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco’s most dramatic display of whips, leather, and chains – they could only wonder at the notion of sexual choice.  

Yet it was the de Williams cadre, with conservative traditions, ideas, and principles deeply rooted and nourished for centuries that instinctively understood the patent unreality of the idea of the gender spectrum and the even more impossible notion of transgenderism which was was part of the new American burlesque, a musical review, an attempt to push La Cage aux Folles into the mainstream.

It is one thing for an ordinary American, used to the comings and goings of popular culture, the exaggerations, hysteria, and true belief of American cultural diversity to wonder at this Baroque, overdone, exaggerated fancy of ‘reformed’ sexuality; another entirely for the de Williams, Ponsonby, Grafton, and Leverett families.  They were the closest thing to a European aristocracy in which was embodied the whole of historical culture.  

When de Gaulle said, ‘Je suis la France’, he was not just talking about French nationalism, patriotism, and defiance; but about the thousand years of French civilization, La Fille Ainee de l’Eglise, the nation that beat back the Saracens and saved Europe from Muslim rule. 

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To Blanton de Williams, the gender spectrum was less burlesque, comedy, and side show than a used car market.  One of the most absurd ideas proposed by the sexual Left was the notion of fungibility.  If you chose one spot on the spectrum, tried it out and found that it wasn’t for you, you could trade it in for another model.  Since there was no such thing as heterosexuality, then any option was a valid one; and by logical extension, it could be exchanged for any other.

Which was why he was surprised at the lionization of transgenderism.  The physical reordering of biological birth sex was permanent.  You could not re-attach discarded equipment.  There was no retrofitting of sexual parts.  It was the end all of sexual choice, the one, final step along the way. 

It was the ironic illogic of the argument that made it even more implausible. If there was such a thing as a gender spectrum, where sexual identities could be bought and sold, exchanged on a gender eBay, why would anyone opt for a no-return policy?  Besides with a little spit and polish, a few nips and tucks, and some dramatic coaching men could act the part of women without physical compromise.  Better keep the option of putting up your frilly things and returning to trousers and suspenders than chopping and channeling.

American popular culture is nothing but the greatest show on earth, a spectacle to be amazed at. The whole gender spectrum, transgender folly will soon go by the boards as quickly as hula hoops.  Blanton de Williams and his family will still reside on Beacon Hill with homes on Nantucket, use Paul Revere silver and sit on Chippendale chairs, more and more isolated perhaps, but solidly American nonetheless.