Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Conservative American Politics

A friend posted this image on a social media site and asked for feedback from conservatives.  The following represents my attempt to answer his call.  The original statements from the image are italicized and bolded: they represent a "liberal" caricature of modern American conservatism.

1.  Corporations are people.  There is much that I could say about this, but for now I am just going to talk about profits, which are the lifeblood of corporations.  Corporations are not necessarily evil for hunting profits: what else can they do? (Exhibit A: the Soviet empire.) Problems arise, however, when they mistake profit as the only end and (crucially) fail to consider the long term. (Keep an eternal perspective! Laugh, but there is something true here.) The fact that you make $100,000+ per employee per year for 10 years is absolutely fantastic until you lose $40 billion (or so) in one go, and the goose that lays the golden eggs dies. Your short-term profits are worthless when they have no long-term stability: worse than that, they set you up with false confidence -- leading to waste and practically inviting the savage vengeance of Dame Fortune. (Remember, no matter how sweetly she may smile on you today, that woman cannot be trusted.) Nobody who steps up to the bar with her is too big to fail -- not you, not your company, not GoldmanSachs, not the USA or the UN or God Almighty himself. (Exhibit B: Christ dying in agony on the cross.  Sidenote for Mormons: remember the parable Boyd K. Packer told about the debtor who had to pay through the nose and couldn't make it? I have often heard people ask who the ruthless creditor demanding pure justice was: was it God? Now I know: it was Dame Fortune.)  Understanding profit means knowing when to let it go (i.e. when it is not profitable), and taking your medicine when you really do fail (rather than taking another swig from that bottle and asking the dealer to give you another hand
: yes, she is really dangerously cute, and no, that is absolutely not a good excuse to stay in the game).

2.  Women who use birth control are sluts.  Again, there is much that I could say, but I am going to ignore most of it and talk about birth control.  Birth control is not free. But it is pretty cheap. If you cannot afford a few cents, then you are probably going to screw yourself (and everyone associated with you) over anyway. The world is a fun place, but with that fun comes responsibility. The taxpayer doesn't buy you booze or smokes: why should he buy you the illusion that sex has no natural consequences? You want to screw yourself: fine, go ahead. You want to go in with a little more preparation: be my guest. (As a conservative, I am not at all opposed to sex education: I think we should have more of it. Tell people exactly what happens, no holds barred, and let them make up their own minds about how to respond intelligently. Coddle people like puppies -- giving them free this and that -- and they will come begging for treats, or forget to beg because the cute little things seem like an unnecessary bother (until somebody gets pregnant: whoops? how did that happen?). Tell them where the danger is, and the ones with any sense will buy their own cheap protection. If Democrats want to set up private charities to distribute condoms, I am sure that Republicans will be OK with that. (I certainly would be.)

3.  College students are snobs.  College students are naive. Sometimes that naivete comes out as pointless partying. Sometimes it comes out as a giant tuition bill that the students' grandkids are never going to pay off (since it bought a degree in philosophy or art). You appreciate stuff better, and make better use of it, when you own it -- when you might lose it. Make college students work for their room and board, for the place they get in that class, and they will rise to the occasion: they will become smart and capable instead of blowing Daddy's money on beer and strippers (or an advanced degree in warmed-over rhetorical BS that Protagoras would have been ashamed to charge for). Note to teachers and (especially) administrators: this means that you have to keep your profits realistic (thinking more about educating people and less about your stupid football team: I don't care how many games you win or how pretty the uniforms and facilities are as long as your classroom performance sucks).

4.  Gay Americans are an abomination.  Conservatives by and large do a bad job when it comes to understanding gays. Give them all the crap you want, and it is probably merited. To understand where they are coming from, though, just think of the worst corporation you can and imagine how you would feel about employees of that corporation coming to your door and asking you to invest in their business. That is how many conservatives feel about gay people. They see a danger that isn't really there, but that doesn't make it any less scary for them.

5.  Poor people deserve to be poor.  Conservatives are guilty of preaching the prosperity gospel. But so are liberals. The fact is that there probably isn't a system possible in which somebody doesn't get run over. I still think the best way to prepare folks for that reality is letting them know what's on the line. Tell folks what the road looks like before you sell them a car and turn them loose to drive (and/or be run over). Capitalism isn't going to keep them from getting run over. But neither is socialism. Your best bet is to have a smarter driver behind the wheel, in my humble opinion. Don't tell people that there are safe bets, that it's always OK to go into debt for a house (or a car or an education), that their happiness depends on what somebody else does. The more disempowered people feel, the stupider they behave (out of desperation: they want to be in control; none of us is in perfect control, of course, but we compensate by having something we can do -- give people an option that isn't selling their vote or their soul to your and your political ideology, for goodness' sake).

6.  The unemployed are lazy parasites.  Conservatives are guilty here, too. It comes with the prosperity gospel. But telling people that they are on their own is actually kinder -- in many cases -- than encouraging them to place their hope in dead-end jobs doing piece-work for the next Rockefeller (who is going to be so much better than his predecessors because he is a Democrat or a Socialist or whatever). The truth is that most "jobs" in society these days are what ancient philosophers would have considered slave labor. They don't serve fundamental human needs. They don't free the souls of the people performing them (in most cases). They make people dependent rather than independent. What screams dependence more than crowds of scruffy young people hoboing around Wall Street waving angry signs: "Feed the dogs more, boss! We want some bigger scraps!" If you want to change the system, you have to man up and leave the bosses' table. If you don't want to be a slave, then don't do slave labor. Learn how to make it on your own (off the Street). And respect those people who for one reason or another find their bliss where you don't. It takes all kinds to make a world, and some of them are always going to be filthy scumbags (some of whom will be filthy rich). The most compelling weapon we can bring to bear against any corporation is not government regulation or sanctions or forced redistribution but non-engagement. You don't think Apple's outsourcing practices are good for the world? Then stop buying Apple products. Encourage other people to pursue alternatives to the stuff you don't like. Make your own companies. Build your own churches. Fly your own freak flag without trying to burn down everyone else's. Make your own hope instead of paying through the nose to get a cheap knock-off from some politician.

7.  Union workers are socialist thugs.  If you are going to have unions, then have unions. But remember that the purpose of life is best served when things (and people) work. Money does grow on trees -- and the trees need time, water, and nutrients that are freaking expensive (because they are precious). Your home doesn't magically double in value every 2 years (or 2 minutes, or whatever) -- and none of this changes when you have thousands of friends calling you "comrade" and paying dues to Jimmy Hoffa. Sometimes, the remedy (unions) can be as bad as the disease (management / capitalism). Most men would rather be their own master -- and would do a better job managing themselves than the Rockefellers or the Hoffas if they got the chance.

8.  Latinos are illegal until proven otherwise.  I think that many conservatives wouldn't mind making legal entry into the country easier -- though I am aware that not all feel this way (at all). The anti-immigration lobby is on the losing side of history, in my view, and I see no reason to defend them (or it). I like underdogs, but I will not be caught beating a dead horse, and this one has no chance.  

9.  The Bible trumps the Constitution.  Many conservatives are guilty of misunderstanding and misrepresenting the religious heritage of the USA. They try to impose themselves on the world and then cry religious persecution when the world (or the rest of the country) isn't having it. Give them grief, O Lord, for they deserve it (and have asked for it enough). The great thing about America used to be that I could believe whatever silly religious nonsense I wanted, and that you could too, and that we could still agree on the basics (the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence -- neither of which says anything explicit about the Bible, except to provide that no religious test be used to keep unbelievers or heretics out of government). As far as I am concerned, you can be whatever you want to be as long as you allow me the same privilege and respect the law (which shouldn't be "Christian" law or "Muslim" law or "Jewish" law or any law other than good old American law -- which for all its flaws has a much better record than any religious code I know of).

10.  Global warming is a hoax.  Pretty much.  But conservatism doesn't demand waste as some kind of sine qua non. You can invest in clean energy, if you want. You just cannot make your neighbor do it precisely the way you would. Modeling good behavior wins you more points with conservatives than demanding that they pay more taxes and get rid of their old jalopies so that you can feel superior as you drive around in a nice Prius.

11.  The US auto industry should go bankrupt.  Speaking of old jalopies that are bad for the environment, yes, those stupid automakers should go bankrupt. If you want to make things better, then you have to let the bad ideas fail. GM is a bad idea. It has already failed. Keeping its ghost around to please the unions is a nice temporary gesture for old times' sake, but it is only making real economic recovery harder (since GM is taking up valuable resources that could be used to create a company that actually made something useful, something that would probably even be better for the environment than those overpriced junkers they have been turning out over the past quarter century).

12.  The US president is a Muslim agent from Kenya.  The Birthers are morons, nitpicking some spurious details that don't matter (at this point, they wouldn't even matter if they turned out to be true: getting Obama ejected from office on a nitpicking technicality is not going to fix anything wrong with this country; remember that the Hydra sprouted two new heads for every one that Heracles chopped off). The rest of us conservatives don't take them seriously. No one else should either.

This essay is neither a perfect reflection of my politics nor the articulation of a coherent worldview, but it contains the germ of many ideas that have been rattling around in my head for a while, so I thought it worth preserving.

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