He’s read Kevin Williamson’s new book, The End Is Near and It’s Going To Be Awesome. The issue is, however, how do we get to the awesome part, where (as the subtitle has it) America becomes richer, happier, and more secure?
As I was reading, I kept thinking to myself, “Yes, yes. This all makes lots of sense to you and me. But how are you going to sell it to the Low Information Voters, the Bread and Circuses crowd, the 47%, the Free Shite Army?”
Because that’s a bit of a sticking point. America is currently poorer, miserable, and unsafe, and largely by the unwitting complicity of the well-meaning with those who can’t care less about them unless they’re pulling the proper lever every first week of November.
I’m not sure I have the best answer. My family are all professing Democrats, and not necessarily Low Info either. They are either all Boomers or raised by them, what one might call NPR Liberals: they are always reading or hearing these long-winded sophisticates and discussing “issues” among themselves, so they feel they are quite up on things. It’s not a case of Low Information but too much, and all of it coming after all the conclusions have been reached, and thus unable to change anyone’s mind on anything.
There, one could demonstrate that most of what they know is built on the empty air – things assumed into evidence which evaporate when studied closely, or which end in fatal self-contradiction if taken seriously and rigorously carried to their proper conclusion.
Now for the catch: they don’t like that.
It’s frustrating; the older generation are accomplished professionals in fields in which government overreach made their careers ever-more-difficult from when they first took the jobs. A typical conversation at a family gathering consists of a litany of complaints in which every observation is as sharp as a tack, up until the proffered solution: “Let’s do more of the crap that caused this in the first place!” They simply KNOW that all the Career Bureaucratic Meddlers mean well, therefore they do well, and things would undoubtedly be worse without them. (Just look at all the Career Bureaucratic Meddlers who would be out of jobs if we listened to those awful conservatives!)
I begin to think that the solution for them is to be philosophical – not to simply ply them with data, because they inevitably sink that into the gloppy stew of general leftist sentiment and get no further. Should a large hunk of fact stick in the craw for a bit, well, that’s what the Heimlich is for. The next question is, would that approach also work on the Low Information Voter?
The thing is, most people don’t like being made to feel like they don’t know much. And the other thing is, the folks who move from Low to High Info have a wealth of resources available. They choose in part because of personality and opportunity, and to persuade them, it isn’t always the best idea to do so with a list of data. People like to be related with, not lectured to. Being a decent person (not even a smart one, necessarily) will impress more than a cogent political manifesto. The data comes in response to people asking why you think the way you do – usually in the form of “How could such a nice guy be a conservative?”
I’ll answer that for anyone who’s hung on long enough here: I’m conservative precisely because, like most people, I like to be related with. I don’t think a large organization can relate with me, and therefore it’s usually a poor instrument for solving a social problem – it lacks the prerequisite social aspect. By definition a large organization is impersonal, clinical. I find it very odd that many people who object to large corporate entities on the basis of their size and reach want a government with so much size and reach that it is literally inescapable.
Then there’s utility. People want stuff to work, generally. It doesn’t matter what it is – a car, a movie, a vacation, a friend – if you promise something, deliver. Well, does a large government deliver on even one-tenth of the promises it makes? One point of contention among me and my wife’s family is in funding of pensions – there are a number of teachers annoyed that Chris Christie wants them to shoulder a much larger portion of the burden of funding their benefits and retirement. The problem there, however, is that for years and years the teachers were promised (in writing, no less) far more than could ever be delivered. The anger is legitimate, but misplaced.
Putting these two things side-by-side, I reach the following conclusion: a large government is not only too impersonal to handle the smaller-scale problems of communities and individual families, it is also failing at its legitimate functions because it’s too busy trying to micromanage all of us.
For example, we want a government that can protect us from the unscrupulous. If we don’t like what some company or charity does, we don’t give them any more of our money… and if we’re getting conned into it by fraud or forced into it by underhanded machinations, we want people to go to jail.
We don’t get that option with the government itself. If they do what we don’t like, we still have to pay taxes… if they break the law and commit fraud it takes a tremendous effort to bring them to account. Even if we vote the bums out, we get new bums, and the old bums go on to cushy, lucrative second careers giving speeches, writing books, or teaching at some college. And while they’re busy handling all this other business, they can’t be effective at what we really want them to do. It’s like if you hired a housekeeper and suddenly there are fifteen people in your house, running your budget, raising your kids, remodeling and landscaping and running up tremendous bills… and being so busy doing all of it that the neglected laundry and un-emptied garbage pails overflow. And the larger the government gets, the worse those problems all become – as we have seen with painful clarity over the past five years.
It is bad enough when we’re merely dealing with sclerotic and unresponsive bureaucrats… but when they decide to take an active hand, it gets far worse. The whole point of the rule of law, and of limiting the scope of human leaders according to law, is that the average citizen is relatively powerless otherwise. We can be cowed; like cows, herded; we can be jostled inch by inch until we find ourselves hemmed and hedged by layers of high walls and thick berms, all “for our safety” but only serving to protect the gigantic hive of bureaucracy from being fumigated and stamped out. What options does a single person have when a government suddenly decides to target him – and not for breaking the law, but for speaking his mind or insisting on his rights?
Well, one could brazen it out and be crushed, or wearied into compliance, or ruined by having his resources exhausted. One could simply keep one’s head down and hope not to catch anyone’s eye. One could even willingly strive to be a cog in the machine – perhaps worst of all, because the first thing the Machine does once it runs out of victims is to grind its own gears, destroying itself from within. The Machine needs must run, regardless of the amount or appropriateness of the work at hand. It’s why people have to be in charge of the thing, why they must have clear rules on the Machine’s correct operation. Letting it go on its own, building it fanatically and protecting it at all costs, is no protection. Run out of designated victims and the designation will suddenly change – it is the hallmark of any such madhouse scheme, in the same way that any leftist proposal always starts with something small and reasonable, and then grows insensate to gross proportions. You name it: minimum wage, civil rights, healthy eating, energy policy, education policy… in my youth $4.25 was fine, and then $5.25, $6.50, $7.50, etc etc. This or that oppressed group only wants to do A, B, and C…. and LMNOP… and XYZ, Æ, Ω, and √-1. We have four food groups – uh, a pyramid – or a prism – and even if none of it is actually healthy, well, they’re only
suggestions guidelines rules requirements. Air and water must be clean… no, cleaner… actually, cleaner than when you first breathed and drank it, or we’ll shut down your business. Everyone should have good schools turns into every teacher must have a good job, and the students all have to comply as proof of their learning, even if compliance means that they don’t actually get around to learning. Every single socially-engineered benefit started as a safety net or emergency, and grew to be not only expected but demanded as a birthright.
And it isn’t sufficient to simply abide by these things either – you must have no reluctance and wholeheartedly embrace them, or we will make you suffer for it. For this expansion grows in that way as well: we move from being able all to do our own thing, to doing things a particular way that all parties agreed on, to fighting over what to do, to having one way imposed over protest, to having “discussions but of course we’re eventually doing it that way or else,” to finally not being allowed to protest or discuss or even disapprove. All right-thinking people believe thus… until the thought changes and those without sufficient mental reflexes find themselves designated for official suffering.
Maybe that last bit is the true obstacle to productive conversation. To not know is to not have control over what might happen next… one’s mind may change, one’s behavior may have to follow suit, one may have obligations and responsibilities. The slipperiness of the mind that must be in control at all times simply can’t abide it and takes any such dangerous fact or rebel thought and turns it into the new idol to worship, with their own high priesthood undisturbed. It is no accident that the Lord’s prophets cast down the high places of false idols. We’ve got to do the same.*
How? Ironically, by being a little like those we seek to convince – by being resolute in our own principles. In the Church we call it steadfastness. Practically speaking, it means offering something different as a solid and healthy alternative. If we’re only a different sort of Machine built exclusively to fight the first one, what’s the point? We want NO Machine; we want Sauron cast down and NOBODY put into his place. It’s an alternative that nobody else can offer because they all still have the mad dream of somehow being the last cog turning after the smash… and even if they succeed they will be miserable and alone. The only real alternative is to dismantle the works and let the pieces lie scattered and rusting in the plains, as a warning to the future.
*tip of the wings to Maetenloch at Ace of Spades for linking this excellent essay. Do read it all.