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March 07, 2011

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Jason Bontrager

"Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live; it is asking others to live as one wishes them to live. And unselfishness is letting other people’s lives alone, not interfering with them. Selfishness always aims at creating around it an absolute uniformity of type… It is grossly selfish to require of one’s neighbour that he should think in the same way, and hold the same opinions."

Call me selfish then. I don't want neighbors who are utterly unpredictable and whose different ways of thinking may involve such idiosyncrasies as blasting their stereos at 2am, or throwing their garbage in my yard, or strapping explosives to themselves and detonating in my vicinity. A certain modicum of consistency and uniformity of opinion and values is necessary for civil peace. If that be selfishness, then I wear the title with pride.

David

Jason,

I suspect you may be missing the spirit of the thing. I’m not sure that a reluctance to impose one’s politics on others would necessarily entail… well, imposing on others in the ways you suggest. If a neighbour is throwing garbage in your yard or disturbing you with loud music at 2am, they aren’t rejecting socialism; they’re just being an arse.

It’s perhaps worth noting that, unlike many socialist ideas, libertarian or classically liberal ones tend not to conflict too much with bourgeois values, which broadly presuppose a regard for the individual. Mindfulness of one’s neighbours trying to sleep, for instance, seems perfectly compatible with a regard for the individual and their physical and psychological territory.

Jason Bontrager

David,

You're right. I wasn't taking the context of the quote into account. Pity definitions tend to set my teeth on edge, to the point where I sometimes don't pay attention to the larger picture.

David

Jason,

Well, in fairness, Wilde’s political views were somewhat inconsistent, but it’s worth drawing attention to other, less noted forms of selfishness. That’s what caught my attention.

A while ago I pointed out how Seumas Milne used the terms “unchallengeable entitlement” and “naked class egotism” regarding Michael Caine’s dislike of punitive taxation. For wishing to retain just under half of his own earnings, Caine was depicted as arrogant, greedy and selfish. But those like Milne who feel entitled to confiscate even more of the earnings of others don’t regard themselves as in any way arrogant or selfish, or as having an unchallengeable sense of entitlement.

Likewise, I doubt Polly Toynbee thinks of herself as arrogant or selfish. Yet she wishes to force others to do what she won’t do voluntarily. Toynbee could help the poor by selling at least one of her houses – perhaps that nice Tuscan villa. Or she could donate half of her six-figure Guardian salary to someone she deems in need, and do it again every year. But she doesn’t, and she won’t. Instead she directs her energies to coercing others, including people much less wealthy than herself and whose priorities and obligations may be dramatically different.

Jason Bontrager

"Pithy", not "pity". Gotta remember to self-edit!

Horace Dunn

Wilde's view is instructive. Of course one should leave one's neighbour to do what he wants to do (and think what he wants to think). If by exercising this freedom he makes himself obnoxious then that would be noted and would likely tell against him. This is why most people voluntarily measure their behaviour against the needs of those around them (for example, they don't play loud music all night long if they know that this will disturb their neighbours). One of the problems of the statist approach is that it removes the beholding-ness that we all have to our neighbours. If it is the case that, no matter how disagreeable one makes oneself to others, one's income and standing remain unaffected, then there is no compulsion to think of others. Socialism, therefore, does indeed equate to selfishness.

Franklin

Unfortunately there's a sorry history in this country in which racists did force their views upon their neighbors. Lynching comes to mind, as well as the notion of three-fifths personhood and laws against miscegenation. I'm glad that it doesn't go on with the kind of virulence that it used to, but the comparison to socialism is fatuous. They are just different kinds of evil.

It's true that Wilde's politics meander, but if it were ever codified somehow, I would join. We could call it the Wilde Party.

Rich Rostrom

Franklin: lynching, yes, but more importantly the racists imposed the rules their views supported on other racial groups; and not infrequently sucked up public resources to support their policies. (As, for instance, the establishment of separate "black-only" facilities, from drinking fountains to universities.)

I wish people wouldn't babble about the "3/5 clause" in the U.S. Constitution. It was a compromise which limited the electoral power of the slave-holding states.

BTW - that Northwestern U. class has been making headlines here in Chicago. NU is profoundly embarrassed - as it deserves to be.

David

Franklin,

“They are just different kinds of evil.”

I suppose the broader point is that proponents of socialism rarely view themselves as such. Racial bigotry is generally looked on as the grim idiocy it is. But the urge to confiscate other people’s money and violate their preferences is presented as something benign and altruistic. And for some, there doesn’t seem to be a point at which the confiscation and intrusion becomes indecent. Indeed, the punitive, sadistic aspect is openly announced by Milne, Toynbee, Monbiot, McKenna, etc. As Zoe Williams put it, “As for vindictive, ha! Good.

Milne, Toynbee at al want to override my judgments and priorities (and yours) with theirs. So, if I were a parent and wanted to save up and send my kid to a private school (though not as grand as the schools attended by Milne, Toynbee et al), this would conflict with what they want me to do with my earnings. Rather than sparing my kid a substandard state education and giving them opportunities I didn’t have, which would apparently be selfish, I should instead hand more of my cash to the state and people who think like Milne and Toynbee. And for not being entirely happy about this, I would be cast as the villain.


Rich,

“…that Northwestern U. class has been making headlines here in Chicago.”

Yes, you have to wonder how a project like that gets started. I mean, how exactly does the subject of an after-class live sex show get raised in the faculty lounge? “Listen guys, I’ve got a great idea. The kids will love it. We’ll need dildos, hard liquor and some hookers…” And the whole “Your Body is a Wonderland” campaign seems based on a belief that teenagers aren’t masturbating enough while on campus property.

sackcloth and ashes

'A course on sex taught by psychology Professor John Michael Bailey recently featured a naked woman being worked on by a man wielding a sex toy… The 600-student course, which for some reason is one of the largest at Northwestern, features all kinds of sexual expression and guests that include swingers and convicted sex offenders. The optional, after-class sex-toy demonstration, Bailey said, “helps us understand sexual diversity” - possibly the first time a state-of-the-art vibrator demonstration was stuffed in under the campus diversity umbrella'.

Life imitates art. I tried to link to the sex-ed skit in 'The Meaning of Life', but Youtube won't let me.

rv

"They are just different kinds of evil"

You are so full of shit.

David

“You are so full of shit.”

Franklin, there’s a message for you.

David

rv,

I’m guessing you don’t think much of my comments either, so let me give you an example of what I mean.

The Kevin McKenna piece linked above is, I think, indicative of a common theme in socialist psychology; certainly, it mirrors attitudes I’ve encountered many times. McKenna would like to see private education banned, thereby forcing all children to endure the comprehensive system, regardless of its shortcomings and regardless of any harm it may do to them. As I wrote,

It offends Mr McKenna that private education should be allowed to exist - even when those who pay for it also pay again via taxes for the state system. How dare some parents want the best for their children when the best is something not everyone can have, or indeed benefit from? By McKenna’s reckoning, it would be less iniquitous to deny parents the right to use their own money to benefit their own offspring in a private and legal transaction of their own choosing. According to this moral calculus, parents who view the comprehensive system as inadequate – perhaps because of their own first-hand experiences – are by implication wicked. And so they should be stopped.

Like many of his peers, McKenna doesn’t seem concerned with differences in ability and need or the demoralising effects of substandard egalitarian schooling. Nor does he have much regard for the idea of personal choice or wanting the best for one’s children. Apparently, if not everyone can have a thing, no-one should be allowed to have it. No-one must be allowed to escape.

As someone who went to a lousy comprehensive school – mysteriously burned down some years after I left - I find McKenna’s attitude vindictive and sadistic, yet it’s announced confidently, with pride, as if it were a measure of socialist virtue. And McKenna is far from alone in holding views of this kind. Several variations can be found here.

When I was at the local comprehensive and learning how to throw chairs to defend myself, it never occurred to me that people in better schools, where learning might actually happen, should be punished and deprived, supposedly to make things “fair.” Yet it’s one of the first things that spring to Kevin McKenna’s mind - it’s the punchline declaration of his socialist credentials.

I don’t know about you, but I think that tells us something.

WTP

In the "add your own" department, you'll...umm...enjoy? the pickle our taxpayer-funded National Public Radio has gotten itself into...

http://dailycaller.com/2011/03/08/npr-executives-caught-on-tape-bashing-conservatives-and-tea-party-touting-liberals/print/

for fun, the "more balanced" NY Times version:
http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/npr-executive-caught-calling-tea-partiers-racist/

David

WTP,

Just been watching it over at Hot Air. In this regard NPR seems much like our own scrupulously impartial BBC. And if Mr Schiller thinks it’s “very clear” that NPR would be “better off in the long-run without federal funding,” maybe US taxpayers will oblige him.

Franklin

I suppose the broader point is that proponents of socialism rarely view themselves as such. Racial bigotry is generally looked on as the grim idiocy it is.

I doubt seriously that practicing bigots view themselves as grim idiots. I would tend to think instead that they likewise feel their attitudes to be justified by experience, anecdote, data, convictions of various kinds, or whatever else was handy to their benighted psyches. Such is my thankfully limited first-hand experience with them.

Franklin, there’s a message for you.

Indeed. One almost gets the impression that the writer is disagreeing with me.

David

Franklin,

Just updated the post with an item of possible interest.

Franklin

Saw that - James is my editor at TNC. I've been saying for years that the art world is a political monoculture, and DeQuattro proved it. You saw this at FIRE I trust:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_Sea_uGgHk

Franklin

There's a follow-up to the DeQuattro story.

http://www.newcriterion.com/posts.cfm/The-Backstory-of-Politics-at-Pratt-6484

The lousy treatment of an art student for his conservative views, if that is indeed what happened, is a shame. That said, the work in question looks pretty bad. That it is not worse than a lot of political art by liberals isn't saying much, because the bar is so low. I find that art is a poor medium for politics, especially when compared to language, but also in comparisons between political art and apolitical art. Politics are aesthetically motivating to some artists, and they can work effectively with it. I have doubts as to whether DeQuattro is one of them.

David

Franklin,

“That said, the work in question looks pretty bad.”

Based on the follow-up piece, it sounds as much a clash of personalities and drama queenery as anything else. And yes, when someone defines their art primarily in political terms, I tend to expect the worst. And am rarely surprised.

Fred

Franklin: "I doubt seriously that practicing bigots view themselves as grim idiots. "

In my experience, these people (racists, National Front etc) are fully aware of their bigotry - they just don't see that it's wrong, or rather it's a "break-a-few-eggs" kind of attitude.

It's the socialists who are blissfully unaware of their bigotry, and furthermore consider that their non-self-identified bigotry renders them morally superior.

There is certainly a large self-awareness deficit present with these people.

David

Fred,

“There is certainly a large self-awareness deficit present with these people.”

If the Guardian is a plausible yardstick, there seems to be an asymmetry of political empathy.

Sam

"there seems to be an asymmetry of political empathy"

David, thanks for linking the Russell Nieli article. It's funny how the people who turned on Larry Summers for talking about gender differences are the same people talking about lefties being 'more intelligent'.

David

Sam,

“It’s funny how the people who turned on Larry Summers for talking about gender differences are the same people talking about lefties being ‘more intelligent’.”

Quite. If a designated victim group is “under-represented” in a given field that must indicate obnoxious discrimination (regardless of whether any is actually discovered) and it’s scandalous to suggest any other considerations. But if those being “under-represented” are not a recognised victim group – say, people who are insufficiently leftwing – then the favoured explanation is one of innate disposition and/or cretiny.

Again, it seems to me there’s an asymmetry of common assumptions, not least the belief that intelligent, informed, happening people should almost by definition hold left-of-centre views. Or should at least succumb to them – briskly and with gratitude - when exposed to their magnificence. In my experience this presumption is remarkably widespread. On several occasions people I barely know have been eager to announce their politics and have assumed that mine should be like their own, i.e., left-of-centre (or very-left-of-centre).

I remember one impromptu social gathering where someone I’d only just met and about whom I knew nothing at all suddenly began a lengthy and emphatic monologue on the evils of “right wingers” and their inherent “selfishness” and “lack of education.” This monologue went on for some time and the speaker simply presumed the entire room’s agreement, especially when gloating over some local party-political triumph. By the time a rhetorical orgasm had been reached, loudly and triumphantly, it seemed impolite even to hint at disagreement.

And maybe that’s part of the asymmetry - this willingness to presume and impose on others – to hold forth at length, incongruously, among strangers, pointedly declaring one’s own ideological virtue. Blogging about politics is one thing (and four years in, it still occasionally seems a little forward). But I can’t imagine wanting to indulge in that kind of ostentatious social display, where people I don’t know are suddenly put on the spot and either have to risk a lengthy argument or politely say nothing to spare the feelings (and patience) of other people present.

If I’m sitting around with people I’ve only just met, insofar as I think about their politics at all, I generally assume those people will have a range of political views. There are plenty of things about which people may reasonably disagree. Among strangers, I don’t presume uniformity and a sympathetic audience. I don’t presume the hegemony of views like my own.

Tom Foster

David,

"…pointedly declaring one’s own ideological virtue."

I've been noticing more and more – and not just in the pages of the Guardian – that being in any way right wing, even just a little bit right of centre, is often seen now as actually evil – as opposed to, say, simply wrong about the issues. Cameron and co aren't just putting policies in place that they believe will be good for the majority in the long run – they actually want babies to starve.

And I haven't noticed any real reciprocity. There are of course extreme left-wing nutters who are well worth hating (Seamus Milne, obviously, and current Guardian regulars like Richard Seymour, aka 'Lenin', who openly long for violent revolution to bring down the Western world), but I certainly wouldn't assume a bog-standard Labour Party voter was morally wicked just because he believed in, say, higher taxes, large housing subsidies and grants to what he saw as underprivileged groups.

David

Tom,

“I’ve been noticing more and more… that being in any way right wing, even just a little bit right of centre, is often seen now as actually evil – as opposed to, say, simply wrong about the issues.”

Well, the left’s appropriation of language – “hate speech,” “progressive,” “diversity,” “social justice,” etc – reinforces the effect. How can one be opposed to progress or in favour of social injustice? The language in effect begs the question, making opposition all the more difficult - and much easier to construe as nefarious. And I doubt this is an accident. Which may help explain why Bidisha claims that anyone whose views diverge from hers simply “has no politics.” Presumably, views like my own would be regarded as beyond the pale and illegitimate. Which is to say, they no longer count and don’t have to be engaged. But it takes an extraordinary arrogance and parochialism to imagine that one’s own preferences define the sum total of permissible political thought.

But for some, especially among students, being visibly leftwing is the only recognised indicator of being political at all. As Jeff Goldstein put it,

From the perspective of the modern academy, the only legitimate politics... is the politics of “social justice,” that is, the politics of modern left-liberalism or “progressivism.” Being on the “right,” therefore, is not considered being “political” at all - except in the pragmatic sense that those on the right somehow, maddeningly, are still allowed to vote. [...] Instead, classical liberals, non-libertine libertarians, and conservatives - more often than not referred to simply as “right wingers” - are cast as a populist nuisance, a collection of rabble controlled by the basest of impulses, from racism to nativism to homophobia to xenophobia. They are, in effect, outside politics proper... To be on the left, then, is (by the rules of the modern academy) to be “political” - and being political carries with it the heady suggestion of being a serious thinker.

And the implicit self-flattery may help explain its prevalence.

Fred

A lot of these assumptions have been quite visible in the most recent Dutch election campaign, primarily in the Dutch Labour Party's campaign posters:

1. "Het moet eerlijker": "it must be made fairer". Of course, who would be against "fairness"? However, I don't like their understanding of "fairness", and I'm absolutely certain that they don't like my understanding of "fairness". So fundamentally it is a trite statement with which no one could objectively disagree, however it relies entirely on a subjective vision of what constitutes "fairness" -- namely their version thereof -- and is intended to put the idea in people's minds that no one could, in good faith, disagree with them, because to do so would be to be against objective "fairness" (which of course does not exist), i.e. pro-unfairness.

2. "Reken af met rechts voordat rechts met jou afrekent". Difficult to directly translate, since it brings several nuances to the table via wordplay. Perhaps the most natural translation would be "get even with the right before the right gets even with you", but it could also equally be translated with "settle [the bill] with the right before the right settles with you" (hence making reference to budget cuts), or also "finish with the right before the right finishes with you". Essentially the slogan means all of these 3 things simultaneously.

But let's see if we can count the assumptions:
1. "The right", who are nominally in government, are trying to "settle", or "get even" with ordinary people: assumption of bad motives on the part of people who are insufficiently left-wing.
2. Class struggle: there is an implication of smacking down, punishing "the right". Could be classified under righteous anger?
3. Only the left is righteous and has good motives; all others are necessarily acting in bad faith in their own interests and couldn't possibly believe that their policies were in the interests of the greater good.
4. Note further the total lack of civility in the second slogan: it is very in-your-face, blunt, and assertive: vote for us, and we'll screw them before they screw you. So we also have projection: we accuse them of wanting to screw people over, while we actually want to screw people over, and we are being quite open about it with the slogan. But we are the nice ones, mmmmkay? So just imagine how nasty they must be! We are the nice ones and we are pretty nasty and don't really hide it, so they, being by definition the nasty ones must by definition be really really nasty!

Fred

Further to last, having just realised I've missed something:

5. "The right" is going to take all of your money via the cuts. The assumption, of course, is the perennial "all your money are belong to us", thus allowing people to keep more of their earned money and giving less unearned money to the core constituencies is taking people's money away. Funny how earned wealth is not "your" money, but unearned wealth expropriated from others is! Ayn Rand recognised this phenomenon and explained it along the lines of the idea that "spending earned wealth is the greatest sin, whereas spending looted wealth is the highest virtue". "Why do you have a right to your money?" http://www.moonbattery.com/archives/2011/03/why-do-you-have.html

Although this last point is deviating slightly, it is captured in the "settling the bill" meaning of the original Dutch.

svh

"Why do you have a right to your money?"

Incredible.

David

Fred,

“Why do you have a right to your money?”

Yes, incredible. You’d think these people would take care not to make their ambitions quite so explicit. But it’s a surprisingly common assumption. For instance, the “artist and activist” John Jordan thinks it’s his job – and the job of others like him – to “show us how to live differently.” Which is to say, in ways that suit his ego. In order to do so, he expects to be subsidised indefinitely via taxation by people who actually work for a living and who may not wish to be re-educated by arrogant, parasitic hippies.

Anna

"Why do you have a right to your money?"

There was a time when guys like him would just say "stick 'em up".

WTP

Much of y'alls taxes-as-robbery arguments appear to be based on the misconception that you are forced to pay taxes. If I am forced to pay the taxes, this is on par with my being forced not to rob or murder my fellow citizens. Duh, Winning.

http://aphilosopher.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/capsizing-the-ship-of-state/#comment-11952

BenSix

The idea that Michael Bailey is some kind of diversity-drone is an amusing one.

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