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April 19, 2008

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The Thin Man

"provide a vocabulary for the progressive intelligentsia to abandon the poor"

It's this kind of condescension that I find most abhorrent. The implication that somehow the lot of "the poor" is dependent upon the efforts of a playwright putting on "dramatics" at the RSC is nauseating. As is the incessant name-dropping in the piece. Does he think a poor person has ever been to one of his plays?

This is a man that feels that government control is better for "the poor" than the freedom to succeed. One that looks at 40 years of ever increasing taxation in a spectacularly failed effort to level the playing field and says let's try 40 more. One that says of anyone that points that out to him that they are cold and mean and racist and then accuses those who change their minds about the politics he likes of using the politics of fear.

If "the poor" had any sense they would burn down his theatre.

Alcuin

It is striking just how bad can be the political judgement of Literary Types, one thinks of Harold Pinter, H.G.Wells, Shaw, Virginia Woolf and others. Yet some manage to get it pretty well right, like Orwell and more recently Martin Amis. Perhaps those who live in worlds constructed from their own facile political theory and populated with luvvies have so lost touch with reality that they think their world is the real world.

I like your observation on the use of such terms "post-colonial". The Marxist theorists who coin such terms for their ridiculous world view have to keep thinking up new ones when heavyweights like Keith Windschuttle trash them - so we have "post-modernism", "structuralism", "post-colonialism", and I believe the current euphemism is "progressivism". The most telling comment on Marxist theory comes from Biologist and reformed Marxist, John Marnard Smith:

"I think there is (and you can still detect it in intellectual life today) a strong conflict between: the Marxist view of man which, in one of his theses, is that man's being determines his consciousness - which means in affect that our beliefs, our religions, our political opinions and so on are a result of the society we find ourselves in, our position in that society, our role in the economy, and so on, and that humans being could be anything, depending on their social environment; and a more Darwinist view which is of human being as a product of millions of years of evolution with genetic tendencies to do some things rather than others; and these two views are deeply opposed to one another and I don't think there's any way around it."

Taking Evolution as an axiom of reality as I do, it seems self-evident to me that Marxism and all its bastard daughters are, while appealing to Utopians as specious panaceas, demonstrably false.

pwyll

"he current defectors [from the left] are seeking to provide a vocabulary for the progressive intelligentsia to abandon the poor".

That will never happen. Love for the poor is the bedrock of progressive thought and action. They love the poor so much that wherever progressives attain power, the one thing they produce is poverty.

David

The Thin Man,

“If ‘the poor’ had any sense they would burn down his theatre.”

The night is young.

It’s easy to spend far too much time pondering the twists and contradictions of Edgar’s outlook. In my experience of people who hold such disorganised views, it’s in large part an emotional affectation as much as faulty reasoning. The logic is necessarily contorted, the morality unprincipled and the psychology adolescent. It’s vaguely akin to being a teenage goth, with contrarianism and narcissism central to the role-play, but without the crap music and eyeliner.

There’s also a remarkable ability not to digest certain facts or even register their existence, no matter how striking they may be or how often they’re highlighted. Seumas Milne springs to mind as a yardstick in this regard, though he’s by no means alone, at the Guardian and beyond. Hence the readiness of some to feel - or pretend to feel - empathy with Islamist groups, including Hizballah and Hamas, despite the repeatedly stated objectives of those organisations and their charming methodology.

In a less dramatic manner, Edgar’s evident entrancement with the idea of an allegedly “small, isolated, beleaguered and frequently victimised community” appears to mitigate the threats and thuggery that Inayat Bungawala and his peers previously endorsed, and endorsed quite emphatically. (I worked in a bookstore at the time and remember the threats and efforts to intimidate quite clearly.) Indeed, Edgar speaks of Azzam Tamimi and Anas Altikriti with grotesque sympathy. As I said, a person could waste hours pondering this mental and moral wreckage.

georges

I think we have to strike a balance here. Statistics show that if you're born in Burkina Faso rather than Sweden, you'll likely have a harder life and you'll likely die much younger. This doesn't mean there's some intrinsic moral virtue in your being Fasoese rather than Swedish. But neither does your harder life and earlier death show that you are more feckless and indolent than the Swedes are. You're unlucky.

One of the wealthiest men on the planet is the son of the Swede who patented the tetra pak milk carton. He's lucky.

Alcuin

A scientist learns early that one single contrary piece of evidence is sufficient to completely destroy a theory. It is a very important principle, used, as Sherlock Holmes realised, to eliminate the impossible and reveal the truth, or at least a glimpse of it. What Edgar is doing is what Steve Jones has described as "Arts Faculty Science".
http://www.newstatesman.com/200706250028

The decline of Science teaching in Britain has carried with it a decline in the discipline of rigorous thought. The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools. Thank you, Anthony Crossland and Shirley Williams.

The Thin Man

Georges

Your comment leaves a hole in the analysis. The property of cultures that addresses the freedom to think and innovate. There is a reason that Burkina Faso is poor and Sweden is rich. It has nothing to do with indolence, but with the drive which comes from a certain type of intellectual rigor.

The freeing of mans mind to invent the "tetra-pak" is not just accidental but comes from a long standing tradition of the freedom of the individual and the cultural value placed on individual enquiry and education (not in pursuit of some pre-ordained mindset) for its' own sake.

We are fortunate indeed to exist in a culture with a virtuous circle of educational discovery, happenstance, co-incidence, sheer dumb luck and a tradition of battling against group think. It is this circle which has determined the current difference between the first and developing worlds.

My question is - how much longer are the left's apologists for tyranny and obscurantism going to prevent the developing world from joining us - how many more generations of children will be consigned to the dustbin of poverty before people like Edgar and their guilt based world view get out of the way?

TimT

The weak=virtue conflation is a strange one. The opposite is probably true - strength=virtue, in the same sense that becoming highly cultured, learned, quick-witted - or otherwise excelling in one or another category of human achievement - is virtuous. (Obviously, if virtues such as strength are not used along with other virtues such as generosity, compassion, etc, they become at best amoral, but that's by the by.)

I do wonder where the weak=virtue conflation comes from: presumably a confusion of 'weakness' with 'self-sacrifice' (the former being a lack of strength; the latter being a deliberate forgoing of strength, or a refusal to use strength in adverse circumstances). Alternatively, it might come from a confusion of 'weakness' with 'humility' ('weakness', in this sense, is evidence of victimisation by the powerful; 'humility' is an active awareness of one's failings; it has very little to do with power.)

But arguments of this sort probably go back to very old ideas about the exercise of virtue. The Garden of Eden myth is analogous: was the sin of Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge in the first place, or were they to be condemned for simply possessing knowledge? Is it the 'wanting to have', the 'seeking to have', or simply 'the having' that is the flaw? To some left-wingers, I think the problem is simply that people are strong or cultured or intelligent or knowledgeable in the first place.

Not sure if any of that makes sense. Just thinkin' aloud...

dicentra

The other problem with reflexively favoring the victims over the oppressors is that you cannot be virtuous unless you are either a victim or a self-flagellating sympathizer of same.

So either you have to remain a victim or you have to make sure that the victims you so favor don't go all successful on you.

You can't remain "virtuous" in this paradigm if you win some measure of success for yourself, the epitome of this being the Jews, who have suffered horrific persecution wherever they go, and yet manage to bloom wherever they're planted, thus earning them further disdain from those who cannot love the successful.

It amazes me continually how something that on its surface seems so benevolent (siding with the victim) can turn out to be so pernicious in its results.

But I'm increasingly learning that life is usually like that.

Ardsgaine

The progressive always stands with the weak, against the strong.

What is this but a distillation of Christian ethics?

The Christian ideal is a man on a cross suffering for the sins of others. He didn't die for the virtuous, he died for sinners. That is the ethical standard he set. That's what his followers have to live up to. He told them to forgive their enemies, not to judge the sins of others, and not to think of themselves as virtuous compared to others. According to him, we are all sinners, and the only person who can judge us is God.

Progressivism is firmly within that ethical tradition. That it's perverse, I fully agree. That it's unusual or modern, I disagree. It has been around for centuries. If we're going to criticize it, let's understand exactly what we're criticizing. Let's don't just prune the briar, let's pull it up by the root. We cannot defend capitalism, a system based on the individual's right to pursue his own worldly happiness, if we believe that such a pursuit is immoral. We can't advocate both the right of self-defense, and the virtue of self-sacrifice. All we end up with is compassionate conservatism and a half-war that sacrifices the lives of our soldiers to the benefit of our enemy's country.

dicentra

"I do wonder where the weak=virtue conflation comes from"

There's a certain maternal component to it, I think. The instinct to protect the weak is actually a good instinct; the world would be in much worse shape without it.

But good mothers know when to stop with the nurturing and allow their offspring to stand on their own. Any mother who does for her children what they ought to do for themselves is crippling them for life. Think of the pathological mother/son relationship where she has made all of his decisions for him and taken such good care of him that he loses the ability to run his own life.

This is where the left has the problem: they don't realize that there are limits to how much you should help people, especially when that help comes from a faceless bureaucracy who doesn't actually have its dependents' best interests at heart.

The Thin Man

TimT

"The weak=virtue conflation is a strange one." Probably a corruption of the Christian message "the meek shall inherit the earth", it puts a very particular spin on the outcome of the struggle that any organism faces in a world of limited resources. Of course, what that aphorism does not address is any question of where meekness becomes self-destructive weakness.

Many leftoids that I have known are much more concerned with appearance of messianic virtue and respect for the meek or poor than with getting all down and dirty with the meek and poor. They will use their intelligence and skill to "play" the system - thus avoiding the horrible reality that poverty of mind or education or spirit can engender, whilst maintaining the fiction that "haven't sold out" to capitalism.

Many, many, many comfortable, middle class educated people will waste their entire lifespan "on benefits" in some alleged act of solidarity with the poor, but to be middle class and REJECT a productive, self supporting life is, and always has been, as far from a genuine experience of poverty as Marie-Antionette. In some ways it is worse. The act of squandering the intellect and ability that many truly poor people aspire to is in fact an act of betrayal.

For the middle class left, their politics are an act of DEFLECTION - "look at HOW CONCERNED I AM FOR OTHERS" (as though the concern, regardless of action contributing to achieving the goals that such concern demands in order to be of value, is in and of itself a virtue).
They actually care not the slightest jot for actual poor people - just as long as they can claim not to be part of the HEGEMONY or PATRIARCHY.

dicentra

"The progressive always stands with the weak, against the strong.

"What is this but a distillation of Christian ethics?"

That looks more to me like a distillation of Liberation Theology, the bastard child of Christianity and Marxism.

Remember, when Christ was on the earth, the Jews were occupied by the Romans, and those Jews who collaborated with Rome by collecting taxes, publicans, were considered to be the scum of the earth.

But Jesus didn't rail against Rome. He didn't instruct the people to rise up against their oppressors and beat them back. He didn't pity them for being politically oppressed. In fact, He didn't address the political dynamic at all, which is why some doubted that he could possibly be the Messiah.

Instead, he told them to repent of their sins. The Old Testament prophets did the same, despite the fact that Israel was constantly being conquered and carted off to some heathen land where they lived in bondage

Progressivism is fully outside the Christian tradition because of its prime assumption: that you can create heaven on earth through the levers of the state. All it takes is to put the right people in charge so that they can create the right institutions that will cause people to stop being the rotters they are. Progressives are idolaters who worship their own intellect as God rather than humbling themselves before the real God and following His instructions for how to run society.

Christians believe that we are fallen and can't get up, and nothing short of divine intervention can save us. It is true that God is not a capitalist, but it is also true that the society He would set up resembles that of the progressive only in its goals: no poor, no social stratification, no hatreds, etc.

But the methodology is totally different: the progressive wants to impose things from the top down, by coercion if necessary, but God would change the hearts of the individuals so that they can function in a City of God.

The progressives would take the man out of the gutter, but God takes the gutter out of the man, who takes himself out of the gutter.

The Thin Man

Hi dicentra - glad to see another PW regular over here.

Ardsgaine

The freeing of mans mind to invent the "tetra-pak" is not just accidental but comes from a long standing tradition of the freedom of the individual

Which is itself based on recognition of a moral principle: That the initiation of force against another human is evil. Freedom is achieved when the initiation of force is banned from human society, and retaliatory force is placed under objective control. A society which institutionalizes the initation of force against its citizens, and abandons the rule of law, is evil.

That doesn't mean that person X is evil because he was born into such an evil society anymore than it means person Y is virtuous because he was born into a virtuous society. What it means is that person X will not find his virtue rewarded, and may even be exterminated for possessing it. It means that a good portion of his fellow citizens are his enemies, because they have abandoned this most important virtue in favor of the short term benefits they can get from looting him.

dicentra

Ho, TTM. You post under another alias over at P-dub or am I just not remembering seeing you there?

The Thin Man

Dicentra :

forgive my familiarity, but I (very) occasionally comment over at PW as The Thin Man. Having read so many of your comments (and I have to say that much of the time your opinions are pretty synchronous with mine), I just feel like I am seeing an old friend in an unexpected place.....

I hope you find Thompsons stuff as stimulating as I do.

(Shut up Thompson, I wasn't talking to you)


stevieray

The Christian aspect of the "weak = virtuous" ideology is usually based on a simple, yet common flaw in logic:

a) Jesus was virtuous
b) Jesus suffered
therefore
c) Suffering is virtuous

I think this same false logic is behind the decay of the newsmedia as well. As a famous newspaperman [whose name I am blanking on] said, "Our job is to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable". This attitude is pervasive in the media, and is based on the same faulty logic... not all the poor and weak are good, nor are the rich and powerful necessarily bad.

Ardsgaine

"Christians believe that we are fallen and can't get up, and nothing short of divine intervention can save us."

True. That's why for a long time the church was indifferent to tyranny. If men are wicked, then good government is impossible. We can only accept the wickedness of the world, repent our sins, and hope for salvation in the afterlife. It wasn't until the Renaissance and subsequent Enlightenment that men began to question whether the world really is wicked, and whether man's condition might not be improved. There were two answers to the question, one on the European continent, and one that took root in England and bore fruit in the US. The first answer was: Yes, we can improve man. The second was: Yes, man can improve himself. The first led to socialism, and the second led to capitalism.

Under capitalism, man did indeed improve himself. He gained in scientific knowledge, made himself rich, and expanded human freedom. This was not what some Christians had in mind, however, when they thought of improving man. They did not see virtue in doing for oneself. They believed that real virtue consisted of doing for others. Sure, rich men gave to charity, but alms for the poor didn't change the fact that their way of life was essentially selfish. To improve man, one would have to make him live selflessly. That is the organizational principle of socialism: Making men live for others rather than themselves.

Christian conservatives react against socialism by agreeing that living for oneself is wicked, but rejecting the attempt to make men live selflessly. Man is too evil to live for others they say. All we can do is let him lead his wicked, selfish life, because on the whole it seems to make the poor better off. It's a wicked world, what can you do? We have to be pragmatic about these things.

If these were indeed our only choices in the realm of politics, we would have to choose between the belief that we can only live virtuous lives under a tyrant, or the belief that we can live free but only as rotten sinners.

No thanks.

What is tragic is that I don't believe most conservatives really accept the notion that they are wicked, not really. This is an argument they have advanced, a defense against a tyrannical system that they despise. Given their commitment to Christian ethics, it is the best that they can do. They know in their gut that when they get in the car to go to work in the morning, when they clean their house, mow their lawn, teach their children to read, and all the other things that they do to improve their lives and increase their happiness are the things that make them virtuous. Those are the things that make them better than the people who accept poverty as a way of life. Giving money to those poor people may assuage their guilt for being prosperous, but they know it isn't really virtue. To admit that, though, would bring down their entire belief system. Rejecting self-sacrifice as the moral ideal, would lead to rejecting the idea of original sin, would lead to rejecting the idea of redemption through Christ, would lead to rejecting their belief in God, would lead to... what?

Accepting that death is final, and that this brief moment of glory is all we get.

sunj

The 'progressives' always stand for the group against the individual. Standing up for something requires going against the group. It requires saying 'no, i call shenanigans on that call of racism'. Risk of non-acceptance.

Here he just smothers himself further in his group saying 'look at me, i belong'.

Its a lack of thinking, a lack of intelligence or a lack of bravery.


georges

Hmm.

Do you have any evidence that Swedish society enthusiastically promotes innovation and non-conformity, while the Fasoese promotes the opposite? I still suspect luck has a lot to do with it. If oil were to be discovered in Burkina Faso, that would change the economic circumstances of the place far more than any change in educational policy. In recent years the Ayatollahs' Iran, Putin's Russia and Communist China have all had impressive economic growth. With the first two, oil has a lot to do with it.

I have nothing against the tetra pak. Being the son of the man who invents it - rather than the man who invents it - is good luck, surely.

The Thin Man

Georges

"educational discovery, happenstance, co-incidence, sheer dumb luck and a tradition of battling against group think"

It really isn't just luck. I agree that the Rausling Family are especially lucky, but you don't just jump from subsistence farming to multi-billion dollar packaging empire by luck.

In fact Iran is an economic basket case - without oil revenue they would starve and they have severe skilled labour shortages.
(From wikipedia :The rates of both literacy and life expectancy in Iran are high for the region, but so, too, is the unemployment rate, and inflation is regularly in the range of 20 percent annually. Iran remains highly dependent on its one major industry, the extraction of petroleum and natural gas for export, and the government faces increasing difficulty in providing opportunities for a younger, better-educated workforce, which has led to a growing sense of frustration among lower- and middle-class Iranians.)

Russia and China have progressed economically by allowing market activity - the freedom to start and run a business should probably have been included in my list.

I have nothing against Burkina Faso - I long for the day when the developing world bootstraps it's education system and can begin to leverage it's peoples skills, industry and efforts to start building the infrastructure they need to prosper.

David

Morning all. Andrew Anthony wasn’t terribly impressed by Mr Edgar and his name-calling either.

“Edgar wants us to believe Azzam Tamimi, who praises Palestine suicide bombers, is a resolute critic of Hamas extremism. Tamimi is the man who, on Comment is Free, attacked the arrests of young Muslim men in August 2006 in the so-called ‘planes conspiracy’ as a government diversion to cover up Blair’s conduct during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon… It’s this kind of wilful denial of an actual lethal threat that I can no longer indulge. If David Edgar wants to see that as a defection, then so be it. His aim, he says, is to protect the ‘vocabulary of alliance’. He shouldn’t worry; it seems to be in good working order. We are still told by members of this ‘alliance’ that it’s racist to oppose Robert Mugabe, imperialist to applaud Tibetan protesters, that religion is the vanguard against Enlightenment liberalism, that people are defined first and foremost by their ethnicity and religion, and that if you strongly object to these positions, you can take the door marked ‘neocon defector’…”

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/andrew_anthony/2008/04/defective_logic.html

Naturally, the piece is followed by some mixed, not to say confused, comments by devout Guardianistas. The dissonance is strong. It’s almost funny watching Edgar denouncing those who no longer wish to pretend what he pretends so very, very much. I guess Mr Edgar is showing us that a political worldview very easily becomes pantomime, then farce, then outright pathology.

What I find funny, sort of, is that Edgar is following a very familiar pattern of evasion and denial. I once had a peculiar exchange over at Open Democracy with a self-declared leftist who insisted Azzam Tamimi was a righteous fellow and possessed of admirable moral insight. When I quoted Tamimi’s own statements and noted how they jarred quite badly with that person’s professed leftist credentials, and with basic morality, a fit of temper ensued. I’d transgressed and for that I would be badmouthed at length, and passionately. However, my point about the mismatch between assertion and reality remained oddly unaddressed. It was simply indigestible information and registered only as provocation of some kind.

Some music, perhaps.

http://fp.ignatz.plus.com/Boum.mp3

andym

Norm isn't impressed with Edgar's piece either.

http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2008/04/seven-types-of.html

David

Andy,

Thanks, I’d missed that.

“Who could even think of defecting from the kind of left that still speaks in terms of ‘defection’ and ‘apostasy’, as if it possessed a truth given to it from some higher source and had the power to excommunicate?”

Heh. Sadly, my impression is that Norm’s is the minority view among the UK’s self-defined lefties. And there’s something a little hypnotic about watching the various factions arguing so bitterly over what constitutes membership of the Great Leftist Tribe. There seems to be an awful lot to keep track of in order to belong, and an awful lot to denounce, much of it contradictory. Scarcely worth the effort of signing up, really.

Rob

Sixty, seventy years ago "progressives" were ardent admirers of Fascism and Communism. The idea that progressives "always side with the weak against the strong, and that is the difference between left and right" is laughable. He clearly believes he is virtuous, therefore what he believes must have virtue. He believes he's a progressive, and so the narrative must be that progressivism is caring and just. The fact that progressives have used the power of the state to impose their ideology on the people, whether they want it or not, doesn't register with him.

Regarding the victim always being weak - a rapist incarcerated by the State will be weak, and the State strong. Presumably he therefore sides with the rapist? Actually, many on the Left WOULD side with the rapist, and any other imprisoned criminal, but that is a different story.

His world view does have the advantage of being very simple to understand, no room for doubt or guilt. I am virtuous, you are not because you are not with me. The weak are always right, the strong are always wrong.

georges

Someone famous once said we could judge a society by how it treats its worst-off members. I Think there's something in that. The Nazis began their extermination policy with the mentally retarded - probably the weakest group they could have chosen.

The problem with the pro-Islamism of a certain type of left, is it means abandoning the weakest members of those communities - girls and women.

David

Georges,

“Someone famous once said we could judge a society by how it treats its worst-off members. I think there’s something in that.”

You may be interested in the piece linked below, which touches on the assumption, voiced by the dubious Professor Zygmunt Bauman, that those deemed “weak” or “disadvantaged” should be the measure of a society.

“On what basis and to what extent does Professor Bauman imagine he has a *right* to ensure that society’s members optimise the quality of their lives, insofar as they’re able? How, exactly, will this feat be achieved? If some individuals fail to make the approved decisions in the approved sequence and with sufficient foresight, will those choices be made by others, and if necessary enforced? Will individuals be compensated for all of their own shortcomings, dispositions and misjudgments, or just some of them? Isn’t that what Bauman’s utopian ‘insurance’ would ultimately entail? Who is Bauman to determine what constitutes an acceptable qualitative outcome? How, exactly, will this be measured? And how far would he go to ensure those outcomes are arrived at, regardless of the cost to others who may not share his view?”

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2007/05/socialist_assum.html

Andy

Now Oliver Kamm wades in:

http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2008/04/not-the-whole-s.html

I wasn’t going to read the Edgar article, having skimmed it previously I could see the same old nonsense being trotted out by people who share view such as his - its all so predictable. But in the end, with all the fuss surrounding it, I felt I should read it. Big mistake. I felt a rising tide of anger and irritation, which increased proportionally with the articles size. It is so full of errors, misrepresentations, gross distortions and downright lies, than I couldn’t even think of where to begin debunking it without writing an article of equal length if not longer.

I’m very fortunate that you, Norm, Oliver Kamm and various posters at Harrys Place have done this for me. Many thanks.

Andy

Yet another article on this issue, this time by Melanie Phillips.

http://www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/627671/the-open-society-and-its-enemies.thtml

Its a very thoughtful piece, particularly the line "From the French Revolution onwards, the left have in fact generally sided with tyrants and oppressors". So much for being 'progressive' then.

David

This I like.

“The reflex reaction of a left-winger, when presented with a set of facts which challenge his or her assumptions about the world, is not to ask ‘Is this true?’ but ‘Will adopting this position make me right-wing?’”

Andy

yes, and we musn't be right wing now must we, even if it means supporting people who want to put gays to death or beat women. erm.

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