Articles

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Better or Worse?

All politics are the politics of the future. The one cause that we all champion, regardless of our political orientation, is the cause of the future. All that we fight for is the ability to shape the future.

The fundamental political question is, "Do you believe things are getting better or worse?" Ruling parties tend to answer, "Better", opposition parties tend to answer, "Worse". The deeper answer to that question though lies in our perceptions of the past and the future.

The left tends to view the past negatively and future shock positively. It wants change to disrupt the old order of things in order to make way for a new order. It hews to a progressive understanding of history in which we have been getting better with the advance of time, the march of progress mimics evolution as a means of lifting humanity out of the muck and raising it up on ivory towers of reason through a ceaseless process of change.

The right often views the past positively, it sees change as a destroyer that undermines civilization's accomplishments and threatens to usher in anarchy. It fights to conserve that which is threatened by the entropic winds of change. The conservative worldview is progressive in its own way, but it is the progress of the established order. It sees progress emerging from the accretion of civilization, rather than from the disruption of revolution.

Where the left tends to be unrealistically optimistic about the future, acting like a child running to the edge and jumping off, without remembering all the bumps and bruises before, the right tends to be pessimistic about the future. It tends to be wary of change because it is all too aware of how dangerous change can be.

Youth who do not understand the value of what is around them rush to the left. As they achieve a sense of worth, of the world around them and of their labors, they drift slowly to the right. Age also brings with it a sense of vulnerability. Knowing how you can be hurt, how fragile the thin skin of the body, the fleshy connections and organs dangling within, brings with it a different view of the world. Once you understand that you can lose and that you will lose, then you also understand how important it is to defend what you have left.

The vital mantra of the left is do something for the sake of doing something. Change for the sake of novelty. Action for the sake of action. This carnival drumbeat loses its appeal when you come to understand how dangerous change can be. Personal history becomes national history becomes personal history again as you live through it. Seeing what a mistake change can be as you watch politicians disgraced, causes revealed as fool's errands and crusades fall apart, is a great teacher of the folly of change for the sake of change.

Reagan's question, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" is the fundamental challenge of the conservative that asks whether the change was really worth it. It is the question at the heart of the struggle between the right and the left.

Are you better off than you were twenty years ago or forty years ago? It's an uncomfortable question because it has no simple answer. In some ways we are better off and in some ways we are worse off. Examining the question points us to the sources of the problem. The places where the tree has grown wrong, the branches that have to be pruned so that it may live.

The power of this question is that it challenges the narrative of change. It asks us to examine that most basic premise that change is good. But beyond the narrative tangles of those in power and those out of power, is the larger echo of that question which asks whether the world overall is becoming a better or worse place.

This question has deeper resonances. Is history a wheel or a rocket shooting up to the stars? Are we on an inevitable evolutionary trajectory rising up or are we doomed to repeat dark ages, progress and then dark ages again? Beneath all the speculations and theorizing is the grim question, what becomes of us? Not us individually, but our societies, our nations, our civilizations, our accomplishments and our way of life.

If you assign no value to the past, then the question hardly matters. Who really cares about the Western Canon, if the only aspect of literature that matters is its relevance to present day social problems? Such a literature by definition has no past or future. Only the throbbing political pulse of the present. What do the Dutch Masters matter if painting is merely a tool for challenging notions of color, order and space? What does the American Revolution matter if blacks did not have the right to vote? Why should anyone pay attention to the Magna Carta when it didn't cover gay rights?

Change measures the past against the potential of the future as embodied in the strivings of the present and finds it wanting. It does not recognize that it emerges from the past and is defined by it, rather it is always fleeing the past, casting it off, tossing it aside and running breathlessly toward the future. For those who want a single explanation for the Jewish liberal, it is to be noted that political liberalism is an aspect of the rejection of traditionalism. Those who break their ties with the past, escaping the shadows of what seems to be a dark past, to eat of the lotus of an idyllic future, are always running, afraid of what might be following behind them.

The left destroys its future by breaking with the past in search of the future. Like a fish out of the water or a tree with no roots, it perishes and becomes a meal for passing predators. It conceives of futures that have no link with the past and ruthlessly strives to implement them over piles of corpses. It fails to understand that the past is neither good or bad, but a mix of the two that has been tested and refined by struggle and conflict. The future will have both good and bad in it as well, but the more it breaks with the past, the more it will be untested and unrefined.

Change has both positive and negative aspects to it, which is why leaps of hope and change are dangerous. When you jump without looking, without understanding that there are sharp edges, then bad things are more likely to happen. If the right proceeds too cautiously into the future, blinded by a rosy vision of the past, the left rushes too heedlessly forward, mistaking darkness for light.

The left romanticises chaos, while the right romanticises order. But the left's chaos necessitates a harsher order as the chaos it unleashes is managed with higher and higher levels of social authorities that enforce their perfect plan for change on the formless society bubbling under them. The right's order allows for less authority because it depends on empowering organic social institutes and mores, rather than enforcing a detailed plan that goes against the grain.

The right's organic order allows for freer societies because it stems from how people actually live. It is rooted in the past, rather than an ever-changing plan for the future. The left's artificial order makes for societies that are fundamentally repressive, even when they allow for a limited degree of autonomy, because the hand of the planners is always on every man and woman.

Repressive societies on the right are bottom up, they represent the preferred order of the people, but while the left chants of the will of the people, their repressive societies represent only the master plan of an elite. The right builds such societies to foreclose change, the left builds its societies to implement change, but once that happens, their societies freeze, turn reactionary and fall apart as they no longer have any reason to exist, but to perpetuate the power of the elite.

The right sees positive change as organic, deriving from the inevitable trajectory of a civilization, the left sees positive change as revolutionary, the result of the dispossessed fighting the possessors until the former triumph and the latter yield. This view of history is dangerously childish and violent, but it has become our version of history and it demands that we constantly sacrifice ourselves on the altar of change for the sake of emerging groups of the dispossessed. 

For the right, change is life. For the left it is death. It demands the death of societies and people, of nations and beliefs, it is a beast that is constantly hungry for blood, always baying with outrage at the moon. For the right change brings continuity, for the left, utopia. It is this utopia that they worship at the altar of change. This Moloch of hope and fairy cloaked dreams scribbled on scraps of notepaper, signs and slogans which scream that if you want a better world badly enough, then sheer outraged optimism will bring it about.

The old order must die, says the left, for a better world to be born. Sooner or later we must all mount the altar of change and let our blood drip beneath the shaman's knife, so that the green world may renew itself. Some must be euthanized, others aborted, we must pay more and give more, we must volunteer and donate our times, our lives and our minds to the new order. Our beliefs, our nations and our children, these too we must offer up to the fire.

And when all of it has been burned away, everything but our dream of a perfect world, then the gleaming new world will emerge out of the ashes, a world too wonderful for us to look at. And if that world seems like a dark age, where savages prowl the streets, knives are sharp, services are lacking and there is a man with a whip on every corner, that is because we are too reactionary, too full of the old world to see the glory of the new world for what it is. To rejoice in its bestial scream, to dance mindlessly as the ages are swept away beneath the dead moon while the ashes of burning books and paintings rain down on us and civilization is rubble under our bleeding feet.

Better or worse? It all comes down to how much you have to lose.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

"The right's order allows for less authority because it depends on empowering organic social institutes and mores, rather than enforcing a detailed plan that goes against the grain."
Daniel, You make many perceptive points in your blog, which I read avidly. But the "Right" is hardly so much better than the "Left." And the repression by the right in the US and elsewhere has not been by "less" authority. I remember the 1950's.

fodderwing said...

Indeed we see a youth tilting leftward and then tilting rightward as one's time marches on. I often wonder what accounts for those who remain tilting leftward long after they should know better.

mindRider said...

Unruly, unexperienced ((seduced by fork tongued revolutionary promis (lefty)) Hava ate of the forbidden fruit of knowledge and gone was Gan Eden for conservative, ((right) but swayed by argument to adjust his view for the sake of compromise)) Adam and the rest of us. Is that a proper compilation of today's column?

Anonymous said...

DP111 writes

In a nutshell

DG wrote For those who want a single explanation for the Jewish liberal, it is to be noted that political liberalism is an aspect of the rejection of traditionalism.

That is why the left rejects all ties that secure a human in a place- not just to nation, but to race, values, religion, and even the family.

The left in practice and outcome, is essentially anti-human.

George J. said...

Well said, Daniel.
To build on what I think you have said previously, Progressivism is a strange suicidal mix of Stockholm Syndrome and adolescent rebellion against parents, but on a civilization-wide scale.
Exoticizing, romanticizing and identifying with those that seek to destroy you and your entire civilization. Opening the city gates to the savages beseiging the city. These impulses are nothing new, but the difference is that in the past, these traits were weeded out, and rightfully so, by perfectly rational countervailing urges of self-preservation and sense of belonging to community, nation, family and faith. With today's "Citizens of the World" types everywhere you look, these ties are not only frayed, but viewed as the root of evil! In their place, new ties have developed. The more exotic, outrageous and twisted the cause, the stronger the attraction. Like teenagers drawn to "bad boys" or the "wrong crowd" today's adult-in-age-only permanent adolescents are stuck in this rebellious phase indefinitely.
I greatly enjoy your writing Daniel.
Keep up the excellent work.

fsy said...

How many times do we have to argue about the "true" right or left to realize that this one-dimensional metaphor from the French Assembly 200 years ago has long outlived its usefulness?
I just was looking at a column of yours from a few years ago called "What the Left Really Thinks of Hitler" where the comments quickly deteriorated into the old debate about whether old Adolf was from the "right" or the "left".
Wouldn't we all be better off boycotting this paradigm once and for all, and discussing the actual issues and positions rather than their locations on the right-left continuum?

Severely Ltd. said...

Anonymous says: "And the repression by the right in the US and elsewhere has not been by "less" authority. I remember the 1950's."

What particularly do you remember?

Anonymous said...

Your arguments are so broad that it's difficult to disagree but this is not the same as being right. Who would disagree that change for change's sake is anarcy and counterproductive? You are obviously setting us up to see the "logic" behind a right-wind perspective but without ever having to give an answer to any real questions that our world faces, right or left. Not changing for the sake of remaining the same is just as dangerous so the real question remains, when and why should we change? You dare no answer to this and slanderingly assume that anyone on the left who wants to change has no reason for wanting said change.

Anonymous said...

I find the comment by fsy to be interesting, not so much because I believe it makes sense, but because it attempts to "decategorize" things into issues and responses. I may agree in principle, but the fact is that people will align tribally with whomever they share commonality in interests and viewpoints.

One of the problems with "take the issues and bomb the rest" is that issues are rarely monochromatic and usually relate to many other issues that reflect a particular world view. While gun control is a hot button right now, most of the issues surrounding it have little to do with saving people (can't be done - they will always find ways to crucify each other) and more to do with redefining liberty. Liberty will soon be defined as "freedom from choice or responsibility which allows one then to pursue the things one enjoys". I'm sure the workers in factories in the central USSR were relieved to know that their utopia was just around the corner.

I've lived under communism. I don't recommend it. And communism / fascism / corporatism are all slightly camouflaged faces of the same thing. I'll leave it up to your tribal interpretation as to what the thing is.

IgorR said...

Daniel, thanks for pointing me to "The Open Conspiracy" by H.G. Wells. It one of those "we really must do this" texts. Besides being unable to understand that they are simply not smart enough to organize a viable new order, the left always either pretend to believe or believe that the people organizing this order will be benign. They never are, whether they start out that way or not, because their ideological opponents or for that matter most people don't want to be "reorganized" against their will. So it's always worse. But they never quit. They can do better. Than what? Than now, than the past, than the way things will otherwise develop. But everyone has to do their fair share, have some skin in the game, cooperate, not be selfish. It will be fine, the left practically guarantees it. No exchanges or refunds though.

Some dude said...

You've just summed up Eisau's biggest virtue and failing at the same time.

He's great a progressive, not so great at figuring out when it isn't progress.

lemon lime moon said...

"Are you better off than you were twenty years ago or forty years ago?"
Nope. Far worse and it took both left and right to get us there.

Anonymous said...

To take the argument a little further along, the past and present actually define who we are. The left runs away from who we are by rejecting the past and present. The void must be filled by something, and it is not going to be the complex, layered environment that we live in and represent. It is going to be a simplistic alternative that, by definition, must be coercive and not allow for individual differences. The right builds on the past and present, and a healthy rightist is willing to encourage change, as long as it complements and meshes with the real world that we live in.

To make my argument as succinct as possible, the leftist runs away from who he really is, towards nothing at all. The rightist respects who he is, and acts accordingly.

Dutch 1960

Chris said...

Similarly, a train (like humankind) has been created by a designer to run on train tracks.

Limiting? Yes, but at the same time, when taking heed to the oft-seen advice of "for best results, follow manufacturer's directions," running the train on the tracks liberates one to move more efficiently and easily to a desired destination than one could simply by foot.

Misguided attempts to "seek its freedom" by leaving the tracks, by rejecting its "constraints" and exercising its choice to pursue less-limiting alternatives does not result in something that anyone I have ever heard celebrate as a vibrant expression of true independence. Rather most folks usually call it for what it is: a train wreck, film at 11:00.

The tracks can be one's limitation or one's path to further exploration, depending upon how one approaches the issue.

It takes planning, resources and effort to BUILD additional tracks to take the train to new destinations, whether via a new spur or bridge. Once that is done the train can still explore -- safely -- new avenues and explore new territory. Once done, however, new areas and opportunities are now open that were not accessible before.

The train will evermore remain a train, however, regardless of how anyone else might desire to refine it.

Limitations or opportunities -- it's a matter of perspective.

And, as that great urban philosopher, Inspector Harry Callahan observed, "A man's gotta know his limitations."

Neil C said...

So on which side is George Washington?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the Founding Fathers generally, they were intelligent rightists all the way. They built on the ancient and historical rights of the individual, the present and the past of the day. They rebelled against a perversion of the march of history, in which the British sought to put and keep the American colonies as vassal states, in which the riches and property were plundered, to the benefit of King George and his minions. At least the history of the victors is written that way.

Dutch 1960


Kelli McAllister said...

Daniel, I love ya but you really missed the mark on this one.

"All politics are the politics of the future. The one cause that we all champion, regardless of our political orientation, is the cause of the future. All that we fight for is the ability to shape the future."

No -- the entire point of our $16 trillion debt is to sacrifice our future for the present, to "Laissez les bons temps rouler" at the expense of our children and grandchildren. Borrow it, print it, steal it, raid Obama's stash -- we don't care how we get it, at its core the Democrat welfare state is predicated on partying today. Now. In the present. Future be damned. All that matters is the next election cycle. There are no visionaries.

And your next paragraph is based on a question also very much rooted in the present: "Are things getting better?" Not "Will things get better" a la the Consumer Confidence Index, but "How are things now" compared to, I dunno, a week, a year, a decade ago.

When your first two paragraphs undermine your central premise, we got problems.

Your statement that "The vital mantra of the left is do something for the sake of doing something. Change for the sake of novelty. Action for the sake of action" is a facile characterization I suspect no leftist would embrace. You don't have to turn them into cartoons; there's enough accurate dysfunction and malice without manufactured hyperbole.

I look forward to your next epistemological masterpiece ... let's just chalk this one up to some bad shrimp.

Dennis Latham said...

On the left, the women put out because they are so Liberal so the men flock there while young. But as men age and the Liberal women age and get that pinched unhappy look, whether rich or poor, then the men flock right where the women retain their good looks into old age. So, everything can be boiled down to sex. Old hippies join the estblishment because they have a better chance of getting laid when they are older. Ha.

lemon lime moon said...

Kelli-- He didn't miss the mark. You just don't agree with him.

Dennis Latham-- go to your room.

Dennis Latham said...

I'm always getting put in my room. I actually had to sit in the corner with a dunce cap when I was a kid if I did something at school. Imagine that scenario now and what the Liberals would do to it. They would make me a victim instead of a kid who wouldn't stop talking.

Lars said...

When the libs get struck by a rattler and they need someone to suck the venom out, we'll tell them to call the Occutard Movement.

fsy said...


One of the problems with "take the issues and bomb the rest" is that issues are rarely monochromatic


I don't recall saying anything about bombing, but I do agree that things are not black and white, or right and left, as I said originally. All I know is that when we find ourselves arguing endlessly about who is the "real" right or left, it means the terms have become useless.

Anonymous said...

Literary license. You never said "bomb" anything. Your point was that partisanship is not a good way to deal with things - while I (as I said) agree in principle, it is rare that a single issue can be worked on in solitary fashion. No insult intended.

Post a Comment