Thursday, January 30, 2014

Progressives Without Progress

There isn't very much progress in the progressive movement. Progress is the expansion of possibilities. Progressives however have a Malthusian obsession with the scarcity of all things. They believe that we are about to run out of everything from energy to water to wealth and education and that like starving survivors on a lifeboat we have to redistribute everything.

The progressive outlook predates the notion of progress. Its ideal is a static society, sustainable in its material practices and so utterly moral in its social attributes that it becomes immune to change. It is founded on the intertwining of the material and the moral through the insistence that the scarcity of material things makes their redistribution mandatory by an activist moral elite.

There is nothing as reactionary as utopia and no group as reactionary as utopians. A perfect society is a place that is immune to change. The search for such a society is the quest for an absolute way of living. Both the quest and the way of living become as unchallengeable as any theological utopia founded not on bad economics and political parochialism, but on a deeply spiritual faith.

The progress of progressives is not a rocket to the stars, but a slow elevator climbing up a constricted shaft to their ideal society. It's only progressive in the same sense that a television channel that moves from one show to the next within the confines of its programming is. It's programmed progress, not the progress of exploring infinitely expanding possibilities.

The left is actually deeply conservative. It is difficult for people in countries being contested by the left to see this because they observe the left as revolutionary and destructive. But every attempted conquest is accompanied by violent disruptions. The domestic left destroys everything it does not control as part of a cultural war; not because it seeks an open society of perpetual creative ferment.

Once the left achieves its dream of absolute power in a nation, that nation becomes socially backward, technologically backward and culturally backward. There is a reason that the USSR, Cuba and North Korea were not producing compelling new cultural products for export the way that their sympathizers in Hollywood did and do. It's the same reason that they don't keep having revolutions.

The creative energies harnessed by the left are a revolutionary tool for achieving an ideal society. Once that miserably ideal society is achieved, everything is regimented and unplanned change is locked out of the equation because reactionary progressive utopias have to be relentlessly planned. Science and culture are forcibly slowed down. Individuality is discouraged. Conformity produces mediocrity in all fields. Time slows down and utopia sinks into its own progressive muck.

Americans had trouble believing that the left of the counterculture had much in common with the conformist cultural factory of the USSR until the flower children became professional activists and politicians and ran a system of stale conformity interspersed with tedious displays of traditionally transgressive arts. The very slogan, Keep Berkeley Weird, is not revolutionary. It's traditionalist.

Nothing is more conservative than keeping things the way that they used to be.

On the opposite coast, the old radical artists and poets complain that the East Village isn't what it used to be and landmark everything in sight. Men and women who once did mountains of cocaine fight every bar liquor license with the outraged spleen of suburbanites threatened with a landfill.

The paradox of keeping weird things weird is that weird then just becomes another tradition and another proprietarian cultural impulse to avert a changing world by clinging to the way things used to be when you were young and everything made sense. It's not really keeping things weird, it's keeping the weird things that come from a changing outside world, out.

Utopians always carry that narrow-minded fragility with them. Their perfect society is always doomed by the rising tide of morality in the affairs of men. The more they try to hold on to it, the more it breaks apart right in front of their eyes. The left only believes in change when it moves in their direction. But once change has been achieved, then their ideal is a static changeless society.

Progress is confidence in human capabilities. The progressive movement however is tragic. It depends on the egocentric tantrums of individuals for its philosophy, its art and its activism; but it firmly believes that only the collective can make society work. And only the collective can lock it in.

Progressive utopians project their sense of fragility onto all material things. Fuel, water and even the atmosphere are all on the verge of running out. Everything must be safeguarded, counted and put in a locked box where qualified personnel will only distribute it at need. And that includes any and all human activities which might cause the warming of the planet.

Socially they are just as bad. Not only is wealth finite (except when they're spending it) but so is everything from education to employment.

The left doesn't think in terms of making more, but of redistributing what is available. Its goal is a static society in which everything is "fair", rather than a rapidly progressing society society that is unfairly distributed, but that focuses on creating, rather than sharing, and produces more for all.

Progressives equate progress to redistribution. They view the planet and every microcosmic society within it as a lifeboat with a finite amount of supplies to pass around for survival's sake. Their idea of progress is achieved when the redistribution achieves their ideal of fairness and no further bouts of redistribution are needed. Since that day will never come, utopia becomes an economic police state.

The progressive idea of progress is a sack race with a hundred feet in one sack. Progress must be communal. It must meet the needs of all stakeholders. It must comply with every detail of the plan. And so it is no wonder that we hardly build big things anymore or dream great dreams. Vision is individual and it's deeply disruptive. It changes the way that everyone lives.

Visions lead to utopias, but once utopia is achieved, there is no more room for vision. Visions, like viruses, are competitive creatures. When a Vision achieves a static order by killing all other visions, then vision dies, but that Vision remains with its dead hand on the wheel of history.

The vision of the left is a dead utopia, a tradition of weirdness and a hoarder's obsession with storing everything from the economy to the atmosphere in one lockbox before the sky falls. The utopian is really a cynic, certain that individualism will unleash everyone's worst impulses, and offering instead the iron order of his vision.

Utopia believes the worst of everyone and everything. It fears its own mortality and scents the taste of death on everything. It is convinced that the sky will fall, that everyone will starve and that the utter undoing of humanity is only a land use resolution or unrecycled plastic bottle away.

Progressives lock everyone into their narrow regimented and regulated idea of progress because they distrust people and they even distrust the universe. They are children certain that everything they love is about to be taken away from them and closet fascists obsessed with their moment of heroism when they rush out of the phone booth, biodegradable cape blowing in the wind, and save humanity from itself through a benevolent police state that extends into absolutely every area of human activity.

There is no progress in progressivism. There is instead a deep fear of progress. Utopians fear the unregulated and unplanned and they replace the true expansive progress of the human spirit with the false progress of social controls. Human genius is sold on the block in exchange for bureaucracy.

Progressives view every element of the world, from the grand vistas of oceans and skies to the minute intersections of human society as too fragile and limited for unregulated progress. Under their rule, progress in this country, once its secular faith, has slowed to a crawl outside of a few select industries that are able to move faster than the speed of progressive regulations.

The only way to resume progress is to fight the progressive movement.


Naresh Krishnamoorti said...

Chesterton says something in the first chapter of Orthodoxy, when he compares the Progressive/atheist/Rousseauist concept of man to the circle, and the traditional/Christian concept of man to the Cross:

" For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travellers."

The rest of Orthodoxy is a must read to understand the thinking of Progressives.

Mortis said...

I have been screaming about progressives for decades but more so recently (as you can imagine). This is a very elegant and insightful undressing of them.
Glad I found this site.

Anonymous said...

From university I remember a Greek professor who enjoyed deconstructing the word utopial, without regard to the intention of Thomas More. He took great joy in explaining that utopia could have been derived either from the Greek outopia meaning noplace, or from eutopia meaning the good place. He seems to have missed the irony that utopia implied that outopia and eutopia were one and the same place.


meema said...

I’ve never met a true progressive who did not believe that redistribution of wealth is the solution to human suffering. Interestingly, though, those very same self-righteous idealists, who fret so over poverty and inequality, never consider that their wealth ought to be redistributed as well. It seems to me that those who are attracted to the progressive disorder are also those who have control issues in other ways. They absolutely believe they know what anyone and everyone else ought to think and do and they absolutely believe they are right. Therefore any argument can be shut down by any means, because, after all, right is right. Except when it is far left.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, you have taken the complexity of progressivism and made it understandable. Confusion is the norm for leftist as they constantly interpret outcomes on their emotional values. You are a national treasure, that is real progress!

lgstarr said...

Wow--really dovetails with what I (less elegantly) said yesterday:

Anonymous said...

as progressive as a tenth century donkey ... is how I describe them.

Wombat said...

There is no left and no right anymore. Ask any two people to summarise what the "left" stands for and what the "right" stands for and they'll give you two different answers. It's a con-game to divide and conquer, as if the world can be divided equally between two political ideologies.
Was Romneys healthcare left or right?
Was the war against drugs left or right?
There is freedom and there is tyranny. Left and right is for rubes desperate to cling to a flag.

Brent Amundson said...

So what Drives Progressives?....Fear and Control. A lousy Combination. But relax - they run our Education will take decades to recover.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Wombat, freedom and tyranny don't exist as abstracts. They're the results of ideologies.

If you think that there isn't a left that is out to enslave you because of their ideology, you may want to look back at the last century.

Anonymous said...

Berkeley is a good example of weirdness being made traditional. Much of the populace is extremely narrow minded. They believe themselves to be original, always rebelling against traditional American culture. They are actually boring, rigid and predictable.
Just try walking around in the Berkeley Bowl wearing a patriotic t-shirt. Some people look scandalized and others go all a titter like Victorians confronted by some outrageous impropriety.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

every group has its taboos, especially as its members age

Phil Lipofsky said...

Greenfield makes a serious omission regarding the danger of building an economy and a way of life around finite non-renewable resources. He alludes to problem with his quite tangible concern of a police state to regulate such a problem. I would suggest a smarter and more responsible population. But looking at our reflection of who we elect to office and who is popular... the situation looks quite grim. Indeed Greenfield himself, so spot-on with everything else, has to date ignored this issue of the unsustainable nature of our country. I've not understood this one omission, except that a graceful and practical solution seems impossible.

Raw numbers when I last looked were 1.3 trillion barrels of oil in known reserves, perhaps 2 billion more in shale such as in northern Canada. The world uses 80 million barrels per day, with the US using about 20 million of that. Do the math and we have about 46 years to go.

Paradoxically, Greenfield is part of the solution by typing from home rather than using non-renewable resources to drive to a remote keyboard.

Economic and market forces will cause things to adjust, but the process is not going to be pretty. You can bet Israel, her people, and any other nation of good people will be on the deadly butt-end and the scape-goats of the world's ire.

The best I can come up with is a high-tech society telecomputing and with land use being much more agrarian in nature rather than of pavement and oceans of cars. When hydrocarbon based fertilizers become unavailable, land use requirements for food production will double, and so will water requirements. We should multiply the strength of our military capabilities and technological might. The nation and its citizens should be armed to the teeth. We should not be using non-renewable fuel to drive to tasks that could be accomplished at home or within walking distance and smaller groups of people... interlinked with other groups with occasional visits. We should have the intellect and the values to survive. We should not be using non-renewable fuel to ship oranges from California to Florida. Packaging and recycling should be precise and thorough, rather than melting all the different plastics inextricably intertwined into plastic 2x4's and other such items. Steel, copper and other metals should be carefully separated and reused rather than going in a land fill or being combined into pot-metal. Construction and remodeling practices of throwing the likes of seemingly cheap PVC and other materials into the land fills should be stopped. These materials should be separated and reused in their original purposes. Don't take more non-renewable fuel to make more plastic when plenty is wasted every day. Pollution is not a problem as long as it does not cause a loss of species or serious health problems. Pollution is okay if the biology of the earth can deal with it. Plants love Co2.

How to do that without either creating the police state that Greenfield rightly warns of I don't know. How to make people smart enough to realize the problem, I don't know. We need an whole bunch of people like Greenfield, but even that won't work if they write only about what to avoid but not about the problem itself. It's quite a problem.

I don't blame Greenfield for not having a solution or even a hint of a remotely practical solution to this problem. But I do hold him for not at least discussing the implications of what we are facing. And that is a task that I can think of few people as well equipped as Greenfield to be able to deal with. The article he's written here on the progressive utopia at least explains what pseudo "solution" to avoid the the types people who would gleefully enforce it. Let's have it Daniel, at least a warning to contemplate of what we are headed for.

Wombat said...

Mister Greenfield, I will not only submit to your view but I will roundly advocate for everyone I know to read your blog if you can define what the political left stands for and how it is opposite to the political right.
The task is unfair. You cannot give such a description, nor can anyone. For a hundred years or more Western governance has grown into a device to better enslave its citizens and it has mattered not a jot whether the political right is in power or the political left, because both stand for tyranny. Ask any lefty if Hitler was right wing or left wing. What will the answer be? Ask any righty if Stalin was left wing or right wing. What will the answer be? How did their actions differ? Who could possibly give a damn about what their motivations were? The Jew? The kulak? You think left or right meant a damn to them?

Socialist tyranny or Fascist tyranny. The left operate the drones and data centers that the right built that the left funded that the right legislated.

We are all being beaten with two fists. Pretending that the "good cop" in the good cop/bad cop routine is your friend is the worst kind of mistake to make.

As a voice in the community I have much respect for you, but sir, you are being played like a fiddle.

Pascal Fervor said...

Utopia is supposed to be that place where everybody is happy. The secret to the Utopian vision is revealed when you ask them, "What about the happiness of practical jokers who get their joy from the fixes they create for others? And what happens to misanthropes who cannot stand that others exist, let alone be happy?"

They will have no good answer for a very good reason: the Prog's vision of utopia is a place where in order make everyone equally "happy" they must arrange to have it run by the misanthropes and practical jokers. In fact, we are witnessing them in action in America right now.

Roy Lofquist said...

"Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent—or else expire of boredom."

Russell Kirk

Anonymous said...

You have surmised many interesting senarios , a bit like "what will happen when the BIG rock from outtta space hits us"Just tell us 'Who the hells side are you on"?
Cough up NOW!

Joan of Argghh! said...

As if on cue, a Progressive arrives to prove the point! Phil's world is so small, his imagination so limited, his faith in intellect on such guileless display. He's a planner. Gonna plan it all out b/c all he sees are dead-ends. Gonna figure it all out and beg us to listen to reason. It's cute in a college kid, but not so much in a politician.

I'm sorry, but when I get that way, and we all do, from time to time out of exasperation, I remind myself and anyone who's listening that, "the world just won't let me run it," and we all ruefully nod our heads and then laugh and laugh like the idiots we are. Because of all the truths out there, that is the last and best one that we idealists need to learn, no matter our ideology.

Anonymous said...

Phil, I think you've proved Daniel's point.


Anonymous said...

The Left has always been about a bigger slice of the cake. They never seem to realize they could have a bigger piece if the cake is bigger. Is this a mental block of some sort?

For the politics of envy, utopia has no-one left to envy, because everyone has been made equal (specifically, equally poor, materially, educationally, culturally, etc).

For the politics of hate, utopia where there is no-one (else) left. For such people refutations of malthusianism are not just irrelevant, but an impediment on the road to utopia.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Phil, the energy situation is not nearly that desperate. Look up at the sun, look to the tides and for that matter oil and gas outstrip our demand when we look harder.

Pascal, progs believe happiness is escapism

Wombat, the political left believes that the only way to remedy inequality is with radical redistribution carried out by any means necessary.

Joan, exactly, the world won't let us run it

Anonymous said...

Joan and Judith, I think you missed the point of Phil's comment.

He is not commenting as a progressive at all, he's simply,

1) pointing to some real constraints that are related to Mother Nature (not human libralism, conservatism, progressivism, etc.)

2) Since Daniel "brought it up", Phil is asking Daniel to elplore these important issues separate from any political label.


Anonymous said...


".......the energy situation is not nearly that desperate."

...hmmmm so, are you saying that there "might" be a problem?


Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

resources are obviously a constraint, but they only become economically fatal if we get locked into narrow either/or policies. The universe is rich in energy and fracking shows that assumptions about limits are in many cases limits on technique and technology that can be surpassed.

Anonymous said...


With all due respect, I hang on to every word of your excellent commentaries.

However, I feel you are very much out of your element regarding limited natural resources.

"The universe is rich in energy...", the universe may be endless, the Earth's natural
resources aren't endless.

re: fracking.... it's turning out to be a very short term boom/bust episode when you explore the relevant available information.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

nothing is endless including the sun, but the rate at which we'll run out of them has been overstated

Phil Lipofsky - with a diffrent link said...

Daniel, thank you for the clarifying perspective on others comments and their reading of my points. That includes at least the material aspect of Joan's comment of which I had already concurred upon in my first comments. But I reject the lack of initiative by only critiquing. Such inaction is neither contributing to society nor living. However such warning of a police state is, again, well taken even if misconstrued from what I actually said.

Solar photovoltaic and solar thermal are indeed things I advocate. Note that the first 1/3 of a typical 30 year life for a panel is the break-even point for the energy required to grow the crystals that produce the panel. It's 10 years before you start to get a payback. Yes there are other technologies in solar photovoltaic, many developed in... Israel. In Israel, I believe 80% of the homes already use solar thermal for hot water. The roof area of a house is roughly the area required for solar photovoltaic with some air conditioning running... and you get a roof out of it to boot.

But in any case, I do maintain that there is a very serious problem looming on our current trajectory of how we build and grow, in a fashion wholly dependent upon finite non-renewables, and on the opposite trajectory - finite resources with fairly well understood time lines for exhaustion. That leaves a somewhat worthless infrastructure the construction and use of which has left little resources for making corrections. Gas (LPG etc) btw gives out on short notice once the all the liquid component transitions to vapor. The resources exhaust by percentage with relatively short notice, like a BBQ grill tank at its end of use. Coal is good for about 700 more years from what I understand. If you look at how we've blown through the percentage of oil resources in the past 100 years, its alarming, especially when you consider all that is dependent and produced requiring that resource. Look around the room and outside the window and consider a serious exhaustion of such resources. Don't forget that kool disposable child slave labor in China mining out the rare earth elements for lithium-ion batteries. Same for all other raw materials coming in from China. Google search "China rescues 80 slave laborers from mines" and check out even slanted Wikipedia's "The 2007 Chinese slave scandal". You could ask the question right now... "How many children does it take to make a battery powered car?". And how finite are those rare earth resources... that is, why are they referred to as "rare-earth"?

I stick by all that I have said, including the critique of who we are based on evidence of the best (or at least most popular) "conservative" candidates that we can come up with.

Others may now again have their say. I've had mine. But in the future, they should remember to hold their tongues and reflect back to what they said here, should reality intrude upon their lives.

Anonymous said...

Rob, I didn't say Phil was commenting as a progressive. I don't think a progressive would ever say "The nation and its citizens should be armed to the teeth."
However Phil's preoccupation with the sustainability of renewable fuels which includes plans even down to the trucking of oranges and the use of plastics sounded a little excessive to me. A lot like climate change worry. I guess I believe in Western ingenuity and that creative inventors and entrepreneurs will find new solutions if government gets out of their way.


Phil Lipofsky said...

Judith, I presume you mean "non-sustainability of non-renewable finite resources... not just "fuels""... as the process, in our area of the universe at least, was long ago finished with creating such geological resources. p.s. thanks for noticing that I wasn't much of a Progressive ;-)

Anonymous said...

This is Greenberg's description of the Progressive ideology. There isn't very much progress in the progressive movement. Progress is the expansion of possibilities. Progressives however have a Malthusian obsession with the scarcity of all things. They believe that we are about to run out of everything from energy to water to wealth and education and that like starving survivors on a lifeboat we have to redistribute everything. This is pathetically superficial. If you want to boil down the Progressive belief it is to be found in one word.. fairness.

Wombat said...

"Wombat, the political left believes that the only way to remedy inequality is with radical redistribution carried out by any means necessary."

Mister Greenfield, although I appreciate the reply this answer is a shot in the dark. I would remind you of Hitler and Stalin. The difference in their motivations is irrelevant to the corpse in the furnace, and bashing the left while mourning the right is like yearning for Mussolini because "at least he made the trains run on time."

I sense you are like the beaten wife who cherishes the moments that her drunken husband is merely abusive rather than violent. Governmental Stockholm syndrome if you will. You may contend that this imaginary right wing is the lesser of two evils but it is still tyranny.

I wonder, when things get dicey, will you rally to the defence of central governance in the hope that it will be "right wing" (whatever that may mean)?

Where there appears a vacuum of power, will you seek to fill it with right wing controls?

Who are you, Mister Greenfield, and what do you stand for?

Joan of Argghh! said...

Phil, in a world of sciences that must invent data analyses to benefit their benefactors, what makes anyone think that "reality" is what they think it is? However, Israel made the desert bloom because someone didn't see obstacles, but opportunity.

No one's living with their heads in the sand. On the contrary, many are noting the challenges and rising above end-game thinking into completely new thinking that frees up resources for whole new industries. That is the Conservative way: free men, thinking freely and unafraid; not alarmists who want to curb, curtail, limit, box in, reduce, retreat.

While we're all sorting our garbage, the earth's magnetic field is threatening to punch is in our technological eye.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...


motives and all things are irrelevant to corpses, they are very relevant to police detectives trying to stop murderers. And we aren't corpses yet.

In the American context, the right isn't Mussolini, it's a fairly libertarian movement suspicious of government.

Wombat said...

I will concede the debate only because this story is heading chronologically south, but if the right is "fairly libertarian" then there are a great many people calling themselves "right" when they are anything but.
The entire Republican party, for instance.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

the entire Republican Party doesn't have very much in common and it has been slowly moving to the right over the decades, more in rhetoric than in substance

Pascal Fervor said...

Whoa. "the entire Republican Party doesn't have very much in common and it has been slowly moving to the right over the decades, more in rhetoric than in substance."

If that is not a "right" is not a typo, I'd like you to demonstrate the ways they are moving right. Had you written they've been moving to the left since Bush41, and more in substance than in rhetoric, I'd have no need to ask for examples.

Over the last two decades, the GOPe has pulled up whole stakes of republican principles and moved Left, letting the radicals on the Left set the agenda and them ever willing to compromise on nearly anything.
Dems: "I want your life."
GOP: "Won't you accept an few toes? Next week we'll arrange for you some poor schnook's arm."

This isn't even what I wanted to ask you. But that last statement made my jaw drop.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

The Rockefeller Republicans are dead. Ford and even Goldwater blasted the GOP as having gone too far to the right.

The presidential candidates still tend to be liberal, but they have to talk like conservatives, which is in some ways disastrous because it gives us the worst of both worlds, but it does highlight the shift.

The party establishment is still far more liberal and eager to surrender on most issues, but it has slowly and grudgingly moved to the right.

Anonymous said...

Unhappiness proves the left right...

Pascal Fervor said...

"Unhappiness proves the left right..."

You have just achieved the most excellent synopsis of the Leftist Utopians. So you are happy up until someone points out that it is not perfect.

See? Lack of perfection will always make you unhappy, and so therefore you should understand that it is those who criticize who provide your unhappiness.

Because Critical Theory has been the primary tool of the Left, then your unhappiness proves that the Left is correct (right) in what will make you unhappy.

David Foster said...

Koestler remarked (in Darkness at Noon) that there is no place for the watchmaker among the gears of the watch.

Instant Karma said...


I fail to see how the conversion process has to be ugly. As non renewable resources become steadily more scarce -- whether in decades or centuries -- basic economics will steadily increase the incentive to substitute renewables and invest further in their development. The same forces will reward substituting quantity of resources for quality.

Phil Lipofsky said...

I don't think the conversion process would be ugly, because there would be little that could be "converted". That is, there would be no "conversion process", but rather lifestyle and "other" changes, much of which some people might indeed find ugly.

Everything else without quantification or known solutions is speculation and faith, if not outright dependency in hoping that some hardworking scientist, engineer or industrialist will fix your world for you.

Rudolf Boukal said...

While I agree with you, on many issues - you are barely comprehensible. This seems like a "rant" and flow of conscious thought - many overlapping ideas and comments. I think this could have been said in two or three sentences. Also, it lacks any real argumentative techniques - purely one sided - comes across narrow minded ... almost like "fundamentalism for politics". You should be embarrassed to print something like this without editing. Redo it! please. - RGB

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