Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Fall of the Modern Order

The Recovering Bureaucrat has been amazed if not dismayed at the banality of most commentary on the anomalous popularity of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders over the past ten months.  Americans are not known for our depth of historical knowledge and appreciation, but the reactions of most of our clerisy on both sides of the alleged political divide must surely set a new record for shallowness and inaccuracy.

While the RB is sure there are more than a handful of people grasping the immensity of what we are experiencing, to date he has found only Walter Russell Mead and his analysis of the “blue social model” and the anonymous authors of the Journal of American Greatness offering any exploration in depth of the historical currents that have carried us to this moment.

Something has been demonstrably afoot since we Americans twice elected Barack Obama, a committed purveyor of postmodern statism, whose public philosophy—like that of an earlier Democrat president, Woodrow Wilson—is an explicit rejection of America’s founding principles of limited government, individual sovereignty, and rule of constitutional law.  It was a tentative seal of approval by the body politic of a collective turning away from the philosophy and institutions that made America great and unique, and toward embrace of a more nebulous, inchoate taxpayer-fed security blanket mimicking European social democracy.

The RB says “tentative” because each election of Obama was followed two years later by an electoral version of buyer’s remorse in which we first gave and then increased the Republicans’ control of Congress.  Even so, the Republicans did little with this power beyond occasionally limiting Obama’s post-American adventurism.  But regarding his signature policies like Obamacare and the “deal” with Iran, the Republicans showed almost no adroitness or strategy in opposition.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Bernification of America?

One of the recurring themes fascinating the Recovering Bureaucrat is the stubborn persistence of socialist longings among far too many of his fellow Americans.  In spite of the overwhelming evidence produced by the twentieth century that every form of socialism is far inferior to free market-based political economies, upwards of half of us are still willing to overthrow our founding principles in favor of a government-run society.  The blood of countless millions of our fellow human beings and the devastation of economies and environments are ignored in the evergreen determination to make the world work according to our yearnings.

Utopia dies hard, if ever.

The RB examined this mystifying syndrome in several posts under the title “The Earnestness of the Left,” noting
the average leftist is concerned with the welfare of the entire community.  He sees elements of what constitute and promote this welfare in ways that too many of his fellow citizens do not.  He is able to see these because he is bright and moral enough to account for the impacts of human activity that cause harm to health and liberty.  He believes that a nation that promotes the blessings of liberty but does not deliver them is hypocritical and immoral.  He accepts that government generally and the federal government particularly constitute the only effective instrument of redress.  He will not rest until all groups enjoy equally in the prosperity of the nation.  He believes that the chief resistance to his policy goals comes from selfish individuals who either don’t see or don’t care about the impacts of their behaviors upon others and the community as a whole.  He has no particular allegiance to the nation’s founding principles or the U. S. Constitution when these tend to stand in the way of universal prosperity.
. . . It is also safe to say that he “feels” these things rather than thinks about them; as a thoroughly postmodernized citizen he shares the pomo conviction that Reason is a dead white man’s tool of oppression.  Feeling therefore trumps logic and rationality.  The embrace of this pattern of emotional impressions makes him a good and reliable congregant in the Church of the All Powerful State, whose clerisy promises him delivery of his most fervent desires on behalf of “the community.”
It also enables a species of groupthink that is characteristic of tribal forms of consciousness: disagreement with the prevailing mythos is grounds for expulsion because it threatens the viability of the tribe.  Orwell was particularly devastating in his critique of this unfortunate tendency.
The RB theorized that much of this longing comes from still-powerful currents of humanity’s tribal experience, millennia in duration, during which we were imprinted by the unexamined conviction that our daily responsibility is to the welfare of the tribe or clan, and that the sacrifice of individual tribe members to this cause is necessary and unremarkable.  In return for playing assigned roles, members are offered security and validation.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

America: Midterms and Our Enduring Political Impasse

What people want is isn’t the blue model in its current decadent state or the inchoate mix of policies that “red dawn” states like Kansas and North Carolina have unevenly introduced. What they—we—want is a set of policies and ideas that harness the wealth creating productivity enhancements of the information revolution in ways that reduce the cost and enhance the quality of essential services (health, education, governance) while providing economic opportunity, middle class living standards and rising living standards to the American middle class. This ought to be possible and one day it will be, but at the moment we are still stumbling around in the early stages of one of the most disruptive changes the human race has ever known.

In the meantime, American politics feels stuck.

—Walter Russell Mead, “America after the Midterms: Blue Twilight, Red Dawn?” November 8, 2014

The Recovering Bureaucrat has long noted the enduring stability of America’s current 50-50 split, more or less a product of the end of the Cold War and the acceleration of the Information Age.

On this Mead notes, “We try the right for a while, and turn to the left in disgust—until the left fails as well and we turn wearily back toward the right.”  Why, it’s almost as if America has entered a great Schizophrenic Era!  To explain this, many in the MSM commentariat have now latched on to the (to them) comforting notion of “two electorates”: one presidential and liberal, the other midterm and conservative.  Certainly it’s a historic fact that more of us vote in presidential elections than in any other.  But history also refutes the nice “liberal/conservative” rotation theory.

What if the tidal forces of history—what Mead calls "one of the most disruptive changes the human race has ever known"—are simply too emergent and chaotic to yield a comforting and observable pattern?  The history of both the cosmos and humanity is non-linear; what’s happened in the past is not a reliable predictor of what’s to come.  But human consciousness has not yet evolved to include the capacity to grok non-linear dynamics and their external manifestations; in the Advanced Sector we are still bound by a Newtonian belief in mechanical regularity as the fundamental metric of reality.  The profound and disturbing implications of quantum physics remain a mystery for almost all of us.

Indeed, we may also be able to recite the formula represented in Einstein’s famous equation E = mc², but few of us have any idea of how its insights impact daily life.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Earnestness of the Left, Part 2

How far apart are we conservatives from this set of social desires?

Do we not also care about the welfare of the entire community?  Do we not agree that individual choices can do serious harm to the collective?  Do we not also want everyone to enjoy the blessings of liberty?  Are we not disgusted by any governmental attempts to prevent people from this enjoyment because of minority group discrimination?  Are we not equally committed to a Constitution that reflects the actual needs of the nation?

With a few exceptions—important ones, no doubt—the average leftist and the average conservative probably are in agreement about the kinds of outcomes we would wish each of us to enjoy.  So what prevents consensus?

In the fifth century BC Socrates famously asked about what constitutes “the good life” which Plato chronicles in The Symposium, The Republic, and other dialogues.

We humans have been debating this ever since.  And what keeps liberals and conservatives apart are very different approaches to answering this fundamental question.

The evidence for this divergence can be found in the unconscious framework of our internalized narratives.  The Recovering Bureaucrat was recently reminded of this by a post on Facebook by the great author Robert Bidinotto, whose salient work on the “clash of Narratives” helped him better understand the stubborn consistency of leftist beliefs even against hard evidence of their nonviability, or, as they might like to put in, their unsustainability.

Facts may be stubborn things, but denial is even more tenacious.  The RB would bet on denial over facts any day.  Our determination to cling to a Narrative about “reality” appears to be a hard-wired developmental structure, an element in the trajectory of our individual and collective human evolution.  The relatively rare capability to witness our mentation is essential to noticing that we are, indeed, adhering to a narrative in the first place—and how many of us have engaged in a meditative practice effective enough to develop this witnessing capacity in the first place?  It tends to happen only in matured individuals, people whose self-sense is autonomous and responsible, and how many of us fall into that category?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Earnestness of the Left: Separating the wheat from the chaff

From time to time it is useful to revisit the mindset of our friends on the Left, for while the aims of many of them are reactionary and their methods deleterious, they represent a significant set of mainstream aspirations and beliefs, which conservatives must be willing to address in our endless struggle to support founding principles.

Let us agree from the outset that there is an important distinction between the organized Left with its base in academia, the union movement, and the Democrat Party, and those millions of voters who see in these institutions a more reliable partner in the fulfillment of their desires than they do in the institutions of the Right.

We can reserve all our opprobrium and vilification for the “progressive”/rent-seeker axis without disparaging the honest and honorable aims of those voters.  It might even be the case—although I am not particularly hopeful—that if we understand their point of view better we might be able to demonstrate how fealty to our founding principles would do better at meeting their goals than the axis itself.  Of course, to make that happen, the key political instrument of the Right, the Republican Party, would have to re-examine its assumptions and methodology as well. 

It would also require the honest leftist to re-examine some of the implications of this worldview upon the very health of the community that is his primary concern.

The average left-leaning citizen cannot understand how the wealthiest nation in human history still permits poverty and institutional obstacles to the pursuit of happiness.  He earnestly believes that if everybody had the same chances in life, we all would do well.  Therefore, the wealth gap is de facto evidence that too many people do not and cannot get the same chances that the privileged do.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Irrepressible Conflict, Redux?

Americans have been complaining—impotently—about the “gridlock” and polarization gripping Washington for the past decade or more.  This is reflected in the steep decline in so-called “purple” states where the two major parties are more or less competitive. In the meantime, the number of independent voters has grown to unprecedented proportions.

The Democrats’ decision to implement Obamacare without a single Republican vote is a key driver in the escalation of the partisan war.  This has resulted in arbitrary and unlawful delays in implementation, and on November 21 the Democrats, again without a single Republican vote, changed the Senate rules governing the rights of the minority by terminating the right to filibuster judicial deliberations.

Are these just typical political bumps and bruises, or is there something much more fundamental and ominous brewing?  We can look to our own American history for some clues

Monday, April 30, 1860, dawned breezy and cloudless in Charleston, South Carolina.  Delegates to the Democratic national convention gathered again at the Institute Hall, having experienced a long and boisterous week since the meeting had first been gaveled to order.

Delegates supporting the presidential candidacy of Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois were pushing for adoption of a platform plank that would—once again—paper over the divide between north and south on the slavery issue.  Those opposing Douglas, although in the minority, had already decided to force the matter.  They were supporting a platform plank that positively affirmed that neither Congress nor any territorial legislature had the authority to prohibit slavery in the western territories.

This was not only a slap at Douglas and his popular sovereignty doctrine established in the Kansas-Nebraska Act six years earlier, it was a direct challenge to the eventual nominee of the Republican Party which came into existence in large part because of northern opposition to the extension of slavery.

The southern faction was led by such “fire eaters” as William L. Yancey of Alabama and political connivers like James Slidell of Louisiana.  These men and their caucus had already decided to trigger the nuclear option and cause a split in the Democratic Party that would lead to both election of a Republican president and secession of the slave states from the union.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Guest Blog: Today's Tyrannies and the Declaration of Independence

Guest blog from a Frustrated Entrepreneur:

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

1) He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

The President Who Ignores the Law -- Again