Friday, 2 October 2015

Where The Right Took The Wrong Turn — And What They Can Do About It

Miserable old man - religious right
Let's face it, the Right, on all parts of the spectrum, has turned into something of a weak-sauce toadying villain. You know, the cringing cowardly type that fawns all over you one minute, then stabs you in the back first chance he gets. Is it any wonder that people are turning to the left to get away from the sheer awfulness? It'll take a total paradigm shift to regain the lost credibility. I've got a few ideas.

They've lost the culture wars and it seems that some of them at least may well be seriously contemplating taking their ball and going home. That needs to happen. As they regroup to lick their wounds we can get on with building a society that works for all of us without them getting in the way. Of course, the fact that a self-described conservative is saying this is where the problem is at: they're simply not relevant. This is where it all went wrong.

Authoritarian approach

The trouble with the Right is the authoritarianism. Respect for authority is one thing but it needs to be reasonable. "Only following orders" has historically been rejected as a defence, and frankly I think that's fair. If you're going to preach personal responsibility you have to allow agency, but all these guys want is obedience. Given the mess they tend to make of their policies it's very hard to take them seriously anyway and it seems to me that the only authority they actually have is "because I said so." Well that's not good enough. And God forbid that you step out of line, or worse, try to compromise.


Back in the Eighties I remember the Thatcher government wibbling on about "back to basics." At that point, mistresses and their kids started popping out of the woodwork. This has always been the case, though. In America, four-times-married Newt Gingrich pointed his greasy finger at the embattled Bill Clinton for adultery. This kind of thing makes it hard to take them seriously. Don't get me started on the pro-life-ers who are in favour of the death penalty and are opposed to a tax-funded healthcare service. Note the binary thinking in her argument: in the UK we have private healthcare running alongside the NHS. In the USA, they actually do have tax-funded services but they are limited to those who qualify for them.


They call it puppy love laissez-faire (leave it alone), the idea being that little-to-no regulation frees businesses up to make money and thereby benefit society. What these people can't or won't accept is that businesses are not in business to benefit society but to make money. The word they're looking for is "charity." They've also forgotten about the need to keep a close eye on corporations and to ensure competitivity. Result:

How easily they forget! And as a result, capitalism itself has been fetishised and is treated with cult-like devotion. Anyone who dares to question it or tries to impose limits on it is immediately branded a liberal socialist. The irresponsibility lies in letting corporations set the legislative agenda on the local, national, and international levels via writing telecoms laws for states or throwing their weight around via ISDS in "free trade agreements." When the only choices are "take it or leave it," how in the world can the market self-correct? Don't get me started on fracking, mountaintop removal, and other harmful practices that come as a result of light touch regulation. It's irresponsible to turn the fate of the nation over to profiteers because they don't care about the nation, they care about money. These are not the same things, people.


Somebody I know once insisted that the Earth is flat. I looked him in the eye and said, "You have been (*head on one side*). On a plane (*head on the other side*)." That shut him up. That you're obliged to pretty much go "La la la, I can't heeeearrrr you!" to reality itself every day really makes it hard to take these people seriously. Today it was revealed that there's a mass shooting in America every day.

Oh, they do.
It gets worse. Anti-science? It's not just an American thing, I'm afraid. We're seeing it here in Britain, in Canada, and Australia. The USA does NOT have a monopoly on right wing stupidity.

The moral maze

The need to be seen to be tough creates more problems than it solves and pretty much bins ethical conduct for political reasons. So it is that presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina chucks evidence out the window and defends torture as a way of getting information because she's afraid of terrorists.

Tribal panic politics

There's an emerging trend called "Neo-reaction" that is growing on the right. Basically, all the paranoid weirdos are talking to each other, the idea being to create an anti-progressive continuum in which democracy is presented as being "structurally incapable of rational leadership due to perverse incentive structures. It is trapped in short-termism by the electoral cycle, hard decisions become political suicide, and social catastrophe is acceptable as long as it can be blamed on the other team." Well that's true up to a point: what are we to replace it with — vote with your wallet or do without? We're already moving towards the corporate dictatorship the Libertarians seem to want but how's that working out for us? If corporations are people and those people are authoritarian, they will seek to regulate us on a personal level and neo-reactionary Nick Land apparently hasn't seen that coming. These ideas are seeping into the mainstream and are diametrically opposed to sharing culture. Watch this space.

Okay, so what can we do about it?

Columnist David Brooks had this to say in the New York Times:

The defining face of social conservatism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. - David Brooks, The Next Culture War, New York Times

Oh, David, dear...! People who love guns, money, and being white, straight, and better than you are only going to go into underprivileged areas to talk down to or about the poor people, AKA "losers."

I’ve been to Mexico and Honduras. They may not have much, but they do have life. And with life, they do get to experience love. I met a community living in the town’s landfill. If you ask them if they prefer to live in the filfth (sic) or live, they choose life. So should we. - Kyle Miller Sep 7, 2012, Google Plus

Notice that Kyle offers them a choice to live in the filth or "live." I think he actually means "live in the filth or die" from the context, the idea being that they don't get to choose between living in a landfill, in a middle-class suburban house, or die. Comfy living is for people like Kyle, not Honduran or Mexican peons like those people, assuming I'm right about what he was actually saying there.

Nobody wants to build anything for people they believe either don't need it or don't deserve it; the logical end of the Prosperity Gospel being that, if health and wealth are rewards for faith from God, it follows that illness and poverty are curses that you must have done something to deserve. People who think like that are unlikely to help anyone. Angry, paranoid, selfish people have little to offer.

A real solution

In my blog post, Will The Real Conservatives Please Stand Up, I wrote: 

[Conservatives are] People who believe in the rule of law, a just society, self-determination,  a good work ethic, healthy competition, a free and fair market, personal freedom, patriotism, and respect for traditional values. We don't like sudden, radical changes and have a deep respect for intellectual endeavour and a comprehensive education. We believe you have to work for what you get and that you should be fairly compensated. We believe in justice and fairness. In honour and integrity. In respect for religion and culture. In family, community, charity, and duty.

I truly believe that implementing middle-out economic policies (basically, tame capitalism and make it work for us, not us for it) is the key to this. Charities can't provide social services at the levels required; we need a robust welfare state with free healthcare, free education, and social housing provision. In my post, A New Direction For Conservatism, I called for pragmatic, rational stewardship built on evidence-based policies. I'm not going to argue the same points again: I haven't changed my mind because nobody has come up with a convincing argument for why we need to base policies on logical fallacies or personal fantasies.

As a wise man said:

Teasing out the complex threads that mesh into our societies and the wider world's problems is something to be tackled from a patient viewpoint - Rashid Mhar, September 2015.

He's right. He also said:

...whenever I see anything that even smells of judgement, propaganda, fear or suspicion mongering I turn away from it. I don't like people labelling white men, Muslims, prostitutes, drug addicts or any form of glossed over grouping bad because as far as I'm concerned that is just taking the steps to okaying attacking them without any conscience.

And he's right about that too, as far as I'm concerned.

A better direction

There is a buzz to be had from living dangerously. This explains why people will seek out news reports and websites, etc., that pander to their prejudices and evoke negative emotions. This also explains the nihilism that permeates right wing thought at the moment. David Brooks attempts to provide a servant leader's approach, which sounds great, but crumbs of charity won't solve the systemic, structural problems at the root of poverty; people aren't poor because they're not in traditional families but because jobs that pay well are hard to come by if you don't have the background, the skills, the qualifications, or the connections required to get one. If Brooks can't or won't acknowledge that, he won't be able to accept that the solutions he offers don't even amount to a band aid on a bullet wound. A better direction to go in would not be to continue the culture wars by stealth — one converted sinner at a time — but to empower people to become more politically engaged and to build a political consensus with a view to creating a society that works for the good of all of its members, not just the privileged ones.

The way to win

It's impossible to control all of the people all of the time and when ignorance, war, famine, pestilence and death are all you've got to offer the world, don't be surprised if few people are enthusiastic about getting on board. The way to win is to offer them something they DO want, not to repackage the ugly stuff they've been rejecting all this time. 

There are always more choices than the ones being offered but if I was to break it down into a binary this-or-that option I'd say we can choose between sane-and-sober stewardship or paranoid, selfish neo-reactionism as the direction to take conservatism in. I've already made my choice. I want to win, after all. Do you?

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