Saturday, 13 October 2012

What Place Does "Ideological Purity" Have In US Society?

I've been aware of the idea of ideological purity being important on the Right in the USA for some time. What I've failed to understand is why, since it seems like nonsense to me. A Right-leaning writer of a PBS blog post has clarified the matter, making a point I've been unwilling to articulate till now: in an increasingly secular society, they need something to replace religion.

This is what Charles Hill said in that article:

America has no ideology. Without understanding this, there is no way to comprehend this country and the national character of the American people. Ideology is a modern invention, produced as an alternative to religion. An ideology answers every conceivable question that can be put to it. That's why governments like ideology and that's why in recent years the Congress of the United States has produced legislation thousands of pages long. As ideologues they believe they have the answer to everything.

I don't think he's contradicted himself as such, it's just that he doesn't see the national narrative most Americans have for their country as an ideology. I do. But he went and said the thing I coudn't say: ideology is like religion and that's why they're so keen on purity, particularly on the right. That's why I get the Inquisition when I self-identify as conservative but stray from the "orthodox" teaching. It explains comments like Shelley Butterfly's in this thread, in which I asked whether or not a state could be run on Libertarian lines. I had to tell her bluntly I'm not interested in the Austrian School or anything like that. I ONLY want to know if they reckon it'd work in practice. What I actually got was what I usually get: a shedload of theory and anti-government blue-skying.

Libertarians and the Austrian school

These guys aren't guided by precedent, they're guided by Breitbart and Precedent as guide is anathema to them because

Austrians reject empirical statistical methods, natural experiments, and constructed experiments as useful tools applicable to economics, arguing that while it is appropriate in the natural sciences where factors can be isolated in laboratory conditions in precisely replicable conditions, the actions of humans in real markets are too complex for such a treatment because humans are not passive and non-adaptive subjects, and an approach termed methodological individualism should be used instead of a focus on aggregates which, in their view, cannot be lumped together as a class. Austrian economist Jeffrey Herbener has argued that "there are no statistical characteristics to human behavior. It is purposeful rather than random, and changeable rather than constant". Austrians argue one should instead isolate the logical processes of human action. - Wikipedia

This precludes using historical analysis to gauge the likely effects of their theories when applied because they think humans are too individual to do the same thing every time, even though history repeating itself is an established fact. It's like homeopathy for economics: empirical evidence is inadmissable because all depends on the individual and his or her circumstances so it's impossible to replicate the results, as the scientific method demands. Needless to say, it lets them off the hook if anything goes wrong because unintended consequences can be blamed on random factors, not failures on their part. And it keeps them locked in blue-sky fantasies of what life ought to be instead of looking at the practical aspects of their proposals. That's what dooms them to failure; practicals have to be factored in. And like all religions, it's a matter of faith.

Ideological purity

I can link any number of G+ threads in which attempts to shame me into compliance with current conservative norms in America by Americans, or you can take my word for it. I've even been called "the wrong kind of Pirate," as if the Pirate Party has an ideology that aligns with libertarianism of any strand. It doesn't.

The Pirate Party

Pirates are all about personal freedom and the public good. At heart, we're collectivist statists who want to get the government under the control of the people via democracy and the democratic process. We're opposed to multinational corporations' attempts to control the government in order to get rid of regulations against monopolies, cartels, and the public good. But we champion private enterprise and the rights of the individual because society is comprised of individuals and we need to be free to speak, act, and make useful or entertaining things unhindered by ridiculously overbroad intellectual property rights or other constraining laws. For this, we need an open, transparent, accountable government to enable us by providing the infrastructure and services we need, so we're not too fussed about taxation as long as we get a good return on our investment. That's about as pure as it gets. You can find out more about the Pirate Party on Rick Falkvinge's blog. In the USA, this is the stance of the Liberals and most Democrats, the US Pirates, the Greens, some Republicans, and some Libertarians. Personally, I'm centre-right.

Freedom V purity

The trouble with ideological purity is that you're neither free nor flexible. You can't adapt to the situation you're in and have to frame every conversation in terms of the theory of your choice. To find fault with a part is to break with the whole; no heresy goes unpunished and conformity is more forced than any tax. The Washington Post has a rather amusing cautionary tale of what happens when ideology guides the decision-making process. Think "shoot," "self," and "foot." This is a path that denies reality and objective thinking based on empirical evidence on purpose. It's why those people who want to put ideology first in principle can't do it in practice. This is what happened in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

The failures of “states rights” and “state authority” in the case of Katrina are obvious, post-disaster. When cities like Chicago offered massive help to FEMA for New Orleans in the days leading up to Katrina, they were all but ignored. FEMA under Bush was having no part in coordinating between states or upper management of a national government. The Republican laissez-faire approach doomed victims of Katrina to tragic levels.

Like all ideologies, the conservative ideology of fiscal conservatism has much to recommend it when implemented by sane, non-extremists. But when demagogues implement any ideology to the extreme, as we saw in Katrina, the inherent flaws in that ideology will be laid bare.

Some may say that the government under Obama over-reacted, but had the hurricane not down-graded, and had he not responded as he did, where would we be then?

Part of being responsible is preparing in advance for trouble. Good leadership involves watching over the various agencies and states from a national level, making sure they are coordinating and getting what they need to respond appropriately.

President Obama’s ideology of pragmatism and preparedness have been proven effective time and time again.

I struggle to find fault in the way Obama dealt with Hurricane Irene, given that he learned from Bush's failures over Katrina and had a plan in place to deal with Irene before it hit. And it hadn't exactly fizzled out when it did; the damage was extensive. The difference between him and George W. Bush is that Obama is reality-based. If the ideological hat doesn't fit, he won't wear it. Now fiscal discipline is wise and works when done properly, but if you're going to cut taxes, you need to cut spending. And if the biggest spend is on defense, that needs to be cut unless you're being invaded or something. Seriously. US spending on military activity is obscene.

Ideological heresy

I would argue that if the ideology doesn't take natural disasters, etc., into consideration, it's unprepared to deal with them when they happen, and is therefore the wrong ideology to employ. When it describes criticism as heretical and unpatriotic instead of examining and correcting itself, in the light of the facts, something is wrong.

This is the Newsbuster's take on The Newsroom. Here's a clip of the scene they've referenced.

Apparently, this is left-wing propaganda. Okay, here's what GOP (Republican Party) supporters actually believe: the exact thing the character Will McAvoy says here. Especially about the government. I see it all the time in the comments on my political posts, and in those political posts I respond to.

The ideological straw man

The way they frame arguments and comments creates straw men to knock down, as in this post on The Edmond Sun:
Apparently, people adopt a “live and let live” approach to those better off if advantages are “fairly” acquired. If someone works harder, works smarter or gets lucky and acquires a fortune, most people are OK with allowing them the fruits of their situation.

But an “urge to punish” is triggered if someone enjoys an economic advantage when the onlooker perceives the advantage is the product of cheating. Consequently, it would be easier to whip people into a frenzy of punitive covetousness if everyone above them on the economic scale could be characterized as “a cheater.”

The self-made man was, at one time, an American icon. There seems to be a shift in the works. Now, there seems to be growing sentiment that there is no such thing. No one is allowed to proclaim that their advantages were secured by singular ingenuity and industry. And, further, there is a growing tendency to regard all advantage as “ill-gotten gain.” In a climate like this, it is much easier to claim that it is “unfair” for the fortunate to keep what they have.

What would you expect the man to say? He's a lawyer! This whingeing is typical of the right, with its pleas to avoid "punishing success," as if the reason many Americans who self-identify as middle class are queuing up at food pantries has nothing to do with outsourcing jobs, wage stagnation, and corporate welfare paid for with tax dollars, which should anger every right-thinking person. The Right chooses to ignore this, choosing instead to characterise anyone who wants a living wage or public services for healthcare and education as "covetous." When the self-made man was an American icon, he paid his share of taxes and treated his workers fairly. Now he gets a massive salary and his workforce is in China. We have every right to "punish" that. If he shares his money out among charities, it will be to those he deems worthy of investment, and needless to say, he gets a tax break for it.

Wealth and social responsibility

J.K. Rowling is a classic example of a self-made woman who understands this:

Rowling makes no attempt to hide from the tax man. She pays her fair share and is still a billionaire. I wish her all the best, particularly when I think of all the jobs the Harry Potter books created in the UK alone. In America, she helped to create even more. Retail and service jobs involved in printing, packaging, and distributing Harry Potter books, the franchise merchandising, and the movies have made billions in revenues for our respective countries at home and abroad, and the taxes paid thereon help to fund the NHS, etc., for which I am most grateful. It's fair to say I owe J.K. Rowling a lot, however indirectly. I am not jealous and I'm not on any kind of witch hunt against her fortune. How many industrialists and manufacturers can we say the same of? I'm not holding my breath waiting to find out.


There are other strands of political thought I could have gone after, but I chose to address the most egregious ones, i.e. the ones I come across the most often on Google Plus, because I wanted to illustrate the damage that the pursuit of ideological purity does to society. It's one thing to let ideology inform an argument or point of view, but as I've proved in the examples above, if it doesn't meet the needs of the people, it's not worth having. And until an ideology emerges that addresses the real needs of the people and of society and the nation, we're not going to have one on the right that works in practice. All we're going to get is what I usually get in discussions on Google Plus: a shedload of theory and anti-government blue-skying. Americans, is that what you want?


  1. Yours actually was the discussion that got me out of these kinds of discussions permanently, and frankly I hesitate to even comment. But again, the main problem was that you didn't take a second to understand *my* viewpoint, or the viewpoints in the foundational works of the theory that you are too busy to read; which, by the way also are not *my* viewpoint.

    I personally believe that government fucks up pretty much anything it puts its hands on, as evidenced by the huge mess we're in at the moment. I believe there are biases in the system that are almost impossible to weigh against, and that no matter how hard people have tried they have always failed.

    And I yet wish you luck; especially since you don't even want to expend the mental energies necessary to at least take a survey of the thought that has already been expended on the issues; whereas those of us who have are apparently 'too idealogical' (not all of us are) and being put into a box because you don't agree with us trying to protect ourselves from the kind of ham handedness that folks with your kind of promises have been handing out literally for generations now.

    Now, done with that; on with my life without politics and simply trying to make the world a better place, since that's what I see as the real point anyway; had you ever bothered to take the time to actually understand what *I* believe.

    What *I* believe is that every government so far has failed miserably in its most important task, and that is the task of allowing us to work together as human beings to truly change this world, simply by getting the fuck out of our way.

    And I believe that neither politics nor politicians can or will ever change the world-only we can do that. So, that's what I'm going to try to do.

    So, what I believe in a nutshell, there ya go. And no worries, I had already stopped being political a long time ago. I thought you wanted information on what I believed and it kind of blew me away that you wanted a straw man to beat.

    1. Shelley, I *did* take a long and very thorough look at your viewpoint, but I disagreed with it. I still do. Checking something out very rarely causes someone to automatically agree with it.

      I see you haven't moved from the discussion we had in 2012. That's fair enough, since I haven't either. I'm not some kind of socialist, I'm a realist. As much as the government fouls things up, so do the corporations. If we let *any* group have too much power, things get fouled up. I think we can agree on that.

  2. Oh, and, P.S. I'm not "idealogically pure" I actually just am at base a voluntaryist or whatever you want to call it. I think the idealogically pure folks can get quite over the top, and I sure would appreciate it if you made it clear that I never claimed to be, nor am I, "idealogically pure". I actually am pragmatic, and believe that any principle so proved to be incorrect by evidence should be given up in face of the empirical truth, and that there is no sacred principle.

    W.V.O. Quine taught me that. Eh, I was a philosophy major BTW.

  3. Whether or not your ideological position is pure, it's very telling that almost THREE YEARS LATER, you've hopped in here to complain about an old blog post. Why now?

    I dislike the anarcho-capitalist position because it pretty much runs on the golden rule: he who has the gold makes the rules. "Voluntaryism" works well in principle and in small communities, I'm sure, but in a larger theatre of operations you just find the rich crushing the poor and no form of redress except to take your business elsewhere, as if that is always an option. I see no value in looking further into it, as I see no value in studying the nuances of Socialism or anything else I disagree with. Refusing to spend more time on this may seem arrogant to you but it's my time and I choose what to do with it. I'm under no obligation to agree with you or do anything you want. I'm sorry if this upsets you but my time, my efforts, and my thoughts are my own and I will do what I want with them.