Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Tale of Two Conservatisms

Back from my two weeks with the guard, and I find myself with a touch more energy than when I left. The inactivity of the summer, with more planning than doing, took a toll on me I did not realize. I'm glad to have the structure of the guard. Meanwhile, I've also started my last full semester at the university, which is thus far incredibly irritating. This will not be a good semester to express opinions.

Today, the topic will be the ontology of conservatism. My experience leads me to identify two different strands of the idea of what it means to be a conservative, and while these definitions may not work for everyone, that's in the nature of creating labels and defining terms, which is itself a political exercise. But having a reference for what words mean is also necessary to think cohesively, so this might help define a reader's perspective. Later on, another post will do the same for liberals.

Conservatism as Status Quo

The most basic and intractable meaning of conservatism is to resist change.

This tells us a number of things. First, it tells us that those who oppose conservatism fundamentally disagree with the idea that society, as it stands, is fair and just. Of course, fairness and justice run on a sliding scale for almost everyone, with hideously unjust on one side and flawless on the other, both extremes being ludicrous. But conservatives are less willing to risk the integrity and basic ideas of their society for the sake of putting wild idealism into practice, which in praxeological terms, should tell us quite clearly that they value it more and see the odds of reaching greater excellence through serious change as being slim.

These people generally think you should calm the fuck down and accept reality as it is.

The ideal promotes stability as a value in itself. Consistency, being able to hold rational expectations and deal with the world accordingly, is worth fighting for from this perspective. Elderly people often hold this position.

It looks nearly arbitrary: whatever's here now is good, and changing it is not. WHY it's good is mostly a matter of my personal disposition and greater logic isn't the point. Neoconservatives in the Irving Kristol vein subscribed to this way of thinking, and while they made good points on the social value of religion, they dropped the ball severely by accepting elements of the welfare state, simply because it had already become the status quo.

With American politics, the tendency of conservatives to simply try to put on the brakes of what leftists consider progress has given them the problematic reputation of doing nothing but saying no. On race, gender, consumer protection, and environmental issues in particular, conservatives get tarred as scum all the time. Unless you fundamentally disagree with the goals of affirmative action and environmentalism, the bleating of the right looks a lot like stick-in-the-mud naysaying or political corruption, without principle, as if the disagreement was just a brave side versus a cowardly side and nothing more meaningful.

And in the case of politicians, it frequently isn't any more meaningful. They are, after all, politicians, and their entire existence stands in contrast to the other element of conservatism which is understood mostly by its opposition to most ideals of prevailing moral sense.

Conservatism as Hierarchy

If you're looking for a definition of conservatism with more meat on its bones, there's no need to waste time trying to find it in the sphere of democratic politics, or even in modern ideas at all. The more solid definition of conservatism is the dark definition, the one that won't win beauty contests.

This perpetually strong definition of conservatism is to accept and support the hierarchy of the society you identify with. This isn't simply saying "no" to change: quite the opposite, these types of conservatives frequently see their side as not being properly in charge, but think they should be, so they can be every bit as radical, activist, loudmouthed, and self-righteous as any given leftist. This is where your joiners and your patriots hang around.

Importantly, this isn't simply saying that you identify with a culture. Everyone identifies with a culture of some kind. It's identifying with a culture that explicitly endorses a hierarchy, accepting it. It's an anti-liberal perspective which specifically does not embrace egalitarianism or any of its resulting ideas.

If status quo conservatism applies the brakes, then this form of fascist conservatism defines the cardinal direction of the car. It wants to make society more hierarchical, more masculine, more driven to ordered empowerment.
And I don't mean fascism as an insult. 
The modern consensus seems to hold that fascism sees the state as primary, but going back to the point of this post, that's not set in stone. The modern concept of the state is far newer than the fasces, and what it symbolized, which is namely a hierarchical order regardless of the exact form. Jack Donovan calls himself an anarcho-fascist, which makes no sense if you can't grasp this but perfect sense otherwise.

This ideal is so disgusting to so many people that calling it sane might get you spat on, but it's always there. This is what happens when you place more value on the group, with its traditions and identity and systems, than on the individuals in it, and therefore find it sensible to require sacrifice from individuals to preserve it. This is what happens when you believe that the people in charge should be there and should have power. When children tell their parents to go fuck themselves, this is your impulse to throw all your sweet-natured understanding out the window and swing a paddle.

It isn't irrational, particularly given that the existence of moral and judicial thought in society comes from agreements, from people subordinating themselves to ideas and cultural values. These values are to be defended by a hierarchy. This conservatism makes the individual a part of the whole on explicit, honest terms. It might seem distasteful, but hierarchy is inevitable and not everyone is stuck in denial of this.

No institution or movement can get anywhere in this world without functional specialization and the requisite trust of someone in power that it requires. That includes political parties and movements. What finally pushed me completely away from the political left in America was the massive clusterfuck that was the Occupy Wall Street movement: the spoiled, stupid children involved revealed themselves as such when they turned out to be completely incapable of agreeing on any actionable plan or internal organization. They didn't so much push for a different form of governance as for the current power players to simply give them more of everything. In the real world, getting things done in the face of conflicts of interests requires that some people lead, as a simple matter of specialization. Nothing works without it. This naturally results in inequalities of power.

Conservatives accept this, and do not fight the realities of hierarchy in itself. They push to have their side be THE hierarchy, supporting it. The culture and the hierarchy that develops from its principles are, from this perspective, inseparable. Conservative libertarians, for example, typically believe that with the government doing less to promote a secular, pseudo-socialist agenda, legitimate authorities in business or religion will make a comeback. They frequently support the notion that businesspeople deserve to have significant power, since they consider the market system to be workable and good, worthy of preservation. The same can be said of religion.

Now, the status-quo conservative and the fascist conservative are not necessarily opposed to one another. Quite the opposite, in most societies throughout history, they have reinforced one another: willingness to follow orders and sacrifice for your country or family, fulfilling obligations of trust and obedience, is quite compatible with wanting to preserve it. The difference only seems to come up when you separate the maintenance of your house from following the dictates of those in charge. But that brings up an interesting question about our culture specifically.

The American Issue

Thus, we as Americans are at an impasse. Why? Because of ideas like this:
True or False?
This country, more than any other, holds ridiculous levels of allegiance to the ideals of equality, freedom, and justice on those terms. Notwithstanding the possibility that freedom and justice are essentially opposed to one another, simply believing that your country's ideology is one that is both anti-hierarchical and fair begs an awful lot of questions about how that's supposed to work out. If people get what they deserve for their efforts or screwups, and everyone should get the same thing even if they obviously don't, then what exactly is that saying about your system?

Americans have branded their culture's authorities as anti-authorities in the same way that 7-Up branded itself the "Un-Cola" back in the day. Conservatives scream about freedom more than anyone else in politics, and many Americans believe, really believe, that authorities in America are supposed to serve people, not rule them. That, of course, is fucking ludicrous, the ultimate inversion of the meaning of those words, not to mention practically absurd. Exercising justice and resolving conflicts of interest fundamentally means wielding power, and some people will be on the losing end of it. That shapes culture. But a huge portion of American ideology depends on the ideal of equality and freedom being compatible; other notions, like objective justice, are ideas intended to legitimize such ridiculousness, and they've been successful enough to convince a lot of people. We believe American exceptionalism to mean that we're the people who don't need rulers, and it's perfectly natural for such thinking to evolve into thinking that we don't need bosses, fathers, pastors, cops, and basically any other authority figure. 

So from the perspective of conservatism as pro-authority, the real question becomes, is there such a thing as an American conservative?

And if so, HOW? From the notion of conservatism as hierarchy, there can be no such thing. The vast majority of Americans want politicians who directly reflect popular opinion and popular moral interpretation, not the personal views of those in positions of power. We might say we want integrity, but that's only if the ideals are in line with our own. We require our "leadership" to be a bunch of vacuous tools with no sense of themselves; saying otherwise is masturbatory bitching, as the complainers are invariably using their opinion as the reference point for the correct opinion. Both business and government hierarchies require popular approval to operate, so the mechanics of the systems do not allow for any serious consistency except in the Prom Queen sense of the word.

In an earlier post, I referred to the conservative as a firefighter. Clearly, this places emphasis on conservatives as preserving the status quo, so I do think it's feasible to look at American conservatives as real and active. There are good things about modern American culture. But it's not just preservation.

Those of us who believe that American culture made a wrong turn somewhere, or even believe that there is something fatally nonsensical about the concepts of freedom and equality that comprises the American identity, are not simply running around trying to put out fires. We are also fully willing to start controlled burns in places where the existing structures are of low quality and need to be replaced. Stupid ideas can be tossed out. This gives some conservatives a lot in common with leftists and might seem to make the fundamental meaning of being a conservative disappear in the mix of eclectic preferences for cultural design, but beneath this perception is the fundamental concept of conservatism: hierarchy is not what we should be trying to destroy, but is rather a tool to allow society to organize and pursue a world in line with greater values.

In this sense, you can call me a conservative.

Friday, August 9, 2013

New Business Card

If you come across this card at any time during your travels, then you know I've been around.

Expect a lengthy break from blogging after Monday, as my obligations to the Guard come around. Two weeks learning the ins and outs of my recently-acquired Bradley Fighting Vehicle await. 

mmmmmmm..... BFIST...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Jackass Journalism

CNN aired a report recently called Rehab Racket, and I caught part of it while eating lunch the other day. The show resulted from a big-time, one year investigation, and it reminded me why I loath television and the media with an unholy passion.

It wasn't the reality of the case; I have no problem believing that the rehabilitation industry is all sorts of fucked up, particularly since the report focused on California.

It was the presentation.

They were playing the "hard-hitting journalism" bit. There was one scene with a reporter trying to walk into the back door of a rehab center with his camera crew, simply by announcing who he was and what he was doing. It's so shocking when he isn't allowed in, as if they have something to hide! A later scene shows the reporter and camera crew following an executive around as she pointedly ignored the repeated, grating questions aimed at her and the constant re-positioning of the crew to get a shot of her downcast face. Finally she stops and talks to them, and why even bother listening to the conversation?

Call it "hyperdrama": we gotta do something to make a paperwork-driven investigation interesting, so of course, it's time to harass the shit out of people to provoke a reaction that makes them look fucking terrible. Welcome to the news business!

I HATE that shit. Not simply because it's confrontational, which is usually unnecessary but sometimes unavoidable. I hate it because it has nothing to do with the truth of the matter, and repeatedly shows both the idiocy of the general populace and the intrinsic corrupting lack of critical sensibility endemic to a world dominated by the attention economy.

The chief shitheel of this type of "journalism" has to be Michael Moore. I will never forget the final scene of Bowling for Columbine, with Moore having scammed his way into an interview with Charlton Heston, then pegging him with questions demanding an apology for a post-shooting rally in Michigan, which Heston quite rationally responds to by getting up and walking the fuck away. All the while, Moore is calling after him, voice sadly pleading, "Mr. Heston? Mr. Heston?"

God, it was fucking disgusting. It's just pure manipulation. How is there a living human who's bullshit detector doesn't explode when they see this? Because I knows, know, that some people reading this have seen that crap and thought it was a good report, very impactful. Those people are why Heinlein was right about democracy. I can't give a shit about freedom of the press, guys. I understand a general concern for the freedom of information, but the concept of the press as cultural watchdogs sucks. They're helping to drag it to the lowest common denominator. I have a very hard time giving a shit about newspapers being bought out or disappearing altogether. Burn that shit to the ground, for all I care; the institutional press is garbage.

If I see Moore in person, I might stab him. I wouldn't shoot him, which would just turn him into more of a martyr. Besides...
guns are too quick...
For those who haven't figured this out, I think you should stop watching shit like that. Do it now. The more aggressive and emotional the report, the less you should pay attention to it.

You should never blame a subject for walking away. It's the only thing they can do. The investigators invariably come at the mark with loaded questions and accusations that they are totally unprepared to answer. The enemy controls the camera, so you can count on selective editing. And since they've been researching you and have invested such time and effort into using you as a target in their dart-throwing amusement park attraction for kids, NOTHING that the target says can possibly help. Why do you think they try to catch the exec by surprise? So they can give her a fair shot?!

No one except lockstep liberals should allow themselves to be interviewed by the mainstream press, on their terms, in front of a camera. Period. If you're a part of something that the media criticizes and you don't have professional media training, let them talk, then create a YouTube video to put out your side of it.

There is enough on the web that describes the liberal press as an echo chamber, but it's more than that. If attention is a currency - and I'm quite convinced that it is - then the mainstream media is the equivalent of the banking industry. It loans out its power of exposure to those it deigns worthy, based on both the values of the involved journalists and the marketability of the product being sold. In the theoretical broad strokes, public opinion can move the market and affect the sellers, but the sellers regularly adjust public opinion by what it places on the shelves, remaking our expectations according to what's offered, so long as the pill is just palatable enough to be swallowed. Naturally, they don't present it that way. News is presented as giving us what we want, like any good sales pitch. None of this has anything to do with objective truth.

This has happened because the new technology has allowed a centralizing of power in the dimension of information. This information infrastructure has overwhelmed the parochial cultural networks which used to create regional identity as well as passing along regional information that was limited enough to be verified and acted on. Since this world-shrinking shift, it should be no surprise that the state and local have lost power to the international and global. Even if the individual hesitates, the localized networks kept people in check with intimate relationships which enabled accountability, and that's not always fun. So the global media behemoth provides liberation of the individual from the rigors of localized interdependency as its incentive, and eventually, everyone who feels oppressed at some point in their lives - namely, everyone - hops on board at some point.

The media takes every emotionally-shared feature of humanity and twists it into a bland, broad narrative that reinforces the sense of good versus evil they want to reinforce. The details are pasted over as irrelevant. This is how emotional manipulation is done on a mass scale: crudely.

You can't do it any other way. The bigger the audience, the more broadly the net has to be cast. The standardized tricks work: you present your research seriously to encourage the impression that you are a professional, and show yourself interviewing and chasing the perps to encourage empathy. You use stock Bad Guy music in the background, or no music at all, depending on your level of seriousness. And you give little tidbits of "well, this could have been a mistake, so we carefully checked everything" to fool people into thinking you're being even-handed in your investigation.

Every time someone watches, a payment is made to them. In exchange, the viewer does not expect or even want even-handedness, not really. Once the facts have been established - or appropriately muddled - what the audience really wants is to watch the side that they've bought into kick some ass.

In a physical fight, brutal beatings of a clearly inferior opponent are taken as dishonorable. In the economic world, exploiting superior capital in hostile takeovers or dragging out court proceedings until the other side goes broke are clearly recognized as disgusting. There, in worlds run by men, we recognize the dangers of not giving all sides a sporting chance and expect restraint. But in the attention economy, dominated by liberals, where people have decided not to be conscious of the deep moral and consequential ambiguity of most situations, where the overdogs deny their own power even to themselves, they love a violent, honorless thrashing of the Chosen Demon Scapegoat. The behavior is just... primitive. I'd prefer the relative honesty of the Two Minutes Hate.
I'll take my manipulation right out there in the open.
And we should be so lucky to experience a media with the integrity of our financial sector. The financial sector loses its shit with every boom-bust cycle, which means about every sixty years. The media loses its shit as often as possible, because that's what draws eyeballs. They are not accountable for a healthy, stable society. They benefit from a crumbling foundation, which becomes film at eleven.

In the past, the ambiguity of truth in values provoked some forms of decorum when it came to argument. Debate is formalized. Academics love to say that they merely present information, not a biased cultural viewpoint. Despite our cynicism, some people still think that a formal trial actually serves the interests of discovering the truth. We still pay a very rough, dutiful attention to political conversations, supposedly without prejudging things, and scorn open hacks like Sean Hannity and Dylan Ratigan in dinner table conversation.

But they get great ratings. That's what actually matters. I really wish we could just admit that journalism is entertainment and nothing more. It can't get more obvious. After the non-stop coverage of Paris Hilton going to jail, and after realizing that most of your TV news gets delivered by chicks with great tits, what more do you need? The information economy is competitive, and they will draw you in. We don't want to know the reality; we want voyeur stimulus and ammunition for arguments. We want to win.

Now, you know they aren't on your side, so why would you listen to them? Do you think you'll be accused of close-mindedness? Why would you be considered close-minded for not listening to them, when there are so many other people in the world who's bullshit opinion you aren't listening to, who don't happen to have airtime on TV?

There are over three hundred million people in this one country alone. The press, as an institution, does very little to justify the superior attention income it gets from everyone else. Think about it as a matter of equality, for Christ's sake: why should we all pay attention to these people, focusing our minds where they say we should? Why not listen to Bill down the street? Why not listen to your grandma? The opportunity costs for spending time and effort listening to the press make it a terrible deal. These are big issues, issues other people higher in the hierarchy are supposed to handle, and the press isn't giving you the full story, ever, so why bother taking one side in a game where you have so little skin?

So, the solution is clear. Stop listening. Stop watching. Cut off the cable. Tune in to people you know and trust. Lend your ears to those who's values are close to your own. Keep your eyes local and pay attention to problems closer to you. Be a part of a community, not a make-believe global village.