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Don't play with the nice alligator

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted February 21, 2011

Laura LoganIf there were any lesson associated with the sexual assault of Lara Logan last week, it would be how ideologies breed fools. Conservatism is easy to look down upon because conservatives prize empirical knowledge and look sceptically upon ideologies. Belying the misconstrual of it as "authoritarian," conservatism prizes knowledge acquired the slow and often hard way. There's no way to gain that kind of knowledge without striking out on one's own and finding one's own way. Kids raised in an authoritarian manner don't do that; they live in the shadows of their authorities. Those people, although definitely rating pity, do not acquire the wisdom that conservatism prizes.

Ideologists are the simple souls of the intellectual world. Like their non-intellectual analog, ideologists are stout-hearted. They're easy to predict, and can be counted on within their limits. They're the salt of the academic earth, which explains why universities and other educational institutions are chock-full of them.

Unfortunately, ideologies provide fertile soil for intellectual vanity - the kind of vanity that encourages its devotees to play with the nice alligator. There's no need to focus on the repellent and angering victimization that Ms. Logan went through to see it: the fates of many reporters in Egypt provide enough empirical knowledge to show quite plainly that Egypt is not Montgomery.

Here's Yer Lesson Plan

The ideology of American liberalism is somewhat of a grab bag. The trinket that got liberal reporters in trouble is a domestic-foreign gewgaw that's a pillar of the creed. In the liberal ideology, there's a definite us-and-them streak. The entire world is divided into two groups of people: those who act like "us," who are good, and those who act in a manner contrary to "us," who are bad. By default, the neutral are presumptively good. Liberals' line of reasoning about the Egyptian mob is painfully simple: the Egyptian protestors were publicly standing up to a ruler that kept his place through rigged elections. Therefore, they're "us." What could be simpler?

To the typical upper-middle-class liberal, it is that simple – it really is. I focus on them not because I aspire to be the male answer to a Mean Girl, but because it's the price that has to be paid to make the upper reaches of the middle class. School's a grind; it was even when I was in it. Nowadays, the competitive heat is much greater. The time needed to acquire marketable skills for professional-level success is too huge for the typical student to not passively take in the standard ideology. The only professionals who tend to leave schooling conservative are engineers. Conservatism emphasizes empirical knowledge; so does engineering. Engineering teaches caution in the face of unknowns. So does conservatism. Conservatives live in a world of trade-offs. A perennial engineer's joke is, "It can work, it can be fast, it can be cheap. Pick two, 'cause two is all you can get."

Other professions, most dealing with business, have other ideologies that sound realistic and are easy to reason with at the verbal level. When it comes to the fuzzier subjects, liberalism is still the hands-down favourite.

To be properly anti-ideological, it's best to think of an ideology as a system designed to turn clever people into fools. David Horowitz, back when he was a leftist, saw the damage this can do first-hand. Leftists fervently believe that a lower-class person must be a victim. In the leftist world, the "petty bourgeois" are the high-school bullies of life. Cut out of the system, they take it out on the lower class. The lowers are like the kid whose bicep gets punched when he shows a little self-confidence. With this image, it's hard for a leftist to see that some lowers are the high-school bullies (or worse.) When confronted by obvious counterexamples, leftists resort to apologias and even mythification. Frank isn't a criminal; he's a victim of society. He's depraved on account of he's deprived. If he's of the proletariat, he must have been bullied – he must have been a victim somehow. He must be perpetuating a cycle of abuse. Leftists have to think this way, else the leftist model develops a stress crack.

It's this kind of thinking that sometimes makes leftists punching bags themselves, which does give them a certain moral aura. It also gives them a creditable inner toughness. It also backfires. As Horowitz and Peter Collier show in Destructive Generation, leftist ideology can literally get you killed. Witness the murder of Fay Stender, a left-liberal to the bone. 

The fate of her and others like her is typically chalked up to the same phrase that draws mirth from leftists when used by others. Fay Stender's fate was an outlier, an anomaly. An isolated incident that does not impugn the good name of the long-suffering community of the lower class. With this "lens," it's no wonder that lower class victims of lower class criminals fall into a blind spot.  

There's a similar blind spot in American liberalism, which has led to real pain and suffering of journalists like Lara Logan. Liberal internationalism is strangely parochial: everything seems to relate to recent American politics. Poor third-world nations? They must be in need of government aid, like the American unemployed! Demonstrators out on the streets? They must be like those nice and gracious civil-rights protestors back in the good old days! Kleptocracies? Savages? What are you, a right winger?

It should be no surprise that those unpleasant facts about the wider world have the same effect on American liberals as would a screening of O Lucky Man! on an audience of full-bore Objectivists. Being the bearer of unpleasant lens-cracking facts is the easy way to put oneself in the "right wing" part of the liberal divide. The one where Hosni Mubarack is "obviously" a regular listener to the Rush Limbaugh Show.

Breaking Free

I don't want my kidding to suggest it's easy to break free from a now-counterproductive ideology. It's actually a long, hard process.

More practicable would be to assume that foreigners have their own apprehensions of "freedom" and different expectations for democracy. To a greater extent than many liberals realize, "national self-determination" in the Middle East means the freedom to kill Jews. "Liberation" means being free to enforce Sharia law. "Freedom" means no longer being constrained by treating women as equals. "Liberation from imperialism" means no longer being held to American norms – including liberal norms. And, "democracy" is seen as the ticket to implementing all four of those aims. This kind of protestor, needless to say, is nothing like the nice African-Americans in the Freedom Ride days.

Lara Logan is still alive, thankfully, but she does make for a real Fay Stender figure. It could be that she's nothing more than a bold risk-taker who pushed the envelope to a crash landing. But, that neat package doesn't explain why so many of her colleagues have had scrapes themselves. I suggest, to anyone who blames competitiveness or ambition, that there's more to the story. 

No, I don't mean the Muslim Brotherhood is chock-full of Glenn Beck fans. ESR

Daniel M. Ryan is currently watching the gold market. He can be reached at danielmryan@primus.ca. (C) 2011 Daniel M. Ryan

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