"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The height of political sophistimacation

 "Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative."
-John Stuart Mill

This epigram from Mill has been bouncing around my brain for a few days now, sparked in part by an evening of sparring on Twitter with a bunch of dedicated gun nuts who were crowing about the end of the gun registry, and in part by this post over at the Galloping Beaver condemning some of Margaret Wente's recent columns in the Mop&Pail.

 Both bring me to the same conclusion: that conservatives have abandoned any pretense of trying to put together sound, practical public policy based science, professional expertise and common sense and have instead decided to just do whatever they think will piss off "liberals" or "socialists" or "hippies" or whatever nonsensical catch-all label they've adopted this week for their imaginary enemies from Rush Limbaugh, Charles Adler or FOX TV's evil ventriloquist dummies .
We see it every year when they hold Earth Hour. You know the environmental awareness event where everybody shuts off all the unnecessary gadgets and goes without electric lights and stuff for part of an evening as a sort of feel-good event with little actual practical impact on environmental problems that is intended to raise awareness. You might take part, you might ignore it, but to the hard-core conservative base, it is taken as a challenge to turn on every light in the house and idle the truck in the driveway for an hour, just to be contrary and hopefully bait a 'liberal.'

My evening on Twitter with the gun nuts was like trying to push shit up hill. Every time you demonstrated that their argument was nonsensical, they would change tack. You showed via statistics that most gun murders were committed by people without previous serious criminal records, they argued that the government was afraid of an uprising by armed patriotic law-abiding citizens. You explained that no matter many times they had seen Red Dawn and how many guns they cached, the police and military would still have them outgunned, they suddenly wanted to talk about the right to hunt to put food on the table. You point out that they admitted they didn't hunt and they wanted to claim that cars are more dangerous than guns and on and on.
I'd go back and list some of the Twitter conversations if I had an infinite amount of time and patience but the tone of most of the posts from the pro-gun tweeters was "nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah stupid liberals!" They were mostly delighted to have won a victory over the forces of law, order and common sense mainly because they figured they had shown us evil, prejudiced, corrupt, intolerant authoritarian liberals at thing or two.
When I tried to pin down one guy on why the hell he needed a collection of semi-automatic (which sometimes means convertible to full auto) military style weapons, he admitted that he didn't hunt and he wasn't a sports shooter - he more or less said that he wanted to have them because people like me didn't think he should have them. In other words, he wanted them because he thought of it as some kind of trangressive behaviour that would annoy "liberals" and "socialists," which sounds to me like a very dangerous and expensive way to annoy your neighbours just for laughs. If that's all he wants them for, why not just get a yappy dog that barks all night instead of something that, if handled carelessly or used with malicious intent, could leave people dead? 
But no, this gun nut and many others would rather spite "the enemy" than let the police keep a valuable tool.
Speaking of valuable tools, let us move from the aptly named base to the elites: Margaret Wente's column, while it points out that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, then goes on to tell us that poor aren't really poor because they all have colour TVs and none of them are dying of smallpox anymore.

The story is the same in Canada. In Ontario, for example, 65 per cent of the bottom fifth of families by income have air conditioning. Seventy per cent have DVD players, 65 per cent have cable TV, 56 per cent have home computers and 98.9 per cent have colour TVs. (Thirty years ago, even the most affluent families had few, if any, of these things.)
Wow, it sounds like the poor in Ontario really have it easy! Until you think about just how much stupid and wrong is packed into this one paragraph. Many public housing developments or rental apartments come with air conditioning whether you can afford it or not. Getting your TV via cable has been the norm in Canada for about 40 years, especially in cities - have you tried using the old rabbit ears to pick up the new digital signals? Good luck with that.
Wente is correct that not even the most affluent families had DVD players or home computers in 1981, because DVD players hadn't been invented yet and home computers were still in their infancy (The original Apple Mac didn't come out for another few years, though a few of  us already had big 16K or even 32K desktop BASIC machines from Radio Shack. I don't think even the Commodore 64 was on the market at that point.)
As for her claim about colour television being a rarity in 1981, let me say two thing. First, Ha! and second, I'm not sure you can even buy a B&W set anymore, hell it's tough to find a TV that uses a tube anymore. 
What this column, and so many, many more of Wente's have in common is that they are built around her efforts to be contrarian, to challenge what she sees as "conventional wisdom" and "political correctness" - to be a rugged individualist and an independent thinker. Which is all well and good if one is:

  •  a) someone who is an outsider, not a member of The Establishment and former managing editors of the Globe and Mail and the Report on Business are pretty much the definition of The Establishment; and 
  • b) not completely full of shit. Independent thinking still requires thinking, not merely contradicting what a lot of other people are saying and then trying to justify your contrarian position by making shit up. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.

This column, like much of Wente writing is little more than a defence of privilege and justification for being a selfish prick, which is pretty much the entire raison-d'etre for most people self-identifying as conservatives these days. They are selfish pricks who needed to come up with a justification for being selfish pricks, so they constructed a rickety morally-bankrupt psuedo-philosophy to try to defend their awful behaviour.
It was much the same when the civil rights movement was gaining momentum. Lots and lots of comfortable white people came up with all kinds of bullshit reasons that segregation was necessary and even beneficial rather than simply admit that they were racist shitheads. Over time, these bullshit reasons were seen for the bullshit that they were and the racist shitheads recognized as what they were.
So when someone claims they are a Randite libertarian conservative or a lassiez-faire market capitalist -- which loosely translated mean "I'm all right, Jack" -- what it usually means is they are a selfish prick who just doesn't want to admit they are a selfish prick.