Which is not a question whose possible answers admit of a whole lot of shades of grey, actually…either it’s cool with you or it isn’t.
And so maybe this is the essence of the “vote while holding your nose” thing?
I was thinking today about what draws young people to conservative viewpoints…that is, I mean, to Conservative viewpoints. If we can separate out local social factors like the politics you were raised with, the need to choose a “team” that is drilled into you among your peers, matters of aesthetics and the pressure to form your personality by forming your tastes in distinction to the tastes of others around you…if we can separate those local social factors out, what else is left that can explain the attraction?
I think it’s the promise held out by a certain type of intellectual rigour, a steeling oneself to the skeptic’s role, the rationalist’s role, against even one’s own inherent weakness; the promise of the crucible, and of the action of right choice. If one senses somehow that one would like to be better…well, I am not saying that isn’t a very great and rare achievement, to be capable of sensing such a thing, without any training, without any explicitly-delivered vocation, just out of one’s own personal feeling. And to wish to pursue a more encompassingly rational perspective, there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Everybody who’s got the sense God gave a goose wants that, for heaven’s sake…!
Of course it’s much easier to play the role of rationalist than it is to be a rationalist…to play the role, after all, only requires the sort of discipline that is its own reward. Genuine rationality subjects its own methods and conclusions to scrutiny above all, and mistrusts easy reinforcement and the allure of positional superiority; to enact the role of rationality, on the other hand, only requires an intellectual justification for preferring one’s own biases to those of others. Not that just anyone can do it, you understand, not that just anyone can find their way to such justifications! Because it does in fact require intelligence, it does require a disciplined and an agile mind, it requires sterling effort to come up with an objective reason for why one happens to be always right, and never wrong. And in one’s novitiate days there is indeed much to learn from older and wiser heads; there are plenty of pitfalls one is tempted by, and the corrections administered are not few, and sometimes they are not gentle. So to do this may offer many rewards, but it is not easy; there is a species of humility that is active here. It’s not all just “I am the best, I should be the best, I have something inside me that is begging to be let out, and it’s something admirable!“, but there is also the idea that one can’t simply grasp at the key, one must be given it; and so one must be worthy of it.
Think I don’t know what I’m talking about?
Oh, but I do. Because I was recruited many times, when I was younger, over and over in fact, into the astonishingly arduous role of Young Conservative Guy…and I’m well-acquainted with the idea that the more you load on the back of the camel, the bigger a lion it eventually turns into when it gets out into the desert, and far from anywhere. That’s why I’m saying that young people who are drawn to the Conservative aren’t simply idiots — well, they’re not idiots! And they aren’t just purely venal hypocrites, tempted by riches. Often hypocrisy can be as hard a road as any, and harder than most; one may labour in the fields of hypocrisy for decades before being plucked out to sit at the right hand of that land’s king…and some never get there. Don’t be so naive as to think the hypocrites among us never struggle to conquer bitterness and disappointment; they do. The universe is the same in every direction, after all. The disinfectant properties of sunlight come to everyone equally. And people are not any less people because they happen to be smart, or loyal to an ideal, or willing to work hard against terrible obstacles.
But the question still is — as Jesus, Mohammed, and the Buddha all said — not whether lies can sometimes be preferable to truth, but what you’re willing to do about it when they are. And it’s a tough game, that. It is not so acrobatically-demanding, so gymnastically-admirable, Gold Medal Star, as finding a way around truth no matter what it is, that obvious exercise of virtuosity…sometimes the big accomplishment in this game is to be a nobody and a nothing, no different from anybody else, an unspecial person with an unspecial decision in their hands that they can simply make one way or another, and never with any hope of fanfare.
Does it matter if your guy lies, so long as he wins?
Well, it’s a trick question, isn’t it?
Because it’s not whether it matters. It’s what you’re going to do about that mattering, that counts.
Which is, of course, the part nobody ever sees. And there are no blue ribbons for. No red ribbons either, or white. No ribbons at all, in fact…
…See even those who only play at rationalism, have to be true rationalists at some point. Even if it’s only by themselves. A Sports Day nobody comes to; a sack race nobody can win. Don’t think for a second that it’s easy to be intellectually agile, or to have already wrung a disciplined nature from the world. It really isn’t. It never is.
The thing is whether it’s cool with you if your guy wins, by lying.
And no one is asking you to switch your vote just because it’s not…but is it?
Me, I’m an old guy, and I’ve had the biscuit. Evolution has spoken (in the form of the opinions of the girls I know), and I’ve got nothing to lose by saying that in 2011 lying is what we need least, in this election. This is a pivot-point, I’m pretty sure. I feel it all around me. The question used to be, how much do you care, if your guy has to lie to win?
But now it’s: how far are you prepared to take that?
You can take it as far as you want, of course. I’ll be dead before the daisies come up. But I’m voting Green, this election. And it’s only for one reason.
Because as far as I can tell (and believe me I’ve been watching!), Elizabeth May doesn’t lie.
Think that makes me stupid, to think that? Or to base a vote on that?
A member of my extended family (he was a Member of Parliament too, but I love him best for the other stuff) said on a birthday of his not too long ago that if you want good government it’s pretty easy. Just locate people of character, force them to run, and then move heaven and earth to get them elected.
I remember thinking, “wow, that is a crazily old-mannish way of looking at the world, super out-of-date, maybe the most naive second-childhood thing I’ve ever heard.”
And then I remember thinking, “oh no, holy crap, he’s right.”
That was the night I got drunk off a bottle of liberated vodka in the parking lot with Pat Carney and we broke some stuff, too — we broke some rules, too! — but that’s not germane to the discussion today.
That’s germane to the discussion tomorrow.
I am horrified by the way the debate went tonight. Last election we had a nice table, the leaders had cups of coffee, they sat next to each other, if they were pissed-off they had to bend their head and scratch at their eyebrow as normal people do. If they were mad at somebody they could reach over and lay a hand on their wrist. Tables are so much better. I felt this was something that Canadians could boast about:
“Oh, you have your candidates stand behind podia and emote to the camera? Right, we have them sit around a table shoulder-to-shoulder and talk to each other.”
You can learn a lot that way. But tonight it was so stultifying, the leaders just don’t have any guts, they can’t operate without the cue-cards. They’re supposed to debate the issues, not sell themselves. What a closed system. THERE WAS SO MUCH LYING.
I have really and truly come to be NOT COOL with my guy winning by lying. Your mileage may vary, of course. But I will just about vote for ANYBODY who doesn’t lie.
After all, the universe is the same in every direction. Either a person tells a lie because they think it will advantage them, or they don’t.
If they do, they’d tell any lie.
So please ask yourself what you’re going to do about that.
Dear Reader, I hope your thoughts remain ever with
Your true friend,
Andrew, there was some study done in the UK about AV (but MAN I think AV would work well here Provincially!! Throw in those good graphics too, if you would!) being necessary because FPTP will only lead to more and more hung Parliaments due to young people being more and more willing to vote off-message?
Link, please? I mean, if you’d be so kind.
Something else to say here…
Oh yeah: Brian if you’re out there, there is a line somewhhere in this post I want to use as a lyric in that last song…
Race you to it?
Something else to say, hrmm…it’s bugging me…Stephen Harper lied?…no that’s not it, why would that tweak my memory if he did…
…Oh, it’ll come to me I’m sure.
Oh yeah, here’s Elizabeth’s actual site, I didn’t put that in the post because I just didn’t want to be TOTALLY partisan…
…Damn it, there’s one more thing.
AV will lead to more hung Parliaments, not less. The Liberals will gain a few more seats, two-thirds at the expense of the Tories.
Then they’ll spend thirty years going on about how caring they are and then jump in bed with the first Thatcherite Tory who offers them a cabinet post. Oh no, that bit’s already happened.
Clone, let’s separate issues!
AV, I am convinced, would work GREAT for Provincial politics in Canada. I don’t think anyone in the country would be on board with Federal AV. Not for another twenty years at least, anyway.
That’s Separation #1.
But it’s Separation #2 that really interests me! I’m obviously in a huge election mindset right now, considering everything…Clone how do you feel about laying some stuff out for me about how it all works in the UK, and what’s at stake and not at stake in this…is it an actual referendum, a plebiscite, what?
Andrew’s been so kind as to fill me in pretty thoroghly with his view of things. What’s yours, O much appreciated occasional commenter?
I know I don’t need to remind anyone around here that we’re doing the Free And Frank Exchange bit now…so no anger please? Unless Clone is about to be a big Nazi…
Clone, you don’t seem like the Big Nazi type though, do you?
Maybe this advisory was superfluous. Oh God, once again I fail at blogging.
Hell no, I’m more the sarcastic lefty type. My modus op is never to get involved in an internet slanging match.
The AV business works as so: once upon a distant time, we had two parties. The Whigs or Tories (feel free to boo), and the Liberals. Broadly speaking, right and left respectively. Along came the universal franchise and the working class Labour Party mostly replaced the Liberals, except in certain rural areas like the West Country. The Liberals almost blinked out of existence a couple of times, especially when they tried going into coalition with the Tories. By the middle of the last century, the UK had two parties with almost equal support and almost all the votes, so FPTP was reasonably equitable and tended to deliver government majorities.
In the eighties the Labour Party split, with centrists forming their own party which eventually merged with the Liberals, becoming the Liberal Democrats. They complained, fairly, that FPTP disenfranchised their voters, since they were getting 15% of the voters and sod-all seats. They were, and are, the big supporters and potential gainers from PR or AV. During the interminable Thatcher-Major years, they were also firmly on the left. Most viewed them as natural allies of Labour.
Only Labour under Blair got such a huge majority they didn’t need the Lib Dems, and given FPTP was working so well for them, plenty of leftists supported it. Most rightist were and firmly against AV or PR or any changes to the voting system.
Anyway, the last election delivered an awkward result where the Tories had the most MPs but no majority. Years of intolerant Tory social policy had driven a certain type of budding politician to become Liberals rather than Tories, Nick Clegg being a prime example, and he’s now leader. He got straight into bed with the Tories, allowing them to do whatever the hell they wanted economically as long as certain pet projects of his went ahead. A huge chunk of his vote at the last election, conditioned to think of the Liberals as leftist, feel utterly betrayed and he’s now a figure of derision and mockery. Their poll rating has collapsed and the only hope they have of surviving the carnage is to change the electoral system. They’d prefer PR, but Cameron told them to get stuffed. The best they could manage was a referendum on the alternative vote, which Clegg famously called “a miserable compromise” (oh, those hostages to fortune). His Tory allies hate the whole idea and want it to fail. Clegg’s party is fucked if AV isn’t won: they’ll have betrayed their voters for nothing.
Meanwhile, Labour voters are being asked to vote for a change that will benefit their political enemies and reinforce the coalition they want to bring down. The only real strength that the Yes campaign has it that it (marginally) is more fair, and is therefore a good thing.
But see, this is EXACTLY why I bothered to mention the “everybody play nice” rule, because Andrew for one is FIERCELY opposed to your point of view, and I just want everyone to know that they’re in a safe conversational zone.
Back in a moment…
Hum, to me it seems a major factor in this is the sorta Orwellian shit that Labour has been pulling, kind of a “caught spitting on the sidewalk in the wrong place? gonna take your kids away from you” infrastructure buildup.
Actually in Canada it just would’ve been about “ho hum, time for a change” no matter if there was a mountie standing in your bathroom to make sure you peed right, but I like to think the Brit Folk In General are more…activated to mdemocratic issues? Even the assholes?
So Clone, what about that “Big Brother” shit. You think it made a difference?
INVESTIGATORY! The weird thing is that if your political system was somehow teleported over to ours, the LibDems would be in majority. Don’t believe it? Brother, BELIEVE IT.
Libertarians, like Millenarians, always live at five minutes to midnight, so there were some who saw some of Labour’s illiberal moves in an Orwellian light. There was some stuff I strongly disagreed with, such as ID cards, but personally I don’t think there’s anywhere near the evidence for that conclusion. Labour passed the Human Rights Act, which enshrined fundamental rights into law. Something no government had managed before them. No to mention the self-deny ordinance of devolution for Scotland and Wales, which arithmetically cost Labour the 2010 General Election. Not the acts of proto-Stalins.
The amazing thing about the 2010 election wasn’t Labour losing. They were exhausted, had an unelectable leader, just presided over a banking crisis and the subsequent economic collapse. And still the Tories couldn’t manage to win it.
…and even Canada couldn’t elect the Liberals. They’re absolutely out of their depth in government. They make Cameron look competent, and that takes some doing.
Just reread this, and one point I’d like to make is that it seems to grant rationality to the Conservatives and not to the Liberals. But obviously there’s nothing necessarily non-rational, arational, antirational or irrational about the Liberals. Necessarily.
And there is certainly no guarantee that the Conservatives are going to live up to any standard of rationality.
For that matter, I would say that, in most cases, lying is not rational. In the long run. I mean, you could make up some kind of story where it would be rational, and it wouldn’t take you long to do it. But in most cases.
Oh, I don’t think the Conservatives are rational! But they’re in love with the seeming of rationality, and among some young people I think that’s where the draw is: the seeming’s easier than the actual stuff. Naturally enough, since its function is to excuse bad behaviours…no, they would not live up to any standards of rationality in government, nor have they…
It’s just more of the Mystique of the Elect, it’s garbage. Some parties have questionable economic credentials (for example), but the anglophonic world’s current crop of conservative thinkers operate from thoroughly discredited economic theories. Liberals are a far more actually-rational bunch, and perhaps as a consequence lie much less…what’s that old saying about using lies sparingly because a good lie is a rare thing? Whereas truth is common. But I’m not sure lying is rational at all either, not sure I believe that there’s often such a thing as an end that justifies a means — “given his objectives, his actions were rational”, it’s a thing we say all the time but I think it’s become a kind of cant; if the objective is fundamentally incoherent, how can the pursuit of it be rational? Or, to be a bit less extreme: if the objective is simply poorly thought-out, dumb, self-destructive, is it possible to separate out the means from the ends so easily as all that? I’d call this another example of the old Plato vs. Machiavelli first-year paper, we are disposed to consider ourselves Machiavellian creatures, with necessarily-compartmentalized motives…there is a sense in which the trumping of personal inclination by the duty embodied in a role is beneficial, of course (Harper could stand to learn some of that!), but there’s another sense in which that’s just an excuse to behave hypocritically. And if we consider hypocrisy irrational, then the Harper government has certainly demonstrated that “rational” is the last thing they actually want to be…
I guess I should re-read the thing, myself…
…But I just get so pissed-off, you see.
Some of the bird’s-eye perspective Clone supplies up top, is what I hoped to put in another post: “Why I’m Voting Green”, or something like that…I may have to break down and slap all that stuff in the comments here, but lemme just mull that over for a bit…
I don’t think the Conservatives are rational! But they’re in love with the seeming of rationality, and among some young people I think that’s where the draw is: the seeming’s easier than the actual stuff. Naturally enough, since its function is to excuse bad behaviours…no, they would not live up to any standards of rationality in government
Which leads us to this question: is it conservatism itself that’s not rational, or just conservatism as it’s currently being practiced?
See, I think that it shouldn’t be too hard for some theoretical conservative party to get me on its side. But then, I tend to think that what conservatism basically is is the idea that the status quo is a pretty safe place to be and we should be careful about messing with it. That’s fairly rational, isn’t it?
But then maybe I’m just being naive and what conservatism really is is the idea that everything that happens in the world should happen only for the benefit of eleven rich people, and the more this brings death and suffering to everyone else in the world, the better. Which is not rational. But is that what it really is, or has it just been hijacked?
I mean, I hope it’s the first thing and that we can get back to it. But if it’s really the second thing, then I’m just being a sucker even to entertain the notion; I’m playing into their hands.
It’s been hijacked. I’m pretty sure conservativism is a defensible and rational position…environmentalism can be conservative, a love of specificity and actuality can be conservative. Those things don’t need the Big C name on them to be good. And, I’m not saying that a conservative point of view can’t do great evil in the world! But it is (probably) not an evil in the world. However, now we have this oxymoronic thing, “radical conservativism”, which is basically the old crypto-fascist stuff come back again in yet another different colour of tie. Code for “corporatism”, only now it isn’t about the allied private interest being empowered by the ideology, but rather the reverse. Harper in the debates, with his frozen “God-I-wish-I-didn’t-have-to-be-here” simper, said the same thing he said last time only without having Elizabeth May at his elbow to call him on it…”I like the arts, I use the public health system”…those things are both true, but it doesn’t mean he isn’t politically motivated to seek their destruction.
And that’s far beyond the usual conservative working-of-evil, that’s traditionally made itself felt in the mere attempt to preserve privilege. Everywhere in the West that political parties are operating under the banner of conservatism, we’re seeing a “smash the toys” sort of imperative animating them…and for me it’s reminiscent of…
Darn, lost the thought, and now there is phone business to do. Back later! Hope it will have been worth waiting for.
Breaking down modern conservatism, I see three distinct strands: corporatism, libertarianism and traditionalism.
Corporatism, which is basically Thatcherism, sees the market not merely benign but a great power for good, and any infringement of it as fundamentally wrong. This doesn’t necessarily lead to domination by huge corporations, but in practice has, so they’d better support it.
Libertarians emphasise the importance of the rights of the individual and see the state as an oppressive, coercive force which more or less has to be malign.
And traditionalists — what in the UK we call one-nation Tories — believe that the way things were done in the past is the best way they should be done in the future. They’re often environmentalists, though the past has its share of environmental horror stories.
Conservative parties (OK, I admit I know the UK Tories the best) are coalitions of these different interests, which in my opinion are all internally self-consistent politically philosophies. As it happens, I dislike all three to varying degrees, but that’s another matter. There’s no automatic reason why the three should be bedfellows. There’s a clear clash between corporate power and the rights of the individual. Traditionalists and Thatcherites have usually disliked each other. And individualism clashes with traditionalism where, as it often does, what was done in the past did not maximise individual freedom.
This is a bit of a tricky one. My observation is that we don’t really have “libertarianism” in Canada in that sense — not as an ingredient or even a seasoning in the stew of mainstream political belief. There are some card-carrying Libertarians, to be sure…but, you know, there’s a difference between the definition of this idea in Canada, and the definition it’s got in the States. Here, though it’s certainly a “holdable” belief it’s a comically quixotic one, like being one of those air-dieting people, or maybe like the guy in Lloydminster who only eats Kraft Dinner…
…Which is why I was just about shocked last year or whenever it was, when I came across someone from the UK who seemed to hold to that American-style normative small-l stuff. So maybe that person is a little bit kooky/trendy, or maybe it’s just that I’m too used to thinking everywhere in the world is just like here at home…Canada’s a big place with lots of bears in it, and when people talk about wanting smaller government they only mean they want to pay less tax and figure they can justify it by using the American libertarian lingo. But everybody pretty much knows “smaller government” is a dumb thing to want for Canada, and among non-billionaires this stuff doesn’t come up in conversation even when the subject is how the government sucks, and outside the cities it’s pretty easy not to have to be bothered with the government too much anyway. Plenty of rocks and trees to hide behind, if that’s anyone’s inclination; fifty miles north of where I sit is all the personal freedom I could ever want, I can literally see it out my window.
Corporatism we do got, but I think you’re too kind to it in your description above — at least here, the flavour of “excuse” is very strong about it (which is only right, since I’d argue that’s its main allure: nobody really thinks the invisible hand is good, they just want themselves not to have to be bad, right?), and most conservatives I personally know, even the pro-business budget-balancing ones, don’t see it as a subscribable point of view. Which is maybe just to say most of the conservatives I know aren’t ideologues? Meanwhile in the governments there are plenty of people who’d love to rise to the level of being ideologues but aren’t quite smart enough to manage it: they simply stand for the interests of their financial contributors, that’s all. Some of whom actually are ideologues, of course…!
Traditionalists we’ve definitely got, though.
Hmm, that may be a bit too rough-and-ready a summary…
Oh well, I can always expand on it later!
Naturally, no sooner do I say that than I see some guy from the horrible Fraser Institute jabbering away about how co-payments are a great idea, etc. etc…the invisible hand that makes everything work so much better. But of course he is paid to be an ideologue, and he’s not talking to average people but to politicians: giving them his blueprint.
“Co-payments.” It’s a word that gives everyone a shudder but this guy.
Certainly, I was trying to be kind to corporatists. My gut feeling is that they’re greedy bastards who hate everyone poor than themselves, but you should make an effort to define them, if only to understand what damage they’re trying to do. Neither corporatism or libertarianism are major movements in the UK, but there are proportionately more of them in the political classes (not all Tories by any mean) than in the general population. Most voters aren’t committed politically, thank goodness.
A major factor in how you vote is what team you’re on, though. Even if the Tories came up with a manifesto which entirely fitted my worldview, I’d have difficulty putting an X against their candidate. My team’s far from perfect: I was disappointed and frustrated with Brown and grew to loathe Blair, but I’m still fundamentally Labour. The identification is difficult to break once you reach a certain age. Which gives floating voters a disproportionate say in how countries are run.
That Ignatieff is a funny one. I read many of his columns back in the nineties and saw him speaking a couple of times. He’s intelligent and thoughtful, but back then he was constructing a philosophy of intervention that was beginning to smell a lot like neo-imperialism. I see from Wikipedia that he fell into a neocon-shaped elephant trap, and I’m not surprised. He didn’t seem to have a great deal of charisma. I’m a bit shocked he made it to leader of the party.
I’ll be kind to them too, and not use Mussolini’s definition…although hey, it’s good to have everyone occupy their own rung on the big social ladder, I guess! But they’re pretty uncomplicated really: “more for me” about sums it up. Keith Thomas would say this goes all the way back to the Providential mentality of the 17th century; if you’re behaving in a rapacious way, say it’s self-defence, then say your own self-defence is in the interest of the greater good…pretty soon the person you’re ripping off is an ogre, and you’re Sir Galahad. Confucius had it right, I think:
“In a country well-governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of; in a country poorly-governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”
A powerful motivator, that shame stuff. Who wouldn’t a person get rid of, to escape it?
I’m glad there ain’t no libertarianism of that American kind up here, though, I’ll tellya…
For me the team stuff never came into play, it’s been a big nose-holding marathon since I was old enough to realize that I couldn’t vote the way my parents did. Never a moment’s rest since then, except for the glorious booting of the Tories upstairs to bed without their dinner. But things are much worse now. You’re right about Ignatieff, I’d heard him lecture a couple times before his name started to be nosed about, and thought just as you did: intelligent guy, thoughtful guy, and at that particular time it was easy to forgive someone a bend towards interventionism, as long as it wasn’t simply a stupid popularity-seeking slight bend. When he first came back I thought he’d make for an attractive candidate, but didn’t rate his chances as very good. But the Liberal Party of Canada LOVES INFIGHTING, everybody wants to be king of the castle, even the backroom-dealers. They do a lot of fiddling while Rome burns, they’re more partisan within their own ranks than they are in the HoC…and the story of Ignatieff’s ascension is a funny one, too. He’s looking a bit better as the campaign wears on, but essentially we’re talking about the only guy in the country who could lose a charisma contest with Stephen Harper…which balances out nicely, since Harper is the only person in the country who could lose an affability contest with Michael Ignatieff. They were made for each other: both hopeless. But only one of them’s actually evil…