Friday, February 25, 2011

American Conservatives: this is what you swore to conserve.

I should like very much to credit this illustration, but I cannot. I'd appreciate knowing who made it, and where I should link it, other than imigr.com, for I suspect they may have many other interesting things to say.
This is what makes the United States exceptional. If you wish to prate about "American Exceptionalism," you really must accept that the ideas and circumstances that made the US exceptional in the first place. It was founded on very radical propsitions, that were forced upon a reluctant population by very arrogant and foolish persons blinded by privilege and position. There was a general skepticism that it would work, and indeed, it took a civil war to resolve some of the compromises that made the experiment possible in the first place.

In other words, the American Experiment was a very expensive beta test. It has been, on balance, successful, but it took a lot of bloodshed and pain to demostrate it. It would be less than conservative to dismiss that with a handwave and say, in the finest tradition of liberal ideologes, "that is then, this is now, and history is irrelevant."

The first tenant of genuine Conservatism is this: "We don't care why it works, we see that it does work." Conservatives are not idolologues. We leave that to Liberals, populists, Randians, Marxists, Maoists, Fascists, Dominionist Christians and genuine, doctrinare, actual "islamofacists" who think that a theocratic Calafate is a good idea. Furthermore, Conservatives know this is a game, and the rules exist for a reason, so if you cheat, regardless of the apparent outcome, first, you did not win, and second, the outcome will be exactly the same, in the end, as if you had NOT won.. Save that, of course, it will be your innocent grandchildren who are put up against the wall, not you.

Those of you who seem entirely comfortable with that likelihood.. well, I think it obviously better that you go against the wall now, for your own sins, and not your grandchildren. Though as an Conservative, I also admit that in the long run, it will not matter to anyone outside of your lineage, it should matter to you, and the fact that it appears that you don't understand this argues against any genuine conservatism on your part, much less any protestation of  "family values."

Conservatives support that which works for most people, most of the time. Which means, in effect, upholding the right of all people to do what they damn well please and accepting a broad and evolving consensus as a basic assumption of what "civiliation" entails.

Conservatives care much about things like sewage and the rule of law... not so much about what happens in the bedrooms of people.. unless that requires alteration to plumbing or the adaptation of existing law. And in either case, it's the conservative position that those who wish adaptation to either law or plumbing work for it.

But if they do make their case, it becomes the new conservative reality.

Conservatives do not throw out the baby with the bath-water. They do not cut off their noses to spite their faces. They do not eschew fact in favor of ideological purity. These are the attributes of ideologues, and no true conservative is really all that comfortable with ideological purity. The true conservative response, when presented with a supposed "moral imperative" is to shoot their cuffs, smooth their perfectly tailored lapels and say, "why don't you show me the numbers on that?"

You see, no real conservative really supported the American Revolution. Conservatives were dubious, to say the least. Bad Kings come and go, said they, but Magna Carta and Britannia abide. They waited, and they saw. And indeed, an entire nation was founded upon the inevitable collateral damage. Today we call it Canada, and here in Canada, we are Conservative in the Burkean sense, to the very bone. To underline that point, an entire commonweath of nations have gained not just the liberties of the United States, but in many cases, rather more than that, by virtue of patience and working within the system. Mind you, it took a couple of centuries - but for most Americans - more than half, for more than half were black, hispanic, non-land-owners and not male- that was true as well. So actually, we all did end up in the same place at about the same time, as peoples and nations, by different means, and of course, inspired by each other.

As a liberal, I might argue that it would not have happened without America. As a conservative, I don't really have to care. For a conservative doesn't have to care how we got to the status quo ante, so long as the status quo is sufficient unto the needs of the day - and that that explains our reflexive distrust for the "neoconservatism" of the US variety, for we know it by it's true name. "NeoLiberalism."

That is to say, the offensive presumption that "the people that matter" actually do "know better" than the great masses, and if they should argue the point, that is because they are over educated and getting above themselves. As an elieist snob, I must confess that such a proposition is indeed attractive - but there is a difference between being actually, demonstrably elite and simply asserting the status without evidence.

Those taht would take a wrecking ball to what that does work, not because it fails to work but because it works in a way incompatible with their preferences are insufferable.

As a person that takes seriously the very conservative presumption that government is indeed about the "Greatest good for the greatest number" - well, then, by definition, Neo-liberalism cannot be conservative, for it's about the greatest benefit to the wealthiest few.. at this point in time.  That is to say, it is "penny wise, and pound foolish."


True conservatives learn from history. Mistakes are expensive, and having paid for them once, it's imprudent to repeat the same, obvious errors.

Now, you may be surprised at that, for we have all kinds of things up here that American Conservatives decry - gun control. A welfare state. A universal system of medical care that we defend against US and IMF encroachment like rabid weasels.

That is not due to ideology. That is because we have run the numbers, and they work, for us. The fact that it works for us may not work for YOUR idiological purists, but the only proper response to that is a cheerful "fuddleduck."

As Canadians, we do not believe that there are politics that transcend the personal or the local. We believe very firmly in "Peace, Order and Good Government" and the even more basic civiliational principle:

"No sudden moves; regular offers of food."

We know that is the difference between a dog and a wolf. And civilization is truly based on such essentials; who gets to stay outside in the cold, and who gets to sleep on the bed.

Canadians are not nearly as liberal as the US, historically. We are reluctant to change. If it ain't broke, we damn well won't fix it. Our culture is based on mercantilism and the values of prairie farmers. If you think Enron was evil, you should look up the history of Hudson's Bay Company! We are not morally superior, never have been. But we have learned, and try not to institutionalize our more obvious errors. Our government is generally small, lean, underfunded and professional to an extent that most Canadians take for granted and which would stun most Americans.

This is not intended as a "Canada, fuck YEAH!," moment. This is a reminder to my much beloved Southern Cousins that Conservatism is about keeping that which is unique, valuable and worth keeping. There is no Conservative value in theory. Conservatism is all about the tried and the true, the things that work.  It's not conservative to bulldoze and redo things from scratch. Conservatives preserve and extend from what exists.

So there can be no absolute Conservative ideal. All Conservatism is local. It is up to liberals to make the case that change is first desirable, and then necessary. It is up to conservatives to make them prove their arguments, force them to make their case, permit them to demonstrate the value of their ideals under controlled conditions. And then, in the rare but transcendentally important cases (as illustrated above,) take the evidence, accept it as real, and PRESERVE it.

For there will always be a new fad to tickle the minds of those easily persuaded. It should never be easy to prove the affirmative case. But once it has been proven, it's not Conservative to hold grudges. A conservative conserves that which is tried, true and proven, regardless of it's origin; otherwise, most of us would be illiterate serfs. It is up to suitably persuaded conservatives to make the minimally required changes affordable and workable toward the greatest benefit of a civil society.

The word for people who cannot be convinced by facts, by numbers, by evidence is not "Conservative." The polite term is reactionary. The accurate term is insane. For insanity is, by definition, the obsessive repetition of ideas and policies that do not work and cannot work in the face of reality.

Really, it's that simple. Don't over-think it, and don't be persuaded by populist ideologues or single-issue fanatics who care not in the least about the consequences they dismiss as unimportant, like, say, Hard Money fanatics or pro-life absolutists. (or indeed, pro-choice absolutists!)

Anyone who would dismiss any shades of grey from the political sphere is not doing politics; they are commiting acts of religous fanaticism upon your person. And this is, my dear readers, an imposition upon your conscience and good nature regardless of your position on the issue supposedly at hand.

Remember the wisdom of the great Yoda.

"Only Siths deal in absolutes."

And yet - and the thrust of the whole story cycle supports this beyond question -Yoda was a social conservative. As was Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Yet the author of this entire story cycle - this whole morality tale - is derided as being a Hollywood Liberal.

Let us take another leaf from the lesson of the Star Wars saga. The parts we all hate, those that we all reflexively dismiss as being the least worthy chapters of the story were the ones where Lucas allowed the essence of the story to be replaced by a narrative conducive to product placement aimed at the 14-25 demographic.

That is to say, immediate results trumped over timeless verities, as re-presented and restaged for a new generation.

It was once said as a criticism that Star Wars was a John Ford Western in Space. It could well have been said that John Ford put Shakespere in the West, and Shakespere put Aesop in the Globe Thetre, in front of the Court of Elizibeth the First - who were in great need of such things.

Let us all take this as examples of what is kept, and why.

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