(by guest blogger Morgan K. Freeberg)
Some days I'm thoroughly ashamed of how long I've been studying liberals, and how much I still have left to figure out about them. After all, when all's said & done they aren't that complicated. I can only conclude that either I'm thoroughly lacking in the skills needed to figure things out, from the simple to the complex, or else I've been spending all that time looking for the needle in the wrong damn haystack, studying something that is not the thing that needs studying.
I'm leaning toward the latter. I've figured out some things here & there, in my lifetime, that eluded the vigorous and honest presentation of investigative effort of others, whom I knew to offer no small amount of talent when it came to figuring things out. So I must not be completely handicapped there. There is also the matter that in politics, people have a tendency to shape the politics by using their abundant and intense passions to debate a wide variety of issues; it's fascinating how everyone seems to lose track of how many issues there are, and yet everyone's convinced their own issue is the most important one. Well, listening to all these arguments about all these issues does open one up to the possibility of error, by way of using one's energy to look for things in the wrong places. And, I have to 'fess up that some other people are good at keeping from getting distracted, and for whatever other strengths I might have to offer, I am not one of those people. After many years of being reminded of that I have come to realize I'm simply not comfortable with the horse-blinders on. I don't recognize the separation of subject-matter. My life experience tells me that work, play, family, friends, raising and educating children, these things are all connected to the way people think, as is this thing we call "politics." It's all one big ball of yarn. I'm still trying to untangle it.
And so I have these epiphanies about basic things. Embarrassingly basic, and embarrassingly late.
Like this past weekend: I reflect on it for a few days and a few nights, and realize I can't think of any political agenda, in my lifetime, leftward-leaning that doesn't have something to do with resentment.
My fiance and I were talking about this over dinner in Vallejo Saturday night, mulling over the question: How could there be any kinship at all, between feminism and communism? Feminism, at least that brand of it that finds the broadest support, is: If a woman performs the same job as an equally experienced and equally-qualified man, and performs it with an equal level of competence, she should be paid the same. Second-wave feminism, it could be persuasively argued, is first and foremost about this one thing, all other agendas within that movement are derivative of it. It is inherently capitalistic. It is entirely irrelevant in this mythical Utopia that is communism, and suffers from a continual erosion of irrelevance in a society moving toward that ultimate goal. Feminism, therefore, should have an inimical relationship with communism. In theory; but in practice it does not, the two have formed a diabolical, but rather easy, alliance. How and why?
And this forms the epiphany. The two really don't have anything in common with each other besides resentment. Could it be that resentment is the underpinning, the common foundation, beneath all leftist movements? It was there in the Communist Manifesto. It was there in the storming of the Bastille.
I thought I'd come up with an exception this morning: There is a lot of excitement swirling around about ObamaCare, and of course there is an entire field of socio-economic agitation for reform based on a desire for central management. These people do not all seem resentful, to me. If they are then I think their passion for this "kiosk society" includes a lot of things that are not entirely based on their resentments...but there is the big question, perhaps I'm wrong about this. Perhaps resentment possesses not a sibling or cousin relationship, but rather an ancestral one, to these collectivist/kiosk longings.
Professor Mondo put up a link to his thoughts about Roger Scruton's writings -- which present a powerful argument that this is indeed the case.
It seems what I'm discovering is that I don't really understand resentment. This comes as a surprise. I'm no saint and I have not spent a life free of resentment; growing up, in fact, I was far more resentful than most other kids, and had more reason for being resentful, at least in my own mind. And I recall that at age 10 I was fooled into "voting" for Jimmy Carter, which is a way of saying I was fooled into thinking it would be a good idea for him to be voted in as our country's next president. This did not last long, since by 14 I fully understood this was a dumb experiment and, for the good of the country, the peanut farmer had to go. By 18 I couldn't get out in the morning early enough to cast my vote to re-elect Reagan. But how did resentment feed into these ideas of mine? It didn't. I recall it all as jumbled bits of accidental wisdom and foolishness, the way I suppose we all recall things in our past, the good decisions as well as the bad.
[H]e argues that the rise of totalitarian governments (e.g., Nazism, State Communism) in the 20th Century occurred because “there is something in human nature to which they respond.” The temptation is to believe that the failures of the totalitarian states have stemmed from putting the wrong people in charge, and each new batch of totalitarians believes that they will at last get it right.
But what is the human trait that totalitarianism pretends to assuage? This is where I find Scruton to be electrifying. “Totalitarian systems of government and totalitarian ideologies have a single source, which is resentment.” Scruton notes that resentment is a natural part of the human condition, an inevitable consequence of competition for resources. The would-be totalitarian sees the institutions of civil society as creating the inequalities that bred his resentment, and by using government, he would bypass or altogether eliminate those institutions.
Those who disagreed with me, though, and thought Mondale-Ferraro was the way to go; I cannot in good conscience jot down any doubts about their resentments, or speculation that they were acting on something else. I have no memories to support such a thing. They imbibed thirstily of the intoxicating elixir of their own resentments, and made sure they were seen, far & wide, so imbibing. Reagan. Watt. Bush. Old white guys. Men. Christians. "Oil buddies." Oh, and nucular nucular nucular. Right, back in those days the left-wing didn't ridicule the right-wing for mispronouncing the word, they were the ones doing the mispronouncing. They still wanted to appear super-sophisticated and enlightened, but back then the faux sophistication was found in just mentioning the word as often as possible, not much attention was paid to whether the pronunciation was right.
In the years since then, I lost my interest in politics and became more fixated on meeting the demands of day-to-day living. I guess that happens to most young adults. My interest was aroused, again, when Bill Clinton came along since I could see exactly what he was about to do. What was going on with resentment during that time? Certainly I felt some here & there, but the pressures and demands of adult responsibilities toned it down. Perhaps there is a fundamental difference in world-view there. If others have privileges I don't have, and because of this I have to do a little extra grasping in order to meet my goals, then it isn't going to happen unless I have that "Am I over it yet?" moment and concentrate my energies on my own actions and my own influences. Besides, in the meantime, I had been on the other end of resentments as well. That is to say, others had been resentful of me. And I felt the effects of this, which was not an experience I had had by age 10. I suppose that can have an effect.
Anyway: I had another thought about godlessness. These people we call "liberals" and "progressives," today, seem to be intractably bound to an understanding of the universe and all the things in it, that since living things are capable of developing new traits through a process of evolution, that everything remarkable about every living thing must have evolved that way. They are fascinated with this process of evolution. When they enter into conflict with conservatives about how to interpret the Constitution, they get into this nonsense about a "living [, breathing] document" and they recognize "rights" without even acknowledging the process of recognition, instead insisting that the rights are in a process of evolving. Had I not already parted company with them on any other matter, I would have to part company with them here, for their error is in a childlike confusion between the objective and the subjective. It is a rather drastic confusion taking place because they're observing a change in an object's state, while the only thing that has changed is their own sensibilities. Ask a conservative, is slavery wrong today and was it wrong before 1863? And there's no hesitation about it -- it is universally wrong, wrong then, wrong now, wrong when the Egyptians used slave labor to build the pyramids. But the liberals like to live in today, and when they recognize the concept of time they get stuck in this thing about evolution. We must have rights today that we didn't have then, since the rights come from government, and heck, something has been going on since why else would we be celebrating the 30th, 40th, 50th anniversary of this-thing or that-thing.
Since there is no god, an unborn child is not a child at all but a "choice." And we should take "In God We Trust" off our money. Also, we are not "endowed" by our "Creator" with certain "inalienable rights." Been a few years since I engaged in that particular debate, but the last I heard the story was that the words are found in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, which means something because the Declaration is not "legally binding" or something.
So what we today call "liberalism" is a family tree of sorts, an unholy trinity. You have these three doctrines at the top of the pedigree chart -- inter-class resentment, the desire for the micro-managed centrally-ordered kiosk society, and the godless universe with the magical force of evolution explaining everything because, science. From those three, all the other positions become clearly defined. Abortion: godlessness, as has been demonstrated already, above. Taxing the rich: Resentment. New and expensive bureaucracies: Micro-managed society. Affirmative action: Resentment. Public education: Micro-managed society. Labor unions: Micro-management, and resentment. Minimum wage: Same. Taking the Boy Scouts to court: All three. Gun control: Micro-management. Environmentalist extremism: Micro-management and godlessness. Can't buy a 32-oz. soda: Micro-management. Gay marriage: Resentment and godlessness.
But perhaps our pedigree chart isn't accurate if the three at the top are on equal footing; perhaps there is a hierarchy to be recognized way up there. There is, it could be said, a rather subtle parentage taking place between resentment and Scruton's "Totalitarian Temptation." The competition for limited resources concludes with winners and losers, which causes resentment, which would then naturally inspire some juvenile visions about living without said competition. Therefore let's start regulating and regulating some more.
There is also a subtle parentage taking place between the resentment and the godlessness. After all, what really is our belief system, when we profess a belief in a Higher Power? Summing up the Old and New Testaments in a single sentence, along with the holy books of all similar religions going all the way back to the Greeks and the Romans, what we are essentially saying is: Whether I can see it or not, there is a purpose for what just happened here -- it is supposed to have happened. Politics based on resentment will not allow for this, since that viewpoint says that what happened here is not supposed to have happened.
Perhaps it is a linear parentage at the top: Yoda might say resentment leads to micro-management, micro-management leads to godlessness, with a grandparent relationship between the resentment and the godlessness. But maybe at that point we're just quibbling over semantics.
Mondo goes on to say:
This is what Rush Limbaugh has described as “get even with ‘em-ism,” but for those of us in the medievalism business, we recognize it as the second deadly sin in the Gregorian order: Envy.This is why I'm sure I'd flunk Mondo's classes if I ever took them. I know I'm supposed to be thinking about Dante and Milton when we get into those Seven Deadly Sins, but whenever he brings it up, the first thing in my head is Billy Batson walking down that long hallway to meet the old wizard Shazam. But, all the same, I can appreciate why they are "deadly sins"; it all comes down to the simple understanding that a decision made based on any one of those things, will not be made as well as a decision made without them. That is true of all seven, but it is especially true of the envy, which is resentment.
And that seems to be what left-wing politics have become, perhaps what they always were: Making bad decisions look like good ones, by viewing them through a cloudy, colored prism of envy and resentment.
Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes.