Monday, October 3, 2011

Lazy, Self-indulgent Moralism: That is What it Means to Be Left-wing Today

By now you may have heard of the protest in New York: Occupy Wall Street. In reading about this phenomenon I was reminded of the recent George W. Bush fiasco at Tyndale. Why? Because both protests are juvenile, shallow and purely destructive rather than constructive. Such "protests for protest's sake" cost nothing, solve nothing and mean nothing.

Kelly McParland of the National Post captures the cheerful nihilism of the protesters when he writes:
The biggest challenge for “Occupy Wall Street,” the nascent protest organization that is trying its best to create some trouble somewhere, anywhere, may be to figure out what they’re against. Or what they’re for. If anything.
The Toronto Star reports that the protests are spreading to Canada. Oh goody.
Organizers from a group called Occupy Toronto plan to descend on the city’s financial district on Oct. 15 at 10 a.m. The event is inspired by Occupy Wall Street, a group of demonstrators which has camped out near New York’s Financial District for two weeks. . . .

Like Occupy Wall Street, the group has yet to spell out a clear objective. Protesters in New York have spoken out against corporate greed, social inequality, global climate change and other concerns.

“We have a lot of critics and skeptics about the fact that currently, there are no goals,” spokesperson Bryan Batty said. “But it comes down to corporate greed. That’s the one thing that everyone is unified on right now,” he said, adding that the group’s democratic process will elicit more specific goals.

Aren't those critics harsh? Who needs details like "specific goals" when you have a chance to change the world? (By the way, is that last name for real? Batty?)

Tim Stanley writes a post at the Daily Telegraph entitled: "If the Wall Street protesters really want to reform capitalism they should join the Tea Party."

After a few days of banging drums and annoying locals, the Wall Street protests have finally incurred the wrath of New York City. Around seven hundred were arrested over the weekend and Mayor Bloomberg has spoken ominously about clearing the streets. They’ve put on a good show but the general feeling is that they’ve failed to engage a sceptical public. Given the scale of America’s economic and political crises, this is surprising. But then the protesters and their message are doomed to fail. There’s something oddly un-American about both.

Polls show that more than two-thirds of Americans think corporations and banks have too much power. They are correct. For example, liberal commentator Sally Kohn points out that “members of the congressional supercommittee charged with reaching a bipartisan deficit reduction solution have received $41 million from the financial sector during their time in Congress … At least 27 current or former aides to supercommittee members have worked as lobbyists for financial sector interests.” Congress has become a trading floor upon which influence is bought and sold for the price of a campaign donation. It’s about time someone kick started a revolt.

But the Wall Street protesters are the wrong crowd to do it. This photo, of a lady sitting next to a sign titled “Corporate Freeloaders!” while having her photograph taken with an IPad, goes to the heart of the problem. Never trust the political rhetoric of young white hippies: it is undermined by their fabulous wealth and their complete detachment from reality. They travel the world from riot to riot – a cause on every continent, a ring in every orifice. They might have the diet of a North African peasant, but these spoiled brats are professional agitators financed by a generous trust fund.

They may yet join the Tea Party. But first they will have to grow up.

This view of the protesters as self-indulgent, moralistic, self-righteous and profoundly ignorant of the real issues is echoed by another Daily Telegraph blogger who self-identifies as a left-winger, Brenden O'Neill. He writes in a post entitled: "The teenage moralism of the Occupy Wall Street hipsters almost makes me ashamed to be Left-wing:"

Occupy Wall Street, the gathering of angry actors, graphic designers and various other hipsters in the financial districts of New York City, might just be the most degenerate Left-wing movement of recent times. Its weird demands, plastered across tongue-in-cheek placards and on super-cool, self-pressed t- shirts, capture the descent of the modern Left into the cesspool of victimology, conspiracy-mongering and disdain for mass society and its allegedly dumb inhabitants. Far from representing anything that I, a Leftie, would recognise as progressive and humane, this gaggle of rich kids spouts little more than snobbery and fear, seemingly incapable of deciding whom they loathe the most: greedy fat bankers or the dumb fat public.

Occupy Wall Street claims to be a mass workers’ movement, but it’s nothing of the sort. It is in fact a tiny, self-selected group of self-righteous, mostly middle-class activists who have failed to win over large sections of the American public to their “cause” – which isn’t surprising when you consider that on the rare occasion that these trendy banker-bashers talk about the American public, they do so with a metaphorical peg on their snouts. An article on the Occupy Wall Street website claims “the working class in this country has been brainwashed by MSM, Fox News and the Right-wing propaganda machine”. It says everyday Americans, being stupid, do not understand what socialism is, because “they have been emotionally brainwashed against it”. And so it falls to the cool, fashionable, oh-so-enlightened activists of Occupy Wall Street to help “de-programme people against the brainwashing they’ve experienced”. That is, the oiks must be re-educated by the hipsters. The little people must have their minds cleaned out by their moral and fashion superiors. Occupy Wall Street mashes together the outlook of Kim Jong-Il with the politics of Susan Sarandon, giving rise to a weirdly hippyish yet authoritarian gathering of slackers-cum-elitists.

Hippy authoritarianism indeed. It reminds me of the phrase invented to describe the New Left that arose in the 1960s: "Libertarian Socialism." That is the best possible description of the kind of society described in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

But I would bet that there is not one protester on Wall Street today who has the nerve and will to be a Mustapha Mond. They would all dutifully trot off to work at government assigned jobs, go to the feelies at night and chant "Community, Identity, Solidarity."

Protesters? Give me a break - they are more like spoiled sheep bleating indignantly.

If you really want to be counter-cultural, stand up and tell the government to back off and get out of the business of controlling our lives. Stand on your own two feet and begin to build a life starting with building a family. (I am really encouraged to see so many of my students embrace the discipline of marriage at an early age and act as if they were responsible to shape the future instead of passively waiting for life to happen to them.) Drifting downstream with the big government, high-tax welfare state is not an admirable human life; it is a degrading form of voluntary serfdom.

To be counter-cultural today means being able to distinguish between real capitalism and the phoney, crony-capitalism practiced by both Republicans and Democrats. The Tea Party is as much a threat to the Republican establishment as it is to the Democrats because it views big business as being in bed with big government and as complicit in the betrayal of free enterprise. That is why anti-regulation sentiment is as high as anti-high tax sentiment. Regulation, written by big business in cooperation with big government, is a sneaky, back-door way of stifling competition from up and coming companies. It is a conspiracy against small business clothed in preachy moralism.

Capitalism is about small businesses becoming big businesses but is it antithetical to the "too big to fail" philosophy of the Obama administration. The fact that GM and Chrysler are still in business is a moral scandal. They should have gone bankrupt long ago and been replaced by smaller, more competitive companies that would provide more jobs and create value for their shareholders. Instead, the federal government deemed them too big to fail and protected the interests of the unions over the interests of tax payers and shareholders. That is not free enterprise or capitalism; it is cronyism. The unions bought and paid for the Obama administration and the result is injustice and inefficiency. The end result will be the destruction of the American auto industry, but in the meantime the unions and their purchased politicians will party on.

If the protesters wanted to protest something and make a positive difference, they would protest the big-government and big-business alliance. If they had real vision they would advocate for free enterprise, real capitalism and allowing failing businesses to fail so that something better could emerge. If they were serious about making the world a better place they would be just as suspicious of big government as they are of banks and corporations. Ironically, the people they demonize frequently move back and forth between government and Wall Street. People like Bill Daley apparently cease to be demons and become saints overnight just by taking a government job!

The problem with the Wall Street protesters is not that they are too radical; they only think they are radical. The problem is that they are too gullible; they are like sheep.

What makes the Augustinian Christian vision of the world superior is that, unlike the shallow, unrealistic Marxist view, it sees the problem of sin in every individual heart as the root cause of injustice. Therefore, any social arrangement that would be better than the status quo has to take account of the propensity to selfishness built into every single one of us. Ultimately that is why the shallow narrative of "big government good - big business bad" will never lead to a better world.

Only a social order that takes account of original sin and seeks to discipline the individual through civilizing social institutions in civil society (like the traditional family, the church, free markets and freely-embraced moral absolutes) can make a tolerably good society out of bad people. Parliamentary democracy, free enterprise and limited government informed by and based upon a Christian worldview including the Ten Commandments as the heart of morality have been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be the best possible set of social institutions for a civilized and prosperous society.

And all these moralistic, self-indulgent, "protesters" want to do is tear down and destroy these institutions in the name of a romantic, unrealizable, shallow Utopian vision of "peace, justice and the environment."


Gordonhackman said...

"What makes the Augustinian Christian vision of the world superior is that, unlike the shallow, unrealistic Marxist view, it sees the problem of sin in every individual heart as the root cause of injustice."

Agreed. The truth of this was recently brought home to me in part while discussing the issue of cynicism with my sister, and in part due to reading Gregory Wolfe's recent book "Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age." It struck me that all ideologically driven points of view, on both the left and the right, always see the problem with the world as "those people over there," or "the system," or some other external condition. The fundamental problem is outside the self and if it could just be changed, then everything would be ok.

The Christian view, by contrast, understands that the problem with the world is the sin that is within me, as well as others. This should not only lead me to distrust utopian solutions to the world's problems, but also to mistrust my own tendency to see others as the problem while exempting myself.

I am reminded of G. K. Chesterton's profound two word response when he was asked by The Times newspaper to write an answer to the question "What's wrong with the world?"

Dear Sirs,

I am.

Yours Truly,

G. K. Chesteron

Craig Carter said...

That book sounds interesting. I looked it up on Amazon and the description sounds fascinating. The title is so Augustinian. And the contrast between ideology and culture/tradition sounds intriguing. Do you like the book? Assuming the answer is yes, what stood out about it to you?

Gordonhackman said...

Dr. Carter,

I like the book very much. For some time, I have been intuitively drawn to the notion that beauty has an important role to play in the Christian life and in the Christian response to modernity, for lack of a better way to put it. The title comes from a quote of Dostoyevsky, which was later re-quoted by Solzhenitsyn.

I like that Wolfe is a conservative who sees some problems with contemporary conservatism and is willing to point them out in a constructive and charitable way. I find his discussion of conservative responses to modern culture and the arts to be particularly enlightening. He argues that many contemporary conservatives have given up on contemporary western culture and that this has lead to a kind of philistinism and capitulation to the politicization of life. He also argues that they have become overly enamored of means and political power and have lost an understanding of the importance of ends. He sees the culture wars as having degenerated into a shouting match between two extremes that have both become overly ideological and have lost touch with the nourishing sources of culture. I feel like I've seen this too.

He argues that much of modern art, literature, and music still wrestle with the perennial questions of human existence as well as with God and the Christian faith in ways that can be illuminating if we will take the time to look.

Wolfe mistrust abstractions and argues for what he calls "Christian Humanism," which he sees embodied in figures like Sir Thomas More and Erasmus. He roots it in the incarnation in that it holds in creative tension the distinct realities of the spiritual and the earthly. He sees this as a humane and living alternative to the fortress mentality of much of contemporary conservatism and the secularism of much of contemporary liberalism.

He also has chapters highlighting several writers, artists, and thinkers who he believes embody this humane, non-ideological vision such as Wendell Berry, Russell Kirk, Evelyn Waugh and Malcolm Muggeridge. I could have been drawn to the book for the chapter on Muggeridge alone, as he is one of my heroes.

Don't know if anything I've articulated here is helpful, but I hope it is. I'm out of time to write more.

Craig Carter said...

I will order this book; it sounds worthwhile. I especially like the distinction between culture/tradition one the one hand and ideology on the other.

Gordonhackman said...

I don't think you will regret it. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on it.

I agree with you on the culture/tradition vs. ideology distinction.

DanO said...

Only a social order that takes account of original sin and seeks to discipline the individual through civilizing social institutions in civil society... can make a tolerably good society out of bad people.

Ah, but here our anarchist brothers and sisters do a far better job than the law-and-order types. Only somebody with an hopelessly utopian view of human nature would ever think it was a good idea to give guns to some people and ask them to discipline other people (and only be accountable to themselves while doing so!).

That said, Craig, if you actually wanted to have a conversation about the sort of issues that you rant about in this post (what members of the 99% are trying to accomplish in NYC and elsewhere), I would be open to debating that with you. First, though, you have to agree to talk like an adult and in a manner that doesn't shame the institution where you work.

Craig Carter said...

Let me be bluntly honest. I'm not really interested in giving you a platform on my blog to spout your propaganda. I don't see how we could have any sort of meaningful dialogue. We don't agree on the goal and we don't begin with the same philosophical or theological assumptions.

You want to tear down traditional morality, social structures and institutions like Tyndale in the name of some crazy, romantic Utopian revolution. I want to protect the church, capitalism, the middle class lifestyle, the traditional family and civil society from people like you. As far as I'm concerned, you are the enemy of civilization and ordered liberty. I don't see what there is to talk about. I just want to make sure you don't brainwash any more impressionable Tyndale students if I can help it.

By the way, anarchists are not my brothers and sisters. They are children of their father the original anarchist. Saul Alinsky knew who that was and I'll bet you do too.

DanO said...

Sorry for being offline for about a week.

To answer your question, the original anarchist(s) were obviously Jesus and Paul who organized a transnational grassroots movement amongst poor folks and did such foolish things like talk about love or grace being stronger than the law... which of course got them killed as terrorists.

That said, I find your rejection of dialogue interesting given the rhetoric coming from your camp about loving enemies and being willing to dialogue with them in an academic setting (I guess that applies to George Bush, but not to yours truly... shoot). But, really, let's keep things in perspective, eh? I'm not nearly significant enough to be considered the friend or enemy of anything so large as "civilization and ordered liberty."

That said, to be blunt myself, I think you're afraid of a debate because I actually know what I'm talking about (how many Marxists, post-Marxists, anarchists, social theorists have you actually read??) whereas you only know second hand information and labels that you can use to fool first-year college students into thinking you know what you are talking about when, in fact, you don't.

But, look, we don't have to post the debate on your blog. We can do it on mine (which, let's continue to be blunt, would probably be a favour to you and bring you a larger and wider audience than you have now).

Your brother yet still an anarchist (like Jesus and Paul),