Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Gaffe, A Palpable Gaffe!

According to Michael Kinsley, "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth - some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say."

So it is pretty obvious that the president's gaffe on Friday 13th, "you didn't build that," is a classic gaffe.  Liberals like the president all think exactly what the president said, that everything good was created by liberal government, but it isn't a good idea to say it because most Americans believe in the American Dream, which is an individualist dream not a communal dream.

And now people are having tremendous fun dragging up photos of Steve Jobs with and iPhone, Bill Gates with a PC, Thomas Edison with a light-bulb, and photoshopping in the president yelling "You Didn't Build That!"

Conservatives may wonder why in the world liberals believe such rubbish.  That's easy.

We Americans have two duelling myths.  Conservatives believe in the Invisible Hand myth, that if you build it they will come.  Liberals believe in the Exploitation myth, that without liberals building caring and compassionate government programs we would all be slaves and sweatshop workers.

So when a liberal sees a picture of healthy, happy workers in some office park, they think "We liberals created that" with labor laws, with anti-discrimination laws, with minimum wage laws, and civil rights acts.  It's government to the rescue.

The thinking neo-Marxist disagrees.  He thinks that both big business and big government both carry the seeds of exploitation.  That's what Jewish emigres Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno wrote in the 1940s in The Dialectic of Enlightenment.  Both modern business and modern government are based on "instrumental reason," reason deployed for practical purposes.  "What men want to learn from nature is how to dominate it and other men."  And then there is this: "Enlightenment behaves towards things as a dictator toward men."  This line of thinking further developed by James C. Scott in Seeing Like a State. Governments want to make their people "legible" so they and tax them, conscript them, and control them.

So let's get free of the PollyAnna stuff about caring compassionate government, liberals.  Government is force, domination, tax, control.  It is delusion to think otherwise.

But there is a problem, and it is this.  Violence has gone down since the beginning of the age of the big corporation and the big government.  How can this be when we have big business and big government running around exploiting and dominating everything in sight?  The answer, as developed by lefties like Juergen Habermas, a student of Adorno, is that there is more to the human experience than the clanking mechanisms of instrumental reason.  Humans are social animals; we interact with each other not just in strategic system actions to extract maximum leverage from the rest of the world.  We also live in a lifeworld where we work out the good, the true, and the beautiful together in communicative interaction.

This fact of our social, rather than mechanical and instrumental, nature works itself out in theories of our social interaction, as developed by chaps like Alan Page Fiske.  We relate to each other in part by Communal Sharing, by Authority Ranking, by Equality Matching, and by Market Pricing.  On this view you could say that the dystopia imagined by Horkheimer and Adorno represents a world where everything has shrunk into a mechanical Authority Ranking and Market Pricing.

In fact, though, people hate it when human life is shrunken to just Authority and Markets.  That is why the folks laid off by Bain Capital are so upset.  They look at Romney and Bain as pure calculators that forgot that they were human.  That is why conservatives, ever since Edmund Burke, have championed "civil society" over the instrumental reason of "sophisters, economists and calculators."  And Neuhaus and Berger have championed the "mediating structures" to soften the harshness of the "megastructures" of business and government.

But people like President Obama and Elizabeth Warren don't get it, and that is why they are stumbling around with their mega-gaffes.  They think that their big government is the acme of evolved civilization and compassion.  They think that everything good in our society is built upon their programs, their education, their very fast trains, their green energy, and all the other corrupt government programs that are bankrupting our society.

The really interesting thing to me is that the real innovators, the Rockefellers, the Jay Goulds, the Carnegies, the Henry Fords, the Bill Gateses, the Steve Jobses, the ones that "didn't build it" are not very social or sociable at all.  Their astonishing innovations are the result of their anti-social nature.  They are obsessive people that don't listen and conform to other people and worry about what other people say about them.  They are almost pathologically anti-social.  They drop out of college.  They go off to India.  They are impossible to work for.  Yet they change the world with their genius.

But that makes sense to me, even if it doesn't to liberals.  Human society depends on an eternal battle between the individual and the society.  That makes it almost impossible to determine which is right: the individualist creed that champions the individual creator against the dumb herd, or the communalist creed that works to bring everyone together into consensus.  And without a society, the individual genius would just be one hand clapping.

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