Note: If you missed the livestream of me and Frodi discussing the great Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, then you can catch the replay here. It was a very good show, even if you are not a movie buff. It was mostly about ideas that our side should discuss more often. The more views it gets the more credits he accumulates, so check in for a few minutes, even if you are not a big into movies.
In his essay Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Ever since it has been a useful dismissal of the pedant, but it is also a useful way of understanding American politics. One side in the political fight spends all of its time fussing about inconsistencies of the other side, while the winning side is happy to dismiss their own hypocrisies. As Emerson understood, it is the latter who always has the edge over the former.
It is the Right, of course, that spends all of its time fussing about inconsistencies on the Left, while the Left just wins every fight. The American Left, unlike the European Left, grew out of that peculiar form of American Christianity that has informed its worldview since the 19th century. Filled with self-righteous fury over the inequity of the world, the righteous are free to do as they please to right the wrongs of the world. Even their own past statements are no impediment to them.
Of course, in 18th century America, radicalism was still bound by Scripture, if not literally then morally. Those new Prometheans springing up to oppose things like slavery were relying on a moral framework they inherited from the past. Today, free of that moral framework and free of factual reality, those old urges have curdled into petulant and nasty partisanship. The American Left is now just a hysterical tirade against anything or anyone that represents order.
You see this in the reaction of the court taking up a case regarding the power of the tech monopolies to control public discourse. This Slate writer flew into a purple faced rage on Twitter about the alleged inconsistencies of Clarence Thomas in comparing these sites to common carriers. He then followed that up with an amusingly unhinged essay in Slate titled, “Clarence Thomas’ Attack on Social Media Companies Is a Paranoid Marxist Delusion.” That is a man detached from reality.
Not to be outdone, this guy, looking for attention, posted his condemnation of right-wing hypocrisy on Twitter. His claim is that only through giving a handful of corporations absolute control of the public square can we have genuinely free expression. It is an interesting mix of fascism and Orwellian language. It shows how the Left’s response to any effort to rein in these companies, will be whatever they think will work, even if it means condemning their own words from yesterday.
The facts here are important only in that they help us understand the mentality of the people who are closing off the public square. The explicit intent of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 was to curtail censorship. The tech companies argued that they did not want to moderate their forums and that it was practically impossible for them to do so. In order to encourage free expression, Congress carved out a special exception for them in the law.
Now, if you point this out to the Left, they will laugh in your face. After all, they are defending our democracy. They are not going to be bound by the words and intents of people long since gone from the scene. There is that old Emersonian inclination at the core of the American Left. Tradition and custom can never be a restraint on man in his pursuit of justice. For the Left, the law is always whatever it needs to be at the moment, as theirs is an ends justifies the means world view.
On the other hand, the Left is endlessly fussy about the tiniest of inconsistencies in their opponent’s positions. If none exist, they will make some up. You see that in the claim that there is some contradiction between allowing a baker to express his religious convictions, while preventing a trillion dollar company from crushing dissent. There is no contradiction here, but that is not important. The righteous man is free of mere facts, so he is at liberty to find inconsistency where he must.
The Right, of course, responds to this with long recitations of fact, which have no impact whatsoever on the debate. Politics in a democracy are always about morality, which is why the Left is endlessly yapping about it. They see themselves as the fullest expression of democratic morality. Each of them is a finger on the reified hand of the public will, so the more democratic the society the closer it is to achieving that ideal of the public will. They are the instruments of that public will.
You can no more reason with someone who thinks they are the sword of a secular god than you can reason with someone who thinks they are a god. On the other hand, the people will naturally side with those who they see are morally correct. When Ocasio-Cortez famously said being “morally right” is more important than being “factually right”, she was expressing the very essence of liberal democracy. People will go along with the most insane things if they feel their gods demand it.
The other part of the Emerson quote is “With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.” That right there is American politics in a nutshell. One side sits staring at the wall, certain they are right, while the other side speaks hard words in pursuit of justice.
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