What most mass murderers — and, for that matter, ordinary murderers — share is a form of solipsism, a mental landscape in which other people have no innate value but exist, rather, merely as props to facilitate the action in the murderer’s own self-scripted and self-focused drama.
That would appear to be the result of a moral disease, not a psychological one.
To use an analogy that is, admittedly, intentionally, and consciously way over-the-top in order to make the point utterly unmissable:
Yes, Trump is Hitler. But, if the choice you offer me is to get rid of Hitler by embracing Stalin, can I be blamed for, instead, wishing that a pox descend upon your house as well as his?
It is true that people — not only ignorant self-described “conservatives” but also many ignorant self-described “Socialists” — often throw the word “Socialism” around without seeming to understand what it means. But,it is also true (OK, it is at least my not-so-humble opinion) that the many articles published recently trying to explain why various brands of “liberalism” are not actually the same as “Socialism” have been overly narrow and parochial in their view of what Socialism is and entails, limiting their argument to the simplistic (and flawed) formulation that it can’t really be Socialism if the government doesn’t “own” the means of production.
But, if that isn’t the defining nature of “Socialism”, then what is? For that matter, what is the defining nature of “Capitalism”? And how do either interact, for better or worse, with the moral premises and practical structures of our Liberal Republic?
In five parts:
For as long as I can remember — and my memory goes back to Lyndon Johnson – the electoral message of the Democratic party has included, fairly prominently, the following proposition:
Vote for me! I’ll give you something and make somebody else pay for it!
In recent elections that proposition has not only been featured prominently, it has been the highlight. Remember the 1%? Remember how “the rich” are not paying their “fair share”? Remember Thomas Frank’s lament, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” What was his argument?
Hey, we promised to give you something and make someone else pay for it! You must not have been listening!
Yes, the Republican Party has been featuring its grumpy old men and its “back in the day…” cultural attitudes, and it has paid for that. Yes, it needs to have a serious internal conversation about what really are the core Republican principles, to differentiate them from the cultural and emotional fetishes that seem to absorb its “activists”.
But, in the end, even if they could get past all that, the question remains: how do you convince people to refuse a free lunch? How do you counter the allure of getting something for nothing?
You have to explain why that can’t work!
That is why America is more risk tolerant than other countries and societies in the world: because to guarantee security, you must always sacrifice some amount of liberty; and in assessing that sacrifice, Americans have traditionally factored liberty higher in the equation than have most other peoples.
Donald Trump betrayed us before a global audience — he dishonored us, as head of state rather than as head of government — by exhibiting a disdain for our democratic values, by demeaning the integrity of and trust in our institutions, by undermining our cultural and moral influence, and quite frankly, by playing, in our name and to our shame, the role of fool and sycophant to a petty tyrant.
If, as head of government negotiating and implementing executive policies, he were actually to act as an agent of Russian interest and against ours, then his behavior could legitimately be described as “treasonous”. But in the absence of evidence for that — and under the much more likely scenario that his abysmal performance represents merely a self-willed and negligent act of narcissistic defensiveness — the proper and appropriate term for his behavior is “perfidious.”
Since I gave Greg Weiner a shout-out for his New York Times piece about what it means to be an American liberal — and since the topic is dear to my heart — I’ll give David Brooks’ take on what it means to be an American conservative equal treatment. It’s worth reading.
For my part, anyone paying attention will know that I made my choice — conservative over Republican — many years and many presidents ago…
The day you can convince me that Chimpanzees — or any other life-forms, natural or synthetic — are capable of understanding the concept of “responsibilities” and accepting a moral obligation to live up to them, I will grant that they deserve the status of “personhood” and the rights that go with it.
Until then, they may well not be “things” but they are also not fully “people”.
As a rule, I’m not much inclined to use this forum merely to link to other online information sources or posts without comment. That’s what Facebook and Twitter are for; this is something else.
However, given the fact that I wrote a whole book about what it means to be a ‘Conservative’ in modern America, the question of what it means to be a ‘Liberal’ in modern America — a subject I touched on in the book but on which I claim no particular experience or expertise — is a topic I find not only interesting but critical to the future well-being of our country. I am always on the lookout for good discussions about that.
I ran across one today, written by Greg Weiner, a former aide to Senator Bob Kerry (the other Senator Kerry), and published as an OpEd in The New York Times on 13 April 2018. I highly recommend it.
As a “conservative” — and, moreover, one who leans toward the libertarian version of “conservatism” — I sometimes find myself in conversation with other libertarian-minded people who identify the Civil War as the point in American history at which the original Federalism began to jump the rails, at which the Federal government first began its evisceration of the notion that a limited Federal government had, and should have, no jurisdiction over certain activities that were and are the purview and prerogative of the individual States. In their telling of the history of that war, it was less about slavery than about the southern States’ assertion of their rights to be free of Federal restraint. And, as a result, although they genuinely celebrate the immediate outcome of that conflict — the abolition of slavery — they also lament the resulting victory of Federal authority over “states’ rights.”
Despite the belief of a great many people that such notions must grow from an underlying base of belief in white supremacy and white nationalism — and despite the fact that there are, in fact, white supremacists and white nationalists who subscribe to and promote that narrative — I generally ascribe it, among the libertarian idealists, more to an honest, if misguided, lack of historical perspective coupled to a contemporary and compelling anxiety. Chattel slavery was, after all, abolished in the United States more than 150 years ago, in law by the Emancipation Proclamation and then in practice by the surrender of the Confederacy. Jim Crow laws were abolished by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, more than 50 years ago, and well over 2/3 of Americans now alive were not yet born when those laws fell. To a great many people — admittedly, people fortunate enough to be free of the ongoing yoke of discrimination in culture rather than in law — both slavery and Jim Crow feel like relics from a long-ago past, a problem already solved and well behind us. Whereas, the constraining yoke of an increasingly overweening and intrusive Federal government feels like a problem both modern and growing, a problem for today with direct and observable effects on their lives and on their futures.
Nonetheless, their sincerity does not make them right. This, then is directed to their attention and for their benefit, from one libertarian-minded conservative to another: