While preparing some other items of importance, I want to share with you an excerpt from a conversation I recently had with a woman I very much respect, Lenore Ealy is one of America’s premier theoreticians on the nature and prospects for enlightened philanthropy. We exchange views with some real sages in an online philanthropy forum where I’ve been honored to participate as contrarian gadfly. Naturally, this year, some of the discussions also turned political.
Now, Lenore comes from the background of an older version of Republican Conservatism. The variety one used to see a lot more of, where capitalism was viewed as not only fecund and productive, but inherently obliged to orient itself with some sensitivity to things like civics and public duty. A view typified by Dwight Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, Nelson Rockefeller, sometimes Ronald Reagan and – if truth be told – George Romney, the pater familias of Mitt Romney’s clan. In discussions, Lenore admitted that conservatism — and especially the Republican Party (GOP) — had been drifting (I say flipped into reverse) away from such traditions, of late, into realms of, well, craziness that have driven away (for example) nearly all scientists and other skilled professionals of intellect. A situation that seems to suit the party’s new owners, at Fox, just fine.
I asked Lenore if her reluctance to completely abandon a shred of nostalgic affection for what has by now turned into an undead were-elephant, might be based upon one of conservatism’s most endearing traits, a penchant for stalwart loyalty..
Lenore Ealy: Yes, David… loyalty is a conservative trait. The change we might both wish to see is a matter of each person deciding when loyalty to the ideas of classical liberal Constitutionalism is no longer compatible with loyalty to the GOP. And beginning to look around for how to exercise political responsibility responsibly.
New “commons” might eventually give rise to new (or renewed) parties. Though maybe commons could be ends in themselves in a renewed federalist system!?! The possibility of overcoming a tendency to loyalty, which is on the whole not a horrible human trait, is why I have hope for descendants of the Goldwater Republicans… who voted with their feet before. But you are right that getting there requires turning off the boob tube and developing a diverse set of news sources. I am reminded of the challenge Havel posed for his green grocer in the Power of the Powerless. Small courageous acts gone viral can topple great powers.
By the way, another trait that distinguishes conservatives is an ability to dwell with pluralism and a bit of healthy non-conformity. No need to accuse folks of false consciousness who are still trying to work out these things for themselves. Our “tolerances” across the board have been reduced to the point of brittleness and I have always agreed with you that the modern media fuels that. That’s why I don’t watch it and don’t debate it. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is listening….
David Brin replies: As usual, Lenore. You humble me with your articulate wisdom. You are correct on all counts… with one small cavil. There are rare times when the right response, for the moderate, reasonable person, is wrath.
Those occasions are rare! At the National Institutes on Drugs and Addiction I proposed that the worst and by far most destructive “addiction” in American life is found in the millions of “indignation junkies” who have poisoned reasonable discourse in the United States, seizing control over many advocacy groups and demanding that “negotiation” and “compromise” be considered tantamount to treason. (This trend is illustrated in (I hope) a cogently dramatic and entertaining way in my new novel, EXISTENCE. And let me openly avow that this loathsome addiction is also seen on the far-left!)
Yes, I am aware of the irony, that my outrage over the poisoning of American discourse has itself frothed into an internal drug high of my own. Perhaps irony protects me from the worst excess! Plus — the thing I’m fiercely militant about is the defense of rational moderation and pragmatic negotiation, against those whose sole goal appears to be the elimination of those virtues from our continent.
We are in Phase Three of the American Civil War, and nothing less than militant anger will live up to our ancestors who rose up against very similar kinds of madness (with similar geographic roots) in their day, standing up to save their nation and civilization, not from political opponents but from a madness that had taken over their neighbors. And yes, I might be exaggerating! I admit that – despite clear-eyed view of mountains of evidence supporting the “war” analogy, including the direct manipulation of “red” masses by multiple foreign billionaires, many of then based in the country that attacked us on 9/11. I respond by offering tests that pose Popperian/falsifiable questions: like daring folks to name one Bushite major endeavor that did not lead to monumental harm to either the American republic, its citizens or its indispensable world Pax.
So yes, I pray we can return to the America where your wise words are prescriptions for a return to reasoned discourse. But today they will fall upon deaf ears in the very places where they are most-needed. It will take wrath, of a special kind.
It will take a musical refrain. Men and women tossing aside the distracting, lobotomizing “left-right” metaphor and instead joining ranks as decent (non-leftist) liberals and decent (non-crazy) conservatives, putting on blue kepi hats and murmuring the Battle Hymn of our desperately threatened Republic, as we march to Rupert Murdoch’s and binWaleed’s headquarters to trample down that vinyard where the grapes of wrath are stored.
Lenore Ealy: Point taken, David! But in our wrath we have to be careful to shoot over the barricades and avoid friendly fire.
Since not many of us alone can provide a counterweight to the network media, we do have to find strength in numbers. But first we have to recognize one another as wearing the same caps and discern whether there is anything that can bind us in common cause.
I suppose there is also a temperamental issue for some of us, who writhe at Battle Hymns borne in triumphalism, preferring the humble walk examining the complexity of all sides captured in Melville’s Battle-Pieces to Julia Ward Howe’s righteous trampling. In the end, the work of diplomats continues even while others fight. So, it’s not necessarily true that everyone needs to march. Even when the power is in the pen… and lets pray it remains in ink more than blood… there are different words that must be spoken in different modularities and volumes to different sorts of people. Some can hear only a shout. Others only a whisper. And most Americans don’t think or feel in strict Popperian terms of falsifiability, I think. ;-))
Your comments and mine may be more of a methodenstreit than a fundamental disagreement over a core vision of free society. I suspect we would have to dig around very hard into my concept of prudential judgment and yours of pragmatic negotiation to get to the heart of things, as well as into whether by “rational moderation” we actually could mean the same thing. I think this requires bourbon.
To which wisdom I can only add this coda: Lenore has proved to me that at least a few members of the Baby Boomer generation are not immature brats, but grownups, possessed of faith in reason and reasonableness. I honor that. I hope we can live up to her faith in us.