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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2012-11-15 05:41
Subject: [personal|politics] Why I am not a conservative
Security: Public
Tags:personal, politics
Conservatism "stands athwart history, yelling Stop, when no one is inclined to do so." — William F. Buckley

I've been thinking a bit lately about why I'm not conservative in the political or cultural sense. I don't mean why I'm not a Republican — given the toxic mess the modern GOP has evolved into, I hope that should be painfully self-evident to anyone not ideologically committed to the party line — but in a larger, more general sense.

Certainly there are a number of signature political and cultural issues that I feel strongly about. I'm not sure they're inherently issues that ought to fall along a divide between conservatives and liberal-progressives. The anti-intellectualism of climate change denial and evolution denial are more artifacts of how the GOP has approached its electorate than anything that should arise naturally from divergent political views. There is literally no legitimate argument for evolution denial except religious vote pandering. The legitimate political argument over climate change ought to be over solutions and approaches, not endless nitpicking over evolving data sets and climate models and cynical hairsplitting.

Likewise women's health and reproductive health. If, like evolution denial, you take the religious vote pandering out of the equation, it's not clear to me why any conservative worthy of the name would consider government intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship a worthy political goal. I grant that there is a principled stance in opposition to abortion, but there are far more rational approaches to dealing with that problem than the endlessly self-contradictory contortions of the American right on contraception, sex education and reproductive rights. Again, increased government intrusion into private life doesn't strike me as a worthy political goal for anyone of a genuinely conservative bent.

Setting those issues aside, which shouldn't really be conservative shibboleths anyway, it would be reasonable of me to favor a small government approach comprised of fiscal prudence and a careful fostering of opportunity through the classic (or at least stereotypical) American values of hard work and self-reliance. And in truth, I couldn't argue much with that ideal. The devil, of course, is in the details. What constitutes "small" government? What kind of fiscal policy is "prudent"? How best do we foster opportunity?

If those were the arguments we were having in American electoral politics, I might be voting quite differently. Then again, I might not. What I am never, ever voting for is Bible-based hatred, knowingly distorted educational policies, discrimination again women and LGBTQ people and people of color, deliberate distortions of science and policy to protect entrenched business interests, the further restriction of class mobility and upward concentration of wealth, and the politics of fear and paranoia — all things that Brand Republican has worked very hard to proudly stand for during my entire voting life.

So, well, here's me not being politically conservative as the conservative movement in America has defined itself in this era. I'm not interested in generating more angry white guys. That strategy is a political dead end and a social disaster that poisons the wells of this country for everyone regardless of their political affiliation or gender or ethnicity.

But culturally? I think the real issue is that William F. Buckley was flat wrong. History moves whether we wish it to or not. Times change regardless of our fears. The old days were never as good as we like to pretend, and today is never as bad as it seems. The Myth of the Golden Age is older than the golden age itself. Even Cicero said, "Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book."

Change is inevitable.

The proper response to the change of history isn't to stand athwart it yelling "Stop!" The proper response is to grab the reins and direct progress as best we can. To change, to move forward, is both inevitable and desirable, at least as our civilization is constituted today. To pretend otherwise is to deny reality at its deepest level, and to deny oneself the opportunity to help guide that future.

I cannot be a cultural conservative, because I believe too firmly in tomorrow, and not enough in yesterday. The nature of change makes no other response rational. Conservatism is a fear response to change, a way of saying, "things cannot possibly be better than they were". Me, I'm wired for hope that things can always get better.

As a culture, as a society, as a nation, we shouldn't be arguing about whether tomorrow is coming. We should be arguing about where it is going.

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ulfhirtha
User: ulfhirtha
Date: 2012-11-15 14:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Conservatism is a fear response to change.."

Just so. I see that when I see the emotional heat that is generated by this issue or that which conservatives have taken up. As Jerry Spence noted, at the core of that anger lies fear and/or hurt. Follow that & speak to that and *then* maybe you'll reach them.

"Conservatism "stands athwart history, yelling Stop, when no one is inclined to do so." " - one would have thought a man who so prized his intellectual credentials as much as Buckley might have taken pause from that lack of inclination to consider that just maybe that's because nobody else thought that the right response and instead discussing where history was going and how to preserve what was good while changing what wasn't.
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russ: quo vadis
User: goulo
Date: 2012-11-15 14:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:quo vadis
One of my favorite examples of such fear is the bizarre inexplicable fear that permitting same-sex marriage will somehow "devalue" or even "destroy" opposite-sex marriage.
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Matthew S. Rotundo: Radioactive
User: matthewsrotundo
Date: 2012-11-15 14:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Radioactive
I've realized recently that I have the same problem with the Buckley quote. I see nothing heroic, honorable, or even romantic in standing "athwart history."

I remember reading of one study wherein participants were asked to quickly change their appearance somehow (emphasis on the word quickly, to get the most instinctive response). The majority of participants responded by removing something--a piece of jewelry, for example. The conclusion: It is human nature to perceive any change as a loss.

It makes sense to question whether changes are necessary or beneficial, but to oppose change on general principles is to react as mindlessly as those in that study. Not all change is loss. You and Billy Joel are right: the good old days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems.
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mcjulie
User: mcjulie
Date: 2012-11-15 15:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Very much with you. I am repulsed by the "conservative" stand on particulars in my lifetime -- women's rights being the first political issue I started to care about as a child, followed by environmentalism, followed by my realization that racism was not actually a thing of the past -- basically one by one if I felt a certain way about an issue, I would find out that the way I felt was "liberal" or "progressive" or "Democratic."

Further, I see no honor or wisdom in the Buckley quote. I get that there might be people out there with an emotional makeup that causes such a notion to resonate. But the proper way to deal with it is to help ease them into change, not pretend that you can deliver what cannot be delivered.

That is probably why they have spiraled down into such a morass of self-delusion and lies. When your only desire is to do what cannot possibly be done, your only option is to pretend reality is different from what it is.
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mlerules: MLE
User: mlerules
Date: 2012-11-15 15:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:MLE
A-freakin'-men
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Pierceheart
User: pierceheart
Date: 2012-11-15 16:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Likewise women's health and reproductive health. If, like evolution denial, you take the religious vote pandering out of the equation, it's not clear to me why any conservative worthy of the name would consider government intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship a worthy political goal. I grant that there is a principled stance in opposition to abortion, but there are far more rational approaches to dealing with that problem than the endlessly self-contradictory contortions of the American right on contraception, sex education and reproductive rights. Again, increased government intrusion into private life doesn't strike me as a worthy political goal for anyone of a genuinely conservative bent.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why the various law restricting abortion do not fail on a first amendment test.
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Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2012-11-15 17:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The problem I have with a lot of the 'modern' conservative movement is I don't think it is all that conservative. It's become somewhat radical and focused on a questionable set of economic perspectives.

Looking critically at my home country, the UK, nothing that Margaret Thatcher did as a 'conservative' in the 1980s was remotely conservative. A conservative, following Buckley's advice would not have decreased tax rates in a single year and removed decades old credit regulations while preaching austerity and probity.

A conservative would not have destroyed centuries old industries with no plan about what to do with millions of suddenly unemployed people with skills linked only to the business they were employed in.

A conservative wouldn't radically expand the base of laws and regulations.

I think the same is probably true here too.

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houseboatonstyx: smaller-healing-buddha
User: houseboatonstyx
Date: 2012-11-15 18:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:smaller-healing-buddha
I've seen a Brit saying, "NIH has worked fine for decades, let's not meddle with it." A good conservative attitude, in the best sense.
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Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2012-11-15 19:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
A lot of the insanity the Tories are pushing for with the NHS is mostly a feeling that they don't want, don't like and the market will make it better.

Again, not a proposition that makes a lot of sense. True, it is one of the few actual working examples of Socialized Medicine operating on the planet, but it does deliver reasonably high quality healthcare to the entire population for less money than any comparable industrial nation... if anything the problem remains that it is underfunded.

That said, the UK is, generally speaking, higher tax than the US is and always has been.
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a_cubed
User: a_cubed
Date: 2012-11-16 08:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"That said, the UK is, generally speaking, higher tax than the US is and always has been."
Not when you add in the cost of healthcare to actual taxes. When you add in the payroll element and the employee element of healthcare costs to US taxes they come out similar to the UK, I read somewhere recently, only in the US the benefits are very skewed with lots of people without cover (in some or all circumstances) a bunch of people getting unnecessary care (overtested either to generate revenue for healthcare providers or to avoid lawsuits on the vanishingly small chance there's a problem missed by usual diagnoses that could be picked up by an MRI for example) and a bunch of profits being taken out by for-profit providers and for-profit insurers.
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Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2012-11-16 16:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Healthcare is such a mess here that it's rather tricky to do this kind of thing without getting weird results. Especially because it's typically a fixed dollar amount rather than a percentage like, say, National Insurance in the UK. For us that's about the same as another 1% for the employee portion, and another 1.5% for the out of pocket costs we incur each year. OTOH it also includes Vision and Dental costs.

Just looking at income taxes, we paid an effective rate of 17% last year which is about 6-7% less than we'd have paid on similar income in the UK.

Plus purchase taxes in most states are sub 10% and wrapped in layers of complex, hidden, fixed fees which are hard to unravel.

I'll be clear, we live in a relatively expensive city and we couldn't remotely have the standard of living we have here on a similar income.

The insanity of US Healthcare Costs is another discussion and yes, they do tend to over treat. And you need to have a separate career as a healthcare insurance administrator in addition to your day job. My wife has a chronic but non life threatening condition (unlike our host here) and pretty much every couple of weeks we'll lose an hour or two to dealing with insurance. The most recently one involved a rejected claim for a Doctors visit for not providing the providers information, even though it was on the paperwork AND they had already paid previous claims from the same Doctor...

I shit ye not.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-11-15 19:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Absolutely. There wasn't a hell of a lot conservative about Ronald Reagan — he was an Alzheimer's addled front man for a bunch of far right radicals pissed about the fall of Nixon — and the only thing conservative about the George W. Bush administration was their sucking up to the Evangelical vote on social wedge issues. Certainly from a perspective of fiscal policy, national defense, civil and personal liberties, or small government conservatism, there hasn't been a functioning conservative party in the United States in my lifetime.
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Kate Schaefer: First Icon
User: kate_schaefer
Date: 2012-11-16 00:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:First Icon
Jay, you're not wrong, except about how the far right felt about Nixon. They weren't so much pissed about his fall as pissed that he ever got elected, because he wasn't one of them.
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Danny Adams
User: madwriter
Date: 2012-11-16 02:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
And things Eisenhower did in the 1950s would be considered liberal today, like supporting social programs and the U.N.
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ericjamesstone
User: ericjamesstone
Date: 2012-11-15 22:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You're missing some context for the "standing athwart history" quote. It's not about stopping all progress and sticking in some mythical golden age.

It's about the Marxist theory of the historical inevitability of socialism: the forces of history were supposedly going to bring about the fall of capitalism and the rise of socialism. That's what Buckley was referring to.
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User: mmegaera
Date: 2012-11-16 00:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Somehow I think Buckley and Piotr Vorkosigan would have gotten along great.

And the fear thing? That's my mother in spades.
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Danny Adams
User: madwriter
Date: 2012-11-16 02:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Even Cicero said, "Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.""

And Plato said something similar four centuries earlier.
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That Which Fights Entropy: spock humans are funny
User: amberite
Date: 2012-11-16 06:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:spock humans are funny
I think Buckley accurately described the role of conservatism - and missed the part where doing that is fucking stupid.

Um yeah.
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jetse
User: jetse
Date: 2012-11-16 13:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Make no mistake: I totally agree.

Now do one thing: replace 'GOP' and 'conservatives' in your above post with 'SF' and 'science fiction writers'. The utmost majority of SF writers (and SF fandom) doesn't *want* real change, is *afraid* of real change, and argues that the tomorrow that is coming will be a(n) apocalypse/dystopia/environmental disaster(*).

(*) = delete as appropriate, or tick all boxes;

Just name me 10 SF novels of this past year that actually propose that things *do* get better. Then name 10 (or 20, or 100) SF novels that fall into the dystopia/apocalypse/doom'n'gloom category.

I'm a progressive thinker in politics: I believe we can change the future for the better, if we try hard enough. I'm also a progressive thinker in SF: I do try to write SF stories where things change for the better.

I do think that the GOP, when it keeps up its current policies, will become increasingly irrelevant over time. And I do think that written SF, if it keeps up its current one-sided focus, will meet the same fate.

Now why do so many SF writers who consider themselves forward-looking write stories that portray a future that goes to the dogs? Is it so difficult to practice what you preach?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-11-16 13:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think it's simpler than that, Jetse. For many authors, dystopias are more interesting and easier to write about. Things go right in very specific ways, things go wrong in myriad ways.
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jetse
User: jetse
Date: 2012-11-16 14:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Things go right in very specific ways, things go wrong in myriad ways."

With all due respect, I think that is patently wrong. In real life, things change for the better in ways we did *not* expect. Hence, imagining a future where things do change for the better (but which is *not*, emphatically not, a utopia: why do so many SF writers and fans fall into this particular kind of black/white thinking? The future is either a dire dystopia or a boring utopia, and nothing in between, While reality is indeed everything in between) is indeed more challenging, but at the same time more interesting and rewarding.

For example, the majority of SF writers was quick to write about how more electronical/computational interfacing possibilities would lead to more government and big corporation oversight, yet almost no-one dared to propose that the people themselves might use these possibilities for their own good.

Japan is often quoted as the country with 'two lost decades'. Recently I read some articles proposing it might be a peek into a future where 'zero growth' and a prosperous society go hand in hand.

Africa has all too often been described as 'the lost continent'. In spite of that, a new generation-- the cheetah generation--has arisen that uses modern communication and easy availability of knowledge to its advantage.

Life expectancy keeps increasing worldwide (even in Sub-Saharan Africa) as poverty rates decrease. The amount of people living in hunger conditions is lower than expected (850 million instead of 1 billion. Obviously this is still 850 million too many).

Things do get better, worldwide, even if slow and steady.

In my very humble opinion things do get right in very unexpected and unspecific ways: SF just isn't noticing them very much (let alone trying to anticipate them).

In that manner, SF is very much like the GOP: it aims at mainly at a certain area that used to be the mainstream (angry white man for the GOP, dystopian stories for SF), while the world at large is moving away from them (the USA is becoming a more multicultural/tolerant society--if slowly and steadily--against the wishes of the GOP at large, the world is becoming a better place--if slowly and steadily--against the wishes of the SF community at large).

The GOP finds it 'easier to talk about' things that have only a minimal connection to reality, SF finds it 'easier to write about' things that require no deep thinking, either (futures-gone-to-hell are easy; futures-that-change-for-the-better are difficult).

I call it intellectual laziness.

Both ignore at least the other 50% (GOP ignores the non-white, non-male demography; SF ignores any future where things do move forward).

Both ignore that very important part at their own peril.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-11-16 14:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually, we're talking past each other a bit. My earlier remark was meant to be a comment on plotting and crafting fiction, not intended as a blanket denial of world progress.
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Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2012-11-16 16:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This... it's also the simpler explanation for why the media tends to focus on specific things rather than reporting data.

"President likely to be re-elected as challenger can't break through in swing states" is less interesting than "Presidential election neck and neck in nail biting horserace, tune in now to see our pundits discuss..."
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mysterysquid
User: mysterysquid
Date: 2012-11-16 14:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Very well put.

Ties in with several psychological studies in recent years. I know the verdict is still out on them, but preponderances of evidence and all.
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