Exploratory Rantery With Dr. Brent
America vs Police II is actually the legacy of the ascendency of conservative ideological philosophy.
One of the largest evolving stories of the last several years is the continued shock at police violence and the response to that violence. Unfortunately the response to this has been so predictable that it boggles the mind.
|Americans would like police to stop shoting them. |
This has somehow produced a counter argument
Police have blamed everyone except themselves with the consensus being that social media is to blame. “Listen we've been doing this forever! It's just that you used to not SEE us do it! So please stop looking at us.”
|But...we're heros. You guys are always telling us that!|
Liberals have been blaming the militarization of the county. Which is certainly part of the problem though of course liberals are JUST as much to blame for that as anyone.
Conservatives have laid the blame at the decay of “respect for authority”. Which is also certainly true. Unfortunately the blame for the decay of respect for authority lies with the conservative intelligentsia.
This may seem counter intuitive but bear with me here because to get where we're going I'm going to need to give you a tiny primer that boils down where these two political philosophies came from and are now.
Lets start with liberalism. At it's core liberalism is about one thing. You are part of a larger unit. Each person is responsible for himself of course but beyond that you are responsible for everyone else as well. And they are responsible for you. It argues that pure individualism leads inexorably towards extreme social stratification. And that this stratification leads to misery.
|The fashion of the time made neck hiding a priority|
In my opinion much of modern liberalism can be traced back to the philosophy of Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism can be described best by the idea postulated by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham. To quote Bentham, "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong."
Liberalism argues that left to their own devices people often act selfishly and that selfish actions, while often INDIVIDUALLY rational in the short term are not SOCIETALLY rational. An excellent example of this is environmental protection. It is quite clearly in the interests of large corporate industry to have absolutely no environmental constraints. However corporations are made up of human beings who have to live in the world. So in the long term 1950s style industrial practices lead to more misery for people and are not long term rational.
Liberals argue, quite convincingly in my opinion, that while it is rational to seek as much money as possible in the short term through low taxation and minimal regulation, the societal effects of extreme income gaps (social unrest, illness, crime, decaying infrastructure, extreme market instability) make it irrational in the long term as eventually even the rich will suffer from these situations.
Moreover they make a moral argument that restriction of personal liberty is moral as long as the NET amount of misery in the world is lessened over time. This is also know as enlightened self interest.
Now lets take a quick look at Conservatism. Modern conservatism is born out of the enlightenment. Ironically, while conservatism these days is so tied up with religious fundamentalism it's greatest minds and largest influences were almost all less traditionally religious than their peers and many were completely atheist in their religious beliefs. The enlightenment era out of which was born modern conservatism (neo-liberalism) was about the ascendency of man. Adam Smith postulated that all men left to their own devices will act in rationally via a concept he called “the invisible hand”. The invisible hand guided people to act in their own interest even when from the outside their actions might appear irrational. He extrapolated this out to markets in general because, of course, markets are nothing more than large collections of men. Incidentally ladies you weren't involved in this discussion for at least another dozen decades. And I'd say history has born out that women and men do not in fact behave fundamentally differently in economics and politics.
Smith continued on to argue that allowing all men to act in their own self interest, free of constraint or artificial rules, would lead to the least amount of suffering possible. In modern parlance conservatives call this theory “letting the market decide”.
|One third of the Holy Trinity: Uncle Milty|
Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman took this idea even further. These two minds are the core of modern conservative political and economic thought. Their ideologies can be boiled down to a sentence. The greatest good possible is increased liberty. Anything that DECREAES liberty causes suffering to the individual. No system that causes widespread individual malcontent can possibly lead to good.
|The other two parts of the deity: Ayn and Adam|
For Rand her main examples were the obvious and extreme suffering caused by the completely planned societies of twentieth century communism. But it's important to also note that Rand hated religion. She had to. For a person who believed that individual liberty was the ultimate good there was no way to countenance that with religion which has historically been the main way society has restrained individual desires for the common good. (In the future I'm thinking about an essay on how this strange bedfellows ideological alliance occurred. Off the top of my head it seems that if you substitute “God” for “invisible hand” everything still works nicely. Christians want to “give it up to Jesus” and conservatives want to “give it up to the market”. They share the idea that people can only fuck it up in the long run.)
OK for those of you still with me...THANKS! No more dry philosophical back story I promise.
It simply cannot be credibly argued that the last 40 years have been anything other than conservative political thought completely taking over the national direction. IF you'd like to make that argument in the comments feel free but I absolutely promise you will lose. And convincingly, so unless you're coming packing with heavy arguments please don't bother.
Now you'll often hear conservatives lamenting “kids today” and the “Me generation”. But here we get to the crux of my argument. The “Me generation” that conservatives hate so much is a direct outcome of their own ideology. Conservative philosophy is all about individual liberty. When you have a philosophy that argues individual liberty not be restrained by any outside force and that ultimately you are responsible only for yourself what other possible outcome can be expected?
Now lets get to the current police confrontations. Pure individual liberty is a tough sell. There are obvious arguments against it. The benefits are abstract. While the argument against is visceral.
There is a family living in a car. Here is a mother dying of cancer because she can't afford health insurance.
In order to sell this ideology some PR massaging was needed. And that PR massaging took the form of “Anyone can do anything! You are only constrained by the limits of your imagination and talents. That's the promise of America and the basis of the American dream!”
|I gotta admit, I love the libertarian message in a |
Soviet Realism style piece. Clever!
This was of course an absurd over simplification. People's potential is constrained by a myriad of factors outside their control. There are figurative mountains of data strongly correlating the wealth of parents directly with the wealth of their offspring.
But the needed narrative to allow their philosophy to take over was that anyone can do anything and no body is innately more privileged than another. There are benefits to this ideology (slavery becomes untenable for instance) and there are draw backs.
One of the draw backs is that it leads to a corrosion of the sense of responsibility to your fellow man. If bankers don't need to be constrained by law because personal liberty is the greatest good then why would I feel constrained to follow laws I don't agree with?
Liberalism would argue that although certain laws don't help you at all (in fact may hinder you) you have a responsibility to obey for the greater good of society. Conservatism argues that the your greater good IS the greater good of society.
And so a slow erosion in the belief of societal good over individual desire occurs. Suddenly policing isn't a needed constraint upon the liberties of man it's a nuisance and a hindrance to my personal liberty.
And conservatism has spent forty years literally mocking the notion of the “nanny state” and praising individual liberty as the new religion. All of their rhetoric revolves around removing constraints from people. Unleashing innovation through allowing people to do what they desire.
So in the end you end up with a generation of people steeped in the notion that no one is inherently more privileged than another, that individual desires should not be constrained by the state, that less regulation always leads to better outcomes and fed the idea that they themselves can do whatever they want to do provided they try hard enough. It was impossible for this to not lead to less respect for authority.
The seduction of this philosophy is easy to understand. I myself loathe artificial authority. It's one of the few ideals of conservatism that genuinely appeals to me. But then, I'm also aware enough to understand that my own desires are not always rational.
|Reagan was the absolute master of the seemingly profound banality.|
This has since been copied by every politician alive.
Conservatives, in an effort to push their agenda, have been on a 40 year campaign to point out every single way that large regulatory institutions fail and cause misery. They've been responsible for a tone that tears down artificial respect for authority. The way they've spoken to and about Democratic presidents is a perfect example. Conservatism is simply incompatible with the idea of “respect for authority”. One of the rallying cries for modern conservatism is Ronald Reagan’s famous line, “Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.” Substitute police for government and you end up where we are.
And that concludes parto uno.
Next time we'll examine policing methods and falling crime rates over the last 40 years and further explore the handbasket.