Tag Archives: conservatism

A couple of years ago, I was sitting in a cafe in Paris when I happened to strike up a conversation with an Australian woman sitting next to me. At some point, she brought up Sarah Palin and went on for quite a bit about how ridiculous she was, a position with which I agreed. After continuing a little bit longer, she finally said, “What ever happened to her?” I said, “She wasn’t elected. She had no real support, so she disappeared.”

This time around, the media is having fun with reality tv star Donald Trump. As far as I can tell, Donald Trump is supported by Republicans who are angry with the status quo of the party and want to send a message. I have no reason to believe that he has even a small chance of winning the general election. However, he satisfies the need everyone has to gloat and go on about how stupid the unwashed masses are, the unwashed masses being, as best as I’ve been able to discern, everyone but the speaker. It’s a ritualized routine everyone is comfortable with.

Another routine which people left of center have enjoyed throughout my entire life is the one where they say how stupid Americans are for being afraid of socialism. We, so the Kabuki theatre of the left goes, barely understand what the word means and we are automatically scared to death when we hear it. This is then followed by a self-congratulatory pose for being so much more well-informed than the strawman.

These routines are so well ingrained in our political discourse, if discourse is the right word, sometimes we continue to say them long after there is much substance behind them. Will the conventional wisdom that U.S. citizens automatically run when they hear the word “socialism” change now that Bernie Sanders is drawing huge crowds, 28,000 people in Portland, Oregon, and 27,500 in Los Angeles?

The idea that citizens in the U.S. tend to be jumpy about the word socialism is not simply a myth. While we may support specific social programs, we tend to back away from a full-blown Socialist ideology. According to Wikipedia:

Initially, “socialism” referred to general concern for the social problems of capitalism regardless of the solutions to those problems. However, by the late 19th century, after waves of revolutionary movements, “socialism” had come to signify opposition to capitalism and advocacy for a post-capitalist system based on some form of social ownership.

In the United States, you can often find support for the former and very little support for the latter. Conservatives have made much use of the blurred definition by referring to specific social programs they oppose as “socialism.”

In the Wall Street Journal, Jason L. Riley points out that “no one is saying Bernie Sanders can’t win because America isn’t ready to elect an avowed socialist as president, which might have been the case not too long ago.”

This is a dramatic change in attitudes. I can’t help speculating that this change has been brought about by the rhetoric of the far right. For six and a half years now, the right has screamed relentlessly that President Obama is a Socialist. This generally has left people to the left of center laughing and shaking their heads. Compared even to me, a moderate liberal, Obama might as well be a moderate conservative. The far right has screamed “The President is a Socialist,” and the general population must have noticed that the sky has not fallen. Ironically, by calling every move to address any social problem “socialism”, without any nuance or explanation, the right may have taken the sting out of the word. Also, they may have confused the distinction.

Riley continues:

If the Democratic Party once felt the need to distinguish itself from socialism, that no longer seems to be the case. When Mr. Sanders entered Congress in 1991, “Democrats initially balked at accepting a Socialist in their caucus,” according to the “Almanac of American Politics.”

He goes on to say, “in this age of Obama, the senator is just another liberal with a statist agenda.” This is routine rhetoric that we’ve come to expect over the past few years. Sanders calls himself a socialist, Sanders often votes with the Democrats, Obama is a Democrat, therefore Obama is a Socialist. Riley may mean this to reflect badly on Obama, but the ultimate effect is to make Socialism less scary and normalize it for the U.S. public.

As an intellectual, I’m not really thrilled with this confusion. I believe that ideas matter, although it may not always be evident in the heat of a political fight when people will say anything to win. Blurring the lines between Liberalism and Socialism, between Leftist Radicalism and Liberalism, makes it difficult to discuss what we believe. Still, I’m not afraid of Socialists and if the slogans of the right have made a self-described socialist electable, I must say I find that very funny.

Oh – the only poll I could find that pitted Sanders against Trump has Sanders winning.

One of my favorite movies is Gattaca. A small detail in the movie is a pianist with six fingers. In the movie, it is intentional, achieved through genetic engineering. In the real world, polydactyly is a congenital abnormality, a type of birth defect characterized by structural deformities. In my high school biology class, one of my classmates told us that she had been born with six fingers but the sixth finger had been cut off a few days after she was born.  One of the other students said, “It would be so cool to have six fingers.” The first girl explained that the sixth finger is rarely fully functional and hers was not. She showed us the scar on the side of her hand, which was so old and faded that I wouldn’t have noticed it had she not pointed it out.

Birth defects can run the gamut from those that threaten a child’s health to the comparatively trivial. It is not at all unusual for parents to choose, as my schoolmate’s parents did, to have abnormalities corrected when possible. Parents make these kinds of health decisions for infant children all time. Since, in this particular case, the finger was non-functional, the young woman was happy that her parents had made the decision they had. However, what if the finger had been functional? Would be better for her to look like other people or to have six functional digits? Who should make that decision?

Few congenital disorders have multiple choices that many people can see as equally valid. However, intersex is an exception. Formerly called hermaphrodism, intersex is, “is a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, and/or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female. Such variation may involve genital ambiguity, and combinations of chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female.”

When I was in seventh grade, our school showed us a documentary about a girl who had been born ambiguous genitals. I no longer recall why the parents chose to raise her as a girl and not a boy, but that is what they did. She must have been born in either the late sixties or the early seventies, and the most common way this was handled at the time was for parents to choose to raise the child as either a boy or a girl. Surgeries made her previously ambiguous genitals into externally female genitals, she was dressed in girls’ clothes and the rest of the world identified her as a girl. They also discussed with her the subject of adoption since she would not be able to have children. I have no doubt the parents, with the information available to them at the time, were doing what they believed to be in her best interest.

Intersex is a condition that you don’t choose; you can’t choose. You’re just born with it. One in every 2000 people are born with this condition, so it’s not especially uncommon. People have been born with this condition throughout recorded history and they have dealt with it with the best way they could at the time. This is why I was aghast when I read the word “desire” associated with intersex in an article in The American Conservative.

Desire Über Alles” was prompted by an article in Der Spiegel.

The option of selecting “blank,” in addition to the standard choices of “male” or female” on birth certificates will become available in Germany from November 1. The legislative change allows parents to opt out of determining their baby’s gender, thereby allowing those born with characteristics of both sexes to choose whether to become male or female in later life. Under the new law, individuals can also opt to remain outside the gender binary altogether.

When I was young, intersex people’s lives were determined at a very young age by their parents. Today, there has been a move for those individuals to determine these questions for themselves. This really strikes me as being such a simple, and obvious, way of dealing with the situation, I can’t help wondering if conservatives immediately go on the attack the moment they hear the word “sex.” The writer, Rod Dreher, draws a link between new-born infants whose sex is not obvious to adult observers to Paolo and Francesca, adulterous lovers burning in hell Dante’s Inferno. Do not ask me to explain how these things are similar. Dreher’s article is a masterpiece of incoherence. He throws together unrelated things as if he was playing a journalistic game of exquisite corpse.

“Good Godwin,” you may be wondering, “did he mention Hitler?” You bet your sweet bippy he did! But you can ignore that because, well, he said so. “Ignore the Godwin’s Law screaming meemies and grasp the deeper point Reno is making about how we allow desire, abetted by technology, to determine reality.”

So, to recap: Dante, adulterers, desire, people born with ambiguous genitals, German birth certificates, Australian passports, desire is will, Triumph of the Will, Nazis, Francis Bacon, Liberalism is like Marxism, Karl Marx, Marxist-turned-Catholic Alasdair MacIntyre, Liberalism is not like Marxism, Nietzsche/Heidegger/Hitler, abortion. All of this is thrown together in some sort of exercise in conservative free association.

I kid you not. This is not an article. It’s the ramblings of someone lying on an analyst’s couch.

So, people who did not choose to be intersex should not be allowed to choose how to deal with that fact even when they are adults? Is that the conservative position?