Monday, October 07, 2002

The Profound Goodness of Some Idiotarianism

"If you weren't a liberal when you were 20, you don't have a heart. If you aren't a conservative by the time you're 35, you don't have a brain." So the saying goes. I'm 37, and I can tell you that I understand this saying at the most intimate level. In any event, our concern today is the "heart" part.

Imagine having stridently, um, "progressive" values: being strongly environmentalist, being deeply cynical about American values, and valiantly championing the cause of poor people of the world against their oppression by the wealthy powers that be. Imagine hearing arguments from conservatives that these deeply held beliefs are not right. What do you feel, how do you react?

"I cannot betray the vulnerable. I’ve been given powerful reason for giving up my stances in support of ending the misery of poverty, of fighting the U.S. government’s attempts to subvert other societies innocent of any wrongdoing, of the potentially apocalyptic destruction of the environment by selfish polluters, and of stopping the racist and sexist system in America. The stakes are too high. I simply cannot believe the arguments from conservatives that my positions on these issues are incorrect. The chance that I’m having the wool pulled over my eyes by cunning, deceitful rhetoric is substantial. No, I will stick to my guns in spite of all the evidence against me.”

This is noble. This is a real human heart. This is the young leftist who has a chance of taking the step to conservatism. The problem is that from his perspective, conservatism must be wrong, because it says that one has no obligation to stop poverty, stop the U.S. government’s evil foreign policy, prevent an immanent environmental apocalypse, and destroy a racist and sexist American system. To the leftist, relinquishing the liberal position, abandoning the leftist causes, is indistinguishable from giving up on the most morally important ideals a human being could have. Only a good person of substantial moral character would marshal such restraint and bring such energy to bear in resisting what seem to him be sinister and beguiling appeals from the right wing.

Now, there are leftists - idiotarians - who are not in this league. They cling to their leftist dogma out of either (a.) envy of successful, happy people or (b.) a sense of the radical chic, a boredom with the hum-drum of life that they have decided to assuage by adopting a “Marxist-feminist” or a “Chomskyite” or “postmodern anti-globalist multiculturalist” countercultural persona. Usually it’s both, because (a.) leads to (b.). If you can’t find deep satisfaction in ordinary human values, then you get bored and may decide to amuse yourself with radical chic. These people are deeply idiotarian. There is no real human heart here. There’s no use in concerning oneself with them. Helping them is all but impossible.

No, the idiotarians we're concerned with here hardly deserve that name. They are doing their best to figure out what’s right. We should call them “befuddledatarians”. They may have a streak or two of the hardcore idiotarian in them - a bit of the misfit, the bored, the self-absorbed - that has contributed to their befuddlement. But they have the moral character it takes to shake off their illusions and gain solid moral footing in the areas in which they now err. It can happen in a matter of the course of a single year. All it takes is others’ kindness, patience and willingness to pursue reasoned deliberation with them; they’ll come around. If you meet a leftist, go that extra mile unless you’re sure he’s one of the hardcore idiotarians. For he might just be a 27- or 34-year-old befuddledatarian ripe for the picking.

Oh, and you beffudledatarians: you better pursue the strong arguments against your views. Don’t be lazy. Be courageous. You know you want the truth about moral matters, so go after it and face it, whatever it turns out to be.