Analysis, Charles, Left-Liberalism, Social Behavior
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On the Subjective Mental State of Liberals

In 1974, philosopher Thomas Nagel famously asked “What Is it Like to be a Bat?”  Nagel rejected reductionism, the idea that all consciousness can be reduced to simpler components identical for all sentient beings.  Instead, he held that for each type of conscious being, there is a unique mindset embodying what it feels like to be that type of being.  These subjective experiences are called the “qualia” of consciousness, the internal viewpoints inherent to a sentient creature.  Nobody can say what the qualia of a bat are, but I am here to analyze a closely related question:  what are the qualia of a liberal?

By liberal, I do not mean classical liberal, or even the American moderate Left that until the 1960s was ascendant in the Democratic Party.  Rather, I mean left-liberal, or progressive, the ideology of cultural Marxism, of the Frankfurt School, now dominant in the Democratic Party, as it has been dominant for some time in the academic world and in other worlds controlled by the Left, such as the media-entertainment complex.  What goes on behind their eyes?  To a neutral observer, the externally visible political actions of today’s liberals are irrational and incoherent.  The simplest explanation for their behavior is that liberals are people of low intelligence, and that they are not educated (whatever degrees they may have).  An alternative simple explanation is that they desire evil and hide that desire, so their actions and stated reasons do not match.  But, while both are possible explanations, it seems unlikely that that any of this is how they perceive the world and their actions.  So again—what are the qualia of a liberal?

We should be clear that specific policy prescriptions are not examples of qualia.  For example, demanding gun control every time there is a shooting, or demanding gun control in general, despite the demonstrable total irrationality of using that policy prescription to fix the problems liberals claim it will fix, is not an example of qualia.  Nor are the ever-increasing Left demands for censorship of views that oppose theirs.  These are only the external appearances resulting from internal phenomena—equivalent to a bat turning in the air upon echolocating a mosquito to eat.  The deeper question is what is the bat thinking upon making the turn?  He is trying to achieve a goal, but what mental visions impel that effort?  Upon this question, and similar ones, translated to the liberal brain, much turns, for if we can understand, even a little, we can more effectively combat their poison.

This question of liberal qualia first occurred to me when listening to a new podcast put out by the New York Times, called “The Argument.”  Having listened to three episodes, it has become clear that this podcast alone provides all I need to complete my analysis.  I conclude that liberals have four key qualia, ones unique to liberals, compared to normal human beings.  I note, by the way, that all human beings share most of their qualia.  There is no reason to believe that liberals perceive, say, the color red differently than the rest of humanity, or the taste of Pabst Blue Ribbon.  Here we are seeking the qualia distinctions that explain political action.  (Furthermore, naturally, we are relying to a certain extent on generalizations.)

The first quale is that liberals do not see reality as it is.  What their eyes perceive is not the truth, because everything is filtered through an ideological lens, which removes anything that contradicts their ideology before it can enter their minds.  Reality is totally subordinated to political ends, which are derived purely from abstractions.  Unlike a bat’s echolocation, this is not merely a different way of seeing the world.  It is an inferior, neutered, way of seeing the world.  If a bat could not see the world accurately, it would starve.  Liberals are able to avoid such consequences, the hammer blows of reality, because in America today they live in bubbles of their own creation in which everyone else believes the same thing, in which they are never exposed to the consequences of reality and where everyone whose opinion they care about acts as if unreality is real.  Critically, in those bubbles, liberals also control the levers of power, and of reward and punishment.  In this walled ecosystem, they do not starve, because food is stolen for them from those who can produce value because they see reality clearly.  Liberals are thus like the Old Bolshevik, Rubashov, in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, who, on his way to be shot after conviction for crimes he knows to be wholly imaginary, truly believes that his execution is necessary and correct, since the Party is always right, history dictates that his death is required, and through this lie the Promised Land will be achieved.  Even as the bullet enters his skull, Rubashov cannot free himself of the prison his mind has created for him, and so it is for liberals today—except that the rest of us, not them, suffer and die for their distorted vision of reality.

The second quale, related to but distinct from their divorce from reality, is that liberals use key words, first inside their heads and then spoken out loud, only after mentally assigning them new meanings designed to serve their abstract political goals.  For example, in current political discourse, we constantly hear that anything not Left, and especially Trump, is “corrupt” and “illegitimate.”  These words are used because liberals know that anything not in agreement with them is bad, and they know that the words “corrupt” or “illegitimate” designate bad things.  But corruption is objectively defined, Webster’s says, as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.”  (Or, more broadly, corruption means that someone with power claims to be performing a defined, neutral, role, and is instead performing a different, self-interested, one.)  Illegitimate means “not authorized by the law; not in accordance with accepted standards or rules.”  Liberals’ complaint about Trump has nothing to do with those meanings.  Instead, the words have been redefined to mean “nebulously very bad, in a way I need not explain.”  In practice, this is a rhetorical device, what Scott Adams calls “linguistic kill shots.”  Critically, though, in liberals’ own minds the meanings have not changed.

The third quale, again related but distinct, is emotivism ruling rationality.  Any matter perceived by a liberal that affects his political worldview is not analyzed objectively, nor are his conclusions supported logically, but rather with unbridled emotion.  Occasional efforts at rationality are made, but upon any examination or challenge, emotion swamps any such attempt.  Why?  Well, we can’t really tell directly, of course, but this phenomenon seems to let the liberal avoid the consequences of denying reality, to serve to indicate tribal affiliation to other liberals, and to signal virtue and righteousness to the world at large, as well as to the liberal himself.  Emotivism often appears as projection in the service of self-exculpation, used by liberals to whip themselves up into a righteous rage and justify ever more vicious attacks on those who stand in the way of their utopian political goals.

The fourth quale is breathtaking arrogance, blended with a nebulous, yet unshakeable, conviction of their own moral superiority, both tied to the belief that history is a wave and liberals are destined to ride it like the Silver Surfer.  The origin of this is not anything rational, such as an analysis of the past and measured predictions about the future, but an insatiable desire to lord it over supposed inferiors, feeding the human desire to feel that one is on a higher plane than others.  This characteristic is often the most evident in particular political discussions, such as those surrounding global warming.  It is reinforced, as with the anti-reality quale, by liberals’ living in a walled ecosystem, where they can daily reassure each other that yes, indeed, we are superior.  And it often comes out in the visceral belief that anyone who disagrees with them is evil, since that belief allows feeling superior without any need to demonstrate superiority.

So those are the four liberal qualia.  I will note that my analysis of qualia is done with a somewhat broad brush.  Some liberals, for example, do see the world clearly; they are just evil and want evil ends.  Such was Lenin.  But in America today, few liberals are like that, though probably more than are willing to admit that their main difference from Pol Pot is that their field of action is in North America, not Asia.

It might also be objected these are not true qualia, since they are ideologically driven distortions of mental processes, not purely organic products of the brain.  True enough, though it’s not clear that the ideology came first.  Just as likely, some defect in the liberal mind resulted in them believing this way, and that same defect reinforces the qualia driving specific political demands.  As Jonathan Haidt has noted, morality derives largely from pre-existent mental states; so (probably) with liberal qualia, although we will never truly know, since normal people cannot get inside the liberal mind, and if we are liberal, we lack the ability to self-analyze in this fashion.

Finally, this analysis is not without its dangers.  One logical progression of identifying the mental defects of one’s political opponents is to view them less than human, a path that has led to disaster ever since the French Revolution.  That path is primarily one the Left has trodden, and in recent times, they have increasingly become unrestrained about wanting to step onto it in America.  But the same temptation can occur on the Right.  We should be careful that understanding the liberal mind is used as a tool to combat their political program, and to strip them of power, forever, but not to dehumanize them.

OK, let’s illustrate these characteristics through examples from the podcast.  The declared reason for “The Argument” is “for democracy to work, we need to hear each other out. . . . [We] explain the arguments from across the political spectrum.”  The podcast features three regular New York Times columnists, Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.  Douthat is the only conservative who writes for the NYT and he is very conservative, although also very much infected by inside-the-Beltway thinking (which he admits).  Goldberg and Leonhardt are very far left.  Goldberg is farther left; that the newspaper thinks that Leonhardt can be the centrist in this trio is charming.  But it isn’t surprising—every other person who writes for the NYT is also very far left, except for house “conservative” David Brooks, since the paper has reimagined itself as a full-time organ of attack upon Trump and anyone right of center, providing a safe space bubble for its clueless readers to imagine that they have the moral high ground, while reminding them of the looming powers of those wishing to attack the Left.  Whenever I read the NYT, to which I have to admit I subscribe, I often find it weirdly compelling, even hypnotizing, until I step back and realize that almost all articles are packed with demonstrable lies, both of commission and omission, and, perhaps more importantly, skilled writing is used to weave deliberate propaganda, of which Joseph Goebbels would be proud.

Anyway, in the first episode, “Is the Supreme Court Broken?,” the three columnists did a good job of being civil.  All three are well-informed.  But a good part of what Goldberg especially, and Leonhardt as well, said was quite literally insane and utterly divorced from reality, which made me think of bats as an explanation—maybe she just sees things in a way normal humans don’t.  Despite appearances, I don’t think Goldberg is a mental defective.  Instead, she is an outstanding illustration of the externally visible results of liberal qualia, as is Leonhardt, to a somewhat lesser degree.

The pivot of the discussion in this episode was the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, with the premise being Leonhardt’s statement, “For the first time in decades, the court is firmly conservative.  And now Democrats are calling it a broken, partisan body.”  Leonhardt, acting as de facto moderator, first asks Goldberg, “When you realized that Brett Kavanaugh was going to be Justice Kavanaugh, how did it feel?”  She responded, “[I]t’s hard for me to emphasize the extent to which this is, just, like, personally degrading, right, there’s political disagreement and there’s political loss, and then there’s personally feeling like you have been dehumanized and degraded and a sinking punch in the gut that, you know, these hostile men basically have their boots on our necks and are not going to remove them. .  . . It is grueling.”

We see here three of the four characteristics of the liberal qualia.  We see rank emotivism—it is grueling; doom is coming; they are bad; I am choking.  We see an unreal reality; no normal human being could conclude that the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation was anything other than “political disagreement” and “political loss,” or that it was objectively, in any way, “dehumanizing,” degrading” or that “hostile men . . . have their boots on their necks and are not going to remove them,” metaphorically or otherwise.  And we see “partisan” redefined to mean “no longer dominated by the Left.”

Moving on, Douthat, after abasing himself to a small degree with preemptive apologies, something never done once in any episode of this podcast by either Goldberg or Leonhardt, or anywhere else by them, probably ever, notes that “for forty years, after World War II, the Supreme Court was run by a cabal of pretty liberal justices who spent a lot of time overturning a lot of laws and effectively sort of moral customers in America. . . . The way liberals are feeling right now about the prospect of a conservative Court is the way conservatives felt about the real Court for generations.”  Leonhardt responds that what we have now “feels qualitatively different” and maunders on that the Court is “more partisan, I think it’s much more radical than when it had a center or center-left majority.”  Again, no attempt is made to demonstrate this in even the slightest way, because the assertion is self-evidently ludicrous—it is more pure unreality and emotivism, as shown by the dead giveaway verb “feels,” along with more redefinitions.

Goldberg jumps in to endorse shrinking or expanding the Supreme Court to pack it with liberals, rejecting that the possibility that will lead to a downward spiral of reaction and counter-reaction.  She rejects it not for any rational reason, but because otherwise the End is Nigh.  “The situation we have now strikes me, and I think not just me, as intolerable, and I think that most liberals have the sense that there is no limit to the right’s kind of determination to impose its power on us by any means possible, and so inasmuch as you sort of lose faith that we’re all playing by some set of ground rules or that we all have some shared commitment to the process, you just start feeling that like you’re a sucker if you don’t use every single tool at your disposal.”  So, decades of rule by the Supreme Court in favor of the Left and in opposition to democracy may be ending, though no court ruling has been made yet, but the Apocalypse has arrived.  Again, we see three of the four liberal qualia (this time, we are missing word re-definitions, but we have unreality, emotivism, and claimed moral superiority).

Then Goldberg, without seeing the contradiction to what she just said, suggests that the real problems (for the Left) will  not show up “unless and until this Supreme Court starts handing down really radical 5-4 decisions that, say, thwart what a President Elizabeth Warren tries to do with corruption reform—I think you will see a popular demand that something be done.”  Leonhardt chimes in to say that despite “this enraging moment,” “the right answer is for Democrats and progressives to continue pointing out the ways in which this Court is illegitimate.”  And here we have my original example, of redefinition of “corrupt” and “illegitimate.”  In no plausible universe does either of these words apply to the Supreme Court as currently constituted (which Court, as I say, has not issued a single ruling).  But, using the transitive property, to liberals, “conservative majority on the Supreme Court” equals “rulings that do not comport with Left desire to rule through the Court” equals “bad” equals “corrupt and illegitimate.”

Leonhardt asks Douthat what he hopes for out of this Court, to which Douthat says he wants some victories for conservatives on social issues, but modestly rejects “an aggressive activist Court that’s trying to strike down every law that a President Warren passes.  I think the way we get back to sanity around the Court is for the Court to give some victories to social conservatives . . . [but] respect democracy when it leads to liberal outcomes too.”  In turn, Goldberg answers the same question, unleashing a barely coherent rant.  “I don’t really have hopes.  I think that they’re just going to do their worst.”  We will have “extremely sinister effects, not just on the hot button social issues, but really on the power of corporate money, on the abilities of Democratic majorities to pass laws restraining corruption and inequality.”  Brett Kavanaugh was chosen so that Donald Trump could neuter Robert Mueller, who is, any day now, going to find Russian meddling in some broom closet.  “So I think we could have a real breakdown of the rule of law.”  Leonhardt wraps up by saying “I hope the whole mess of this confirmation makes the Court a little more humble. . . . I think a humble Court right now, rather than a Court that tries to remake America and society in its own image, would be much better for the country.”

We see here all four qualia.  “Humble” is redefined to mean “subservient to liberal goals.”  When the Left spends decades remaking America, that is justice; when the possibility arises that the Right may reverse some of these Left gains, they need to be subservient instead, because that is “better for the country”—i.e., better for the Left.  We also see here bizarre claims of moral superiority, akin to the man who, having killed his parents, throws himself on the judge’s mercy as an orphan.  No acknowledgement is made of the hatred and confusion engendered purely by leftist attacks on Kavanaugh by obvious liars and perjurers, whipped up in organized fashion.  Their purity is unassailable; their opponents, by merely defending themselves from slander, are “sinister” and trying to achieve “the breakdown of the rule of law.”  All this in just a few sentences—and note that nowhere in any of these podcasts can Douthat be even once accused of exemplifying any of the four liberal qualia.

I could multiply these examples endlessly, and maybe I already am, but let’s just see two more, from a different podcast in the series, “How Screwed Up is American Democracy?”  Goldberg hyperventilates, “We’re already in a situation where I and a lot of other people feel like we’re being ruled by an illegitimate, undemocratically elected cabal of our enemies.”  When Douthat queries the use of “enemies,” asking “do you pause at all before using the word ‘enemies’ ”, she shrilly responds, “Not any more. . . . I look at a President whose basic raison d’etre is ‘owning the libs,’ is making people like me, and my family, and my friends, scared and afraid and humiliated, and I see people cheering for him, I see people cheering for him precisely because he does that, and I don’t know how to describe them anyway except ‘my enemies.’ ”  On the surface, this is a mirror image of conservative complaints about their enemies.  Maybe conservatives just live in their own bubbles, a topic I am going to address in a different analysis.  But poke a little, and it’s not just ludicrously unmoored from reality, but malevolently so.  Does anyone actually believe that Goldberg is ever “scared and afraid and humiliated”?  Is she attacked when she goes to restaurants or in public places?  Might she lose her job if she says something liberal?  Might her children be ostracized by some political position she takes?  Do people in power that she cares about treat her with contempt?  Of course not.  Those things only happen to conservatives, every day, to millions of them.  Never to liberals, and most especially never to powerful liberals like her.

But that’s not what Goldberg sees, and that’s my point.  What Goldberg actually objects to, even if it is hidden from her, is that she may not be on top anymore; she may no longer be able to dish out contempt and humiliation to conservatives, forcing them to accept her radical political programs, because they may succeed in neutering a chief method of liberal power.  That’s why they are her enemies—because the peasants are revolting and trying to throw off the liberal yoke and whip, not because they are actually causing her any type of harm.  Filtered through the four liberal qualia, though, Goldberg sees herself as the persecuted, yet resilient and ultimately triumphant, Angel of Justice, pure in thought and deed.

And in the same podcast, in addition to continuing to use “corruption” and “illegitimate” with redefined meanings, both Goldberg and Leonhardt repeatedly, more than twenty times, refer to the Republican Party using “damaged,” “broken,” “beyond repair,” “fundamentally sick,” and similar terms.  They never say once what they mean by that; they treat it as obvious.  But it’s transparently not a normal use of those terms—when one refers to something as “broken,” that means it cannot perform its function.  In the case of a political party, its function is to gain power for its adherents.  By that measure, the Republican Party is very much not broken, and no case can be made that it is.  No, what they mean is a complete inversion of the actual meaning of “broken”—they mean that the Republican Party is effective and dominant, and eroding the power of their own political party.  Once Leonhardt reverts, and says the Republicans are “doing so much damage,” which is an accurate phrasing.  That reversion unveils the redefinition, of course.

It’s not just this podcast series, of course—it’s most liberal pronouncements today.  Take, for example, a piece that the famous Holocaust historian Christopher Browning wrote a few weeks back in that liberal bastion, the New York Review of Books, shrieking that Trump is Hitler (and tacking on that it doesn’t matter, since global warming is going to kill us all).  Unfortunately for him, his writing totally beclowns him, and ruins his reputation.  He, however, does not and cannot see that, for he has the qualia of a liberal (and lives and breathes in the walled garden of liberalism).  But his pieces jarringly illustrates all four characteristics of liberal qualia, as you will see for yourself if you subject yourself to the link.  I won’t go into detail, since this analysis is long enough, and dead horses should not be beaten, but I’m happy to discuss further if there is demand from the People!

In the meantime, you can take this analysis home with you, and when you listen to liberal demands, I hope you will have a better idea of what is actually behind those demands.  How to fight back most effectively is a topic for another day, but, as always, forewarned is forearmed.

9 Comments

  1. Daphne Patai says

    Thanks for the illuminating column, Charles. What you describe is, alas, all around us. I was, however, surprised by what you wrote about Christopher Browning, whose work as a historian I know. Wonder what happened to him.
    Perhaps this suggests, after all, that an ideological shift can lead to addled brains – though that still leaves us with the puzzle of what triggered that shift in the first place. Unless the shift never was in the left’s thinking and rhetoric but rather in the real world – i.e., who’s in charge for the moment.

    • Charles says

      You are welcome, and thank you. I had just read Browning’s book Ordinary Men, or rather was reading it when his NYRB column came out, so the contrast was jarring. It’s hard for me, not knowing more about Browning, to see if it’s an ideological shift, or just that Ordinary Men does not have a present-day (or 1992-day) ideological component. But one would not think the column and the book were written by the same person. Maybe he’s senile, though he’s only 74. He retired a few years ago, too, so maybe he’s bored and has spent all his time reading the NYT, and has lost his marbles that way!

  2. Daphne Patai says

    Perhaps the hysteria and consequent distortions that we’re seeing are in part a kind of last hurrah, a gesture of desperation to leave one’s mark on the moment, especially in view of the vogue for a “history of the present,” which has seized various historians (and others) in recent years.

  3. Bartolo says

    “We’re already in a situation where I and a lot of other people feel like we’re being ruled by an illegitimate, undemocratically elected cabal of our enemies.”, said Ms Goldberg. Two words: chutzpah and projection.

  4. Bartolo says

    Oh, and fantastic essay, by the way. Really helps understand these people. I am very much looking forward to the book you will write ond day. Take your time… and make it a masterpiece.

  5. Charles, it has taken me far too long to visit your blog; I used to rely on your Facebook posts to grate on my delicate liberal sensibilities. I’ve missed that, but now I see I can come here to get my ire provoked and help you see the error in your thinking — this post provides a great opportunity to resume that project.

    Upon reading your post, my first task was to answer your fundamental question – as a liberal, am I stupid or evil? A vexing choice indeed, but an important question to answer. My null hypothesis was that I am stupid – so I started by looking at the relationship between states’ success in bringing higher education to their populations and votes in the Presidential election. The data show state’s average educational attainment was negatively (and almost perfectly) correlated with support for the conservative Presidential candidate, so perhaps I am not stupid. I guess I must be evil, but golly, I don’t feel evil – despite your comparing us progressives to Pol Pot. (Based on Godwin’s Law, I assume you thought the initial post was too soon to trot out Hitler, though you did give us Goebbels – hard to resist, I know!)

    So I began to suspect that there might just be a flaw in your reasoning. Let’s upack the subjective mental state of conservatives.

    First, I should define what I mean by conservative. By conservative, I do not mean classical conservative, or even the American moderate Right that until the 1990s was ascendant in the Republican Party. Rather, I mean the ideology of MAGA, of white nationalism, of America First, now dominant in the Republican Party – as it has been dominant for some time with Fox News and the fetid swamp of InfoWars, 4chan, and the conspiracy-minded chatrooms that form the vital intellectual center of modern conservatism (the Weekly Standard and their ilk having finally been vanquished). I suppose that somewhere, some more thoughtful conservative still stands athwart history shouting “stop;” he’s kind of adorable in his earnestness, I guess. However, history and conservatism have long passed him by – and his thinking has become no more than a minor curiosity, utterly deprived of any real-world relevance. Instead, we look at conservatism as actually practiced by its proclaimed leaders in the White House and its willing acolytes in Congress: unchecked deficit spending, identity politics, embrace of authoritarian leaders in Russia and North Korea, isolationism and withdrawal from American alliances, protectionism, etc. Let’s focus on these leading conservatives: what goes on behind their eyes?

    The first quale is that conservatives do not see reality as it is. What their eyes perceive is not the truth, because everything is filtered through an ideological lens, which removes anything that contradicts their ideology before it can enter their minds. Unlike a bat’s echolocation, this is not merely a different way of seeing the world. It is an inferior, neutered, way of seeing the world. If a bat could not see the world accurately, it would starve. Conservatives are able to avoid such consequences, the hammer blows of reality, because in America today they live in bubbles of their own creation in which everyone else believes the same thing, in which they are never exposed to the consequences of reality and where everyone whose opinion they care about acts as if unreality is real. Critically, in those bubbles, conservatives also control the levers of power, and of reward and punishment. In this walled ecosystem, they do not starve, because food is stolen for them from those who can produce value because they see reality clearly – as several researchers have shown, blue states are generally more economically productive and are net contributors to government; red states are generally less productive and depend more on government largess.

    Let us return to the well-trod ground of climate change to understand more of conservatives’ willful denial of reality. Liberals believe that anthropogenic climate change is real, and point to mountains of data gathered over decades by thousands of scientists to document that reality. Conservatives, given their political base, find that reality deeply inconvenient. As a result, rather than adjust their beliefs to fit observable reality – they panic: they claim the data is not definitive, but are of course are utterly unable to point to any volume alternative data to support their position, and – not surprisingly – make no effort to collect it. Instead, in the bubbles of the red and purple states they control, they can order data they disagree with scrubbed from public databases, and prohibit state scientists from using the words “climate change.” Reality is subordinated to political ends, which are derived entirely from abstractions.

    The second quale, related to but distinct from their divorce from reality, is that conservatives use key words, first inside their heads and then spoken out loud, only after mentally assigning them new meanings designed to serve their abstract political goals. For example, in current political discourse, we constantly hear that anything not Right, and especially not Trump, is “fake news” and “socialist.” These words are used because conservatives know that anything not in agreement with them is bad, and they know that the words “fake news” or “socialist” designate bad things. But both are easily objectively defined, and are applied by conservatives to a wide range of journalism and policies that do not objectively fit the categories. Conservatives’ complaint about Democrats has nothing to do with those meanings. Instead, the words have been redefined to mean “news that I find politically uncomfortable, though it is true” and “policies that I disagree with.” In practice, this is a rhetorical device; critically, though, in conservatives’ own minds the meanings have not changed. (Editor’s note: while it unfortunately requires me to depart from using your words to summarize the flaws in conservative thinking, I have to concede that in most cases conservatives that use these phrases are not fooling themselves; instead, they are actively choosing to be intellectually dishonest. Perhaps not Trump, since I’m not sure he has any grip on objective truth, but certainly most of the whip-sawed Congressional Republicans awaiting new instructions from their Dear Leader on what conservatism means this month.)

    The third quale, again related but distinct, is emotivism ruling rationality. Any matter perceived by a conservative that affects his political worldview is not analyzed objectively, nor are his conclusions supported logically, but rather with unbridled emotion. Occasional efforts at rationality are made, but upon any examination or challenge, emotion swamps any such attempt. Why? Well, we can’t really tell directly, of course, but this phenomenon seems to let the conservative avoid the consequences of denying reality, to serve to indicate tribal affiliation to other conservatives, and to signal virtue and righteousness to the world at large, as well as to the conservative himself.
    If one can stomach it, the best forum for witnessing how conservatives are ruled by emotivism is to watch an evening of Fox News. Before you begin to huff indignantly in your belief that conservative philosophy has greater heft than what is conveyed by the anchors of Fox News, you should attend to two facts not in dispute: 1) most Americans who identify as conservatives get their information from Fox, and nothing else is even close; and 2) the current intellectual leader of the conservative movement bases his policy decisions almost entirely on what Fox News anchors direct him to do (save, I admit, for direction obtained from the occasional phone call with Erdogan or other autocrats). Edmund Burke has left the building, but never fear — Steve Doocy is here to replace him.

    Just witness this past week – the Senate passed a government funding bill on a bipartisan basis which the President said he would sign, only to be angrily berated by a series of conservative pundits on Fox. Immediately the President – and Congress – reversed themselves, and insisted on spending billions of taxpayer dollars on a border wall with no basis in sound immigration policy, budgeting, or traditional conservative thought.

    The chokehold that Fox News has on the “thinking” of conservative policymakers is clear, but the deeply emotive nature of the marching orders they issue makes it remarkable. A night on Fox is full of sneering, anger, shouting, and the vigorous demolition of various rhetorical strawmen, by pundits from Ingraham to Hannity to Tucker Carlson (the latter’s descent from tweedy bow-tied George Will acolyte to snarling xenophobic populist is particularly symbolic of how emotivism has replaced thinking in the conservative movement). This emotivism feeds the non-stop stream of bitter and angry pronouncements from the President. More strikingly, the remarkable loss of emotional self-control by the nominee and the majority members in the Kavanaugh hearings (“I like beer!”) was those hearings’ clear turning point. Of course, it later emerged that the emotional outbursts were a calculated political tactic; still, the deep cynicism of the moment makes it no less typical of the modern conservative style. Emotivism often appears as projection in the service of self-exculpation, used by conservatives to whip themselves up into a righteous rage and justify ever more vicious attacks on those who stand in the way of their utopian political goals.

    The fourth quale is breathtaking arrogance, blended with a nebulous, yet unshakeable, conviction of their own moral superiority, both tied to the belief that history is a wave and conservatives are destined to ride it like the Silver Surfer. The origin of this is not anything rational, such as an analysis of the past and measured predictions about the future, but an insatiable desire to lord it over supposed inferiors, feeding the human desire to feel that one is on a higher plane than others. This characteristic is often the most evident in particular political discussions, such as those surrounding tax cuts (no empirical or mathematical reality has yet been able to shake conservatives’ foundational belief that dramatically cutting taxes produces sustained higher long-term revenue). It is reinforced, as with the anti-reality quale, by conservatives’ living in a walled ecosystem, where they can daily reassure each other that yes, indeed, we are superior. And it often comes out in the visceral belief that anyone who disagrees with them is evil, since that belief allows feeling superior without any need to demonstrate superiority.

    To come up with examples to reinforce this analysis of the four conservative quales, I thought I would again reverse-engineer your approach. The first step would be to find a podcast where a conservative sits down with some liberal intellectuals in an attempt to hear from them, guided by the principle that “for democracy to work, we need to hear each other out. . . . [We] explain the arguments from across the political spectrum.” I’ll be happy to be proven wrong, but I believe such a thing does not exist. We have shelves upon shelves of books from liberals (and apparently one podcast) seeking to understand the thinking of conservatives – in ways often clumsy and occasionally insightful – but as you and I have discussed, not one example of a conservative seeking to do the same.

    And eureka, we discover a fifth conservative quale – the supreme confidence that one completely understands the thinking of one’s ideological opponents, and need not engage in any attempt to seriously or methodically understand the diversity of their motivations or ideas. Why, it might even lead a conservative to make evidence-free assertions like “to a neutral observer, the externally visible political actions of today’s liberals are irrational and incoherent.” This conservative quale – the complete absence of any ability for self-reflection – is what makes some of them so difficult to engage in serious dialogue. Nevertheless, I persist!

    I suppose there’s a sixth quale as well – the cult of victimhood. Conservatives feel a deep need to see themselves as oppressed. Despite controlling (for a little while longer) the Presidency, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, and most state legislatures, conservatives have convinced themselves that they are part of some oppressed minority, where the brilliance of their ideas is prevented from prevailing only by some evil liberal conspiracy. Conservatives need to find some way of reckoning with the mountain of public opinion data showing that the American people – often by overwhelming majorities – reject conservative policy prescriptions on the economy, taxation, environmental protection, civil liberties, foreign policy, health care, and almost every other major subject of public policy debate. Sure, the public may accept sweeping conservative value statements (cut government spending!) but when it comes to the details, they always abandon conservative principles (don’t cut any specific program government actually spends money on!) The lack of public support for conservative policy prescriptions is why conservatives are uniquely bad at
    making the hard-choices that grown-ups have to make in government. And it is, of course, why conservative administrations regularly drive the economy into a ditch, then wait for liberals to come back into power to clean up their mess. Conservatives know this: it is why conservative politicians talk boldly about policy to their primary-voting base, and then once in power do so little to act on those plans (though their intellectual incoherence also plays a role – after a decade, GOP leaders still had no “replace” to pair with their Obamacare “repeal” – but golly, it has the word “Obama” in it so it musty be bad!)

    An ideological movement confident in the merit of its ideas would make its case to the American people, and work to expand electoral participation to ensure that their broad public support could be reflected on Election Day. But instead, conservatives behave like a movement that knows it has lost the argument and has little hope of winning it on the merits. Thus, they begin by abandoning and reversing every long-held conservative principle in the pursuit of crude populist fantasism – “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” is replaced by “Build the wall – and Mexico will pay for it!” Then, lacking confidence that this abandonment of principle will be sufficient to ensure victory, they adopt other tactics – laboring mightily to block and prevent Americans from voting; engineering Rube Goldbergesque gerrymandering schemes to ensure that Republican control of political institutions is not vulnerable to the public will; and working feverishly in lame-duck to sessions strip power from the progressive leaders that the public has wisely chosen to replace them.

    These qualia may prevent today’s conservatives from perceiving essential truths about America today; but those not similarly blinded had their say this November, and will continue to do so.

    • Charles says

      This is awesome, and thank you for showing up and taking the time to respond in detail. I will have some thoughts; about to travel, but should be this week. I do note, off the cuff, that the picture you draw (on a quick read) doesn’t actually contradict the picture I draw. Both could easily be true, for the most part.

    • Charles says

      I’m back! Again, thank you for visiting the blog and taking the time. I note that my next review will be of a book on the Pony Express, for which, as you know, our mutual relative Billy Pridham rode. So that should be less controversial, at least!

      Please feel free to comment on more items on the blog. It’s not so much that the People demand it (although traffic is rising pretty rapidly, from almost nothing to barely measurable). After all, I don’t do this for the People, but for myself, and if I decide to go that way, I’ll brand and buy my way to prominence, not build it organically by pleasing the People through my blog. But I find it extremely interesting and valuable.

      1) As to whether you are stupid or evil (or both), you pass over a necessary predecessor question, which is what type of liberal are you? I carefully defined liberal in this context as left-liberal, or cultural Marxist. It is possible that you are that type of liberal, and it is also possible, and probably likely, that you are that type of liberal on some matters and not others. The Bill Clinton of the 1990s was not that type of liberal, but that wing of liberalism is ascendant in the Democratic Party today. (For more along these distinctions, see my review of Roger Scruton’s Thinkers of the New Left).

      That is, not all political matters bear on stupidity or evil. If someone thinks that marginal tax rates should be increased, or single-payer healthcare offered (which I also think is likely the case), or carbon emissions reduced via regulation or taxation, those are not necessarily liberal positions in this meaning. (They could be in certain circumstances—for example, calling for confiscatory taxes, income or estate, or culling the human population to reduce carbon emissions, are left-liberal in this sense.)

      Some political positions are definitively stupid or evil, though. Adding more gun control to the massive gun control we already have is one of those. Mostly, as I’ve noted, that’s stupidity, but it can also be evil. Any support for abortion “rights” is evil (though in fairness, that as a liberal position predates the modern Left, dating back to Progressive worship of eugenics, and it may just be complicity in evil through stupidity, meaning refusal to acknowledge facts). Certain groups are evil, as is any material support for them: Planned Parenthood, the SPLC, Antifa. Still, even certain zero-sum arguments, in which both sides cannot have what they want (e.g., same-sex marriage), do not necessarily implicate stupidity or evil. Rather, they usually implicate incompatible philosophical positions.

      2) The idea you float, though, that “educational attainment” has any relationship whatsoever to political stupidity, is totally false. I touched on this point by noting that having degrees does not necessarily make one educated. Someone with a Ph.D. in Gender Studies knows nothing at all, and massive social capital has been destroyed in the process of his “education.” The same is true for a huge percentage of non-STEM “education” offered today, whatever the putative degree. Moreover, that those with graduate degrees tend to vote left is far more likely a result of higher education having been for decades a Gramscian monocultural leftist indoctrination factory than any other reason. (I believe it is still true that non-graduate-degree college graduates vote more Republican than Democratic, however, which suggests some resistance to the indoctrination—but perhaps if you focused on non-STEM, it would not.)

      3) Godwin’s Law gets a bad rap. The major problem with the use of Nazi comparisons is that they are made by the ignorant as a emotivist argumentative device (that is, substituting emotion for reason), with the bonus of having a fair chance of shutting people up. That is, they are akin to leftist usage of “racist,” “sexist,” and other (in Scott Adams’s terms) “linguistic kill shots.” The vast majority of those who use Nazi comparisons don’t actually know anything about Nazis. That should not preclude those who do (like me) from using those comparisons, which should not be overused, but are relevant, and far more applicable to the modern American Left than to, say, Steve Bannon.

      4) On to the rest! I note that you make no attempt to refute my analysis of liberal qualia, and that your analysis of supposed conservative qualia is not incompatible. I will assume you grant my analysis, so thank you! But that makes your comments an exercise in “whataboutism.” Like Godwin’s Law, I think that gets a bad rap. It is a perfectly legitimate argumentative device when one side says “you do X” to say “what about Y, which you do, is analogous, and is worse.” I’m just pointing it out.

      5) Your definition of “conservative” is incoherent. It lumps everything to the right of Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush into one pot (along with some things to their left). This is a standard rhetorical trick of today’s Democrats—create a definition that includes 100% of the people who pose any threat to their dominance, but include a tiny percentage of people that everyone agrees are either annoying or truly objectionable (here, 4chan and “white nationalism”). (The precise same trick was used by Hillary Clinton to popularize the term “alt right.”) Then, assume without discussion that the entire group is illegitimate and must be rejected by all decent people, as well as suppressed and censored, pointing, if necessary, to some cherry-picked statements from your chosen sub-group. I reject this approach; you should, too, to be intellectually honest.

      On a side note, it’s a bit rich for you to complain that your supposed “conservatives” are defective because they practice “identity politics.” They don’t, or at least they don’t to the degree the Left does. But they will, if the Left keeps up its racist drumbeat. And the rest of your brief list of supposed fringe positions is silly—though your phrasing is purple, none of the actual policy positions tied to those actual matters is anywhere outside the mainstream, and budget deficits were worshipped by the Left for decades, including up until the moment Barack Obama left office.

      6) I have some sympathy for your failure to create an adequate definition of “conservative,” because there is far more diversity of thought on the Right, and growing, than on the Left. But the failure of definition by itself makes your entire attempt to ascribe qualia to conservatives incoherent. Still, I will address each point.

      7) I note that in precisely zero cases do you give any real-world examples of any conservative qualia in action, something I went to considerable length to do for liberal qualia.

      8) It is completely false, as I have noted many times before, that conservatives live in their own bubbles. In fact, I think we have discussed this before. Conservatives, with rare exceptions, cannot help but be constantly exposed to liberal perspectives their entire lives. The reverse is true of liberals. Thus, to parrot the language of my first quale simply makes no sense; these things are not similarly situated.

      9) It may still be that conservatives don’t see reality as it is. AGW is not such an example; we have gone over this at length, so I won’t repeat that here. You do add the idea that conservatives who tend to skepticism about AGW do so because “given their political base, [they] find that reality deeply inconvenient.” What political base is that? I assume you mean the trivial funding provided for research by fossil fuel companies (many of whom now push global warming, hoping to benefit from government regulation and handouts), while the hugely greater amounts of funding provided by global warming alarmists are ignored. But for conservatives skeptical of AGW, such funding, or even the research, is irrelevant (nor are they getting campaign contributions). What they object to is a spectrum of unrelated matters featured in AGW alarmists’ actions, ranging from government power grabs, increased taxation (see, e.g., Macron’s France), to the repeatedly proven massive frauds of AGW proponents, to the cult nature of its proponents. Your mention of “political base” is like proponents of additional gun control, who seriously believe that the NRA and gun control opponents are puppets of, or working to advance the interests of, gun manufacturers, a belief on the same level as believing that the sun rises every morning because Helios has gotten in his chariot.

      And you offer no other examples, so I can’t see how conservatives supposedly deny reality. For liberals, on the other hand, examples can be endlessly multiplied. Socialism can work! You can be a man or a woman, however and whenever you choose!

      Your phrase that “blue states are . . . generally net contributors to government” is very revealing of the liberal mindset that we are all slaves of the government, our master, who owns all money and anything we are let to keep is by sufferance. That said, it is, as far as I can tell, true that some blue states have high GDPs, which is probably what you mean by “economically productive.” Now, this is a fascination of mine, both in that I do not fully comprehend GDP, and that it cannot be the case that human flourishing consists in increases in per capita GDP. On the first issue, if you look at the breakdown of California GDP, a significant percentage is spending on government, which by definition is mostly unproductive. Similarly, if you imagined a society where everyone did nothing but Gender Studies, for example, it might have measurable GDP, but everyone would starve, because nothing of value would be created. Or, on yet another related matter, presumably sales of iPhones appear in California GDP—but they could just as well be sold through another state. That is, it is not clear to me that GDP actually measures value.

      But let’s assume it does. Why are California, Illinois, and New York, all still bankrupt on any legitimate accounting measure? Because they are blue states. So even if they are more relatively economically productive, their bad behavior in the long run swamps their good behavior. If California were turned into an independent country, within twenty years it would be Venezuela, a country only a few years ago universally praised by liberals as a shining beacon.

      Not to mention, arguably the reason that red states that receive federal government handouts do so because their economies were ruined by liberal (or more accurately, neoliberal) policies promulgated by people like Mitt Romney and Bill Clinton. There is no reason to suppose that they are inherently less productive because they are conservative, which appears to be your claim.

      10) On “fake news,” supposedly a redefinition of language by conservatives, note that the original use of the term was by leftist journalists, who took some obscure Eastern European websites and tried to whip up a furor, one of countless desperate attempts to explain to liberals’ satisfaction, and to de-legitimize, the election of Donald Trump. He, as seems to be usual, appropriated the term for himself and has been successfully beating his enemies with it ever since; hence your emotional resentment of the term.

      But the reason Trump has been successful in so doing is because it is an entirely accurate characterization of the media in the Age of Trump. Let’s take one example from the past week. A video showed up of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing. Immediately a coordinated campaign was launched claiming that it was put online by conservatives to attack her. For example, the NYT had a big headline, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Dancing Video Was Meant as a Smear, but It Backfired.” Go read that article. Do you see any evidence at all of the claim? Nope. Zero. Total lie. Fake news. And as I say, this was coordinated across the nation by the media.

      So if, for example, you found me some examples of demonstrably true news being widely characterized (not by random Internet posters) as “fake news,” you might make some headway. But you give no examples at all. Same for “socialist.” And again, it’s a bit rich to complain that conservatives label leftists socialist, when it’s all the rage for leftists to self-identify as socialist.

      In passing, I will note that I am somewhat disturbed by Trump calling the leftist press “enemies of the people.” Not by the enemies part; they are the enemy. They certainly identify and treat conservatives as the enemy; only a fool would react by showing his belly. But the phrase itself was used by Communists to identify those needing to be eliminated; it shows historical tone-deafness to use it (or, less likely but alternatively, a dangerous labeling).

      11) Your discussion of emotivism misunderstands emotivism. It is emotion in substitution of facts or reasoning, not emotional presentation of facts or reasoning, whether or not those facts or reasoning are defective or simplistic. (And again, you give not a single actual example of your claims.) Thus, even were your characterization of Kavanaugh’s testimony in response to the obvious lies of people like the liars who accused him correct, it would not be emotivism. Losing your temper when accused by liars is not emotivism; it is what used to be called manhood and honor, until liberals emasculated America’s ruling classes.

      No doubt most American conservatives get their information from Fox (more accurately, I suspect, their primary source of media information is Fox). I am somewhat at a disadvantage, because I have never watched Fox. But I did read Tucker Carlson’s latest book, and it was neither emotivist nor emotional. I am forced to watch CNN all the time, though, and it is chock full of emotivism, and is utterly unhinged with anti-Trump, and anti-conservative, hate and bigotry to boot. If Fox News is as bad as you say, it should be easy to come up with three or four specific examples with quotes or video links.

      Conservatives don’t have utopian political goals. I have to say, this is your weakest section of response.

      12) Actually, your fourth is. Really, you just repeat the mirror image of what I said, but without the examples or reasoning of why that fits the relevant philosophy. It is not worth addressing. Sorry.

      13) You then attempt to turn your failure to provide any examples into a virtue, by oddly claiming that any example must come from podcasts, and that you cannot find a podcast where conservatives sit down with liberals. That’s because liberals won’t debate conservatives. The best example is global warming, of course, where the AGW alarmists consistently refuse any kind of debate, and instead viciously try to censor and destroy anyone who disagrees. And when actual conservatives with ideas want to debate, for example Steve Bannon, liberals rather attempt to shout him down and prevent him speaking, not even considering debating with him. (This recent Q&A with Steve Bannon at the Oxford Union is instructive; a semi-counterexample is David Frum’s “Munk debate” with Bannon, also conducted under violent attack.) The problem is not that conservatives won’t debate liberals; it’s precisely the reverse, because liberals are afraid, and they are therefore desperate to control and confine the narrative.

      And conservatives don’t publish books seeking to understand liberals, because liberal thought is the sea in which our culture and the ruling classes swim, so you either agree with it or disagree with it, but if you have the chops to publish a book, there is not much to say, except if you are changing your mind to agree with liberals (of which type of books there has been a recent boomlet). The reason books like Ken Stern’s Republican Like Me exist is because there are innumerable informed liberals who know no conservatives and nothing at all about actual conservative thought; there are no mirror-image informed conservatives. By the same token, self-reflection is automatic for conservatives, and optional for liberals—which creates the same result.

      14) No doubt you are correct that the public doesn’t want what conservatives have to offer. (That’s one good reason to end democracy, though that’s another topic.) They don’t want what liberals want, either, of course, except to the extent that is a free lunch.

      Your claim that “conservative administrations regularly drive the economy into the ditch” is bizarre (and unsupported by evidence). Look around you. I’m actually in business, and I can assure you the business climate has never been anything like this in my adult lifetime. Naturally, you’ll claim the current boom is because of Obama, which shows a complete disconnect from business reality.

      15) There you go, my complete thoughts! I don’t think there is a future for America as currently constituted, and the liberal qualia are a big part of that. Or, perhaps, as I have taken to quoting Francisco Franco’s brother-in-law, Ramón Serrano Suñer, said, when asked “Why did the [Spanish] Civil War happen?” answered, “We just couldn’t stand one another.” I certainly enjoy these discussions, though, and they sharpen my own thoughts. Writ large, sadly, they are irrelevant. I suspect you think the opposite; that there is, rather, a broad center-left consensus among Americans, who are largely content with the direction our liberal ruling classes are leading us. Well, one of us is right, most likely.

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