To Hell in a handbasket

May 23, 2022 • 11:15 am

Reader Steve sent me a link to the article below by Jeff Maurer, taken from his Substack site I Might Be Wrong (great title). Click on the link to read; it’s free but if you read regularly, please subscribe:

Maurer starts by reproducing the cartoon below that was tweeted by Elon Musk. This is the way many us older Leftists feel, bit Maurer sees it as too simplistic, especially in how it fails to represent historical divisions within the Right.

Then Maurer reproduces his own takes on where he’s been positioned, but winds up with this latest one:

The point is that he still sees a few smart conservatives (though Maurer sees himself as a liberal), but also finds a passel of zombies on the Left and Right. I just want to reproduce the take he gives about the Right and (mostly) about the Left:

The Right:

I consider the Republican Party to be totally incapable of solving problems. I think they’ve become that way because conservative media has distorted their worldview so badly that they’ve lost the ability to even recognize problems. This bothers me; I’ve never identified as a conservative, but I see the value of the conservative philosophy. There should be someone in society who defends what’s already working and doesn’t fall for every half-baked idea produced by pot-fueled rap sessions in freshman dorms. The world needs a discerning and principled counterbalance to the occasionally-very-stupid ideas of the left. The fact that the GOP can no longer perform that function worries me a lot.

I agree with him here, but he neglects the fact that there are some smart conservatives. It’s just that they have no power to move the party. People like Andrew Sullivan, for instance, are quite good for us Democrats, as they give us whetstones on which to hone our ideas. Sometimes they can even change our ideas. But how many people are there like Sullivan? If there are many, I haven’t been reading them. I used to read George Will, but haven’t for years.

The Left (a long quote). This is harsh, but I agree with a lot of it and want to put it out there for the readers. Do I need to reiterate that I remain in my own view a person on the Left and that I can’t conceive of voting for a Republican for dogcatcher?

The main thing I want to communicate with this panel [above] — the things I’ve been feeling most strongly recently — is that this ideology is NOT LIBERAL. Nor is it “progressive” or “left”, according to most definitions. I think that a closer look at this way of thinking reveals it to be completely antithetical to the American liberal/left tradition.

As many people have pointed out: This trend is clearly not liberal. Liberalism values things like free speech, individual rights, and due process. This new movement sees free speech as a fig leaf for white supremacy, focuses on group outcomes at the expense of individual rights, and replaces due process with Twitter Justice, the only form of justice that makes trial by monkey seem rational and fair. This movement is liberal the way that Blue Velvet is a kid’s movie.

But I would go even further: I often feel that this movement isn’t strictly “progressive” or “on the left” in any substantive way. We use labels — I use labels — like “progressive” and “left” because this is a new-ish phenomenon and we’re struggling to find language that works. But I often think that those words don’t fit. After all: If progressivism has a defining trait, then it must be distributing resources towards the disadvantaged. So why are so-called “progressives” calling for extremely regressive universal student loan forgiveness? Why did they advocate for school closures that were devastating to poor kids well past the point of necessity? Why are they altering the college admissions process in ways that benefit the wealthy and well-connected? Why are they undercutting real wages by pushing ineffective solutions to inflation? Why are they often the tip of the spear in the fight against lower housing costs? This is progressive? The fuck it is — this is idiocy.

I think the bottom line is that this movement is not defined by finding solutions to problems; it’s defined by performative flailing against perceived enemies. Every issue I listed above is a crusade against someone or something on the lefty enemies list, be it greedy developers, evil corporations, or the omnipresent “white supremacy”. The fact that the impacts of this movement’s actions would often hurt the disadvantaged doesn’t seem to phase its believers. And I think that’s telling: They don’t look beyond the glorious fight against their evil enemies, because the glorious fight is the end goal.

Ultimately, this viewpoint bears some similarity to the movement that destroyed the GOP’s ability to solve problems. Any consideration beyond the Manichean struggle against The Evil Ones has been jettisoned; this is the primitive mind reveling in its element like a pig in a pile of shit. There is no quest for a more perfect nation, only the battle between the righteous and the wicked. This movement is trying to gain influence, and they’ve scored a few victories. If they capture the Democratic Party the way that brain-dead pugilists captured the GOP, then I think we’re in big trouble.

Now I think Maurer goes too far in his accusations against the Left. After all, who can deny that Joe Biden really is trying to “find solutions to problems,” problems that include the war in Ukraine, covid, the new baby-formula crisis, and our crumbling infrastructure? It’s just that not much of this seems to be happening. And there are still plenty of lefties in favor of free speech, against the changes in college admissions, and wary of student-loan forgiveness. But those are the Silent Left. The move by the Left against freedom of speech has especially galled me.

At any rate, as time goes on Musk (at least from his cartoon), Maurer, and I all feel like our values haven’t changed much—in fact, my free-speech advocacy has hardened—but the extreme wing of the Left has shifted us more towards the center of the spectrum. The energy of the Left seems more and more absorbed by performative and ineffectual acts, and if we lose the Congress come November, well, it’s all over. I’m going to get ill if I see one more article suggesting that people like Darwin and Ed Wilson are racists? What on earth does this accomplish save burnish the virtue of the writer?

That’s all I want to say—the stuff in Maurer’s second quote above.

48 thoughts on “To Hell in a handbasket

  1. One compact and valuable source for smart conservatives is The Bulwark, which will send you tidbit-filled emails even if you don’t wish to subscribe.

    1. How many years have we been complaining about poor (or non-existent) parenting now? Kids with no limits set and parents who give their child what they want rather than what they need, largely because they want their kids to be their friends rather than their children. I think all those chickens have come home to roost!
      I was thinking to myself yesterday that the examples of the awful acting-out behaviour we see among young adults are partly explained by those kids having now grown up (at least, physically if not psychologically). Even the more cynical young have picked up on the memes of “Karens” and “entitled” children and their parents.
      Well maybe modern progressivism turns out to be their politics. The beefs listed about the left in the quoted article suggest progressives don’t fit well on the political spectrum line because these are the politics of youth, rather than of adults. Policies that are unduly weighted towards the interests of college students, completely impractical and downright wrong pie-in-the-sky schemes about larger issues. Sure, let’s forgive all debt, let’s ban all fossil fuels starting tomorrow, let’s have a green revolution. What could possibly go wrong? Why do old white males stop us from having utopia right now?
      We all know, and many of us ruefully agree with, the old saw about “if you don’t vote Labour when you’re eighteen you have no heart, and if you still vote Labour when you’re fifty you have no head”. I see progressivism as the eighteen year old stage as expressed by overgrown kids who are the product of our failing parents who let them grow up minded by cable TV and a Playstation. We get what we deserve.

      1. How many years have we been complaining about poor (or non-existent) parenting now?

        Does this sound about right?

        The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

        It’s attributed to Socrates.

  2. Interesting quote – I can see this in some of the ruckus :

    “They don’t look beyond the glorious fight against their evil enemies, because the glorious fight is the end goal.”

    -Jeff Maurer

  3. The cartoon that Musk Tweeted was created by Colin Wright, and he explained in an WSJ article (now on his Substack) that when drawing it he had in mind particular issues important to him.

    “I created the cartoon to help sort out my feelings of increasing political alienation from the left. I’m a lifelong Democrat. I turned 18 in 2003 and have never voted for a Republican. But over the past decade, and especially the past five years, I’ve watched my party distance itself from the values and principles I hold dear.

    “People on the left once viewed free speech as sacrosanct and championed speaking truth to power. Now they disparage open expression as a danger to democracy and minorities. The aspiration of judging individuals by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin has given way to identity politics and “equity” initiatives that prioritize group interests over individual rights. Women’s rights, previously understood as relating to their oppression on the basis of sex, is now viewed by the left through the lens of gender identity, which gives priority to men who declare themselves to be women. Today’s progressive can’t even tell you what a woman is. The right may be inconsistent in its support of free speech, individual rights and women’s rights, but the left is consistent in its opposition to all three.

    “It is important to keep these shifts in mind when evaluating the “accuracy” of my cartoon, because the most common criticism is that it portrays the right as remaining stationary since 2008. A similar drawing depicting specific issues such as abortion, climate change or immigration might tell a different story. But with respect to the important cultural values I have in mind—free speech, individual rights and women’s rights—my cartoon is consistent with the lived experience of many liberals and centrists.

    “It’s also based on my own. I am an evolutionary biologist, and from 2008 to 2020 I worked to become a university professor. But while working as a postdoctoral fellow at Penn State in 2018, I found myself ostracized by scientific colleagues and people I thought were my close friends because I was unwilling to promote scientifically inaccurate claims about biology to avoid offending those who identify as transgender.”

    1. It’s still bullshit… the right is also consistent in its opposition to all three. The only real difference is that rightoids will make mouth noises about supporting free speech, individual rights, and women’s rights whereas wokies are honest about their distaste for all of the above.

      1. I disagree to some extent: the Right, when in the opposition gives lip service to the idea of ‘rights’. As soon as they take control, they immediately forget it. As any sitting Republican President or Speaker about states’ rights or free speech. We saw exactly that with Sanctuary Cities. I’ll be curious to see if the same thing happens with the New Left. I think they’re currently a bit too reactionary to try the tactic now, but might do so over the next decade. They’re savvy enough to pick a successful opposition strategy, but I’m not sure which one it will be.

    2. He’s writing historical fantasy, of a politics which he might truly misremember, but did not exist as the real world. I see this genre of writing in much punditry, but it’s just wrong. Martin Luther King was not a conservative. He favored affirmative action and even in some cases race-specific allocations. That’s not a secret, you can go and read it.
      There’s always been an anti-free-speech part of the left, look up Herbert Marcuse / “repressive tolerance” for example.
      There are real changes – especially as one gets older and rises in social status, you become a tempting target for a take-down by the holier-than-thou. And social media has supercharged that dynamic. That’s what people feel, and it is real. However, this is not solved by pining for a world which never was.

      1. I’m going to admit, from a foreigner’s distance I never cared much for King, and I’m not talking about the seamier sides of his character emerging later. I did like his oratory, though, in the “I have a dream” speech and the idea of blindness to the colour of one’s skin was a good one even if he and his disciples didn’t really mean it quite that way. I wouldn’t have trusted him with power. I have no idea what his views on free speech would have been.

        I also grant you that the Old Left was most keen on fighting for free speech when its own ox was being gored, the ACLU’s fight for the right of the Skokie Nazis to rally being a creditable counter-example. After all, the Old Left was the Soviet communists! Wouldn’t look to them for guidance on anything.

        No one with power really likes freedom of speech, colour-blind politics, or women’s rights because they make the use of power more difficult and cumbersome, which is the point of those freedoms. They rest with the people.

  4. I see a huge problem with labels like Liberal, Conservative, Democrat, Republican because, especially these days, they come with preconceptions and lots of baggage.

    This is especially true when dealing with specific issues. I don’t buy into the agenda of either party because my opinions could either be labeled liberal or conservative depending on what we’re speaking about.

    When someone says “I’m a Liberal (or Conservative) but I don’t agree with what my group is saying”, they’re expressing that same individuality I claim. Why then still identify as liberal or conservative?

    The author admits as much, correctly identifying labels as too broad and not representative of what he believes, but still speaks in those terms.

    Why not say “I’m an Independent” and forego association parties one deems corrupt? Why not speak about specific issues rather than broad agendas?

    1. In many states, if you don’t register with a party affiliation, you can’t vote in the primary elections (which means you have no say in what candidate runs in the general election, and which, as to some local contests, is where an election essentially gets decided).

      1. I think that’s a thin excuse. For one, if your vote is significant within the party, why can’t those rules be changed?

        If the argument is that the majority supports those rules, then I would posit your vote in the primaries won’t help choose anyone, and especially not any moderate or reasonable candidate.

        Meaning, the majority of party members will support whichever candidate the Party supports, and they’re not someone you should vote for in the first place, either in the primaries or national elections.

        Neither the GOP nor DNC will put forward moderate candidates in the foreseeable future (and certainly not in recent elections), and your vote shouldn’t be going to either the GOP’s or DNC’s candidates in the National Elections. My vote hasn’t in years.

        As for the people who say I’m throwing my vote away, I’d argue they’re doing the same thing, but worse because they end up supporting the status quo instead of voting to change it.

        1. Jeez, nobody makes you claim a party affiliation; you’re free to register as an Independent if you want to.

          As for me, I always try to vote against the greater evil.

          1. > I always try to vote against the greater evil.

            The next step is is the realization that the two-party system itself is the greater evil. I think that’s becoming more apparent every month. Everything the two-party system does tries to exclude participation by people not polarized into one of those two camps. Over the past few years where social media and game theory have become more widely understood, we have seen more movements trying to hijack the two-party system, from the Tea Party to … well … a former POTUS … to the New PC crowd. I wonder who will try next. I don’t know where to look for hope. If either party tried to move back to the center, it would spin out of control as a reaction to the excesses of the other side again. If both parties try to move back to the center in concert, it’s effectively a one-party system in all but name.

            I don’t see any realistic way to move towards proportional representation. The two-party system is just too entrenched.

          2. Ken: I look forward to being schooled about how voting for the lesser of two evils has improved things over the last 20-30 years (or ever).

            … but I’ll still maintain that saying that’s the only choice we have, is a path toward a failure of multiple ideals we supposedly aspire to.

        2. I’m addressing your argument that:

          “… if you don’t register with a party affiliation, you can’t vote in the primary elections … (which means you have no say in what candidate runs in the general election …)”

          You’re still choosing from candidates in that party. At best, you’d have a choice of ‘lesser of two evils’ which usually means ‘the candidate who’s the better liar’.

          My point is to forget the main parties and push for a third party since there’s no hope of ‘saving’ either the RNC or DNC.

          1. Yeah, I got your point. I’ll leave it to our fellow commenters to judge its validity for themselves.

  5. A group of British academics and journalists (including Nick Cohen) made an attempt to re-establish a liberal Left position with the Euston manifesto of 2006. It stated: “the reconfiguration of progressive opinion that we aim for involves drawing a line between forces on the Left that remain true to its authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values”. After a few years, I gather that their attempt rather fizzled out, particularly after Jeremy Corbyn & Co. took control of the Labour Party. [I wonder what they think about post-Corbyn Labour?] Some years ago a few like-minded USians formed a euston-usa googlegroup. Its relationship to the current conventionally described as “Left” in the US is analogous to the relationship of Liz Cheney and George F. Will to the Republican Party.

  6. It’s not that there is no left. It’s that the radical far left (the zombies who engage in performative virtue exercises to feign outrage against perceived enemies and who have authoritarian tendencies mirroring those on the right) has commandeered the megaphone. The sane left is still here, trying mightily to avoid irrelevance.

    Eventually, the veil will lift and the sane and reasonable will give the woke a dose of their own medicine. At some point, society will need to rely on reason, competence, and merit to get us out of a massive crisis. When that time comes, the woke will lose their cache, and their leaders will themselves be cancelled.

    1. We need more organizations like The Bulwark but to reign in the Far Left. While I’m convinced that most Democrats aren’t with the Woke, as you say, they lack a strong voice.

    2. The far left has a large % of the young (I think), so it ain’t going away soon.
      A single stone for the many birds would be a third centrist party that recruits from the center left and center right.

  7. The annoying thing about the original cartoon is the suggestion that the Right has stayed put while only the Left has become more and more extreme. Think of past Republicans who would likely not recognize the current GOP: George Romney, Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller, Gerald Ford, and on and on. Not to mention the many living Republicans who have left the party.

    1. “Republican” today is not so much a political party as it is a grievance forum for right-wing trolls (and the gutless wonders afraid to take a public stance against them).

      About the only Republican US senator today who can speak his mind is Mitt Romney, who has a safe seat in deep-red Utah, and for whose many Mormon voters a libertine reprobate like Donald John Trump is not exactly their cuppa decaffeinated tea.

    2. Coel at #6 quotes Colin Wright’s response to that criticism. He’s heard it before.

  8. I’ve said before that I am (and I think Jerry has also identified as) a Classic Liberal – according to Wikipedia this is “a political ideology and a branch of liberalism that advocates free market and laissez-faire economics; civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on limited government, economic freedom, and political freedom.” Socially progressive and financially conservative.

    As far as I know there is no major political party in the developed world that is Classic Liberal. The Left have little interest in being financially conservative, and the Right have little interest in being socially progressive. So perhaps the Left/Right political axis is too simple and should be replaced?

    1. > no major political party in the developed world that is Classic Liberal

      For a given definition of ‘major’. Liberal/Libertarian parties tend to be in third place in proportional systems, and are able to swing coalition governments, They make up around 10% of the European Parliament and 20% of the European Council.

      > So perhaps the Left/Right political axis is too simple and should be replaced?

      Absolutely. I usually go with the Nolan Chart (check Wikipedia), but I find that too simplistic given the number of power structures around us: which powers do we give to international, federal, state, municipal, corporate, religious, or family-level power structures? I may be more libertarian with regard to international, federal, and state power structures, but more authoritarian with regard to family power structures. Unfortunately, it seems like the only solution is to use a separate Nolan Chart for every single power structure – and that is unwieldy.

    2. Hear hear. I was just thinking that I used to think of myself as socially liberal, economically conservative-ish…and I fear both “sides” of the overall political climate have become more and more deranged from anything I could sympathize with much.

    3. I agree with what you say here, except that the GOP hasn’t been financially conservative for decades. Unless you consider trickle-down economics as financially conservative- I don’t.

        1. Thanks for providing the data, Ken. It’s strange how the myth of GOP fiscal conservatism pervades. They know how to message (and lie)…Dems can’t even do messaging well when most of the data is on their side. So it goes.

  9. I’ve seen the image before. I wish it started in 1990, instead of 2008. A lot of the same changes we see on the demographics of the Left in the last 15 years happened to the demographics of the right in the 15 years preceding 2008 – starting with Newt Gingrich’s/Rush Limbaugh’s Republican Revolution of 1994. The way old Lefties feel left behind by the New Left is the same way old Righties felt left behind by the New Right. For a generation, until the New [party] became the Mainstream [party]. I know people who, 20 years ago, never would have embraced the ideals of the New Right, but who now carry guns around the house and pray on a daily basis.

  10. The first chart might be accurate in some ways, but he makes standing still out to be a virtue when it’s not. Just consider society’s centerpoint on gay rights, women’s rights, etc. in the 1970s and 80s. Would you be proud to espouse the views even liberals did back then? Sodomy laws were legal (Lawrence vs. Texas wasn’t until 2003), and the mainstream liberal position was simply to object to the police going into clubs and houses and beating up on them; even the thought of allowing gays civil services was not a mainstream liberal position, to say nothing of marriage. On women’s rights, Title IX was not really applied to sports until 1979, and in 1981 there were only 30,000 women in college athletics. The idea of equal awards for things like the US Open (tennis) or equal pay for professional sports teams was not even a consideration. Sexual harassment wasn’t considered discriminatory in the 1970s, and SCOTUS didn’t rule that it was until 1986.

    We have come a long way…and that’s good. Morally and socially standing still over decades is not automatically a virtue. In some cases in can be, in others, it means you aren’t challenging the biases and preconceptions you grew up with. So Mr. Stickfigure labeled “me” should indeed have a frowny face…frowny at himself, for not seeing as a good thing the expanded rights given to his fellow citizens, and walking left at least a little bit.

    1. The arc of history bends toward justice, however much some may wish to stand athwart history yelling “Stop!”

      (To mashup some MLK with some WFB, both of ’em “Jr.”s.)

    2. “…frowny at himself, for not seeing as a good thing the expanded rights given to his fellow citizens, and walking left at least a little bit.”

      Unless most of that wokeward motion no longer counts as progress (i.e. they’ve gone orthogonally off the rails altogether, and/or they could be circling around to the right, horseshoe-theory-wise.)

  11. Social democracy: free speech, rule of law, and a free market to the extent that government is able to allocate resources to a social welfare net. It seems the left has abandoned some or all of these principles.

  12. I think the reason I don’t share everyones’ horror at the missteps of the left is illustrated nicely in the Australian federal government election held last weekend. In Australia we have compulsory voting. You can argue about the merits of this but one thing that it produces is a true gauge of the entire electorate. Rupert Murdoch, who controls something like a third of Australia’s media, especially in the outer suburbs and rural areas, has been pulling out all the stops to denigrate the left and pull the country to the far right, as he has successfully done in the US. The former coalition government has gone with Murdoch and lurched to the right.

    The messaging from Murdoch is that leftists are attacking our values and ruining everything we hold dear, cosying up to enemies and turning the children trans. To that end the former government ran a virulently anti-trans candidate and the then prime minister paraded her around the populous outer suburbs in an attempt to vacuum up Christian and conservative votes.

    In the end this strategy was utterly rejected by Australian voters. Not a single seat was lost to a more right wing candidate. City electorates voted for socially progressive but fiscally conservative Independents or voted for Green candidates. The other side of the two party system, the centre -right Australian Labour Party received its lowest primary vote ever but will be able to form government.

    As a result the wind has gone out of the extremes from the left and the right as everyone realises that despite the loudness of the extremes, most people just want centrist conservative policies. Any further shift to the right, as the GOP has done in the US, will see the coalition relegated to the electoral wilderness and any excesses by the Greens will be tempered by a Labour/Independent coalition of the centre right.

    My message is, don’t be fooled by hysterical media screaming about the far left. They aren’t actually that numerous and they aren’t that powerful. It’s just a beat up by Murdoch to keep his populist right coalition turning out to the polls and giving a pretended mandate for changing your institutions.

    If everyone in the US could democratically have their say, you would see that the sensible people have the numbers and the power as long as you’re willing to take it.

    1. HA! I just wrote about Australia – Should have read yours first, mate! All the best,
      NYC (very formerly of Melbourne)

      1. Hah, yeah, without the need to create a groundswell of angry politically active people to swarm to the polls, Australia can be more comfortably centrist and the left and right are not pushed to the extremes

  13. When I saw (reported, I don’t read his feed) Elon’s re-tweeted cartoon above I thought that sums up my situation (as an “old school” liberal/lefty) perfectly.
    The rug has been pulled from beneath us. We feel like civilized conservatives must have felt when the MAGA truck rolled into town, horns a tootin’ and Jewish space laser stories and all.

    The fraudulence of BLM, the “decolonizing” of everything, and trans-mania leave me cold. Not voting Republican understand, but I do feel homeless. And I’m not alone.
    Australia doesn’t do many things better but my country of birth has one excellent thing: they have compulsory voting so the fanatics aren’t running the show.

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