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October 19, 2009

Paul Krugman: Liberals Are Too Nice to Be Hold Grudges Against Conservatives Or Something

Ann Althouse asks, perchance, if he's heard of "Rush Limbaugh" at any point in the past two weeks.

What produces this odd claim is Krugman's cheerleading for the co-authors of Freakonomics -- who are now publishing SuperFreakonomics, which knocks global warming theory a bit -- to be ripped apart by his leftist cohort:

I have a theory here, although it may not be the whole story: itís about careerism. Annoying conservatives is dangerous: they take names, hold grudges, and all too often find ways to take people who annoy them down. As a result, the Kewl Kids, as Digby calls them, tread very carefully when people on the right are concerned ó and they snub anyone who breaks the unwritten rule and mocks those who must not be offended.

Annoying liberals, on the other hand, feels transgressive but has historically been safe. The rules may be changing (as Dubner and Levitt are in the process of finding out), but itís been that way for a long time.

And if you read the Freakonomics guys post on this, you'll see that liberals are not, in fact, "too nice" to do anything, including simply make stuff up to smear opponents.

But you already knew that.

Ah, Finally Found It: An old essay I wrote that seems on-point here.

Paul Krugman fancies himself as "too nice" to do various underhanded things to those on his Enemies List. He makes this assertion even as he approvingly links a smear on a pair of writers on his Enemies List.

One of the biggest problems liberals have -- in fact, it's sorta the sine qua non of liberalism; that which makes them liberals in the first place -- is the astonishingly broad chasm between liberals' self-conception of themselves and an objective, accurate assessment of themselves.

Again, I don't want to claim that liberals have cornered the market on inflated self-opinions. However, it seems to me that conservatives have far less reservation about admitting they often act due to simple self-interest. Oh, we're not eager to offer that admission. But because we believe that human beings are inherently flawed -- and on this point religious cons and non-religious cons agree, although not for the exact same list of reasons -- we're less hung-up about admitting we act in our own self-interest for no particular greater good or noble purpose.

Liberals have a big-time hang-up with this. Try extracting this admission from a liberal sometime even in the most nonthreatening way. Most will simply not admit it. Or it will take you two and a half hours you'll never get back.

This is, it hardly needs be said, an enormous bit of self-deception on the part of many liberals. (Generally, the less humorous ones, which is most of them; the funny ones, seeing the flaws of humans (including themselves) more clearly have a much easier time with this.) They have a large amount of self-esteem riding on the proposition that they act almost entirely selflessly and thinking only of others in their daily lives.


I'm not saying they're more selfish than conservatives. I'm just saying there's a much larger gulf between their actual level of selfishness and their admitted level of selfishness. Their emotional investment in their presumed near-zero level of mercenary impulse causes them to verge more wildly from reality on this point.

Indeed, many liberals seem to believe they have already pretty much acheived the Buddhist ideal of Nirvana, the complete self-abnegation of the soul so that the world is viewed entirely objectively, from an angle's high-above-it-all point ov view, rather than subjectively, down on actual planet earth competing and striving against millions of other people doing the same. If you don't believe me, ask them "Would it be preferable to save an American's life or a foreigner's?" They will usually decline to express a preference because the destruction of the self and joining of the universal oversoul admits of no feelings of tribal or sectarian loyalties whatsoever; they can't say "I choose the American if I'm forced to choose" without admitting they haven't quite attained Nirvana yet.

For serious Buddhists, it's not hard at all to admit the non-attainment of the ultimate metaphysical state of Nirvana -- it's supposed to be hard, and can take a lifetime. (Or, you know, several lifetimes.) But liberals have this notion that believing in liberalism is itself a very efficient shortcut to that exalted state of emptiness of ego. A Kerry-Edwards bumper-sticker gets you pretty much as far as a lifetime of devotion to the teachings of Krishna.

They by and large haven't actually shed tribal or personal loyalties -- except in the case of those who actively hate their fellow Americans, in which case they're really just substituting one tribal loyalty for another when the favor any foreigner over their fellow countryman -- but it is critical to their self-conception to believe that they have.

Indeed, you will occasionally find liberals wrestling with -- or at least making a show of wrestling with -- a question that simply asks if they have any reason to favor their own lives over any stranger's lives. "A fire is burning; you can only save either yourself or a stranger, and there are no chivalrous reasons (women before men, children before all, etc.) to favor the stranger of yourself; he or she is your exact same age, sex, marital status, and has the same number of children as you and the same level of physical competency to save himself asyou and is in all other ways similar to you, except he is not you; who do you save? Yourself or him?" Having eliminated considerations of chivalry, heroism, or sacrifice for the greater good from the hypothetical, liberals will still often put on a great show of struggling with the moral quandry of choosing to live or choosing to save someone else and die.

Conservatives would tend to answer this more honestly. Either they'll say "Well I'd hope I'd make a heroic decision, but I don't know if I would" or they'll just say, "Look, all other things being even, of course I'd save myself. Be real."

And this realism is again simply due to the fact that conservatives do not define themselves as morally perfect, unselfish, caring only for their fellow "Global Citizens," etc. They view such a self-definition as childishly unrealistic -- and for good reason -- so admitting the obvious truth of the matter requires jumping over far lower egotistical hurdles.

...

To bring this 'round to current politics: Liberals, of course, also have a great deal of distance between their own capacities for unfairness, nastiness, dishonesty, and hypocrisy than they believe they do. Again, their sense of self depends heavily on the proposition that they are superior, if not superlative, in their fairness, civility, honesty, and integrity; they have great difficulties admitting deficiencies (beyond a fairly trivial sort) in any of these virtues.

Now, I don't believe that either group, liberals or conservatives, has a particular monopoly on virtue. Individual people, obviously, may be more virtuous than others, but when it comes to large groups, I tend to imagine that all the usual sins are spread, collectively, about equally over both.

However -- I strongly believe that the liberals have a far less realistic self-assessment as regards their own, and their political brethren's, scores on these virtues.

I don't believe conservatives or liberals are more honest, generally, than the other.

But I do believe liberals are strongly convinced they're more honest.

I don't believe conservatives or liberals are more fair, generally, than the other.

But I do believe liberals are strongly convinced they're fairer.


I don't believe conservatives or liberals are more civil, generally, than the other.

But I do believe liberals are strongly convinced they're more civil.


I don't believe conservatives or liberals have more integrity, generally, than the other.

But I do believe liberals are strongly convinced they have more integrity.

And to toss out the obvious:

I don't believe conservatives or liberals are more intelligent, generally, than the other.

But I do believe liberals believe zealously, rabidly that they're more intelligent.

This lack of accurate self-assessment has caused a great distortion in our current politics. Throughout time, both Republicans and Democrats have resorted to pimping cheap sexual scandals to win elections.

Throughout time, both Republicans and Democrats have resorted to simplistic-to-the-point-of-dishonesty messaging to win elections.

Throughout time, both Republicans and Democrats have engaged in embarrassing hypocrisy in excoriating in the other party what the blithely forgive in their own.

But here's the thing: Because liberals have far more difficult time admitting to themselves they're guilty of sins of integrity or honesty or the like, they have convinced themselves that, at least until recently, they've been too darn honest, fair, and civil in politics, conducting them with far too much integrity.

Because, you see -- it's only conservatives who've been letting down Team America in these areas for the last forty years.

Every election the liberals lose, they claim the same basic reasons for losing: We were too nice. We weren't "tough enough." We were too honest. We weren't willing to go into the gutter like the other guys.

We were too smart for the American people.

However, they've been saying this for the last century. And they were wrong: The whole time they imagined they were being too goshdarn good-spirited, civil, fair, substantive, honest, and intelligent to their electoral detriment, they were actually matching conservatives punch-for-punch in meanspiritedness, incivility, empty slogaeering, dishonesty, and outright stupidity.

But now they've decided the gloves should finally come off.

Now they'll really "get tough."

Now they'll actually match conservatives in their nastiness.

But they've been doing that all along. Not that they themselves noticed.

So what are they doing now?

Well, quite a few of them seem to be going well beyond the accepted levels of venom, dishonesty, and nastiness in order to "match" conservatives in these areas; not realizing they were already at the same level as conservatives along these lines -- let's say we were both set to 7 -- now they've turned it up to 11.

...

A majority of Democrats now proudly announces their support of deranged conspiracy theories ill-befitting members of the self-declared "reality-based community," theories of such malignance and hateful lunacy that in years past they were lucky to see publication in the gutter-porn magazine Hustler.

Now they're lively topics for tony liberal dinner parties.

Smart, tough.

They have to be "tough" now, you see. After all, liberals have been far too civil, far too caring, far too honest, and far too kind-hearted for far too-long. Now it's time to really cut loose -- cut loose fairness, cut loose civility, cut loose honesty, cut loose integrity, cut loose simple sanity. Those were all just baggage holding them back, it turns out.

Well, liberals, you've remade your party into the phantasmal horror you long imagined the Republican Party to be. Your senators and top-tier presidential candidates are now required to pander to those who believe the US government itself conspired to murder 3000 Americans on 11 September 2001. Because you've permitted -- or fostered -- or encouraged -- the seething political psychopathy that self-respecting men and women once shunned.

Are you happy?

And do you imagine this sort of politics-without-frontiers will ultimately prove to be a winning model?

Do you wish to shame yourselves further by continuing down this road?

Or is perhaps about time -- maybe for the first time -- you took a more realistic assessment of the way you and your political correligionists have been behaving before this new era of shameless, shameful "toughness"?

Incidentally, I cut the beginning of that, the thing that started the rant. (Already in too long, didn't read territory.) But it's kind of worth reading.

digg this
posted by Ace at 03:40 PM

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