Thursday, August 22, 2019

Surmises About Strategies

     It’s unwise ever to assume that no one else is as perceptive – or as smart – as you are. There are plenty of smart folks wandering around. Some of them possess knowledge you don’t have. Sometimes that knowledge comes from experiences you don’t share. Sometimes it comes from information you’ve been denied.

     Concerning all such things, it’s also well to remember that smart and good aren’t guaranteed to appear in the same people.

     I’m a smart guy. I’d like to think I’m a good guy. I’d also like you, Gentle Reader, to think I’m a good, smart guy. It’s a combination to which every politician aspires. It would lead you to trust him. It would help to make him persuasive.

     Help. Not guarantee.

     Now add the third attribute: knowledgeable. Not everyone is knowledgeable about the same things. If Smith is generally regarded as a good, smart guy but not particularly knowledgeable about some topic, what he’ll bring to a discussion of that topic is his reasoning power, as applied to information others will supply. But he won’t have the kind of authority allowed to an expert on the subject who “has all the facts.”

     When expert Jones arrives and tells Smith that “the facts” don’t support his logic, Smith will be set back on his heels. There are, of course, possible rejoinders to Jones’s assertion. What facts? Who gathered them? Were they neutrally assembled or “cherry-picked?” If third party Davis should agree with Smith’s implication that “the facts” should be brought out and studied in the light of those questions, then Jones’s “expert” status will count for less. But if Davis should concede Jones’s “expertise,” Smith’s reasoning will be peremptorily dismissed.

     Because the domain of knowledge is so vast, very few persons know much about more than one or two subjects. Most of us are humble enough to admit this. Even a long lifetime will seldom bring a man intimate knowledge of more than one or two areas. Of course an older man’s authority can be challenged on the grounds of his “overly rosy memories” or his “obsolete perspective.” And it will be, if there are topical zealots around who promote a view contrary to his.

     The consequence is a dominance of subject-focused discussions by “experts.” The “expertise” involved is sometimes genuine...but not always, as the case of Michael Bellesiles should indicate.

     One of the Left’s long-term strategies is to persuade Americans that the “expertise” on various subjects of public importance is the property of the Left. For examples, consider the following subjects of intense public debate:

  • Private ownership of firearms.
  • Alternative educational systems.
  • Medical care and medical insurance.
  • The economic contributions of illegal aliens.

     On all four of those subjects, Leftist mouthpieces have bellowed that “the facts” support their positions:

  • Private persons should be forbidden to own firearms.
  • The “public” schools are just fine (except that they need more money).
  • Government-funded, government-managed health care is superior to the free market.
  • Access to the United States should be open without conditions to all immigrants to our shores.

     However, on those subjects and many others, “the facts” are not as the Left would have us believe. As Americans come to realize this, the trend toward skepticism about the claims of “experts” grows ever stronger. For the present at least, that’s a healthful trend that should be encouraged. But it does have a downside. The ultimate destination of an ever-accelerating skepticism is absolute cynicism: the conviction that “no one can be trusted.”

     The American Right no longer has a unitary identity...if, indeed, it ever did. Today there are at least two camps of importance on the right side of the political spectrum: the populists and the “ur-conservatives.” These two groups are as hostile to one another as they are to the Left, and on some subjects possibly more so.

     The populists put Donald Trump in the White House. If they have a coherent agenda, it’s the Trump agenda, which in essence amounts to putting American interests and the priorities of legitimate Americans above all else, regardless of the issue under discussion. We have seen elements of this agenda enacted over the two and a half years behind us. The results have been positive to date, which is the strongest honest statement anyone can make about a current in public policy. Is there a possibility of a reversal of fortune? Of course; isn’t there always? But for the moment, based on current developments, President Trump is proving to be the right man for our time.

     The “ur-conservatives” are nominal Republicans who regard the Trump shakeup of federal “business as usual” as a negative thing. Most of them don’t criticize the president’s results on factual grounds; that would be foolish. But they can natter about “institutional instability” and “public manners” as if those things were of higher importance. Their critique is thus more about style than substance. It’s focused on the continuation of existing arrangements and the preservation of existing institutions, including the “deep state.” It can make one wonder which side of their toast is buttered, and by whom.

     I’ve labeled them “ur-conservatives” because their attitude is the one that conforms most closely to the dictionary definition of conservative: “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.” It has little to do with the virtues of particular policies. It’s more about keeping existing applecarts from being upset...even if that should prevent new applecarts from being filled.

     As we would expect, these two Rightist camps have plainly opposed strategic visions. The populists point to current results and argue for their continuation. If they had a mantra other than “Make America Great Again,” it might be “why get off a winning horse?” The “ur-conservatives” lament stylistic and procedural changes and the disruption of existing institutions – especially their own – and predict calamities to come. Their mantra might be “Just wait; you’ll be sorry!”

     And both have some valid points to make.

     I’m an old man. I grew up in a time when we ate whatever we pleased, just about every high school had a shooting club, only boys could join the Boy Scouts, and violence was something you had to watch on TV. It wasn’t an era utterly free of problems. We had ongoing tensions with the Soviets, some degree of interracial unease, a slowly growing federal deficit, and ruinously expensive toll telephone rates. But America in the mid-Sixties was a very pleasant place to live, especially if you enjoyed Mission: Impossible and Bonanza.

     Moreover, we weren’t at war with one another: over race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious creed, or political positions. We got along. That stands out above all else.

     The conflicts of our time arise from a large number of sources and issues, but just about all of them are exacerbated by two factors: “experts” and politics. Worst (of course) are the “experts” who align themselves with specific political postures. These appear to have as their aim the precipitation of ever worse social and political strife, possibly eventuating in large-scale violence.

     Yes, the media play a part. Yes, our political differences could and should be subordinated to a freedom-of-expression ethic and a willingness to allow the other guy his right to his opinion. Yes, the “experts” would be far less toxic to public peace if they weren’t endlessly being shoved in our faces by one or another cable channel. Yes, yes, yes.

     But here we are. Every side has its strategy. Every side is in it to win it. Every side has its pet experts, whom it promotes at every turn. And every side is participating in the escalation of the combats fragmenting our society.

     My Gentle Readers have been writing to me quite a bit lately. The tone of the email has been trending confused, even worried, as if to say: “Are you all right, Fran? Your latest stuff has been pretty strange...well, stranger than usual.” I suppose this piece is just part of that pattern. Yet as with everything I write, it’s flowed from my personal perspective, my experiences, and my reflections on the events of the day.

     It might seem too bizarre a tangent even for the famously erratic Curmudgeon Emeritus to the World Wide Web, but you might want to spend a few CPU cycles on this: I’ve been listening to a lot of old pop music lately. Old as in you first heard it on your AM Radio. Old as in actual melodies and harmonies, even some occasional counterpoint. Old as in no politics, no sex, and no Anglo-Saxon vulgarities. The Beach Boys. The early Beatles. The BeeGees before disco. Chad and Jeremy. The Dave Clark Five. Donovan. The Hollies. Jay and the Americans. The Kingston Trio. The Lovin’ Spoonful. The Mamas and the Papas. Paul Revere and the Raiders. Spanky and Our Gang. And my all-time favorites, The Association.

     When I arrived at college, I discovered something surprising: those groups and their music were almost uniformly dismissed as “plastic.” Why? They sounded good. They sang in smooth voices and played their instruments like musicians. They were non-vulgar. They weren’t trying to sell you on some political position or promote some trumped-up “crisis.”

     It took a while for me to realize that those were the reasons my fellow collegians dismissed them.

     It was one of the symptoms of the troubles to come, the proverbial “clouds the size of a man’s hand” on our social and political horizons. And it is difficult for me, at this remove, to believe that it had no genesis other than a change in tastes.

     There was a strategy in play even then. We were unable to see it, even as it operated on us.

     I think I’d better close now. Have a nice day.


Pascal said...

Why woud you think we'd find this piece too bizarre? It is a-stand-back-and-look-at-the-big-picture-for-a-moment sort of thing not inconsistent with other output from the CEFTTWWW.

A more sober analysis is hard to find on the WWW. Thank you.

I've another response to something in particular in the hopper.

Pascal said...

You wrote "And every side is participating in the escalation of the combats fragmenting our society."

Only a few hours ago I concluded a response to Darin with this:

I get the feeling all [the ad hoc spokesmen for a cause are put on endless display to achieve] the opposite effect by the Progs. All they care about is destabilization of Western culture, and America’s even more importantly because we still are the big dog. Destabilizing society is quite simply another way to undermine our constitutional foundation. You and I are aware that after our inevitable backlash there is no telling what will remain of constitutional restraint. Yes I know, so much of it is gone already. But the final nail in the coffin has not yet been struck.

And as if Darin were paid to provide you with examples of experts used as you laid out, his response to me includes this nugget.

"Enter CFC’s. Almost overnight whole industrial product lines were banned, factories were closed and consumers had to pay for all of it. Fast forward a couple decades and we find out the science behind it was flawed if not completely bogus."

I pray you find this helpful. If you do, then you may find it worthwhile to follow the link and read the whole thread.