Friday, September 20, 2019

“Down With Facts!”

     The facts of life are conservative – Margaret Thatcher
     A beautiful theory, killed by a nasty, ugly little fact. – Thomas Huxley

     In a sense, the Left’s entire project is to oppose “the facts:” denying them, refusing to report them, deflecting people’s attention from them, and (of course) straining to change them, usually through legislation. For “the facts” are so consistently opposed to the Left that they form an impenetrable barrier to its schemes. No amount of theory can undo a fact, so what remains but to oppose them in every forum available?

     George Packer’s recent article in the Atlantic has received a lot of attention from conservatives for this reason. Packer, a left-liberal, is at least clear-sighted enough not to deny his child the benefits of a quality education, even if it means diverting him from the egalitarian course his politics would advocate. However, those same politics demand that Packer criticize “the system” in some fashion. His method: to rail against “meritocracy:”

     The system that dominates our waking hours, commands our unthinking devotion, and drives us, like orthodox followers of an exacting faith, to extraordinary, even absurd feats of exertion is not democracy, which often seems remote and fragile. It’s meritocracy—the system that claims to reward talent and effort with a top-notch education and a well-paid profession, its code of rigorous practice and generous blessings passed down from generation to generation.

     Note the dismissive “claims to” in the above. In point of fact, rewarding talent and effort is the only way one gets results. The alternative – ignoring talent and effort in favor of...what? – encourages idleness, tolerates scatter-brainedness and dilettantism, and produces aimlessness in society generally. But Packer has a beef. He says “meritocracy” produces anxiety:

     The mood of meritocracy is anxiety—the low-grade panic when you show up a few minutes late and all the seats are taken. New York City, with its dense population, stratified social ladder, and general pushiness, holds a fun-house mirror up to meritocracy. Only New York would force me to wake up early one Saturday morning in February, put on my parka and wool hat, and walk half a mile in the predawn darkness to register our son, then just 17 months old, for nursery school. I arrived to find myself, at best, the 30th person in a line that led from the locked front door of the school up the sidewalk. Registration was still two hours off, and places would be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. At the front of the line, parents were lying in sleeping bags. They had spent the night outside.

     (There’s a giveaway in that paragraph. Read it a second time. You’ll find it.)

     Anxiety is a human reaction to confronting a need, or a demand, that one is uncertain of meeting. We all feel it at some point in our lives. The cure is performance: meeting the challenge with – drum roll, please – talent and effort, whether one’s own or that of a hireling. Those parents in sleeping bags, faced with the same unpleasant challenge as Packer, performed. They acknowledged the parameters of the situation they faced and rose to the occasion. Packer, somewhat less willing to put himself out, took a place in line behind them.

     The rest of Packer’s article is too dreary for a detailed exploration. Suffice it to say that when the facts – in this case, the unadorned facts about the total failure of “public” education – are at odds with his preferences, he deplores the facts. Indeed, he often denies them. He appears to think “we” could undo them if “we” cared enough.

     Typical left-liberal.

     For a look at some facts you’re unlikely to get from a George Packer, have a gander at this article from John Stossel:

     [T]oday, as life gets better, my profession [journalism] wins clicks and ratings points by hyping whatever makes us afraid. Reporters ignore gradual improvement and, sometimes, miracles.

     "We live in a world of reliable miracles," says [Reason editor-in-chief Katherine] Mangu-Ward. "When I'm having a bad day, I trawl the internet for videos of happy cyborgs ... hearing-impaired people getting cochlear implants turned on for the first time ... paraplegics walking with the help of adaptive prosthetics, infants getting their first pair of coke-bottle glasses ... things that, in another era, would have caused the founding of an entire religion!"

     Even food is better. Meatless meat tastes as good as meat from an animal because "people want to make money by selling you a burger that didn't hurt a cow," says Mangu-Ward.

     I’ll pass on the meatless “burger,” thanks, but otherwise Mangu-Ward has a powerful point. It goes hand-in-hand with this deservedly famous rant from comedian Louis C.K.:

     There’s a lot of good stuff around us – and all of it was made possible by talented folks who put their best efforts to bringing it into reality – YOUR reality. But a ceaselessly complaining zero like George Packer – and pray tell, what has he done other than vent his dissatisfaction with the “meritocracy” that made New York City the world’s greatest city? — will only complain that his “chair in the sky” onboard his five-hour flight to California “doesn’t go back far enough.”

     I had a most gratifying opportunity to celebrate the “good stuff” in The Wise and the Mad:

     “Thank you for this, Miss Holly.” Fountain buckled herself into the passenger seat as Holly started the engine. “I enjoy cooking, but my lord has always reserved the grocery shopping to himself. He’s allowed me to accompany him to the supermarket only once.”
     “Did you enjoy it, dear?” Holly pulled out of the Sokoloffs’ driveway and headed toward the Wegmans at the edge of the city of Onteora.
     “Greatly, Miss Holly. It was a place of wonder. Even now it seems I must have imagined it, that such a dream of abundance could not have been real.”
     Holly chuckled as she turned onto Grand Avenue. “It was no dream, dear. America is a place of fabulous abundance. More than those who abused you dared to let you see or know. Think of all the other wonders you’ve witnessed since Larry found you. The comfortable homes and furniture. All the cars. The beautiful music you’ve heard and the instruments it was played on. All the books, movies, and television shows. All the kitchen gadgets that make cooking easier. The gorgeous clothes and shoes Larry and Trish have bought for you. Those things weren’t produced by miracles, but by men who wanted them to exist and labored to make it happen.” She reached over to caress Fountain’s cheek. “Just as you have labored to create your marvelous dishes. It’s what Americans do.”
     “Am I an American, then, Miss Holly?”
     Holly pulled into the Wegmans parking lot, quickly chose a space, and carefully positioned her car in its exact center. She killed the engine and turned to her companion.
     “You, Fountain, are as American as any of us,” she said. “More than I am, really. Many years ago I left America for another place far away, out of a need to escape from my family. I should have stayed and fought for myself. I’m back now, and may I never again feel the urge to flee my native land, where I have always belonged.” She smiled. “Do you have a list of ingredients in mind yet, dear?”
     “I do, Miss Holly.”
     “Then let’s grab a shopping cart and be about it.”

     Yes, we have some troubles to surmount. We’ll surmount them. It’s what Americans do. But don’t forget to enjoy the good stuff. There’s a lot of it, and that’s a fact.

     The alternative to a proper respect for the facts is to live in a fantasy realm in which abundant calories, warmth in the winter and coolth in the summer, smartphones, cars, and airliners are produced by “good intentions” and an obsession with “social justice.” With George Packer for a neighbor, at that. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I prefer my ranch house on an acre in the suburbs, even if it does have an annoying leak or two and the lawn persists in growing past its optimal length.

     I’ll grant an indulgent exception to the parade of pygmies the Democrats have trotted onto their national stage in pursuit of the opportunity to lose to the most accomplished president in a century. After all, if they were compelled to attend to the facts about the economy, the swelling of the workforce and the reductions in unemployment, the explosion in housing starts, our improved international relations, the reforms in NATO, the steady strengthening of our southern border, and the highest consumer confidence in five decades, they’d all concede and slink quietly away. We wouldn’t want that; the entertainment value is too great. But for the rest of us, facts.

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