Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lathe of hell

Michael Gerson provides us with another one of those “what Conservatism means” pieces that are becoming increasingly popular as everything self-described conservatives passionately believe in changes, often diametrically, from one day to the next. From the party-like-it’s-1999-government giveaways to special interests by their fiscally restrained leaders, to their poorly planned wars to bring utopia to historically disadvantaged foreigners, to the bathroom sex addictions of their moral leaders, it’s no wonder the poor saps have trouble distinguishing up from down these days.

On one hand, Gerson’s article is illuminating in that it shows just how effectively the term “conservative” has been shorn of all rational meaning. On another, it shows how conservatives minds have effectively been shorn of all rational perspective.

It is not a coincidence that the great movements of conscience have generally come not from skeptical traditionalists but from men and women of faith and conviction who taught that loving your neighbor is inconsistent with enslaving him; who rescued children from the nightmare factories of the Industrial Revolution; who asserted that the long tradition of racial segregation created 10,000 petty tyrants; and who believed that the Declaration of Independence is actually true, for us and for all.

Traditionalism can save moralists from a foolish utopianism. But a moral vision is equally necessary to save traditional conservatism from its worst instincts.

Right, Mike. Conservatives have been wrong about almost everything throughout all of history. So what can you do? Re-write history so that conservatives wrote the declaration of Independence, freed the slaves, created the social safety net, bravely forced us into World War II, proudly led the civil rights marches, and now fight mightily to protect us from intrusive government here at home?

Yes, of course, that’s the ticket, but what about when your core values must change from one day to the next, as has happened so often in recent years. Can’t have a commander in chief who dodged the draft, now can we? Criticize the military during a time of war? Forfend!

For the poor conservative, the 21st century is like something out of Ursula K. Leguin’s Lathe of Heaven They never know what kind of new reality they will wake up to.

What these soul searching articles by folk like Michael Gerson teach us is that being a conservative these days is no different than being a Dallas Cowboy fan. Once a person has chosen a team, he will stick with that team no matter what. Maybe he liked the Cowboys because of their old school three yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense and hated players like Terrell Owens who were loud braggarts lacking all class. Yet when the Cowboys fired the old coach, became a run and shoot team and overpaid Terrell Owens, that was all okay. No, it was better than okay. It was good. It was the right thing to do. It was the way they had always believed the game should be played. It’s not the style of play that matters. It’s the allegiance to the team. Winning is all that matters.

The owners, of course, have somewhat different goals, or at least different definitions of “winning,” but that’s a different story. One tools like Gerson are only dimly aware of, at best.