Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Liberals, Meritocracy, and Hierarchy

“Journalistic convention requires that when there are two identifiable sides to a story, each side gets its say, in neutral fashion, without the writer's thumb on the scale. This rule presents a challenge when one side of a controversy obviously lacks merit. But mainstream journalism has learned to navigate those challenges, choosing evolution over ‘intelligent design,’ for example, and treating climate change naysayers as cranks.”

-- Linda Greenhouse, New York Times

This blog is persuaded, partly by biology and social science experiments, that Americans (people) value consistency, strongly favor those in their tribe, see bias in their opponents, and believe their own judgments to be fact-based. Linda Greenhouse has had 34 years with the New York Times, America’s citadel of liberalism, our country’s strongest liberal voice. No surprise she writes (above) with—to me—transparent bias.

Here’s how conservative Roger Kimball, at the “PJ Media” website, describes the other side:
Liberalism. . . regards its political opinions . . . as reflections of the state of nature: what any right-thinking (i.e., left-leaning) person believes. But your opinions, my conservative friend, are regarded not so much as opinions as some form of heresy. Here in a nutshell you have the motor behind political correctness and the staggeringly illiberal attitudes espoused by the elite liberal establishment.
Nicholas Kristof is, like Greenhouse, a New York Times columnist. Refreshingly unlike Greenhouse, however, he openly identifies himself as a liberal. And refreshingly, he recently took a stab at respectfully separating liberal and conservative thought. Kristof’s starting point is The Righteous Mind, a book by Jonathan Haidt, a University of Virginia psychology professor. Kristof says Haidt’s book “illuminates the kind of messaging that might connect with voters of all stripes.”

Haidt, according to Kristof, believes that
for liberals, morality is largely a matter of three values: caring for the weak, fairness and liberty. Conservatives share those concerns and add three others: loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity[--]values [that] bind groups together with a shared respect for symbols and institutions such as the flag or the military. Americans speak about values in six languages, from care to sanctity. Conservatives speak all six, but liberals are fluent in only three. And some [Kristof includes himself] mostly use just one, care for victims.
Do you think that having a broad spectrum of values, as conservatives do, is a good thing? Maybe not. Note that Kristof reduces his morality to a single virtue: “care for victims.” Kristof then goes on to say that research shows liberal adults
were said decades earlier by their nursery-school teachers to be curious, verbal novelty seekers but not very neat or obedient[, whereas] conservatives are particularly attuned to threats, with a greater startle reflex when they hear loud noises. . . liberals prefer dogs . . . not subservient, while conservatives seek dogs who are loyal and obedient.
Don’t you see it? Liberals: bright, restless, non-conforming, lovers of frisky dogs, and, best of all, caring. (Recall Rush Limbaugh’s saying "the left doesn't want to be judged on the results of anything they do. They only want to be judged on their good intentions.") Doesn’t Kristof show us the liberal generation that came out of the 1960s civil rights and anti-war struggle to run the nation from their New York-Washington axis? They overcame conservatives inhibited by loud noises, frightened into obedience to the flag, the military, and presumably organized religion, and who prefer loyal and obedient dogs. It’s all so subtle, Kristof’s quiet dig at conservatives within his genuine effort to understand them. He can’t help himself.

Last year, Reagan-Bush 41 speechwriter Peggy Noonan unearthed a profound truth about the young anti-establishment liberals who have become our rulers as adults, when she wrote of supreme court justice Elena Kagan:
Ms. Kagan and her counterparts all started out 30 years ago trying to undo the establishment, and now they are the establishment. If you need any proof of this it is that in their essays and monographs they no longer mention “the establishment.” Ms. Kagan’s nomination has also highlighted America’s . . . meritocracy. Work hard, be smart, rise. The result is an aristocracy of wired brainiacs, of highly focused, well-credentialed careerists.
Liberals are irreverent about authority and about established institutions. They speak out against wealth, Wall Street, those who don’t pay their “fair share,” the top 1%. Yet liberals have become “the establishment,” the aristocracy. They are “America’s meritocracy,” and as we have said, live alongside elite conservatives in America’s “gated country”.

The liberal elite occupy an “inner world” similar to the old U.S.S.R.’s nomenklatura, its “inner party.” The New York Times is its Pravda, cueing liberals on what to say, what to do, how to live. Inside the “inner world,” one can frankly discuss one’s own power and wealth, and reassure each other the meritocracy works, the cream most properly rises to the top. Inside, one can be honest about how an elite minority in a democracy dominated by less fortunate voters holds onto power by practicing Kristof’s “care for victims.” Brains at the top. Government the means. A national majority of dependents the target.

Is there guilt about standing for the oppressed, but living as an elite atop an anti-democratic (it’s based on merit) pyramid? I suspect a great deal, and see it displayed in outbursts like that of Greenhouse against conservative inferiors, efforts to reassure each other that the right people are running the show. I see it in deceptive efforts to keep victims tied to the liberal elite—branding the “tea party” racist, going after governors trying to enforce Federal law requiring deportation of lawbreakers, uniting women against the Catholic church and Catholic Rick Santorum, demanding higher taxes of the rich when such taxes cannot close the deficit, claiming efforts to save Medicare are attempts to destroy it instead.

The liberal focus has to stay on the conservative enemy. Otherwise, the meritocracy may be forced to address the disturbing question of how can a democracy where the people rule also be a hierarchy that permanently consigns a majority to society’s lower rungs, based upon inherited intelligence? “Care for victims” may not be enough. It may not work.

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