Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Random righties

1) From an ultra-conservative website that I've never heard of, an actually pretty intelligent and nuanced review of a book on the history of the left. Most interestingly, it differentiates between the homegrown native versions of the left:
American communism was wholly un-American: all eight of the Communist Party dailies published in 1921 were in foreign languages. Writes Flynn: “Such American originals as J. A. Wayland, Big Bill Haywood, and Eugene Debs passed the baton to conformists directed in thought and deed by overlords halfway round the planet.”
The noncommunist American Left pushed back. The freeswinging and disorderly Wobblies and farmer-labor parties, with their “the star-spangled anarchism,” in Flynn’s felicitous phrase, were a poor fit for European regimentation.
...and defends the Beats and the New Left, who for the most part were trying to get past communism and re-connect with the more rootsy and chaotic American anarcho-socialist tendency.

2) From an allegedly leading light of cultural conservatism (Roger Kimball, editor of The New Criterion), a rather disgustingly preening post about how he doesn't care about people in Burma. It occurs to me that all two of my readers might share his attitude. I feel compelled to write something in response to this although I can't quite get my thoughts in order. First, at some level, you care about what you care about, and you can't be coerced or convinced to care otherwise. But that's very superficial, since in fact the process of moral maturation is in large part learning to be less egoistic, and to care about other people. Does that mean you have to care equally about everybody? Obviously not (some moral philosophers seem to think otherwise; but they're cracked). So, what are one's obligations to total strangers on the other side of the world? I won't pretend to know, but I know that there's something mildly revolting about such principled devotion to uncaring.

5 comments:

mtraven said...

Huh, server logs indicate that Roger Kimball (or someone managing his website) checked this post out. I don't know whether to regret more a) not making a more coherent argument or b) refraining from making fun of his bowtie.

I've noticed in the past that there is an awful lot of egosurfing in the world, and if you mention somebody well-known in your blog you shouldn't be surprised if they pop up to respond.

Michael S. said...

I'll point out only that the wish to go halfway round the world to help the poor Burmese recover from their cyclone is an impulse not far removed from the wish to go halfway round the world to install "democracy" in Iraq. One had, at very least, better look very critically at the vehicle by which charitable gifts of money or goods go to a place like Burma, lest they simply enrich the local kleptocracy, and thus do more harm than good.

A couple of old saws are well borne in mind: "The oceans are salt becasue they are filled with tears" and "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Tragedy is the normal human condition and there is damned little anyone can do about it. Expect very little of your fellow man; that way you will be more often pleasantly surprised than bitterly disappointed.

mtraven said...

.. the wish to go halfway round the world to help the poor Burmese recover from their cyclone is an impulse not far removed from the wish to go halfway round the world to install "democracy" in Iraq.

Uh, yes, it is quite far removed in my view. The people I know who want to help Burma seem to have their best interests at heart, while it is manifestly obvious that the invasion of Iraq had almost nothing to do with helping Iraqis.

One had, at very least, better look very critically at the vehicle by which charitable gifts of money or goods go to a place like Burma, lest they simply enrich the local kleptocracy, and thus do more harm than good.

This is true. I am organizing an effort to raise some money which will go either to Médecins Sans Frontières or the International Rescue Committee, both organizations with a good record of getting work done on the ground. But it's not clear thtat they have the ability to get aid where it is needed.

A couple of old saws are well borne in mind: "The oceans are salt becasue they are filled with tears" and "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Tragedy is the normal human condition and there is damned little anyone can do about it.

And yet there seems to be a human wish to help others which is almost as universal as the more recognized tendencies towards selfishness and stupidity. People do do something about suffering -- not that it is eliminated, but it can be ameliorated.

Note I have no wish to have one of our typical arguments about this issue. I have no worked-out theory of ethical obligations and do not presume to tell others how much caring they should demonstrate.

TGGP said...

There are plenty of well-intentioned people that supported the invasion of Iraq, including not only conservatives but liberals and Iraqis as well. Intentions don't change a damn thing. Invading Burma is a crazy idea. If you want to help the Burmese, fine, there are plenty of charitable organizations you can donate to.

mnuez said...

Because my cell's browser is quite limited in what it can easily access and I was in need of reading something, somewhat intellectual in nature, I sighed and clicked over to the book review you linked to. And I'm so very pleased that I did.

The read wasn't intensely intellectual but it was something better - refreshing, by which I mean to say that reading it literally left me feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, of larger mind and happier than I was when I first opened the article.

I expected yet another round in the dreary and intellectually deadening he-said/she-said of Stupid Leftism and Stupid Rightism where massive talking heads bloviate about whether Hillary Clinton or Newt Gingrich is "good" or "bad". The article offered none of that. It spoke of Conservativism and Leftism in more expansive, liberating and, yes, intelligent forms. It eased my passions on the subject out of the pit of despair (of feeling that I'm surrounded by "know nothings" {of the literal, not historical, form}) and toward the round table of honest, open, interested and interesting ideological discussion.

I should reiterate that my bows of appreciation to you for sharing this article say nothing of any great revolutionary ideas contained within this piece. By any serious standard it has little of any novelty or genius to recommend it. But it has precisely what I (and so many people similar to me, I'm sure) need right now, spiritual rejuvenation as we allow ourselves to step out of the shit-speckled playpen of the shouting right and the shouting left and to dream dreams, consider plans and to make friends and acquaintance with fellow dreamers and planners of yesteryear.

mnuez