hubris, noun: Overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance
arrogance, noun: a feeling or an impression of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or presumptuous claims
In the late 1960’s and early ’70s Eric Sevareid interviewed a number of noteable people, and those interviews ran in hour-long television specials under the title Conversations with Eric Sevareid. A collection of the transcripts was published in 1976. Among the people Sevareid interviewed was American philosopher Eric Hoffer. Hoffer was interviewed twice; once on September 19, 1967, and again on January 28, 1969. In the opening to the first interview, this is how Sevareid introduced Hoffer:
Between the ages of seven and fifteen Eric Hoffer was totally blind. He never went to school. He has worked at manual labor all his life, the last 25 years as a longshoreman on the San Francisco docks. The University of California tried to hire him as a full professor. Publishers compete for his books, which are translated and read over half the world. His big body feels the twilight now, but his mind remains young as sunrise.
Great intellects have come from the working class and then have writen about the so-called “masses.” Hoffer is working class. He’s a phenomenon. He is a stroke of national good luck – the most authentic voice of the poor about whom even the rich are now writing. He does not judge America by today’s headlines and newsfilm. He sees the country in its place on the wheel of time. “America,” says Eric Hoffer, “is the only new thing in history.”
I just wanted to establish some bona fides for Mr. Hoffer for those unfamiliar with him. Not too long ago, I was.
Consider the following exchange:
Eric Sevareid: You seem to have a fear about the rise of intellectuals in political life and power. Why are you so frightened of them?
Eric Hoffer: First of all, I ought to tell you that I have no grievance against intellectuals. All that I know about them is what I read in history books and what I’ve observed in our time. I’m convinced that the intellectuals as a type, as a group, are more corrupted by power than any other human type. It’s disconcerting to realize that businessmen, generals, soldiers, men of action are less corrupted by power than intellectuals.
In my new book I elaborate on this and I offer an explanation why. You take a conventional man of action, and he’s satisfied if you obey, eh? But not the intellectual. He doesn’t want you just to obey. He wants you to get down on your knees and praise the one who makes you love what you hate and hate what you love. In other words, whenever the intellectuals are in power, there’s soul-raping going on.
Sevareid: I think that’s true in Russia but is it true here?
Hoffer: In this country the intellectuals aren’t in power. Mass movement hasn’t a chance for the simple reason that they aren’t started by the masses. They’re started by intellectuals.
In America the intellectual has neither status, nor prestige, nor influence. We, the common people, are not impressed by intellectuals. We have a disdain for pencil-pushers. We actually define efficiency by the small number of pencil-pushers. If you asked me what I consider an efficient society I’d say the ratio between the office personnel and the producing personnel.
The smaller the amount of supervision the better, the healthier, the more vigorous a society. The highest supervisory personnel is where the intellectuals are in power – in Communist countries. There half the population is supervising the other half. The intellectuals have a tremendous contempt for the masses. Intellectuals can’t operate unless they’re convinced that the masses are lazy, incompetent, dishonest; that you have to breathe down their necks, and you have to watch them all the time. We in America are sitting pretty because the masses perform only if we leave them alone. That’s where we are at our best.
Thomas Sowell wrote a book published in 1995 entitled The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. From the introduction:
The views of political commentators or writers on social issues often range across a wide spectrum, but their positions on these issues are seldom random. If they are liberal, conservative, or radical on foreign policy, then they are likely to be the same on crime, abortion, or education. There is usually a coherence to their beliefs, based on a particular set of underlying assumptions about the world – a certain vision of reality.
Visions differ of course from person to person, from society to society, and from one era to another. Visions also compete with one another, whether for the allegiance of an individual or of a whole society. But in some areas one vision so predominates over all others that it can be considered the prevailing vision of that time and place. This is the current situation among the intelligentsia of the United States and much of the Western world, however much their vision may differ from the visions of most other people. Individual variations in applying this underlying vision do not change the fundamental fact that there is a particular framework of assumptions within which most contemporary social and political discourse takes place in the media in academia, and in politics.
The rise of the mass media, mass politics, and massive government means that the beliefs which drive a relatively small group of articulate people have great leverage in determining the course taken by a whole society.
Theodore Dalrymple’s 2001 book, Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass carries this passage in the introduction:
(M)ost of the social pathology exhibited by the underclass has its origin in ideas that have filtered down from the intelligentsia. Of nothing is this more true than the system of sexual relations that now prevails in the underclass, with the result that 70 percent of the births in my hospital are now illegitimate (a figure that would approach 100 percent if it were not for the presence in the area of a large number of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent).
Literature and common sense attest that sexual relations between men and women have been fraught with difficulty down the ages because man is a conscious social being who bears a culture, and is not merely a biological being. But intellectuals in the twentieth century sought to free our sexual relations of all social, contractual, or moral obligations and meaning whatsoever, so that henceforth only raw sexual desire itself would count in our decision making.
The intellectuals were about as sincere as Marie Antionette when she played the shepherdess. While their own sexual mores no doubt became more relaxed and liberal, they nonetheless continued to recognize inescapable obligations with regard to children, for example. Whatever they said, they didn’t want a complete breakdown of family relations any more than Marie Antionette really wanted to earn her living by looking after sheep.
But their ideas were adopted both literally and wholesale in the lowest and most vulnerable social class. If anyone wants to see what sexual relations are like, freed of contractual and social obligations, let him look at the chaos of the personal lives of members of the underclass.
Here the whole gamut of human folly, wickedness, and misery may be perused at leisure – in conditions, be it remembered, of unprecedented prosperity. Here are abortions procured by abdominal kung-fu; children who have children, in numbers unknown before chemical contraception and sex education; women abandoned by the father of their child a month before or a month after delivery; insensate jealosy, the reverse coin of general promiscuity, that results in the most hideous oppression and violence; serial stepfatherhood that leads to sexual and physical abuse of children on a mass scale; and every kind of loosening of the distinction between the sexually permissable and the impermissable.
The connection between this loosening and the misery of my patients is so obvious that it requires considerable intellectual sophistication (and dishonesty) to be able to deny it.
The climate of moral, cultural, and intellectual relativism – a relativism that began as a mere fashionable plaything for intellectuals – has been successfully communicated to those least able to resist its devastating practical effects. When Professor Steven Pinker tells us in his best-selling book The Language Instinct (written, of course, in grammatically correct standard English, and published without spelling mistakes) that there is no grammatically correct form of language, that children require no tuition in their own language because they are destined to learn to speak it adequately for their needs, and that all forms of language are equally expressive, he is helping to enclose the underclass child in the world in which he was born. Not only will that child’s teachers feel absolved from the arduous task of correcting him, but rumors of Professor Pinker’s grammatical tolerance (a linguistic version of Pope’s dictum that whatever is, is right) will reach the child himself. He will thenceforth resent correction as illegitimate and therefore humiliating. Eppur si mouve: whatever Professor Pinker says, the world demands correct grammar and spelling from those who would advance in it. Moreover, it is patently untrue that every man’s language is equal to his needs, a fact that is obvious to anyone who has read the pitiable attempts of the underclass to communicate in writing with others, especially officialdom. Linguistic and educational relativism helps to transform a class into a caste – a caste, almost, of Untouchables.
In the modern world, bad ideas and their consequences cannot be confined to a ghetto. Middle-class friends of mine were appalled to discover that the spelling being taught to their daughter in school was frequently wrong; they were even more appalled when they drew it to the attention of the school’s head teacher and were told it did not matter, since the spelling was approximately right and everyone knew anyway what the misspelling meant.
I think my older brother went to that school. I’m fairly certain that my step-daughter did too. I know my granddaughter started out in one like that. Thankfully, I did not. But the ideas of the intelligentsia go far beyond sexual mores and rules of grammar.
Eric Hoffer, in his 1951 book The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, wrote:
The superior individual, whether in politics, literature, science, commerce, or industry, plays a large role in shaping a nation, but so do individuals at the other extreme — the failures, misfits, outcasts, criminals, and all those who have lost their footing, or never had one, in the ranks of respectible humanity. The game of history is usually played by the best and worst over the heads of the majority in the middle.
The reason that the inferior elements of a nation can exert a marked influence on its course is that they are wholly without reverence toward the present. They see their lives and the present as spoiled beyond remedy and they are ready to waste and wreck both: hence their recklessness and their will to chaos and anarchy.
Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
A week ago, I wrote an essay entitled Culture in response to comments and commentary on an earlier piece, Questions from the Audience?. One commenter in particular prompted that second essay, “tgirsch” from the blog Lean Left. Mr. Girsch left several comments to Culture and one, somewhat related, post at Lean Left in the interim. I’ve waited a week to write this piece just to make sure that all that was going to be said about and because of Culture had been said. (WRONG! Mr. Girsch posted his response to Culture, More on Culture, Race, Economics and Violent Crime on Wednesday morning.)
The comment that prompted this post was made by Mr. Girsch in response to questions from reader Eric Sivula, which I will excerpt from:
You still have offered no evidence that Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid have not hurt the economy. According to the Social Security Budget for 2004, it collected 668 Billion dollars in taxes for that year. The World Bank projected the US GDP at about 11.6 Trillion dollars. So Social security taxes equalled 5.7% of US GDP, based on those numbers.
What do you think self employed people would do with 15% of their income they pay into FICA taxes? Pay down business or personal debt? Invest it as capital in their business? Purchase goods?
What do you think employees of larger businesses would do with 7.5% more income (more than 3 paychecks)? Purchase goods? Pay down personal debt? Invest it? Save it?
What do you think multiple employee businesses would do if each employee cost them 7.5% less to pay? Would they hire more employees? Invest it as capital? Save it?
The key part of Mr. Girsch’s response:
You still have offered no evidence that Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid have not hurt the economy.
And you have offered no evidence that Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid have hurt the economy — just a bunch of anecdotal “ferinstances.” So where does that leave us?
If modern history teaches us anything, the majority of the people would piss away that extra money. A few would save it or invest it wisely, but most would not. If you think even half of people would use the extra money (and that is the correct term — people would have more in their pockets, according to you, without the tax than with it) to bolster their savings, I’ve got some Enron stock to sell you.
The somewhat related post Mr. Girsch put up at Lean Left during the week after I posted Culture is a “Me, too!” link entitled Dissing Libertarians. It links to the blog And Doctor Biobrain’s Response is… to the post Liberal Libertarians. The opening of that piece is what Mr. Girsch quoted in his post, and it begins:
Libertarians. I can’t stand them. Even worse, I think they serve no useful purpose in our political system and really put a big drag on everything; and yes, that does presume that mainstream Republicans serve a purpose. The libertarian position sounds good, but that’s it. It’s just useless sloganeering and toughguy talk, with no real basis in reality. And there are two basic types of libertarians: Pie-in-the-sky jokers who haven’t thought any of it through passed [sic] the toughguy talk, and relatively intelligent Republicans who enjoy bashing libs but hate having to defend their own party. Both categories are dangerous in their own way, though the second is the more dangerous of the two. And both are entirely fake positions that are easy to defend, just as long as they can keep the topic on rhetoric and theory; and away from the thorns of reality.
My instinctive response to that was, “Pot? Meet Kettle.” My second response to both that and Mr. Girsch’s comment that “the majority of the people would piss away that extra money” was, “Hubris.”
Leftists. I can’t stand them. Even worse, I think they are destructive to our political system and really put a big drag on everything; and yes, that does presume that mainstream Democrats serve a purpose. The Leftist position sounds beautiful, but that’s it. It’s just useless sloganeering and utopian talk, with no real basis in reality. And there are two basic types of Leftists: Pie-in-the-sky jokers who haven’t thought any of it through past the utopian talk, and relatively intelligent Democrats who enjoy bashing libertarians but hate having to defend their own party. Both categories are dangerous in their own way, though the second is the far more dangerous of the two. And both are entirely fake positions that are easy to defend, just as long as they can keep the topic on rhetoric and theory; and away from the thorns of reality.
There, see? I can do it too.
There is a (vast) difference between being liberal – dedicated to individual liberty, and being a Leftist – dedicated to controlling the behavior of people towards socialist utopian ideals through the coercive power of government. There are liberal Democrats and liberal Republicans (both of whom are overwhelmed by what I think are loud (even screeching) minorities in those parties) and liberals who probably make up the overwhelming majority of the population that is not politically inclined. Liberals are like that. Mostly liberals want to be left the hell alone. Most libertarians are, in fact, liberal. Most Leftists are not, though they’re convinced they are.
Leftists want to control other people so that Utopia can be achieved, and Mr. Girsch’s outburst “the majority of the people would piss away that extra money”, illustrates that position vividly, as did his response following my comment (to wit: “SO?“):
And this is where we’re going to differ. You don’t perceive a greater concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands — which is inevitably what would happen without a social safety net — as a problem. I do. And this is where libertarians and, well, the rest of us, will simply never agree.
Ah yes. The power of government is there, not to secure the rights of Man, but to prevent the “greater concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.” Mr. Girsch also said, a bit later:
If we were talking strictly about people making bad decisions and suffering for them, I’d be inclined to agree. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking, in many cases, about parents whose children in many cases will be poor, neglected, and disadvantaged through no fault of their own. I’ll be the first to admit that “liberal” solutions don’t do as good a job as they could here, but it beats the holy shit out of doing nothing. And last I checked, we as a nation could afford it.
And the only valid solution Mr. Girsch can endorse is a government solution, where the coercive power of government (“we as a nation”) is used to redistribute the wealth of that nation, according to the dictates of the powerful.
Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once said:
A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it […] gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.
Touché, Mr. Friedman. And no one fears democracy more than the intellectual.
Hoffer defined his meaning of the word “Intellectuals” in his second interview with Sevareid:
I talk of a specific type of person when I talk about an intellectual. […] To me an intellectual is a man of some education who considers himself a member of the educated elite, who thinks he has a God-given right to direct affairs. To me an intellectual doesn’t even have to be intelligent in order to be an intellectual. He looked down upon the masses as if they were dirt.
Sevareid: It’s their attitude toward ordinary people that is the dividing line in your mind?
Hoffer: That’s right.
From Hoffer’s 1967 interview:
Sevareid: Why do intellectuals hate President Johnson?
Hoffer: Oh, well, it’s just that they can’t stand the common American . . . Look at our American intellectuals – real intellectuals and two-bit intellectuals. Look everywhere in the world – Africa, Asia, Europe. Intellectuals are making history. Intellectuals are even generals. Intellectuals are many things. Here in America the intellectuals have no power, and they are mad.
Sevareid: Why is it that they (hippies – this was San Francisco in 1967, remember) so detest the middle class? Is that always true of young people?
Hoffer: Well, perhaps no country is good for its juveniles. They have to adjust themselves to situations. One of the chief characteristics of human uniqueness is that instead of changing ourselves we try to change what we are supposed to adjust to. I’d say that the young are against their middle class parents.
Young people are assuming the intellectual attitude. The intellectual, you know, was against the middle class all through the nineteenth century. The intellectuals entered that century convinced they were going to make history. Hadn’t they made the French Revolution?
Sevareid: But then the industrial revolution produced the middle class that intellectuals resent so much.
Hoffer: Yeah, but they didn’t know that it was an industrial revolution. The intellectuals of the first decades of the nineteenth century thought they were going to make history. And then one morning they woke up and found that their low-brow brothers – their uncles, their fathers and brothers, their low-brow brothers – had grabbed possession of everything in sight and they were the ruling class. The intellectuals were enraged.
This, to me, is the only explanation of what was going on during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The cold war started somewhere in the middle of the last century. The intellectuals are now winning the cold war against the middle class. The middle class isn’t being destroyed by the aristocrats. Napoleon put it this way: “Cannon destroyed the feudal society. Ink will destroy the middle class society.”
Perhaps radio waves, electron beams and phosphor screens, liquid crystals and laser printers may preserve it.
For most of history the Intellectuals have been conservative, maintainers of the status quo ante. However, following the Russian Revolution and proceeding through the Second World War the Intellectuals became, more and more, Socialist. Why is this? Clinical psychologist Robert Godwin wrote:
We are wrong to think that the difficulty lies in the uneducated and unsophisticated masses–as if inadequate education, in and of itself, is the problem. As a matter of fact, no one is more prone to illusions than the intellectual. It has been said that philosophy is simply personal error on a grandiose scale. Complicating matters is the fact that intellectuals are hardly immune to a deep emotional investment in their ideas, no less than the religious individual. The word “belief” is etymologically linked to the word “beloved,” and it is easy to see how certain ideas, no matter how dysfunctional–for example, some of the undeniably appealing ideas underpinning contemporary liberalism–are beloved by those who believe them. Thus, many liberal ideas are believed not because they are true, but because they are beautiful. Then, the intellectual simply marshals their intelligence in service of legitimizing the beliefs that they already hold. It has long been understood by psychoanalysts that for most people, reason is the slave of the passions.
Underneath the intellectual’s attachment to the dysfunctional idea is a more insidious fear that their entire intellectual cathedral, carefully constructed over a lifetime, will collapse in ruins.
Socialism is a beautiful idea, but its irridescent bubble bursts when it encounters the thorns of reality. But, true to form, the intellectuals have permeated media and education in order to proselytize. Godwin continues:
(F)or the person who is not under the hypnotic psycho-spiritual spell of contemporary liberalism, it is strikingly devoid of actual religious wisdom or real ideas. As such, it is driven by vague, spiritually infused ideals and feelings, such as “sticking up for the little guy,” or “war is not the answer.” On the other hand, conservatism is not so much based on ideas, but on simply observing what works, and then generalizing from there. It is actually refreshingly free of dogma, and full of dynamic tension. For example, at the heart of conservatism is an ongoing, unresolvable dialectic between freedom and virtue. In other words, there is a bedrock belief in the idea that free markets are the best way to allocate scarce resources and to create wealth and prosperity for all, but a frank acknowledgment that, without a virtuous populace, the system may produce a self-centered, materialistic citizenry living in a sort of degenerate, “pitiable comfort.” Thus, there is an ongoing, unresolvable tension between the libertarian and traditional wings of the movement.
There is no such dynamic tension in liberalism. Rather, it is a top-down dogma that is not dictated by what works, but by how liberals would like reality to be. This is why liberalism must be enforced with the mechanism of political correctness, in order to preempt or punish those who deviate from liberal dogma, and see what they are not supposed to see.
Columnist Charles Krauthammer put it this way:
To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.
To quote Mr. Girsch one more time:
(L)et’s be frank about what most opponents of the social safety net are really after. Most of them don’t believe that gutting such programs would truly make the country a better place; they just think that doing so would make things better for them.
That’s where I agree with Dr. Biobrain and his commenters, who point out that a lot of Libertarianism is just a search for philosophical justification for selfishness.
And, of course, selflessness is “sticking up for the little guy,” and selfishness is evil.
And that, gentle readers, is hubris.
(For another example, I direct you to read this post at Alphecca.)