Idealists Without Illusions

(or so they have convinced themselves)

Since mid-March of this year this blog has been visited by and commented on by Markadelphia, as I noted below in the post The Mystery of Government. Mark was first attracted here by comments I left at his blog Notes from the Front on a post about the Zumbo incident, Great Bunch a Guys. It was a civil, if short, comment thread, and in my last comment to him there, I said this:

Having perused your site I can see that we’re not at all on the same plane philosophically or politically, so I’m going to disagree with you on a lot of things. This is good, because you learn much more arguing your case with someone who disagrees with you than you do preaching to the choir.

If you want a discussion, I’ll be more than happy to provide it. I don’t throw ad hominems, and I provide research and citations to support my positions. It’s a lot of work. I expect the same in return. “I feel” or “I believe” isn’t enough. “This is what I believe, and here is why I believe it” constitutes a valid argument.

Though that invitation was to discuss the topic of gun control specifically, Markadelphia declared himself at least somewhat converted on that topic in a later post, which I will quote from here, but not link to quite yet:

It just so happened that when I wrote a column about the Jim Zumbo deal a while back, a blogger by the name of Kevin Baker came to the defense of the gun lobby. He posted some comments here that made me think and, I must admit, altered my view. I came to the realization that, while I will never get off on guns, they are, in fact, a personal liberty just as anything else is in this country and if I am going to be against things like the Patriot Act, then I have to be against gun control. Besides, it’s not guns that are the problem anyway. It’s Americans that are the problem. And Americans like Kevin, and the others that post on his site, are very responsible gun owners.

He wrote on here:

I’m going to disagree with you on a lot of things. This is good, because you learn much more arguing your case with someone who disagrees with you than you do preaching to the choir.

I agree completely. You know that I love all of you but the most interesting discussions are when PL, Crab, Dave, Sarge, the rev, and joe Anonymous get in the mix. I believe with all of my heart and soul that raising the level of debate in this country gets people to think. That’s why I think it IS polite to talk about politics. Preaching to the choir is a fucking bore and I would have shut down this site long ago if we didn’t have the wonderful ragers we have had here.

So, it was with that spirit I began posting on his blog…the only other blog I post on regularly other than this one. I really felt like if we could come together on the gun thing maybe there could be other things on which we could find common ground. I was buoyed by Kevin’s (and others that post there) intelligence, unbiased interpretation of facts and law in regards to the gun issue so I really felt there might be some hope.

That’s not the heart of that post, but it’s the part pertinent to this essay at this point. I will return to it forthwith.

It is true that you learn more from people who disagree with you than those who echo your beliefs. Sometimes, however, what you learn is only a reinforcement of your beliefs. Markadelphia is a self-confessed liberal, and, from the tone and content of the majority of his comments here, insofar as I can tell he is at minimum a closet socialist – someone who won’t quite admit it to themselves. Just one example:

There is a pervasive, Randian view on Communism on this blog, though….

He says that like it’s a bad thing. 😉

With the sole exception of gun control, Markadelphia has exhibited every characteristic of the stereotypical urban Leftist (big “L” on purpose) . I’m not complaining! Since he started commenting, the traffic here is up and the comment threads have been generally interesting, informative, and refreshingly free of invective and insult. While Mark argues that everyone is ganging up on him, and we’re all just a part of the right-wing echo-chamber, the fact remains that his posts have inspired some very insightful, thought-provoking comments, and I appreciate that.

But as to Mark himself, I think the attraction is wearing off, and I want to speak as to why that is.

My normal blogging style is the essay. Some idea inspires me to write; some thing(s) I’ve read generally ruminate in my mind until they jell into a coherent theme about which I will ramble for five or six thousand words or more. The ongoing discussion threads here are just that kind of thing. Some recent comments from The Mystery of Government:

Nothing kills the urge to debate in me faster than realizing I could be arguing the other guy’s position better than he’s doing it. Absent the possibility of changing someone’s mind, either my opponent’s or the audience’s, the good I get out of it is practicing; if I could be doing better talking to myself, why bother? – LabRat

We’ve been trying to talk sense to Mark, to lead him to water, but he just can’t drop his loaded ways of thinking, his overloaded “meanings” of words (to mean what he wants them to, no more and no less). Perhaps we’ve gone too far.

I’m tired of it right now – He’s left tons of questions I’ve tried to ask him unanswered, and shown he can’t see the world but through his view, he’s incapable of trying to see it through any other lens, which means he fails to understand. – Unix-Jedi

You don’t answer his questions because you plainly don’t like the answers to his questions. You spend endless barrels of ink dancing around the answers, but as I stated before, you just can’t get the peanut butter out of your jaws. You spend time by the fortnight pounding your keyboard here, and so your available time is not the issue.

Yet again, Mark, you are a phony, and nothing more. You don’t fool anyone here….

No, Mark, you are not a slave to anyone in any way except to your own inability to admit it when you are shown to be wrong. – DJ

These kinds of comments have been getting more common of late. Markadelphia has made several comments pertaining to what he sees as Conservative groupthink here as well. What has all of this reminded me of? Reasonable People – the essay I wrote back in December of 2005. Specifically, I was reminded of an essay I quoted extensively from, Dr. Bob Godwin’s How I Cured Myself of Leftism. Once again (big excerpt):

At this point in time, I am more inclined to think of leftism as an intellectual pathology rather than a psychological one (although there is clearly considerable overlap). What I mean is that it is impossible to maintain a priori that a conservative person is healthier or more emotionally mature than a liberal. There are plenty of liberals who believe crazy things but are wonderful people, and plenty of conservatives who have the right ideas but are rotten people. However, this may be begging the question, for it is still puzzling why people hold beliefs that are demonstrably untrue or at the very least unwise.

One of the problems is with our elites. 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. Religious people are not as prone to this same fear, because they accept it that their religion is ultimately based on a leap of faith. One can see how this is playing out, for example, in the intelligent design debate that has philosophical materialists frothing at the mouth. Intellectuals live under the illusion that their system is based solely on facts and logic, which is easily disproved, even with regard to mathematical knowledge (for example, Godel’s theorems prove that there is no formal system that does not contain assumptions unwarranted and unprovable by the system). For most intellectuals, understanding actually precedes knowledge. In other words, they have a certain feeling about the world, and then only pay attention to knowledge that confirms that feeling-based view.

But wait! We’re not done!

As Jonah Goldberg has observed, “Like many spiritual movements, liberalism emphasizes deeds and ideals over ideas. As a result, when liberals gather there’s a revivalist spirit in the air, with plenty of talk about fighting the forces of evil and testifying about good deeds done.” The philosopher Eric Voegelin coined the phrase “immanentizing the eschaton” to describe the messianic liberal impulse to remake mankind and to create heaven on earth. Goldberg cites several examples, such as “the spiritual nature of the environmental movement; the quasi-messianic treatment of Martin Luther King Jr.; Bill Clinton’s invocation of ‘covenants’ with the American people; Hillary Clinton’s ‘politics of meaning,’ which claimed to redefine what it meant to be a human being in the postmodern world — all of these are examples of what Voegelin would describe as the neo-Gnostic effort to make the hereafter simply here.” Similarly, “It should be no surprise that Hillary Clinton justified her Senate candidacy on the claim that she was more ‘concerned’ about the issues than her opponent. And of course her husband won the presidency by arguing he was better at ‘feeling’ pain.”

At the same time, for 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.

What reminded me of that piece? This comment by Markadelphia:

I know I have been evoking Kennedy a lot here but basically if you want to sum up the way I feel about government, this is it.

“I am an idealist without illusions.”

Having read his comments here since mid-March, that line literally caused me to laugh out loud, and the memory of Bob Godwin’s diagnosis tickled at the back of my brain until it surfaced today. (Read the rest of Bob’s piece – I excerpted probably two-thirds of it. When I find someone saying something better than I can, I let them.)

The complaints of almost every critic of Markadelphia here have centered around his inability to do more that talk about what he feels and what he believes – without being able to debate about what does or does not work. He embodies “sticking up for the little guy” and “war is not the answer” (at least not war in Iraq). Everywhere in his comments he constantly emphasizes ideals over ideas, intention over results, rosy projection over historical record, and is constantly called on the carpet over it. He repeatedly misuses language, but accuses his opponents of “framing the debate” and using “conservative language manipulation,” but when his errors are pointed out to him – often emphatically – he acknowledges them and continues the misuse. Perhaps most frustrating of all, one of his apparently favorite tactics is comparing apples and oranges; in that latest comment thread he equates slavery and commerce. Previously he has called the U.S. an “empire” – and had the term explained to him specifically. Hasn’t stopped him.

But what really inspired this essay? That blog post of Markadelphia’s that I quoted from at the beginning of this piece – a post that absolutely disproves his “idealist without illusions” assertion. From Sept. 11, 2007, A Profound Divide, and this quote that illustrates exactly what I’m talking about:

Six years ago our country stood as one. Every American stood together proud and strong, not weak and bickering like we are now. The world, aside from the usual crazies, was markedly pro-American and they had our backs. People loved us and we loved each other.

He really believes that. It is a key talking-point of the Left. As I pointed out to him in the comments, that unity was an illusion (and Steven Den Beste said it better than I could, so I let him), but the facts don’t affect his belief, his personal reality.

Markadelphia is an idealist, yes, a self-admitted one. But he is so full of illusions about how the world is and how the world works that it is literally impossible to reach him. As Bob Godwin spelled out plainly, Markadelphia lives under the illusion that the Left’s system is based solely on facts and logic, and he believes that mankind can somehow be remade if only the right people were put in charge. Their ideas are so beautiful, they must be true, never mind all the previous failures, all the evidence of history. He cannot acknowledge these facts, for doing so risks the collapse of the entire cathedral of belief. Instead, if he can just get enough others to believe, the world can be remade!

And therefore Markadelphia is the poster-boy for the modern Left – idealists full of illusions.

(And Mark, if I haven’t offended you too much, may I suggest you read all eleven pieces of Neo-Neocon‘s A Mind is a Difficult Thing to Change? Start at the bottom and work your way up.)

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