Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Brain-Dead Left

Fair and balanced I always try to be, so I’ll begin by admitting that brain-death is not limited to those who inhabit the political left.

The other day, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens suggested that European voters are repudiating conservative governments because their leaders, namely Sarkozy, Merkel, and Cameron were conservative in name only.

Stephens called them, “the brain-dead right.”

They have earned the epithet for having coupled austerity with higher taxes. These conservative leaders have proven just as incompetent as Euro-socialists, only a lot more “severe.” Therefore they are being repudiated by their citizens.

Stephens explains the tax policies of the brain-dead right:

Take euro-conservative tax policy. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy responded to the euro-zone crisis by increasing some VAT rates to 21.2% from 19.6%, introducing a 3% surcharge on high incomes, and raising the effective capital-gains tax to 32.5% from 31.3%. In Britain, David Cameron raised VAT to 20% from 17.5% and kept the top marginal rate at 50% (now coming down to a still-exorbitant 45%).

Germany? Tax cuts Mrs. Merkel promised when she was re-elected never materialized, though corporate rates have come down. The new conservative Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy is raising the top marginal rate of income tax to 52% from 45%. In Holland, the right-of-center government increased the top VAT rate two percentage points to 21% and doubled the country's bank tax prior to its sudden collapse last month. Italy's technocratic administration of Mario Monti has imposed new levies on property, luxury goods and repatriated wealth.

If it is possible, the radical left is even more brain-dead than European conservatives.

Examine the case of the Occupy movement. Yesterday, Walter Russell Mead pronounced it dead, gone, over, finished.

I have no reason to disagree, though I, as he, hesitate to declare the end of a political movement when it may be lying dormant, waiting for the next best opportunity to strike.

If America starts suffering the indignities that are being visited on Greece and Spain, the Occupy movement might very well be revived as a political force.

If the Occupy movement represents the last dregs of the 1960s counterculture, then, for my part, I am glad to see it go.

But those of us who are happy to see the Occupy movement fail should hesitate before predicting an outcome that would fulfill our personal wishes. Often, reality has better things to do than to fulfill our wishes.

Mead offers the myriad of reasons why the Occupy movement failed. Once the hooligans and anarchists and criminals "occupied" its encampments the movement was doomed to fail. Couple that with the fact that the Occupiers were the most repulsive of neighbors, destroying local small businesses and harassing the neighborhood with constant drumming, and you can easily understand why no politician could have allowed it to go on for very long.

One does not understand why the politicians last year let it go on as long as they did, but one imagines that they thought, as the media kept saying, that it was the progressive response to a Tea Party that helped the Republicans to make important gains in the 2010 elections.

The Occupy movement also revealed something of great importance about today’s radical left: it is brain-dead.

How brain-dead is it?

Glad you asked.

It is so brain-dead that it could not get its defining concept right. As I mentioned at the time, the radical left had for a very long time declared that “occupation” was a bad thing.

Having made common cause with Palestinian terrorism, the radical left has been denouncing Israel for “occupying” lands that the Palestinians claim to be theirs by divine right.

So, occupation was a bad thing. 

Yet, these same people made “occupation” into a virtue when they started setting up encampments in public parks in America.

Now, occupation was a good thing.

Someone was not thinking straight, if at all. 

The Occupy movement had nothing to offer and nothing to say. It never articulated a coherent agenda, and beyond pretending to represent the 99%, it had nothing to say.

Many of the best minds of the radical left glommed on to the movement because they thought they were seeing a new Bolshevik revolution or some modern-day brown shirts. Still, they could not come up with a serious program or platform or agenda.

Slavoj Zizek and Naomi Klein, for example, were calling for a return to Communism, or something very much like it.

Whatever the faults of the free enterprise system, no one with a brain is suggesting that the world economic crisis can be solved by a return to Communism.

We all know that left thinking people pride themselves on their superior intelligence. They are constantly wailing about how smart they are and how dumb Sarah Palin is. 

And yet, the Tea Party, led by the likes of Sarah Palin, succeeded in putting together a grass roots movement that was based on serious political and economic principles.

Where the Tea Party succeeded in becoming a political force, the brain-dead left failed. And it failed for a reason.

Thanks to the tyranny of political correctness and identity politics in the academy and the media, too many left thinking people have lost their capacity to think clearly and well.

If you set your mind to promoting the idea that Barack Obama is a great thinker, you are corrupting your mind. After a while, you will not be able to tell the difference between a serious thinker and a poser. 

Moreover you will have lost the habit of working to understand serious thinking. You will only be able to accept ideas if they are pre-digested.

Within the academy, anyone who believes that Berkeley Professor Judith Butler is an intellectual luminary is doing serious damage to his mind. While legions of graduate students worship the words of the great Judith Butler, she has managed to garner an award for writing some of the worst sentences in English. 

If you don't believe me read Prof. Martha Nussbaum's definitive demolition of the pretense that Judith Butler should be respected as a thinker. Link here. I think it fair to say that Nussbaum is anything but a right-winger. She is, however, a serious scholar who retains her intellectual integrity.

If you have dulled your intellectual faculties to such an extent that you do not know how deficient Judith Butler is, you are not going to be able to provide intellectual leadership for a political movement.

If you learned in college that thinking means criticizing, when you need to step forward and offer a political program or a movement agenda you will be at a total loss.

If you sacrifice your mind to the gods of political correctness, it will not be available when you need it.

Here’s an analogy.

If you feed your mind a steady diet of junk thought you are going to damage it. Junk thought might taste good and might provide a momentary feeling of satisfaction, but it has no value as nourishment and, in the end, it is indigestible.

If you are studying in a politically correct institution of higher learning you might learn to regurgitate your junk thought in class or on exams, but you will be starving your mind.

To function effectively the human mind needs the proper nourishment. It needs to receive a steady diet of good writing and good thinking. Otherwise it will atrophy and die.

Nietzsche once said that we learn more from the errors of great minds than we do from the truths of small minds. Nourish your mind with the thought of serious thinkers and it will grow and expand. Feed it junk and it will atrophy and die. 


vanderleun said...

"Whatever the faults of the free enterprise system, no one with a brain is suggesting that the world economic crisis can be solved by a return to Communism."

Well, we'll see about that. Communism is a virus of the mind and a virus that is able to morph and change and return in new clothes. It can show up with a new, pretty label while the ingredients are still the same.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I'm afraid you're right about that. Hasn't National Socialism returned in the guise of deconstruction and radical leftist thinking?

vanderleun said...

"Only By Fire is Fascism Finished"

Dennis said...

When one begins to think of those who disagree with them a not as smart, less valuable as a human being, less deserving of life, et al much as the Left does the natural conclusion is to no longer understand one's own logic for what one believes. No longer having to take what others believe into consideration means that it is beneath one to respond to the ilk that is, from flyover country, from the South, from a different social class than one believes they are, in the military, et al.
I would posit that much of the Left can no longer present a rational argument for what they believe and the ideas underpinning those beliefs. It is why most discussions, if that is even remotely possible, degrade into name calling, pejoratives, STFU or a desire to eliminate those one has lost the ability to engage intellectually.
The outcome of this is communism, socialism, fascism or any other "ism" that has to control and kill those who disagree. These "isms" all allow one to act without thinking.
If one is what they eat then it follows that one is what they think. If one gives up truly thinking seriously and questioning what they think then they are nothing but a hollow shell of rhetoric. They have allowed the emotional to rule their rational. They have degraded themselves.