Gabrielle Giffords and the Progressive Creed

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -- Socrates

“The falsifiable life is not worth living.” -- Progressive Creed

The attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) and 19 others outside a Tucson supermarket provides yet another opportunity to reflect on life’s fragility and the fact that tomorrow is never guaranteed. Yet it also provides an opportunity to better understand the partisan divide that separates our polity. At the moment, the attacker, who would want his name to be prominently mentioned, seems to have been motivated primarily -- perhaps exclusively -- by the many demons that pursued him and inhabited the dark recesses of what was likely a drug- and alcohol-addled psyche. What little is known about his preferred literature and his political leanings suggests a leftward bent, yet his various YouTube rantings indicate no clear political motivation, only substantial derangement.

Even so, many on the left have already jumped headlong into this particularly fetid political swamp. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, fast into the muck, has asserted that the attack was politically motivated, and of course somehow vaguely related to the Tea Party. CBS is making gun control noises. CNN has suggested that the killer’s violence was somehow inspired by Sarah Palin. He has also been variously falsely identified by other media outlets -- as a veteran of Afghanistan, or some unspecified sort of affiliate of the Tea Party. It would appear that Sarah Palin (and the Tea Party) is now the new progressive locus of all evil in the world. This is particularly ironic. Progressive thought tends to discount the very existence of evil, unless of course, it is being used to demonize political opponents. Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, and George W. Bush have not yet, to my knowledge, been specifically blamed, but that’s likely only a momentary oversight.

How, at a time when our concerns should legitimately be only for the physical and spiritual healing of the victims and their families, can anyone descend to base political posturing? The answer lies in an understanding of the aphorisms above.

To conservatives, Socrates’ admonition bespeaks periodic, life-long self-examination. This makes sense only if one accepts that Mankind is fallen, imperfect, and incapable of being perfected. Only then is the need for serious introspection and correction obvious and meaningful. If my beliefs are perfect, there is no need for self-examination. In addition, for self-examination to be more than an exercise in navel-gazing, I must truly believe that I am inherently fallible, so that my introspection has a purpose. I must accept that at least some of the premises underlying my most cherished beliefs are wrong, and that with time, growth, and maturation, introspection will reveal those fallacies and make their correction not only possible but necessary. I must also accept that such changes are necessary because holding false and unsupportable beliefs will be harmful -- even dangerous -- to me, those I love, and society at large.

Socrates' aphorism does not speak to progressives. It is unlikely that they would ever attempt to act on his advice, but if they did, they would almost certainly find no need for change, for their fundamental beliefs are at once non-falsifiable yet subject to change at any moment. To lesser beings, this might seem contradictory -- even nonsensical -- but they obviously lack the Ivy League education, the sophistication, and the nuance necessary to successfully hold a plethora of contradictory beliefs.