“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.
Such beliefs need no immutable foundation. In fact, they cannot have such a foundation, and this is a large part of their appeal. Therefore do progressives sneer and scoff at those who would, in the halls of Congress, read the Constitution, and be so simple as to believe that it contains anything other than a meaning — or lack thereof — bestowed by a recognized progressive authority. My recent PJM article about Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer illustrates this principle in some detail. Progressives are free to ignore or use the Constitution, or any other document, precedent, or law, as they please.
Closely allied to this nonfoundational view is the principle that no progressive belief or policy can ever be in error. This, for the progressive, removes much of the complexity of life. Whatever problem exists in the world exists only because of conservative resistance to, or interference with, progressive policy. This prevents the full and correct application of progressive policy. Therefore, the sole solution to problems, personal or societal, is simple: More and more fervent progressive policy must be applied until perfect social justice, diversity, and peace are achieved. For those who lived through the Cold War, this should sound familiar. It is communist doctrine lite — for the Soviets taught that only when capitalism was completely eradicated could the ultimate triumph of Communism occur, and perfect peace and social justice would prevail. Until that glorious day, 100 million or so deaths was merely the incidental cost of doing glorious socialist business.
But didn’t Communism collapse because, as an economic system, it was lunacy? Yes, but now you’re dealing in reality. To the progressive, any “reality” that does not perfectly reflect progressive theory, belief, and policy is not reality at all. In fact, whatever it is, it may or may not exist, depending on current progressive political needs. Reality, you see, is a conservative construct, intended only to confuse progressives and Independents and to thwart progress and social justice.
But what about human nature? It too does not exist, as men have no discernible, immutable nature, but are constantly reinventing themselves on the path to becoming the new progressive man, a model far improved over those shallow God- and gun-clinging fools who believe in permanent principles and a Supreme Creator of the universe. Any sufficiently enlightened progressive can see that without progress — without striving to impose progressive policies on everyone to perfect them and, in turn, society — life is quite unsatisfying.
Thus do progressives elevate mere politicians to god-like status. If man is perfectible, it follows that some men — progressive leaders — are more advanced, more perfect than others. It also follows that such men will, from time to time, fall out of favor to make way for those whose progressive ideas and policies are yet more perfect than the last — Hillary Clinton falling from Olympian heights to make way for Barack Obama, for example. Therefore were the creases in his pants or his “glistening pecs” heralds of Obama’s godhood. Therefore have countless media outlets depicted Mr. Obama with a halo (Google “Obama” and “halo” — you’ll be amazed and appalled, unless of course you’re a progressive, in which case you won’t be able to figure out what all the fuss is about), with the New York Times going all out to depict Mr. Obama’s image superimposed over a cross with the White House at its base in time for Easter.
But what of God? Compared to Barack Obama, or whoever is the current maximum progressive leader, God is inconsequential — worthy only to be, at best, ignored. If God exists, so does an unchanging, unchangeable foundation of meaning, of human nature and universal principle. This is diametrically opposed to all that progressivism is and seeks to accomplish. Those who acknowledge God’s existence and sovereignty do not so blithely ignore His commandments.
Understanding this, progressive beliefs and policies begin to make a sort of sense. The plain words of the Constitution not only have no fixed, easily understood meaning, but are actually offensive. “The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” means that there is no right to keep and bear arms and such non-existent right may surely be infringed. “The people” refers to rights of individuals in the First and Fourth Amendments, but not the Second. A looming apocalyptic ice age can change in little more than a decade to a looming apocalyptic “global warming,” which can transmogrify into “climate change,” which, after the revelation that the entire enterprise is the greatest scientific hoax of all time, becomes “climate chaos.” Yet, it is still embraced just as fervently because the full progressive solution has not yet been applied to the problem, which if reality had to be acknowledged, does not exist. A few other examples:
- ObamaCare: Establishing more than a hundred new federal bureaucracies, destroying competition, and handing out essentially free medical care to 30 or so million additional people will actually save money and improve our medical care system in every way.
- Economics: The solution to out-of-control, wasteful spending and existing bankrupt entitlement programs is additional out-of-control, wasteful spending, additional entitlements, and even more bankrupt existing entitlement programs.
- Energy: The solution to high energy prices and scarcity of supplies is cutting off domestic exploration and production, making prices “necessarily skyrocket,” as Mr. Obama promised on the 2008 campaign trail, preventing the construction of additional power plants of any kind, and betting the future of the nation on technologies that do not and likely will not ever exist.
- Foreign Relations: Attacking and insulting allies and appeasing enemies, supporting Marxist takeovers of nearby countries, and ignoring hostile nations that install nuclear weapon capable missiles in our hemisphere will make America safer and more respected and will secure world peace.
- Conservation: Destroying the lives of farmers and the production of food to protect obscure, useless fish — as in California’s Central Valley, now turning into a desert to protect the Delta Smelt, a bait fish — is necessary to conserve precious natural resources.
- Employment: Establishing only government jobs funded by the taxpayer while simultaneously doing everything possible to burden those who actually create jobs that create wealth and produce tax revenue will create jobs and increase tax revenue.
And so the simple yet profound differences between progressive and conservative thought and belief are laid bare. One might think that with such a lack of complexity in their lives, progressives would be quite content, but every serious study of such matters indicates exactly the opposite. It is conservatives who are most comfortable and happy with their lives, conservatives who are stuck believing in God, believing that “100 year old” documents can actually be read, understood, and have meaning, and believing in core principles, principles that cannot — must not — be changed for the sake of light and transient political advantage and convenience.
To return to the Giffords tragedy, taking political advantage over the bodies of the dead and wounded is despicable and inhuman. Unfortunately, it would take the ability to engage in honest self-examination to recognize that. As for Socrates and all that? A progressive might as well admit that “it’s all Greek to me.”