Conservatism Conserves What?

This is an edit of a post from October 21st, 2016
When I was in junior high I learned about conservatives and liberals.
I was really confused about the fact that liberals wanted more rules for business owners and that conservatives wanted to spend more money on war.
A couple of years later, I converted to Christianity and found several conservative political positions to line up with my emerging moral consciousness. But, I also found several of them to abhorrent.
  1. Pro-life made sense. Abortion is the most insane inversion of the order nature I could and can imagine.
  2. I thought prison sentences for most crimes made no sense.
  3. Keeping the government mostly out of the market made sense (though I was skeptical of conservative opposition to minimum wage increases and I thought tariffs made sense)
  4. I also thought that going to war all of the time seemed to be a “liberal” use of money.

My Skepticism Rose

During Bush the Younger’s presidency, I remembered thinking that the privacy intrusions of the intelligence agencies, the quickness with which we went to war with Iraq over 9/11? WMDs? oil? (how and why was that wise?) and the reticence to do anything about abortion showed that conservatives meant [based on observing their actions] neither to conserve human life in general, American lives, nor the constitution.
Now that I’ve realized how little conservatives care to conserve. I tend to think that Republicans don’t actually want to win the pro-life argument at the legal level because then they couldn’t use the platform to get elected.

The Five Stages of Conservative

Ed Feser expertly mocked the conservative way of being in the world here:
  1. Stage 1: “Mark my words: if the extreme left had its way, they’d foist X upon us! These nutjobs must be opposed at all costs.”
  2. Stage 2: “Omigosh, now even thoughtful, mainstream liberals favor X! Fortunately, it’s political suicide.”
  3. Stage 3: “X now exists in 45 out of 50 states. Fellow conservatives, we need to learn how to adjust to this grim new reality.”
  4. Stage 4: “X isn’t so bad, really, when you think about it. And you know, sometimes change is good. Consider slavery…”
  5. Stage 5: “Hey, I was always in favor of X! You must have me confused with a [paleocon, theocon, Bible thumper, etc.]. But everyone knows that mainstream conservatism has nothing to do with those nutjobs…

Stage five describes contemporary conservatives thoroughly.

Christians do this, too.

“Those other Christians are bad, please like me now.”

I think I used to do it, too. Seminary trains you to want approval from non-Christians. Several professors I know are like this.

One of them is so condescending, even to people to whom he used to be a pastor, it’s difficult to imagine that he ever called himself a Christian. Usually hating Christians is the wine of atheists. But his main point is to signal to his academic friends that he’s not like all those low IQ rednecks he used to pastor.

No “Conservative Principles”

Even when conservatives claim to be using logic rather than rhetoric to make arguments against this or that idea or candidate, the same logic is applicable against them. Heck, I’ve heard conservatives rail against the tendency of populist movements to appeal to the poor and if anybody appeals to the poor they should be ignored. But that’s precisely part of Jesus’ appeal in the ancient world. Conservatives, in their effort to get people to see them as “not like those other conservatives” will make up principles they’ve never adopted before. This reminds me of when Publius Decius Mus opined that many of conservatives deep “principled concerns” aren’t even principles:

What, specifically, is good in a political context varies with the times and with circumstance, as does how best to achieve the good in a given context. The good is not tax rates or free trade. Those aren’t even principles. In the American political context, the good is the well-being of the physical America and its people, well-being defined (in terms that reflect both Aristotle and the American Founding) as their “safety and happiness.” That’s what conservatism should be working to conserve.

Examples

Mark Rubio said that he didn’t think conservatives should look at wikileaks materials because it might happen to conservatives one day. In other words, “It’s bad for politicians to be forced into transparency.” No moral principle such as privacy was evoked, but merely interest in power. Heck, it wasn’t even a, “Do unto others…” thing.

Elsewhere, on the Tweeter, Rick Wilson (a goober in love with family values rhetoric) asked Ann Coulter (who never claims to be polite) personal sex questions of a deeply disturbing nature.

In the National Review, Kevin Williamson exuberantly rhapsodized about how people who live in flyover communities deserve to die for no other reason except a “conservative” form of social darwinism which implies that politicians have no obligations toward the well being of their voters. No mention, of course, that it was bad trade deals supported by conservatives which sent their jobs overseas.

I’m Not Conservative

I’m not conservative by any respectably accepted definition. Conservatives, at least public pundits, are not interested in conserving principles, traditions, people, the economy, or the rule of law. They’re more interested in being the irenic but losing opposition to any of the forces bent on dissolving Western Civilization. The idea that sacrificing your view of the truth in response to social pressure is noble is unacceptable to me.

Sting and the unbearable lightness of sorrow

I was born in the 80s. This means that I listened to a lot of the best music of the previous century as a child. But as you grow older, some music acquires new meaning, either because of your experiences or because you just finally became conscious enough to listen to the lyrics. When I was in junior high, I realized how creepy or sad his Sting’s lyrics were. Without fail, every song is filled with shades of the dark triad traits or utter remorse at unrequited love.

But what is so weird about Sting is that his songs sound so upbeat, pleasant, and even energizing that it’s difficult to associate them with negative emotions or immoral pursuits! He can sing about wanting to die, being the king of pain, having an affair, stalking a woman who ignores him, or being a creepy teacher with the same exuberant tone!

That being said, two songs from the current decade reminded me of the Police’s Can’t Stand Losing You (below). The first is Somebody that I Used to Know by Gotye and Kimbra.

Here are the most obvious lyrics, though both songs are about the same experience:

Gotye Sting
You didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened
And that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger
And that feels so rough…
You didn’t have to stoop so low,
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number…
I see youve sent my letters back
And my lp records and theyre all scratched
I cant see the point in another day
When nobody listens to a word I say
You can call it lack of confidence
But to carry on living doesnt make no sense

If you listen to them both, they Gotye sounds deeply troubled and sorrowful about getting his records back. Sting sounds overjoyed even though they’ve been destroyed and he’s contemplating suicide!

The next is Chalk Outline by Three Days Grace:

Three Days Grace Guy Sting
You’ll be sorry baby, someday
When you reach across the bed
Where my body used to lay
You left me here like a chalk outline, etc

 

I guess this is our last goodbye
And you dont care, so I wont cry
But youll be sorry when Im dead
And all this guilt will be on your head
I guess youd call it suicide
But I’m too full to swallow my pride

The similarities are striking. Both are using the spectre (as it hasn’t occurred) of their impending suicide to make the other feel sorry/guilty. The chief difference is, again, the character in the Three Days Grace song sounds angry and sorrowful, perhaps willing to end his life and just letting her know it’s connected to her. It’s a crappy thing to do, but obviously a call to help.

Sting sounds cheerful and pleasant like Moriarty or the Joker. [spoiler] In the Sherlock television show and in one of my favorite Batman comics of the 80s the villains commit suicide specifically to cause trauma to the protagonist (legal, emotional, existential, it doesn’t matter).[/spoiler] I think Sting’s character in the song above really would do it out of a sadistic need for revenge and a narcissistic desire to be a permanent fixture in the thought space of the other. In other words, the character in many of Stings songs is a villain on the level of Satan, the Joker, or Hannibal Lecter. And it is the case that the dark triad traits correlate with short term sexual success and those same traits correlate very highly with sadism. Now, I find the Police and Sting’s songs catchy and fun. On the other hand either Sting or the character he plays as he writes his music (he has a background in literature) is a dark triad expert, as this biography linked indicates he was a bad teacher.

Conclusions, no arguments.

I had titled this post, ‘random thoughts.’ But many of these are things I’ve thought a lot about. They aren’t random, they’re just topics I’d like to write about/discuss with folks but probably won’t write about for fear of wasting my time (only about two of my posts here have comments).

  1. Matthew’s gospel really was written first.
  2. Sex differences are real, down to the molecular level.
  3. With respect to #2, sex differences should be considered a first principle when it comes to raising children.
  4. The Beatles are overrated, the Stones and even Fleetwood Mac are better.
  5. Other than occasionally being motivating on a hormonal level or linguistically intriguing, rap music is pointless.
  6. The typical Protestant/Evangelical articulation of justification by faith alone and ‘once saved always saved’ are incorrect and potentially dangerous to peoples’ souls.
  7. Capitalism, insofar as it means, ‘non-coercive commerce’ is not workable in nations where Christianity is not the publicly preferred religion and practiced with sincerity by a large visible minority.
  8. In connection with this, free trade agreements are a mistake.
  9. The average humanities degree in the modern university is pointless economically and intellectually empty.
  10. The New Testament simultaneously makes room for women as prophets in the church while maintaining the existence of some form of hierarchy in the household.
  11. Attempts at analogies for the trinity are bad most of the time.
  12. Fiction can be truer than history.
  13. The Old Testament has a lot more information about demons are fallen powers than Old Testament scholars tend to acknowledge.
  14. While deontological ethics (right and wrong are right and wrong regardless of consequences) is correct with respect to knowing morality, consequentialist reasoning is best for getting people to behave morally.
  15. The distinction between law and morality is important for interpreting Scripture.
  16. There are multiple true senses to Scripture, particularly the passages of poetry and the archetypal stories prior Abraham.
  17. In line with #16, many Biblical stories appear to be designed to promote inquiry from several angles rather than to promote a specific point of view.
  18. Dante’s Inferno is as much psychology as it is theology and poetry.
  19. The average school, if studied without presupposition, would appear to be designed to promote listlessness, ignorance, and inattention.
  20. Aristotle’s metaphysic is, at least with regard to actuality/potentiality, and therefore causality and the soul.
  21. Evolutionary theory contains several logical leaps, provides many satisfactory explanations of the life on planet earth, has no business in a high school biology class, and poses no threat to Christianity.
  22. Genetic differences between human groups are selected for environments over thousands or millions of years. (my apparently Scottish self has no business in south Texas, stepping outside is asking for a heat rash, sun burn, or worse).

Hedonism, Love, and Goodness

The things that shape who we are and how we think are pluriform and sometimes mysterious. This is especially so in the age of the internet stuff that may disappear forever after you read it. Every once in away, the Internet sends it back to you.

Around 2008-2009, I was quite depressed. And while I was still known for being a social butterfly at work and school, and many people even called me for advice (I remember distinctly two women with doctorates in psychology contacting me for relationship advice), I was languishing. There are probably three main reasons for this:

  1. Many of my friends had moved away, gotten married, or achieved opportunities I had never managed.
  2. I worked between 3-5 part time jobs to pay for grad school at any moment and so I got very little exercise or sun light. My academic nature and lack of sleep made it easy to substitute books for exercise. I also couldn’t afford a gym membership anywhere except a giant mega-gym that operated like a night club and prohibited squats, chalk, and grunting.
  3. I was lovelorn. During this time period, I fell in love, really hard, with two women. And because of that I felt like I had lost every ounce of the charm that had helped me make friends and ask girls on dates effortlessly before that. It was like I developed a speech impediment or a sudden physical handicap when I communicated with either of these women.

Essentially, because of certain failures of courage, mindset management, and personal care I found myself ignored by women right during the stage of my life in which I had, apparently, subconsciously decided to get married.*

Now, during this time, I had gotten really into reading Hans Balthasar, and I read his book Love Alone is Credible.

I searched online for any commentary on the book and found a quote on a blog [utterly devoid of theological interest in the academic sense], lost to the sands of time, “Never compromise on love. It’s the only thing that isn’t bullshit.” I’ve since found the blog through a retweet of the quote with a link to the 2008 post. It’s a great quote (the other material from the post varies in quality), and while the author clearly means erotic love, the point still stands. But, as any depressed person would do, I read other another post from the blog. The other post I read was about the author’s personal philosophy. That was relevant, since I was a seminary student working at a corporate coffee shop and therefore talking to atheistic armchair philosophers all the time. The author advocated a godless hedonism:

 

Imagine you had incontrovertible proof that there was no afterlife. No supernatural entities. No heaven or hell. No otherworld. No reincarnation. No forevermore.

No second chances.

Imagine there was no moral accounting after death of your actions on earth. No supreme being to judge your soul’s worth on the scale of divine justice. No reward or punishment. No appeal to omniscient authority in matters of good and evil.

There was only the endless black void at the moment death. The infinite silence. A complete surrender of your consciousness as the last pinprick of light extinguishes. All your thoughts, your feelings, your sensation, your memories… you… wiped away clean to merge with the great nothing.

How would you live? Given this proof of the finality of death, and of the expectation of nothing once dead, what is your personal philosophy?  

His answer to the thought experiment is this:

My answer to the philosophical question I posed above is hedonism. It is the only rational conclusion one can draw faced with the premises I presented. When there is no second life or higher power to appease; when our lives are machines — complex misunderstood machines cunningly designed to conceal the gears and pulleys behind a facade of self-delusional sublimation, but machines nonetheless — grinding and belching the choking gritty smoke of status-whoring displays in service to our microscopic puppetmasters… well, there can be only one reasonable response to it all. It makes no sense to behave any other way unless you never questioned the lies.

My own answer to the thought experiment is that if I try to imagine the world without meaning he described (advocated?), I come up blank. Why? If love isn’t bullshit, then there is meaning beyond the chemical soup and system of mechanical pulleys and levers he imagines us to be.

Indeed, if love bears the marks of a single aspect of live that isn’t bullshit, isn’t a lie, and is worth pursuing, then the matter of meaningless matter must be questioned. Is life actually meaningless or is this feeling of melancholy a salve for my own conscience? Perhaps the lie is that we’re just machines of no consequence in a heartless universe. If love isn’t bullshit, it’s implied that love is true and if there is truth, then perhaps beauty and goodness are real, too. This is an important implication, for if truth, goodness, and beauty are real, then it is perhaps the case that pleasures beyond the reach of mere pleasure seeking exist. Pleasure is a good, but what happens when the intellect attains to contemplation of goods beyond the mere stimulation of dopamine and serotonin? And what of beauty? Love entails beauty. If there is transcendent beauty, enjoying it may require that we move beyond the mere act of feeling pleasure in the moment.

Ultimately, if it’s true that love really isn’t bullshit, then the meaningless universe is opened to the possibility that there is meaning in the universe rather than artificially imposed upon it by our illusory consciousness (if you’re conscious of your consciousness being illusory, what is what of what?).

Love isn’t bullshit, but on the evidence of that, it appears that neither is the cosmos.

*Note: After I went through a fairly rigorous period of trying to improve myself, I did end up getting married and love, indeed, is not bullshit.