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Yes, Virginia, there are liberal tyrants

Here are a couple of comments on another weblog that touch on something I wrote and raise a point worth discussing:

[Participant A:] There is a subtle, all pervasive form of control that perhaps has no precedent in human history. Like Orwell’s state, liberalism changes the way people view reality itself, it changes the language and as a result certain ideas become unthinkable. Not in the sense of them being banned by public fiat but in the sense of being buried and disappearing from existence.

[Participant B:] Do you think that’s really more than the normal condition of life?—I mean, one’s culture always limits the way one sees the world.

It seems to me the current situation really is special, not because it puts us in a situation in which many things have already been decided before we come on the scene, but because the manner in which the decisions are made, and the decisions themselves, are remarkably stupid. They deny the reality and value of our highest and most basic concerns, like truth and love. They don’t take into account obvious basic features of human life but try to suppress them (for example, distinctions and connections that have to do with sex and ethnicity). The result is that the principles that now govern our public life become not only stupid but relentlessly oppressive.

Here’s what has happened:

  • Everything has been socialized. There’s economic policy, education policy, family policy, gender policy, childcare policy, and community relations policy, not to mention health policy, which by itself is enough to include the whole of human life.
  • Those things are handled through technical expertise and centralized formal organization. People work for big employers, their education and most of the words and images that fill their minds are provided by huge institutions, serious discussion and what counts as relevance and truth is in the hands of professional functionaries, and so on.
  • Since life and everything about it is so vast and complicated, and there are people whose job it is to look after things and know all about them, none of us has the right to believe anything except what we’re told to believe. If you hang on to traditional beliefs there’s something wrong with you. You can’t appeal to them in a dispute, you have to appeal to “studies” and expert consensus. And how can it make sense to dispute anything, when there are people whose job it is to know what the studies say and the whole point is that they say you’re wrong? It’s obviously better to stay home, swill beer, and watch TV or look at girls on the Internet.
  • All that might make sense if formal training, organization and study were capable of handling the basic issues of life without regard to the authority of experience, tradition, ordinary habits, ties and loyalties, and recognitions that can’t be proved but must be grown into. Today people—or at least our rulers—believe that to deal with something rationally is to industrialize it. The problem is that if something is basic, subtle and complex it can’t be industrialized. Industrialism is extremely effective because it focuses on a few things and leaves out everything else. It follows that industrially-produced wallboard is OK, but industrially-produced food is not so OK and industrially-produced high culture is nonexistent.
  • But if industrialism is only good for simple things that can be made exact, why should industrially-produced prudence, morality and human relations, our official standards today, be worth bothering with? If you reject them though you’re officially considered stupid, ignorant or crazy, and there’s no defense you can make for your view. After all, the industrialists—the experts and functionaries who are responsible for putting everything to rights—disagree with you, and what they say constitutes public truth.
  • The effect of millions of college professors and hundreds of billions of dollars devoted to formal education and scholarly studies of all things is therefore to make us stupider. The people lose whatever common sense and decency they once had and become basically non-functional. Their betters work overtime convincing themselves and others that we live in the best—or at least most enlightened and knowledgeable—of all possible worlds and design theories that make it impossible for anyone meaningfully to disagree with them because nobody can really know truth and there aren’t any stable objects to know it about anyway. Besides, everyone gets food, shelter, pocket money, TV, lifestyle freedoms and a chance to win the lottery. What more could anyone reasonably want?

The nature of man is to do, know and love. The current public order, which claims all knowledge and the right and duty to reform all human relationships, says we can’t know, and love makes no sense because self-interest and power are the only realities and words like love are just rhetoric anyway, so we should do what we’re told except for the safe and harmless private amusements that it treats as our ultimate good. Why shouldn’t I call something that denies and destroys what is best in us oppressive and tyrannical? What else can one call it?