Seeing What is in Front of One’s Nose

Fenster writes:

I wrote here that, just as the Left is right to struggle with the possibility of too much diversity, the Right is left to struggle with the possibility of too much inequality.

It’s a struggle all right, and a familiar one.  As Orwell wrote (and as writers as diverse–and unequal–as Steve Sailer, Paul Krugman and Andrew Sullivan have re-posted), “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

Which Orwell?  Door #1, door #2 or door #3?

Which Orwell? Door #1, door #2 or door #3?

Why is this?  Faced with this kind of question I suggest doing what I usually do–resort to some good old fashioned evolutionary biology just-so stories.

People apprehend social ideas in binary terms, as black/white, good/bad.  But ideas are like all things in an ultimately Darwinian universe improvisations made up for adaptive traction.  We can’t help but be beguiled by them–that’s part of the trick that makes them work–but improvisations they are nonetheless (IMHO as a Darwinian–all are free to disagree).

So we promote diversity, fairly, as a way to cope with inevitable cultural complexity–but close our eyes to an honor killing in a Western nation.  We say, fairly, that inequality is a good and necessary thing for growth–but is that a guillotine I see before me?

Accordingly ask not whether something is good if it promotes diversity, or if it signifies growth because there is an unequal outcome.  Ask what the situation demands.

Assuming you can see beyond your own nose.   If you are predisposed a certain way, it is likely you have already decided what you will see past your nose, even while bravely quoting Orwell.  It’s a problem.

What is the way out?  Keeping to the Darwinian theme, I suspect what happens is that sooner or later some underlying forces and issues become unavoidable, and cause various styles of reinterpretation, as advocates attempt to square their past shaky assumptions with new challenges.  That puts a premium on the ability to fit the shocking new in with the comfortable old.

I think we are seeing that now on the Right where inequality is concerned. epiminondas and I both linked to a Weekly Standard story in which fretting about inequality was manifest.  But the author, in true contempo partisan style, needed to come up with a way to raise the issue without conceding anything to the opposing camp (we are all in camps nowdays donchaknow?).  So the concern about inequality was framed in the context of the hypocrisy of left-leaning, green Silicon Valley millionaires.

It’s like the Fifites, where one only had to say what you were not.  An anti-communist, or an anti-anti communist.  Figuring out where one truly stands, well . . . well, that requires a constant struggle now, don’t it?

Now comes Mark Steyn, by far the most entertaining pundit around and one who is very often . . . er . . . right.  But even Steyn is not immune from the anti-anti spin mentioned above.  From time to time he too can take something that truly matters and convert it into anti-matter.  Such must be the pressures of punditry in the modern era . . . you get invited to show up on a radio show hosted by a hyper-partisan like Hugh Hewitt and soon you are spewing and spinning with the best of them.  IT’S ALL ABOUT OBAMA!!!  RUN!!!

panic

So here is Steyn tackling inequality.  A very interesting column.  As with the Weekly Standard article, the concern over inequality is manifest.  Give Steyn a lot of credit for bearing down on an important aspect of the problem, which is whether our economy is headed for a situation in which capital does not need labor.  Tyler Cowen and others have been pushing the notion of the inevitability of increased inequality, and it is a real topic.  But Steyn can’t help it.  Rather than embrace the problem and take a stand, it is all once again reduced to a problem manufactured by the other side’s mendacity.  But how does his conclusion that the problem is all about government dependency square with the notion that there may well be deeper structural components?

That will have to wait for another day, a day when score settling and one-upsmanship take a back seat to problem solving.  If I were a Hegelian, I’d say it is a dialectic, one being worked out as we speak.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
This entry was posted in Personal reflections, Politics and Economics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Seeing What is in Front of One’s Nose

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  2. etype says:

    A very fine article! The problem you describe above has left me wondering if the inability to hold two opposing concepts in one’s mind at the same time is a matter of nature or nurture. We see this syndrome in some very intelligent and sophisticated thinkers – such as Mencius Moldbug, et al.. Moldbug does a brilliant deconstruction on the conceptual nature of the ‘progressive’ mindset in every article he writes… as good as the best, or better, than almost anyone, including Steyn…(but of course I include you among the ‘best’, naturally) – yet does he apply the same acid test to his own thought? Never and no. Instead he leaves off his overlong jeremaids merely implying the solution is to institute a ‘neo-reactionary’ oligarchy, or ‘aristocracy’, which within his context is just a code-word for oligarchy for his more classicist readers who flock to neo-reactionary sites to convince themselves they, their intellect, or their chosen reactionary outcome, is superior to all other.
    Fine and good, self-confidence and assurance is a positive trait. But on these sites are the commentariat and host grinding their concepts against the world as it is, making their ideas sharper and more effective, or congratulating themselves on their unassailable superiority and hurling obloquy against the rabble? The latter as far as I can see. Lets cap recorded thought at around 3000 years or more, in that time there have been thousands of enlightened minds who have left behind guides to thinking and solving problems, and at least several hundred of the best have survived in text to today – in that time the world should have solved many of it’s non-technical problems, such how to think and how to live so one may think and problem solve efficiently. The world really should have solved the problem of enlightenment made straightforward and technically easy – but we still think like one-issue cavemen. I’m not sure if the problem is our intellectual limitations, or if it is somehow the environment – as if it were fate that man struggles continually against the limitations of his own brain, even though in comparison to the problems he faces humanity’s brain is virtually unlimited.

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  3. etype says:

    Sorry, I’ve just come back from reading Steyn’s article… and I think he nails it. I don’t see anti-spin, but one of his finer articles. Perhaps you could enlighten me as to what problem you have with what he writes…. merely calling it ‘anti-spin’ without context is saying nothing.

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    • Fenster says:

      Perhaps I was too hard on Steyn but I have read the article over again and continue to think he does some of what I was suggesting. So let me explain what I see.

      Granted I did not provide a ton of context in the post, but the main objection I had is described at the end: that Steyn touches on a problem that on the face of it may not have any direct connection with the government dependency he alleges the Left is partial to:

      “What do millions of people do in a world in which, in Marxian terms, “capital” no longer needs “labor”?”

      That is a big question, and he seems about ready to grapple with it as a structural problem, having to do with technology, internationalization, etc. But his next sentence is right away a snide swipe at “liberals”:

      “America’s liberal elite seem to enjoy having a domestic-servant class on hand”

      . . . as though the liberal elite is the one cooking up the capital-labor problem.

      And after parsing though some interesting arguments about the meaning of work, he comes back again to this theme, of Big Government as the culprit.

      “And, if you’re wondering why every Big Government program assumes you’re a feeble child, that’s because a citizenry without “work and purpose” is ultimately incompatible with liberty” . . .

      As though “liberty” is a sufficient answer for the problem of work, productivity, jobs, etc.

      Now, if you are a full-bore Hayekian, and some here may be, you may be fine with that. But I am not fine with that, and I don’t think Steyn is either. Well, OK, that’s the doctrine he preaches from his place in New Hampshire, but the gist of the early part of the article is that maybe there are larger problems out there that a diet of more liberty alone may not fix.

      We are seeing some interest on the part of both Right and Left in things like a guaranteed income. That is not THE answer to be sure, and it may not work. But the fact that it is back as an idea says a lot about fears of the future–that, per Cowen, its inevitably to be rice and beans for the 99%.

      Is Steyn right that there is a welfare-social service complex like the military-industrial complex that the Left is correct to complain about? Yes, and I suspect the main reason we won’t see a guaranteed income any time soon is that it has the potential to massively disrupt that complex. Might the Right take an opportunity like this seriously? I think so. I think the Right may have more room to think creatively since it is not as wedded to that (particular) complex. But IMHO that means easing up on the doctrinal point-scoring and looking at the real problem. It could be that the government dependency Steyn notes inhibits change, but that the need for change runs deeper than the problem of government programs.

      So it’s not that I part company with Steyn. I just think he will need more time to work through the issues as they develop and perhaps get worse, and that he will eventually need to train his rhetoric on the problem he himself seems to acknowledge.

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  4. etype says:

    Thank you for your reply. I see what you are saying:
    “. . . as though the liberal elite is the one cooking up the capital-labor problem.” …….i think the idea is the ‘liberal elite’ uses their democratically sanctioned power of imminent domain to sell what is the domain of ‘the people’ to a global corporate oligarchy in exchange for a free hand to mold the people in their image.

    “It could be that the government dependency Steyn notes inhibits change, but that the need for change runs deeper than the problem of government programs.” I agree, but suggest that government dependency makes all of us competitive clients of the government, with no responsibility whatsoever to each other, this does not just inhibit change, it makes it nigh impossible, and this is intention.

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