Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Washington Post - All the ignorance that's fit to print

Oh dear. Ben Rhodes
The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.
The Washington Post seems to be attempting to make a virtue of Rhodes' observed vice, giving a 27ish year old highly credentialed theology major with a deep commitment to the postmodernist obsessions with social justice, disabilities, poverty and victimhood a prime piece of editorial real estate to espouse manifest, and indeed, near evil, ignorance.

Having gained great wisdom, or at least credentials, from Brandeis, Cambridge, The New Republic and Jacobin Magazine, Bruenig is now in a position to tell the real world how it ought to work.

Behold - It’s time to give socialism a try by Elizabeth Bruenig. It almost seems cruel to let such an academic hot house flower embarrass herself to this degree.

Classical liberalism (consent of the governed, rule of law, natural rights, individualism, competitive markets, freedom, etc.), not to be confused with the repressive totalitarian twaddle Bruenig is pushing, has delivered nearly two centuries of astonishing progress documented far and wide (see most recently Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature and Enlightenment Now as well as Matt Ridley's Rational Optimist). More people live longer, healthier, wealthier, more peaceful, better educated lives than was previously conceivable. Courtesy of classical liberalism twinned with capitalism. A fact which has apparently eluded Bruenig in her cloistered twenty-seven years.
But my sense is that while Sullivan, Mounk and all the other concerned liberal observers are right that something is wrong with the state of American liberalism, the problem is much deeper than they allow. I don’t think business-as-usual but better is enough to fix what’s broken here. I think the problem lies at the root of the thing, with capitalism itself.

In fact, both Sullivan’s and Mounk’s complaints — that Americans appear to be isolated, viciously competitive, suspicious of one another and spiritually shallow; and that we are anxiously looking for some kind of attachment to something real and profound in an age of decreasing trust and regard — seem to be emblematic of capitalism, which encourages and requires fierce individualism, self-interested disregard for the other, and resentment of arrangements into which one deposits more than he or she withdraws. (As a business-savvy friend once remarked: Nobody gets rich off of bilateral transactions where everybody knows what they’re doing.) Capitalism is an ideology that is far more encompassing than it admits, and one that turns every relationship into a calculable exchange. Bodies, time, energy, creativity, love — all become commodities to be priced and sold. Alienation reigns. There is no room for sustained contemplation and little interest in public morality; everything collapses down to the level of the atomized individual.

That capitalism is inimical to the best of liberalism isn’t a new concern: It’s a long-standing critique, present in early socialist thought. That both capitalism and liberal governance have changed since those days without displacing the criticism suggests that it’s true in a foundational way.

Not to be confused for a totalitarian nostalgist, I would support a kind of socialism that would be democratic and aimed primarily at decommodifying labor, reducing the vast inequality brought about by capitalism, and breaking capital’s stranglehold over politics and culture.
Of course she's a totalitarian nostalgist. She has no other argument. While she was busy reading Foucault and his ilk, she apparently never got around to reading Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments which preceded and underpinned his The Wealth of Nations. Had she done so, she might have understood that, contra her assertion that capitalism requires self-interested disregard for the other, capitalism requires an exquisite comprehension and commitment to the other. Under free conditions, no transaction occurs without the consent and benefit of and to both parties. All the improvement of the past two centuries has been the product of free individuals seeking ever newer and better ways to serve others what they want in return for their own advantage (whether in money, prestige, status, celebrity or whatever currency motivates them).

Since the sum total of Bruenig's commercial experience appears to consist of having worked for the commercially failed The New Republic and the commercially failing Washington Post it is not specially surprising that she might not understand how capitalism works and how it depends on producing goods and services for which people are freely willing to pay. But you would think that a theology major might have at least absorbed some awareness of the value of humility and awareness of the suffering of others. Capitalism may be demanding but it holds no candle to the dark suffering of those trapped in socialism.

Bruenig is so caught up in her academic name-dropping - Fukuyama, Fischer, Mounk, Sullivan - that she seems to not realize that the world is still full of people who have been tragic victims of the socialism for which she yearns. Venezuela right next door and right now, but all the others from the former Soviet Union, Kampuchea, Vietnam, Angola, North Korea, Cuba, Naderist Egypt, Maoist China, Nehru's India, etc. All those People's Republics which crushed their own people in order to serve the ruling elites of the Party. More than 2-3 billion people who have suffered from socialism. And here is this inexperienced, credentialed but not intelligent twenty-seven year-old opining on the world beyond academia and the Acela Corridor. The Post should be ashamed of itself.

UPDATE: This perhaps seems an intemperate lambasting of a journalist, but at some point we need to expect better from our major news media. There are plenty of grounds to criticize capitalism but holding out socialism as the antidote is not one of those grounds. I heard a similar level of profound ignorance yesterday on NPR. The interviewer was speaking with a children's literature critic about the upcoming movie version of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. AWIT was first published in 1962 and the interviewer asked why it was such a hit. The interviewee, in perfect gender studies fashion, offered that it was one of the first books with a strong female protagonist. I acknowledge that it is not necessarily the interviewer's job to dispute every claim but still. That is a pretty jaw-dropping claim. Anyone, with a second's thought, would likely muster Joe Marsh (of Little Women), Anne (of Green Gables), Dorothy Gale (of Wizard of Oz) Laura Ingalls Wilder (of Little House on the Prairie), Beverly Cleary's Ramon, Nancy Drew, and Pippi Longstocking as progenitors of Meg Murry. From 1868 up to 1962 there was a continuing plethora of strong women characters in young adult literature. Meg Murry was one in a long line of female protagonists. To claim that she was popular because she filled a gap in the market is simply ideological tosh. Let's dispense with it and get to a more interesting discussion based on real facts.

The issue is we have talking heads talking pablum and no one calls them on it. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed, "You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts."

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