June 17, 2006

Special non-Brooks edition: SusanG at Daily Kos

I may be throwing in more non-Brooksiana as I get back on track with this thing: Brooks is just not easy to read on a regular basis. Back when I started, I was used to reading Brooks on a regular basis, in newspapers at home or online. But since I stopped updating this website, I have also stopped reading Brooks: I only see the print Times when I'm at home and Brooks's online columns are behind a pay wall. So it appears that over the last 9 months I've lost my Brooks tolerance: I read two deeply stupid Brooks columns and simply lose my desire to read any more. So I'll be taking this slowly as my ability to tolerate Brooks slowly builds back to its old levels. In the meantime, there is certainly no shortage of stupidity on the web, and today's effort, which has been bothering me ever since I read it, comes from SusanG at Daily Kos, and is entitled "Money is to Liberals as Sex is to Conservatives".

SusanG's hypothesis is that, well, liberals respond to money the way that conservatives respond to sex, that both groups are being stupid, and that there's nothing whatsoever wrong with liberal figures making lots of money. How does SusanG know that there's nothing wrong? Well, that part is not really explained. "I trust them, you see, to use their time and money wisely," she says, referring to various liberal bloggers who are making serious money now. " Liberals can handle money and its accompanying temptation, I'm certain." Why is she certain? Because liberals are perfect and infallible, I guess. Maybe SusanG looked into Kos's eyes and read his soul. At any rate, this line of reasoning should immediately dismissed as profoundly opposed to liberalism (and comes laden with hypocrisy given all the liberal mockery of the Bush administration's declarations that we should just trust them to do the right thing when confronted with questions about the Iraq war or their phone surveillance program), which ought to recognize that anyone, even a liberal, can be corrupted by power. And make no mistake, power is the real question here, not money or sex, and the failure to recognise that is the biggest problem with SusanG's screed.

SusanG doesn't try to actually determine why conservatives are so worried about people having sex outside of a traditional marriage, which is a shame because such an analysis actually reinforces her analogy (though it rather damages her conclusion). Conservatives are often anti-sex because of their religion: Christianity, as they see it, forbids such goings-on. But why should they care about other people doing things they are opposed to? "Because they are outrageous busybodies" is not an acceptable answer. What it comes down to is a question of power: deeply religious Christians believe that all power should lie with God and, of course, God's representatives on earth. By violating God's rules for conduct, including sexual conduct, people are aggregating to themselves power that should belong to God, and this misappropriation of power is deeply dangerous (since power that is not controlled by God will naturally fall to Satan). Thus what seems to outsiders to be a very disproportianate reaction to the idea of gay people having sex follows naturally from a philosophy about the proper distribution of power in society.

On the other hand, the liberal political philosophy holds that power should be equally distributed among the people. Recognizing the practical difficulties of doing this, however, it eschews the easy libertarian answer of simply taking power away from the government with the idea that the people will somehow get hold of it and instead opts for a twofold program of making the government more responsive to the people and then giving more power to the government. For liberals, then, a dangerous imbalance in the distribution of power in society occurs when an individual acquires far more power than other individuals, and the government is given power in order to prevent that. In the real world, this amounts to higher taxes on the rich, with the money being spent on programs to help the poor. Conservatives decry this is as redistributionist, but that is exactly the point: while conservatives only see money as money, liberals see it as power, and are attempting to ensure that the power is equally distributed. That is why liberals are wary of activists who become wealthy: they begin to acquire power for themselves and so have a tendency to lose sight of the goal of power for the people. It's certainly true that this wariness can be taken to extremes: as SusanG says, "But too often in progressive circles, an individual living anywhere above the federal poverty guideline is dismissed as "selling out" or being co-opted." (although, to be fair, SusanG is also exaggerating here). However, to attack these fears as baseless and worse, motivated by a belief on the part of the criticizer that given money, the criticizer would be unable to handle it and succumb to all his worse impulses betrays a lack of understanding that would make David Brooks proud. And to say "The fact is, money is a tool. In and of itself, it is absolutely neutral" is almost inexcusably foolish. Does SusanG also think that guns don't kill people, people kill people? If she can't see that this is ridiculously naive and facile, one wonders just what qualifies her to be a front page diarist at Daily Kos. It's important to remember that idiocy is not confined to one side of the political spectrum or to the "old media": anyone can be a moron if they work at it hard enough, and while SusanG is not in Brooks's class yet, she's clearly trying.