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Faith & the Future of Conservatism

Damon Linker has an interesting piece up, asking “What Defines Conservatism Today?” [1]. He writes:

To grasp what is most distinctive about conservatism, you need to dig deeper — and listen in the right places. One such place is the barber shop near my house in suburban Philadelphia. It’s a very old-fashioned business, from a world before discount haircut chains and high-end salons and day spas. Just a bunch of men cutting the hair of other men. At 46, I’m on the young end of the clientele. I usually say nothing and just listen to the conversations going on around me. They often focus on politics, and the prevailing ideology is conservatism. But what kind?

Last week, one customer made the following declaration to his barber, who nodded along in agreement: “You know, at least Trump and Carson and Cruz — they get it. Kids today think everyone on the playground deserves a medal. Parents think every kid should get an A. Their feelings are so precious. Life isn’t like that. You’ve gotta work your ass off, and then you’ll succeed. And if you don’t, you’re gonna fail, and that’s the way it should be. All this babying, it’s gotta stop. If not, the whole damn country’s gonna end up going down the tubes.”

That is the moral-ideological core of conservatism today. It presumes that life is a competition or race, that people are unequal in talent, drive, and ambition, and that those who end up on top deserve their victory and rewards — and those who come out on the bottom deserve their failure and hardships. Any attempt to overturn or even mitigate this moral order — whether through government regulation or changes in habits or assumptions in school or on the playground — amounts to an offense against justice itself.

I think Linker is on to something here, though to be honest, I would have to think through his column before I could say I agreed with it. The piece did make me ask myself what defines conservatism today — not the conservatism of the books we read, but actual conservatism as it is lived out in barbershops and other places. As longtime readers know, I have been drifting away from political conservatism for a few years now. It’s not that I think politics are unimportant, but rather that I do not see that our politics, as they are currently constituted, are capable of answering our deepest problems.

When I see what is called conservatism in America today, the question that keeps coming to mind is, “What does it seek to conserve?” It seems more and more that it defines itself mostly by saying “no” to whatever liberals want (that, and saying yes to most of what business wants, except on immigration). And hey, that is an important function! But it is not a sufficient politics, at least not one sufficient to our needs.

Russell Kirk has said that all political problems are, at bottom, religious and moral problems. What did he mean? That we can only pursue the ordering of our collective life, which is the purpose of politics, if we have a sense of the Good, that is, of an end to which our collective life must be ordered. He has written:

“The twentieth-century conservative is concerned, first of all, for the regeneration of the spirit and character – with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest.”

change_me

Does that sound like any kind of political conservatism you recognize? It doesn’t even sound like the political conservatism espoused by prominent Republican-Party-At-Prayer figures on the Religious Right.

In recent years, have become far more interested in religion and culture, not so much out of personal piety, but primarily because I share Kirk’s view. If we are to have any chance at restoring the polis, we are first going to have to restore the ekklesia. This is going to take a long, long time.

An interview Modern Farmer magazine recently did with Wendell Berry [2] got me to thinking about the polis and the ekklesia. Check this out:

MF: What should a modern farmer be instead?


WB: A farmer who has understood the dependence of agriculture on nature. The responsible farmer would not own more land than he or she could know well and pay close attention to and care for properly. Farming has to do with everything. We can’t reduce it to a transaction between a technician and a machine.

A diversified farm of reasonable size—100 to 200 acres of good land here—to farm it well is to solve structural problems of the same nature as a novelist encounters. You have to have a spatial structure, the layout of the fields and so on, and a temporal structure that determines what comes first, what next, and so on. Such problems must be addressed by a good farmer on a good farm every day.

MF: How can you tell a good farm?


WB: The looks of it are satisfying. A good farm is recognized as good partly by its beauty: the presence of trees, grass, good livestock on the pastures. If you go up into Holmes County, Ohio, where the Amish are thriving on farms of 80 to 125 acres, you would be impressed by the flowers in the dooryards, the beautifully kept kitchen gardens, the lawns, the birdhouses, the beehives.

More Berry:

The old way of neighborly work-swapping here involved much talk. Neighbors worked together, a matter of utmost practicality, with a needed economic result, but the day’s work was also a social occasion. Is this a “spiritual” connection between neighbors, and between the neighborhood and its land? I suppose so, but only by being also a connection that is practical, economic, social, and pleasant. And affectionate.

That whole thing of looking somebody straight in the eye and saying something—my goodness. “I love you,” right into somebody’s face, right into their eyes, what a fine thing. Who would want to miss it?

 

Note this line: “The responsible farmer would not own more land than he or she could know well and pay close attention to and care for properly.” In the same way, the late Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas believed that a church could not do what a church is supposed to do if it grew beyond a certain size. It ought to become two congregations.

A half-formed thought: learning how to be a proper local church, in the sense that Wendell Berry meant about the farm, and Archbishop Dmitri meant about the local congregation, is a prerequisite to learning how to be political in the best sense of the term. Learning how to order our own individual lives, and our common life, around the common good, as revealed to us in Scripture and Tradition.

What I’m getting at is groping our way to a more organic understanding of society, and the polity, an understanding in which liberty is ordered by a shared sense of the Good, lived out in community. At this point, all I expect out of the Republican Party is that it fight to protect the space between the State and mediating institutions (churches, schools, and the like), so that we can rediscover and reinstate what has been lost to us in modernity.

Berry says, of farming: “We can’t reduce it to a transaction between a technician and a machine.” The same is true of the life of the polis, and of the life of the ekklesia. (If your local church is little more than a Sacrament Factory, you’ve got big problems.) A true conservatism grasps that, and seeks to reclaim the older understanding, and to re-integrate it into our postmodern lives. This quote from Russell Kirk perfectly encapsulates my own conservatism:

“I did not love cold harmony and perfect regularity of organization; what I sought was variety, mystery, tradition, the venerable, the awful. I despised sophisters and calculators; I was groping for faith, honor, and prescriptive loyalties. I would have given any number of neo-classical pediments for one poor battered gargoyle.”

All hail the Battered Gargoyle conservatives, upon whom I suspect much more depends than it now appears, even to us.

86 Comments (Open | Close)

86 Comments To "Faith & the Future of Conservatism"

#1 Comment By WhiskeyBucks On October 28, 2015 @ 9:14 am

Bayesian,
Thanks for that. I totally get what you’re saying, there’s an ironic ring to me trumpeting “demythologizing” the future and then turning around and asking people to believe in the SECOND COMING OF CHRIST.

I won’t bore you with some apologia of why I think that’s a true thing, but maybe I can explain how I differentiate the two as it relates to my conservatism.

Kierkegaard said “The worst kind of despair is the despair that does not know that it is in despair.” Which is a little cringe-worthy, but his larger point has been really influential on me. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but he expands on this by saying that the worst possible existence is to be a perfectly happy, young, pretty girl from a wealthy family, in a garden in full springtime bloom. Hyperbole aside, he’s saying that by merely trying to perfect *conditions* we risk losing self-understanding and the existential drive towards transcendence. The practical danger of this is, if my state of goodness depends on conditions alone, and I don’t learn the full breadth of my nature, what happens when conditions change?

Now, I don’t have to go Full Kierketard into leaps-of-faith for the sake of individual “concretization” or whatever, to find this valuable as a member of a polity. (I’m somewhere around 75% on board with his project as a matter of faith, but that’s kind of beside the point.)

The point is, there is a huge practical and existential difference between trying to build the New Jerusalem for the benefits of its conditions alone, and living as if its already here according to the individual’s place in its inherent order, while *knowing* that it isn’t here yet, and will not arrive apart from the grace of Divine action.

This allows me to be skeptical of plans to “fix it” without being pessimistic. Yes, there is a just order, and I am morally obligated to SEEK it and IMITATE it as best as I can. But knowing that work isn’t for man to FINISH tempers my instinct for control and moral authoritarianism. I mean, IF it were possible to create a perfectly just society, moral authoritarianism would be a necessity: to not realize it would be a huge injustice, and all sense of rights and protections from authoritarianism would become absurd. That forms my critique of both secular liberal over-reach AND the political maladies of the religious right.

So, Kirk’s main principle of conservatism is valuable to me because it cultivates the existential environment that encourages people to “throw themselves up against the light of God” (to quote SK again) in order to combine the wild hope of perfect justice with a self-understanding that makes us face our sinful limitations in the despair-destroying context of grace and mercy.

I hope that made a shred of sense.

#2 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On October 28, 2015 @ 9:16 am

We have been automating things for the last century, the Steel Industry has cut it’s work force in three since the 80’s. That is pretty much true of every industry we have. In the not to far future self driving trucks will displace millions of workers. In our economic system, workers are an expense and industry will do whatever it takes to get rid of them. We have a massive oversupply of Labor, we don’t need hard work, we need leisure, a 30 hour work week, 6 weeks paid vacations, unions to reduce the labor supply and drive up the cost of labor aka WAGES.

Serious question: if automation was responsible for all these things, why not freeze or in some cases partially reverse automation, or at least chose not to use it, in certain chosen and specific industries? Late capitalism is marked by perennial overproduction anyway, so an economy that turns out fewer cars per year wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. And if less automation did lead to higher prices for that some goods, well, maybe if ordinary people got paid higher wages, they would actually be able to afford those goods.

The economy was made for man, not vice versa.

#3 Comment By Surly On October 28, 2015 @ 9:24 am

I thought Linker’s conclusion was important:

“The rat race starts earlier than ever in America today. From school to sports to college applications to the job search to dating and hookup apps, meritocratic standards and expectations increasingly prevail, turning ever-more dimensions of social life into a ruthless competition that raises up some to glory and leaves many others crushed in the dust.

This is the country that conservatives think has become soft, whiny, and wimpy?

The truth is that America has never come closer to realizing the very ideal from which today’s conservatives are convinced we’ve fallen so far. And yet they appear not to see it. What they notice, instead, is any sign at all that someone, somewhere might be doing something to alleviate the struggle and the anxieties it breeds.”

#4 Comment By KD On October 28, 2015 @ 10:33 am

Eamus Catuli writes:

“Defining the polis as an “organic” expression of Scripture, Tradition, and the values of the ekklesia is intensely parochial, and will not work in a society with anything like the diversity we actually have today.”

What Rod actually wrote was the following:

“What I’m getting at is groping our way to a more organic understanding of society, and the polity, an understanding in which liberty is ordered by a shared sense of the Good, lived out in community.”

Nothing about Reconquista and expelling the Jews and Muslims from Spain. However, real political decentralization would permit a diversity of communities embodying different conceptions of the good, better than an over-centralized therapeutic state entirely devoted to colonizing the world in the name of the cult of mammon.

#5 Comment By Eamus Catuli On October 28, 2015 @ 10:35 am

@Aaron Gross:

I think that in Dreher’s and MacIntyre’s vision of a community based on a shared Christian understanding of “the Good,” …to the extent that “the Good” — let’s just say “goods” here — of the Jew, Muslim, atheist, etc. contradict the “shared” goods of the political community, that person is excluded.

Thanks, that’s how I read it too. I wonder what planet they think this is going to happen on. A small, intentional, BenOp-type community can try to be exclusive in that way; a big society just can’t, not unless we undergo some kind of civilizational collapse first. (I mean a real one, not gays getting married or college kids having too many hook-ups.)

I mean, exclusion like that has been tried. It’s interesting that you mention Hannah Arendt, whose writing is in significant part about how it worked out when it was tried in the 20th century. Not real well. People need political rights and will rightly demand them if they’re denied.

#6 Comment By Daniel (not Larison) On October 28, 2015 @ 10:41 am

“You know, at least Trump and Carson and Cruz — they get it. Kids today think everyone on the playground deserves a medal. Parents think every kid should get an A. Their feelings are so precious. Life isn’t like that. You’ve gotta work your ass off, and then you’ll succeed. And if you don’t, you’re gonna fail, and that’s the way it should be. All this babying, it’s gotta stop. If not, the whole damn country’s gonna end up going down the tubes.”

What a perfect, perfect summation of Job’s friends.

I’ll bet when Job’s friends speeches are quoted to many in this camp, they think it’s sound advice: “bad things happen to you? It’s because you’re a bad person.”

This ‘advice’ is incredibly foolish, whether you’re an atheist or theist. Bad things most assuredly happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people…all the time.

Yet that is what the cult of modern conservatism has become: the Church of Sts. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

#7 Comment By Fran Macadam On October 28, 2015 @ 10:43 am

“I just long for the day when a minority with a demonstratively bloody past stops trying to foist its values on people who have moved beyond that and made great strides to the improvement of the human condition because they believe in some book written in the bloodiest of our ages.”

There are none so blind as those who will not see. This age and its society are the leaders in improving the industrial processes of war to where mass murder is now a wholesale affair and continuous war essential to economy. That is technological progress of a sort, but not moral progress.

It has always been a minority with very different values trying to ameliorate that.

#8 Comment By KD On October 28, 2015 @ 10:53 am

There are to critiques of the rat race. One is that it is competitive. The other is that it is an expression of atomized individualist striving.

The reality is that life is competitive, life eats life to survive, that is the bottom line despite Disney movies and the euphemism of the grocery store. So I can’t fault the idea of competition.

However, atomized materialistic individualism can be critiqued. Kids should behave themselves in school because they represent their family, and they should be ashamed if they hurt the reputation of their families. Similarly, as members of the school community, they should respect their teacher’s authority, and the rights of their class mates. If they misbehave, they should be punished, we shouldn’t invent a mental health diagnosis and blame biology, their parents, or society. The individualism of the rat race is not very far from the narcissistic entitlement and the blame-someone-else-for-my-behavior and invent rights that harm the community to exalt misbehavior. They both exalt different forms of sociopathy.

#9 Comment By KD On October 28, 2015 @ 10:57 am

In the broad sense, we could define liberalism as the exaltation of sociopathy, and make the left/right divide on the basis of whether we exalt the sociopathy of the haves or the sociopathy of the have-nots.

#10 Comment By KD On October 28, 2015 @ 11:14 am

Eamus Catuli:

At the base, if you push the point, people have to concede that some kind of normative social order is necessary for a functional society–or they seem ridiculous. It doesn’t matter if derived from tradition (oldest tradition being religion) or invented (youngest being contemporary secularism).

The second question is the question of the sustainability and stability of the normative order. Once again, religious say it works, seculars say ours is more rational ergo true.

The third question is how much order, and how far should it go. Obviously, 19th century America was grounded in religion, and with minimal government. Communism was the inverse. One of the arguments advanced in the name of religious traditionalism is that it controls the reach of the state (as behavior is constrained by unspoken social norms). If this supposition is correct, then secular liberalism will end up more totalitarian than any theocratic system.

But I don’t think MacIntyre or Rod Dreher is promoting the deportation of Jews and Muslims. I don’t see them advocating for that position, and I don’t see any evidence that they would find that outcome desirable. You are applying a slippery slope argument–you are taking the most extreme totalitarian interpretation of a point-of-view, and defining your enemies as embodying that point-of-view. Basically a version of red-baiting (if you support minimum wage laws, then you want a Stalinist command economy).

You are entitled to your polemics, but if you want a nuanced discussion, then you are mis-characterizing your opposition.

#11 Comment By KD On October 28, 2015 @ 11:23 am

If we acknowledge the historic fact that American culture and law is partially derived from Christian or Judeo-Christians narratives, then one might rightly be concerned if the Judeo-Christian narratives and symbolism is being white washed out of history and the public square–or seeking societal protections against this cultural erosion.

That is a far cry from a true theocracy.

#12 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 28, 2015 @ 12:16 pm

Does being somewhat open to the idea of minimum income count?

Sure it does, as long as we don’t totally obliterate that good old socialist slogan, “Those who work will eat.”

Actually, the thing about automation is that the benefits are so maldistributed. If a large fraction of the productivity gains from automation were put into a fund, kind of like the Alaska state oil royalties fund, with checks sent to every citizen, we’d have a lot less tension and a lot less petty robbery. Then we’d have to worry about everyone getting an equal share of the work that does still require physical labor, so we can all stay healthy.

#13 Comment By JR On October 28, 2015 @ 12:51 pm

“You know, at least Trump and Carson and Cruz — they get it. Kids today think everyone on the playground deserves a medal. Parents think every kid should get an A. Their feelings are so precious. Life isn’t like that. You’ve gotta work your ass off, and then you’ll succeed. And if you don’t, you’re gonna fail, and that’s the way it should be. All this babying, it’s gotta stop. If not, the whole damn country’s gonna end up going down the tubes.”

And some people wonder why “conservatism” is in decline… This simplistic drool is little more than a lot of anti-social hand waving. It’s the bad neighbor doctrine that obliterates any sense of civics or civic obligation. There are no casualties to acknowledge, no monopolies or economies of scale to complicate things; its pure winners are pure worthy, and “losers” deserve whatever Darwin dishes out.

Not only is this infantile worldview untrue, unworkable, and not Conservative, in practice it would be a recipe for Hell on earth. Why in heaven’s name would our founding fathers mention “common welfare” as something they wanted to promote when NATURE itself is so flawless in the way it dishes out just desserts?

One wonders if today’s breed of “conservatives” will be watching “A Christmas Carol” backwards this Winter so it has a happy ending!

#14 Comment By JonF On October 28, 2015 @ 1:30 pm

Re: In the not to far future self driving trucks will displace millions of workers.

Prediction: we will never have vehicles careening around on the roads by themselves. A responsible human escort will be required with them. So while there may not be someone “driving” the truck, there will be someone attending it: providing for its security, helping to load and unload it, handling the paperwork, and ready at need to switch over to manual operation when the technology glitches.

#15 Comment By Grumpy Realist On October 28, 2015 @ 1:32 pm

Hector–what you said, plus 1000.

In my philosophy of how the world works, we have competing sins. Greed goes up against Sloth and most of us find a happy medium where we work to earn money to buy things but still get to sleep in once in a while.

Part of the problem is we have stopped making Mankind the center of our economic environments and have turned all power over to corporations. And there’s nothing restraining corporations from being nothing more than greed–greed to the point of being psychopathic.

So we have an environment where legally, half of the actors have duties to each other and checks and balances on their actions and the other half (the corporations) can act like psychopaths with no legal liability. (As long as there is a greater return to the stockholders, a company is perfectly right–in fact is mandated–to move all production offshore and destroy U.S. jobs. Who cares if you just got rid of 30,000 jobs and gutted the economy of a city? That’s not your duty to worry about! Your duty is only to the stockholders!)

I really, really wish conservatives would realize that they made a deal with the devil when they got in bed with the Free Market types…

#16 Comment By Eamus Catuli On October 28, 2015 @ 1:45 pm

@KD:

You are applying a slippery slope argument–you are taking the most extreme totalitarian interpretation of a point-of-view, and defining your enemies as embodying that point-of-view. Basically a version of red-baiting…..

Oh, calm down. I asked a question. What about groups that don’t accept that Christian revelation, still less one particular interpretation of it? Where do they fit in a “common life” ordered “around the common good, as revealed to us in Scripture and Tradition” — “a more organic understanding of society, and the polity, an understanding in which liberty is ordered by a shared sense of the Good”? What if they don’t share that sense?

Those phrases are from the original post. Right, I see that nobody’s calling for any groups to be deported (although at least one commenter here, Aaron Gross, questions whether they would need or should have political rights). But I also don’t see any answer to this in the post. Yet it’s the obvious question, especially if (a) you’re a member of one of the non-Christian minorities yourself, or (b) you’re even passingly aware of the history of the 20th century.

So, I take it your answer is: radical decentralization, basically the end of big societies existing under a single government. Perhaps that’s where the world will eventually end up, centuries hence, but that set of arrangements will also have major costs and tradeoffs. The smaller socities of the past tended to spend a lot of their time fighting wars with each other, for instance, so you’d need some stable way of preventing that.

#17 Comment By Hari.Seldon On October 28, 2015 @ 1:49 pm

Serious question: if automation was responsible for all these things, why not freeze or in some cases partially reverse automation, or at least chose not to use it, in certain chosen and specific industries?

Automation usually does a better job than people do, Machines don’t get sick, don’t have off days and don’t get tired.

Imagine two scenarios,
In one scenario, an employee owned factory that produces a million widget with a thousand workers, now automation doubles the productivity, what do the owners/employees do? Cut their work hours by two.

In the other, a corporation owned factory that produces a million widget with a thousand workers, now automation doubles the productivity, what do the corporation do? Fire the extra employees and use the unemployed employees to drive down wages.

Now those are both extremes, but most of the time scenario two is far closer to the norm. Only strong and powerful unions can protect the workers and make sure that they get their share of the productivity increase. There is a reason that corporations, conservatives and the wealthy hate Unions

#18 Comment By Aaron Gross On October 28, 2015 @ 2:05 pm

@Eamus, I agree that if by “society” and “polity” they’re talking about anything more than the church or an intentional community, then obviously they’re just daydreaming. A Christian polity in the West was already nothing more than a Utopian fantasy even back when TS Eliot was writing The Idea of a Christian Society. But frankly (with no offense to anyone), I still think the Benedict Option is a Utopian fantasy as well, till proven otherwise.

I do disagree with you about people needing political rights. Most people throughout history haven’t even wanted them, much less needed them. So when you say “exclusion like that has been tried,” I’m thinking that the political exclusion I’m talking about has just been the normal state of affairs in any monarchy, feudal manor, or empire, good or bad. How many residents of democratic Athens were part of the political community? Sometimes people flourished without political expression, sometimes they didn’t.

If you’re talking about what those bad guys did back in the 20th century, well, they had wars to help them out. Political rights disappear as soon as your polity is occupied by war criminals.

You seem to be thinking of Arendt’s idea of political inclusion, what she called “the right to have rights.” My reference to Arendt was more to The Human Condition and, especially, to On Revolution, including her discussion of the 18th-century concept of “public happiness.” For her, political action is practically an end in itself. I don’t see it that way.

#19 Comment By Aaron Gross On October 28, 2015 @ 2:10 pm

Actually I should have written, “Political rights disappear as soon as your polity is occupied.” Period. Very few political (as opposed to “human”) rights are protected under occupation under international public law.

#20 Comment By KD On October 28, 2015 @ 2:41 pm

Eamus Catuli:

I think you miss a couple factors–if we are talking US and not hypothetically. The first is the First Amendment, and other protections, which bars a state church, and bars religious fitness tests for political office. The second if we are talking nation-state is a society of citizens equal under law. I don’t see that going away.

But lets say it did. I would hypothesize that the main fault lines would not be around non-Christians, but between Christians. There is no dominant majority sect of Christians, so the struggle would be between the major Christian sects. As a practical matter, whether abortion is re-criminalized and prayer in school comes back, I don’t think America is going have some form of Christian government (rule by religious elites) or some form close state/church alliance. . . so long as it remains mostly Protestant and Protestant culturally.

If a more social conservative America emerged (and my guess is that a more decentralized and more socially conservative America will come about in 30 years), I think the people who would be the most annoyed would be the seculars, not the Jews and the Muslims.

#21 Comment By Eamus Catuli On October 28, 2015 @ 3:59 pm

@Aaron:

I do disagree with you about people needing political rights. Most people throughout history haven’t even wanted them, much less needed them.

Yeah, that’s true historically, but it’s changed — that’s part of how the modern world is different from the past. Call it the historical experience of humankind or whatever you will, but people have come to expect things that they didn’t used to expect, and to condemn things (like slavery) that they used to take for granted. Attempting to deny people in a modern, especially Western or Westernized society political rights, now, today, or in the near future, in light of historical experience, will not go over very well.

@KD:

I think you miss a couple factors–if we are talking US and not hypothetically. The first is the First Amendment, and other protections, which bars a state church, and bars religious fitness tests for political office. The second if we are talking nation-state is a society of citizens equal under law. I don’t see that going away.

Well, good, I hope it doesn’t. But the original post seemed to be raising the possibility of a very different vision of society and a very different social organization, one that is essentially more theocratic (based on a “common good” defined by “Scripture and Tradition”) and therefore not functioning under the Bill of Rights as we know it. Recall that it’s the U.S. Constitution that Anthony Kennedy claims to be interpreting in that “heart of liberty” quote that Rod Dreher is so fond of. The Constitution as we know it is the instrument of a secular and (basically) liberal order that does not recognize the centrality of Christian Scripture and Tradition. So I don’t see on what basis we should presume it would be kept around.

#22 Comment By J On October 28, 2015 @ 4:36 pm

I have a hard time seeing conservatism proper as defined around these parts amount to much in the future. It already seems largely a fiction book club and fan fiction publication enterprise. The 1965-1980 partition in time is a hard one and when living memory of the other side of it is lost, so will any plausibility of its restoration.

#23 Comment By panda On October 28, 2015 @ 5:20 pm

“Serious question: if automation was responsible for all these things, why not freeze or in some cases partially reverse automation, or at least chose not to use it, in certain chosen and specific industries?”

In theory, yeah, you could say pass a law banning automated cars, because that’s already a very heavily regulated sort of business.

Things get harder when you try and ban, say, automatic checkout registers.
Beyond that , given the current structure of the global economy, you would have to have a global compact not to automate industries, or be willing to throw huge trade barriers in the face of imported goods created by robots.

In the end, I feel pretty much the only way to maintain a decent civilization in the face of the coming wave of automization is
A. Massive reduction of the working week.
B. A decent UBI.

It’s not a perfect approach, and I worry about the effects of excessive leisure on people, but I just don’t see how we manage to stop technology from advancing.

#24 Comment By Mike W On October 28, 2015 @ 6:12 pm

In my humble opinion, I think we need more farmers and preachers like this (Wendell Berry Reads: The Contrariness of the Mad Farme): [3]

#25 Comment By panda On October 28, 2015 @ 6:57 pm

“One wonders if today’s breed of “conservatives” will be watching “A Christmas Carol” backwards this Winter so it has a happy ending!

Google “in defense of scrooge,” read, and weep.

#26 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 28, 2015 @ 7:58 pm

Things get harder when you try and ban, say, automatic checkout registers.

Now those are something I can assiduously boycott, freely telling the human cashiers, I know what the automatic checkout registers are for… trying to put you out of a job. (Besides, they won’t take the coupons without calling over a live human being to enter an employee code, and that can take so long there is no efficiency for my time getting out of there).

#27 Comment By bayesian On October 28, 2015 @ 8:21 pm

@grumpy realist, re corporations

If you haven’t already read it (and I rather expect that you have), please check out SF writer Charlie Stross’ analogy that
[4]. It’s a dishearteningly productive analogy 🙁

Whiskeybucks, thank you for the reply: I think it contains not one but three shreds of sense, bound together by some sort of gauge bosons into something that appears as a single indivisible particle unless you use a very high energy probe :).

It won’t surprise you that I am not a fan of Kierkegaard; to my lasting shame I voluntarily associated over an extended period with a Kierketard of vaguely panentheist persuasion for whom “leap of faith” was practically a mantra (I always found his deployment of the catchphrase both jejune and annoying, but I failed to heed the warning it offered that I should vacate his vicinity forthwith and permanently). Thus, I have developed cognitive antibodies to Kierkegaard himself that are very difficult to overcome (given my preexisting psychology, biases, priors, etc., I can’t see how I could ever have tolerated SK’s thought even if a coin flip of our nonteleological multiverse had resulting in my never meeting the Kierketard).

Just for the record, based on your writing here, I greatly doubt that I would find your apologia boring; indeed, in a more apt venue than a combox I think I would quite enjoy hearing it. That’s far different from finding it convincing, of course.

Similarly, I will spare you an apologia for my belief that secular atheistic pessimism does not entail despair or joylessness (other than namechecking the likes of Epicurus, Aurelius, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, Camus, Cioran, …) – now that would be boring.

#28 Comment By KD On October 28, 2015 @ 11:36 pm

J:

You might enjoy looking at the demographic changes in Israel in the last 60 years or so, to see why “social conservatism” may look pretty liberal in coming century.

#29 Comment By panda On October 29, 2015 @ 12:31 pm

“You might enjoy looking at the demographic changes in Israel in the last 60 years or so, to see why “social conservatism” may look pretty liberal in coming century.

Yeah, if we decide as society, to fund social conservatives’ life choices in ways we don’t fund others, and then social conservatives decided that unimageanable (by Western standards) poverty is small price to pay for having large families, Israel has something to teach us.

By the way: with all the talk of the rise of the ultra-orthodox, the political representation of the ultra-orthodox (who are mandated to vote by their rabbis) in the Israeli parliament barely budged in 20 years. That implies that quietly and almost imperceptibly, many are leaving the community (and leaving the haredi community is almost unimaginably hard: one former haredi friend of mine didn’t know much Hebrew when he left, because the family spoke Yiddish..).

#30 Comment By WhiskeyBucks On October 29, 2015 @ 1:34 pm

Bayesian,
Kierkegaard’s “despair” is not “sadness” or joylessness, per se. I mean it might be. This is what happens with continental philosophers who want to convince you of something while thoroughly damning the entire process of convincing anyone.

That particular book, The Sickness Unto Death, might actually be a less infuriating than your leap-of-faith pal. Kind of a departure from the main body of his work.
Cheers!

#31 Comment By JonF On October 29, 2015 @ 1:48 pm

Re: Things get harder when you try and ban, say, automatic checkout registers.

from my experience so far stores that have these have no fewer employees.

#32 Comment By Gassalasca Jape, S. J. On October 29, 2015 @ 3:07 pm

[NFR: Let me encourage you to rewrite it without all the personal insults, including the groundless statements telling me what I believe. — RD]

#33 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 29, 2015 @ 3:12 pm

” . . . whether through government regulation or changes in habits or assumptions in school or on the playground — amounts to an offense against justice itself.”

So over stated as to be false. Conservatives recognize injustice. It may take a while for them to do so. But that is nt really a conservative standard, that dealing with injustice is somehow itself an injustice.

The question is whether such injustice is hust the way of things or is it the result of deliberate intent. Conservatives don’t like deliberate intent acts of injustice.

The second area that this author completely ignores about conservatives and injustice is about the mechanisms used to address it.

Mr Linker here is backh dooring an untruth. Which if left unto itself reinforces some manner of ignorant intransigence about people resigned to their fate, when fate alone has in built in inequities.

But it does answer why someone like Dr. Carson has appeal.

On the surface it looks like Dr. Carson overcame his condition on his own, but upon examning the details, that is not quite accurate. I say that taking nothing away from Dr. Carson’s success by merit.

#34 Comment By KD On October 29, 2015 @ 6:02 pm

Panda:

I believe the poorest community in New York is a Haredim community, and they subsist primarily on state benefits. Also, TANF and Mormon Fundamentalism synergize well (if you are an Elder). Ultra-fundamentalist separatist endogamist cults are the demographic wave of the future, and more mainstream movements like the Quiverfull are coming up behind them, while our secular counterparts prefer the company of their own sex or abort away their mistakes. I don’t think the situation of Israel will be uncommon in the future, with the religious culture of the US and the increasing numbers of Muslims in Europe.

Even if people are leaving the Haredim in Israel, the remaining Haredim do throw a rock or two at “modern secular Israel”, no?

#35 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On October 30, 2015 @ 8:49 am

(and leaving the haredi community is almost unimaginably hard: one former haredi friend of mine didn’t know much Hebrew when he left, because the family spoke Yiddish..).

Since the Haredi are supposed to be ultra-traditionalists, I would have thought they preferred to speak Hebrew? That is the ‘traditional’ Jewish language more so than Yiddish, right?

#36 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 30, 2015 @ 1:49 pm

Ultra-fundamentalist separatist endogamist cults are the demographic wave of the future, and more mainstream movements like the Quiverfull are coming up behind them, while our secular counterparts prefer the company of their own sex or abort away their mistakes.

Those are all minority cults. Then, there are all the rest of the people, the salt of the earth, the great majority, who are living their lives as usual without regard to the lofty abstractions the little grouplets squabble over.