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Two Kinds Of California Liberals

Which side are you own, man of the Left? (Keith Bell/Shutterstock)

A reader writes:

I’ve read your blog for a few months and this San Francisco liberal finds himself maddeningly provoked by your writing.

One notable thing about living in northern California in 2017 is that there is a tension, barely concealed, between the technology-will-perfect-everything liberals and the heed-the-warnings-of-mother-earth liberals (who increasingly resemble crunchy cons with slightly different ideas about economics). A broad consensus on social issues and a completely secular public culture out here obscure the fundamentally different views we liberals have about what it means to be human.

Your post about human genetic modification today (https://theamericanconservative.com/dreher/dna-dystopia-ye-shall-be-as-gods/) made me think of this tension. I suspect the Silicon Valley set would read about the Oregon experiments and think we are one step closer to the Singularity. The crunchies and I see, instead, the definition of Pandora’s Box.

Scanning through your archives, I haven’t seen you write about the Singularity concept – the idea that humans and machines will merge into a kind of super-supreme intelligence by the middle of this century, and that eternal life, of a sort, will be possible. It’s not coincidental that this (totally insane and nihilistic) idea often attaches to the radical life extension movement (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/03/silicon-valleys-quest-to-live-forever). Or to the daffy libertarian politics of the Valley. Might be worth a blog post.

What do I know, though? At a “20-questions” office icebreaker, I was the only one of forty in the room who raised his hand in response to “Who considers themself a member of a religion?” Out here, it’s all mindless technological expansionism, masking an infantile terror of death (or perhaps, of having lived a meaningless life), or self-guided mother earth worship. We shall be as gods indeed.

Even if I rarely fully agree with anything you write, you do seem to find many interesting cracks in my thinking. You would be surprised how much appeal the BenOp idea has for many of us liberals who cling to the quaint notions that God is real and modern man shouldn’t destroy his creation. Thanks for keeping me intellectually un-lazy!

Wow, thank you! That’s really encouraging. You might find my 2006 book Crunchy Cons worth a look. In it, I talk about an older, more traditional strand of conservatism that takes a far more skeptical view of mindlessly pro-business, pro-technology libertarianism.

Here’s my 2002 National Review Online essay that proved to be the seed of the book. Excerpt:

In some respects, the life we live and the values we share have more in common with left-wing counterculturalists than with many garden-variety conservatives. What we share is a disdain for, or at least a healthy suspicion of, mass culture.

It makes for interesting bedfellows. Boston College professor Peter Kreeft discovered this phenomenon a few years ago. Kreeft said he and three friends fit John Courtney Murray’s four American political types: radical, liberal, traditionalist, and conservative. One day, Kreeft, a traditional Catholic, discovered a close affinity with the Marxist atheist in the group. What did it was driving around Cambridge and judging everyone’s reaction to a new housing development the conservative Republican had moved into. It was clean, well lighted, green, and spacious, with attractive amenities. Kreeft and his friend Dick, the radical, thought it was an abomination, because it was ugly and therefore inhuman. The conservative said the fact that they cared about how the place looked marked them as “artsy-fartsy,” but the traditionalist and the radical argued that beauty was one of the most important things there is.

Soon, Kreeft and his radical friend found out that despite the gulf that separated them on politics, they shared a number of areas of agreement (suburbs bad; nature good; big business and big government bad; small business and small government good). Kreeft determined from this that “beneath the current political left-right alignments there are fault lines embedded in the crust of human nature that will inevitably open up some day and produce earthquakes that will change the current map of the political landscape.”

Well, maybe. All I can tell you is that the crunchy-granola lefties are often right about little things that make life richer.

I wonder on what grounds crunchyish, traditional conservatives, and crunchy, mother-earth liberals, could find practical common ground today. Twelve years ago, when I was writing the book, the conservative Texas farmer Robert Hutchins, a self-described fundamentalist Christian, told me how surprising it was to him to find that on some things (agriculture, mostly) he had more in common with hippie liberals in his rural area than with a lot of his conservative Republican friends. The California reader has hit upon the reason.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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