Thursday, November 15, 2018

Brexit, Trump, and the Anti-Social Tendency of Conservative Ideology

Welcome friends!

How about those Brexit negotiations?  They seem to be shaping up into what our British friends might call a bit of a shambles.  Actually I suppose that’s what we Americans might also call it, which doesn’t seem very clever.  I wish I knew another expression for a shambles that would be more unique to the UK in honor of their apparently perpetually wounded sense of nationhood.  I tried to look it up online just now but I ended up back at shambles.  Oh well.  The point is I think pretty much everyone agrees at this point it is indeed a bit of a shambles although I did read Prime Minister May is gamely attempting a Pee-Wee Herman-esque “I meant to do that,” just not sure anyone’s really buying it.  But you know maybe it was fate the best word to describe the thing would be common to American English and English English or I suppose more properly the rather clunky sounding UK English (some days you just can’t win).  Indeed, I can’t help but see certain similarities between the waving of the old red, white, and blue on both sides of the Atlantic and to see shades of Brexititis in President Trump’s rejecting trade treaties and savaging our traditional allies and trading partners.  Maybe it’s just me but I wonder if they might be related in some way such as for example the pervasive undercurrent of conservative economic ideology in both the UK and the USA.  I know I’ve written about economics the last few times out but here I am again.  I must have economics on the brain just now.  There’s a scary thought.  Well, let me try to get it out of my system so I can talk about something totally different next week.

As I’m sure I must have pointed out before many, many times one of the distinctive and conceptually funny things about conservative economic ideology is the hoary image of the national economy working like an old eighteenth century Deist gentleman’s watch.  We might need to collaborate as a society in constructing the watch or to be brutally literal the legal institutions and conditions associated with the “free market” (or to be theoretically correct the all too elusive perfectly competitive market but never mind) but once we collaborate to get things set up we will all do as good as we can and everyone will ostensibly get exactly what he or she deserves if we all just focus on our own greed and spare nary a thought for our fellows.  Properly considered or anyway as originally conceived by our bewigged ancestors the system was meant to serve everyone originally in the utilitarian sense of bringing the greatest happiness to the greatest number and later, when they eventually realized that argument doesn’t really hold water, in the more Old Testament sense economic justice will be served.  “Free market” economics was considered the natural accompaniment to political democracy because surely everyone would demand that system which would serve them best if not materially as originally thought then at least in the sense of a shared satisfaction that economic justice will prevail.  In that sense one might think of old time conservatism as an offshoot of other socialist ideologies that take as their ultimate objectives the welfare or at least interests of society at large.

Of course as fate would have it a funny thing happened along the way.  In their zeal to prevent other people mucking up the gears trying to help the less fortunate conservatives began to stress more and more the second step of their two step program for attaining social nirvana.  All too soon the institutions and conditions associated with the market were not something we could count on others to understand or to agree with.  We were no longer all on the same page.  As a defensive reaction the rationale for the institutions began to take on a non-human and other worldly air.  They became associated with natural laws but not those of the god of the Deists looking after his flock with a system plain to all who cared to look but with the cold hard inhumanity of outer space.  The free market was good and fair whether other people understood it or agreed with it or not.  Political democracy became suspect as the mechanism by which do-gooders and leftists of all description might foolishly thumb their noses at the universe and meddle in things that ought not to be meddled in.  Democratic government became dangerous and something to be minimized and neutered.  People who cared for other people or had different notions of economic justice became the “socialist” bogeyman of the conservative intent on enslaving others and destroying economies and societies.  Co-operation with other people and indeed even thinking of other people became suspect.  The Me Generation was born with boundless greed, egotism, and hubris hating the thought of ever compromising with or indeed acknowledging the existence of any other living being.

When this twisted monster child of once noble conservatism encounters any form of society it cannot control it strives mightily to throw it off in a rage of righteous indignation.  Here in the USA conservatives have long raged against our democratic federal government.  While that sentiment appears to have subsided somewhat not being based on any principle really beyond their perceptions of our government’s ability to give them what they want when they want it there are yet other groups determined to enforce their will upon the Great I.  International groups like NATO, trade organizations, allies trying to trap us into their little treaties.  It’s an outrage conservatives simply cannot abide.  Their ancient clock says its time for personal greed and the unbridled lust for power not the time to work with others people toward common goals.  In the UK they have Brexit.  They don’t need no stinking EU!  Here in the USA we have that great orange man-child President Trump pouting and stamping his little feet in the White House, followed everywhere by his weak and sycophantic toadies in the Republican Party rushing to find his blanket or binky in the hopes he may vomit out more coin their way.

Does that sound about right?  Maybe I’m seeing things.  Societies don’t always work out.  Civilizations fall.  Nations fall in love with themselves and go to war on behalf of their beloved.  Happens all the time.  It’s a story as old as time.  But hard to avoid the feeling those unfortunate events are a great deal more likely to occur if one starts with the conservative anti-social sentiment that giving a thought to one’s fellow man is the root of all evil than with the notion we humans are at heart social animals and that the wealth and power cooperation and coordination brings is both our essence and our destiny.  Long live the Liberal Ethos!