Thursday, October 17, 2019


I just read two books by Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis and The Righteous Mind. I heartily recommend them both: I think they both shed a great deal of light, and they both say things I've struggled and failed to express. As well as much that I had never thought of.

I am not likely, of course, to agree with the political opinions of someone who calls himself a centrist. While I agree with him that conservatives bring a great deal to the table, I do not think the current crop of Republicans are conservatives; I think they are simply a nightmare version of liberals -- far more like us, in all important respects, than they are like the Republicans of, say, 1970. They are not concerned with conserving anything but their own prestige and their own assets: and they are sold on a version of Christianity that Bonhoeffer neatly summarized as "cheap grace." No need for messy crucifixions or time-wasting penance! God approves of you right out of the box, and all He wants you do do is feather your nest.

(I actually think of myself in my heart as a conservative, although I longer call myself one, since it only confuses people. Those little online quizzes consistently identify me as "very liberal." They ask no questions about Edmund Burke, or perfectibility, or the importance of custom and tradition.)

Anyway. Where was I? Yes. I completely agree with Haidt that we arrive at the best solutions when Liberals and Conservatives (as he defines them) bang up against each other and knock each other's rough edges off. But I think the political positions of, say, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, are, in fact, just such compromise positions -- old compromises, informed by both conservatives and progressives as we used to know them. The Left used to have some bargaining power, because our labor was needed, and the sinister figure of the Soviet Union was lurking behind us. Now our labor is superfluous -- plenty more where that came from, should you need it, which you probably don't; and where the Soviet Union used to be is the gangster state of United Russia, a China which really would rather not bother with us, and a European Union that can't even mind its own store, let alone anyone else's. Different world. Our leverage is gone. And in the meantime, the very wealthy coalesced, under the Kochs, into a formidably organized and fabulously rich political machine. They hold all the cards, now, and they can only fail by drastically overplaying their hand. (Which seems to be exactly what they are doing, so maybe we have a chance after all. Who knows?)

But. Read Haidt, who is much cleverer about social psychology than he is about politics: both his books are very illuminating reads.

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