Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Substituting for Substance - Is being Great all that good? pt2

Into the void
In my last post, 'Is being Great all that good?', I pointed to the dangers inherent in promoting or electing candidates for their great qualities alone, rather than for what makes them fit for office, which I think has to begin with demonstrating an understanding of the nature and purpose of the office they're seeking to be elected to. In this post I'll take a high level view, through one local example, at the sort of arguments that follow when a candidacy does not begin from the beginning, leaving its supporters to substitute the personal inspiration they feel for their candidate's 'great qualities', for the relevant substance which the candidates have not provided themselves. Over the next couple posts we'll look in more detail at the patterns which the inspired defender will often fall into, in order to defend what isn't there - an absence of substance which itself inspires a particular pattern of defense.

And this quote captures the sort of 'inspired substitute substance' that I'm talking about:
"I want a transformational leader who inspires common people like me to become better versions of ourselves. And the only candidate in the race who can inspire greatness in the people he touches is Eric Grietens."[BTW Bill, the candidate's name is misspelled]
That was not some MSNBC host frothing on about the thrill running up his leg, this statement came from Bill Hennessy, one of the original founders and instigators of the St. Louis Tea Party, the grassroots organization which formed around the popular demand that congress "Read the Bill!" rather than mindlessly peddle absurdities such as "You have to pass it to find out what's in it". The St. Louis Tea Party Coalition was one of the most effective Tea Party's in the nation at raising issues of limited government and individual rights to the national attention, which I had the honor to play a small part in, and whose theme, at that time anyway, could easily have been expressed as constitutionally limited govt over swallowing sight unseen the solutions being peddled by transformational leaders of the left or the right.

That Bill Hennessy was someone I never expected to see saying such things. This post is one I'm not enjoying writing, but that quote above is representative of the tenor of what he's been posting since Eric Greitens announced his interest in running for the Governor of Missouri, and Bill, as we'll see in a moment, has taken the rhetoric beyond what I can simply ignore.

The Inspiration
When you hear about Eric Greitens, you can't help but be impressed, he's a former Navy SEAL, a Rhodes Scholar, he has a deep interest in, and familiarity with, classics of history and philosophy (you know that pegged my interest meter), a self made man, philanthropist, successful author (I just finished reading his "Heart and Fist" - I recommend it), college professor, motivational speaker, and the list goes on. The first time I heard about Eric Greitens was as he was announcing his intention to consider running for governor earlier this year. I read Bill's post on it, and the articles it linked to, and I too was much impressed, but unfortunately before that inspiration could take root, my next thoughts were:
"I wonder what his thoughts and positions on Individual Rights, Law & Govt policy are?"
, and the inspiration faltered in me as I tried hunting around on the web for specifics about his ideas on such things, and it withered away as I found nothing of the sort, only more and more instances of 'Happy Talk' about how really impressive a guy he is. He is impressive, that much is a given, no argument there at all, but that doesn't make the argument for electing him to office. Despite how impressive he is as a person, as a candidate, if your political positions, and your demonstrated understanding and commitment to the principles behind them, aren't impressive in themselves, then neither will you be, as a candidate for high office.

If you care about what's true, about first principles, that's the way it has to work. And what's even harder, and I've really experienced just how much harder in working on these posts, is how hard it is not to fall into the same patterns in your responses to the faults you've found in others. And it's also difficult, particularly in personal and political issues, to not see that person you've found fault in as having base and dishonest motives for the wrong things you've found them saying. As you'll see in a moment, one of Bill's posts set me off, pegged my fury meter, and my responses to it have got me watching myself more closely. My first response I deleted. The second one too. This post I've revised several times, trying to take that non-objective edge out of it and focus more on what is universal in the danger of being led by 'greatness', than the particulars of the faults I see here (how successfully remains to be seen... your mileage may vary).

I haven't been 'toning it down' out of some silly 'must be nice' mockery of manners, but because I think you really do miss out on the more significant points, when you assume the worst (and that 'assuming' is part of the pattern). Far tougher, and frankly far scarier, is what you see when you presume that those who've drawn your ire, have done so with the very best of intentions. And your response to them, IMH (and heavily revised)O, is improved and clarified by approaching it from that perspective.

Not that that perspective will make me pull my punches, it's just that I see the value in throwing them at my own points too, before they get a chance to make it to print.

The lack of political substance which Eric Greitens has made available regarding the political office he's seeking, is concerning to me. Why? Because as media savvy as this fellow is, as experienced a leader as he is, as seemingly centered around empowering people as he is, he has somehow lacked the foresight to assemble and make available even an overview of the policies he intends to implement, or of the political principles that will guide his use of power once in office, etc. Nothing. Nada.

Why? I don't know, and that's the problem, for the fact that he chose not to do the obvious, I find concerning.

There were rumors from the start about his democrat leanings, which at that time were still only rumors (though he later confirmed them), and there were still other troubling issues left to be discovered by those, like me, who should have been his base, such as his endorsement of President Obama's "Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act" (which fits in with conservative ideas... how?), as well as other issues and unknowns about information that was known to the candidate. Information which he had to know would cause confusion and dissension amongst those whose support he'd want and need, and yet he chose to do nothing to proactively manage it. Is that an example of the exemplary political leadership that I should be inspired by? Or evidence of a blind spot the candidate doesn't realize he has?

There were (and still are) lots of questions unanswered, but
without any solid info to go on at the time about what his current political convictions might be, and as various Facebook discussions proved fruitless, I let it go, that's what primaries are for, right? To each their own. And seriously, if this sums up your own idea of good ideas,
"I believe that Missouri and Missourians want and need more in a governor than an able executive. We want and need a leader who inspires us to become our best-possible selves."
, then you and Bill are welcome to them, preferably holding those thoughts as far away from me as possible, as the idea of looking to government to inspire you to be your 'best-possible' self... is a path to self improvement that I'd just as soon give as wide a berth as possible and move on by. But again, if someone wants to support a candidate for office without any idea of what they'll do in office, that's what primaries, and hopefully better candidates, are for.


But, when you begin to rudely question, and even attack the motives of others who don't find such political and intellectual carelessness to be to their taste, and without demonstrating a solid basis for doing so, then we have a problem. And that problem came to light, and my live and let live attitude ended with it, when Bill wrote a five part series of posts, also compiled into a handy-dandy ebook, advocating for his dearly desired leader, which, once I finally got around to reading it, really pissed me off, right from its opening. See if you can figure out why:
"You know how to tell when a political camp has nothing on an opponent?

It begins making stuff up.

That “making stuff up” has become the chief form of amusement among those who oppose Eric Greitens for Governor.

The current fiction they advance has to do with an organization called The Franklin Project. The fiction advanced by a few Facebook warriors goes something like this: “The Franklin Project wants mandatory national service.”

To the best of my research, the assertion is simply false. The Franklin Project does not promote mandatory service.

Up to now, we can excuse some people. The Franklin Project is not, after all, a household name. We can assume that many simply repeat what they hear others say. (We are all susceptible to believing hearsay that fits our worldview. Our minds, being lazy, tell us that the hearsay seems so plausible there’s no point wasting time looking it up.)"
How's that for transformational campaign rhetoric? Uniting, eh? I hit the ceiling when I read it.

What and who is he referring to as being in a 'political camp'? One particular competing politician, or all opposing politicians camps? Does someone need to be aligned with another politician to qualify as being in that camp, or is merely not being sold enough on Eric Greitens, all it takes to land you there? As Bill hadn't bothered answering those questions or citing any further particulars about the people he's referring to, taking him at his word means that I, and any others who oppose the idea of electing someone to high office on the basis of their non-political accomplishments and personality alone, anyone who finds a lack of forthcomingness about previous party associations and endorsements troubling, we seemingly all stand accused of Making things up... as our chief form of amusement ...as a fiction they advance...to repeat what others say...being susceptible to believing hearsay...and too lazy to look things up... and so on.

Making stuff up indeed. Hold that thought.

Making Stuff Up
If I said you were a liar and a thief, you'd probably ask what it was you'd said that was untrue and what it was I thought you'd stolen, right? And if I didn't answer, you'd probably say I'd made those charges up, wouldn't you? If I said that you'd misstated things that I'd said, you'd expect me to say what it was I'd actually said, wouldn't you?

And if I didn't answer you, but instead said that there was no reason for you to worry about something which you were concerned about being a real danger to your kids - you'd ask me to explain why, right?

But what if instead of answering you, I said that once upon a time Mr. Wonderful (aka: William F. Buckley Jr.) down the street once liked something similar to what you were concerned about, and then I went on to compare some particular parts of that thing that he liked, to a few parts of what you were worried about, and oh, BTW, Mr. Super Wonderful (aka: Ronald Reagan) once liked stuff  that was sorta like that too... would you feel that I'd answered your concerns, or that I'd dodged them? And what if it turned out that Mr. Super Wonderful did not actually like or promote anything of the sort, and that that portrayal was a major misrepresentation (based on a lazy acceptance of influential hearsay - details to follow in a later post)? And what of that business about you being a liar?

My bet is, that if somehow you were still feeling somewhat polite, you'd say that I seemed to be just... making stuff up... wouldn't you?

I certainly would. And will. But there's also a lesson in that, which I suggest that you, if you're at all like me, step back far enough to wonder why that story had been told the way it had... because the pattern it follows, is one you want to take special care not to mimic. Those rhetorical patterns, as we'll see over the next few posts, are both powerful and seductive, and as such they are exceedingly easy to fall into repeating yourself, if you don't keep an eye on yourself, even as you're calling someone else out for them.

But first, let's make a quick tally of the initial charges made.

For instance, about the charge of our 'making stuff up' about Eric Greitens... would you care to guess how many times, throughout these five posts, that Bill corrected the record and the supposed misrepresentations, fictions and hearsay that we weak minded and deceptive people have deliberately been making up to amuse ourselves with, with the actual words that Eric Greitens has actually said on these issues?

Zero times.

Would you care to guess how many actual quotes from Eric Greitens that Bill offers up, in any form, anywhere within his five part, 35 page series of posts?


And is it ever a doozy of substance, ya ready for it? Here we go, Bill says:
... the problems the volunteers work on will return. Problems always do. As Eric Greitens wrote to his buddy Zach in Resilience:
"There’s no point at which you’ve cleaned yourself so well that you never have to shower again"
A real doozy, eh? Does it lose some of its dooziness to know that this quote is essentially a reworded retread of an old one liner, from an old motivational and sales speaker, Zig Ziglar? Zig often said:
"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing, that's why we recommend it daily."
I don't know about you, but I feel like I need a shower. An ice cold one, so I don't... fly off the handle. Hmm. Once cooled off, you've got to begin asking... why? Why make charges, and then not even attempt to substantiate them? And if you eliminate the notion that the person is doing so with ill-intent, what explains that (hmmm... are there any similarities between his enthusiasm, and my flying off the handle?)?

Perhaps Bill would say that his five part series of posts aren't only about defending Eric Greitens, but are also, or even primarily about, the wonders of 'National Service'. Perhaps. But would you care to guess how much attention he spends on defining what National Service is... or Mandatory Service for that matter... or just plain Service, and why it should be of no concern to us? None.

Think about that. The key issues, such as Service, that have been driving Bill's posts over the better part of the last year, have not, that I've seen, been defined by him - not within these posts, or outside them. The first charges that he hurls out there, he's done nothing to identify or correct. Does it sound like he's got a solid set of actual charges to make against us non-believers... or does it maybe sound a bit more like he's just making stuff up? Don't decide yet, wait till you read the coming posts, and then with that information, evaluate, and then decide.

To be sure, Bill does say a lot about how some other people liked some aspects of something sorta similar to some features of national service. And he does talk quite a lot about how wonderful doing service is, and how much serving in the Navy improved him, and what good things a 'service ethos' will do for your kids, and for the nation, and he talks about military service, and civilian service, and leadership as service and lots of other 'servicey' stuff, but he doesn't define what Service is, he doesn't make many distinctions between the very different kinds of service those several things entail, he doesn't take time to consider what makes any one of those types of service legitimate, or illegitimate, or to seriously consider the likelihood that what might be begun as service, might just as easily be transformed into servitude... or how that should caution us towards those things which have the appearance of 'Mandatory Service'.

And without clarifying those concerns it's positively easy to have no worries, and if you can get beyond that need for substance you're sure to find comfort in the sort of 'service' that Gen. McChrystal said he'd like to see in the Franklin Project,
"...not a military draft but a national service draft..."
, and as Bill notes, after the General made that remark, he stopped speaking of such things, so... not to worry.

I'm sorry, but I do worry. And I'll caution you to keep this reality in mind: that there are many ways to interpret, recommend or define Service, but this stark fact should stay stuck foremost in your mind:
  • When politicians speak of 'Service' they are speaking about what they intend to use government power to compel us to use, and expend, some, or all, of our lives upon.
Apparently Bill is not concerned about that. I however, am. Bill also says:
"Reasonable conservatives can disagree on whether Buckley’s idea for a national program was valid without inventing bogeymen."
Indeed. There's no need to invent bogeymen when we've got an actual monster right in front of our eyes. But of course, if you haven't defined those terms, if you haven't examined the details of the patterns you're following in, you might not even know it if it was standing right in front of you, would you? How would you?

As it's not enough to simply enthuse about how bad some points are, we've got to look at why, so I'll go through Bill's posts, and the points he considers in them, as well as much of what he hasn't seemed to consider or discuss, such as where the ideal of 'National Service' came from.

Should be loads of fun.

Keeping you posted
1)In the next post, I'll focus on Bill's charge "That “making stuff up” has become the chief form of amusement among those who oppose Eric Greitens for Governor", which he effectively made towards everyone who hasn't been satisfied with the low information that his own vote has been won over by. But as that particular charge isn't addressed in his five post series, we'll look to his earlier posts for the support he has, or doesn't have, for such concerns that 'we' are the ones who've 'made stuff up'.

2) After that I'll spend a post looking into what Eric Greitens himself has had to say about being a Republican and a Conservative, and I'll explain exactly what concerns I still have with what he has, and hasn't said, and why.

3+)Following that, in what will likely take several posts, I'll dig into Bill's series and the enthusiasm for 'Service' which I find so disturbing, and which he genuinely seems to want to tout as the cure all for the Republic. But if it is, why argue for it with what might be called Red Herrings from Authority in the persons of Buckley & Reagan? And yes, I'll explain what I mean by that.

But there's one point I can't leave entirely for later, and that is in regards to this:
"To the best of my research, the assertion is simply false. The Franklin Project does not promote mandatory service."
And that point is that it is exceedingly easy to find language within the Franklin Project itself that gives plenty of cause for concern for just that very thing, especially if you're at all familiar with how easily language can be linguistically packaged into seemingly innocuous regulatory 'nudges'. One obvious and easy example of this is how ObamaCare layers its language so that, while it doesn't explicitly contain either the term 'Death Panels', or anything established with that purpose, its cost containment board, IPAB, implicitly has the power to act as a Death Panel, and even those who initially dismissed such concerns as 'simply false', have since changed their tune. Even Uber-Leftie Howard 'yeeaarrrghhhh!!!' Dean eventually realized:
"The IPAB will be able to stop certain treatments its members do not favor by simply setting rates to levels where no doctor or hospital will perform them"
Any reasonable person should be very much alarmed when they see similar language being employed in packaging proposals for directing government power into similar 'nudges' towards service in your child's future, you'd better be looking for any sign, especially by convoluted means, of 'mandatory' being attached to it! In no way is it justifiable to dismiss those concerns with a single sentence that amounts to 'Trust me - they're making things up'. I'm sorry, I don't trust anyone with such power, and no one should trust such power over our children's lives to governments 'good intentions'.

In such matters, something like 'Suspect and Verify' seems a much wiser policy to me. How could you not?

That's a question worth asking, but don't settle for the dismissive insult - there's a reason for unreasoning, and we are all drawn to it - you won't do yourself any favors by taking the easy road.

'National Service' may seem like a 'Great' idea, but is being Great all that good? When that 'Great' is all that it's being sold upon, whether cause or candidate, my answer is NO. Not until you fill in the fine print, explain the principles the Great ___ is to operate from, and examine the ramifications of the less than great issues that you have, and probably have not, considered.

No, Start from the beginning, otherwise no sale.

These posts aren't only criticizing one candidate's, or even one defender's, rhetoric, but are also meant to point out the patterns which we too naturally fall into when promoting our inspirations, whether great candidates, causes or concepts, on the basis of their outstanding qualities alone. In the form of great candidates, those inspirational qualities can vary as wildly as those of Dr. Carson, Donald Trump or Eric Greitens, but they all too commonly leave their supporters with no means of defending their favorite candidates political positions by any other means than manipulative rhetoric, whether in praise or put-downs.

When a candidacy doesn't begin where it should, with the candidates demonstrating an understanding of the nature and purpose of the office they're seeking to be elected to, but instead begins with their own great qualities, while supplying no, none, zero, nada, relevant political substance for their supporters to base their enthusiastic defenses upon, then they've set a subtle pattern of acting on appearances, and such patterns invite a certain means of defending them with, such as, as someone recently put it: 'making stuff up'.

And lest you or I get too impressed with ourselves in calling others on this, I assure you, it is a pattern that is exceedingly easy to slip into, and any great cause, be it in the form of a candidate or your own righteousness in exposing the wrongs you perceive in others, it's lure is substantial enough to pull you into the very same pattern if you aren't on the look out for it.

That should give us all a great scare. Often.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. Can't wait to see how Bill tries to spin this one.

Van Harvey said...

Thanks. As far as I'm aware, he's hoping that silence is the best policy - if you hear otherwise, I'd be interested to know. BTW, I just posted the next one,
Speaking of Whispers - What's so Good about Great (or bad about awful) pt.3