I enjoy watching Tucker Carlson interview people, especially those trying to push an agenda at odds with the facts. I enjoy it as his questions slowly pull their carefully hidden contradictions out into the full light of embarrassment. I also enjoy that he not only gives no ground to the rage mob, but goes on the attack instead. But I don't enjoy watching his show, because when he switches from asking questions of other people's opinions, to giving his own opinions, his own opinions don't always seem to have benefited from having been subjected to that same quality of questioning, and the opinions which he lets slip on through that gap stir up so many misgivings that I soon lose my interest in whatever point he was trying to make. Carlson's monologue in response to Mitt Romney's pitiful op-ed in January 2019 (which I also criticized here), is a good example of the kinds of misgivings that I so often have about him, and a great many others on 'the Right' (and Left, and Center), and it highlights something that's been setting my head to shaking back and forth for some time now: that the place of philosophy in the vast majority of people's minds today, has, for all practical purposes, been pretty much replaced by Economics - or at least by those theories, policies and sentiments most associated with it - which have produced results of very questionable value.
|What if neither Left nor Right leads home?|
It isn't always easy to see what's questionable about substituting economics for philosophy, because most such statements appear to be fairly reasonable, on the surface at least, as with this quote which is true to the tone of Carlson's monologue, shows:
"The goal for America is both simpler and more elusive than mere prosperity. It’s happiness. There are a lot of ingredients in being happy: Dignity. Purpose. Self-control. Independence. Above all, deep relationships with other people. Those are the things that you want for your children. They’re what our leaders should want for us, and would if they cared. But our leaders don’t care."Now, on the surface, and taken in the way that I assume he intends it, most of us, myself included, probably find our heads nodding along with him, at least to some of it, right? But what if there are implications to those words, that, if known, would set your head to shaking 'no!' or even 'Oh, Hell no!', instead? You see, you shouldn't mistake my head shaking for missing what sounds good on the surface - I get the appearances of it - but I can't help but be disturbed by what I see lurking in the shadows of the economic points - even & perhaps especially the populist points - that he and so many others on 'our side' so often make.
My own perspective on this comes neither from a Libertarian view, nor from that of a traditional Conservative one, but through my staunch support of those philosophic and moral reasons that leads to a Free Market (Please note: I did not say 'Capitalism' or 'Free Trade'), and which are in fact the very reasons why a Free Market works, works best, and is the most economically sound option there is - and the only one that can hope to sustain Liberty over the long run. It's important to realize that all economic theories - no matter their stated or unstated premises - are derived from more fundamental philosophical, moral reasonings (which are implicitly imposed or violated whenever the more eye-catching policies are adopted), and it is equally important to note how many economically minded folks either don't know that, or don't want others to know that. And you can bet that there are philosophical and moral reasons for that too, and more often than not, that too should set your head to shaking back and forth.
I'll limit myself here to pointing out a few highlights from his monologue that cast the more obvious shadows, which, if not enough to be convincing, will hopefully get you thinking a little further past those appearances. I'll leave it for later posts to dive deeper into the problems I see beneath their surfaces, and hopefully by that point, even if you don't fully agree with me, you'll at least understand why it is that I'm so often over here shaking my head back & forth.
Before returning to what set my head to shaking in the quote above, let me emphasize the need to resist saying "Oh, I'm sure he didn't mean that!". I don't think that Tucker Carlson has bad intentions, and neither do I think that of the other conservatives, libertarians and populists, who are are saying variations on the same themes. What I am saying though, is that the things that are being said by people like Carlson (and the majority of We The People), are said because they believe that they not only can, but should begin their thinking on these issues from within the framework of the policies and positions of economic thinking, or in response to them, which is precisely what enables them to not see and not consider what should have been considered before ever actually giving voice to their good intentions. Worse, if the careless words of influential people like Carlson stir public opinion into putting them into legislation, once on the books they will be put to use by far less charitable people who will wring them of every ounce of power they can get from them, and they will not be swayed by the good intentions which those words will ride into our lives on. Whether Tucker and others meant what their words actually mean, should not prevent us from considering what they do actually mean, and would justify being done in their name, if others took them seriously.
So with that in mind, let's take a look at what's easy to notice just beneath the surface of Carlson's quote from above:
"The goal for America is both simpler and more elusive than mere prosperity. It’s happiness. There are a lot of ingredients in being happy: Dignity. Purpose. Self-control. Independence. Above all, deep relationships with other people. Those are the things that you want for your children. They’re what our leaders should want for us, and would if they cared.... "As noted, on the surface this seems fine, thoughtful even, with an almost philosophical yearning for the moral high ground of a 'life well lived', doesn't it? Unfortunately it plunges to a messy death with the last line, "They’re what our leaders should want for us, and would if they cared." Why? Because while such concerns that might be fine for your friend and neighbor to express, they should be horrifying to have coming from a "Leader" with a faceless bureaucracy at their beck & call, and the power to act on their concerns. Such a mission given to Govt must result in its intruding into your life to identify those concerns, classify and quantify the nature of those concerns, and determine how deeply 'You The People' are to be affected by those concerns. Any such legislative or regulatory measures would have to be tasked with somehow rating your sense of 'Dignity'... perhaps on a scale of 1 to 10; and of course when you last had a health professional's verification of exactly how much 'Dignity' you have; and no way they could neglect recording Do you currently engage in any of these undignified activities..."? Whether those intrusions come about through new census questions, or with an assist from the likes of what we saw in Obamacare era regulations, such as requiring (at the penalty of perjury of course) insurance and healthcare personnel to probe into your mental health the next time you need a broken bone set, or an allergy shot for your child, won't make that much of a difference in the end, as political power would be used to intrude into your living of what you'd mistakenly (in their less than humble opinion) thought of as being your own life... for your own good.
How much imagination and news cycle recall does it take to see that? Can anyone doubt that such a popularized concern when transformed into Govt policy, would lead 'community minded leaders' to write some asinine legislation along the lines of a "Federal Citizen Dignity Assurance Act" would be stepping in to 'help you' achieve your minimum daily dose of 'dignity'? Surely anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the last century, should realize this?
I can understand if you're thinking "Van! Get a grip! He's just a 'T.V. Commentator voicing concerns!", and while I get that, you do realize that commentators voice their comments in order to influence people, right? And that as enough of those people are perceptibly influenced, their support becomes useful to those in power, right? Did you happen to catch MO freshman Sen. Josh Hawley's 1st Senate Floor Speech? It's worth comparing to Carlson's monologs. I also wonder if you realize that similar commentators commenting their particular views into popularity, have led up to everything from Prohibition, to LBJ's 'War on poverty', and of course ObamaCare or Medicare for all? No one should need to look any further than the lives and families of those who're existing in our inner cities, to discover just what Govt concern for their well being and 'deep relationships' can do for the depth and quality of their lives and relationships, and I can find no excuse for those who fail to connect those obvious dots. I really don't think that I'm the one that needs to 'get a grip' here.
All such governmental attempts would soon make a mockery of Dignity, Purpose, Self-Control and Independence, and render those words utterly meaningless. It would also require violating one and all of those privileges and immunities which our Bill of Rights identifies and forbids our govt from intervening in - limitations that were not made for economic purposes, but in order to preserve and protect our individual rights from the abusive and intrusive use of governmental power. We're rushing towards dystopia fast enough as it is, do we really need to encourage a merging of Orwell's 1984, and Huxley's Brave New World?
It seems reasonable, responsible, that the words of talking heads having an audience of millions, should be taken as seriously by us as the political passions and actions which their words are intended to arouse in us. Doing so requires poking into the shadows that lay behind and beneath the apparent meaning of their words, as even the slightest poke reveals realities that would be at odds with the apparent good intentions which those words deeper meaning are hiding behind. That is the danger of economic populism - if the popularity of the words they used to express their good intentions with, ever succeeded in carrying their words into law, they would be made use of by those who do grasp the darker powers implicit in them, and you can be sure that those people will use the real power and force of law which they give them, for very different purposes, and their true meaning would soon be felt by all.
That is at least partly what I mean about his opinions lacking the benefit of his own skillful questioning. And it's not like that was a fluke of a single careless line, as in the very next line he can be seen scolding economic thinking, from an economic perspective!:
"... But our leaders don’t care. We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule. They’re day traders. Substitute teachers. They’re just passing through. They have no skin in this game, and it shows. They can’t solve our problems. They don’t even bother to understand our problems."And again, because he's speaking to millions of viewers, you have to take his words seriously, and that might as well start with the word Rule. You might be able to speak of 'dignity, independence...' etc in terms of self-governance, but not in terms of some people ruling over others or being ruled by them. Of course you could say that he didn't really mean the reality which the word 'Rule' really means - but that again is just my point: his opinions have more to do with his deepest feelings than with coherent thoughts on the real world, indicative of a set of boxed in views which are all that a disjointed economically based view permits. And seriously, what sort of POV is a 'conservative' conserving, in wanting Govt to 'understand' or somehow solve their problems?
And it's difficult not to notice how closely Carlson's line "...They’re what our leaders should want for us, and would if they cared...", resembles the spirit of a similar line in the execrable Romney op-ed that he's reacting to, that:
"...To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation...."Both of them fail to see into the shadows of their own words, and to both of them I'll repeat what I said of Romney's, that it has
"... the rancid odor of pro-regressive conceit & the 'nudge' of political correctness about it of the typical Pro-Regressive republican who believes that govt can 'help you' by making better decisions for you - which is also one of the reasons why Trump won..."Ironically, both elitist Romney, and populist Carlson, blunder through those shadows, without the light or awareness needed to see where they're going, which is exactly what leads to govt stumbling into our personal lives with political powers that it has zero 'business' concerning itself with.
The painful fact - and a painfully common one, which is in no way limited to Tucker Carlson - is that the meaning of what his words would in reality require for Govt to act on and implement them - are in pursuit of the very same unrestricted power of govt that the Pro-Regressive Left (and Right) desires - Govt having fewer and fewer limits on its power to take an active part in our lives, giving it control over our lives - for our own good. Fuzzy economic thinkers of the Left and Right, want govt to have the same interests in, and powers over, our lives, they differ only on what their vision of 'the Right' good intentions are, which they see as justifying the economic policies that please them.
Both rely upon evading the same reality.
And both rely upon the absence of philosophy in We The People's minds in order to do so, and thanks to over a century of Govt controlling our educational system, that absence is a no-brainer, and among its more devastating consequences is the loss of principled foundations to stand upon, and reliable roads to follow.