Context contest

One of the things I did while in the Bahamas was spend a day on the island of Eleuthera. A more serene and beautiful place would be hard to imagine, and it's tough to visit without wanting to move there.

Inherently tough though it is to leave Nirvana, I bravely flew back to the land of cold winters, hardball politics, and rhetorical hyperbole. I get a bit tired of politics because I get tired of hearing arguments which I've heard before and which no one ever seems to win. When people already know what they think, ordinary persuasion usually fails to persuade them to change their minds. People who already know what they think and won't change their minds tend to engage in debates as if there is something to be "won" or points to be scored. The goal might be called "winning" a particular debate, but it is not persuasion -- any more than an athletic team intends to persuade its opponents of anything.

While the goal in both cases is winning, the problem with political combatants (whether in Congress, at cocktail parties, or even on the Internet) is that game theory is incompatible with open discussion of ideas. The rightness of wrongness of something (I suppose the less cynical of us could use the term "truth") is not analogous to a football or a basketball.

Thus my sports analogy fails.

The problem is, I can't dismiss my failed analogy out of hand, because it's not my analogy! The way these folks act, it's as if they really think that determining the ultimate truth of something is a game to be played and won. Yet the very game of "political hardball" is not concerned with truth, only with winning. Ideas (supposedly based on truth) are advanced not to determine their rightness or wrongness, but as strategy, as tactics and weapons, the effectiveness of which are determined by how readily they are reduced to sound bytes, and ultimately, how long and how well they resonate with the voters. (Which means how long it takes the voters to distinguish between which ideas are real and which are advanced as tactics, before they even reach the question of whether or not they agree.)

The more ideas are used as strategy, the more ideas become strategy, and the more the process of original thinking is destroyed.

It might be a better analogy to see this process as litigation. Regardless of right or wrong, winning is what counts. In the legal world, if you worry too much about things like right and wrong, you could be doing your client a major disservice. When I represented a tenant against a landlord in a rent control dispute, my strong convictions that rent control was wrong were completely irrelevant. Similarly, when I represented a criminal defendant accused of stealing a woman's purse at knifepoint, I had to suspend my feelings about such conduct, and do my best to dispute the DA's version of facts in the most partisan manner possible.

What has this to do with visiting lovely Eleuthera? Nothing except by way of contrast. I stumbled onto this example of how ideas and words are used ostensibly to illustrate, but really to win, and I'm using it as an example not because I disagree with the ideas in it, but because I agree with them. I agree with the author (one Jack Wheeler) that bureaucracy is out of control, and I'd even go so far as agreeing with his contention that it is what he calls "Fabian Fascism:"

The result of both socialism and fascism is the same: the destruction of economic freedom, replace the individual's choice of how to make a peaceful, honest living with State edicts. Fascism accomplishes this, however, more insidiously. Instead of being a straightforward employee of the government, you and I are told our lives and businesses are still private, while any attempt to act as such is proscribed by some regulation -- until we are trapped and immobilized in Washington's web.

We have become enmeshed in this web because it was spun around us so slowly. If the welter of government controls that Washington has enacted over the past sixty-six years (i.e., since the New Deal) had been attempted in one fell swoop -- say, in one Congressional term of two years instead of thirty- three terms -- the effort would, of course, have failed.

Instead, it has been spun right before our eyes - yet so slowly, strand by strand over many years, that we have barely noticed. We could call this slow spinning of the fascist web "Fabian Fascism."

It is Dr. Wheeler's contention that the only way to defeat bureaucracy is to tar it with the label of fascism. He blames LBJ, who stands accused of starting an orgy. An orgy of (gasp!) "eleuthericide":
....[T]he preservation of freedom requires that the expansion of governmental authority and financing necessary to deal with a crisis be granted only on an emergency basis and must be dissolved when the crisis is over. This is what the Washington Oligarchy always struggles to avoid.

Nonetheless, after the initial advance of Fabian Fascism made possible by the Depression and the New Deal, government growth was held in check fairly well through the 1950s and early 60s. But after defeating Barry Goldwater in 1964, Lyndon Johnson began an orgy of eleuthericide that continues to this day.

Look, I agree. But right after having returned from a visit to Eleuthera, I just wasn't ready for this. And I don't think most ordinary people are going to persuaded. Either by references to orgies of eleuthericide or Fabian Fascism.

I get so exasperated by things that I could easily imagine myself yelling that our lives are being controlled by the "Fabian Fascists." But would anyone be persuaded?

And what is persuasion? That depends on the audience. In this instance, the goal is not to persuade anyone that the bureaucracy is fascist, for that is a given. What Dr. Wheeler wants is to break the taboo on the use of the term:

....[H]ow do we, you and I, help America restore its freedom by helping it to kick the fascist drug of the dole?

We must begin by breaking the great taboo, by using the forbidden word - fascism - in every public forum at our disposal. The left has always know that control of language was the key to political success - just look at the "political correctness" movement as a clear example. We must get the term of democratic fascism out into public discourse, widely debate, and ultimate accepted as an apt description of our current political system. That is requirement Number Uno.

Second, we must challenge the Brezhnev Doctrine of the Democratic Part: that once any area of people's lives or businesses becomes subject to bureaucratic control, it must stay that way; that any elimination or reduction of government intrusion and control is "turning back the clock" and is thus a return to immoral primitivism.

It should probably be pointed out that the above argument is a vintage Clinton-era Republican one. Many political naifs were led to believe that Republicans (at least "genuine conservatives") thought that way, and that their party offered the best hope of real change.

Today, such ideas are no longer considered Republican.

"Elimination or reduction of government intrusion and control"? Please. It's almost painful to read things with which I once agreed and still agree, but which were advanced more as tactics than ideas.

Little wonder the piece was titled "None Dare Call It Fascism." The title seems ironic in retrospect. Would anyone be persuaded today? If so, of what?

Reading it today makes me wonder about the line between winning and losing, and the context of truth.

But is truth supposed to have context?

(I guess I should pledge never to commit eleuthericide again.....)

MORE: Here are a couple of pictures taken during my trip to Eleuthera:



(No context is necessary.)

posted by Eric on 01.19.06 at 10:37 AM


Can't remember the Greek Philosopher or the exact quote at the moment,but the jist is:
"in any debate of ideas it is the loser who gains the most"
Ready to suit up and get my uniform dirty,coach!

michael bruce   ·  January 19, 2006 2:31 PM

Wow nice beach!

Not as nice as the ones on Kauai though.. hehehe.

Harkonnendog   ·  January 19, 2006 4:04 PM

that's the wrong pic, sorry.. this is the one I meant...

Harkonnendog   ·  January 19, 2006 4:09 PM

Theron, you really know how to rub it in, don't you? The point really isn't which beach is better; Kauai or Eleuthera, is it?

The point is that you live there, and I don't!


Eric Scheie   ·  January 20, 2006 12:56 PM

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