Mike the Mad Biologist

And I don’t mean that as a compliment. Leon Wieseltier has an excellent response to the NY Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati who described the magazine’s ideology as:

Call it Urban Modern. That is, I think it reflects not a left-or-right POLITICAL ideology but a geographical one, the mentality of the place it is created: 21st Century Manhattan. So: the Magazine reflects a place where women have professional ambition, where immigrants are welcome, and where gays and lesbians can be themselves (if not marry, yet). The Magazine also reflects a place where being rich is not a bad thing, where fashion is not a sign of superficiality, and where individualism is embraced. Here, arguing is not bad manners. Here, a chief way of loving your hometown is criticizing it: For, say, not doing enough for those (children, the poor, the homeless) who are most vulnerable. Here, art is never spoken of in moral terms, and most aspects of everyday life–food and drink and bathroom fixtures–are mostly spoken of in aesthetic terms. And here, as E.B. White famously wrote, it tends to be those who come from elsewhere full of longing who make the place what it is. More generally, we reflect a place where change is not a threat, where doubt and complexity are more TRUE than certainty, and where most everything non-criminal is tolerated–except a bad haircut.

Wieseltier will have none of it:

Urban Modern? That is not ideology, it is interior design….what is being celebrated here is the ideology of no ideology–the ascendancy of the Nora Ephron view of the world, which may be succinctly described as “food and drink and bathroom fixtures.” What moves such a heart most (aside from children, the poor, and the homeless) are amenities and trivialities. The conferring of importance upon the unimportant, and of unimportance upon the important: this is a mark of decadence, the cognitive inversion of people who live “mostly in aesthetic terms” because they have secured themselves materially–or so they would like to believe–against philosophy and pain….They acquit themselves of their intellectual obligations with opinions. The anxiety that arguing may be bad manners is plausibly held by someone whose primary arena of political action may be the dinner party….

It is sometimes mistaken for a freshness of perspective, a new critical standpoint, but there is nothing fresh about easing up and it is the antithesis of criticism, or the kind of criticism that discomfits powers and platitudes. For instance: when Marzorati jauntily protests that in Manhattan being rich is not a bad thing, it has the effect of concealing that in Manhattan being poor is a bad thing.

This reminds of the reasons why I don’t like ‘progressives’–those who are allergic to being associated with liberals (or maybe they should be called the Urban Modernist wing of the Democratic Party):

…most of what the internet progressives stand for is what any sane, reality-based person should stand for:

  1. When trying to stop Bin Laden, you should not invade the wrong country, particularly when there is ample reason to expect the ensuing occupation to go sideways.
  2. Scientists and other experts, when presenting highly vetted and substantiated information about the reality we are confronted with, should not be denigrated (e.g., global warming).
  3. The government should not be in the forced childbirth or pregnancy-as-punishment business.
  4. Rampant corruption sucks and is harmful to the country’s interests.
  5. ‘Faith-based’, wingnuttian approaches, when unsupported or contradicted by evidence, suck and are harmful to the country’s interests.
  6. Slandering war heroes is wrong.
  7. Eliminationist rhetoric is wrong.
  8. Hating black people and interracial couples is wrong.
  9. Hating Latinos, and in particular Mexicans, is wrong.
  10. Hating gay people is wrong.
  11. The Enlightenment, overall, was a good thing.
  12. The libidophobic ‘religious’ right is idiotic, not to mention often hypocritical.
  13. Giving Paris Hilton a tax cut when there are so many unmet needs is wrong.
  14. Some kind of universal healthcare is needed (although the more conservative elements of the progressive movement might not actually agree with this point).

Other than the Paris Hilton item (which is usually couched in non-ideological terms), and universal healthcare, which was proposed in 1939, there really is no underlying philosophy in this list other than basic human decency (which, mind you, is too often in short supply). You don’t get points for holding these views in my book because it’s what any decent, rational, and sane person should do.

In other words, it’s not much of a political philosophy at all.
The only other problem I had is with Marzorati’s decrying the “POLITICAL.” Politics is how democratic societies do things–I realize political has become synonymous with conniving, but, without politics, we don’t have a society.

Comments

  1. #1 Russell
    September 21, 2009

    The odd thing is that I would have viewed the terms progressive and liberal almost in the reverse, i.e., that progressives push the leftist economic goals you desire, where liberals share merely the adherence to reality and commitment to liberal democracy.

  2. #2 abb3w
    September 21, 2009

    In other words, it’s not much of a political philosophy at all.

    No, merely a very pragmatic starting point. (I’d also agree with Russell about terminology.)

    There are a large number of people opposed to parts of this; as a pragmatic matter, attempting higher achievements will induce increasing levels of conflict. So, in the short-term you settle for what you can achieve that will best further long-term objectives, even when the long-term objectives are not possible for the short term.

    For this and other reasons, I thus use the term “pragmatist” to describe myself.

    I’m more bothered by “populists” like Lou Dobbs; merely because millions of idiots believe it is a good idea or an important one, does not necessarily make it so.

  3. #3 Rob Jase
    September 21, 2009

    I think the problem is that old fashioned liberals are now perceived as too passive & accomidating, while progressives are perceived as activists who refuse to take shit from their opponents.

    Sort of like a unisex version of machismo.

  4. #4 D. C. Sessions
    September 21, 2009

    Reminder: don’t try to make sense of the labels, they’re just branding — and the trademarks aren’t controlled, so the brand remains the same while the product keeps changing.

  5. #5 NewEnglandBob
    September 21, 2009

    In other words, it’s not much of a political philosophy at all.

    This is a good thing. Politics, as practices in the US sucks.

    Most progressive I know include your 5 ‘don’t hear about very much’ bullet items.

    To me, there seems little difference between liberals and progressives other than intensity.

    What baffles me is that some people think libertarianism is a similar position when it is the opposite.

  6. #6 Tyler DiPietro
    September 22, 2009

    I think it’s flat out stupid to identify any particular political ideology with a lifestyle. Most of the conservative media elites are urban modernists who live in the same enclaves glamorized by Marzorati. I don’t have any data on hand, but it seems obvious that at least a substantial portion of those who identify as “progressives” in this country are not and do not.

    Steering debates about politics into becoming outlets for cultural animosities has been successful tactic on the part of the right. It’s allowed them to paint those who advocate liberal policies as snobs and “elitists”. Conservatives got a lot of mileage out of this caricature, and people like Marzorati fall right into the trap.