Friday, April 14, 2017

contra "The Conservative Mind"

Dr. Vallicella writes a succinct one-paragraph description of the conservative outlook on life, then spends another three paragraphs dwelling on one particular aspect of that outlook: the question of what it means when you truly love something or someone. To hear Dr. V tell it, true love means never wanting to change the person or the thing loved: to love X is to love X for who/what it is. The desire to change X precludes love, according to Dr. V, who is making this point in the context of liberals who, per Barack Obama's formulation, desire to "fundamentally transform" the United States, to wit:

And once again, how can anyone who loves his country desire its fundamental transformation? How can anyone love anything who desires its fundamental transformation?

You love a girl and want to marry her. But you propose that she must first undergo a total makeover: butt lift, tummy tuck, nose job, breast implants, psychological re-wire, complete doxastic overhaul, sensus divinitatis tune-up, Weltanschauung change-out, memory upgrade, and so on. Do you love her, or is she merely the raw material for the implementation of your currently uninstantiated idea of what a girl should be?

The extension to love of country is straightforward. If you love your country, then you do not desire its fundamental transformation. Contrapositively, if you do desire its fundamental transformation, then you do not love it.

But I can see a liberal response to this point of view, and I think it's legitimate. Suppose you love your son, but at some point, he took a wrong turn, plunged into drugs and guns, and now finds himself facing either years in prison for his crimes or gangland justice for the money he owes. He's in his own personal hell, and you're desperate to help pull him out of his existential nosedive. In such a situation, where's the contradiction in loving your son and wanting him to change fundamentally? Many liberals—the fundamental transformers, anyway—see America in this light: the country has taken a wrong turn; it needs redemption.* My point here isn't to say that I agree with the liberal assessment of the state of the USA; what I'm saying is that the liberal perspective I'm describing comes from a rational chain of thought. There is indeed no contradiction in loving someone or something and in wanting to change it fundamentally.

That said, I grant that Dr. V's insights on love aren't wrong: very often, love entails a warts-and-all acceptance. Psychologists talk about the unhealthy "Pygmalion project" that some couples engage in: one member of the couple takes it upon him-/herself to try and change the other to conform to a certain vision of how that partner should look, think, and act. This is indeed a toxic dynamic, so what Dr. V is saying about acceptance has a certain validity. But that's not the whole story, hence my above rebuttal.

We should also note a couple other things. First, change happens whether we want it to or not. Perhaps you don't have any desire to change your love, but he or she is going to change all the same because that's the nature of things: nothing ever stays in one place. We grow; we evolve; ideally, we progress, but some of us may regress—morally, spiritually, etc. Second, love of country is not analogous to love of another person: the very nature of one's commitment to a country is fundamentally different from one's commitment to a person. Given these disanalogies, and given the above rebuttal, it's safe to say that "love means never desiring change in the beloved" is at best a shaky proposition.

*This doesn't square with the liberal repudiation of Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan: many liberal Democrats, especially those in the Hillary Clinton campaign, sneered that "America is already great," which takes the wind out of the sails of the fundamental transformers, who are fellow liberal Democrats. Then again, the Democrats have long seen themselves as a "big tent" party, able to hold opposing thoughts within itself, so as Walt Whitman would have said: does the donkey contradict itself? Very well: then it contradicts itself. The donkey is large; it contains multitudes.

1 comment:

Surprises Aplenty said...

As you say, loving a country does not mean thinking it is perfect in all ways.

It sure seems to me that defensible conservatism (or defensible liberalism) is almost exclusively economic - more or fewer taxes and the like. Bigger or smaller government.

I think most liberals dislike Trump's MAGA slogan for when he seems to think America was great. It sure looks like he approves of a time when certain populations were quiet and the only loud voices voices were those of straight white Christians (and mostly only male). There might be arguments for or against diversity but they are not obviously rooted in economic conservatism.

In the news, Sessions has shut down or reduced funding for the organization which looks at forensic criminal investigation techniques. It had found that many techniques were faulty and practitioners lied about their accuracy. Perhaps American was great when there was little concern for jailing innocents. Perhaps Trump's team is undoing changes and going back to the USA they loved.