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July 12, 2010

Update 3: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With New Excerpt

I just wanted my faithful readers to know that I have been inspired by President Obama’s example and have released the following statement:

I am not going to rest or be satisfied until the book is finished, the manuscript has been edited and cleaned up, and the people of this country can go back to reading my blog.

In that spirit, I promise I will not take any more than three vacations in any given 81-day period until my book-writing crisis has passed!

In the meantime, below is part 2 of the book’s introduction. To my surprise, the introduction is actually useful in providing a decent feel for what the book is about. Sure, this runs the very real risk of suppressing sales, but I’ve decided to call anything over a dozen a resounding success.

Planet Moron: Grading on a curve since 1993.

Introduction, Cont’d

...Before I go further, my apologies for use of the word “they” and its counterparts.  I don’t attempt to define it clearly up front, but rather let its meaning become clear through the course of the book.  This is a respected rhetorical device known as "laziness." Most people will understand it to mean those of influence, liberal or conservative, who believe themselves to be of such high intelligence that they have an obligation to tell the rest of us what to do, from politicians to academics to pundits to, God help us, “celebrities.”  In other words, the “elite,” a word I’m even less fond of, but still find a useful shorthand in this context and use extensively.

How can you determine if you are a part of “they” or a member of the “elite?”  There’s actually a very simple way to tell:

You’re not.

That was probably easier than you thought it was going to be.

Anti-elite and anti-establishment uprisings such as what has been transpiring with both the Tea Party movement specifically and the more broadly growing notion among many independents that perhaps we should start embracing individual liberty over the creeping collectivism of the past seven decades or so is often miscast.

Conservative columnist David Brooks in a March 2010 New York Times column exploring the similarities between the “new left” uprisings of the ‘60s and today’s Tea Parties wrote:

“But the core commonality is this: Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures.” 3

This is what psychologists call “projection.”

It is natural that an establishment member of the elite would assume that those who seek to overthrow the nation’s entrenched leadership structures, would believe, as David Brooks certainly would, that they are uniquely endowed with purity and virtue. 

The late Irving Kristol held a similar view, although for different reasons, elevating the wisdom of the common man above his supposed betters in order to draw a contrast with the “cultural elite” and “intellectuals” of which he was said to be generally scornful. 4

That is clearly not the premise of this book. Nor, I doubt, the premise of those who call for a less activist government.  In fact, if there is one thing I can attest to, it’s that “regular people” mostly lack the arrogance to believe their elevated virtue qualifies them to tell you how to live and tend to hew more closely to a kind of Socratic modesty:

“…So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is - for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.” 5

But then, it’s easier to retain modesty regarding your abilities when you work in occupations that don’t include an endless parade of self-congratulatory awards and recognitions.

There are no Nobel Prizes presented for the expert use of a band saw, and no national media adoration when you’re named “salesperson of the month” (although you might find yourself catching admiring glances from Richard in accounting.)

And yet one could argue that my assertion that we would be better off with less government intervention in our lives suggests that I must believe I know better how to organize society, that I am elevating my judgment above those who would argue otherwise.

But that is not my assertion at all. I’m no more or less a moron than anyone else (with the possible exception of the inventor of the vuvuzela, and that cuts both ways). I don’t want to organize society any more than I want someone else to organize it for me. 

Admittedly, there are certain collective endeavors that enjoy broad-based support. Most people would agree that we need, for example, a common approach to national defense, lest the Canadians, drunk with power from their Olympic hockey gold medal victories6 swarm our northern border and force upon us a regime built around ice beer and innovative sketch comedy.

And I concede that there is little doubt that a society with less government intervention will be different from a society with more, that is, I’m trying to convince my fellow citizens to pursue a particular point of view.  However, there is an important difference between what I want, and what the collectivists want.

You can pursue all your wildest collectivist fantasies within a system of government that elevates individual liberty above the collective.  That is, if you want to “share the wealth,” live in a commune, or organize your entire life around “Star Trek - The Next Generation,” you retain the right to do so in a free society.  I have no interest in stopping you.  (Although I might want to know where you got the cool tricorder.)

However, if you live in a collectivist society there are all manner of laws prohibiting your pursuit of individual liberty, and if you insist on running around in your Starfleet uniform all day,7 you run the very real risk of encountering a violent reaction.  Okay, running around in a Starfleet uniform all day is going to increase your risk of encountering a violent reaction no matter where you live, but you get the idea. 

The reason for much of the anger you see today is because broad swaths of people who were sitting at home minding their own business are discovering that there are legions of people who want very much to mind their business for them.

I get into all this, and much more in the pages that follow...

 

The final installment of the introduction will appear within the next week or so.

J.

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July 12, 2010 at 03:30 PM in Books | Permalink

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Comments

When was the vuvuzela reference written? In the last month, the world cup has moved that from an obscure reference to completely played out, and I worry it's going to look needlessly dated by the time this goes to print (much less 50 years from now when this is a part of standard curriculum).

"It is natural that an establishment member of the elite would assume that those who seek to overthrow the nation’s entrenched leadership structures, would believe, as David Brooks certainly would, that they are uniquely endowed with purity and virtue."
I don't like that sentence. "establishment member of the elite" is an awkward phrase and using "would" 3 times doesn't help.

Posted by: Amarsir | Jul 14, 2010 12:33:06 PM

I agree on all counts. The vuvuzela reference was added for this post and I thought it likely I'd kill it for the book. And I've wrestled some with the sentence you reference. Would you believe that's the streamlined version? Seriously, I cut an even more awkward part a few days ago. As for word-repeats, I found more than that when I was preparing this post. It's amazing how the brain just stops working after the thousandth read through.

Regardless, thanks, as always. I fully plan to have an actual copy edit (or two or three) performed as I know it really needs it.

Posted by: Planet Moron | Jul 14, 2010 1:09:01 PM

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