Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Rethinking Conservatism

I don't spend much time shitting on the right, to the extent that I wondered whether my friends fervor was turning me conservative. There's little chance of that though, given the sheer weight of empiricism that does shit on just about every foundational cornerstone of modern right wing policy.

Virtually everything right wing politics promote has a disastrous track record. Small government, low taxes, free markets, tough on crime, war on drugs, foreign policy, economic management, sexual education, the war on terrorism, trickle down economics, climate skepticism...

Like the dress  it seems the world is currently divided roughly evenly into people who look at reality and say 'all the evidence shows that right/left policy is a failure.'

And although I'm one of those people who sees the dress as white and gold, though it turns out to be blue and black in reality, a fact I can only just accept, but will.

So, and I defer to the relevant statistical bodies, I look at the picture of right wing policy and see that they just fucking don't work, and tempting as it is to walk through right wing government's stand on minimum wages through to the war on terror, you won't trust me, but they are all crap.

So what in the 21st century, the opening 5th at least, does it mean to be on the right?

I've attempted this before in a very unviewed post called 'Them and them' so I won't try and rehash, but I basically ascribe a belief in right wing politics as to being particularly prone to the self-soothing psychological belief known as the just-world hypothesis. Since writing that unpopular post I've watched a bunch of Alan De Botton's talks and BBC programs on youtube, and there's one in America where he explores the prevalent belief in 'meritocracy' often expressed as 'equal opportunity' and his exploration of meritocracy is a very thorough exploration of how the just-world hypothesis in particular crops up in right wing politics.

His (Alan) stance is that meritocracy is a very cruel belief system, because it makes people believe that success is just a matter of grit, and also it puts in sight goals and ambitions that are simply unobtainable to a lot of people. Such that if you hold a belief in 'equal opportunity' and you wind up in a not nice house with a low paying miserable job and all alone, you have no recourse to blame the world, even though it might be the world that is much more to blame than your effort to do better.

But yes, a conservative, or right winger I believe, believes that life is a meritocracy. That people who enjoy the sweetest fruits our society and economy have to offer have earned it, and those who haven't have simply been slack, unmotivated, unambitious etc.

Such an underpinning belief makes it hard to acknowledge or indeed legislate against phenomena such as Nepotism, Chronism, Bribary, Private Schooling, Scholarships, Donations, Tax Evasion, Price Fixing etc. when your emotional identity is fixed on a belief that your success is pinned to your honest effort.

I also suspect to be conservative, on the questions of achievement 'how' is much more important than 'what'. What a conservative is trying to achieve is an afterthought, thus if there aren't many jobs it can't be that wages are too stingy to attract people into the workforce who would rather spend their time in leisurely poverty or selling drugs or something, but because wages are too high and employers simply can't afford to employ all the people they would.

Thus if a conservative government wins a mandate to lower the minimum wage, and unemployment rises, they are more likely to double down and campaign for a mandate to lower the wages even further than to question that they may have got the 'how' wrong.

There would, in fairness be a left wing analogy, simply because you would expect one. It's a human trait. Although no left-wing party as far as I'm aware, mainstream viable at least, promotes polyamory (it's hard enough to get the left to even endorse same-sex marriage in Australia) but many of my left leaning friends might be open to the idea of open relationships. When this results in even faster relationship decline than exclusive relationships though, again there will be a lot of left-leaners that would sooner double down than admit that monogomy is just much less hassle for only slightly less novelty.

Thus if you think that government should be small and regulation should be deregulated and markets should be set free and religion part of a formal education and borders controlled and condom usage should not be taught to teenagers and marriage is between a man and a woman, you probably lack the awareness to be ashamed of how anti-Machiavellian these policies are. The ends would well and truly disqualify the means. 

Now can I rinse a concept like 'conservatism' and wring it out and shake it loose of all that it has come to mean and devise some respectable concept of conservatism that possibly could provide value to the world? Of course I can, because I am fairly conservative myself. Just not 'a conservative' as you would imagine it to mean, basically since the French king first had his supporters sit to the right of him.

A conservative stance would be heavily empirical, an insistence on the tried and true. The conservatists should basically be the breaks, the custodians of the efficiency and utility in extant systems. Conservatives should hold in their heart a belief that the onus is on a new technology to prove itself.

Conservatives should be advocates not just for the Lindy effect, but for understanding and proving the Lindy effect. It's kind of crazy that Conservative governments tend to be much more enthusiastic for small government (in lipservice only) and deregulation and free markets, these are radical ideas, albeit they do somewhat hark back to an older tradition of economics that assumes that everything adjusts just fine and nothing can possibli go wrong.

But conservative leadership should also reflect a conservative gambling attitude, a risk averse stance. Conservative should stand logically, for nature conservation - on the simple presence that you don't risk something important (the habitability of planet earth) to gain something unimportant (a slight increase in GDP growth).

The principle of diversity - that diversity builds robust systems more capable of surviving and thriving shockwaves might be an example of a principle you would conservatively try to implement across policy - in terms of immigration, investment, education, environmental protection, competition regulation etc. Diversity as risk management should be at the core of conservative politics, even though 'diversity' and 'conservation' seem a contradiction in terms.

The only practical democratic corporation in the world - Semco, of Brazil although it has a constitutional Monarch in terms of its majority shareholder - Ricardo Semler, faced a particular problem in its legendary restructuring process. They were really successful, and so they faced the temptation to expand and grow, but they also realised a driver of their success was the culture they had designed and incubated, and to bring in too many outsiders too quickly risked killing the culture and threatening the companies success. This would be the scope of a conservative approach to immigration - not nationalism, but a kind of control where migrating families were not left in alienated ghettos. It would be a matter of trying to conserve the benefits of diversity and community, while minimising the adverse impacts of transplanting alienated and traumatised people en masse into a community and then under-supporting them.

The details might be tricky, but you'd replace off-shore processing and detention centers for refugees for example, with billeting homestay like orientation periods. Not forcing people to learn the boring beauracratic and collonial origins of a country like Australia (given that knowing our boring/tragic history is not part of Australian culture anyway) but having an immersive environment to kick start learning 'survival english' and learn the other practical aspects of the existing culture like which side of the street traffic comes from, personal space and inside voice volumes etc. Build relationships with local police that are non-adversarial and reprogram an assumption of corruption and abuse that is often what law enforcement represents in countries of origin.

Do that for 3 months and then allow them to relocate into a city or area with high-density social housing and form communities of their own. Alienation gone, diversity up, new cuisines on the menu.

Take the 'conservative' intuition that a bankrupt Greek state has to pay back it's debts by reducing Government spending (austerity). An actual conservative would notice that if the government sector reduces it's spending the most likely thing will be a collapse in investment, meaning a reduction in income meaning not only worse humanitarian outcomes, but also a shrinking ability to repay the loans.

To truly be conservative you would have to do what history and empiricism have shown - which is namely not to impose austerity budgets, but to increase government spending to stimulate an economy and restructure the debts to maximise the eventual returns to the creditors.

You want a left wing, rocking the boat with radical ideas and testing all the long held beliefs and assumptions, but I see a definite role to be played by an actual respectable conservative political movement that is essentially making not necessarily safe bets but smart ones and learning constantly, incrementally.

If this was how the 'right' was calibrated, in such a world I'd want it to be long odds that the left would ever get in, they would have to be really left, and found a really compelling and innovative proposal for reform to do so. 

Currently, sadly the left looks a little bit too much like the right, and the right looks irrationally like the left, just garnished with xenophobic nationalism and debt deflationary economic policy.

They could earn a reason to continue existing though.

No comments: