The Threat From Progressives
Let me begin by pointing out that many people would call me a progressive — a label I reject because I reject all labels. Ms. Warren was my preferred Democratic candidate and I contributed more money to her campaign than I regularly spend on books — that’s saying something.
Medicare for All has been on my list of political desiderata since the passage of Obamacare. I would like to see income tax on earned income completely eliminated in place of an income tax on unearned income — that goes much further than Mr. Sanders’ proposals. I would like to see our military spending cut in half and the savings devoted to a massive expansion of our education programs to reduce overall student:teacher ratios to less than 10:1.
So don’t get the idea that I’m some sort of conservative or even a traditional moderate. In some ways, I’m further left than many progressives. Yet I deem progressives in this country to be almost as great a threat to the country as the Trumpsters.
That must seem crazy: progressives aren’t ignorant morons like so many Trumpsters. Indeed, most are well-educated, reasonably well-informed, and those who comment here on Medium are all above average in intelligence. But, like the hero in Greek tragedy, they suffer from fatal flaws that dooms them to failure.
The first fatal flaw is sophomorism: the overweening confidence that comes from a little knowledge. They foolishly reject one of my most cherished aphorisms:
It’s ALWAYS more complicated than you think.
On the contrary, many progressives believe that matters are clear and simple, and the solutions obvious to any decent human being. Let this be a warning to the reader: any time that the solution to a social problem appears to be clear and simple, you are stomping on intellectual thin ice and will shortly be dropped into freezing water.
The shallowness of progressive thinking is most apparent in their hand-waving when it comes to economics. The world is more complicated than you think, but economics is even more complicated than that! It is said that economists have three hands: “On the one hand, X, but on the other hand,Y, but then, there’s also Z”. In truth, most economists need as many hands as a Hindu deity.
I can boast that I earned a master of science degree in physics, but that boast requires the confession that, after years of study, I still don’t truly grasp economics. Physics is simple: cause leads to effect. But in economics, anticipation is often more important that cause. For example, just now many store shelves are empty of toilet paper. Why? There’s no clear cause. It’s not as if production of toilet paper suddenly plummeted. Nor can we declare that consumption of toilet paper suddenly surged (the image of which boggles the mind). No, there was no rational economic cause for this observed effect. It was anticipation that drove the frantic hoarding of toilet paper: a few people decided that other people would hoard toilet paper, so they decided to hoard first, which in turn led other people to hoard. The herd hoarded to unheard-of extremes, and now Americans are sitting on mountains of toilet paper.
Economics is like a rock-scissors-paper game played ten levels deep; it’s a Gordian Knot, a can of worms, a sentence by Donald Trump. Figuring out the economic ramifications of any policy requires a deep understanding of economics and a lot of facts. Hence, when Mr. Sanders or Ms. Warren propose to confiscate the wealth of the very rich, I can only shake my head in dismay. It’s just not that simple.
Another fatal flaw among progressives is their narrow-minded insistence on believing only what the tribe believes. This is, of course, a normal human tendency; Trumpsters are even worse in this regard. Still, progressives stubbornly cling their own tribal superstitions in defiance of all rational analysis. I offer two examples:
Demonization of corporations
Corporations are one component of our economy; they’re parts of a huge machine that includes ATMs, credit cards, and social security forms. They are some of the biggest gears in the economic machine. That doesn’t make them good, nor does it make them evil; they are just parts of a machine. I suppose that you could liken them to sharks: they’ll eat you remorselessly if you give them the chance. But sharks aren’t evil; they’re just sharks. In fact, they’re an important component of the marine ecosystem. In the same fashion, corporations are an important component of our economy. Yet the entirety of progressive policy towards corporations may fairly be characterized as “GET ‘EM!”
Similar superstitions apply to natural gas fracking and nuclear power, two important ameliorative technologies on our way to a sustainable energy economy. Meanwhile, we keep burning coal, far and away the filthiest source of energy. We should have replaced all our coal plants with nuclear plants thirty years ago, but instead we have burned nearly 3 billion short tons of coal, killing about 400,000 Americans. Did you know that, after 40 years, we have established that the infamous Three Mile Island accident did almost no damage to public health?
We absolutely, positively MUST make big changes to address climate change, but progressives aren’t doing anything helpful in this regard.
This is my strongest objection to progressivism. While its overall objectives are noble, its approach towards those objectives is crazed. I would characterize the modern progressive as Thomas Jefferson pumped up on mega-doses of caffein and cocaine. They want to get there NOW, and they don’t want to be delayed by trivial questions of pragmatism and efficacy. This has led a subset of the progressive movement to a level of nastiness I find appalling. Although I have criticized conservative essays with as much vigor as progressive essays, I have been subjected to more verbal abuse from the progressives than the conservatives.
Far and away the most dangerous expression of progressive emotionalism is the oft-made threat of sitting out the election if Mr. Sanders does not win the nomination. Some of these people are so far gone that they cannot perceive any difference between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump! You cannot engage such people in anything approximating a rational discussion; they rave passionately about how evil the system is and refuse to contemplate anything so mundane as a fact. While they occupy a lot of space here on Medium, I doubt that they represent anything more than the wildest extremes of progressivism.
There must always be a place in our democracy for raving fanatics; perhaps karma requires that the raving Trump fanatics be balanced by their mirror-image raving progressive fanatics. But I hope that most people have the sense to realize that these people live in Cloud-Cuckoo Land.
I won’t be responding to comments on this essay; I won’t even bother reading them, as I already know their contents: lots of angry personal assaults, accusations against my cognitive and educational capacities, and attempts to demonstrate my moral depravity. Buried among the fetid mass of childish attacks, there will probably be a few gems of substantive rebuttal, but I am not willing to delve through all the shit for such paltry rewards.
So have at it, progressives. Let loose your fusillade of feculent fury. I doubt that any of you will produce any genuine ripostes to the substance of this essay, but it will certainly make you feel better — which is all that you really want, after all.