Saturday, December 16, 2006

No need for counterproposals

Apologies for the light posting lately. While I was busy, I was put firmly in my place in the comments here last week:
"Whenever I hear the word “progressive”, I reach for my revolver. I thought that we had tried “making the world a better place” in the 20th century and a hundred million dead bodies later we were beginning to realise that “letting people get on with their lives” was actually not as bad as it had previously seemed. My way of “making our political culture better” would be to harass and bully the likes of Campbell, Clarke and Prescott out of it, in which capacity I would say blogs are doing their bit."
When I mentioned that this struck me as 'gibberish'...
"Libertarianism isn’t “nihilism”, and the fact that you progressives want to pretend that it is, is *precisely* why I’ll be hanging on to that revolver."
So, Mr Dsquared is a libertarian then? And should we 'progressives' (the opposite of libertarians?) be worried about Mr Dsq's revolver? *insert your own 'firing blanks' joke in here*

Funny. I looked around for a bit here and couldn't find even a squeak of libertarianism anywhere. Plenty of negativism, of course.

I admit, I didn't read every post, but you'd think that a random sample may, somewhere, contain a hint at how a smaller state of one kind or another might work? Or, lowering the bar a tad, you'd think that you'd find something suggesting how things could be done a little better than they are? Still, I expect it's all written down elsewhere.

Have a look - let me know if you find anything. And remember, if you find him just outlining what he's against, that's not going to be good enough.

The thing is, I can see why some particular types of libertarian would like to promote this kind of political climate. Take Guido, for example. One of the reasons that Guido's blog is better than most is that he is quite clear about what he is in favour of. He has ample form as a conservative anarchist - someone who thinks that no situation is so bad that it isn't made worse by some do-gooder getting in the way of the benevolent hands of the market. Guido has a vested interest in poisoning the well of public debate because it's something that he regards as counterproductive in itself.

Leftish libertarians distinguish themselves from their right-wing counterparts by outlining how the minimal state can work. Whenever Chris Dillow, for example, dismisses a politician as some kind of pond-life, at least he has the decency to outline how things could work. Modesty forbids me from linking to examples of other libertarian bloggers who offer suggestions on how power can be decentralised or how the means of production can be controlled by co-ops.

But what about the purely negativist leftish 'libertarians'? The ones who think that it is simply sufficient to "...harass and bully the likes of Campbell, Clarke and Prescott out of [our political culture]"

They certainly aren't adding anything here. We are already at saturation point with smartarses who think that this is what they are paid to do. Bloggers that join them can't really be expected to stand out very well, can they? Especially in the company of about 99% of political cartoonists, our self-styled 'satirists', a large percentage of the paid commentariat along with the more tedious stand-up comics.

So, why bother then? As far as I can see, there are two possible reasons:

  1. One possibility is that it's a form of cowardice. If you spend half your life charging around hoisting others on their own petards, it is a bit risky leaving a few of your own lying around, isn't it? In which case, claiming to be a 'libertarian' is just a way of distancing yourself from everything that has been, or could be tried in the foreseeable.
  2. The other possibility is that it's a half-witted form of narcissism. The vain lure of protest. It's the reason why Che T-shirts used to sell so well (before they became just another image in the gallery of po-mo 'iconography'). The writers seem more interested in mentally photoshopping themselves onto the cover of a Clash LP than in adding to any constructive dialogue.
I wish someone would apply for a grant to do a study on this. What percentage of political writing is designed primarily to cast the author in a fetching light? This isn't just a feature of the pseudo-left either - neo-Nazis are practically addicted to this kind of preening - here's an example I found a while ago.

The thing is, this self-righteous abdication of responsibility is nothing new. I had a comment from someone called Larry Teabag on my own post here:
"In fact I think the suggestion that [a counterproposal to a proposition that one is criticising] is needed is at best idiotic, and at worst a disingenuous debating-tactic to allay awkward criticism."
A point that is so obvious, I think you will agree, that it doesn't need an case being made to support it. Which is why this point is only ever really asserted (instead of being argued).

I've heard this from journalists as well - in particular, when Pilger is being defended: Again, it's always a case that doesn't ever get elaborated upon. The argument that paid journalists (not just unpaid bloggers) are not under any obligation to provide counter-proposals whenever they criticise a policy or the actions of any entity that seeks to address a problem.

And it's an argument that I'd agree with - halfway. If the journalist concerned is simply a reporter, then maybe they are under no obligation to do so. Their role is to report, and perhaps to interpret - perhaps in the way that a (non-expert) witness is invited to in a courtroom. But the moment that a journalist starts to editorialise, they should either....
  • Honour an obligation to outline a more suitable and workable solution, or
  • Brand themselves forever as a negativist fuckwit of the highest order
So, reader. Which side are you on? Tough one, innit?


Ivan said...

Are you as one with Martin Kettle in today's Guardian, eh?,,1973426,00.html

It is smug and dishonest to expect politicians to inhabit a different moral universe to the imperfect one the rest of us live in.

This is not to maunder about how difficult everything is. It is to insist that we must not oversimplify. For the past five years, far too much of the British political conversation - disproportionately dominated, as ever, by the educated middle class of both right and left - has been reduced to an assumption of contempt and superiority, above all towards Blair himself, but also towards the Labour government and to politics in general. This is both wrong and dangerous. Our politics has never been as sleazy as we pretend, either in the Major years or now.

SIAW said...

Don't know what your policy on swearing in comments is, but that was fucking magnificent. Someone had to say it, and you just did, clearly and forthrightly. So - even though it won't make any impact on the people it's aimed at, such is their incapacity to take in criticism, let alone deal with it honestly - thanks anyway. Oh, and Merry Christmas and all that.

Anonymous said...
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Paulie said...

Firstly, SIAW - swear away.


Martin Kettle certainly distinguishes himself from most of his fuckwit profession.

See here for other examples:

And thirdly, anyone advise? Should I delete the fuckwit troll, or leave the comment to argue against itself.


Will said...

Delete the fucker!

It really makes them feel pain!

(Honest - I know this from experience).

Larry said...

You're misquoting me.

I didn't say: "In fact I think the suggestion that [a counterproposal to a proposition that one is criticising] is needed is at best idiotic..."

I did say: "In fact I think the suggestion that [a counterproposal to a the invasion of Iraq, or the abolition of parliament] is needed is at best idiotic..."

Some propositions require counterproposals, others don't - it depends to what extent doing nothing is an option. In both my examples, doing nothing was the best available option, hence no counterproposal is needed, other than "don't".

FlyingRodent said...

Paulie, that answer I promised you is going to appear in your email inbox before it does anywhere else, so I'd appreciate it if you'd send an email to the obvious address so I can contact you.