Back to D-Squared's justification for negativism.
It's long, and I said that I'd respond to it like you eat an elephant - piece-by-piece. I almost lost the will to live in covering part one, it really is so rare for anyone to attempt to justify the permasulk that dominates to lower levels of public debate these days. It needs to be understood.
In part two, we're offered a vaguely liberal justification. Paraphrasing, 'progressives' always want government to do things, and it often better to just leave well alone. Now, leaving aside the fact that I'd largely agree with this, and have argued as such quite a lot, I'm puzzled as to how this can be used as an argument for criticism of public figures and institutions on any particular issue that doesn't give a credible outline of why and how action can be avoided.
So, if you want politicians to do less, it is worth understanding why they do more than they should. If you can remove those reasons, then maybe you will get a government closer to your tastes.
Or you can, of course, take the easy option and decide that it's just because they are bad people.
A few of the supporting arguments are a bit odd as well. We're told that 'there is no such thing as a general purpose expert'. I agree, as does Mr Bourdieu (passim). Indeed, I've argued that political parties should be encouraged to cultivate specialists, not generalists. I've also argued that the media is packed full of commentators who seem to be able to turn their hands to everything. Much of the negativism in public debate can be traced directly to the process that Bourdieu referred to as 'demagogic simplification' - a process that relies largely upon the collaboration of political generalists.
For instance, I'd agree that it's impossible for any one individual to be expert enough to expect to be taken seriously on a very wide range of subjects. So, if someone were to comment authoritatively on MMR, how relations between Muslims and the wider civil society should be handled, Iraq, Religious Education, security and surveillance, microcredit, statistics, physics, business takeovers, humanitarian intervention, tax loopholes, global trade agreements, regulation of the water industry, IPOs, the NHS, youth employment, or the golden rule.
Here, we are being either being burdened with low-value commentary, or we’re in the presence of a brilliant polymath.
I'd be happy to read a balanced article on any of those subjects from an acknowledged expert, by the way. But I don't know which of these is expertise, which ones are throwaway opinion, and which ones are naughty polemic dressed up as expertise. I’d certainly struggle to find particularly good investigative reporting on any of these subjects, so we have to put up with agenda-driven commentary.
I'd go further: This country would be a better place if columnists in general were decimated (not killed, obviously, but redeployed). Some of them could be given jobs as reporters, but I doubt if most of them would be capable of writing anything without sneaking in some pet thesis or other.
We're also treated to a defence of criticism here ("... easier to spot the flaws in someone else's work"). The thing is, if you can surpass someone’s expertise, you can spot the flaws in their work and then point them out - with precision or with wit, or a combination of the two. And you will be taken seriously if you can demonstrate that you understand what the real wrong reasons why real wrong decisions were taken.
But most of what passes for comment simply has a sulky adolescent quality. So much of it simply stakes out an uncomplicated moral high ground in which the need for consistency goes out of the window. Flicking v-signs at politicians is not criticism. It's corrosive, counterproductive and ultimately stupid. I'd like to see more authoritative criticism in print. As Jean Seaton points out, the current snarky negativism plays into the hands of the most powerful people and institutions. They get protected, journalists get their vanity stroked for them, and everyone else is the loser from this negativism.
At the moment, most reasonable criticism gets lost in a white noise of snotty abuse or it gets spiked because it's not interestingly knockabout. It simply gets ignored most of the time.
Elsewhere, we are told that positive change just happens anyway and 'progressives' (them again) are not factors in that ... er... progress. If this were the case, and D-Squared's views really are an expression of a desire to thwart 'progressives' (and not a post-hoc justification for freebooting abuse in public debate), then we have a contradiction. If I believed what DSq purports to believe, I'd just shut up and let them get on with it. I'd ignore it, leave it all uncommented upon. But that isn't what happens, is it?
You see, there is a positive way to argue for smaller government: Government in which less is done. Government that has fewer powers and where those powers are mediated. And this can be done in a way that communicates that the critic would like to see this change happen enough to try and come up with a means by which it can be achieved some time within the foreseeable. It is quite possible to argue for exactly the kind of governance that D-Sq argues for without really resorting to negativism. Here's proof! Check it daily!
Let's not forget, this is really very simple. Argue civilly. Sensibly and fairly. Try and know what you're talking about and play the ball - not the man. Why is that so complicated?
I'm all out of energy now. There were references to Orwell and Karl Popper in there that need dealing with anon.
And the next section of this negativism manifesto - "why progressives are in general odious" will follow in due course. It may contain conclusive proof that this negativism is simply old fashioned misanthropy dressed up as rational argument. I've already argued that it steps party from cowardice and partly from narcissism.
Misanthropy may round the trinity off nicely.