Decoding Decoding The Gurus, Part Two

Part one.

This decoding is a hard job because the podcast Decoding the Gurus (DTG) by academics Matt Browne and Chris Kavanagh is objectively impressive. Matt and Chris, however, seem unaware that they have their own subjective partisan left-wing hero system, a product of contingent circumstances, and it is this subjective hero system that drives them to call out racism, bigotry, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia and the like.

As philosopher Rony Guldmann writes in his work in progress Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression: On the Nature and Origins of Conservaphobia:

* Being inflected by the buffered identity, the Enlightenment’s particular brand of empiricism isn’t culturally neutral, and was rather crafted in reflection of a hero-system. Its function is to uphold a set of social meanings that will ratify the ethos of disengaged self-control and self-reflexivity as essential human nature, as the “true self” that lies dormant or suppressed among the unwashed masses. The light with which Becker’s “emancipated ones” believed the world was freshly flooded is none other than this, none other than the buffered identity. This identity is not an actual datum of experience, but rather the silent, unquestioned backdrop against which experience, including the meaning of harm, is now conceptualized, transforming whatever falls outside it into the object of scorn and incredulity.

* We know that our evolved capacity for disgust can become culturally misdirected with the consequence that homosexuality becomes viewed with a visceral repugnance that would be more appropriate for telltale signs of bacterial infection. And I am arguing that the intellectualism of the liberal elites may be vulnerable to a similar kind of cultural misdirection. Just like disgust, our evolved “need for cognition” or “need for accuracy” as embedded in the angular cingulated cortex may have been culturally harnessed to imperatives that provide the desired neurological stimuli at the cost of intellectual substance and honesty. Indeed, Mooney acknowledges that liberals find it “hard, psychologically” to buck what the scientists say. This inhibition is not the product of individual reflection, but rather a reflexive, socially inculcated responsiveness to “the rhetoric and airs of an intellectual,” to the language, style, and demeanor of the New Class, which symbolically articulate the original spiritual vision of the buffered distance.

* [T]he practitioners of science may understand themselves as “motivated fully by epistemic considerations,” but a “big part of the motivation resides in the prestige and admiration surrounding the [scientific] stance itself, with the sense of freedom, power, control, invulnerability, dignity, which it radiates.” And it is precisely this stance—the ethos of disengaged self-control and self-reflexivity—that fuels liberals’ dismissive indignation toward conservative claims of cultural oppression.

* In its broadest sense, Enlightenment means respect for facts. And it is a fact that our embodied reason is “shaped by our bodies and brains and interactions in the real world,” and that our conscious thinking is “shaped by the vast and invisible realm of neural circuitry not accessible to consciousness.” Being part of the “permanent furniture of our brains,” narrative and metaphor cannot be erased and replaced by “cold, hard reason.”

So how do you succeed in academia? You play the game according to its rules. This will usually do more for your success than ground-breaking scholarship.

As philosopher Rony Guldmann notes: “Having anointed themselves the guardians of reason and enlightenment, liberals enjoy the plausible deniability to implement a sectarian agenda under the cover of universalistic virtue, like objectivity, inclusivity, benevolence, and so forth. But conservatives charge that this aura of superior virtue is only a sophisticated social illusion, the dishonest secular façade for moralistic or quasi-religious impulses, a hidden will to power that seeks only to uphold one parochial social identity at the expense of its rivals.”

Getting dobbed on to your dean would have to be near the top of the concerns for academics. Matt Browne and Chris Kavanagh admitted as much on a Patreon video about a year ago (I played this discussion on one of my videos circa late December of 2022, which one?). So to have a nice life, academics, along with the rest of us, tend to shy away from topics that could get us in hot water (unless you have a narcissism that must receive attention at all costs).

One thing I’ve learned from interviewing thousands of people is that everybody is vulnerable. In polished presentations, people often look strong, but up close, you see their weak points. Everybody is accountable to someone. Everybody can get in trouble for something they say.

Much of what is considered expertise by the media and the academy is an expertise at playing the game of expertise. Much of education is learning to play the game of education.

I got to break many stories (such as an HIV outbreak in porn and LA’s first latino mayor was getting divorced after an affair) as a blogger because regular journalists were not incentivized to report them.

Establishment journalist Amy Klein wrote about me in the New York Times Sep. 5, 2008:

Except that professionally he was causing me problems. He was always hounding our newspaper to cover scandals in the Jewish community. As a blogger he had “relaxed” standards as to sources, so people with axes to grind came to him and voilà! he would give them a forum, and then I had to write a news story about it.

It wasn’t my “relaxed” standards as to sources that gave my stories punch. Rather, it was that they conveyed truths that were impossible to ignore, even by those such as Amy Klein who wanted to ignore them. And when the Jewish Journal wrote about me, they were happy to use numerous anonymous sources to attack me.

Professionals hate non-professionals treading on their turf (all professions strive to increase their power and prestige and income at the expense of the majority), and journalists today regard themselves as professionals.

Tony Castro wrote in the Los Angeles Daily News June 6, 2007:

From the fury and intensity with which Luke Ford is reviled in the American porn industry, you would think he’s with the FBI or a rabid evangelist crusading against any incursion on family values.

Ford, though, is a lowly author who over the past 10 years has made a career of writing and blogging on pornography – and who, on any day, wields an extraordinary influence over the industry unmatched by any news organization.

“I’m not a crusader against the industry,” says Ford, 40, who blogs at after making a name for himself at “But there is very little filter between me and my readers. There is no glorification or celebration of the industry, just fact-based reporting on issues and stories that the industry would just as soon not have made public.”

Over the years, Ford has broken the stories of four porn actresses and one porn actor who tested positive for HIV, a health scare that temporarily shut down film production in the industry and led to some voluntary safeguards and monthly HIV testing.

“Luke Ford (was) way out front with the HIV porn story,” acknowledged former New York Times business writer Nick Ravo.

There have been other stories that Ford has been “way out front” with as well: the role of the Mafia in pornography up until the late 1990s, especially in distribution, and Internet credit-card scams of some pornography firms.

…Posting porn stars’ real names, writing about the role of the mob and revealing which actors had had cosmetic surgery, the site became an immediate, controversial sensation in the industry.

“The X-rated industry prefers to be a legendary milieu rather than a fact-oriented milieu,” says Bill “The Bear” Margold…

Former Times reporter Ravo agrees.

“He was way ahead of the curve in critiquing, in his own comic way, the pornography industry, and – Internet historians of the future should note this – he was one of the first bloggers in any field. He was doing it before they even called it blogging. He doesn’t get credit for that.”

…“For Luke, there are no sacred cows,” Margold said. “He takes no prisoners.”

Most professionals are more interested in the approval of their peers than in pursuing truth. You can’t expect people to understand something if their income, happiness and social status depends upon not understanding some obvious truth, such as group differences.

Here is point three on the Gurometer composed by DTG:

3. Anti-establishment(arianism)
It is necessary that the orthodoxy, the establishment, the mainstream media, and the expert-consensus are always wrong, or at least blinkered and limited, and are generally incapable of grappling with the real issues. In the rare occasions when they are right, they are described by the gurus as being right for reasons other than they think. Kavanagh has coined the term ‘science-hipsterism’ which captures this tendency quite nicely. A guru can seldom agree with the establishment, because it is crucial to their appeal that they are offering unique insight – a fresh hot take that is not available elsewhere, and may be repressed or taboo. The guru’s popularity will obviously benefit, if this iconoclastic view happens to coincide with their prejudices or intuitions of their lay-followers. Thus, gurus are naturally drawn to topics where there is a split between the expert consensus and public opinion (e.g. climate change, GMOs, vaccinations, lockdowns). After all, if a guru is merely agreeing with an expert consensus on a topic such as COVID, then there is less reason to listen to the guru rather than the relevant experts. Thus, the guru is highly motivated to undertake epistemic sabotage; to disparage authoritative and institutional sources of knowledge. There is a tradeoff where the more the guru’s followers distrust standard sources of knowledge, such as that emanating from universities, the greater the perceived value that the guru provides. This tendency is at odds with the guru’s natural tendency towards self-aggrandisement, which may involve emphasising or inflating their (even limited) academic intellectual recognition, which results in some amusing contradictions. Gurus will also strategically utilise ambiguity and uncertainty within their criticisms, providing themselves with the means to walk back claims that prove wrong or attract criticism or to enable them to highlight disclaimers. This provides them both with plausible deniability and the superficial appearance of having nuance & humility. This dynamic of sabotaging other sources of wisdom is also evident in their fractious relationships with other gurus, with whom they may often have alliances of convenience, but are also strongly incentivised to compete with.

When almost all of our institutions are dominated by the left, it makes sense for non-leftists to have a kneejerk suspicion of the establishment. When the left controls the cultural means of production, discussion is often a sham. Stephen Turner noted in 1989: “For Hobbes and Schmitt, one might say, discussion is always an illusion or an instrument of authority, not its basis.”

When the left decides the “real issues” and the “real experts,” it makes sense for those not of the left to rebel against these proclamations.

As Stephen Turner wrote in 2003:

The Politics Of The Word And The Politics Of The Eye

* A worldview is erected on a base of interest. The interests, however, are not material interests, but are ‘deeper, broader, and more subtle. People see in the abortion issue a simultaneously pragmatic, symbolic, and emotional representation of states of social reality – states that they find reassuring or threatening’ (Luker, 1984: 7). Different people find different things reassuring or threatening, and the interests in this dispute are essentially in seeing their lives valued. Thus people with different kinds of lives are differentially threatened or reassured by different beliefs about the status of embryos. Their interest is in a belief that validates them, reassures them about the kinds of lives they have chosen…”

* All politics, all worldviews, have an emotional, solidaristic core. The emotional core is often, in a sense of injury, a sense of justice denied, a sense of right, an agonistic sense. Rudolph von Ihering taught this lesson many years ago in his greatly influential 19th century work The Struggle for Law (1915). The motive force for the evolution of law was in the recognition of injury and the consequent demand for rights to protect against the injury. This is a model with limitations, but fundamentally useful, in that the process of formulating demands of recognition begins at an inchoate and emotionally chaotic level in which contradictions, such as contradictions between explicit ruling doctrine and felt realities, are most strongly felt. Obviously the pinch of these contradictions happens at a particular point, most strongly in the experiences of a particular marginalized group whose response to the order may well be largely visceral and unintellectualized.

Gradually these hurts acquire ideologists. The technology of the word is spread by them to others whose sympathies could be engaged. Solidarity, beyond the solidarity of the face-to-face world, was closely bound up with ideology, or with shared identities that depended on print. It is no accident that modern nationalism followed print and is characteristically associated with national literatures. There is no sharp line between the literary and visual production of sympathy and solidarity. The production of sympathy itself is often a matter of the creation of intermediate images, images or ideas that do something to transcend the gap between those with whom we have face-to-face and intimate relations and those we do not.

Its very effectiveness works against it as a political weapon, simply because the demands that it places on our sympathies are so varied, unrelenting, and contradictory. Yet this I think is the key to the present state of the emotional core of politics. What is difficult to grasp is the existential situation of functioning in a world in which constant and contradictory demands are placed on one’s sympathy. But one can identify some features of this situation. The first is that the person subjected to these varied solidaristic appeals becomes a consumer rather than a simple ‘sharer’ of worldviews.

How do you get funding to carry out science? Might the way funding science works, such as by peer consensus, distort truth?

Stephen Turner wrote in 2020:

* The Changing Temptations Of Science

* Temptations arise from the organizational realities of modern science, particularly the need to fund a lab. This need requires a relation with funders, involving some sort of alignment between the aims of the researcher and those of the funder. In the face of intense competition, the work of alignment falls on the recipient to a greater extent than it does the funder. And this means that autonomy is limited to what can be achieved within these relations.

Many temptations arise within these relations, or in connection with them: the temptation to claim impact, to overpromise, to overstate the policy relevance of findings, to sacrifice the pursuit of intellectually promising lines of work to those that can be funded, to produce work that is marketable to funders but scientifically trivial, to leave the tasks of voicing and substantiating skepticism to others, to neglect the tasks of intellectual integration and reflection that don’t have “impact,” and to do just enough to meet the demands and not dig deeper or in directions other than what the funding regime requires.

The upshot is this: the norms relevant to these temptations have not developed sufficiently for scientists to be able to insist that they are effectively governing themselves. In the new system, bias became rewarded. Findings that confirm what a sponsor wants confirmed lead to more funding. And if many people are trying to confirm a result, and the research is statistical, they are highly likely to find what they are looking for…

* Contemporary science is plagued with crowd-following, where researchers jump onto an approach or topic because that is a good strategy for getting funded. University research offices facilitate this, and metrics encourage it.

* If the structures of support for science—in the private sector, in public private university partnerships, and in the regulatory science realm—provide incentives that overwhelm the traditional social controls of science, the only backstop is the system of social controls beyond science, through the marketplace, investigative journalism, the canon of legal and patent law, or the regulatory apparatus pertaining to securities law and fraud.

Not surprisingly, then, social controls from outside science are beginning to kick in. The Theranos scandal, involving a start-up company pitching a supposedly revolutionary blood-testing technology, was uncovered not by the scientific community, or even the Food and Drug Administration, but by the investment community and a crusading business journalist. The relationships between a leading Harvard chemist and Chinese research institutions was not uncovered by Harvard but by the FBI. The poor quality of preclinical cancer science was not exposed through peer review but by testing done in pharmaceutical corporations. “Compliance” with institutions outside science begins to replace internal constraint.

DTG writes: “[O]ur specific focus tends to be the subset of gurus who make liberal use of ‘pseudo profound bullshit’ referring to speech that is persuasive and creates the appearance of profundity with little regard for truth or reference to relevant expertise.”

When those who determine and award expertise are on the left, does it not make sense for those not on the left to harbor suspicion about this expertise?

Who decides who gets tenure at a university? Dominantly, it is leftists. Stephen Turner wrote in 2019:

Beyond The Academic Ethic

* The point of professions is to exclude and gain benefits from excluding. And the transition to professionalisation was marked by a kind of punitiveness towards not only amateurs but also deviants, people who failed to get with the new programme and so forth.

* In the older system, it was taken for granted that appointments were culturally coded, and that merit was secondary.

* The project of professionalisation in the humanities and social sciences failed, and the analogous project in the sciences succeeded. In both cases the effects on traditional academic values were devastating.

* the basic fact of intellectual life is that it does not pay for itself. All knowledge regimes, of which professionalism is only one, need for there to be a source of income and support that derives from something other than the intellectual work itself. The academic regime in science derives this support from grants and teaching. In the humanities and social sciences it derives from teaching, and for a few highly exceptional people – public celebrities – from lecture fees and writing for the public, or writing widely used textbooks. Professionalisation was a way of marketing teaching in which the students did not become merely learned, but mini-professionals in their field.

* Academic life is selective, and the grounds for advancement at each stage are not clear, except for degree requirements, and depending on the system and the point in history, many are called who are not chosen.
* The market rewarded a certain kind of cleverness and the peer-review system rewarded conformity. The winners were, accordingly, clever and conformist, though they would deny this, and point to their minor technical achievements as evidence of their innovative thinking. Nor could they be challenged within the system, which was increasingly unequal. The system of disciplinary enforcement that had been imposed as a personal mission by the generation of the mid-twentieth century now was a machine that simply perpetuated itself – an enforcement mechanism that did its enforcing impersonally and therefore apparently objectively and without authoritarianism.

* Education became, tacitly, education to succeed in the system. Peer-review became predictable as an affirmation of the hierarchy. Merit was no longer a matter of debate, but a matter of counting. What counted varied, but the importance of the top journals remained and was confirmed by such things as impact factors.

* The institutional order has also changed, to one driven almost entirely by metricised standards of quality, together with calculated administrative responses to public issues.

Stephen Turner wrote in 2021:

The Naked State: What the Breakdown of Normality Reveals

What is normal for experts in a pandemic? Pandemics and epidemics are relatively frequent occurrences, and there are normal procedures for dealing with them…

What worked in this earlier case was a system in which a key team integrated the ideas of a large number of contributors – there were over 200 within agency comments on a preliminary report (Bennington 2014: 186) – in the agency itself to address as many aspects of the situation as could be contained in a reasonably short and clear set of messages. This was an act of social construction: the team made up the message out of disparate material, selecting for relevance and importance, with an eye to influencing behavior in order to reduce the impact of the disease. This was not “science” in the raw sense – research results fresh from the lab or field, or the product of a long process of sorting out these results through peer-review and scientific competition – but a carefully refined consensus message produced through bureaucratic methods…

To speak of these public statements as “the science” is thus wildly inaccurate. They are boundary objects, carefully constructed for public consumption, but also to synthesize a great deal of knowledge, judgment, guesswork, and uncertainties that are hard to estimate. And they are purposive: they are written to change behavior, and also to protect the agency in the event of failure. Preserving trust is an important value. Disagreement is aired privately, and dealt with; bureaucratic infighting is always in the background, and some voices get a larger say than others. Nevertheless, the process is, in normal circumstances, effective at crowding out other expert voices, or accommodating them. So there is not, if the system works, significant expert dissent.

A court case after the Katrina disaster gives some indication of the power of the state to coerce consensus. An obscure engineering researcher at Louisiana State University criticized the Army Corps of Engineers, which was responsible for the levee that failed and flooded much of the city of New Orleans, for its errors. The university, apparently encouraged by its own professors, had the researcher fired. The case went to court and eventually was settled without a trial with a payment to the researcher.³ The issue, however, was important: it was believed that the criticisms would affect the relationship between the university and the federal government, on which it depended for research grants, even though the Army Corps was not itself a source of funds. The situation with the CDC is precisely parallel. The main source of funds in the area of infectious disease was the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious disease (NIAID) which received $5.89 billion in the 2020 budget. The total NIH budget is over $40 billion. These funds are a matter of scientific life or death for researchers in this area.

From the Gurometer:

A cult will generally have more than a few bones to pick with supposedly nefarious forces in the outside world. Likewise, fascist organisations will derive much energy from narratives of grievance focused on specific out-groups. Feelings of frustration and oppression, being excluded and disregarded, and deprived of one’s manifest rights and recognitions, represent a potent set of negative emotions. Gurus too, will sometimes rely on narratives of grievance pertaining to themselves and their potential followers in order to drive engagement. After all, a worldview in which all is essentially fair and just is not one that will encourage people to search for alternative ways in which to view the world.

Gurus sometimes also engage in personal grievance narratives. These are especially convenient, in that they not only encourage emotional connection and sympathy for the guru, but they provide a convenient explanation for why someone of their unique talents has not been well-supported or given the recognition they deserve by the outside world. They also relate to conspiratorial ideation, in explaining why the special ideas and perspectives shared with followers have not been recognised and accepted by the outside world. It is because their ideas have been suppressed by malevolent and powerful actors for selfish reasons.

Every form of in-group identity including every form of nationalism, inculcate victimization. The stronger you believe in Islam, Christianity or Judaism, the stronger you believe that the outside world is a nefarious place. The stronger your in-group identity, the more likely you are to see the negative in out-groups.

I don’t know how one would enjoy a strong in-group identity without taking on culty vibes. All ties bind and blind, notes Jonathan Haidt.

Decoding the Gurus is inherently suspicious of strong in-group identity but life for most people is better off with a strong in-group identity. The Gurometer says: “a high score on the gurometer could be regarded as identifying ‘bad’, potentially exploitative gurus who produce ersatz wisdom: a corrupt epistemics that creates the appearance of useful knowledge, but has none of the substance.”

You know who can’t be exploited? Someone who doesn’t love, someone who lacks ties and in-group loyalties. To love is to be vulnerable. Most people don’t want to live without love.

The Gurometer says:

A heightened sense of how the world is not right, and ought to be fixed, and that they are the persons to do it, is a common feature. Unfortunately, the broader public fails to recognise their genius and heed their advice, and thus the world lurches from calamity to calamity. Combining these features, we will often see that a guru positions themselves as something of a Cassandra – seeing the future and warning of possible calamities, that could be avoided if only they were heeded. The followers also gain a positive role for themselves, in supporting, defending, and promoting the guru, they can help make the world a better place.

Those out of power are more likely to believe that the world is not right. Given that most American institutions are dominated by the left, why would non-leftists be at ease with the current power structure?

The Gurometer says: “[Gurus] are greatly attracted to claiming that they have developed game-changing and paradigm-shifting intellectual products.”

Given that the left largely controls the intellectual means of production, it is healthy for non-leftists to strive to create their own game-changing and paradigm-shifting intellectual products.

DTG want to engage on the basis of epistemics — how do we know what we know? And it turns out that what we know is what the institutional left tells us we know.

Ernest Becker wrote in his 1973 classic The Denial of Death:

* Society itself is a codified hero system, which means that society everywhere is a living myth of the significance of human life, a defiant creation of meaning.

* When we appreciate how natural it is for man to strive to be a hero, how deeply it goes in his evolutionary and organismic constitution, how openly he shows it as a child, then it is all the more curious how ignorant most of us are, consciously, of what we really want and need. In our culture anyway, especially in modern times, the heroic seems too big for us, or we too small for it.

We disguise our struggle by piling up figures in a bank book to reflect privately our sense of heroic worth. Or by having only a little better home in the neighborhood, a bigger car, brighter children. But underneath throbs the ache of cosmic specialness, no matter how we mask it in concerns of smaller scope. Occasionally someone admits that he takes his heroism seriously, which gives most of us a chill… We may shudder at the crassness of earthly heroism, of both Caesar and his imitators, but the fault is not theirs, it is in the way society sets up its hero system and in the people it allows to fill its roles. The urge to heroism is natural, and to admit it honest. For everyone to admit it would probably release such pent-up force as to be devastating to societies as they now are.

* The fact is that this is what society is and always has been: a symbolic action system, a structure of statuses and roles, customs and rules for behavior, designed to serve as a vehicle for earthly heroism. Each script is somewhat unique, each culture has a different hero system. What the anthropologists call “cultural relativity” is thus really the relativity of hero-systems the world over. But each cultural system is a dramatization of earthly heroics; each system cuts out roles for performances of various degrees of heroism: from the “high” heroism of a Churchill, a Mao, or a Buddha, to the “low” heroism of the coal miner, the peasant, the simple priest; the plain, everyday, earthy heroism wrought by gnarled working hands guiding a family through hunger and disease.

It doesn’t matter whether the cultural hero-system is frankly magical, religious, and primitive or secular, scientific, and civilized. It is still a mythical hero-system in which people serve in order to earn a feeling of primary value, of cosmic specialness, of ultimate usefulness to creation, of unshakable meaning. They earn this feeling by carving out a place in nature, by building an edifice that reflects human value: a temple, a cathedral, a totem pole, a skyscraper, a family that spans three generations. The hope and belief is that the things that man creates in society are of lasting worth and meaning, that they outlive or outshine death and decay, that man and his products count.

* The minority groups in present-day industrial society who shout for freedom and human dignity are really clumsily asking that they be given a sense of primary heroism of which they have been cheated historically… But the truth about the need for heroism is not easy for anyone to admit, even the very ones who want to have their claims recognized. There’s the rub… To become conscious of what one is doing to earn his feeling of heroism is the main self-analytic problem of life.

* The social hero-system into which we are born marks out paths for our heroism, paths to which we conform, to which we shape ourselves so that we can please others, become what they expect us to be. And instead of working our inner secret we gradually cover it over and forget it, while we become purely external men, playing successfully the standardized hero-game into which we happen to fall by accident, by family connection, by reflex patriotism, or by the simple need to eat and the urge to procreate.

* The whole thing boils down to this paradox: if you are going to be a hero then you must give a gift. If you are the average man you give your heroic gift to the society in which you live, and you give the gift that society specifies in advance. If you are an artist you fashion a peculiarly personal gift, the justification of your own heroic identity, which means that it is always aimed at least partly over the heads of your fellow men… To renounce the world and oneself, to lay the meaning of it to the powers of creation, is the hardest thing for man to achieve — and so it is fitting that this task should fall to the strongest personality type.

* Man breaks through the bounds of merely cultural heroism; he destroys the character lie that had him perform as a hero in the everyday social scheme of things; and by doing so he opens himself up to infinity, to the possibility of cosmic heroism, to the very service of God. His life thereby acquires ultimate value in place of merely social and cultural, historical value. He links his secret inner self, his authentic talent, his deepest feelings of uniqueness, his inner yearning for absolute significance, to the very ground of creation. Out of the ruins of the broken cultural self there remains the mystery of the private, invisible, inner self which yearned for ultimate significance, for cosmic heroism. This invisible mystery at the heart of every creature now attains cosmic significance by affirming its connection with the invisible mystery at the heart of creation. This is the meaning of faith… The truly open person, the one who has shed his character armor, the vital lie of his cultural conditioning… is absolutely alone and trembling on the brink of oblivion — which is at the same time the brink of infinity.

Philosopher Rony Guldmann writes in his work in progress Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression: On the Nature and Origins of Conservaphobia:

* The liberal elites believe they stand above a retrograde conservatism because they believe their Enlightenment ideals liberate them from the various “hero-systems” to which conservatives remain beholden. Hero-systems are social teleologies, systems of collective meaning-production, and liberals see conservatives as compromised by an atavistic attraction to these relics of a benighted pre-modernity. However, the conservative suspicion is that liberalism is a hero-system in disguise, a hero-system that stays concealed behind a secular façade of enlightenment, pragmatism, and utilitarianism. Liberals may wish to see themselves as promoting ordinary human fulfillment shorn of any higher metaphysical aspirations, but conservatives perceive that liberalism is unbeknownst to itself motivated by a religious impulse and spiritual ideal that plays itself out through the medium of ostensibly secular goals. Liberalism is a hero-system that disguises itself as the transcendence of all hero-systems.

* Liberals…Enlightenment-centric conception of history casts their liberalism as what naturally ensues from discarding the illusions and confining horizons of a benighted teleological past, of which conservatism is the regrettable contemporary residue.

* Liberals understand modernity as separated from pre-modernity by differential enlightenment, but the two can also be viewed as separated by differential “civilization.” Seen in this light, pre-modern Europeans were defined, not only by their ignorance and superstition, but just as crucially by a personality structure much more given to the merely “animal” in human nature, to a kind of spontaneity and affective oscillation that would be considered abnormal today, a personality capable of experiencing the sacred and being invaded by spirit forces. Pre-moderns were not only ignorant but unruly, lacking the panoply of inhibitions now associated with normal adulthood and without our clear sense of the boundaries between inner and outer and between mind and body. Our enlightened modernity first developed, not because science successfully refuted theology, but because a new coalition of religious and secular elites collaborated to impose new disciplines and repressions on human nature in an attempt to uproot this pre-modern default consciousness and train the productive, sober-minded populace presupposed by a modern social order.

These disciplines and repressions have been culturally exalted as the achievement of a historically unprecedented self-possession, self-control, and self-transparency, the liberation of essential human faculties from the teleological illusions in which a benighted past once shackled them. But this self-congratulatory Enlightenment narrative conceals a darker and more complicated story that reveals molding and coercion where liberalism sees only liberation and “awareness.” What liberalism upholds as autonomous self-possession is in fact the internalization of the new restraints and inhibitions of the disciplinary society.

* Liberals cannot see the broader context of their idealism because their antiquated Enlightenment view of reason as predominantly conscious and disembodied leaves them insensible to this layer of human experience, and so overconfident of their ability to recognize oppression and inequality.

* Orthodoxy, says Hunter, involves a commitment on the part of adherents to an external, definable, and transcendent authority, a “consistent, unchangeable measure of value, purpose, goodness, and identity” which presupposes “a dynamic reality that is independent of, prior to, and more powerful than human experience.” By contrast, cultural progressivism defines moral authority in primarily “this-worldly” terms that synthesize the “spirit of rationalism and subjectivism” that defines the modern age.116 The first component of this synthesis is the tradition of “Enlightenment naturalism,” which grounds moral legitimacy in empirical evidence about the human condition. The second is the “tradition of Enlightenment subjectivism,” now called “liberal or expressive individualism,” according to which our psychological nature enjoys a crucial moral significance that a legitimate social order must acknowledge.

* In assigning some deep meaning to human anatomy, conservatives are indulging in pre-modern temptation, once more surrendering to teleological libertinism, anthropocentrically attributing to sexual anatomy a significance it does not truly have. Liberals will characterize the prejudice of conservatives as a failure of “enlightenment,” the symptom of irrational animus. But what is called “prejudice” is more primordially a failure to transcend ordinary embodied perception toward a higher state of spiritual purity and freedom, a failure to adopt the sort of emotional asceticism that would enable this transcendence.

* Historian Rick Perlstein argues: “Liberalism is rooted in this notion of the Enlightenment, the idea that we can use our reason, and we can use empiricism, and we can sort out facts, and using something like the scientific method—although history is not like nuclear physics—to arrive at consensus views of the truth that have a much more solid standing, epistemologically, than what the right wing view of the truth is: which is much more mythic, which is much more based on tribal identification, which is much more based on intuition and tradition. And there’s always been history writing in that mode too. But within the academy, and within the canons of expertise, and within the canons of professionalism, that kind of history has been superseded by a much more empirical, Enlightenment-based history.”

* Robert Nisbet: “The principal truth to be drawn from Galileo’s story is less dramatic than the myth, but far more in accord with the emotions and institutional conditions that prevail today much as they did in the sixteenth century. Rivalry, jealousy, and vindictiveness from other scientists and philosophers were Galileo’s lot, and they are not infrequently the lot of unorthodox minds in modern times. Anyone who believes that inquisitions went out with the triumph of secularism over religion has not paid attention to the records of foundations, federal research agencies, professional societies, and academic institutions, and departments.”

* The culture wars are ultimately a clash of cosmological orientation, and it is on this level that conservative claims of cultural oppression are most profoundly understood.

Cosmological orientation is never itself the explicit subject of political, social, or cultural disagreement but rather what lends shape to it. It is what Taylor calls a “largely unstructured and unarticulate understanding of our whole situation, within which particular features of our world show up for us in the sense they have.”32 It is not a theory but a background “whose shape is not perceived, but which conditions, largely unnoticed, the way we think, infer, experience, process claims and arguments.”33 The epistemological framework calls on us to adjudicate between liberalism and conservatism on the level of ideas, in terms of a disagreement about what “makes sense.”

* The epistemological construal of agency is the corollary of the subtraction account just as cosmological orientation is the corollary of the mutation counter-narrative. Whereas the subtraction account conceptualizes the development of modernity and secularity in terms of changes in our ideas, the mutation counter-narrative conceptualizes that development in terms of changes in the overall human make-up, which is precisely what the concept of cosmological orientation as nonexplicit engagement with the world is intended to capture.

* As relative pre-moderns who have not internalized the epistemological framework to the extent that have liberals, conservatives are more attuned to cosmological orientation, which is why they refuse to accept liberalism at face value as just a set of ideas or values.

* If conservatives have, as James Poulos complains, been judged “unfit for life off the reservation, unable and unwilling to function in any truly human environment,” this is because they have not internalized the “ordering
impulses” of the buffered identity, which now define what it means to be properly civilized. As a coarse and squalid animalistic peasantry, they are outsiders denied entry to the courtly halls of liberalism with all its false airs and empty refinements.

* Responding to studies suggesting that conservatives view the world with less nuance and complexity than do liberals, Coulter explained: “Whenever you have backed a liberal into a corner—if he doesn’t start crying—he says, ‘It’s a complicated issue.’ Loving America is too simple an emotion. To be nuanced you have to hate it a little. Conservatives may not grasp ‘nuance,’ but we’re pretty good at grasping treason.”65 The “treason” grasped by Coulter and other conservatives is simply a corollary of the buffered identity and its peculiarly courtly rationality, the corollary of an affective-instinctual structure that, as Elias says, embraces that “co-existence of positive and negative elements, a mixture of muted affection and muted dislike in varying proportions and nuances.” By contrast, the simple emotions endorsed by Coulter recapitulate what Elias describes as the “peculiar black-and-white colouring” of medieval books, which know of “nothing but good friends or villains.” Conservatives are “pretty good at grasping treason” because they process liberal nuance in pre-epistemological terms, at the level of cosmological orientation, the overall human make-up, as a form of nonexplicit engagement with the world that sacrifice “embodied feelings of the higher” on the altar of the ethos of disengaged self-control and self-reflexivity.

* The ethnocentrism of liberals consists in the fact that they conceptualize the meaning of conservative claims of cultural oppression through the lens of the “epistemological subject” and then conclude that these claims are epistemologically deficient. But these claims in fact constitute a counter-cultural assault against that very lens, an effort to articulate what lies underneath the “epistemological fragment” of man and thereby reveal the latter as a derivation upon something more primordial, which cannot itself be understood in epistemological terms. This is cosmological orientation and the hero-systems it supports.

Liberals cannot understand conservative claims of cultural oppression because the structure of their identities inures them to this human constant and therefore to the fact that conservatives are defending one cosmological orientation against another, resisting the disciplines and repressions of the buffered identity in favor of an earlier, more “pre-modern” form of consciousness.

* Whereas pre-modern cultures were homogenous, modern ones are pluralistic. In ancient cultures “the moral/spiritual is lived not as such, but as immediate reality, like stones, rivers, and mountains.” Pre-moderns’ “construal of the moral/spiritual” was enfleshed rather than excarnated, and so was not amenable to the kind of abstraction that permits one to see it in intellectualized terms, as a kind of self-indulgence whose requirements have been projected on a normatively-barren order of nature… The personhood of the fetus is not an opinion about the fetus, a merely expressive need, but something that is “just there” in the fetus. This is why conservatives must reject expressive moderation, because they reject the identity that would enable them to see their political commitments as expressive needs in the first place.

* Liberals see themselves as neutral because they understanding their prescriptions as emanating logically from the perspective of the strategic subject beholding a “neutral environment” purged of anthropocentric contamination.

* Enlightenment is the epistemological misinterpretation of what is in fact an attack on those parts of human nature that do not sit easily with a preferred basket of liberal values, which in one way or another impede the ethos of disengaged self-control and self-reflexivity. Empathy and enlightenment are merely the foreground
behind which liberalism’s “hidden curriculum” is implemented, ideological instruments through which to transform people into good, universalistic liberals so disciplined as to have uprooted every last trace of aggression and insensitivity, replacing this with awareness and altruism. But who, asks Max Scheler, can “fail to detect the secretly glimmering hatred against the positive higher values, which are not essentially tied to the “species” – a hatred hidden deep down below this ‘mild,’ ‘understanding,’ ‘humane’ attitude?”158 This mild and humane understanding harbors a secret hatred because its unacknowledged target is all the human impulses that have been excommunicated by the disciplinary society. And the overconfidence of self-absorbed rambunctious boys living in the moment served Gilligan as a symbol of those impulses, and her commitment to reforming them is her contribution to this project of excommunication—the basic illiberalism always presupposed by any preferred basket of liberal values.

This illiberalism can also be observed in Sommers’ description of an incident at Vassar College where the assistant dean of students ventured that several male students who had been exonerated of false accusations of rape were not the worse off for the ordeal, which offered them an opportunity for a self-exploration they would not otherwise have had.159 If the false accusations were redeemed by the self-exploration they facilitated, this is because feminism here stands in opposition, not only to rape itself, but to everything in human nature which could conceivably precipitate rape, everything that resists the ordering impulses of the buffered identity. For this is what the students would have been exploring in an effort to expose and extirpate any last impulse toward primeval, ape-like self-affirmation in their being.

Like many examples of politically correct excesses, the dean’s statements may not be representative of what most liberals believe. But they are indicative of the cosmological orientation that underpins what they believe. Representing the thoroughgoing compression of the spiritual and the secular, liberalism must seek to extirpate the “peculiarly human emotions,” which is to say everything that could impede the properly ordered sociability of the buffered identity.

This is potentially more repressive than the traditional morality that liberalism seeks to supplant. Conservatives insist that the anarchic will of free men be properly acknowledged, if only through the traditional values that would restrain it (e.g., the Code of the Gentleman). If liberals believe we can live
without this kind of moral restraint, this is only because they believe we can extirpate what is being restrained. This is what the self-exploration urged by the dean was intended to facilitate. The Code of the Gentleman comes too late for her, because it presupposes the retention of that which resists it, presupposes the resignation to the sin and disorder in opposition to which the modern dispensation defines itself. As a modern elite, the dean was seeking to introduce the unwashed masses to the Augustinian self-examination and self-dissection that was once restricted to the monastery.

* This is why conservatives refuse to take liberal idealism at face value. As Charles Taylor observes, “modern humanism is full of potential for…disconcerting reversals: from dedication to others to self-indulgent, feel-good responses, from a lofty sense of human dignity to control powered by contempt and hatred, from absolute freedom to absolute despotism, from a flaming desire to help the oppressed to an incandescent hatred for all those who stand in the way.”43 And the conservative claimant of cultural oppression senses that the seeds of the latter are always germinating somewhere in the depths of the former. Today’s liberals may repudiate heavy-handed political repression of other progressive offshoots. But they have not repudiated what are the seeds of that repression, their sweeping vision of social reform and social unity implemented by the centralized authority of experts.

* The “ordering impulses” of the liberal elites are hardly restricted to the economic sphere, where they express themselves in hostility to the free-market, and rather extend to every sphere of life, where they again and again make a target of the essential conservatism or the ordinary American, leaving the latter deracinated for his authentic roots and helpless to resist the encroachments of the liberal culture. Ingraham warns that “[p]arents would be disturbed to know that it is common practice among pediatricians these days to tell the moms and dads to leave the room so the ‘professional’ can have private chats with children—chats that involve controversial topics like abortion, premarital sex, masturbation, and birth control.” The basic presumption, whether at work in doctor’s offices, schools, or government, is that the “‘experts’ know best” and that “[p]arents are too ignorant, too ‘traditional,’ and too incompetent to be left ‘unsupervised’ to direct the lives of their own children.”126 Though conservative claims of cultural oppression are often seen as concerned solely with the defense of traditionalism against the secular modernism of the elites, this struggle is intertwined with another one centered on defending individual self-reliance and common sense against the claims of expertise and professionalism. The rise of the “cognitive elites,” says Harris, betrays America’s original self-understanding as “the promised land of common sense,” undermining the spirit of “cognitive egalitarianism” which it was once assumed “would keep the common people from being manipulated by intellectual charlatans of every ilk.”

For the liberal elites have now assumed this role, deploying their claims to expertise and professionalism to manipulate and intimidate ordinary Americans into submitting to the liberal culture. Conservatives oppose, not only the specifically left-wing cultural priorities of the anointed, but also their more general assault on cognitive egalitarianism, on the ordinary American’s general life-competence and decisionmaking capacities, which are understood to be the psychological bulwark of conservatism. Since secularism and modernism operate in the service of this assault, religion and tradition are celebrated, not only for their intrinsic value, but as the common man’s defense against this assault, the foundations of a cognitive egalitarianism that can alone ensure his continued independence and self-sufficiency.

Hofstadter writes that “it is the historic glory of the intellectual class of the West in modern times that, of all the classes which could be called in any sense privileged, it has shown the largest and most consistent concern for the well-being of the classes which lie below it in the social scale.”128 But as conservatives see it, this consistent concern reflects the fact that intellectuals’ hierarchical impulses are invested in influence rather than acquisition. Hardly selfless servants of the public good, liberal intellectuals carry forth what Taylor describes as the characteristic ambition of modern elites to “make over the whole society, to change the lives of the mass of people, and make them conform better to certain models which carried strong conviction among these elites.” Like the elites of yesteryear, today’s liberals believe that the lower orders are not to be “left as they are, but badgered, bullied, pushed, preached at, drilled, and organized to abandon their lax and disordered folkways.” This is why intellectuals are so invested in the fortunes of those they deem to be in some fashion or other “underprivileged.” That the badgering is now effectuated through the well-meaning solicitude of the family doctor rather than the stern injunctions of the village priest or constable does not alter the fundamental nature of the project.

For this solicitude is but the latest iteration of the civilizing process, merely a sublimated, intellectualized, and etherealized version of an ambition that was formerly carried out more brutally and openly.

* Much of the new conservative phrenology is summarized in science writer Chris Mooney’s The Republican Brain, which offers an intriguing physiological explanation for why conservatives may be less well-disposed than liberals toward “expressive moderation.” Mooney reports that magnetic resonance imaging reveals that whereas conservatives tend to have a larger right amygdala, the evolutionarily more ancient part of the brain that generates immediate flight or fight responses to threatening stimuli, liberals tend to possess more gray matter in the anterior cingulated cortex (ACC), the evolutionarily newer system that suspends such automatic responses in order to assess facts and detect errors.33 While conservatives tend to be more instinctive and given to immediate reflex actions, liberals are more reflective and cognitive, able to suspend automatic fear responses in order to undertake a more careful evaluation of the facts. The ideology of conservatives, says Mooney, is “reflected in their physiology.” Every human, just like every animal, possesses a “fear system” capable of “rapid-fire defensive reactions.” But that system appears to be stronger, more predominant among conservatives.34

The physiological origin of political disagreement was confirmed by a study in which patrons exiting a bar were flagged down and offered blood alcohol tests in exchange for completing a short questionnaire about their political beliefs. The researchers discovered that alcohol shifts us to the right politically, as blood alcohol level was correlated with the expression of more conservative views among self-described liberals and conservatives alike.35 The explanation, one researcher suggested, was that “people’s cognitive architecture is more consistent with conservative ideology, because that’s the way brains are built.”36 Conservatism, then, may represent the more “natural” human (and animal) state which has for whatever reasons become comparatively suppressed among liberals—with the disinhibiting effects of alcohol temporarily resetting the latter closer to the default setting in which evolutionarily older rapid-fire reactions overwhelm the ACC.

This “amygdala theory of conservatism” was also supported by a University of Nebraska study, which discovered that tough-on-crime, strongly pro-military conservatives “have a more pronounced startle reflex, measured by eye-blink strength after hearing a sudden loud noise.” Conservatives also exhibited greater “skin conductance”—a moistening of sweat glands indicating sympathetic nervous system arousal—when shown threatening images like maggots in an open wound or a large spider on someone’s face.37 By contrast, “[i]ndividuals with measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control.”38 The theory was also corroborated by an Italian study demonstrating that conservatives more than liberals displayed “automatic selective attention to negative stimuli.” When shown a series of positive and negative words in different colors, conservatives proved less able to recall the colors that accompanied negative words—like “vomit,” “horrible,” “disorder,” and “disgust.” They were more than liberals distracted by the negativity, and so were less attentive to their surroundings.39

Mooney believes that conservatives’ larger amygdalas affect how they process information in general and political information in particular. Liberals and conservatives differ, not only in the contents of their beliefs, but also in the degree of rigidity and inflexibility with which they hold these beliefs.40 A large body of studies across many countries has revealed that “conservatives tend to have a greater need for closure than do liberals.”41 Whereas the preeminence of the ACC in liberals affords them an “Open personality,” the more robust amygdala of conservatives endows them with a “Closed personality.” Given its “high need for closure,” this personality-type will tend to “seize on a piece of information that dispels doubt or uncertainty, and then freeze, refusing to admit or consider new information.”42 This is why so many conservatives could have believed against all the evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were collaborators, “finding themselves unable to escape the quagmire of unreality even after several years had passed.”43 It is also why conservatives tend to “select themselves into belief-affirming information streams” like Fox News or rightwing talk radio,44 through which they shield themselves against the “belief challenges” leveled by what they dismiss as the liberal media.45 Conservatives’ angry defensiveness before inconvenient truths is the predictable consequence of their particular neurological make-up. With their strong amygdalas pressing for immediate reactions and their comparatively weak ACCs incapable of restraining that impulse, conservatives are less able to suspend judgment. But being more tolerant of ambiguity and capable of integrative complexity, the Open personality of liberals is “much more accepting of change and new ideas,” much more prepared to suspend judgment in the absence of evidence or to alter their judgment with the arrival of new evidence…

Whereas conservative elites indulge their followers’ motivated cognition, their liberal counterparts can be counted upon to condemn whatever hokum grows out of their own ranks.49 This is rarer among conservatives, whose “pro-authority biases” drive them to be “more unified and supportive of their political ‘team.’” Conservatives are “less willing to pick a fight with their friends, less likely to issue a corrective when they need to issue one, less motivated to step out of rank and call out bogus assertions.”50 By contrast, liberals care little for obedience and group solidarity.51 Being “children of the Enlightenment,” they “don’t bow to authority, or pledge allegiance to a team.”

This Enlightenment heritage is why even the most ideological and emotional of liberals “remain allied with scientists, who just aren’t going to put up with any nonsense in their fields of expertise.”

Liberals and scientists are usually on the same side of the issues because liberals’ Open personality, with its curiosity, tolerance, and flexibility naturally disposes them toward the scientific method, compelling a respect for scientists that is less common among conservatives.53 Whereas conservatives routinely dismiss science and expertise, it is “hard, psychologically,” says Mooney “for liberals to buck what scientists say, and to withstand the intellectual beating that is sure to follow if they do.”54 On the other hand, conservatives’ Closed personalities lands them in overwhelming conflict with the conclusions of modern science on a wide range of issues.55 Hence what is a very wide “expertise gap” between liberals and conservatives in the modern world.56

Seeking to close this gap, conservatives now foster their own “counterexpertise to thwart mainstream knowledge.”57 Sustained by think tanks and other institutions, this counterexpertise is charged with maintaining “an alternative reality on the right” through which conservatives are provided with the “evidence” and “arguments” needed to fuel their ideologically motivated cognition.58 Having seceded from the common reality occupied by liberals and independents, conservatives have “their own ‘truth,’ their own experts to spout it, and their own communication channels—newspapers, cable networks, talk radio shows, blogs, encyclopedias, think tanks, even universities—to broad- and narrowcast it.”59 All these operate in the service of the “belief affirmation and ideological activation”60 that ultimately drives conservatives, legitimating the promptings of their amygdalas as rational responses to bedrock truth. Being embodied human organisms, liberals have their own neurologically driven psychological needs to satisfy. But those needs include “the need for cognition and the need for accuracy, as well as the need to distinguish oneself from others and stand out, to be unique rather than part of the herd.”61 While liberals are also attached to their core values emotionally, those values happen to include “the Enlightenment belief that if you can’t get the facts right, you can’t solve the problem and make the world better.”62

At the same time, these Enlightenment convictions have also kept liberals from truly understanding conservatives. Against all the evidence, liberals persist in the naïve faith in the rationality, or potential rationality, of conservatives, believing that the right, properly formulated argument will somehow, someday bring the conservative around. While this hope has been dashed time and again, many liberals continue to retain it. For they have, as children of the Enlightenment, projected what is a culturally specific dispensation—the demand for reasons, arguments, and evidence—onto human nature as such, including the conservatives in whom this faculty has yet to be liberated. But this is a distortion. For conservatives’ amygdalas cannot simply be argued away, and liberals will never succeed in persuading conservatives of anything without first taking this into account. This would have to involve, not logically tighter argumentation, but defusing conservatives’ natural fear and defensiveness vis-à-vis the unknown and untried. And this means being more attentive to the pre-rational, identitarian motivations to which the children of the Enlightenment tend to give short shrift, for these are what drive conservatives onward.

* The Court [in siding with Civil Rights] had simply taken sides in the culture wars, taking upon itself the responsibility of extirpating cultural values that did not resonate with the lawyer class from which its own members are drawn. The charge of animus was just the cultural imperialism of the “Templars,” or liberal elites, who will indulge their own “prejudices” in their own hiring decisions but then deny this right to the “villeins,” or ordinary Americans, whose tastes and values do not enjoy the same legitimacy.

The crux of the issue seems to be as follows: We do not normally think of laws that regulate smoking or gun ownership, let alone the receipt of municipal contracts, as implicating what the Court describes as a “single trait” of “persons” or a “class of individuals” [a protected class like gays]…

But conservatives see nothing compelling in this outlook. Why not instead view laws that implicate smoking, gun ownership, and motorcycle riding as targeting particular classes of individuals and single traits of persons and view laws that implicate homosexuality as targeting behaviors and only derivatively those who undertake them? There are, after all, plenty of gun owners who see gun ownership as integral to their identities, a source of human dignity no less important that the right to have an abortion or marry a member of the same sex. If the Court would not adopt this perspective, this is because those kinds of identities are not compatible with the buffered distance.

If the Court could not accept the stated objectives of Amendment 2—the preservation of Colorado’s traditional sexual mores—on their own terms, and rather reduced them to animus, this was because those traditional mores are but the “consolations of an enchanted world.” By contrast, open acceptance of one’s sexual orientation is “a stance which requires courage, the refusal of the easy comforts of authority.” This is the hidden parochialism that Justice Scalia identifies with the “Templars” and their “law-school view of what ‘prejudices’ must be stamped out,” the liberal elites’ power to uphold certain identities while discrediting others, to define personhood and distinguish it from pathology.

* the Romer Court concluded that Coloradans’ associational freedom was insufficiently weighty an interest to justify Amendment 2. [Laurence] Tribe believes that the Constitution prohibits “ced[ing] to the state the power to determine what counts as meaningful relationships and to decide when and how individuals might enter into such relationships.”78 But was the Romer Court’s easy dismissal of Colorado’s interest in its citizens’ associational freedom not just such a determination? Is the workplace not, just like the bedroom, a potential source of value-forming and value-transmitting relationships? As Scalia observed, employment decisions involve all manner of judgments that do not directly pertain to the narrowly technical aspects of job performance. And this is because employers seek to maintain an atmosphere that will sustain certain kinds of value-forming and
value-transmitting relationships, in which individuals contribute to rather than detract from the subtle nuances of social meaning atop of which these relationships proceed. The sense that others are crucially like us may provide an intangible source of value even if the relevant commonalities seem silly or unimportant to the outsider, as they generally will. If maintaining such relationships must, in the case of homosexuals, involve the exclusion of heterosexuals, then why may maintaining them in some workplaces not sometimes involve excluding homosexuals?

…But the scope of Tribe’s “single, unfolding tale of equal liberty and increasingly universal dignity” extends well beyond personal intimacy. Indeed, Tribe praises the Lawrence Court for disregarding “the seemingly casual character of the encounter” which was the target of the vacated prosecution, and so for extending the Constitution’s protections “to some brief interactions that might not ripen into meaningful connections over time – even to some that might be chosen precisely for their fleeting and superficial character and their lack of emotional involvement.”79 But how then can workplace relationships be dismissed as unimportant, however fleeting and superficial they may be? Why precisely is someone’s desire to share a workplace only with those who share his traditional values of such a lower order than the desire of gay men to have sex only with other men?

* Tribe demands a certain kind of state neutrality toward the character of our value-forming and value-transmitting relationships. But taken to its logical conclusion, that neutrality has implications that most liberals cannot accept. And this is why liberals do not take their neutrality to its logical conclusion and rather circumscribe it in accordance with a hero-system, the buffered distance. The conservatives who feel most comfortable, and derive the most meaning from, being surrounded by people who share their traditional values are people who have not internalized the properly ordered sociability of the buffered identity. And so their freedom does not count as genuine… If the associational freedom of Coloradans was insufficiently weighty an interest to satisfy rational basis review, and indeed was so weightless as to give rise to an inference of animus, this is because that freedom was not rooted in what Tribe celebrates “eternal quest” for social “boundary-crossing,” for “exchanging emotions, values, and ideas both expressible in words and wordless.” And what is this quest but a politicized and constitutionalized iteration of the peculiarly courtly rationality, the “knowledge of the whole terrain, human and nonhuman, in which one acts” which it demands of its participants? If these conservatives believe they can just walk through life without coming to terms with the diversity that is America, is this not because they reject the “lengthening of the chains of social action and interdependence” through which the civilizing process proceeds? In refusing this lengthening, they are also refusing what Lasch calls the “cosmopolitanism of educated experts,” and so their value-forming and value-transmitting relationships
simply do not count. As Tribe implicitly recognizes, what liberals celebrate as a purely abstract freedom from state interference is in fact rooted in a concrete ethos, a specific conception of virtue that circumscribes what kinds of freedom are genuine.

* Mozilla [in firing Brendan Eich] declares that free speech and equality can involve some difficult trade-offs. But it simultaneously suggests that no trade-off was required at all. Since “equality is necessary for meaningful speech,” and since the purpose of free speech is “to fight for equality,” speech that opposes equality, like support for Proposition 8, is not really meaningful or purposive, not really speech at all, but something more primitive, something akin to a mere grunt. And so suppressing such “speech” does not come at the expense of freedom, because only those embracing equality are truly free. Like Tribe’s, Mozilla’s conception of liberty is “equality-based and relationally situated.” In defending its “culture of openness,” Mozilla was defending, not any abstract, culturally-neutral “open-mindedness,” but the kind of openness dictated by the properly ordered sociability of the buffered identity, the “rational autonomy” of the liberal elites, who have been privileged to define openness for us. This is the “higher standard” to which Mozilla was holding itself and the reason why Eich’s ejection was fully compatible with its values. It is also what makes Romer compatible with Tribe’s conception of liberty. The freedom offered by Tribe is not the freedom to be left alone but the freedom to be a liberal, the freedom to pursue a preferred basket of liberal values—as Mozilla was doing.

* Thomas Sowell remarked that the greatest advantage of a Harvard degree is that one will no longer be intimidated by people with Harvard degrees. And the ordinary conservative achieves this immunity vicariously through the conservative intellectual. Having “been through the system,” the conservative intellectual is a whistleblower who exposes the machinations of liberals from the inside, obviating the need for a Harvard degree. Goldberg writes that liberals “place their faith in priestly experts who know better, who plan, exhort, badger, and scold,”228 idealizing Kennedy’s “’action-intellectuals” who “yearned to be supermen, a Gnostic priesthood imbued with a special knowledge of how to fix society’s problems.”229 The conservative intellectual disavows all such ambitions, however. He wields his intellectual advantages, not to badger and scold the American people, but to expose the badgering and the scolding for what they are. The claimants’ intellectualism is a counter-intellectualism purged of its elitist distortions, one informed by the superior insight of which only outsiders are capable. Conservative claimants of cultural oppression are not anti-intellectuals but “meta-intellectuals” who expose the illusions and delusions of intellectuals in just the same way that the intellectuals purport to expose those of everyone else.

* “What Edenic past,” Jacoby wonders, “is calling out today to those who rail against experts, scientists, and intellectual ‘elites’?”230 It is possible to understand why an American in 1800 would “have sought the answer to life’s problems in a passionate ‘born again’ relationship with God.” But this becomes more mysterious some two-hundred years later, given the vastly greater “disjunction that exists today between fundamentalist faith and the sum of human knowledge.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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