Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Conservatives, You Aren’t as Dumb as You Think You Are

 

Okay, you probably don’t really think you’re a dummy. And you aren’t: you have the good sense to visit Ricochet, after all – the home of thoughtful, civil, center-right conversation.

But a conservative could be forgiven for thinking himself simplistic, narrow minded, and provincial, given the formidable collection of sophisticated people arrayed against him. Just look at the left, at its imposing phalanx of professors, journalists, intellectuals, witty entertainers, and Hollywood superstars. Faced with all these celebrities and credentialed thinkers, it’s easy to feel humbled, if not downright intimidated. It’s easy to feel like a Neanderthal.

And what bold new ideas do conservatives have to offer, anyway? The conservative mantras – slow down, be careful, let’s not be hasty – hardly set the blood pounding in our veins. Liberals, progressives, radicals, they propose exciting things. They have ideas. “Yes, we can!” exclaims the left. “But we probably shouldn’t,” the right replies – but quietly, because, you know, if you aren’t part of the solution….

So when you picture it in your mind, this is what you see. On the left: a gathering – a veritable salon – of fashionable, intelligent, educated, urbane thinkers. On the right: you – you and a few people you know, none of whom has a late-night television program, a show on NPR, or a column in the New York Times.

Just who do you think you are, anyway, to stand in the way of progress?

Dummy.

But wait a minute. What does it really mean, to be a conservative? It means wanting to preserve what we have, to protect it, to change it only slowly, cautiously. It isn’t a flashy process, protecting and nurturing. It often consists of doing less, rather than more – and doing even that reluctantly.

And what is it that we have, that we seek to protect? What has western civilization – and, in particular, America’s interpretation of it – given us, that seems so precious?

We are a people of historically unprecedented, indeed unimaginable, prosperity. We live with a degree of security and comfort most of the modern world only dreams of, and that literally no one has ever experienced before now. We are a free people, who value justice and compassion. We are a tolerant people who accept the diversity of humanity. While not a perfect people by any means, we have so reduced our serious problems that we have time to contrive preposterous new ones – and the pronouns to go with them.

Whatever we did to get here – it worked. It worked for a whole bunch of people, not just a few. It didn’t work perfectly; no one would claim that. But it produced a large nation of free, secure, humane, and prosperous people. That’s good: no one has done better; a lot of places have fared far worse.

That, whether we know it or not, is what conservatives are trying to preserve. We’re trying to preserve the things that got us where we are today, the traditional values and ideas, from the influence of new values and ideas.

Because most new ideas are bad.

Most new businesses fail. Most high-tech startups fail. Even most venture capital-funded startups fail, this despite the great motivation and considerable talent and intelligence of the individuals involved. Most new things fail. They fail because creation is hard, whether in science or art or business. It’s hard to anticipate everything required to make new ideas work, hard to see how markets and other complex human systems will respond.

We forget this because we’re so very good at solving easy problems. We can land a satellite on a distant asteroid, or build a computer that can do 125 million billion somethings per second. We’re good at things like that, where the variables are understood and within our control.

But things involving people, things like markets, families, institutions, and culture – those things are complicated. We have about as good a track record of predicting our long-term impact on those as we have of predicting the long-term weather – which is to say, a very poor record indeed.

It’s precisely those kinds of new ideas that conservatives oppose, the ones involving untested changes to complex systems. Those kinds of ideas usually backfire, usually have unintended consequences that make things worse, not better. It doesn’t matter how smart its proponent is, or how famous, or how credentialed: skepticism of new ideas is healthy, sensible, and necessary. And that’s what conservatives provide.

We live in a time when most institutions and the entire opinion-shaping elite boldly call for change. Our job is to be skeptical – thoughtfully, politely, but firmly skeptical. We have the weight of history, the wisdom of the ages, and a healthy appreciation of the foolishness of man on our side.

Think again of that picture, of you on one side and the fashionable progressives on the other. But now imagine that behind you stand the multitudes who built what we have today, who shaped our culture and tested our enduring traditions. They, and what they’ve bequeathed to us, stand with the conservative. That is the legacy the conservative defends.

So dig in your heels and be boldly, enthusiastically skeptical.

There are 23 comments.

  1. Kay of MT Member

    Globalism isn’t one of the things we accept, as we can see how well that is working out in the EU. Hordes of immigrants and illegals flooding into Europe without being willing or wanting to abide by laws or customs of their hosts. Of course, the same things are happening here.

    • #1
    • October 20, 2017, at 7:57 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. GrannyDude Member

    Splendid post, Henry!

    • #2
    • October 20, 2017, at 8:34 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. I Walton Member

    Wonderful.

    It takes a while to learn that the cognoscenti know much less than they pretend and are so poorly calibrated they’re more often wrong than most. On our first tour together my young bride was intimidated by her ignorance and lack of advanced education around the other diplomats and their wives. One eventing after a long event in our home with our professional colleagues, she said, you know what? They just bull s..t, and you know what else? You do to.

    • #3
    • October 20, 2017, at 8:40 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  4. Hypatia Inactive

    I’m broken-hearted after an experience last weekend when I “made” a friend of my daughter cry by disagreeing with her, which made my daughter cry because she was “just so embarrassed”.

    My daughter graduated last year from U of Pa where we paid full freight (and her friend probebly didn’t; we subsidized her education) . She’s a beautiful young woman who has been taught to hate herself because she’s white, who has been taught to suspect men unless they’re gay or unless at least despise their own masculinity.

    My child, whom I would die to serve, embarrassed by a mere political viewpoint expressed by her parents, a doctor and a lawyer respectively?

    When I say “taught”, you may ask by whom? I don’t know. It never occurred to me to try to censor information in any way, to investigate the ideology of any college she was interested in.

    We aren’t particularly religious or doctrinaire , or so I thought…but this is the zeitgeist for her generation.

    These 20 somethings see a bigoted, ruthlessly cruel , White Supremacist America. I point out, as you do in this post, that undeniably, America is the best place in the world to date-there may be better to come and I hope so, but for now , how can anyone not see that we’re the best thing to happen yet?

    i don’t know how, but they don’t. They actually believe America is the Great Satan. Somehow this poison was poured into the beautiful shell like whorls of their ears even while they grew up with all the freedoms and comforts which are the birthright of anyone lucky enough to be born here. I don’t know, did those Disney cartoons which wer such a big part of our lives in the 90s: Pocahontas, Mulan, the Lion King, the Little Mermaid,–contain subliminal messages about this crap?

    Oh, it’s okay. My daughter and I aren’t estranged or anything. We still exchange ❤️Emojis, even when we disagree.

    But–I want her to be proud of me! I’m used to being admired and respected. To think I can’t have that from my own kid except by doing violence to my own feelings and opinions is just very,very painful.

    Does anybody else out there have a similar experience?

    • #4
    • October 20, 2017, at 8:42 AM PDT
    • 14 likes
  5. Michael Brehm Member

    Henry Racette: Liberals, progressives, radicals, they propose exciting things.

    Henry Racette: So when you picture it in your mind, this is what you see. On the left: a gathering – a veritable salon – of fashionable, intelligent, educated, urbane thinkers.

    I think you give them too much credit, Henry. I don’t think that today’s smart-set is all that smart. One’s place in the intelligentsia more determined by how many boxes one can check off of a protean list of positions and opinions that are currently fashionable to hold.

    As for fresh, exciting, new proposals, they’re really enthusiastic about this “socialism” thing I’ve been hearing so much about lately.

    • #5
    • October 20, 2017, at 8:44 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    Kay of MT (View Comment):
    Globalism isn’t one of the things we accept, as we can see how well that is working out in the EU. Hordes of immigrants and illegals flooding into Europe without being willing or wanting to abide by laws or customs of their hosts. Of course, the same things are happening here.

    I think “globalism” is too big a word. A large population of unassimilated immigrants is something new — and a bad idea. Relatively free and open global trade is something else, something America has long supported and protected. Technology has changed the pace and scope of it, but I think we should still be wary of attempts to back away from our long-held enthusiasm for free markets.

    • #6
    • October 20, 2017, at 8:45 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Kay of MT Member

    I wasn’t thinking about free markets, I was thinking about hordes of people of every ilk flooding across borders taking over a country and refusing to assimilate a new culture. They are also a threat to our way of life.

    • #7
    • October 20, 2017, at 8:57 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. DrewInWisconsin, Influencer Coolidge

    Henry Racette: Just look at the left, at its imposing phalanx of professors, journalists, intellectuals, witty entertainers, and Hollywood superstars. Faced with all these celebrities and credentialed thinkers, it’s easy to feel humbled, if not downright intimidated. It’s easy to feel like a Neanderthal.

    Huh. I’ve never had that reaction, perhaps because I don’t move in any circles that include such people. (Nor, I think, would I want to.)

    • #8
    • October 20, 2017, at 9:02 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: Just look at the left, at its imposing phalanx of professors, journalists, intellectuals, witty entertainers, and Hollywood superstars. Faced with all these celebrities and credentialed thinkers, it’s easy to feel humbled, if not downright intimidated. It’s easy to feel like a Neanderthal.

    Huh. I’ve never had that reaction, perhaps because I don’t move in any circles that include such people. (Nor, I think, would I want to.)

    No, I really haven’t either. I was writing with the “lonely conservative” in mind. There are a large number of conservatives out there who don’t frequent places like Ricochet and don’t enjoy conversations with other confidently conservative people. And if you’re a significant consumer of the popular culture, as a great many are, then it must grow wearying to hear only one side, over and over — and to know that you’re on the other side, whether or not you’re willing to admit it. It’s worth reminding such people that, however imposing the opposition, the quiet conservative is more often right than wrong.

    Michael Brehm (View Comment):
    I think you give them too much credit

    I don’t, but I think others probably do. That’s the perspective I wanted to try to dispel. (see above)

    • #9
    • October 20, 2017, at 9:12 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  10. Bob Thompson Member

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Kay of MT (View Comment):
    Globalism isn’t one of the things we accept, as we can see how well that is working out in the EU. Hordes of immigrants and illegals flooding into Europe without being willing or wanting to abide by laws or customs of their hosts. Of course, the same things are happening here.

    I think “globalism” is too big a word. A large population of unassimilated immigrants is something new — and a bad idea. Relatively free and open global trade is something else, something America has long supported and protected. Technology has changed the pace and scope of it, but I think we should still be wary of attempts to back away from our long-held enthusiasm for free markets.

    Exercise care when addressing ‘globalism’. Don’t pretend it’s all about trade. I think it is mostly about the destruction of the concept that sovereignty rests within the individual and the establishment of collectively oriented world government. Globalism is the province of the Left.

    • #10
    • October 20, 2017, at 9:18 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Henry Racette: It’s precisely those kinds of new ideas that conservatives oppose, the ones involving untested changes to complex systems. Those kinds of ideas usually backfire, usually have unintended consequences that make things worse, not better. It doesn’t matter how smart its proponent is, or how famous, or how credentialed: skepticism of new ideas is healthy, sensible, and necessary. And that’s what conservatives provide.

    Would you say the same of conservative proposals for changes in the welfare state?

    • #11
    • October 20, 2017, at 10:15 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: It’s precisely those kinds of new ideas that conservatives oppose, the ones involving untested changes to complex systems. Those kinds of ideas usually backfire, usually have unintended consequences that make things worse, not better. It doesn’t matter how smart its proponent is, or how famous, or how credentialed: skepticism of new ideas is healthy, sensible, and necessary. And that’s what conservatives provide.

    Would you say the same of conservative proposals for changes in the welfare state?

    I think “welfare state” is another of those terms that are too big to talk about without breaking them down into sub-topics.

    But you bring up an interesting question: at what point does the status quo become the new conservative tradition — and those who want to go back to the way things were just a few years ago become, in some sense, radical.

    I don’t think much about the modern welfare state is firmly entrenched as “tradition” at this point. To the extent that much of our government public assistance policy runs counter to basic ideas of self-reliance and individual responsibility that we still accept as part of our cultural tradition, I’d answer your question with a “no”: returning to something closer to America’s tradition of limited public assistance — certainly limited federal assistance — and more local and private support seems more like an undoing of modern changes than a radical departure from tradition.

    • #12
    • October 20, 2017, at 10:28 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Henry Racette: But a conservative could be forgiven for thinking himself simplistic, narrow minded, and provincial, given the formidable collection of sophisticated people arrayed against him. Just look at the left, at its imposing phalanx of professors, journalists, intellectuals, witty entertainers, and Hollywood superstars. Faced with all these celebrities and credentialed thinkers, it’s easy to feel humbled, if not downright intimidated. It’s easy to feel like a Neanderthal.

    Never once have I thought anything similar to that. If an educated fool spouts silliness it’s no less silly because he has letters after his name. Having read a good bit of history, I’ve long realized just how unique this country is. We’re freer, wealthier and healthier than 99.9% of all humans who ever lived. Most of those folks had to put up with brutes who abused them, took their stuff and then demanded that they be honored for it. Most people today have to live with that.
    The fact that so many PHDs and those who have been given more wealth than they can handle because they can catch, throw, hit or kick a ball and/or because they look good on camera spout nonsense have no coin with me when it comes to opining about things they know nothing about. So I just ignore them.

    I’ve said it before, “It’s one thing to go to college and it’s another to get over it.” Four, six or eight years of higher education may prepare one for a certain field or occupation but it doesn’t mean they have everything figured out. As a matter of fact, to get a PHD means focusing so narrowly on a specific area of inquiry as to virtually guarantee near ignorance of everything else. So I only pay attention when they speak to their area of expertise as a general rule.
    And college, in fact all schooling, doesn’t and shouldn’t teach you everything you will need to know. It’s main accomplishment should be to teach you how to learn what you will need to know along the way and how to do so most efficiently.

    The idea that we need ‘experts’ to tell us what to think and how to act is repulsive to me. I’m responsible for my actions and that includes what I learn along the way. When I pay any expert (Dr. lawyer, etc.) I’m buying an opinion. Having paid the fee, I should carefully consider what they have to say but the final decision is always up to me. So it behooves me to learn and know as much about the specific situation or problem as I can understand. The Internet makes that immeasurably easier today than the old days of library card catalogs. And some of the information you can find online is correct.

    • #13
    • October 20, 2017, at 11:17 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    OkieSailor (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: But a conservative could be forgiven for thinking himself simplistic, narrow minded, and provincial, given the formidable collection of sophisticated people arrayed against him. Just look at the left, at its imposing phalanx of professors, journalists, intellectuals, witty entertainers, and Hollywood superstars. Faced with all these celebrities and credentialed thinkers, it’s easy to feel humbled, if not downright intimidated. It’s easy to feel like a Neanderthal.

    Never once have I thought anything similar to that.

    Good. Nor have I.

    But imagine, for a minute, that most people aren’t well-read and deeply appreciative of our inherited traditions. Imagine that most people are basically center-right — because we’re evolved that way for purposes of survival — but not self-consciously conservative or particularly passionate about it. Those are the people to whom I’m speaking.

    If you think everyone who essentially shares your values also shares your confidence, I think you’re mistaken.

    • #14
    • October 20, 2017, at 11:34 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. Keith SF Member
    Keith SF Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    Henry Racette Post author

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: Just look at the left, at its imposing phalanx of professors, journalists, intellectuals, witty entertainers, and Hollywood superstars. Faced with all these celebrities and credentialed thinkers, it’s easy to feel humbled, if not downright intimidated. It’s easy to feel like a Neanderthal.

    Huh. I’ve never had that reaction, perhaps because I don’t move in any circles that include such people. (Nor, I think, would I want to.)

    No, I really haven’t either. I was writing with the “lonely conservative” in mind.

    I definitely move in those circles, as do most other conservatives I know. 90% of everyone I’ve grown up with, am related to, am friends or acquaintances with, and work with, are of the academic/information-economy/journalist/artist/NPR variety. And for many of these people, it’s difficult for them to understand that there’s a strong creative and intellectual tradition in conservatism as well. Their assumption is that it’s our ignorance that makes us conservative.

    • #15
    • October 20, 2017, at 11:51 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    Keith SF (View Comment):
    for many of these people, it’s difficult for them to understand that there’s a strong creative and intellectual tradition in conservatism

    At the edges — at the far left and far right — I think this is true: we live in bubbles. I have that problem as well, though I try to make some effort to overcome it.

    Most people don’t live on the edge, but rather somewhere in the middle. That’s the audience I think we need to reach: not those who confidently share our values, and not those who will never agree with us, but rather the much larger group of basically center-right Americans that needs to be encouraged.

    I wrote something about that a few weeks ago, here.

    • #16
    • October 20, 2017, at 12:49 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. Von Snrub Inactive

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    I’m broken-hearted after an experience last weekend when I “made” a friend of my daughter cry by disagreeing with her, which made my daughter cry because she was “just so embarrassed”.

    My daughter graduated last year from U of Pa where we paid full freight (and her friend probebly didn’t; we subsidized her education) . She’s a beautiful young woman who has been taught to hate herself because she’s white, who has been taught to suspect men unless they’re gay or unless at least despise their own masculinity.

    My child, whom I would die to serve, embarrassed by a mere political viewpoint expressed by her parents, a doctor and a lawyer respectively?

    When I say “taught”, you may ask by whom? I don’t know. It never occurred to me to try to censor information in any way, to investigate the ideology of any college she was interested in.

    We aren’t particularly religious or doctrinaire , or so I thought…but this is the zeitgeist for her generation.

    These 20 somethings see a bigoted, ruthlessly cruel , White Supremacist America. I point out, as you do in this post, that undeniably, America is the best place in the world to date-there may be better to come and I hope so, but for now , how can anyone not see that we’re the best thing to happen yet?

    i don’t know how, but they don’t. They actually believe America is the Great Satan. Somehow this poison was poured into the beautiful shell like whorls of their ears even while they grew up with all the freedoms and comforts which are the birthright of anyone lucky enough to be born here. I don’t know, did those Disney cartoons which wer such a big part of our lives in the 90s: Pocahontas, Mulan, the Lion King, the Little Mermaid,–contain subliminal messages about this crap?

    Oh, it’s okay. My daughter and I aren’t estranged or anything. We still exchange ❤️Emojis, even when we disagree.

    But–I want her to be proud of me! I’m used to being admired and respected. To think I can’t have that from my own kid except by doing violence to my own feelings and opinions is just very,very painful.

    Does anybody else out there have a similar experience?

    This is sad. Do you feel your daughter’s lost?

    • #17
    • October 20, 2017, at 1:04 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. Bob Thompson Member

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    Most people don’t live on the edge, but rather somewhere in the middle. That’s the audience I think we need to reach:

    I think these are among those who do get reached by Presidential candidates in swing elections. Not suggesting that there are not among the so-called independent voters people who are completely confident in their political beliefs and decisions. But there are many who frequently vote with the conservatives who are not themselves conservative in many respects. They may be religious with solid family moral values, support a strong military and law enforcement, while favoring government entitlement programs, trade protection, and labor unions. There are many different combinations like this. These people may vote for the particular candidate more than for a party or a consistent set of political principles. And there are those similarly who vote more frequently Democrat and shift depending on the candidate.

    I consider myself a Constitutional conservative, which encompasses fiscal conservatism, certainly at the federal level. I’m socially conservative but don’t involve that much in politics at the federal level.

    Anyway, yes, I think there are many in the middle who don’t devote themselves to political issues but who are amenable to conservative views. They are vulnerable to the media in arriving at what they think is going on in the country.

    EDIT: I should have said they are vulnerable to bias in the media and the public education system which I think at present is about 90% Left.

    • #18
    • October 20, 2017, at 1:20 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Henry Racette: But a conservative could be forgiven for thinking himself simplistic, narrow minded, and provincial, given the formidable collection of sophisticated people arrayed against him. Just look at the left, at its imposing phalanx of professors, journalists, intellectuals, witty entertainers, and Hollywood superstars. Faced with all these celebrities and credentialed thinkers, it’s easy to feel humbled, if not downright intimidated. It’s easy to feel like a Neanderthal.

    I’ve run with this crowd and their foolishness and myopic self loathing and breast-beating over their own “privilege” galls me. They unman themselves and slaver over mutual approval, while attempting to bully and badger people like me for not sharing in their wallowing guilt and despair. To be Conservative today requires a steely backbone, and I think many American Conservatives have begun to realize that and take comfort. Provincial or not, they can see with their own 2 eyes, and they can hear the blinkered foolishness for what it is.

    • #19
    • October 20, 2017, at 1:22 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  20. Postmodern Hoplite Member

    Henry Racette: Faced with all these celebrities and credentialed thinkers, it’s easy to feel humbled, if not downright intimidated. It’s easy to feel like a Neanderthal.

    Actually, I kind of like the whole “neanderthal” contribution…green and blue eyes, blonde and red hair. Lovely!

    • #20
    • October 20, 2017, at 4:06 PM PDT
    • Like
  21. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    Postmodern Hoplite (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: Faced with all these celebrities and credentialed thinkers, it’s easy to feel humbled, if not downright intimidated. It’s easy to feel like a Neanderthal.

    Actually, I kind of like the whole “neanderthal” contribution…green and blue eyes, blonde and red hair. Lovely!

    I find the pronounced brow ridge to be quite useful.

    • #21
    • October 20, 2017, at 4:15 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    If you think everyone who essentially shares your values also shares your confidence, I think you’re mistaken.

    I’m not at all sure that all that many actually share my values, probably as low as 20% would be my best guess. And I am sure that many or most of that 20% have had the confidence beaten out of them by the constant barrage from educators and all forms of media.
    Now, if your post can have any impact toward correcting that sad state of affairs, all power to you. You do a fine job of addressing the problems created by being constantly told one is racist, ???phobic and so on simply for having different opinions than that accepted by those who are self-declared arbiters of ‘good values’.
    So carry on, I wish you all success.

    • #22
    • October 20, 2017, at 5:50 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge

    It’s interesting that a lot of the origins for this mode of thinking – I’m primarily looking at higher education here – is paid for by yet another mix of payers, primarily loans guaranteed by a federal gov’t, and people with the means to cut a check for the full boat of tuition/room and board.

    Many of the feckless who infest higher ed have no idea that they stand on the shoulders of giants, meaning the people who actually work for a living, pay all the bills (including the federal government’s bills), and act responsibly every day. In effect, we’re paying these loads to teach kids to hate themselves and their parents and the people who make their comfy anger factory possible.

    We are upside down. What losers call “white privilege”, I call “working for a living”. When these in-diapered babies reach the real world and can’t find jobs, the federal government extends the period of infancy to age 26, so in case they break an arm at Burning Man they’re covered – which means, again, someone else pays for their existence.

    In simple terms, the federal government is too large, spends too much money, to make these idiocies possible, while pushing the tab for it across the table to the people who work, and a couple of generations of unborn workers who didn’t get a chance to vote “yea” or “nay” on acquiring trillions of debt.

    The beast must be starved. Then universities would have less money to slosh around on idiotic programs whose inherent utility has a general value of less than zero. The elites that Henry speaks of are borne from these institutions. We don’t need more of them.

    • #23
    • October 21, 2017, at 6:40 AM PDT
    • 3 likes