When I was a young high school teacher, I had the privilege of being mentored by some truly great teachers. One profound lesson that I probably would never have learned on my own is that no matter how engaging, clever or entertaining your presentation, students will not really take away something of value unless and until the teacher has managed to inspire them to ask the question the answer for which is what the teacher is trying to convey. The trick is to make them want to know it before you present it. Teaching is less about the quality, truth, and beauty of the subject matter so much as creating an appetite for that truth.
If politics were simply about empirical results and quality of logic, the left would have already dried up and blown away by now. Centrally planned economies, the destruction of institutions such as family, apocalyptic climate myths, and pretty much anything Liz Warren has concocted is utter crapola, analytically speaking. And yet, the market for demonstrably stupid ideas has never been stronger.
We are doing something wrong.
A few years ago, I blew up a friendship over this question. My (former?) friend is a brilliant researcher who has been a major figure in leading conservative think tanks. He built up databases conclusively demonstrating the social and economic benefits of strong family life and the harms that accrue when family breaks down. We used to meet over lunch to discuss politics and he would share news of his latest project. He is a persuasive and engaging fellow. Once when testifying before a Senate Committee he even got Barbara Boxer (kneejerk California lefty who often exhibited a sub-room temp IQ) to wax on as if she were a cultural conservative in response to his testimony and statistics (until her staff got her back under control afterward).
One day in response to his email comments about what seemed to me to be an eternally unfinished project to link together the conservative social scientists still in existence in academia I wrote a stupid email implying that this was all a waste of time. I ranted that conservatives have no idea how to make people want the truths we are trying to share. We have a half-century of data vindicating the Moynihan report and just about everything our grandparents believed about morals, marriage, family, and community but the market for that content is drying up. The clumsiest and most ill-worded two paragraphs I have ever written essentially denigrated a friend’s entire career and killed a friendship the moment I hit send. Dumbest thing I ever did (or at least top five—it’s not as if this is an uncontested designation.)
And I still don’t have any answers to the issue of how to grow the right questions. When we watched the dull Romney campaign crawl to defeat with some dismay, I realized that Mitt was a like bad teacher who could not get his students to ask questions for which “Entrepreneurism!” was the right answer. In contrast, Obama sold visions, sensibilities, and narratives and won despite spectacularly bad policy substance and dismal performance in every policy area,
The left creates appetites for its increasingly stupid narratives. How do they do that? At the present time, tens of millions of Americans believe:
- The unbroken American journey to racial equality is instead a hopeless racist conspiracy of language and insidious culture.
- The freest, wealthiest, most empowered women in the history of the planet are oppressed.
- The free-market economic miracle that continues to lift the entire world out of poverty is really just economic injustice writ large.
- Contrary even to the science that only a few tears ago was called The Consensus, the climate is changing so rapidly that only central planning can save us.
- Sex is a social and psychological construct.
- [Insert your favorite elements of PC dogma here]
Why would anyone want to be the kind of person who believes this nonsense? What is the disposition, the appetite, the need, the cognitive state that makes someone receptive to this garbage?
While the grand journals of the Right debate the philosophical distinctions between the legacies of John Locke and John Stuart Mill or the definition of “nationalism”, there is an entirely different mental experience going on all around us. It is an Orc army not seeking empirical validation or a high quality of discursive thought—just the destruction of everything and everyone else. Why is that? And what should we do about it?Published in