Vanity, All Is Vanity. David Brooks Gets One Thing Right.
Today (emphasis mine):
Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted. It’s mostly because more people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.
Or more aptly: rising distrust has more to do with vanity than anything else.
This nicely encapsulates an explanation I’ve been coming to for what’s the matter with Kansas – an explanation for the frantic, desperate-seeming, reality-denying, and self-contradictory rhetorical contortions that tea partiers and the Republican right constantly resort to.
They’re protecting, and stroking, their egos.
If America is exceptional, then they’re exceptional. If Sarah Palin isn’t exceptional, then they might not be — probably aren’t, in fact.
If government programs have been necessary to their success, their success might not be primarily a result of their own noble efforts.
If well-off people’s self-serving belief system results in less economic opportunity, they are hard-pressed to plausibly trumpet their clear-eyed pragmatism and serene virtue in empowering and enriching the deserving poor.
If the marketplace does not reliably reward personal merit, their place in life (however modest or grand), has little to do with their personal merit.
If CEO performance is largely a matter of luck (right company, right time), the heroical, captains-of-industry self-regard of those CEOs is a delusion.
It’s easy to add to this list. And it’s also easy to see why stoking this conflagration of self-regard — telling voters that “they are better than everything else around them” (notably government) — would be an excellent political strategy. (How do you know when a politician is lying?)
Combine this strategy with the world’s oldest political pander — “I’ll cut your taxes!” — and you have a pretty good explanation for thirty years of otherwise-inexplicable political ascendancy.
Hat tip: Ecclesiastes.
Cross-posted at Asymptosis.
Vanity in turn is related to the ownership society. Logically, if that is the case, then the split of owners/renters might correlate to this effect? Hm.
You might be on to something there as a general principle. Take an apparently unrelated question: Why is so much science fiction so poorly written and yet immune to criticism on the grounds that it is poorly written? Because of the Fans are Slans mentality assumed by so many readers, which takes any sort of criticism on those grounds – however constructive – as attacks by despicable outsiders who either don’t appreciate or outright resent their special ‘leetness 🙁
It’s certainly what I’ve thought is the best explanation for libertarianism. Egos so big that they know that they are incapable of being wrong or not coming out on top of things if government went away.
JimS – I came to be some sort of libertarian mainly out of skepticism. If Hayek is the libertarian’s guide, his was about how little we know. It’s a discipline of humility when done well. But as we all know, there are no more “true libertarians” than there are true scotsmen, so…
“If Sarah Palin isn’t exceptional, then they might not be — probably aren’t, in fact.”
Well, in her time, Sarah Palin was “exceptional,” in the sense that the ability of a bimbo to be nominated for the second highest office is exceptional. The last time that happened was Dan Quayle. I hope Sarah Palin remains exceptional in this sense.
you have pretty much identified the secret of the success of the Republican Party. Now the problem is how to counter it.
I haven’t seen a Democratic “plan” since about 1936 that has any actual thought behind it.
[and all the thought behind the Republican plans is, by another name, criminal conspiracy.. so don’t imagine i am dissing the Democrats because I agree with the Republicans.]
the reason there are no “real libertarians” is because it is a naive fantasy that cannot work in the real world. Libertarians are children who have been manipulated by con men to go out on a children’s crusade to give them (the con men) cover for consolidating their power in the name of “small government” and pfreedom.
you are right about “how little we know.” nevertheless we have to try to take care of the problems that come up. we don’t get to turn away from the “certain man set upon by robbers” by telling ourselves that “we don’t know enough” and “the market will provide”… no doubt by teaching him self reliance.
People who bash ideas like true liberalism(not the bastard American liberal), documents like the constitution, and a republic form of government often have never actually studied tose things.
They take the partisan pundit drivel as fact and never bother to read for themselves.
Liberalism, the constitution and the republic style government were the foundation for what could have been the greatest, most prosperous and free society ever.
Instead we are here, an advanced society by all means, but one that’s been restricted by government from all angles.
We aren’t economically free, we arent free in regards to our own bodies, we aren’t free in the business world, or the medical world. We aren’t free on our own land, but that’s probably because we don’t even own ourown land(try not paying your property taxes).
And the solution the left and right want. More government….
The left want social freedom but restricted business,
The right want business freedom but restricted social life,
“libertarian” ( or real liberals ) want freedom in both social life and business…
Why would I need to “read for myself” when I can read what you say right here?
I think America is very likely the greatest, most prosperous, and free… but you know, the constitution replaced a more libertarian document called the articles of confederation… suggesting to me at least that a little restriction is what makes freedom work.
now it happens, i share your concern about much of the “lack of freedom” we experience in this country. a lot of things we the government could leave us the people alone and be a better, safer place to live. but it happens i haven’t figured out how to make that happen.
turning over the government to the people who prate about “big government evil” just turns it over to malefactors of great wealth and makes us much less safe.
possibly you don’t read much history.
Love your blog, it’s just a lovely, happy place to spend hours and hours reading!!
modern night stands