Persuading Progressives

Originally published 8/1/2017 at American Greatness

One thing that never ceases to surprise me is how little progressives understand the most basic tenets of conservative thought. The simple ideas that, for example, lowering taxes might increase government revenue, or that more gun ownership might decrease violent crime, or that raising the minimum wage might harm the working poor, are as remote to most progressive minds as the arcana of quantum physics.

I don’t wonder that progressives fail to see that the validity of such ideas; I wonder that they don’t even seem to be aware of their existence! Your typical progressive, who isn’t a pundit earning his bread by jousting with his peers on the Right, reacts to the most basic conservative notions in much the same way that a dog reacts to a vanishing trick; it’s as if some strange and incomprehensible event has occurred.Part of my surprise is due to the extreme asymmetry here; they may have no idea what we think, but we sure know exactly what they do. We can’t help but know; it comes screaming at us from virtually every TV show, movie, news source, editorial column, and, indeed, from almost every artifact capable of communicating a message ever devised by man.

I don’t even get annoyed anymore when my computer’s login screen alerts me to the disproportionately fewer number of women studying in the STEM fields. And, if Google went a few days without presenting me with a politically correct linking photo, I would worry that something catastrophic was happening and wonder if I should visit the The Blaze or Infowars to purchase survival food before the grid goes down.

The progressive lessons I receive from ordinary household products often even conform to regular patterns. In February, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to be lectured on white privilege by a box of breakfast cereal; in March, I wouldn’t bat an eye if a carton of kitty litter scolded me for earning more than equally qualified women.

Tell Compelling First-Person Stories
As conservatives, we are stuck inside their bubble; but they get to live completely outside of ours. The resulting asymmetry in understanding one’s opponents is deepened by the oft-remarked upon tendency to grow conservative with age.

As Winston Churchill, who was not subject to this phenomenon, did not in fact say, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” But the United Kingdom’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, whose appearance on a cereal box in March would surprise me greatly, may or may not have explained the tendency toward rightward drift: “The facts of life are conservative.” But George Orwell did indeed say, that the “reactionary view of life tends to be justified by events.” Likewise, Irving Kristol really did define a neo-conservative as “a liberal who has been mugged by reality.” (Perhaps showing that some need an additional mugging or two to get the full drift.)

Reality’s oft-remarked upon tendency to make political conversion unidirectional gives us a second advantage over our political adversaries. Not only do we all know exactly what they think; some of us, like David Horowitz, also know exactly how they plot and scheme, how much their leaders hate us, and how far they are willing to go to win ideological wars. Horowitz is tireless in reminding conservatives how ruthless our opponents are and in prodding us toward the unpleasant but necessary duty to be equally ruthless or lose all we hold dear.

But the rightward tendency of most political journeys has given us a third advantage: compelling first-person stories, that lay bare the hypocritical and destructive self-indulgence of progressivism that caused their authors to abandon it. Repentant communist spy Whitaker Chambers’ haunting 1952 memoir Witness and confrontational playwright David Mamet’s 2011 The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture are two famous examples of the genre. But, unfortunately, neither is well-suited to induce an epiphany in today’s run-of-the-mill progressive mind.

In his introduction to Witness, the late and great conservative journalist Robert Novak credited the book with changing “my world view, my philosophical perceptions, and, without exaggeration, my life.” But Novak was unique even when he first encountered the book in 1953. Though Witness was a nonfictionbestseller in 1952, even then a typical American would have had trouble getting through Chambers’ almost 800 pages. And nowadays, when it’s impossible to imagine a literary and philosophical heavyweight like Chambers writing for Time, only a remarkably erudite person who is already halfway along in ridding himself of progressive delusions is likely to undergo any ideological shift from reading Witness.

Moreover, much of what makes Witness compelling—Chambers’ vivid and pessimistic portrayal of Communism’s destructive and seductive power—likely wouldn’t resonate with today’s readers. The book, while an essential read for anyone seriously interested in conservative thought, is very much a product of its idiosyncratic author and his times. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. summed both up nicely:

In a characteristically apocalyptic mood, Chambers saw the final conflict as “between the two great camps of men—those who reject and those who worship God,” . . . As he had told his wife when he broke with the [Communist] party, “I know that I am leaving the winning side for the losing side.”

And, Mamet’s recent book, though only around 250 pages and written in a much more colloquial voice, might even be less suited to help your progressive friends see reason. Like his plays, the book is humorous but hughly confrontational. In the 2008 Village Voice essay from which the book grew, Mamet writes, “[My wife and I] were riding along and listening to NPR. I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: Shut the fuck up.” A great line if your already hostile to progressive thought. But, if not, like his book, it will only make you angry and, hence, strengthen the grip of your delusions.

Old Essay, New Audience
But, if you’re looking for something to give a family member or friend to help them clearly see the self-glorifying fantasies at the foundation of progressive thought, I have just the thing for you: a 2014 essay published originally at American Thinker by Danusha V. Goska that is just now going viral on Facebook, featuring the quotidian title “Ten Reasons Why I Am No Longer a Leftist.” And, Goska says, it’s “not a rigorous comparison of theories,” for which, we should be thankful. An author ascribing to theoretical rigor couldn’t completely nail everything that’s wrong with the contemporary left in a naturally and compelling voice.

Neither Chambers’ gloomy erudition nor Mamet’s humorous belligerence is well suited to help the people in your lives see the hypocrisy of progressive thought. But Goska’s “idiosyncratic, impressionistic, and intuitive” story of an affirmative action hire leading “a training session for professors on a college campus,” definitely is:

Prof. X went on to say that he was wary of accepting a position on this lowly commuter campus, with its working-class student body. The disconnect between leftists’ announced value of championing the poor and the leftist practice of expressing snobbery for them stung me. Already vulnerable students would be taught by a professor who regarded association with them as a burden, a failure, and a stigma . . . Professor X projected a series of photographs onto a large screen. In one, commuters in business suits, carrying briefcases, mounted a flight of stairs. This photo was an act of microaggression. After all, Professor X reminded us, handicapped people can’t climb stairs.

Likewise, for her unadorned account of the left’s “selective outrage”:

I was an active leftist for decades. I never witnessed significant leftist outrage over clitoredectomy, child marriage, honor killing, sharia-inspired rape laws, stoning, or acid attacks. Nothing. Zip. Crickets. I’m not saying that that outrage does not exist. I’m saying I never saw it.

The left’s selective outrage convinced me that much canonical, left-wing feminism is not so much support for women, as it is a protest against Western, heterosexual men. It’s an “I hate” phenomenon, rather than an “I love” phenomenon.”

And, Gorska isn’t writing from the exotic distance of a former communist spy or a famous playwright. Her activism will earn her at least a little begrudging respect from many on the Left. She did things that might have tempted any typical college student. And her matter-of-fact colloquial voice sounds like that of a typical college student. So, her stories demolish progressive fantasies in a way that more self-consciously literary authors can’t. Here’s her account of her time in the Peace Corps versus her time at a religious charity:

We focused so hard on our good intentions. Before our deployment overseas, Peace Corps vetted us for our idealism and “tolerance,” not for our competence or accomplishments. We all wanted to save the world. What depressingly little we did accomplish was often erased with the next drought, landslide, or insurrection.

Peace Corps did not focus on the “small beginnings” necessary to accomplish its grandiose goals. Schools rarely ran, girls and low caste children did not attend, and widespread corruption guaranteed that all students received passing grades. Those students who did learn had no jobs where they could apply their skills, and if they rose above their station, the hereditary big men would sabotage them. Thanks to cultural relativism, we were forbidden to object to rampant sexism or the caste system. “Only intolerant oppressors judge others’ cultures.”

I volunteered with the Sisters of Charity. For them, I pumped cold water from a well and washed lice out of homeless people’s clothing. The sisters did not want to save the world. Someone already had. The sisters focused on the small things, as their founder, Mother Teresa, advised, “Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love.” Delousing homeless people’s clothing was one of my few concrete accomplishments. 

Conservative writers, like our progressive counterparts, mostly write for fellow true-believers. But, though such writing spreads information, creates unity, and strengthens morale, the political war for hearts and minds isn’t won by converting true believers. Mostly it’s about reaching young people whose beliefs are still malleable and older folks who aren’t too committed. And though the more committed will likely react to Gorska’s essay with confused anger, as Plato famously pointed out, such emotion is a necessary first step in escaping deeply held delusions.

Confrontation Can Be Counterproductive
So, my conservative friend, if you have a son or daughter, or are worried that some other young person will, or has already has, lost their way, give them Gorska’s story to read. And if you have any friends who aren’t fanatics, or any who are that you’re willing to force into the first necessarily angry steps outside of the cave of progressive fantasies, send her essay to them as well.

But remember what you’re trying to accomplish. Confrontation, though it has a function, is counterproductive in the war for hearts and minds. Don’t think of the people you send this to as enemies to be conquered for, that’s not what they are; they are relations, loved ones, and friends who need help. So, rather than writing a supercilious note about how wrong the essay shows they are, tell them that you came across something you thought was interesting and were wondering what they thought.

Conservatives have been unable to capitalize on our many advantages because, until recently, disseminating information required huge resources only available to large corporations. But now, thanks to the Internet, anyone of us can be a pundit, or a reporter, or a news distributer without leaving our chairs. Contrary to the self-serving propaganda spread by the mainstream media, the word “press” in the First Amendment referred to the 18th century technology for creating documents, the printing press, not, as it does nowadays, to the huge corporations who eventually controlled them. But the technology for disseminating information has undergone a miraculous change; so, we are, nowadays, all members of the press. And it’s only by taking our new responsibilities seriously that we can win enough hearts and minds to reverse the tide of progressivism.

So, enough with this essay—turn to Gorska’s much more potentially important work; read it and spread it around in the least confrontational tone possible. If we all do our jobs as members of the press, it’s power will win many hearts and minds and force many more to begin to confront the delusions years of corporately controlled news and entertainment have instilled.



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