Sunday, February 26, 2006

When There's a Will, There's No Way

On Thursday (or today, in many syndicated markets), George Will did a little amatuer social theorizing on the recent Pew Research Center survey that found conservatives to be "happier" than liberals (as they have been since 1972).

Don't let the bow tie fool you. George ًWill is not a grim scold. He's pessimistic, and he's happy that way.

"Conservatives," opines Will, "are happier than liberals because they are more pessimistic." What he means by that noggin-scratcher is that conservatives think everything's going to hell in a handbasket, so they're pleasantly surprised when they end up being wrong. I'm pretty sure that was cribbed from the Tao Te Ching, but I'll let it go for now.

The only problem with Will's op-ed piece is that he gives the impression of never having spent time with liberals or conservatives. By his theory, liberals must be miserable because they're optimistic. They believe in fruity things like world peace, and all. This may be, but conservatives have their own optimistic fairy-tale world, too, filled with working missile defense systems, democracy in Iraq and President Schwarzenegger. The fact is that liberals are just as pessimistic as conservatives—or more so—just about different things. And, as seems to happen so often when reading George Will, we've reached the "duh" factor.

That little theoretical error is only the half of it, though. Not only is Will's argument based on faulty reasoning, it's based on absolute falsehood as well. Take this, for example:
...because pessimistic conservatives put not their faith in princes—government—they accept that happiness is a function of fending for oneself.
This coming from the political side of the spectrum that responded to 9/11 by saying the country just needed to blindly follow King President George Bush's lead and "trust" him completely. If conservatives put no faith in princes, why do they pledge fealty to the secretive, unaccountable monarchy-in-all-but-name that we have now? (Cheney would be Rasputin.) Maybe their "happiness" is just a mental byproduct of surrendering their ideals.

The biggest whopper in Will's article is undoubtedly this one:
Hence conservatives acknowledge the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is: The unintended consequences of bold government undertakings are apt to be larger than, and contrary to, the intended ones.
Would an example of an unintended consequence be the massive tax credit targeted at rich people that ended up bankrupting the country? Lots of conservatives are up in arms about that one. Or how about the bold government undertaking of invading Iraq? That's the one that lost us most of our friends in Europe and created new enemies for us in the Middle East—a place where we had precious few friends to begin with. It's also the one that's costing about $200 billion more than projected. Sounds like someone in the Bush administration was being a little optimistic. How liberal of them.

Will pretty much cuts to the chase after that. "The right to pursue happiness," he writes, "is the essential right that government exists to protect." I agree. To hell with life and liberty! I want an SUV. And that's a "happiness" that liberals just cannot enjoy:
...conscientious liberals cannot enjoy automobiles because there is global warming to worry about, and the perils of corporate-driven consumerism, which is the handmaiden of bourgeoisie materialism.
Conservatives, however, don't believe in global warming. There have to be limits to pessimism, after all. Maybe the vast majority of scientists on the planet are wrong. The polar ice caps look pretty big to me. Who says we can't continue to pollute the planet without affecting it in the slightest? Yes, conservatives tend toward optimism when there's a profit involved. It might be fair to say that conservatives have all the happiness money can buy.

He ends his little essay with a little dig that is apparently supposed to be a zinger but falls a few notes short.
Liberalism is a complicated and exacting, not to say grim and scolding, creed. And not one conducive to happiness.
Yes, almost as grim and scolding as a pretentious George Will column. If conservatives are so pessimistic, how can they accuse liberals of being grim? You guys are the ones telling us that al Qaeda is hiding under our beds, waiting for a chance to strike. You're the ones mewling about the death of Christmas with a straight face. You're the people who stand outside of abortion clinics and scream at unfortunate teenagers (or worse). You're the one's who complain that TV is sliding into the sewer and corrupting our children. You're the ones telling us that God destroyed New Orleans because of all the faggots and he's itching to do the same to any town that dares to teach evolution in schools.

At the outset, Will says that "one cannot—yet—be prosecuted for committing theory without a license." I think it's time to write your representatives in Congress to see if we can't get that changed. It would make this liberal very happy.
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