Tuesday, May 25, 2010

George Bush, TED, and the left

During the summer of 2007 I was up late watching TV, probably the last time I ever did such a thing, and a show came on about a conference that moves around to different parts of the world that encourages people with ideas to get together and share them. It was called the TED conference. They had one at SMU in the fall of 2009, in fact.

You name the big, innovative figure in our time, and he or she has probably spoken at the TED conference. Professors, entrepreneurs, artists all meet to share with each other what they know, and somehow the mixing of other people’s ideas leads to them being applied to find solutions to some of the biggest problems facing our world. Needless to say, I was blown away by the interesting work these people spend their lives developing and I support the endeavor in what it’s trying to do.

Listening to the different speakers these past three has presented a problem I’d like to see resolved soon.

The problem is that over the years I’ve listened to it enough to find a pattern in the talks, and the people they invite. They are mostly concerned with a handful of issues, and their solutions seem to give the more credence to the left in facing these issues.

I don’t think conservatives have been good in handling certain global issues of the day, but I also don’t think it’s the political philosophy that is to blame. The pattern of political power in its decline and ascent in this country has led to the left taking the helm on big problems our country needs to face. Another issue for another time.

On my eight hours of driving this weekend I heard most of the speakers bash George Bush and credit him in doing work similar to the Soviets or the Third Reich. Environmentalism is mentioned in 70% of the talks, globalization is a big issue, ending poverty is another big one, but I never hear anyone supporting conservative politics or their solutions.

A survey was done to find out how many people in the academy voted for George W. Bush when he ran for president, and the number was basically zero. Does this mean the more education a person gets, the more liberal they become? I doubt it.

What this tells me first is that the left dominates the academy.

Second, it tells me they are not up for discussion on these issues. They don’t know how to disagree with people. At the undergraduate level, I experienced more lecturing than debate on political issues like this. Graduate school wasn’t much different.

The political right is a valid philosophy with principles that can be used to handle these issues. Why don’t we hear their voice?

I don’t think this is a problem with the academy alone. Since I’ve been reading “The Economist”, a British news and opinion magazine, I’ve noticed how they engage positions at the level of argument and debate, not attacking the people themselves. Ad hominem arguments are rampant in the US, which is why when someone disagrees with another person in our culture it’s taken as a personal attack.

This habit is going to kill us in the long run.

Is it as bad as I think it is? Do we disagree well in this country?


Stresspenguin said...

We don't disagree well in this country. I heard someone sugest that we should bring back dueling...

I would like you to say more about how the philosophy of the political right would approach problems like poverty or the environment.

But honestly, what I most often hear from the right is poverty is the poor's problem/fault and there's nothing wrong with the environment. This is not what I hear from the left talking about the right; this is what I hear from the right.

Will Edmonson said...

Poverty is addressed on the right. The left tends to just throw money at the situation. "The poor are that way because they don't have enough money" is generally the attitude. That is partially true. It's also true that most families living in poverty in Africa spend less than 8% of their income on the education of their children. The left doesn't look at the culture of poverty and what values are perpetuated inside families that never were educated past high school, or have never lived in a home with both parents. The issue isn't just money.

There's a great book on this called "What money can't buy" or something like that.

The G-20 summit was an attempt for a global approach to environmental issues. Like the health care bill, all people would be required to sign on to certain policies designed by a trans-national organization. It's not only an issue of federal government calling the shots, but a global government. This wouldn't account for nuances in local regions, which leaving it to state and local government would solve.

Unfortunately, one side gets the reputation of denying it outright, and the other seems to want to make it a felony to harm the environment. I'd like to see a discussion on how extensive our role in the environment is. There are scientists that disagree on the severity of the issue, which I think is different than complete denial.

Stresspenguin said...

I agree that throwing money at the poverty problem doesn't fix it. But don't think that the left is the only one who throws money at things to fix them. I'd like to direct your attention to exhibits A and B: the War on Drugs and the military industrial complex. That whooshing sound you may hear is tax dollars slipping past the singularity of the collective financial black holes* of social services, the military, and every other problem that the government (both sides of the aisle) thinks it can solve with taxpayers' checkbooks.

I disagree that the left doesn't consider the culture of poverty. It was in the pursuit of my degrees in sociology and criminology that I learned an awful lot about the impact of one's social location on the perpetuation of poverty, crime, and a whole mess of other sociological pathologies.

If your assertions are correct regarding the left-oriented academy, then it is there that I learned that none of the so-called simple, obvious, and common-sense answers to the problems plaguing the world are adequate solutions. It's not a problem of left v. right; its a problem of intellectual vice across the board.

I think the real problem goes back to your question of whether we know how to argue. We don't. Both left and the right are intellectually lazy. I would include myself in this charge, even as one who is a slightly left-leaning centrist. Nearly every description of left and right are just caricatures. Every complex issue is boiled down to black and white, right or wrong. Our contemporary political discourse is shallow, un-nuanced, illogical noise that serves to further delineate who's on which side so we know who to hate, rather than actually get anything done.

A sin that I am guilty of, but trying to change, is not really trying to understand the arguments of my opponents. I'm not sure if you or I could accurately define our respective opponent's positions to the point we could argue from them. But that sure as hell doesn't keep us from declaring why our opponents are wrong.

I agree with you on the issue of severity regarding environmental impact of human enterprise. But again, it seems to devolve into a shouting match between ecco-idolatry and hedonism.

*I know, black holes don't make any sound, as they exist in the vacuum of space. But it was a fun analogy.

Will Edmonson said...

Yes. Don't we have a problem when everyone turns to the federal government to solve every issue, then get mad at them when they don't meet our expectations? The question is can they do it? Is it their place to step in every time there's a crisis?

Too many laws, and too much responsibility taken up by the government.

As far as tax dollars go, why not just lessen the amount so we can only spend less? But that isn't what has happened. Politicians both spend more and cut taxes trying to make voters happy, and solve the nations problems through spending. No wonder there's a $12 trillion dollar deficit.

What ever happened to not buying things once someone ran out of money? Credit credit credit.