The Hubris of the Left

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. You can comment here or there.

It actually is not tempting to write further on the hubris of the United States effort in Afghanistan. Tom Engelhardt does it so well.1

But there is another sort of hubris I want to focus on. It is the hubris of “hope,” “change,” and “we did it” that brought Barack Obama into the presidency. It is the hubris of Joseph Stiglitz, in Making Globalization Work, defending a long laundry list of things needed to make globalization work:

But a question I have repeated been asked is why I am optimistic that there will be any significant reforms—at least in the right direction. Friendly critics say that I have pointed out clearly the failures in globalization and the political forces which have given rise to those problems. Why, they ask, would a lecture—or a book—change anything. . . . But there are changes at play in the global economy—the increasing global imbalances, the mounting evidence on global warming, the continuing stalemate in the development round trade talks, the growing dissatisfaction with the World Bank, the rising awareness of the dangers of unilateralism, the WTO decision that America’s cotton subsidies are “illegal”—which, inevitably, will change the way globalization is managed.2

It was hubris that after decades of increasingly conservative policymaking, progressives’ moment had come, that with a Democrat in the White House, and with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, the tide had turned. In 2011, in the wake of an election that I think will actually change very little, many progressives who invested their hopes in the Democratic faction feel betrayed by a president, they say, who compromised as an opening position in negotiations with the opposition and who has harshly criticized his own base while pandering to that opposition and watering down policies to avoid challenging corporate interests.

Just as Engelhardt criticizes the surge mentality that improved intelligence and special operations will suffice in a war that has spilled over into Pakistan, some progressive Democrats think campaign finance reform will suffice in leveling the political playing field. But what we have seen, and why I think Stiglitz’ optimism is misplaced, is that in a policymaking process that continues to rely on ideology rather than fact, it is conservatives—most especially the Tea Partiers—who supply the ideology.

And when progressives challenge that ideology, no one listens. We have not got the mainstream media, long ago bought out by corporate conglomerates. We have not got the politicians, long ago sold out to multinational corporations. And we could never hope to have the economic or the military elites, whose respective delusions Stiglitz and Engelhardt so ably illuminate.

The right may be bat shit crazy. But the press hangs on Sarah Palin’s every tweet. Hundreds of thousands can turn out for antiwar demonstrations and journalists will hardly notice.

It is a dynamic that even seems to be undoing Julian Assange’s assertion that “geopolitics will be separated into pre and post cablegate phases”3 as journalists lap up threats ranging from rape accusations to espionage charges to treason charges to death threats against him even as the WikiLeaks continues to supply fodder for stories that disappear into the mundane.

Forces that should support a recognition of reality, an accounting for criminal conduct, a serious response to climate change, and greater social justice do, instead, just the opposite. At best, we are treated to an occasional article on the suffering of an unemployed individual who is forgotten as soon as the reader turns the page, or in this Internet-driven age of attention deficit disorder, clicks on another link.

We seem inordinately fond of applying “Darwinism” in social and economic relationships, though such a use of Darwin’s theory has been repeatedly discredited and was in fact rejected by Darwin himself. We aren’t noticing that any species which fails to adapt to its surroundings is doomed. It’s hubris again—humans are exceptional, just as U.S residents overwhelmingly say of the United States,4 and just like progressives who assumed they could make progress within a thoroughly corrupt political system.

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