Progressivism as fundamentalist religion

Some new evidence of progressivism as a puritanical religious movement:

When study participants were allowed to buy green products, they were more likely to cheat and lie in a subsequent task than those who chose among conventional products. (Apparently, it seems that they either consciously or unconsciously used the good deed to excuse for subsequent unethical behavior.)

Just as avoiding drinking, swearing and playing cards lets you ignore bigger sins like racism or sexism.

Progressivist Asceticism

Via Arts and Letters Daily, a bemusing article about a curious reversal in the past half century: in today’s western culture, food is governed by a host of moral rules, while sex is unrestricted; exactly the opposite of 50 years ago:

Thus far, what the imaginary examples of Betty [a hypothetical 1950’s housewife] and Jennifer [a hypothetical 21st-century 30-something] have established is this: Their personal moral relationships toward food and toward sex are just about perfectly reversed. Betty does care about nutrition and food, but it doesn’t occur to her to extend her opinions to a moral judgment — i.e., to believe that other people ought to do as she does in the matter of food, and that they are wrong if they don’t. In fact, she thinks such an extension would be wrong in a different way; it would be impolite, needlessly judgmental, simply not done. Jennifer, similarly, does care to some limited degree about what other people do about sex; but it seldom occurs to her to extend her opinions to a moral judgment. In fact, she thinks such an extension would be wrong in a different way — because it would be impolite, needlessly judgmental, simply not done.

On the other hand, Jennifer is genuinely certain that her opinions about food are not only nutritionally correct, but also, in some deep, meaningful sense, morally correct — i.e., she feels that others ought to do something like what she does. And Betty, on the other hand, feels exactly the same way about what she calls sexual morality.

I don’t think that I would go as far as the author does in asserting a causal relationship between the morality of food and sex, but it does seem to me that the human desire for moral codes remains pretty much constant. It is my impression that the followers of today’s puritan religions — progressivism and environmentalism — subject themselves to a complex of rules every bit as stringent as the Victorians or the 50’s Cleaver types. People today who scorn the idea of sexual restraint practice a rigid self-discipline and ideological purity in their nutritional intake and imagined environmental impact.

And ironically, often to the same degree of self-contradiction. Most everyone today is bewildered and repulsed by the Inquisition-era idea that the suffering of the body is inconsequential in light of the fate of the soul. Yet people continue practices — recycling, for instance which consumes more energy and resources, and thus release more pollutants and carbon into the environment, than not recycling; or opposition to nuclear energy — that are objectively detrimental to the cause they claim to care about, in (as far as I can tell) an appeal to some sort of benefit to one’s individual character.

Isn’t it Ironic?

The supreme irony of liberalism is that liberals claim to believe that everyone is basically good, and that therefore government should intervene massively to stop the wrong that everyone is doing.

David Mamet, the famous playright, recently woke up to this interesting paradox:

I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.

I’d observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.

For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

Rather brilliant. For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms.

Read the whole thing.