August 9, 2012
The New True Levellers
The mid-seventeenth century True Levellers (or Diggers) were anti-private property anarchists who believed in strict, enforced, economic equality, where everybody is given equal access to land and "property" (none of which is privately owned in True Leveller theory), regardless of talent, effort, ingenuity, or even luck. But the New True Levellers -- my nickname for contemporary Progressivists and Occupiers -- are much worse: They believe in leveling everything to one uniform level.
The New True Levellers bring to mind Kurt Vonnegut's chilling story "Harrison Bergeron," which begins:
The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
(And which you can read in toto at the link -- and should. Instanter!) In that story, everybody who has any talent or ability beyond the average is given a cruel handicap, to drag him back to the level mean. Thus, the strong are constrained, the swift are hobbled -- and most horrific, the overly intelligent have a device installed in their heads that buzzes loudly at random intervals, completely disrupting the intelligent man's thoughts, dragging his effective IQ down to the norm.
It's a scalpel-precise filleting of the central premise of liberalism: Forced equality of outcomes. Vonnegut is saying, Here is the only way such a totalitarian goal can be achieved; does any sane human being truly want this?
Yet the New True Levellers would indeed enforce "equality" (of results) across an all-encompassing morass of human endeavor: equality of money (the "millionaires'" tax); equality of medical service (ObamaCare); equality of marital relationships (same-sex marriage, polygamy, plural marriage); and equality of private property (by abolishing it all, along with all individual buying and selling). That way, everybody will be exactly the same as everyone else... except that the favored few will be more equal than others.
And now, the New True Levellers even demand equality of voting rights... where all and every must have an equal vote, regardless of age, registration status, criminal record, incarceration, having already voted, or even citizenship. (Except the central-government elite will have a "more equal than others" vote.)
Yes, the anti-American Left now demands that non-citizens, or those who won't even say what nationality they are, have the same right to vote in U.S. elections as Americans:
Some voters were reportedly turned away from the polls on Michigan’s primary election day for refusing to fill out the new “citizenship” box on their ballot application.
Jocelyn Bensen, Director of the Michigan Center for Election Law, said they’ve been taking calls from confused voters across the state regarding this issue. She’s criticizing the Secretary of State’s office for failing to remind clerks that voters who decline to fill out the citizenship box must still be allowed to cast a ballot.
So it's not enough to forbid any requirement of official identification to vote, thus mandating that anyone can vote simply by claiming to be a citizen; the New True Levellers now insist that voters needn't even claim citizenship, nor even check a box saying that they are legal citizens of the United States. One's citizenship is literally irrelevant; vote early, vote often!
The next steps are clear: How can we infringe the voting rights of the dead? Or of animals, plants, computers, Magic 8-balls, or even animated characters? (Toons! How can we deny toon voting rights? If you cut them, do they not bleed -- ink?)
Why not ballots for a vague memory of a lost love? Or for colorless, green ideas that sleep furiously? Can a sigh vote? How about last Thursday; should last Thursday be given a ballot?
Why not just resurrect ACORN and instruct them to concoct a vote total for each district? It would be no less authentic (or more risible) than what Ms. Bensen seemingly demands.
And she appears to be litigation-bound on behalf of the "voter rights" of the class of folks unwilling to declare their citizenship:
Benson said they took calls from citizens in Wayne County, Oakland County and Macomb County as well as in Lansing and on the west side of the state – including some from people who weren’t allowed to vote....
Benson said it may be a constitutional as well as voter rights violation. She’s asking anyone who had problems at the polls to call the center at 1-800-R-VOTE [sic -- either Bensen or CBS doesn't appear to know how many digits are in a telephone number. -- DaH].
She does offer one actual argument, sort of, other than pure Levellerism:
"We know poll workers in the city of Detroit were trained to withhold ballots from people who didn’t complete the check box, and we know clerks in other parts of the state did not even have it on the application at all," said Benson. "So, there’s an absolute inconsistency to how this was approached and it’s something we are looking into for legal recourse."
But does anyone believe that if only the law was made universal across the state, so that every precinct had that same requirement to declare oneself to be an American citizen before voting in an American election, Ms. Bensen would be satisfied?
Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
I drew attention above to "Harrison Bergeron." It's a brilliant story: Its author, Kurt Vonnegut (1922 to 2007), was a deeply committed man of the Left; but he was also a science-fiction and speculative-ficiton author, able to look beyond the cliched sloganeering of his fellow travelers of socialism and speculate about things that never were but might be in the future. For that reason, his books are rarities to be treasured. Well, most of them.
Others who fall into that same skimpy category include "George Orwell" (Eric Blair), Robert A. Heinlein, and the granddaddy of them all, H.G. (Herbert George) Wells; each of these three chose to couch many of his ideas in a speculative-fiction or fantasy mode, whether paeans to, or brickbats hurled at, the dreams from our socialist fathers.
Two eventually renounced socialism altogether: Heinlein during or shortly after World War II, and H.G. Wells in his last book, Mind at the End of Its Tether. (Contrary to some claims, Wells did not denounce his faith in science in that book, just his faith in socialism.) The other two, Vonnegut and Orwell, appear to have remained men of the Left lifelong -- but also frequent critics of that same Left.
Science fiction and speculative fiction (let's adopt a cowardly compromise by using the initials sf) demand clear thinking; if an sf author's thinking is muddled, quotidian, banal, and derivative (as with J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter phenomena), most critical readers of sf would pronounce him (or her) a very bad sf writer; in other genres, especially "literary" fiction, authors can get away with uncreative murder. For a lark, compare Rowling's best with random passages from the great fantasists, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, Jack Vance, or Michael Moorcock. You can easily play "one of these books is not like the others."
You can especially compare Rowling unfavorably to Jane Yolen, who published Wizard's Hall in 1991 -- the book that Rowling swears, upon a stack of Daily Prophets and Quibblers, that she never, ever saw. Assuming she is truthful and accurate, as of course I must, it's a remarkable example of pandery recapitulating plagery.
Yet another leftist copycat, a man who appears never in his life to have questioned a single tenet of the First Church of Fudamentalist Progressivism, is Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy (the Golden Compass, the Subtle Knife, and the Amber Spyglass) -- and the even darker (and insipider) material in the "Sally Lockhart" tetralogy of extreme feminism, Communism, and Flavor-Aid atheism, comprising the Ruby In the Smoke, the Shadow In the North, the Tiger In the Well, and the Tin Princess; it should have been titled the Tin Ear, for Pullman's preachy and excessive didacticism, paucity of imagination, and enough message-sending to qualify for a bulk discount from Western Union.
And no, I won't bother linking to any of these wretched rip-offs and bitter attacks on the writings of C.S. Lewis: In the trilogy, Pullman pompously attempts an all-atheist perversion of the Chronicles of Narnia that is about as persuasive as an all-stooges version of the Tempest. Pullman himself is about as believable as Richard Nixon with a watermelon-sized hangover. And this critique from me, a militant agnostic! ("I don't know whether there's a God, and neither do you, confound it!")
Contrary to the New True Levellers, when leftists are cursed with functioning brains and lashings of fairness and justice, you get... well, you get "Harrison Bergeron," among other examples. These socialists, Communists, and assorted reds are the anti-Progressivists -- Regressivists? -- and they carry a very precarious presence within their movements, being constantly in danger of denunciation, show trial, and exile to the Z-list party zone.
But for that very reason, such a free soul is the only kind of lefty worth cultivating.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 9, 2012, at the time of 2:29 AM
The following hissed in response by: Beldar
I bought a paperback of "Slaughterhouse Five" from the corner drugstore when I was in about the eighth grade for the very best of reasons: because the cover illustration was of Montana Wildhack (capably played by a young Valerie Perrine in the movie version) being "studied" by the Tralfamadorians.
Immediately thereafter, Vonnegut became the first writer who I liked so much that I went to extra lengths to ensure that I'd read all of his books, even those which were not in my hometown county or high school libraries (i.e., most of them). Your observations about him and others in this post are apt and delightful, Dafydd.
In my usual pedantic way, I'm going to quibble about a throw-away line, a tiny detail wholly irrelevant to your important point. I don't think many religious people would quarrel with you even if you're very militant in saying: "I don't know whether there's a God, and neither do you, confound it!" Most of them would concede that their belief in a deity is ultimately and necessarily founded not on evidence or logic, or even philosophy — all of those provide inconclusive results when brought to bear on this topic — but instead on the spark of faith. And when you then point out that from the outside perspective of a rational observer not imbued with the spark of faith, there's no better proof for, say, Christianity than for Tralfamadorianism, they will nod calmly and say: "Yes, you're right again, but Tralfamadorianism doesn't give me the seem subjective conviction of grace that I get when I pray to the God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus."
My own spark of faith waxes and wanes, but I do try to keep the kindling consistently dry for essentially the same reasons that led Pascal to make his famous wager.
The above hissed in response by: Beldar at August 12, 2012 10:07 PM
The following hissed in response by: Beldar
"the seem subjective conviction" --> "the same subjective conviction"
The above hissed in response by: Beldar at August 12, 2012 10:09 PM
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