Welcome to TP Ideas‘ weekly roundup of the best conservative writing! Every Friday, we take a look at three pieces by right-leaning writers that constructively articulate core elements of their worldview. The goal isn’t to find conservatives telling us how right liberals are, but rather to pick out writing that helps liberals understand where their ideological foes are coming from.
So let’s get started.
1. “Antibiotic Knowledge Is More Important Than the Big Bang” — Jonathan Coppage, The American Conservative
It’s fair to say that whacking religious conservatives for rejecting the scientific validity of evolution has become something of a national past time for American liberals. The subject was brought up once again by a new Associated Press poll that found 42 percent of Americans were not too confident, or not at all confident, that “life on Earth, including human beings, evolved through a process of natural selection.” Over at the American Conservative, Jonathan Coppage responded by asking everyone to please calm down:
Truth be told, relatively speaking almost no one in the United States is competent to judge the physics that go into judging the Big Bang’s credibility. For the rest, blue state scientific adherents as much as red state fundamentalists, it’s a leap of faith, or at least a trusting in the judgment of others. The Origin of Species has almost no relevance to the everyday life of a person, the age of the Earth even less so. Whether the Big Bang tests out and multiple universes are the logical result, absolutely none. It makes scientific prophets comforted to see their creeds affirmed by the masses, but such popular affirmation has little relevance to the priests of science making measurements in the laboratories.
We all do have a stake in the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria, and the resulting superbugs that threaten to defeat any of the remedies we have come to rely on, the treatments that allow us to safely cut people up for surgeries. In that case, we should be quite heartened that at the more practical level, 88 percent of Americans are at least somewhat confident that the overuse of antibiotics causes these superbugs. That indicates they should be more receptive to messaging to curb antibiotic overuse. Prophets of science, direct your sermons in that direction.
Coppage also points out that many people explained their lack of confidence in evolution by saying things like “I wasn’t there” or “it seems so far away,” which he argues suggests a humble and universal skepticism rather than any ideological dedication to Biblical literalism. And, as Coppage’s blockquote from his colleague Scott Galupo notes, “a country in which only four in 10 people believe in theory of evolution seems to function pretty well on an everyday basis.” Point being, the value of scientific knowledge lies in its practical benefits for human flourishing, rather than its status as a badge of right-thinking in the purely abstract sense.
2. “Today’s Wonky Elite Is in Love With the Wrong French Intellectual” — James Poulos, The Daily Beast
Thomas Piketty’s “Capital In The 21st Century” — which argues that in capitalism the returns to wealth ownership inevitably grow faster than the economy, endlessly driving inequality upward — has taken both Washington, DC and Amazon by storm. Myriad conservatives and free market defenders have emerged to take on the book in various ways, but the most interesting arguably came courtesy of James Poulos at the Daily Beast.
Poulos invokes Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy In America to suggest that the modern elite have no unifying culture in the way the aristocracy of Tocqueville’s day did. This, by Poulos’ lights, gives them a less real and more effervescent quality in human affairs. Furthermore, the fundamental purpose and drive of democracy is equality, and according to the Poulos-Tocqueville analysis true equality can only be enforced by the all-powerful state. This leads Poulos to conclude that our current inequality is a temporary thing, brought about by rising cronyism as the state gains ever more power in its ostensible pursuit of equality:
Our fake aristocrats far prefer to live under the government’s rule than to rule over any peons. And since the government is the only earthly entity powerful enough to lord over us all, no matter how wealthy, the relationship works both ways. The frightening inequality that has Hacker and Pierson up in arms is but a side effect of, and prelude to, an ever more powerful and comprehensive equality — just as Tocqueville predicts.
And, just as Tocqueville predicted, the dominance of equality in our minds and hearts is so complete that the significant inequality in our lives — the presence of the super-rich — drives us absolutely insane. [...] Since the power of the fleeting aristocracy of wealth depends on the much greater and more durable power of the state, the key to weakening the influence of the super-rich is not by handing the government their money but by denying them patronage appointments to government positions — and sharply limiting the scope of centralized government.
Now, adjudicating whether Poulos correctly describes reality as it actually operates — even in the slightest — does not lie within the purview of this post. What does lie within its purview is to offer Poulos’ piece up as a particularly potent description of the odd bankshot analysis of plutocracy and inequality that’s been hit upon by the smarter portions of modern American conservatism.
3. “The Overwrought ‘Blurred Lines’ Backlash” — Cathy Young, Reason
Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” set off a bit of a furor last year when critics took the song to task for furthering rape culture. In particular, the Thicke’s detractors pointed out that some of the song’s lyrics mimic the arguments and lines actual rapists have used to explain away their behavior and foist responsibility for the rape onto their victims. Sounding distinctly exasperated, Cathy Young revisited the controversy this week in the pages of Reason, a libertarian magazine, and defended the song on multiple fronts:
A particularly inane but popular post compares “Blurred Lines” lyrics to words reportedly used by actual rapists. So if some rapists have said “I know you want it” to their victims, that makes it a line about rape? By that standard, we’ll soon end up banning all language because almost every phrase has been used somewhere, by someone in a horrible context. (A website called for sharing personal stories, The Experience Project, features a post titled, “He said he loved me when he raped me.”) And some of the comparisons are a stretch: does “The way you grab me,/Must wanna get nasty” really equal, “It wasn’t rape. You were being such a tease”? [...]
Here’s the funny part: That “rapey” line, “I know you want it,” also appears — as another sane critic, NPR’s Ann Powers, has pointed out — in several recent songs by female singers. Among them is Beyoncé Knowles, probably the biggest feminist pop-culture icon right now. (Earlier this year she contributed a piece to Maria Shriver’s report on women, arguing that we still need to work to achieve equality for women, and has also been a part of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” campaign.) In Beyoncé’s hugely successful 2005 song, “Check On It,” the cocky female character not only declares, “If you got flaunt it, boy I know you want it,” but also tells her love interest, “I can tell you wanna taste it, but I’m gonna make you chase it.”
Young goes on to note that another Beyoncé song celebrates a night of excess with her lover in which both people were so drunk they can’t remember how the sex happened — a circumstance that plausibly throws up the very issues of consent the feminist left has been raising.
Now, there is a knot of privilege and power differentials at work here, and there’s an argument that could be made that similarity of a line of dialogue and the similarity of the concept communicated are two different things. But for all her snark, Young raises points worth grappling with. To be valid, cultural criticism needs to be applied consistently, with the same framework used for all possible targets, and not just ones that have risen to prominence because the artist is less popular with liberals. It also needs to avoid reductio ad absurdum arguments; the argument that the lyrics resemble rape justifications is not too dissimilar from the conservative argument that Medicare’s similarities to communism puts us of the road to serfdom.