Barbarians

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of closed-mindedness, even in the name of a given principle.  A principled refusal to listen is as offensive as any other irrational ignorance.

I’m a huge fan of free markets, for example, but I only got here after learning liberal macro theory at my extremely left-leaning undergraduate institution, which (perhaps foolishly) was the same place I stayed for my two Masters degrees in business.

“Left-econ” teaches economics from the Demand side: If the people want it, it will be built.  Roughly, demand-side economics focuses on what people want.  If they want it, someone should build it, or the government should supply it.  Conversely classical economics focues on the supply side—it asks: Why do people create what they create?  How can we encourage entrepreneurs to go into business?  How can we remove the boundaries and impediments on a free market, to permit the kind of freedom that ultimately gets the obscure low-acid single-cup travel coffee filters onto the shelves where I can finally find these elusive birds?

Obviously only the second approach actually considers expectation, incentives, and all of the critical elements that consider the human beings behind production.  Without these considerations economics is nothing but an anonymous void that “someone” should fill, without any attention to what might encourage that “someone” to do anything at all.  Hint: oppressive taxes are not the encouragement we hope to see.

It’s this kind of “anonymity” approach that characterizes a bipartisan system.  The Greeks deemed foreigners “Barbarians” because they could not make sense of the strangers’ “bar bar bar” language (think “derka derka” from Team America).  We’re all victims of the felled Tower of Babel.  The story goes that once all people spoke the same language, and decided en masse to build a tower to the Heavens so they could reach God.  They combined all of their efforts, all working together, and came very close to the clouds.  God saw this effort and became nervous that the mystery of faith would be destroyed if the people reached him.  God struck down the tower, scattered the people, and cast them all asunder with hundreds of mutually incomprehensible languages.  Never again would people communicate so effectively, and Heaven would never again be endangered by human cooperation.

It’s also no secret I’m not Ann Coulter’s No. 1 fan.  I like her ideas, and lord knows I’m desperate for conservative female role models who satisfy the feminine trifecta I described here.  But something about the way she promotes her ideas, her absolute disinterest in what the “other side” has to say, irritates me.

That said, I spend part of this afternoon listening to Coulter’s speech for the Young Americans’ Foundation last Friday.  She made some excellent points, aimed overbearingly, in Randian-dictatorial style at that teenage minority still swayed by officious lectures.  But, having enjoyed CSpan Radio’s broadcast, I am no more a Coulter-convert than I was before hearing her speech.

Though her points were excellent, the part of the lecture that struck me most of all was the fact that she consistently characterized the left as stupid, helpless, and totally unaware.  The intern who introduced Coulter to the crowd asked: “What do Barack Obama and Ann Coulter have in common?  Thankfully, nothing.”

Indeed.  There are worse fates than sharing a few traits with Pres. Obama.  What Obama does best is characterizes his opposition as intelligent.  Though his policies reveal that he underestimates the right tremendously (Cap and Tax, Mr. President?  How stupid do you think we are?), he artfully rephrases the right’s rhetoric in such a way that we are happy to listen to him.  He emplolyed this method to charm some of the most-religious Republicans (see Bill O’Reilly’s interview, just before the election; you can see the exact moment McCain loses O’Reilly’s vote).

Ann Coulter believes she is above listening to what the left has to say.  When a college sophomore asked when Ann would write her next book, Coulter responds: I haven’t observed enough Democrats yet.

Yes, writing, like photography, is all about observing and then recharacterizing in a way that rings true.  But Coulter describes her tactic as a sort of zoologist watching her specimens.  She listens for the “bar bar bar” of the opposition and then mocks them, appealing to the very-farthest right.  On some issues I am among that far-right contingency, but when I find myself closing my ears to the “bar bar bar” of dissent I dutifully remove myself from the consensus.

We need to hear dissent.  A conversation full of eager agreement does not hone anyone’s ideas.  Moving oneself to an agreeing hub does not improve your vision or your arguments.  Though I agree with Coulter that “our” side is merely working to protect the family unit, the incentives that drive the critical supply-side, and each individual’s ability to work for the best available in himself, I vehemently reject Coulter’s method of dismissing any and all opposition.

In the same way it makes no sense to rely on “somone” anonymous to create those things the demand-side craves, it makes no sense to objectivy an anonyous monolith in one’s opposition.  Coulter makes the same mistake she attributes to her dissenters when she dismisses their rhetoric as barbaric.  That does nothing at all to move the ball of ideas down the field.

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