“The concentration of economic power at the top is matched by the increasing power of money in our politics and an increasing power in the executive branch of government. Although the decline of liberalism is now forty years old, the particularly blatant pandering to the super-rich and to the American businessman over the past six years, combined with the enlargement of executive power in the name of national security, has dramatized, in our current moment, the choice between a liberal and a nonliberal future.”
Liberalism precedes American democracy by a century. It is a philosophy before it is a political party affiliation. Liberalism has no requirement to affiliate with a political party. It is a philosophy whose roots lie in freeing up both collective and individual endeavors from the restrictions and abuses of societal institutions. Liberalism has a principal concern for equality because it acknowledges the interdependence of human societies. It ties the fight for equality and liberty into one mechanism as core convictions derived from the conclusion that society is more free and prosperous when humans are treated with equal dignity.
Liberalism is a philosophy that is supposed to be an active, pragmatic, adaptable mechanism which can adjust and reconstruct aspects of itself to meet the novel challenges of any context in any era. It is also often rooted in emotional response occurring first (over exceptional institutional abuses) with that response then being sublimated into exceptional thinking and problem solving in regards to those abuses. This is then followed up by exceptional, long-term, problem-solving activity. As such, actual liberalism-as-mechanism has a few principal gears within its operation:
1. Constant observation and analysis of institutions: government, religion, banking, military, marketplace etc.
2. Exceptional rationale
3. Context-sensitive and era-sensitive operation
5. Innovative activity
In addition to these five gears, I would like to highlight this next idea.
Generic Tissue Paper vs. Kleenex
If you have ever wiped your nose extensively with tissue paper (that you might find in the nurses’ office of a high school) and also wiped your nose with Kleenex (particularly it it is impregnated with lanolin) you should know that there is a difference in the overall effect. Both papers do their job for expelling mucus, but one is a much better mechanism over the long haul: more effective, more user-friendly with its capacity being the result of better rationale.
The difference between these two tissue papers is the difference between what the modern era is calling “liberalism” and what “liberalism” is actually supposed to be. At some point, using the terms “conservative” and “liberal”, in the most generic sense, became much more useful to the short, transactional nature of politics (and to the rinse-and-repeat cycle of reporting and media.) It is much easier for the world to pigeonhole the complexity of belief into these two basic categories than it is to honor the complexity.
The adherence to these generic terms weakens liberalism.
This needs to be fundamentally understood. People seem to be addicted to the idea that more is always better and this is not always the case. It certainly is not the case with liberalism. Stretching the term until it means everyone from center-to-left has overwhelmingly proven to be a weakening agent. Liberals can join with other factions in the center-to-left reality and unite in something like delivering Joe Biden and Kamala Harris 80 million votes. This is a beautiful thing. However, all of these people are not liberals (or they are immature liberals) and the lack of understanding and distinction, I argue, is actually having a weakening effect on the power and potential of liberalism.
Most American “liberals” are what I call “Generic Voting-Block Liberals” or GVBLs: work everyday, go on vacation once-per-year, maybe vote every two-to-four years, blast opinions on social media, do nothing else to impact major issues in the spaces between votes. When the Republicans have the presidency, slam the bars down. When the Democrats have the presidency, pull out the blank check. This is the pattern of a GVBL. It’s generic tissue paper. It’s not liberalism – not whatsoever.
Liberals are supposed to be Kleenex with lanolin. Practical and exceptional.
A hyper-focus on egalitarian politics combined with the irrationality of tribal emotions (and a poor effort in regards to understanding phenomena past basic this-or-that binaries) is also not liberal. Poor relationship to facts and superficial relationships to information are enormously illiberal. Being out of touch with both reality and context – living so far inside of ideals that one is out of touch with the reality of the grindstone of progress – is also illiberal. Demonizing practicality and presenting no understanding for the intermediate steps required between ideals and optimum outcomes is also enormously illiberal. All of these components are commonplace in the American philosophical left and these components are the fundamental reasons behind most leftists also not meeting the requirements for even elementary liberalism. (This and the ongoing history of leftist being hypocritically self-righteous…and the history of consistent commitment to being subversive towards actual liberal efforts.)
The second version of generic tissue paper (referenced above) would be “Classical Liberalism”: rough, dry, course, limited, inflexible…pragmatic and useful in a pinch – but not viable as a long-term, reality-based mechanism. Like Libertarians, Classical Liberals live in the world and language of being rights focused. This world of principles is principally narrow and, as such, provides no room for the more common human feature of being functionally broad. Savant-like focus on principles and writ has its place and importance, but it is nowhere near enough of an interface for the complexity of human social psychology. Classical Liberals and Libertarians have a tendency to equate all emotion with irrationality, which is a very poor understanding of the reality of emotions and their importance. The Classical Liberal / Libertarian mentality trends towards liking control and order, despite it advertising as live-and-let-live. These mentalities trend towards delegitimizing all emotion and that is likely a function of the self-reinforcing comfort and illusion of control that a world sealed-off from human animus presents.
Merely observing the demographics associated with Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism yields plenty about strength in the category of consistency but also yields much in observing the weaknesses and limits of their real-world application and reach. White American males are attracted to these schools of thought and they are right about the pitfalls of irrationality and inconsistency. But they are also highly blind to how this false hermetic seal, and an often cult-like aversion to emotion, breeds varying degrees of self-righteousness and inaccuracies about reality.
The main difference between Liberalism and Classical Liberalism has to do with progress and flexibility. In short: if a person’s “liberalism” fails to prioritize the civil rights advancements of the 1960s, it is not true liberalism. (Neither is a person a mature liberal if they treat the 1960s as year zero, while eschewing essential ideas from 1650 until 1960. In the words of John McGowan, there is such a thing as a “useful past” for liberals.)
21st Century Liberalism and Tasty Wheat
So, actual 21st Century Liberalism is rare in American society – and that’s why efforts like this interpretation matter. Our 20th Century, post-World War Two industrial patterning created a life-way for urban, Democratic-party-supporting people that made them entirely reliant upon systems providing most opportunities. Because people are just trying to survive and pay bills, and because paying those bills is a often a function of the order that society is providing, our capacity for questioning has increasingly been subdued – the same with our capacity for exceptional action. Exceptional action does happen, but in terms of what liberal power should be producing, it’s not enough. Our current society highlights this lack.
20th Century industrial patterning, the generalization of the term “liberal,” and extraordinarily poor education in basic civics (and history) are some of the contributing factors which have lead to a major disconnection between GVBLs and the actual understanding of the fundamental focus and powers of liberalism.
Broadly put: most all Democratic-Socialists are not liberals. Most all Leftists are not liberals. Most all Neo-liberals are not liberals. Libertarians are not liberals. Most all GVBLs are not liberals. Classical Liberals are not liberals.
This is because, in America, Liberalism has largely been buried.
I’m not stating that I am a marker for Liberalism. I am merely aware that “liberal” American culture cannot go much further into the future without the actual strength of liberalism being buried permanently – the process of replacement delivering more of what we have now: a confused, overstretched, ever-weakening, cheap mess with no real leaders. Through the operations and needs of Liberal Gun Owners, I have recognized what is necessary for the company to succeed and this has forced me to see what evolution is necessary for myself to guide this success. This evolutionary process has forced me to have to look much deeper at the realities of liberalism.
There is a scene in the first Matrix movie where Neo has been newly freed and he is eating breakfast around the dining table with the rest of the crew of The Nebuchadnezzar. They are all eating a basic, nutritionally enhanced bowl of gruel. One of the crew is discussing the issue with tasting food in the context of the real world vs. tasting food in the context of the digital simulation of The Matrix. He comments on how the gruel reminds him of the simulated product called “Tasty Wheat.”
“Because you have to wonder now: how do the machines really know what Tasty Wheat tasted like, huh? Maybe they got it wrong. Maybe what I think Tasty Wheat tasted like actually tasted like uh….oatmeal or uh…. or tuna fish. That makes you wonder about a lot of things. You take chicken for example. Maybe they couldn’t figure out what to make chicken taste like, which is why chicken tastes like everything!”
Video capture from the movie The Matrix using my Jabroni Pass and Google. Copyright from a few years ago.
I would posit a similar question:
If we have generations of people who think that neo-liberalism, progressivism, or merely voting for the Democrats is liberalism, how would they know what actual liberalism tastes like?
My answer is that people have to experience an actual liberal product. As it turns out, that’s exactly what I have been doing with LGO501c4: giving society an actual working liberal mechanism to experience. A good portion of that taste is baked into The Liberal Gun Owners Lens and The LGO501c4 Mission and is only now just emerging.
Am I saying “this is exactly what liberalism is?” No. It’s more like:
“Taste some of this shit. Liberalism should taste more like this.”
Dusting off the Home Plate
Professor John McGowan brings up two important points in his book, American Liberalism – An Interpretation for Our Time:
1.That when the essence and power of something like liberalism gets buried by time and the dirt of society, a dusting-off, a reintroduction, some reconstruction, and readjustments are all going to be required.
2. That liberalism is really a living mechanism that is constantly trying to balance the tensions between equality and liberty (individual freedom.) (It is not merely fighting for an egalitarian reality at all costs. Without the balancing aspect of individual liberty, egalitarian motivations, in the hands of humans, could easily translate into an authoritarian mechanism.)
In terms of point 1: I have been waiting for two decades for some leader in the liberal community to step forward into this need for dusting-off the liberal home plate. No one has really done it. Why is this?
Picture by Johnny Bench’s ass-camera.
Because the American left (if there is such a thing) produces poor leadership. It’s that simple. Going-along-to-get-along and guilt-and-shame-reinforced group-think is now the god of American Neo-liberalism. The only questioning that occurs is questioning about the regressive aspects of conservatism. American “liberals” merely pattern the most elementary group norms and pressures based upon those norms. This is why American “liberalism” is mostly now just a breeding ground for GVBLs – low effort breeding of a culture and people who just mirror things without any exceptional mental effort.
This immediately creates a road out of liberalism. Having no capacity for individual thought and investigation is the original sin of American Neo-liberalism and progressivism.
It turns out that our experiences with LGO have forced many in our community to take a hard look at “Neo-liberalism” and its failings – its unrooted incompleteness. Much of what I have highlighted here has been represented in the LGO community by different thinkers over the years. My position as Executive Director has forced me into the conclusion that I was going to have to do LGO’s version of dusting-off home plate – if we were to maximize our potential.
Contrary to what many people in our discussion community believe, we are definitely not all in this together and continuing to stretch the liberal taffy to the point where everyone and their mother is included has a weakening effect after some time. Everything to the left of the middle of Democratic-Socialism is illiberal. Everything to the right of the middle of Libertarianism is illiberal. At the middle of these poles, people can be a part of “liberalish” ideas and actions, but that doesn’t make these positions liberal. “Socialisty” type ideas inside of a liberal strategy is more than acceptable. But, in the American context, liberalism and socialism are not the same thing. Socialism in the hands of humans almost always steals liberty in small and big ways. While a liberal should never treat individual liberty as some god (we all know we have to give up things for the bigger picture sometimes), it is enormously out-of-touch to believe that there is no important limit with individual freedoms.
Liberal Gun Owners’ range of service is from what we call the “liberal-tarian” on the right, over to the Democratic-Socialist on the left. This is the useful range in our community and the area of our focus. We are not here to provide service for anyone else. We do, indeed, have viable community members at the hazy area around the poles…and we appreciate some of those relationships…but those people will never have any serious influence on LGO501c4 development.
a. They are not liberals.
b. This is Liberal Gun Owners.
c. Our range is wide enough.
In terms of point 2 from above:
Liberalism is active Jiu jitsu. It’s about staying flexible and making moves to get small advantages that can be leveraged for larger goals. Liberalism is about working at the grindstone and gaining inches over the long-haul. This is why extremism and self-righteousness are actually at odds with liberalism most of the time.
Will a liberal pull out the guillotines? You bet. But not based on the results that merely voting, complaining, and doing nothing of consequence bring. This kind of mentality is pretty common in the far region of the American left: vote (or don’t), do nothing special, when the utopian worldview isn’t delivered to the front yard…burn the world down. Frankly, it’s adolescent, punk bullshit. Most internet leftists are Belief-LARPers: shit-talking, negative, lazy, self-righteous, finger-wagging, subversive, chickenshit, do-nothings. They crap all over liberals while simultaneously having to glom on to the communities that liberals create because our communities are more stable and constructive – while leftist communities tend towards circular firing squads and social fantasies.
(One of the obvious examples of society boiling over while plenty is being done – without enough change in the results – has been the issues with the black community and police abuse. So much has been done since the 1960s, yet we still see the horrific results of implicit bias and misconduct. It shouldn’t be a wonder why we see adjacent lawlessness as a reaction to this ongoing problem. This also needs to be mentioned.)
In the trade between equality and liberty, you often cannot get some gain in one area without affecting the other. This is the world at the grindstone. Actual liberals should work within the constraints of the rule-of-law – work in the courts – to gain effects. When a liberal steps to affect the courts, in many cases, they often have to make step to the right – particularly if they are contributing to gun rights.
Not all liberal activity at the level of the courts appears as typical progressive activism. Although, I would argue that a stronger and more clear reality with self-defense rights is very-much-so progressive.
Liberals should reinforce rule-of-law and writ to gain effect. Liberals will also challenge and break laws to gain greater effect. Moreover, liberals will support exceptional policies related to social programs. This means that, in the balancing act between equality and liberty, liberals should be willing to make small steps right or left. Step too far in either direction, and you destroy any realistic chance to gain practical improvements. Again, actual liberalism is supposed to be a pragmatic balancing act.
A full-court press of progressive mandates is not balance…and it’s overwhelmingly illiberal because it betrays the prime foundation of liberalism: not allowing human institutions to gain monopoly powers over human behavior.
The idea that a person cannot engage in the balancing act of liberal Jiu Jitsu while maintaining their values is a myth.
It is also a myth that Liberalism is centrist at its core.
Flexible, slightly to the left, and on till morning, me harties! No, no…to the AMERICAN LEFT!!!!
This dusting-off of the Liberal home plate is going to be a continuing thing for me. Because this thing with liberals not knowing how powerful they actually are…and this thing with liberals not knowing their ass from a hole in the ground… is a problem for both gun rights and public safety.
Check back for more.