Wednesday, February 11, 2004

In Defense of the Stupid Conservative

There was a bit of a thing the other day about a Duke University poobah who nastily quoted John Stuart Mills, in defense of the low ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the university's new hires, to the effect that conservatives are stupid. The poobah observed that universities try to select for smart people, and thus were less likely to hire stupid Republicans. Folks have noted that our Duke University poobah has thus committed a number of errors of logic - among others, confusing education with intelligence, making an appeal to an irrelevant authority's bigotry, identifying Mills' "conservatives" with modern Republicanism, and missing the point of Mills' comment, which wasn't that conservatives are stupid, but that stupid people are more likely to be conservative.

Firstly, obviously, education isn't intelligence. Educational achievement represents the conspiracy of a number of factors, among them intelligence, capacity for conformity, affinity for study, stubbornness, social valuations, social grace, and so on.

Secondly, who cares what John Stuart Mills thought about conservatives? This is the sort of reasoning anti-Stratfordian cranks use when they trot out somebody like Henry James, and proclaim, "James thought that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's works!" or "Mark Twain thought that Francis Bacon wrote Hamlet!" It trades on the bigotry, snobbery, or bias of a respected, if irrelevant, authority so as to excuse or conceal the author's own bigotry, snobbery, or bias by association.

Thirdly, Mills was a creature of the early 19th century. A Republican to someone like Mills was a terrible, radical threat to the status quo. They were the anarchists of his day, wild-eyed radicals - dangerous! Mills lived in a monarchy, after all. Good people feared republicans like Algeron Swinburne, who once wrote:

When the devil's riddle is mastered
And the galley-bench creaks with a Pope,
We shall see Buonaparte the bastard
Kick heels with his throat in a rope.

While the shepherd sets wolves on his sheep
And the emperor halters his kine,
While Shame is a watchman asleep
And Faith is a keeper of swine,

Let the wind shake our flag like a feather,
Like the plumes of the foam of the sea!
While three men hold together,
The kingdoms are less by three.

This is the spirit of republicanism in the early 19th century.

But all these are minor sins of illogic and bad thinking. The truth is, Mills is right, the quote is right, the conceit is well-founded.

The stupid should be conservative.

Not in the sense of Republicanism or policy or ideology or any of the rest of that sordid, sticky wad of snobbery that our poobah intended, of course. But in the sense that the best political strategies for the intellectually deficient or cerebrally challenged are conservative, change-adverse strategies. The stupid don't think quickly, or nimbly; they lack the resources necessary to work their way through the traps of the clever. The dim and lackwitted are particularly susceptible to the ploys of the snake-oil salesman or confidence-men. A system in motion is ever so much harder to comprehend than one set in stone, in tradition, in stasis. Change is difficult to predict. Change is *hard*. Change is dangerous to the stupid, because they need more time to react than the better-equipped, the best and the brightest.

The stupid should be conservative, because change can kill the unwary.

Which is, of course, why most stupid people are Democrats. They should be. It's this decade's conservative party, after all. Hell, it's part of why I changed my registration to Democratic. I'm no brain trust, trust me. I know when the merry-go-round is going round too merrily, and the Republican Party got a bit too wild-eyed and visionary for my comfort about mid-way through 2002.

The stupid should be conservative, because change is dangerous. And frankly, I'm starting to suspect that there ain't nobody smart enough to deal with the changes coming down the road. When it comes to politics, nobody's smart enough to not be a conservative. The world's smarter than you, smarter than me, and I'm damn sure that it's smarter than any of the clowns in Washington, of either political persuasion.

The stupid should be conservative, because change is dangerous.

No comments: