Understanding the Neoconservative Gestalt - Forward

In a much earlier article I wrote about the motivating ideas and spirit of those with whom I disagree. I have often argued that it is not enough to politically or militarily defeat those with whom we disagree - we must understand what motivates them instead of simply writing them off as evil.  It's too easy to blame errors in thinking, planning, or facts on "da debil" of the Waterboy.

Morality does have a role to play - but it is much more effective in helping us guide our own actions rather than others'. The reason is that context is important - in other words, understanding the full scope of human behavior and beliefs is essential to predicting human actions and organizing human efforts. As hard as it is to be honest with yourself about your own morality and motivations, it's infinitely harder to understand those of another. It's just very hard to understand others often - that's the human condition. Moral judgments on others often fail to be as comprehensive in understanding the situation as is necessary for practical politics. Without understanding the "evil", how are we to ever prevent it?

I am certainly a proponent of an objective system of morality - I believe that what is immoral for you is immoral for me and is immoral for the state. It's the crux of my dispute with the authority of governments. However, that is not to say that every situation can be easily and summarily boiled down to a convenient "good vs. evil" scenario. In fact, it is precisely for the same reason that morality is universal that it is so hard to apply to the real world activities of others - complexity and universality can only be reconciled when the complex system can be broken down into a set of principles. And sometimes I doubt that's even possible or, in any case, likely. Actions speak louder than words, true - but they aren't always as illustrative of human mental processes as good decision-making and judgment require.

Additionally, so much of the political dialogue is not informative - the goal is not to present the whole picture but to present only that part of the picture that backs up one's position. Facts are obscured or exaggerated instead of simply accepted by either side. Ideally, the facts and the positions that use these facts should be distinct. I'm not arguing against the culture of persuasion - far from it, I think we need more persuasion by more parties - but the entire political dialogue needs a common set of facts from which any particular viewpoint can point out these supposed universal principles. Otherwise it's just a matter of faith - do you believe in the world as convenient for the conservatives or the liberals?

It is my desire to get beyond this, as I explained in several responses to reader comments on my initial article. I want to know what motivates the people who back the political forces that set policy. I want to understand the personalities of each political viewpoint - not from the leaders but from the footsoldiers in the blogosphere and beyond. What is putting them in one camp and not another? Why do they believe? Why are they so quick to dismiss the other side? And what puts them so firmly on one side to begin with - seeing as how most of the intelligent bloggers on either side admit that their politicians are lame.

Now, let's be clear about one thing: I am not an unbiased researcher. I have a definite agenda in pursuing an understanding of these particular political mindsets. What i hope to accomplish is a general understanding of the root concerns of conservatives (and soon liberals) that inform their politics. These concerns, I believe, can be addressed by any ideology - it's just that the answers may or may not be acceptable to that particular ideologue. However - and this is a key premise of this series - that doesn't mean the answers are necessarily unacceptable, simply because they arise from a supposedly different ideology. In other words, if a conservative can demonstrate that his policies bring about the outcome that a liberal seeks, then a liberal should consider that ideology. Obviously, I'm looking at conservatives and liberals from a left libertarian viewpoint. The goal, in summary, is to look at the ideologies on their merits rather than their talking points. Perhaps my views don't adequately address the merits of neoconservative arguments and concerns, but we can at least become clearer about where the disconnect occurs, instead of constantly chasing each other in blogospheric circles of endless debate.

Look for posts on this subject in the coming week as a continuing series: Understanding the Neoconservative Gestalt.

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Written on Monday, November 28, 2005