The Diseased Opposition

I’m currently reading Anne Applebaum’s excellent Iron Curtain, a follow-on to her masterful Gulag. In this book, she details how the oppressive tyrannies of Eastern Europe were created by the Soviet Union and how they were run for forty years. I’ll likely post a full review when I’m finished.

I did want to single out one point, however.

One of the recurring themes in the early days of communism was the communists’ confusion as to why the couldn’t win the hearts and minds of the people. In the early days of the Cold War, they actually held elections, figuring that with control of the secret police, the media and social groups, they would win easily. They were crushed and those became the last free elections in Eastern Europe for two generations. This pattern would repeat itself later in the late 80’s when communist regimes had open elections and were stunned when they lost again. They kept returning to the theme of why the “masses” were voting against “their interests”.

That should sound familiar. There’s a whole book about it called “What’s the matter with Kansas”. We continually hear liberals lamenting that Americans vote against “their interests” by refusing to embrace wealth redistribution and other socialist schemes. Like their Communist forbears, it simply never occurs to them that most people don’t want to succeed in life by taking things away from someone else; that people regard “redistributed” wealth as stolen wealth.

But there’s another thing the modern Left shares with the Communists. When people opposed Communism, the Communists believed this was because of the evil influence of shadowy bourgeois interests or even because of mental illness. Entire societies were reshaped so that citizens only heard “correct” view from the day they were born and were continually re-educated into proper thinking.

But what does the modern Left do but say that people vote Republican because they are “full of hate” or “don’t care about people who aren’t like them” or “are influenced by special interests”? No one can oppose abortion because of a concern for the unborn; they have to hate women and want to control them. No one can oppose gay marriage because they are leery of changing a fundamental pillar of society; they have to be filled with hate. No one can oppose the welfare state because they think it’s a long walk off a short plank; they have to be incapable of caring for people. No on can think global warming is overblown because they don’t trust the science; they have to be under the influence of Big Oil (this post was stimulated by the creation of a website designed to smear climate “dirty denier$” by linking them to fossil fuel interests).

That’s not to say that there are aren’t Right-Wingers who think their opponents are mentally defective or that there aren’t Leftists who understand that there are genuine differences in philosophy. But the need to see the opposition as defective or under baleful influence is much stronger on the Left and particularly among the hard Lefties who think Obama is a centrist wuss. It informs things like campaign finance reform and political correctness. It manifests in the enthusiasm for public school systems and public pre-K, in particular, so that children can be influenced to “correct” views at earlier and earlier ages.

But reading Applebaum’s account of the machinations of the Communists reveals that this attitude is not new or terribly original or particularly insightful. The belief that government can transform human beings — make them work harder, be less racist or get along better — is an offshoot of behaviorism: the belief that human beings are empty vessels waiting to be shaped by outside influences. And if they don’t take the desired shape, it is either because the vessel was defective or there are other forces at work.

The idea of self-determination simply never occurs to them.

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  1. Dave D

    ” ‘Cause as sure as I know anything I know this: They will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground, swept clean. A year from now, ten, they’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people……. better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave.”

    Mal Reynolds

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  2. bgeek

    On a more serious note, both this post and Alex’s recent post are examples described by Thomas Sowell in A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles as the constrained and unconstrained visions. I’m not very good at describing these things, but one of my favorite bloggers wrote about it a few years back (including DaveD’s quote at the end, heh):

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  3. Seattle Outcast

    Thanks bgeek – that was one on the best links I’ve ever come across.

    Several of the comments reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend of my wife who was actively trying to “change her man” into something he wasn’t, and had been at it for years. She bitched incessantly about him becoming “even worse” as he go older. I told her that it was because as people get older they become more refined in who they are – “refined” meaning they drop off the extra crap that doesn’t fit in well with how they behave and want they want. Their very nature was unchanged (and unchangeable), just purified (constrained). Her expecting her whining and bitching to somehow make him stop getting stoned every night, get an office job, and wear a suit to work as if he were some lump of clay (with good hair, six-pac abs, and a certain resemblance to John Holmes) to be molded (unconstrained) were pointless and doomed to fail forever.

    Moreover, he had personally told me that it annoyed the ever-living hell out of him, she was nuts, and the only reasons he stuck around were because she paid for vacations and food, and the sex was pretty good. I didn’t tell her most of that part, because she WAS crazy and I didn’t want to have to call the cops on her.

    Oddly enough, a few months later she finally had enough when he failed a job interview drug test and dumped him.

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  4. Technomad

    I’ve seen this attitude on both sides of the aisle. In many cases it’s because those who have it have lived their lives in an echo chamber where there aren’t dissenting opinions to be heard.

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  5. AlexInCT

    I’ve seen this attitude on both sides of the aisle. In many cases it’s because those who have it have lived their lives in an echo chamber where there aren’t dissenting opinions to be heard.

    No denying that. The question is why those on the left however always resort to the tyrannical systems they do. thinking that they know what’s best for people anyway, and then create all that misery and death. But it doesn’t end there. They feel they need to export that shit. Communism, Nazism, Arab Nationalism, the soft socialist nanny state, you fucking name it: it’s a collectivist disease that spreads like a cancer, appealing to the greedy and envious, and always makes excuses for theft of wealth and freedoms, and then, as they either take over by force or by buying votes, the results in oppression and misery.

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