Thursday, April 06, 2006

Dear George,

In your column this week you displayed a very mature grasp of the distressing consequences of over-consumption. This is one of many persistent structural injustices that make those hearts bleed and bleed, and you are more than correct to identify this as a salient reason why liberals are less happy.

The question I have is how do conservatives better deal with these apparent problems? In some cases, they rationally doubt the serious nature of the problem, or the efficacy of the liberal solution. In some cases, they are convinced by the messages they hear in the media. And in other cases, they are outwardly convinced despite rational doubts. For some people, on some issues, this duplicity can rightly be described as self-delusion. In other cases, the individual is not convinced but is comfortable causing others to become naively convinced with his wordplay. Those who can do so without being nagged by their conscience can claim to be happy. Those who are nagged but don't want to reveal their sins may profess happiness and eventually convince themselves they are happy.

It's sometimes reasonable to doubt the potential of government reform, but doing so is often tantamount to doubting the spirit of the American people around you. People exert a great deal of power over each other by communicating their expectations of each other, verbally and nonverbally, intentionally and unintentionally, and these predictions have an element of self-fulfillment in lots of folks. Children see the adults in their environment behaving in certain ways, they expect their peers to rationally do the same, and they expect their peers to expect nothing less of themselves. An emphasis on tradition greater than justified by naive utilitarianism can strengthen these self-fulfilling phenomena, and indeed this may be the central aspect of conservatism (trying to conserve that which already exists, if my etymology is accurate).

You recognized that a pessimistic attitude about, among other things, the initiative put forth by the other people in the community of citizens, is likely to yield verifiable predictions. I wonder what you think would happen to the predictive power of pessimism if the entire community of pessimist conservatives suddenly switched to unabashed optimism. My concern is that acceptance of the status quo and reluctance to invest in reform is a stance that reflects a distressing disregard for the well-being of others, in our time and in the future. Perhaps liberals are not the naive ones after all; perhaps their ideas about opportunity and collective sacrifice are well-founded, and perhaps the persistent failure of certain ideals is as much a result of conservative cultural inertia as it is a consequence of true human nature. It's said that people will live up or down to your expectations. I understand that you agree on the down part, and I want to hear your thought on the up side.

Mr. Will, thank you for the minutes you spent reading this. Please trust that any note of reply will be eagerly read and well appreciated.

-Mike

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