Wanted: A clue, and some tutoring

Wanted: A clue, and some tutoring

Not to show my age or anything, but there used to be a time when people with great intellects dominated public discourse on the right. Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley Jr., Florence King (her back page column in National Review magazine was, by its own self, worth twice the subscription). Jonah Goldberg wasn’t bad either. 

It’s one thing to disagree with someone, even vehemently. But can we at least ask that the people leading various movements be able to marshal an argument half-worthy of the name? 

I don’t know what happened, but somehow things went downhill, and fast. The loudmouths of Fox News started taking over with their anchors famous for how much hairspray, makeup and Vaselined teeth they can hold in place while wearing incredibly tight dresses. I am of course talking about the men. 

Don’t get me wrong. I love healthy teeth. I floss each one of mine every day. But Ann Coulter telling the US-born Nikki Haley to “go back to your own country” is, I’m afraid, what passes for intellectual heft on today’s American right.

Sometimes I wonder what terrifying movie Alfred Hitchcock would make if he were alive today and watching cable television four hours a day. 

The collective intellectual blackhole on the right is even worse in Canada. (Not that the left is tripping over smart giants, but at least they drive tiny electric cars so they’re quieter.) If you haven’t seen this gem from the Daily Show, which appeared one year ago, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. 

I know, I know. It’s unfair to compare randomly selected foot soldiers with an intellect like Russell Kirk’s, or, frankly, that of an average mayonnaise jar. But you’ve got to admit these people are more than a little lost in their own minds. 

They cannot begin to start explaining what they want, except maybe for having sex with the prime minister. Seriously, the Fuck Trudeau flags (and hoodies and tees and hats and bumper stickers) are — by far — the clearest, most easily understood message of the whole thing. Which is weird because I didn’t think they liked Justin Trudeau enough for that. 

Yes, I’m tired of that joke, too. I’ll retire it when the flags go away, promise. 

Michael Kempa, UofO criminologist and all-around swell guy, went on a car ride with the CBC the other day to talk about where that movement is now. They are, he said, looking for some of the “gold dust” they had last year when they felt on top of the world. Alas, they have no leader, no common cause, no dust, no nothing. 

Nor, I might add, a clue or money or clout or anything other than incoherent, intransitive anger. 

In my most recent Ottawa Citizen column I took a swipe at the convoyers too, comparing them to untutored campus libertarians who don’t know anything about where their freedom comes from, how it works, even sometimes how it’s spelled. 

Everybody has the right to protest. I have no problem with that. But have a fucking point, will you? Freedom is not a point. It’s not a political goal. It’s a tool you use to accomplish something else. Or just something you enjoy as you go about your life. 

Actually, what we have in Canada is liberty under law, and although it’s not perfect it generally works pretty well. Unless you’re a paranoid dunderhead from St. Eustace by the Eternal Snowbank, who hasn’t been anywhere near paved roads in the last few decades. Then of course you are justified in believing, dur comme fer as we say where I’m from, that Justin Trudeau is personally tracking your movements so he can finally hypnotize you until you accept to be injected with Bill Gates’ poison for the benefit of the Davos crew, or that Jordan P******* is right to believe 15-minute neighbourhoods are a plot to take away your mobility rights.

I spent too much of my twenties among libertarians. I even identified as one for a while. I went to I don’t remember how many events, conferences and seminars and — oh yeah, there were a lot of parties, too, where people openly smoked pot and drank more than necessary because hell, freedom. We studied South Park and The Simpsons and that notoriously impossible to understand film, Brazil. We read Ayn Rand’s novels (yes, including the rancid sex scenes), memorized the proper spelling of Friedrich Hayek’s name while soaking in the public choice subtleties of the Chicago school of economics. We worshipped Gary Becker, you know?

We debated and argued and had a grand old time of it, too. Especially seeing as those trips were subsidized by rich cranks (I know; now you’re shocked). For a few years I wrote columns on libertarian themes. Those in turn heavily inspired my first book. 

I tell you all this so you know I don’t dismiss libertarianism out of hand. I know exactly why I dismiss it. 

In theory, it can work beautifully. Sort of like communism. It’s just that everywhere it’s been tried it has failed… mostly because libertarianism relies on people agreeing voluntarily to look after their fellows, including those in society who need help. In theory they should; in real life they don’t.

Also? For the average person to take on the responsibility of, say, solving homelessness is too big a burden. And even if they were game for it, by themselves they wouldn’t be very efficient and organizing a large enough group of individuals to address such a big problem requires so much in resources that it makes more sense to let the government do it. Or try to. Results are mixed at best. But at least people are trying. 

When it comes to protecting the largest number of humans possible from a deadly pandemic, the power of government is the only one strong enough to enforce necessary public health measures. For sure, governments don’t always get it right. Or they start well but end poorly. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Every time it’s more expensive than it should be. But there is no question that without pandemic restrictions very large numbers of people would have died. 

I for one am not ready to trade those lives for the “freedom” to shop at Costco without a mask until most of us are fully vaccinated. And now that we are, we don’t need masks nearly as much. Public health measures worked. We can debate where the line should be between community safety and personal freedom, of course. But to debate, we need people who can think and talk half-way coherently on all sides of the argument. 

With their trucks, those untutored morons aren’t trying to debate. They’re just proving to everyone they are either unable or unwilling to think. 

Like I said in my column, if Milton Friedman hadn’t been cremated like the rational economist he was, he’d be spinning in his grave at the sight of what some people are doing in the name of freedom.