Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Worst Conservative Columnist Strikes Again

My liberal brethren might prefer Bill Kristol, but for me good old Dennis Prager is the worst right-wing columnist in the land. In my view, the man is sort of the final stage of evolution in conservative thought: not only does he have no new innovative ideas, not only does he not really have a grasp of the classic conservative ideas, but he barely even understands the dogmatic propaganda practiced by the gutter rightists of conservative talk radio. He is to William F. Buckley what Fred Durst is to Paul McCartney, the rigor mortis of something once interesting and vital. I suppose it's just part of the natural cycle of things, but just sad nonetheless.

Here's how he starts his newest column: "Reading the onslaught of angry denunciations of Burger King by mental health organizations and mainstream media reporters this past week reminded me of a characteristic of the Left not often commented on [sic]..." Now, there are a number of characteristics of the Left that aren't frequently commented upon. Many of them would be perfectly fair grist for criticism from the right. Perhaps we could have a column about the ascendancy of science on the left vs. the irritating vaccine truthism that undermines that claim? No, rather it's one of the most obvious and lazy stereotypes of liberals one can find: "a certain joylessness, even an antipathy to the little joys that contribute more than almost anything else to most people's ability to endure the difficulties of life." Of course, the common stereotype of a liberal is either a hippie or a stern sermonizer (likely a feminist) which goes all the way back to jokes about those damn annoying suffragettes who won't just go home and please their men. That view is never never a middle-class black man or a union plumber, or an urban-dwelling twentysomething just living a normal life, which I'd guess are more prevalent paradigms for liberals these days.

So, Prager is lazy. But the hilarious part is how he diagnoses this supposed flaw:
Leftism functions as a (secular) religion. Like medieval Christians who wore hair shirts and Puritans who thought dancing was sacrilegious, the Left, consciously or not, is uncomfortable with many of the joys -- with notable exceptions such as sex and drugs -- that people experience.
Of course liberalism proceeds naturally from Puritanism. Because that makes sense. It's uninspired right agitprop that isn't even that good: the attack on Christianity is wrong for this readership, and the standard conservative line is that the left are hedonists who say, "Hey, man, if it feels good, do it!" This is what happens when one never reads any books on political philosophy and just has their worldview created by half-heard broadcasts of El Rushbo and Hannity. Meet Karl Pilkington, conservative pundit.

But Prager's article includes the other fresh new topics:
  • Liberals are just too sensitive
  • Smoking is great! Liberals hate it.
  • Kids should be playing more violent school games
  • Women should just accept sexism. No biggie.
  • The left sometimes puts limits on conspicuous consumption, and this is totally an infringement of our basic freedoms, man!
Look, I'm not going to say that all these are completely wrong. Liberals can be oversensitive. It's true. But this usually springs from a desire to make other people feel comfortable and welcomed. Perhaps there is overkill in this direction, certainly. But I think it stems from a fundamentally noble impulse. What one sees from Prager here is hostility to the notion that people should be concerned about the feelings of others. Hostility to the notion that he should have his behavior restrained in any way, from driving a big car to hitting on coworkers, from using his own light bulbs to smoking in public, although he hedges enough that it seems that little of the examples he cites (or, more often, refuses to cite) pertain to him. He confuses legislation with social mores, and while the former are debatable on a policy level, it's his take on the latter that confuses me. It's this whacked-out half-bit notion of freedom that some conservatives possess who apparently don't have a clue about the intense pressures that all society places on individuals to fit in, which are largely not evil and can actually make life quite a bit less stressful. On the whole I favor letting people do what they want to do, but this notion that society should be some sort of free-for-all bothers me. Frankly, it's not just women who are uncomfortable with a Hustler centerfold staring them in the face at an auto shop--it's me too. What's important to note here is that Prager is not defending some sort of vision of a less intrusive and more mellow society. He is defending his own boorishness and his mania to do whatever he wants. If someone has a problem with it, well, that's their problem. If you can't handle it, too bad. It's interesting that this guy makes two separate points about o'erweaning gender sensitivity despite the fact that he's been married about four times. It's practically poignant in his case. And you just know that if Prager got his wish, and people just dropped their inhibitions and started acting in the brutal, no-holds-barred way that he evidently likes, he'd be the first one whining about people being rude to him in public. What's he even advocating? Who even wants this stuff?

One of the liberal quips of conservative thought is that you can replace "freedom" in conservative slogans with "privilege" and get the desired result. This is generally reductive. For Prager, it's practically an understatement. (White male) privilege is not orthogonal to what he's saying. It's at best at a 45 degree angle.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.