Bit of serendipity other day. As I was planning this post I was taken to task by a right wing tweeter unhappy, for some reason, that I had repeated the obvious truism that conservatives are much dumber than progressives. Progressivism, in fact, has an intelligence bias. Anyway, left him to his own world after a while, and sharpened up my intentions for this post.
Morning of 6 June 1968 in Australia, and the news was filtering in, few details, that Robert Kennedy had been shot while campaigning in California for the nomination as Democratic candidate for President (in one of those lovely historical quirks to face off, as it would transpire, against Richard Nixon, just as his brother had done 8 years earlier). So there we were having morning coffee in the tearoom at the university feeling sombre about the news, when in bounced my American academic room mate happily singing the words “Bobby Kennedy’s a vegetable, Bobby Kennedy’s a vegetable”. So demonstrating that (1) even California girls can be conservative (2) that university students can be conservative and (3) that there was a strain of Kennedy family hatred running deep among many Americans in 1968.
I always liked Bobby Kennedy. Saw him, I suppose, as a chance to restart the JFK promise cut short by that bastard in Dallas. And even more so. RFK seemed brighter than his brother and in the 5 years since his loss had come a long way on civil rights and the war. But the right were having none of that, and another bastard shot him, and then it was back to the mediocrity of Humphrey versus Nixon, the old firm back in town.
Said some good things, RFK, in those few brief years. One of the best known was “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” This was a paraphrased (and improved) quote from GB Shaw Back to Methuselah “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’” It’s one of those “two kinds of people in the world” dichotomies, and when I was thinking about the difference between conservatives and progressives it came back to me. Kennedy and Shaw are not quite right for this use for modern times, in fact have almost reversed in meaning.
Progressives look at the world, get the facts on how it is, and ask “Why is that the situation?”, “What do we do about that?”, “How do we solve that?” They live in a fact-based world where problems are identified, analysed, responded to in a real way. Conservatives have no interest in the actual world. One will say “I want to do that” and the other will say “Why not?” and that will settle the issue. Or to put it another way, conservatives have a rigid ideology to which they are determined to make the world conform. With violence if necessary. Or even if not necessary – to hell with it, good money to be made out of wars. They have no interest in looking around and finding out what the world is actually like, they know what it is like, exactly, none of that wishy washy progressive doubt sort of stuff. No need for any of that scientific research and analysis crap either. Just decision-making, that’s all that’s needed. If someone says can we clear this forest for development a conservative says “why not?” Conservatives can have a forest cleared while an ecologist is still putting on his work trousers. A factory owner asks “hey, is it really safe to keep pumping all this CO2 into the air?” A conservative says “why not? who’s ever going to notice?” A businessman says “Hey, why not cut my taxes even more?” A conservative says “why not indeed? Best if you paid no tax really. After all your wealth will trickle down to the undeserving poor eventually”. A billionaire says “Health care? For the poor? Why if you have to ask how much it is you can’t afford it.” A Libertarian says “Why not get rid of all regulation now?” A conservative says “D’Oh!”
And meanwhile the progressives are asking “Why is the planet warming? Why is the wealth gap increasing? Why are poor people still starving? Why are species rapidly going extinct? Why are buildings collapsing? Why are children still dying?” Trying to find out. Trying to do something about it.
Thing is, just between you and me, the answers to the Progressive’s questions are the results of the answers to the Conservative’s questions. Been the case since Methuselah’s time.
You know why.