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  • The Paranoid Left

    Posted by Shannon Love on September 16th, 2004 (All posts by )

    (Note: Reason seems to be having server problems, again)

    Over on Hit and Run, Nick Gillespie points to an article on Slate about Lewis H. Lapham defense of his analysis of the Republican convension he wrote and published before the convention occurred.

    One bit drew my attention:

    “The paranoid-reductionist formula goes like this: People connected by money, greed, and ideology are building institutions to foist their self-centered agendas and corrupt ideas on the easily hoodwinked masses. These people are so unscrupulous and cunning that they’re willing to present the most outrageous untruths as fact.”

    I have noted a generalized paranoid and conspiratorial tone on the part of the Left in many areas. It’s gotten so bad that I think that even Kerry gives off this creepy Nixon vibe.

    Where does this paranoia come from?

    I think this paranoia springs from the Left’s statist world view. If you believe that the world is easily ordered and centrally controlled and you are losing a competition badly, your immediate assumption will be that you have been out-organized and out-controlled. Since they can’t see the levers of control that their model says must be there, the levers must be hidden and therefore part of a conspiracy. It’s very logical given their statist axioms.

    Their axiom is flawed. The contemporary world works just fine in a highly decentralized fashion. It’s quite easy for previously unassociated people to organize themselves for political action. No shadowy manipulator is required.

    More broadly, Leftist ideas are not failing due to some Rightwing propaganda campaign. Most people are not sheep and make political decisions based not on the dictates of think tanks but on their own personal experience. The Left is losing today because fewer people work as drones carrying out the decisions of others and more people work as independent decision makers. A broader swath of the electorate has direct experience with the real world information management and this has made them increasingly leery of centralized solutions. They have seen to many centralized solutions fail in the real world.

    The Left appears unwilling to entertain the idea that history has passed them by. They have become the conservatives in the political spectrum but they have the idea that they represent the forward thinking progressive segment so en-grained into them that the only explanation they can entertain for their electoral failure is some grand conspiracy.

    It’s actually kind of sad.


    17 Responses to “The Paranoid Left”

    1. Ginny Says:

      I like your optimism and energy. This was interesting and your focus on Lapham especially so.
      I’d have more sympathy for this if people like Lapham ever recognized the swath of death that followed the statist societies of the 20th century. The old guys singing Wobbly songs is, well, kind of touching – but the policies those old guys applauded were not. And the lies they were willing to swallow to keep their ideals are not unlike Rather’s “well, I’m sure it’s so, so it isn’t important if the documents are forged.” Now, though, the lies are so little that they, too, have become pathetic. (No, I have seen the future and it works. Instead, we have I have seen the rantings of a disgruntled and depressive guy whose forgeries are just images of the real truth.)

    2. Lex Says:

      “It’s actually kind of sad.”

      Not really. When they are utterly defeated, gone, swept away, history — then maybe we can find something sad. For now, they are very much alive, very much trying to enact policies which will be bad and destructive. They still glorify evil and destructive men and policies. There is a new movie coming out about that totalitarian thug Che Guevarrra which depicts him as a romantic hero. This election is not even over yet. No tears for the Left yet please.

    3. Richard A. Heddleson Says:

      This view comes from having been on top of the heap and having fallen off. It used to be the province of Edwin Walker and the Impeach Earl Warren crowd. But with Goldwater the ascendency of conservatismbegan and with Regan it was asurred. It’s still there with the Drugs from Mena/Vince Foster crowd, but they are a smaller and smaller minority. Those on the way up are loking at what can be those on the way down look at what was.

    4. Shannon Love Says:

      I guess a feel the same sort of sadness ones feels for the loss of an of a effective (as opposed to worthy) opponent.


      Perhaps its like spending years tracking down Nazi war criminal and finding he’s now nothing but a senile old man in a nursing home.

      On a more practical level, I find the implosion of the Democratic party very frightening. I believe our freedoms ultimately survive because the political class is to busy wailing on each other to have time to go after the rest of us.

      It as if a cougar suddenly leaps into your camp one night and just about as it’s about to eat you a bear burst from woods and starts fighting the cougar. You would be rooting for the bear but after the cougar runs off, you’re still left with a pissed of bear.

      Perhaps, my sense of sadness comes from a my sense of self-preservation.

    5. Mitch Says:

      Shannon, you trumped my ace. Excellent post! I was looking at spontaneous order and the natural evolution of complex systems, trying to put a post together. Here’s an article elaborating on it in which the author advances a similar hypothesis. More here.

    6. Lex Says:

      “… the implosion of the Democratic party very frightening…” It will heal itself. Political parties are about winning elections the way baseball teams are about winning pennants. If the Ds get drubbed, they will find a way to reach into the center. This will outrage their true believers, who may form third parties for a while, but the status quo won’t continue.

      I’m far more frightened of a renewed, centrist DNC approach, whose express purpose is to create middle class entitlements so that the majority of people are reliant on government for their basic needs, and the Donks can always outbid the Elephant on providing government services. That was what HillaryCare was all about. When they are like this, they aren’t too dangerous. Though this election is not over yet. When they are like Bill and Hillary Clinton, they are much, much more of a threat.

    7. Shannon Love Says:


      My background is in biology and computers so I actually come to the Chicago school obliquely. I learned about self-organization first in biology, then as applied to computers and then began to wonder how that applied to economics and others forms of human organization. Only after I had learned all that did I blunder into set of economist who had been making similar arguments, for slightly different reasons, long before I was born.

    8. Shannon Love Says:

      ” If the Ds get drubbed, they will find a way to reach into the center.”

      I like to think so but I am afraid that with all the paranoia, the Swiftvets and now Rathergate, to many Dems will conclude that they lost due to “dirty tricks.”

      What they need is a core reevaluation of the solutions they are offering the American people. I don’t see them doing that.

    9. dick Says:

      I like your comment about progressivism. I still cannot see how it is progress to attempt policies that make more and more people dependent on the government instead of being trained to rely on their own abilities. To me that is anything but “progressive.”

      Instead what I see from the “progressives” is the tendency to try “new” ideas that if they do not work are replaced by still “newer” ideas that if they do not work are replaced by another “newer” ideas attempt. Problem is that the “new” and “newer” ideas are the same old ideas that have not worked before but with a new name. They never seem to learn that their history is working against them because the people are remembering their old policies and are voting against them. Standing there with your hands on your hips and screaming that the opposition is not telling the truth does not hide the total absence of workable ideas from your party. The LLL just does not seem to realize this. They just rename the same tired old arguments and trot them out there again or else have a platform that is long on anything but whatever the opposition is saying and short on details of how they would implement them or why they would ever work given their failure before.

      What I find especially said is that the spokesmen the LLL are listening to are so totally out of it. Would Truman or FDR or Scoop Jackson or even George McGovern ever have permitted a Michael Moore to play a significant role in the candidacy or a MoveOn organization or a Soros or a Stephen Bing? Would they ever have pulled a stupid move like “Reporting for Duty and a lousy salute” like Kerry did at the Convention? Would they ever have lied about their past like Kerry has? Would the party of that time ever have even considered a candidate whose sole claim of a platform was a 4 month stint of duty in a war that he then testified against immediately after and then nothing else until the current year? The LLL is just getting sorrier and sorrier all the time.

    10. Lex Says:

      “…a core reevaluation of the solutions …”

      Give them time. The GOP was hopelessly in the woods from 1932-36, tried a dark-horse centrist in 1940 (Willkie), lost, tried an unideological “good government” guy (Dewey) in 1944 and ’48, lost, then came up with a popular unideological general in ’52 and ’56 but still did not have a core reevaluation and slipped into a permanent minority in the Congress. It lost in 1960 with a centrist, Nixon, then tried a core reevaluation in 1964 and got demolished. The Donks committed suicide in 1968, and again in 1972. The Gop committed suicide in 1973 (Watergate) and so lost in 1976. The core reevaluation finally achieved majority status in 1980.

      Core reevaluations take time. There is usually a dominant party in America. GOP 1960-1932 (only 2 D presidents), Donks 1932-1964, up for grabs 1968-80, GOP dominant 1980-now, with Clinton like Eisenhower, a centrist running against his party’s ideological core, holding the presidency but presiding over a major decay of his party’s congressional position.

      The party which is the underdog tends to have the most ideologically charged members, who stay with the loser out of loyalty, but alienate potential swing voters. “True believers” are annoying to everybody who doesn’t already agree with them, whether of the Right or the Left. This sets up a negative feedback loop that makes it hard to reach into the center. The Conservatives whom Wm F. Buckley had to work with in the early 1950s were in large part moonbats of the right, a classic example of this phenomenon. Read John Judis’s biography. Forming a majority for conservatism took a generation.

      Also, remember Harold MacMillan’s wise comment that what brings down a government is “events, dear boy, events.” Disasters (wars, depressions, scandals) come along from time to time and take a party down. Sometimes they stay down (GOP in 1932 during the Depression) sometimes they are only down for a while (1974-80, GOP down due to Watergate).

      Give the process time.

    11. rdbrewer Says:

      Lefty paranoia–fear, in other words–reflects the fact that so many more of them embrace more instinctive, primitive, and less rational thought processes that originate in older parts of the human brain. One of these limbic-system urges is this need for security-in-numbers within the perceived strongest group. Victor David Hanson recently wrote:

      But there is another answer to the institutionalization of the left. . . . what Tom Wolfe famously called “radical chic,” the use of leftist ideology as a fashion marker to signify one’s elitist superiority to the bovine middle class befuddled by a false consciousness that keeps them from seeing the horrible oppression and injustice of America.

      When this security is threatened, fear and aggression are tools for reinforcing group cohesiveness and dominant group status. When overdone, the resulting behavior grates on our sense of reason, appearing irrational and paranoid. I think this is reflected somewhat in your statement, “If you believe . . . you are losing a competition badly, your immediate assumption will be that you have been out-organized and out-controlled. Since they can’t see the levers of control that their model says must be there, the levers must be hidden and therefore part of a conspiracy. ”

      –based on a previous post at The Perfect World

    12. Shannon Love Says:


      I think you are correct that there is a lot of emotional and cultural content in peoples political choices and identifications but in this case I wanted to address the intellectual or axiomatic source of the conspiracy theory.

    13. mark safranski Says:

      Usually when partisans begin bitterly attacking the intelligence of the voters they’ve reached a point where denial is preferable to having admitted they blew it.

    14. Sandy P Says:

      — Clinton like Eisenhower, a centrist running against his party’s ideological core, holding the presidency but presiding over a major decay of his party’s congressional position.–

      Presiding over??

      Actively helping which doesn’t make sense, ‘cos Evita’s a lefty like the rest of the whack-a-do wing.

      But the country isn’t.

    15. Mike Everett Says:

      “My background is in biology and computers so I actually come to the Chicago school obliquely. I learned about self-organization first in biology…”

      Cool! I’m betting that Gregory Bateson is a big influence. Right?

    16. Lex Says:

      “Presiding over??”

      Sandy, I tried to do a capsule history of 3/4 of American political history in one paragraph — cut me a little slack if didn’t stick the knife into Clinton all that hard. On substance, I’ll stand pat on the Ike/Bill analogy and “presiding over”. Eisenhower’s party was to far to the right of where the country wanted to be in the 1950s, and he straddled the divide. Clinton’s party was too far to the left of where the country wanted to be in the 1990s, and he too, famously, “triangulated” betweem his own core and the opposing party.

    17. Shannon Love Says:

      ” I’m betting that Gregory Bateson is a big influence. Right?”

      Never heard of the man. I did just google him up and I don’t think I have read anything by him.

      My long slide began with Nobel Prize winning chemist Ilya Prigogine and his book Order Out of Chaos

      Gregory Bateson is an anthropologist. My influence come from mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and information theory.

      Perhaps I should do a post on that.