We went to visit our liberal friend in New York. The last I was there before, the WTC towers were still standing. The Giuliani reforms just started working.
Before we went, we all agreed not to talk politics but we all know how difficult that is. Everything is politics.We drove by a school proudly declaring itself a magnet school on a sign above its entrance. “I hate these things” she said. “Why?” I asked. She started to explain and in the middle of the explanation she asked a rhetorical question: “who wouldn’t agree that we need excellent public education?” My wife and I answered in almost perfect unison: “I wouldn’t”- said I, “I would, it is just not possible” – said my wife.
“Well, there you go” she said in apparent shock and that was the end of the conversation.
Her incomplete explanation was pointing to the usual leftist arguments justifying coercion: we have to force everybody to do things our way for the greater good, because it is unfair to the rest to allow some to have it better, besides, allowing some to have it better means fewer resources for the rest which will further diminish their ability to compete with the privileged.
What her question implied was the foundational socialist credo: “who wouldn’t agree that we should all be equal?” That we should all get the same, ‘excellent’ health care, education, pension and whatever services we all decide that we all should be provided with. We could start arguing with these points on any number of grounds, practical, biological, psychological, moral and philosophical, but it was not the subject that fascinated me the most. It was the reaction. The shock over our answers to her question which she considered beyond any possibility of discussion. She meant it to be the starting point of her argument.
I could call it a platitude, but the question had a function, the establishment of a baseline of agreement, the prerequisite to any further discussion:
Who wouldn’t agree that the state must provide education to all who need it?
Who wouldn’t agree that the state should be in full control of its finances, its curriculum, its policies?
Who wouldn’t agree that it must be compulsory to serve the interest of ‘society’?
Who wouldn’t agree that we should aim for equal outcomes that would be jeopardized if we treated some students differently?
Who wouldn’t agree that we should not allow ordinary people to make selfish decisions about the education of their children, jeopardizing the general welfare of the collective?
All of these and more are implied in the one word: “public.”
‘Public’ simply means taxpayer financed, state coerced, bureaucracy controlled, but the left sees all these as blessings that will guarantee the much desired equal outcome, which, I think, comes closest to their definition of ‘excellent.’
Our answers were a genuine shock to her. How could I explain that I do not agree with any government involvement in education at any level and to any extent? That I even agree with Rothbard who argued very well that education should not even be compulsory?
We cannot possibly have a discussion if we cannot agree on the most basic assumptions about it, but how could I confront an unexamined, moralizing assumption with a complex set of evidence showing why the assumptions are wrong?
If I pressed it, she probably would have said that what I would find desirable (an unconditional voucher system) will never happen therefore there is no point in talking about it; we shouldn’t even consider trying it.
The fact that we even started the conversation clearly indicates that she sees problems in the present system, problems that she blames (probably among other things) on magnet schools. Her question was an expression of credo, a set of basic tenets that should not be discussed. We can talk about fixing the existing machinery; we cannot talk about replacing it. No matter how bad ‘public’ education is and no matter how ‘excellent’ the alternatives prove themselves to be, we all just must agree that what we need is “excellent public education.”
This was obviously just an example but it demonstrated to me perfectly how the left is increasingly likely to live in an intellectual bubble. Like-minded people whipping each other into a righteous frenzy that is also fed by the media, the entire educational establishment and political activists.
The ideas behind the world view this bubble is built upon are fundamentally political advancing the interests of particular political classes. Their basic assumptions are not questioned or analyzed and when they are questioned from the outside, those who are questioning them are dismissed as insane. Much the same way the later day soviets treated their opponents as insane.
I must point out that the political right is not entirely blameless of a similarly closed minded attitude but at least they are a bit more likely to get at least the principles – individual freedom and personal responsibility – right.
Liberals hardly get anything right, but it does not matter. They don’t need to prove that they are right. They only have to win. To win, they need to be motivated. To be motivated, they need emotional and ‘intellectual’ support and reinforcement. They need to live in a bubble.
Living in a bubble is comfortable.
Living with the belief that you are on the right side of history is reassuring.
Living with the conviction of moral superiority is empowering.
Living with the knowledge that you are winning the war is exciting.
Living in liberal New York must be great.