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Conservatism is means, not ends

“Ends” are goals, “means” are methods.

One of the reason the left and the right can’t talk to each other is that the left ideology is about ends (justice for all) but is often flailing around when it comes to describing how to actually accomplish that, while the right ideology for the most part try to obscure their ends while having crisply defined means, a program for how they want to organize society and policy.

In fact, they have two such programs.

Sharing the same ends, probably better known as “fuck you, I’ve got mine”.

Conservatism and liberalism are two completely different philosophies. Orthogonal at best and incompatible at worst. One emphasizes order and rules, the other emphasizes freedom and liberty. This incongruity makes a fantastic toolkit for the ideology of the rich, because it covers so many bases.

The rich will in any given moment, for any given decision, cherry pick from one of the two to find support for what they really want, which is for the rich to get richer while the poor stay poor. The reason they don’t wanna lift all boats is because if there is no abyss of poverty, then negotiating brutal employee contracts will be slightly more inconvenient for them. Phrased differently, profit under market capitalism is about finding and exploiting weaknesses and bugs in the system. “Workers provide value add”? Corporations will exploit workers. “Transaction externalities are not accounted for”? Corporations will exploit the environment.

I’m not talking about the thousands of think-tankers and pundits here. Most of them are pretty set in one of those two philosophies (count all the “culture war”, “anti-SJW” stuff in under “conservatism”), apply it consistently, and only reach for the other to fill gaps where their philosophy is neutral.

These talking heads have selected one of the two means each and are usually at least somewhat consistent in applying those means. It’s weird how these incompatible talking heads so often willingly unite under one right-wing banner or political program, but it’s because they desire the same unjust ends.

Instead of these talking heads, I’m referring to the money in corrupt politics. Boards of corporations, rogue millionaires. For them, this dual nature of the right-wing politics is vital.

When their actual policies derived from one of the two philosophies are impopular, or too transparently about widening the wealth gap—they can just grab some wedge issues from the opposite philosophy. “Vote for our tax cuts and we will protect you against The Others!” Feudalism basically.

I need to add something here. Whenever we talk about “the rich” or “the owner class”, we have an extraordinary responsibility to take a stand against antisemitism, for two reasons. One is because here is where the antisemites are so we need to make sure they don’t feel welcome. They’re not gonna be ice-fishing in the middle of nowhere, no, they’re gonna try to worm their way into wherever the fundamental building blocks of politics are discussed. The other is that it’s been a core method of fascism throughout the last century to blame jews for everything that the owner class does, to associate the two. They want to twist things so that instead of “workers vs owners”, it’s gonna be “white vs jew”. Or “straight vs gay” or whatever the hate parade du jour is.

The solution

I forgot where I started with this. That right and left often can’t talk to each other in a way that fence-sitters and the politically curious can understand. It seems like they’re completely talking past each other.

Two things the left can do is to make the right wing’s ends explicit by step-by-step explaining the outcome (preserved or increased injustice) of right-wing polities, and to clarify their own means and why they believe those means will lead to their desirable ends.

And make those new left wing means good. No more gulags and bombs.

I’m frustrated since often left wing proposals don’t adequately address market capitalism’s two biggest problems, exploitation and externalities. A can of gasoline is bad even when it’s free.

Our program — our ends — can’t succeed unless we come up with some good workable means for it. And, making their despicable ends come across as crystal clear will cause a vulnerability for them.

Ultimately what does “defeating theirs” even mean? Is it us vs them until one side is dead? That’s not gonna work, since the problems are systemic (exploitation is incentivized) rather than cultural (i.e. don’t get fooled into thinking “some are just born to be evil bosses, we on the ‘good team’ would of course never…”). We need to figure out working systems that lead to the ends we want. We have a few victories already (Debian, Wikipedia, BitTorrent) so it’s not hopeless. But all those success stories focused on means, not ends. We need to figure out how to do it. What’s our program for society? What are our workable alternatives?