October 13, 2011

On Stupidity and the Political Right

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English philosopher John Stuart Mill was very cautious with words. He was not a man of unreasonable statements. Therefore, we must seriously consider Mill’s words when he said, “Conservatives are generally stupid.” After meditating on the subject for a while, I found no opposition to Mill’s point. There is no doubt that conservatives are generally stupid. However, I also came to the conclusion that we need stupid people in society for it to be a better place. Just like an imbecile who is a source of laughter to a group of friends, conservatives have some usefulness for the rest of the public. Before trying to make sense of the obvious, I want to clarify that Mill referred to conservatives in the areas of individual, social and political rights –– rather than those on the economic spectrum.

In order to understand why most conservatives are generally stupid, I find it necessary to explore  how social consensus on what is inherently good comes to exist. In 1919, Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in Abrams v. United States that “… the ultimate good desired [for society] is better reached by free trades in ideas” and “… the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” This piece of judicial reasoning became the foundation for the legal concept known as the “marketplace of ideas.” In parallel to the theory of the economic equilibrium, supporters of the marketplace of ideas claim that if all members of society are allowed to express their views without restrictions, then the truth –– which is good in itself — shall eventually prevail.Throughout most of history, the truth has been paired with the liberal side. Most conservative opinions that competed with these liberal points of view, on the other hand, are treated today with an overwhelming sense of repulsiveness. In simpler words, conservatives are generally stupid because they typically argue in favor of the wrong side. Justifying slavery, forcing people to believe in God and denying women the right to vote are a just a few conservative stances that eventually fell to liberal causes. Additionally, we can deduce that conservatives themselves are liberals lagging a few steps behind. For example, former Alabama Governor George Wallace — who was elected on the campaign slogan “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” — must be rolling over in his tomb knowing that George H. W. Bush nominated Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.The one thing I must give conservatives credit for, however, is their perseverance –– although I guess it could also be categorized as stubbornness. It is really sad to see how they genuinely think they stand a chance against the liberal truth in the marketplace of ideas. The next thing you know, Rick Perry will be the next conservative rolling over in his tomb when, not so long from now, Texas elects a homosexual governor. The past suggests that it will happen. It is just a matter of time. But do not worry, conservatives out there. You may not be alive to see it, so you can join Mr. Perry and cry in your tombs as well. Your great granddaughter will see it, though, but she will probably be too liberal for your taste.But in spite of their stubbornness and stupidity, conservatives do have an important role in society. Their ideas in the marketplace cause the liberalization process to be one of gradual changes. As the Ancient Greeks argued, nothing in excess is beneficial. Too much change in a short period of time can have undesirable consequences for society. For instance, although the French Revolution is one of the most notable liberal achievements, there is no denying it had some shortcomings. With the revolution and the monarchy’s destruction, France’s entire social and political structure was shaken, causing a lack of established order. As a result, the new leaders of the Republic did not have any type of institutional limits to their powers. During this time, it allowed people and entities like Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobin Club to abuse their authority. As leaders of France, Robespierre and the Jacobins established an authoritarian regime that later became known as the Reign of Terror. Although the conservative monarchy had already been ruined, people’s rights were still being violated. More than 10,000 members of the revolution were killed for having unpopular political views. Many political science studies support the hypothesis that, had the regime transition been more gradual, political polarization would had been much weaker. Although conservative views are usually stupid, they allow society to adapt itself to the ongoing liberalization. In conclusion, just like the swim test and prelims, conservatives are a necessary pain in the ass.You know what? I think I am actually being unfair to conservatives. In the words of Mill, “I did not mean to say that the conservatives are generally stupid. I [simply] meant to say that stupid people are generally conservative.”Abdiel Ortiz-Carrasquillo is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at aortiz@cornellsun.com. I Respectfully Dissent appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: AJ Ortiz