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George Carlin on detachment:I have no stake in the outcome.

That's the only thing I aspire to: detachment. Big talk? Maybe?

Gene Blanchette

Dave -- Great piece. I am one of your regular readers and very infrequent commenters -- Gene

Dave Cohen

Thanks for that, Gene.

My only fears today are my usual fears, namely that people will not grasp what they just read, and very few will read it.


-- Dave

Mike Brehm

Dave -

Outstanding essay and one that clearly delineates (at least to me) what being truly "liberal" means. Something that has been tossed aside in today's world of pigeon-holing every idea, thought, response or belief. Does one, or does one not believe in some upward/forward progess for humanity?

I believe if you asked most people, especially Americans, they would say they are "liberal", misconstruing the underlying meaning and fitting their response(s) into the current liberal versus conservative battle meme that is broadcast towards them 24/7. After all, as you stated, who can be against equal rights for all, the abolishment of slavery, using a portion of society's wealth to conquer polio or smallpox? If that's what being "liberal" meant, then I would wholeheartedly agree.

And yet, I am admittedly perplexed by your questions, for I too answered each in complete agreement.

I would never call myself a "conservative" in the vein of today's meaning of the term and yet I just affirmed that I must somehow be one. Or at least that I must contain multitudes, as Whitman said. Or maybe just that it's all illusion after all - maybe the lyrics from "Both Sides Now" would fit my mindset better this morning.

Excellent questions for today. At the very least Dave, you put forward real ideas for discussion, instead of the pre-chewed mush I find elsewhere. Kudos for that.

Don Levit

I like the explanation of human behavior offered by Judaism in the discussion of the yetzer tov (the good inclination) and the yetzer hara (the evil inclination).
Chasidic Jews consider the evil inclination to be stronger than the good inclination.
Thus, we have the 613 commandments to perform in order to weaken the evil inclination and strengthen the good inclination.
Note that these are commandments, which, supposedly, are to override our personal wishes.
Honestly, I don't do all 613. I do not even know what they all entail.
But, I do believe the evil inclination is stronger than the good, and we must work on and refine our good inclination to strengthen it.
Don Levit

Dave Cohen


Re: I must somehow be one (a conservative)

Well, ask yourself this.

Do I believe in the magical ability of free markets, democratic governments and technology to make our lives better, to achieve the greatest prosperity and comfort for the greatest number?

If the answer is yes, then you can kiss tradition, continuity, conservation, stability and constraints goodbye. In fact, they are already long gone in America. We have already kissed them goodbye.

-- Dave

A Natural Mystic

Thanks for this lucid analysis, Dave. I am very much a 'conservative' in this sense, and I look forward to your follow up post.

Mike Brehm

Dave -

Then I can emphatically say 'NO'. I don't believe in a free market - all markets are rigged; I barely have belief in the concept of democratic governments, much less the institutions that actually exist; and while technology is my field, I am the naysayer who always likes to point out shortcomings, much to the consternation of those who employ me.

However, that still doesn't afford me any pleasure thinking of those ideals which we've lost.

A Natural Mystic

Something to put this definition of 'conservative' in context:

"There are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams."

This quote is from Ronald Reagan, and I believe it best summarizes the "progressive" or "liberal" worldview that Dave describes in this entry. It is also a statement that both Obama and Rom Mittney would heartily endorse, and indeed, that all American politicians would endorse. It is a quintessentially Progressive, and hence, quintessentially American phrase - the Myth of Progress having informed the ideals and direction of this country from its very origins.


Definitely one of your best essays. It is a simple truth that man is still so close to his animal ancestry. The emotional mind too often rules the prefrontal cortex.

As we watch this democratically-based political system begin to break and flounder, due to inherent human corruption and irrationality, I wonder what can replace it when it meets its inevitable end.

Not for me as I will be gone. But for the children and grandchildren of those who follow. I suppose it will come down to the fact that they must make the most of the world they find. Were there but some other way ....

Robert Cook

There is a new book out, The Righteous Mind. Is that what has prompted these thoughts? Do you want to distinguish between different kinds of conservatives, and make the distinction between conservatives and libertarians?


Having just left behind a century in which more human beings were butchered more efficiently than in any preceding period, (and far more profitably I might add) I tend to agree with Kant’s maxim ‘ Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made’.
But this sort of Calvinistic world view is a bit too grim. Admittedly, as a passenger on this ship of fools, the inclination to brood and become cynical is tempting.
I think more of an existentialist approach is appropriate. Yes, life seems to shit at times. The deck is stacked, we behave as fools –but I think our dilemma is more profound. The task is to either to be able to find the beauty and joy in this existence, some fortitude and capacity for kindness, - or to go behind the barn and blow your brains out. The choice is always present.
We find ourselves here, by chance, with no clue as to why or for what purpose, and are tasked with deriving some meaning from the experience. Some find comfort in belief in supernatural spirits, gods, life after death and all sorts of imaginative explanation stories, but no one really has any knowledge.
I’m planting a garden again this year with more than enough to share with the community, always on the lookout for the ideas and the stamina to find ways on my watch to leave the place in better shape than I found it. It’s enough. Thanks for your thoughtful piece.


Excellent essay, Dave. Thank you for your thoughts and energy...willingness to risk and share.

Ian Fraser


I have a few questions on the points you raised.

- Tradition has great value
- Continuity has great value
- Conservation has great value
- Stability has great value
- Constraints (on behavior) have great value

I don't understand what you mean by 'tradition'. Tradition, in my way of thinking can be good and/or bad. Religion/superstitions/old wives tales are traditions. Do they all have great value? Some do, some are value neutral and many are of negative value.

Likewise continuity, conservation, continuity, stability— of what? Of tradition?

Stability of what?

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