Evan Sayet says progressive values derive from an “indiscriminateness, which invariably leads the Modern Liberal to side with evil over good, wrong over right, and behaviors that lead to failure rather than success.” (More)
Good and Evil, Part I: “One of the five most important conservative speeches ever given”
This week Morning Feature unpacks Evan Sayet’s 2007 Heritage Foundation speech Regurgitating the Apple: How Modern Liberals “Think”. Today we’ll explore Sayet’s central thesis: that by refusing to discriminate progressives invariably choose Evil over Good. Tomorrow we’ll explore what Sayet’s speech reveals about conservative moral reasoning. Saturday we’ll conclude with how progressive moral reasoning focuses includes systemic factors and questions of practical efficacy that conservatives prefer to ignore.
“A 9/13 Republican”
Evan Sayet describes himself as “a 9/13 Republican,” in that his conservatism arose after the horror of the 9/11 attacks. He says he grew up “a liberal New York Jew,” and “graduated from high school knowing only one thing about politics: that Democrats are good and Republicans are evil.” He continues:
I tell a story. It’s not a true story, but it helps crystallize my thinking that brought me to become a conservative. I say: Imagine being in a restaurant with an old friend, and you’re catching up, and suddenly he blurts out, “I hate my wife.” You chuckle to yourself because he says it every time you’re together, and you know he doesn’t hate his wife; they’ve been together for 35 years. He loves his daughters, and they’re just like her. No, he doesn’t hate his wife.
So you’re having dinner, and you look out the window and spot his wife, and she’s being beaten up right outside the restaurant. You grab your friend and say, “Come on, let’s help her. Let’s help your wife,” and he says, “Nah, I’m sure she deserves it.” At that moment, it dawns on you: He really does hate his wife.
The story, Sayet says, expresses his response to progressive critiques of U.S. history and policy. Before 9/11, he believed progressives loved their country but disagreed with some of its policies. But when that criticism did not end on 9/12, Sayet became convinced that progressives “really do hate America.”
“As wrong as wrong can be”
Thus began Sayet’s quest to understand why, in his view:
Democrats are wrong on just about every issue. Well, I’m here to propose to you that it’s not “just about” every issue; it’s quite literally every issue. And it’s not just wrong; it’s as wrong as wrong can be; it’s 180 degrees from right; it is diametrically opposed to that which is good, right, and successful.
He declares that “the Modern Liberal will invariably side with evil over good, wrong over right, and the behaviors that lead to failure over those that lead to success,” and as proof offers progressive opposition to the Iraq War (which he frames as choosing Saddam Hussein over America), support for the United Nations’ 1967 two-state solution for Israel and Palestine (choosing terrorists over Israel), and support for birth control education in schools (choosing promiscuity over abstinence).
Sayet first dismisses two hypotheses to explain why, in his view, progressives always choose Evil over Good. The first is that progressives are ourselves Evil, which he rejects because he has progressive family members and lifelong friends. Although he doesn’t explain his reasoning, presumably he can’t bring himself to judge his family members and lifelong friends as Evil, so personal Evil cannot be an inherent characteristic of progressives. His second hypothesis is that we’re stupid, which he rejects in part because he knows progressives who are intelligent and in part because:
Frankly, if it were just stupidity, they’d be right more often. What’s the expression? “Even a broken clock is right twice a day,” or “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and again.”
“The attempt to be right”
Having dismissed those hypotheses, Sayet settles on this:
What I discovered is that the Modern Liberal looks back on 50,000 years, 100,000 years of human civilization, and knows only one thing for sure: that none of the ideas that mankind has come up with – none of the religions, none of the philosophies, none of the ideologies, none of the forms of government – have succeeded in creating a world devoid of war, poverty, crime, and injustice. So they’re convinced that since all of these ideas of man have proved to be wrong, the real cause of war, poverty, crime, and injustice must be found – can only be found – in the attempt to be right.
In other words, as Sayet sees it, we progressives reject the possibility that anyone or any idea can be “right,” and he asserts that we believe “the attempt to be right” itself is the root cause of war, poverty, crime, and injustice. As proof, Sayet cites the lyrics to John Lennon’s song Imagine, which posits no heaven, hell, countries, religions, or possessions, and concludes this would leave “all the people, living life in peace.”
This, Sayet insists, is the core of progressive “thinking,” and why he titled his speech Regurgitating the Apple. Progressives, he says, want to return to an Eden-like existence before Adam and Eve ate the apple and thereby acquired the knowledge of Good and Evil.
“A ‘cult of indiscriminateness'”
Sayet then presents examples from the media, such as Michael Moore’s Farenheit 911 which, Sayet claims, sets out to prove that “America is not that good” and “Saddam Hussein is not that evil,” and thus that the Iraq War should not have been launched. Sayet sees “no journalistic standard” by which the abuses at Abu Ghraib – which he dismisses as “the misdeeds of a handful of night guards at an obscure prison for terrorists–misdeeds in which nobody was killed and nobody was seriously hurt” – were newsworthy and says that story was run solely to undermine the notion that America is Good.
Similarly, Sayet finds no artistic worth in the Andres Serrano photograph Piss Christ and concludes it was celebrated solely to undermine the notion that religion is Good. The widely celebrated film Brokeback Mountain “said heterosexual marriage isn’t that important,” and Steven Spielberg’s Munich “said there is no difference between the terrorists and the people who stop them from murdering again.”
All of these examples comprise what Sayet calls indoctrination into a “cult of indiscriminateness” which he says proposes:
that rational and moral thought is an act of bigotry; that no matter how sincerely you may seek to gather the facts, no matter how earnestly you may look at the evidence, no matter how disciplined you may try to be in your reasoning, your conclusion is going to be so tainted by your personal bigotries, by your upbringing, by your religion, by the color of your skin, by the nation of your great-great-great-great-great grandfather’s birth; that no matter what your conclusion, it is useless. It is nothing other than the reflection of your bigotries, and the only way to eliminate bigotry is to eliminate rational thought.
Thus, Sayet says, progressives oppose racial profiling because we reject the “rational” conclusion that some races are more likely to be terrorists or, one presumes although he does not complete the argument, street criminals, car thieves, or undocumented immigrants. We opposed the Iraq War and other such adventures because we were taught “Don’t Hit” as children and refuse to even consider whether the Evil of some regimes justifies war.
“Children of voting age”
Progressives are, he says “children of voting age who cannot judge their own positions,” which are derived from “the moral imperative of indiscriminateness.” Thus, Sayet says, we reject any opposing view as grounded in “discrimination,” and “invariably” choose Evil over Good:
Because in a world where you are indiscriminate, where no behavior is to be deemed better or worse than any other, your expectation is that all behavior should lead to equally good outcomes. When, in the real world, different behaviors lead to different outcomes, you and I know why–because we think.
By the way, it’s not a coincidence that those who live for today now have so much debt. What is debt? It’s the failure to repay a promise from yesterday. And they vote themselves nothing but more and more entitlements, which is what? Stuff for me. I’ll worry about who pays for it later.
The same is true of good and evil. Since nothing can deemed good, nothing can be deemed evil. That which society does recognize as good must be the beneficiary of some sort of prejudice. That which society recognizes as evil must be the victim of that prejudice. So, again, the mindless foot soldier will invariably side with whatever policy, mindlessly accept whatever policy seeks to tear down what is good – America, Israel, Wal-Mart – and elevate what is evil until everything meets in the middle and there is nothing left to fight about.
This, Sayet insists, is how progressives “think,” a word he puts in scare-quotes because he insists we really don’t think at all.
And lest you think this merely the opinion of one individual, consider that the late Andrew Breitbart described this as “One of the five most important conservative speeches ever given,” and a Google search finds this speech enthusiastically endorsed across the right-wing blogosphere.
Yet the speech doesn’t describe me, or any progressive I know. Tomorrow we’ll explore how Sayet’s thesis reveals far more about conservative moral reasoning than it does about progressives.