Progressivism: Ideology vs Strategy

Sarah Hoyt’s musing about Progressivism and its fellow travellers again.  That’s music to my ears, given my continual thoughts regarding Liberalism 5.0.

One of the interesting things about Progressivism that even many of its current adherents don’t understand… sure, some of them were just commies. But a lot of them weren’t. They were systemic thinkers, some of them BRILLIANT systemic thinkers, using the best available tools of their day. But the average man and woman in the 1930s had a sixth-grade education. They were, literally, not as smart (not conflating education levels with intelligence, but the well-known historical rise in IQs over the twentieth century).  They were trying to figure out how to solve the rough edges of industrialism and make things better, safer, and more prosperous in a time when your average man on the street (not the dim-bulbs who inevitably wind up in t.v. news vox-pop) literally couldn’t pay the intellectual “price of admission” to understand many of the issues.  Think political slogans nowadays are stupid?  Political slogans in the 20s were kind of dumb, and by modern standards, so was your average human being.

Progressivism as originally applied (in the 1920s rather than the 30s) isn’t really an ideology.  Communism is an ideology.  Socialism is an ideology.  Progressivism is a STRATEGY. 

  1. Research the problem.
  2. Devise a bureaucratic solution to the problem. (or in business, a technical one)
  3. Publish the solution and market it to society.
  4. Legislate the adoption of the solution.

Get the politically-disinterested technocrats running as many things as they can, to keep inane machine politics out of it so that you know the elevator inspector actually knows how to inspect an elevator, rather than just being the mayor’s shiftless nephew.

That is, quite obviously, not my cup of tea.  I’m libertarian, and in a world that wasn’t carrying all the stupidity and historical baggage of this one, would be an anarcho-capitalist (but that’s unsustainable on Earth, because most of its cultures regard it as absolute anathema.  On the High Frontier, maybe that will work better). But it’s completely defensible. The problem with the folks who want to turn back the clock is not that Progressivism is “wrong.” It’s no more wrong than feudalism: under the right circumstances, feudalism can make a comeback and be the perfect tool for the job. But right now, feudalism and progressivism are *outdated.* The tools have evolved, and bureacracies centralizing decision-making power is a quick way to wreck things rather than sustain them, because we’ve outgrown a system that can prosper under that sort of decision-making.  Cumbersome, unwieldy bureacracies were a “killer app” a hundred years ago:  today they’re a synonym for failure.

Though the 20th century probably had better music.

 Mercantilism once sounded like a good idea, too. Japan and now China have tried to ride high on that horse, but eventually, the mercantilists, physiocrats, etcetera, all discover that these ideas “kick superficial ass.” China’s survival won’t be predicated on beating the band as a world exporter (and China’s currency won’t be the global reserve, either: *no* heavy exporter can hold the reserve currency); it will be predicated on sustaining a domestic market, and satisfying all those individual demands that are currently suffocating under a blanket of literal and metaphorical smog brought on by bad governance and outdated intellectual tools.  “Progressives” are not Progressives.  “Progressives” are like people devoted to scientism: they have an emotional attachment to the tools and strategy of Progressivism, rather than a dedication to the safety and prosperity that Progressivism was intended to achieve.

Progressivism isn’t wrong, per se.  But the human race has simply outgrown it.  We no longer live in a world where a few experts swim in a sea of  uneducated masses.  Seriously:  check out what the bright bulbs are figuring that your grandkids need to be able to do (helpful hint: it’s not 19th-century-style Prussian factory-education dominated by rote memorization).  Trying to shove humanity back into the box of the 1920s and 1930s makes a lot of sense for the communists and other control freaks who suffer from anthropophobia and want to tell you that they own your children…but for the rest of us, the notion that Progressivism is going to have another heyday is simply silly.

Silly ideologues.  The map is not the terrain, the tool is not the appliance, and the strategy is not the game.

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