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Dan Agin

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David Brooks and Conservative Confusion

Posted: 09/21/2012 3:19 pm

In the midst of our current political circus, there are still serious issues that need discussion, especially since the public is constantly bombarded with shallow thinking by right wing conservatives.

In today's New York Times, conservative columnist David Brooks writes a column extolling the importance of capitalist creative entrepreneurship in advancing national economic interests. Brooks gives as an example billionaire Elon Musk, who made his billions on the Internet primarily in Internet commerce. Mr. Brooks applauds Mr. Musk for recognizing that the three current technologies most likely to transform humanity are "the Internet, sustainable energy, and space exploration."

With his customary conservative rhetoric, Mr. Brooks uses Mr. Musk and creative entrepreneurship in general to lead to the concluding sentence in the OpEd piece: "A few ridiculously ambitious people can change an economy more than any president."

Well, not quite. Of the three transformative technologies that apparently bemuse Mr. Brooks, the Internet was created by a research arm of the Defense Department, the search for sustainable energy was first seriously promoted by the federal government, and space exploration was first initiated by the federal government through NASA--everything through the Executive Branch of our government, the branch headed by the President.

Wait, there's more. The confusion of Mr. Brooks goes deeper. Do conservatives in general really want significant technological change? If you read what they want and take seriously what they say they want, they answer is no, they do not want technological change. Significant technological change always leads to significant social change, and these days (and also in the past) if there's anything that conservatives seem to be battling against with heart and soul (aside from taxes for so-called "job creators") it's battling against significant social change.

Significant technological change always produces significant social change.

Think of all the technological change that changed the domestic life of the average American woman -- vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, clothes washers, birth control, and so on--technology that freed women from domestic chores and continual child-bearing and enabled them to seek a richer life outside the home -- a social watershed.

Think of the social changes produced by the automobile, air travel, the telephone, the cellphone, and so on -- technology that changed the way we communicate with each other and treat each other.

And so on. Consider any significant technological change and you will likely find significant social change as a consequence.

Significant technology causes significant social change, which leads to the conclusion that conservatives bound by conservative ideology about the way people ought to live are in truth against important innovative technology for the simple reason that such technology will always disturb their social world. The true conservative is a social conservative and is fundamentally against new transformative technology.

During the past few centuries, transformative technology is what produced the Age of the Common Man, not any grandiose thinking by individual political philosophers, and such technology was almost always lifted off the ground by government, by the collective efforts of legislators and public administrators and the public at large, especially the collective efforts of democratic nations as a whole.

A democratic collective makes profitable capitalism possible -- and not the other way around.

It's always amazing how conservative pundits -- think-tankers and columnists -- so often gather at the shallow end of the intellectual swimming pool, huddle there with their arms around each other, their backs to the deeper water that makes them afraid.

Mr. Brooks says we need more temerity. Oh, as a society we have enough temerity, all right. It's the conservative fellows at the shallow end of the pool who seem to lack enough temerity to look below the surface of their ideology.

 
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