Slate on Lewis Lapham's Tentacles

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With a nod to Jacob Sullum's outing of Harper's resident Dr. Who-like time traveler, editor Lewis Lapham, Jack Shafer asks how a good magazine editor went so bad.

In his "Tentacles of Rage" essay in the current issue–in which Lapham pretended to have attended the Republican National Convention before it occurred–Lapham assails "right-wing" ideas and laments their rise to the status of supposedly conventional wisdom in many policy debates.

Queries Shafer, "If Lapham finds right-wing ideas so uniformly bankrupt, 'both archaic and bizarre,' as he writes, why did he spend so much intellectual energy advancing them during his first tenure (1975-1981) as editor of Harper's?" The answer is here.

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  1. “The paranoid-reductionist formula goes like this: People connected by money, greed, and ideology are building institutions to foist their self-centered agendas?and corrupt ideas?on the easily hoodwinked masses. These people are so unscrupulous and cunning that they’re willing to present the most outrageous untruths as fact.”

    I have noted a generalized paranoid and conspiratorial tone on the part of the Left in many areas. It’s gotten so bad that I think that even Kerry gives off this creepy Nixon vibe.

    I think this paranoia springs from the Left’s statist world view. If you believe that the world is easily ordered and centrally controlled and you are losing a competition badly, your immediate assumption will be that you have been out-organized and out-controlled. Since they can’t see the levers of control that their model says must be there, the lever must be hidden and therefore part of a conspiracy. It’s very logical given their statist axioms.

    The flaw is that the contemporary world works just fine in a highly decentralized fashion. Most people are not sheep and make political decisions based not on the dictates of think tanks but on their own personal experience. The Left is losing because today fewer people work as drones carrying out the decisions of others and more people work as independent decision makers. A broader swath of the electorate has direct experience with the real world information management and this has made them increasingly leery of centralized solutions. They have seen to many centralized solutions fail in the real world.

    The Left appears unwilling to entertain the idea that history has passed them by. They have become the conservatives in the political spectrum but they have the idea that they represent the forward thinking progress segment that the only explanation for their electoral failure is some grand conspiracy.

  2. Shannon you have a very active imagination yourself. I can’t tell if it’s your left brain or your right brain that is coming up with those thoughts, but you better put on a tinfoil hat, cuz someone’s beaming stuff in to your head.

  3. Reason receives $1.4M a year from conservative foundations? Finally, the truth is out!

  4. trainwreck,

    Thanks for clearing that up. I understand everything so much better now.

  5. conspiratorial thinking is part and parcel of the western tradition – remember, the grand cosmic adversary – ave satanas! – is the root cause of wickedness, moral decay and playing with one’s genitals.

    “liberal media” is right up there with “corporate elite” – both contain some obvious truth, but are expanded to become illuminati-esque world controllers rather than parts of a decentralized clusterfuck.

    i largely agree with shannon’s one-sided analysis, except this part:

    “A broader swath of the electorate has direct experience with the real world information management and this has made them increasingly leery of centralized solutions. They have seen to many centralized solutions fail in the real world.”

    if this were true they’d all be voting libertarian, as the republicans do not represent decentralization, in light of the huge leaps and bounds government has gotten under bush’s distribution of largesse.

  6. dhex: conspiratorial thinking is part and parcel of the western tradition – remember, the grand cosmic adversary – ave satanas! – is the root cause of wickedness, moral decay and playing with one’s genitals.

    I don’t know about you guys, but ain’t no-one tells me to play with my genitals. I do it of my own free will.

  7. “if this were true they’d all be voting libertarian”

    I think you have to take the long term perspective. Back ’73 when libertarianism started as party, the government had just imposed wage and price controls on virtually everything. Now days, nobody would even suggest such a broad application of government power.

    Peoples confidence in the centralized management in general and in centralized government management specifically is eroding steadily. Even Bush’s monstrosities are hybrid beast publicly funded but with some decentralized decision making tacked on. Viewed from a long term perspective, it is part of a large scale trend that has been accelerating since the late 70’s.

    Once people get a taste of making their own decisions, it will be impossible to cram them back into servitude. It will take time. It takes a long time to turn a big ship around but the trends are all pointing in the right direction.

  8. Shannon, a fondness for centralized solutions, the desire for command and control, is a quality of human nature, not the province of one political persuasion or another. Left, right, or whatever, the state dominates all for the time being.

  9. if this were true they’d all be voting libertarian

    That’s like saying “if you really believed the British monarchy was a negative influence on western society, you’d vote for Lyndon LaRouche”.

    Do I think the Republicans are too statist? Oh hell yes. Does this make me want to vote a bunch of nutcases into public office? Oh hell no.

  10. trainwreck,

    ” a fondness for centralized solutions, the desire for command and control, is a quality of human nature,”

    Well, yes in a philosophical and psychological sense all humans have a desire to dominate their fellows and have to be actively restrained from doing so but that is not what I am talking about.

    I am talking about the respective models of how humans are organized to perform economic and political task. This is very much nuts and bolts stuff, not philosophy.

    Over at Chicago Boyz, Mitch pointed me to this page on self-organization in economic system that notes that

    “In fact the Soviet defector Arkady Shevchenko said this concept, that somebody must secretly be in charge of capitalism, was ever present in the minds of Soviet officials. He said the Russian officials were baffled by American capitalism. “It puzzles them how a complex and little-regulated society can maintain such a high level of production, efficiency and technological innovation.” The only conclusion they could come to was that “there must be a secret control center somewhere in the United States.”

    This is an extreme example of the fundamental model of organization that the generalized model that the Left follows. The Left firmly believes that the economy is controled by somebody and the only question is by whom.

    By a theological analogy, Leftist believe in a Universe where God not only notes the fall of every sparrow but that some supernatural agency, good or evil, knocks it off the branch. In this sort world view, there are no meaningless random events. Every event has an intelligent causation behind it. Like creationist, they violently reject an evolutionary view of the world where there is no conscious mind behind the economy.

    By extension, the Left does not believe in spontaneous order. If they are suddenly faced with a mass rejection of their ideas it must be because somebody engineered it. Their elitist view that most people are sheep just feeds into this idea. Its easy to convince themselves that they lost because their opponents were better at shepherding the morons than they were.

  11. Dan:
    “Does this make me want to vote a bunch of nutcases into public office? Oh hell no.”

    Glad to see that you will not be voting for Bush/Cheney 🙂

  12. anon,

    Or Badnarik for that matter… 😉

  13. all i’m saying is that decentralized government isn’t a big button for anyone but the libertarians and related folk, outside of a few key issues (drug war, etc). i can’t bring myself to vote for badnarik either, seeing as he’s a flaming fuckwit of the first order.

    but i really don’t see decentralization being a big part of the political mainstream, explicitly or implicitly. social conservatives may talk a good game economically, until you mention the homoseshualz and then it’s a 180 right into the fascist health of the state schtick thereon out. same thing with pro gay marriage folk towards economic issues. since i wasn’t alive in the early 70s i cannot really comment on the tenor of those times and any improvement which may have ocurred.

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