Government by Wishful Thinking

posted at 6:00 pm on December 6, 2009 by Steven Den Beste

Way back in the depths of time, Greek philosophers ended up with two basic and incompatible ways of looking at the universe. One way was materialism, which says that there is a material universe which behaves in a consistent way, and if you study it you can learn the way it works.

That’s the world view of engineers and scientists — and businessmen, for that matter. It’s the world view of people who understand and use mathematics, and statistics. It is a place where cause leads to effect. It’s the place that game theory studies. It isn’t necessarily inherently atheistic; a lot of religious people live in the materialist world.

But there are people who don’t. A different epistemological view is teleology, which says that the universe is an ideal place. More or less, it
exists so that we humans can live in it. And human thought is a fundamental force in the universe. Teleology says that if a mental model is esthetically pleasing then it must be true. Teleology implies that if you truly believe in something, it’ll happen. Wikipedia says:

A teleological school of thought is one that holds all things to be designed for or directed toward a final result, that there is an inherent purpose or final cause for all that exists.

And in its modern form that final result is presumed to be creation of a world of peace and harmony, a utopia, in which all men live in peace and brotherhood, in harmony with nature.

At least, that’s the distorted form of Teleology that has come down to some of us in the modern era, mainly on the left wing. Aristotle probably wouldn’t recognize his red-headed step child as it exists today, though. Like many philosophically pure ideas adopted into popular culture, it’s gotten mutated nearly beyond recognition and almost all the mutations were negative.

One way to compare and contrast those two world views is to consider what they think about socialism. Materialists look at history since Marx and point out that socialism has been tried many times, in many nations, in various forms, and it has always failed. In places where it was fully implemented the result was decline and economic collapse. When it was only partially implemented you got slower decline. It often looks like it’s working in the early stages, but in the longer term it has never succeeded.

So to materialists, it’s apparent that socialism is a nice idea, but one that doesn’t work and shouldn’t be adopted.

To teleologists, none of that matters. What matters is the fact that it’s a beautiful idea. It’s how things should be. In a world in which socialism was implemented and which worked the way the teleologists think it should work, you really would have a utopia. The fact that it’s invariably failed when used doesn’t change any of that. (When asked to explain all the failures, usually the answer is, “They didn’t do it right.” But for teleologists, a long string of failures doesn’t matter because fundamentally teleologists don’t believe things like that make any difference.)

It’s teleologists who drive around with bumper stickers that say, “Imagine world peace.” I can imagine it just fine. I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime, though. Why would they want me to imagine it?

It’s because teleologists believe that human thought truly affects things. Of course it does; thought precedes action, and actions change history, right? Yeah, but that’s not the point. Teleologists believe that thought directly affects things. The mere act of thinking about something and wanting it a lot directly changes reality, even if the thought doesn’t get translated into action.

It was teleologists who were mainly involved in the anti-war movement about five years ago when it was at its greatest. I remember reading about how they’d have a demonstration somewhere. Lots of people would come out. They’d parade about carrying signs saying, “End the war!” Someone would burn a giant mockup of President Bush’s head. And afterwards they’d all talk about how successful the demonstration had been.

Successful how? It didn’t have any political effect that I ever noticed. The war didn’t end because of the demonstrations. So what was it that they thought was successful? Well, if you asked them they’d talk about how there was all sorts of positive vibes. How good it felt to be out there. And how so many people were feeling the same thing. Which sounds like masturbation, if you’re a materialist, but genuinely makes sense for a teleologist. They really thought that if enough of them got together and wanted the war to end strongly enough, it would spontaneously end. Not because getting enough voters on their side would have electoral consequences, but because the act of wanting it would directly bring that about.

To a materialist this sounds like insanity. It is, as Chip Morningstar memorably put it, “epistemologically challenged”. And it doesn’t survive real world test. But to teleologists, “real world tests” don’t matter. The teleological world view inherently rejects all of that stuff.

Why does teleology (in this mutated form) matter? Because right now we have a teleologist as our President.

Matthew Continetti says that we’re in “a year of magical thinking.” And to someone who has grown up with a materialist view of the universe, it could certainly seem that way. But what’s really going on is that Obama has this kind of world view. And that explains everything he’s done.

It explains his foreign policy. To a teleologists, it just makes sense that everyone should want to get along. If you unclench your fist and hold out
your hand, everyone else will unclench their fists, and become your friends. So Obama is doing that, and as we know the result has been a shambles.

It explains his economic policy. Teleologists inherently don’t believe in unintended side effects when it comes to implementing their idealistic policies. Obviously it should be possible to provide free health care to everyone without wrecking the economy; it’s just how things really should be, so that’s how it will be. Where will the money come from? That’s the kind of question that materialists ask; teleologists don’t concern themselves with such trivial. It’ll happen somehow, because it’s obviously how it should turn out. To say we shouldn’t do it is to be heartless, uncaring — and those things are more important than mundane claims that it won’t work. If you just believe, it will work.

Of course, it won’t work. The materialists are right about that. But when it fails (if it gets tried) the teleologists will blame the negative vibes of all the materialist doubters for the failure. If only they’d come on board and supported it, then it would have come out OK.

It explains his dealings with Congress in general. He has been telling Congress in very general terms what he wants from them, and seems to think that this is all he really has to do. He wants the bills enough so that Congress will spontaneously create exactly the bills he wants and send them to him as soon as he says. Nothing else need be done by him except to want them.

The teleological world view on the left has been a factor in American politics to a greater or lesser extent since the 1960′s, but this is the first time it was largely in control. And the most likely outcome of it is to make most Americans understand just how deeply worthless, and outright damaging, it is. Which, in the long run, will be very good for America.

The only concern is that we can come through the remaining three years of Obama’s first (and almost certainly his only) term of office without sustaining irreparable damage. If Congress had moved at the speed Obama wanted them to, we might have suffered such damage, but now that we’ve almost made it through his first year and are moving into an election year, with public opinion polls moving strongly against Obama and his policies, I am becoming cautiously optimistic that we can survive this.

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I believe the country/electorate has “needed” this nightmare to see the true idiocy and impact of liberalism. I think/hope/pray we are learning a lesson that will not be forgotten for a long time.

winston on December 6, 2009 at 6:06 PM

Obowmao’s been denying reality so long, he’s really going to be surprised when it comes back and bites him in the butt — as it is in the process of doing. “Hope and Change” don’t work in the real world; hard work and perseverance do, both of which Obowmao’s constitutionally unable to do.

rmgraha on December 6, 2009 at 6:11 PM

Very thought-provoking. However, this analysis must be contrasted with the idea of Obama as a true-believing Marxist. I like the explanation except I am still not convinced Obama believes his own goatpoop. Obama doesn’t need to believe all his bs, he just needs to sell it to the ignorant.

redneck hippie on December 6, 2009 at 6:15 PM

Hey teleologists? How about wanting, really hard, for the housing market to rebound? I mean, do something useful, huh? Otherwise, get back in the bottle and let the materialists fix it…

BKeyser on December 6, 2009 at 6:16 PM

We are in for a wild and scary bad ride.

jukin on December 6, 2009 at 6:20 PM

teleologists?
We used to call them hippies
I was a “hippie”, in high school. Then I grew up.

IowaWoman on December 6, 2009 at 6:21 PM

Teleologists believe that thought directly affects things. The mere act of thinking about something and wanting it a lot directly changes reality, even if the thought doesn’t get translated into action.

Classic Narcissistic Personality Disorder
via Mayo Clinic

Narcissistic personality disorder symptoms may include:

Believing that you’re better than others
Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness
Exaggerating your achievements or talents
Expecting constant praise and admiration
Believing that you’re special and acting accordingly
Failing to recognize other people’s emotions and feelings
Expecting others to go along with your ideas and plans
Taking advantage of others
Expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior
Being jealous of others
Believing that others are jealous of you
Trouble keeping healthy relationships
Setting unrealistic goals
Being easily hurt and rejected
Having a fragile self-esteem
Appearing as tough-minded or unemotional

Jeff2161 on December 6, 2009 at 6:22 PM

‘Cautiously optimistic’ is still too optimistic, in my view. However dreamy-eyed and ideologically driven the President might be, there are those on his staff–Rahm Emanuel, for one, who have enough mastery of the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of American politics to effect long-lasting damage to the country.

Imagine the country as the Winchester house, that haunted mansion in California, with Obama and his like-minded ideologues as Sarah Winchester and Congress as the carpenters, building stairs going nowhere and doors leading to sudden, precipitous three-story drops. The house is crazy, irrational, a direct reflection of the mind behind it, yet it exists, built exactly to owner specifications.

troyriser_gopftw on December 6, 2009 at 6:23 PM

The Great Czar of the Ministry of Wishful Thinking
and Department of All Things of Liberal Possibilities,

which,is an extension,of Hopey/Changeys Pillars of
Perpetual Hope and Ongoing NeverEnding,but not Ever
Lasting Change!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

canopfor on December 6, 2009 at 6:24 PM

It explains his foreign policy. To a teleologists, it just makes sense that everyone should want to get along. If you unclench your fist and hold out
your hand, everyone else will unclench their fists, and become your friends. So Obama is doing that, and as we know the result has been a shambles.

Another reason it won’t work is that Uncle Barry so clearly does not mean it. He is not unclenching his fists; he is in league with a vast cadre of haters and racists.

Obviously it should be possible to provide free health care to everyone without wrecking the economy; it’s just how things really should be, so that’s how it will be.

Uncle Barry isn’t sincere about this either. He wants to wreck the economy – capitalism, anyway. He either knows about, or is arrogantly indifferent to, the “unintended” consequences. I think he understands very well that socialism does not elevate everyone to the same level of affluence – it sinks everyone to the same level of misery.

ManUFan on December 6, 2009 at 6:25 PM

Criteria for narcissistic personality disorder to be diagnosed include:

Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power or beauty
Believing that you are special and can associate only with equally special people
Requiring constant admiration
Having a sense of entitlement
Taking advantage of others
Having an inability to recognize needs and feelings of others
Being envious of others
Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

Jeff2161 on December 6, 2009 at 6:26 PM

believe the country/electorate has “needed” this nightmare to see the true idiocy and impact of liberalism. I think/hope/pray we are learning a lesson that will not be forgotten for a long time.

winston on December 6, 2009 at 6:06 PM

I agree, but we had a pretty stong lesson from ’76-80 about this very thing, and it didn’t matter because the media and history revisionists on the left have been all too happy to whitewash those years or never bring them up. Granted, Carter is a piker compared to Obama in the category of how to rapidly destory this country, but it still doesn’t change the fact that no one reads accurate history anymore anyway.

If we are truly to make lemonade out of these lemons, we have to find a way to avoid being the “destined to repeat history” crowd that we currently are.

Kataklysmic on December 6, 2009 at 6:26 PM

I`m goona test this wishful theory out!

Since its getting cold,I`m gonna skip the corn field,
as its already probably crowded,so,

I wish,that the entire Liberal Party, was banished to
a remote part of Siberia,so that people in their Alaskan
kitchen windows can wave at the Libs impending doom!!
(Snark).

canopfor on December 6, 2009 at 6:33 PM

If Congress had moved at the speed Obama wanted them to, we might have suffered such damage, but now that we’ve almost made it through his first year and are moving into an election year, with public opinion polls moving strongly against Obama and his policies, I am becoming cautiously optimistic that we can survive this.

First, Den Beste is back!

Second, that is exactly how I feel…but still very worried.

AUINSC on December 6, 2009 at 6:33 PM

Great analysis of the true believers on the left Steven. But I have always believed that at least half of those folks are a little more evil. They don’t buy any of the BS they promote. They use that weak minded tendency to believe that “the way it should be” is the best answer to life’s challenges to promote themselves and their position.

I guess that really makes them materialistic, but in a bad way.

conservnut on December 6, 2009 at 6:41 PM

If we are truly to make lemonade out of these lemons, we have to find a way to avoid being the “destined to repeat history” crowd that we currently are.

Kataklysmic on December 6, 2009 at 6:26 PM

Here, I think, is the heart of Den Beste’s point: a majority of our electorate is of the teleologist bent of mind. They keep thinking that voting for people who promise a chicken in every pot will actually put a chicken in every pot. The reality, of course, is that electing those people will only put feathers in the pot.

The only way to avoid the inevitable consequence of this is to have an electorate that understands the history we need to avoid.

One-man-one-vote is the core evil here – and we will be doomed to repeat the Carter/Obama disasters so long as we retain it. The Framers understood this and expressly cautioned against democracy – thus, the Republic.

There is not a private commercial entity on the face of the planet that would grant its stockholders a one-share-one-vote charter. Authority (vote) is directly proportional to responsibility (investment). A good system, for example, would grant one vote for every dollar paid in taxes.

Until we bite the bullet and limit the village idiot to the vote he deserves – we will have the government we deserve.

ManUFan on December 6, 2009 at 6:42 PM

There is not a private commercial entity on the face of the planet that would grant its stockholders a one-share-one-vote charter. Authority (vote) is directly proportional to responsibility (investment). A good system, for example, would grant one vote for every dollar paid in taxes.

Oops – no one-shareholder-one-vote charters. One-share-one-vote is what we do have. Sorry.

ManUFan on December 6, 2009 at 6:46 PM

There are people that can write about the news. There are people that can write about the events described in the news. And there are people (a very, very few) who can look beneath the events to the real, underlying factors, and who can tell you what they mean in clear, certain terms. Steven den Beste is one of those rare few in the third group, and I, for one, am glad to see that some part of the USS Clueless is still flying.
I agree that, if we can get through these three remaining years of the Obama Aberration without doing serous damage to the country, we’ll likely be all right. I only hope we don’t underestimate the Left again, the way we did last time. We need a strong materialist as a Presidential candidate in 2012, someone who has the will to see, not just what “should” be done, but what can and must be done, and then do it. (And we need someone like den Beste as a speechwriter for that candidate!)

Erbo on December 6, 2009 at 6:49 PM

No matter what you call it; the damage being done isn’t the kind that can be rectified in a year or two; this damage is going to take two or three DECADES to right…and even longer than that to pay for.

Sadly, 53 million people thought they were voting for “Hope and Change”. After they get done paying for all of this crap, I HOPE they have CHANGE left in their pocket, because expecting the “rich” to pay the tab just ain’t gonna’ get it done. Every single one of us is going to pay, and pay dearly.

GoldenEagle4444 on December 6, 2009 at 6:52 PM

Back in caveman days, we didnt have this problem, the teleologists were all eaten by saber tooth tigers. Apparently this is a regressive trait and waited until a time in out history when natural selection does not apply to reemerge

Daveyardbird on December 6, 2009 at 6:52 PM

Well,I think,Obama thought he could pave his way to paradise,crap,I mean Utopia with all the Bailouts!!

I can just imagine over hearing Obama talking to Axle
BrokenRod,

ah..um..Ax..I ah..got this really..ah..um..fantastic..ah
..um..idea..,I`m goona ah..um..bailout ah..um.ah..our..ah
um..way..to..um..Nirvana..ah..um..brilliant plan..Axle..ah
..um..what do you think..um..ah..—(Snark).

canopfor on December 6, 2009 at 6:53 PM

Interesting and intriguing analysis. I agree with your final assertion.

Nice work.

ted c on December 6, 2009 at 6:54 PM

I have theorized that this kind of teleological mindset sometimes comes from people trained in “fuzzy subject” academic environments, or people who are influenced by such people. “Fuzzy” academia includes things like social sciences, political science, anything that ends with the word “studies,” and increasingly, law and economics. the term was common at my university, and distinguished such subjects from things like medical, engineering, chemistry, and other “hard” subjects.

“Fuzzy” academics is where success is not a matter of finding objective answers, but of convincing peers or superiors that your views are valid. A professor of political science can give you an “A” or an “F” based on whether he likes you or whether his girlfriend left him last night, and couch either decision in enough BS to make it stick. Or at least make people afraid to challenge it. People raised on this mindset start to see the world that way. It explains a lot about the Ivy League types who infest politics.

If you can convince enough people that something is true, then it IS true. Facts are whatever the right people think they are. Got a problem? Hold a seminar, find a “consensus” on the truth.

Engineering doesn’t work like that. There is no “consensus” on the tensile strength of aircraft aluminum. If you get it wrong, people die.

A lot of the rest of reality doesn’t work like that either.

How many of our political leaders have been working engineers, or for that matter, held any job other than lawyer or politician? I can think of a few. Very few.

tbrosz on December 6, 2009 at 6:56 PM

Back in caveman days, we didnt have this problem, the teleologists were all eaten by saber tooth tigers. Apparently this is a regressive trait and waited until a time in out history when natural selection does not apply to reemerge

Daveyardbird on December 6, 2009 at 6:52 PM

Ha! You and I were thinking on the same wavelength today. I was wondering about the upside of Obamacare. I thought that such crappy care favors the survival of the fittest-the most independent and rugged individuals among us. Who does that favor? Hunters, conservatives and folks that can figure it out by themselves, of course.

Despite that, my deep caring for the limp, the lame and the lazy precludes me from supporting Obamacare.

/s/

ted c on December 6, 2009 at 6:57 PM

It’s always made me laugh when these bleeding hearts call anyone that doesn’t agree with them “Nazis”. This is because, when you analyze it, they are saying that to be a Nazi is the worst thing in the world! How could anyone disagree with that! So they use this as a point of reference to define their foes.

They have a point, of course, except that before and during the early years of WWII the bleeding hearts wanted nothing to do with the war. They did not care one itoa about the horrors happening in Europe. What-evs! That’s way over there! No foreign war! We want peace!

My point is that even Hitler and Nazism isn’t enough of a reason for liberals to stand up and fight.

yubley on December 6, 2009 at 6:59 PM

How many of our political leaders have been working engineers, or for that matter, held any job other than lawyer or politician? I can think of a few. Very few.

tbrosz on December 6, 2009 at 6:56 PM

Jimmy Carter was an engineering officer, among other things, while serving on the USS K1.

Materialism vs. Teleological thought says nothing about liberalism or conservatism, as arch liberals like Carter are certainly capable of thinking ‘materialistically’

Im thinking that this lofty philosophical tome doesn’t present analysis that’s all that insightful or useful.

ernesto on December 6, 2009 at 7:06 PM

Long time, Steven.

It was teleologists who were mainly involved in the anti-war movement about five years ago when it was at its greatest. I remember reading about how they’d have a demonstration somewhere. Lots of people would come out. They’d parade about carrying signs saying, “End the war!” Someone would burn a giant mockup of President Bush’s head. And afterwards they’d all talk about how successful the demonstration had been.

Successful how? It didn’t have any political effect that I ever noticed.

Note who we have as president right now. He embodies their success or rather that of those who financed the demonstrations.

The war didn’t end because of the demonstrations.

The wars will end not just because of the demonstrations by themselves, but because of all the tactics deployed by the left for the last eight years.

baldilocks on December 6, 2009 at 7:09 PM

Thought provoking, but a grossly oversimplified view of Greek thought. Materialism is actually the belief that all things are materially determined, and teleology is simply the belief that there are “ends” in the universe as we have it; that the question “what’s this for” is a meaningful question objectively.

What you call a “materialist” is engaging in a teleological worldview when he tries to fix anything, since in order for something to be “fixed” we must assume that the thing has an objective end which it is not presently fulfilling, or which it could fulfill more efficiently.

The funny part is that Marxists are materialists in the Greek form of the word, and they actually believe that the telos of the universe and objects in it can be altered based on desires or social construction (if we all believe hard enough, we can make the universe bend to our common will).
Teleoloists on the other hand; that believe the telos of things is to be discovered, go to the universe asking to discover what is objectively true, both of material and of the telos of material (that which it does best).

Of course, the ultimate problem is not between teleology and materialism. The latter, in its extreme sense, is untenable for human life, since it would not give us reason to do anything, even survive, because to do so would be to fulfill an end (whether a small scale one or a large scale one). The difference is between those who believe that a telos is created by the only intelligent actors in the system (and thus malleable based on our own wishes), or those that believe telos is best discovered, either in the small scale through efficient use, or in the large scale, by ultimate desire.

expatmanca on December 6, 2009 at 7:13 PM

The wars will end not just because of the demonstrations by themselves, but because of all the tactics deployed by the left for the last eight years.

baldilocks on December 6, 2009 at 7:09 PM

baldilocks: And that, is the truth!

Its been eight years of Surrending Engineering
by Anti-War Moonbats that now have a Lefty Pres
ident who`s mandate,by his voters,to pull out!:)

canopfor on December 6, 2009 at 7:16 PM

So,then,when does Obama start paying for cars,mortgages
that ObamaVoterBots thought he was going to do,and that
was one of the reasons,they voted him in!

And,their still waiting!!

As in:Obama Is Going To Pay For My Gas And Mortgage!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P36x8rTb3jI

============================================================

So,when do these people finally wake up and realize that Team Obama duped them,and this Utopia is never going to
happen!!

Looking at the otherside of wishful thinking,when do people
like this,finally see the light,and realize that they have
been scammed,let down,and have been betrayed.I think,its onl
y a matter of time before the ObamaVoterBots figure out,they
‘ve been screwed over,and its BACKLASH time!

canopfor on December 6, 2009 at 7:27 PM

the teleologists read The Secret and sat chanting in cirles in Oprahs basement ithroughout our primaries no doubt

Obama had his seal, his plane, everything that made it look like it iwas a fait accompli

since that worked they think they can apply this to foreign policy and the economy now

but the media saturation cannot change the UE rate….

ginaswo on December 6, 2009 at 7:30 PM

We will only survive if we can reverse the damage already done and stop the worse to come…The Health Care scam will do great and growing damage to the nation and cap and tax is a death knell to the economy…all to please zealots of the far left.

JIMV on December 6, 2009 at 7:30 PM

The term “utopian” should have been used here instead of “teleological,” and “realist” instead of “materialist.” Materialism is the view that only matter and material processes exist. Marx, in fact, was a materialist. That’s why he was said to have turned Hegel, the idealist, on his head.

Bill Ramey on December 6, 2009 at 7:35 PM

conservatives, materialism, common sense, and the truth are so evil and mean…

/sarcasm off

thisisjohnny on December 6, 2009 at 7:35 PM

I suggest that the presence, intent, and impact of groups like ACORN reflects a fair degree of materialistic thought amongst the teleogists.

a capella on December 6, 2009 at 7:39 PM

Denise Winn, The Manipulated Mind: Brainwashing, Conditioning, and Indoctrination, Cambridge< MA: Malor Books, 1983 & 2000, p. 211:

Most therapists emphasize that the key to mental health is to accept life for what it is, and to face it for what it is, instead of working on the basis of what we want it to be.

Dr. Charles G. Waugh on December 6, 2009 at 7:48 PM

Let’s have a summit

ultracon on December 6, 2009 at 7:52 PM

The term “utopian” should have been used here instead of “teleological,” and “realist” instead of “materialist.” Materialism is the view that only matter and material processes exist. Marx, in fact, was a materialist. That’s why he was said to have turned Hegel, the idealist, on his head.

Bill Ramey on December 6, 2009 at 7:35 PM

The joke in Greek, of course, being that “eutopia”, “good place” and “outopia”, “non-existent place”, are homonyms. The whole idea is based on the Greek understanding that there are some things that sound great, but can never be expected to exist in reality.

Marxism also has a telos and utopia, which is the Communist organization of society, where man will “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon and rear cattle in the evening”. Sounds fan-friggin’-tastic and, a Greek would say, just as likely as the Platonic utopia.

venividivici on December 6, 2009 at 8:06 PM

That was very well put. I love HotAir.

It’s almost time for my beer summit now.

Mojave Mark on December 6, 2009 at 8:30 PM

teleologists?
We used to call them hippies
I was a “hippie”, in high school. Then I grew up.

IowaWoman on December 6, 2009 at 6:21 PM

Same here!

lovingmyUSA on December 6, 2009 at 8:33 PM

Here, I think, is the heart of Den Beste’s point: a majority of our electorate is of the teleologist bent of mind.

No, I don’t think it’s the majority. I don’t think it’s ever been the majority.

Steven Den Beste on December 6, 2009 at 8:41 PM

It is a fantasy ideology, what is practiced today as Lee Harris observes:

What I saw as a political act was not, for my friend, any such thing. It was not aimed at altering the minds of other people or persuading them to act differently. Its whole point was what it did for him.

And what it did for him was to provide him with a fantasy — a fantasy, namely, of taking part in the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed against their oppressors. By participating in a violent anti-war demonstration, he was in no sense aiming at coercing conformity with his view — for that would still have been a political objective. Instead, he took his part in order to confirm his ideological fantasy of marching on the right side of history, of feeling himself among the elect few who stood with the angels of historical inevitability. Thus, when he lay down in front of hapless commuters on the bridges over the Potomac, he had no interest in changing the minds of these commuters, no concern over whether they became angry at the protesters or not. They were there merely as props, as so many supernumeraries in his private psychodrama. The protest for him was not politics, but theater; and the significance of his role lay not in the political ends his actions might achieve, but rather in their symbolic value as ritual. In short, he was acting out a fantasy.

It was not your garden-variety fantasy of life as a sexual athlete or a racecar driver, but in it, he nonetheless made himself out as a hero — a hero of the revolutionary struggle. The components of his fantasy — and that of many young intellectuals at that time — were compounded purely of ideological ingredients, smatterings of Marx and Mao, a little Fanon and perhaps a dash of Herbert Marcuse.

For want of a better term, call the phenomenon in question a fantasy ideology — by which I mean, political and ideological symbols and tropes used not for political purposes, but entirely for the benefit of furthering a specific personal or collective fantasy. It is, to be frank, something like “Dungeons and Dragons” carried out not with the trappings of medieval romances — old castles and maidens in distress — but entirely in terms of ideological symbols and emblems. The difference between them is that one is an innocent pastime while the other has proven to be one of the most terrible scourges to afflict the human race.

We seem to have a lot of that going on around the planet, and it is getting a lot of people seriously dead.

ajacksonian on December 6, 2009 at 9:04 PM

It is ironic that communists think of themselves as dialectical materialists when in fact they are malevolent idealists.

Those who would create perfect societies always end up as murderers.

Dhuka on December 6, 2009 at 9:20 PM

My point is that even Hitler and Nazism isn’t enough of a reason for liberals to stand up and fight.

yubley on December 6, 2009 at 6:59 PM

No, but Hitler declaring war on Uncle Joe was.

Aviator on December 6, 2009 at 9:21 PM

expatmanca on December 6, 2009 at 7:13 PM

Isn’t the contra of materialism (Platonic) idealism?

AshleyTKing on December 6, 2009 at 9:47 PM

I have never seen person so unqualified for his job as Obama in the White House-and this would include Custer at the Little Big Horn, Gerry Faust at Notre Dame, and three Japanese businessmen in Los Angeles who, totally overwhelmed, never left their hotel suite (except for meals) and spent their entire time writing up fake sales reports. We are talking of a level of incompetence so immense that the country is in more danger from Obama than the combined machinations of Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, A-Jad, Little Kim, Russia, China, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

It is quite possible that Obama’s arrogance is a reaction formation against his own insecurity and self doubts as are, probably, his pie-in-the sky, almost delusional, proposals.

MaiDee on December 6, 2009 at 10:37 PM

So, basically ideology vs. reality.

Which is what we have here. Obama and Co. are political idealists who believe heart and soul in an ideology and they are fast to it regardless of the outcomes and results. As those outcomes prove disappointing and hurtful they do not question their faith in it, no, they simply reinforce and double-down in reinforcing it believing that it simply hasn’t been done hard enough, fast enough, or thoroughly enough. To them, failure is not in the philosophy but in the failure to apply it fully and wholly.

Teology? Oh yeah. For these people life is a political experiment to carry out rather than a close examination of reality and root causes to problems.

JoeinTX on December 6, 2009 at 10:51 PM

Socialism is more of a last resort than it is a “nice” preference to Capitalism which many despise. Pretty clear Marx felt that Socialism replaces Capitalism at some point in time. The question is the timing.

But Capitalism being less than perfect allows for some stumbles which gives the fanatics a toe-hold into promoting Socialism. Another problem is that they see Socialism as some kind of Utopia. It isn’t. It’s merely survival mode if Capitalism is not allowed to mutate naturally into Socialism. The machinery/foundation of Capitalism is meant to sustain Socialism.

They have a distorted view of Marx. They have to ask themselves if we yet have the technology to support a work-free society.

Dr. ZhivBlago on December 7, 2009 at 12:03 AM

I don’t know which is worse; the idea that the horrific damage already done to our nation is just the result of wishful thinking, or if it’s part of a deliberate strategy.

Anon Y. Mous on December 7, 2009 at 2:10 AM

Excellent essay. Doesn’t quite go far enough on the Left’s outright desire to humiliate the United States and chop all of us at the knees.

shades_of_gasden on December 7, 2009 at 8:10 AM

I suppose all dichotomies have their limitations, but as an analytical framework, this one seems very useful. And helps explain why “care” is such a central component in the teleologist’s worldview: he who cares the most, wins.

Barnestormer on December 7, 2009 at 9:22 AM

Very thought-provoking. However, this analysis must be contrasted with the idea of Obama as a true-believing Marxist. I like the explanation except I am still not convinced Obama believes his own goatpoop. Obama doesn’t need to believe all his bs, he just needs to sell it to the ignorant.

redneck hippie on December 6, 2009 at 6:15 PM

Marxists, by their nature, are hard core teleogists. For the simple reason that their theories make no sense to anyone who understands human nature.

MarkTheGreat on December 7, 2009 at 9:57 AM

Back in caveman days, we didnt have this problem, the teleologists were all eaten by saber tooth tigers. Apparently this is a regressive trait and waited until a time in out history when natural selection does not apply to reemerge

Daveyardbird on December 6, 2009 at 6:52 PM

I suspect that there is a survival element to teleogical thinking. If you are in a situation that appears hopeless, the material thinker is more likely to give up. The teleogical thinker is more likely to perservere in the face of hopeless odds, because he believes that he has already won.

MarkTheGreat on December 7, 2009 at 10:04 AM

No, I don’t think it’s the majority. I don’t think it’s ever been the majority.

Steven Den Beste on December 6, 2009 at 8:41 PM

The problem is that the materialist recognizes that one vote out of millions has very little chance of affecting the outcome, so is less likely to take the time and effort to vote.

The teleogist thinks that the very act of voting will create the outcome that he wants, so he goes out and votes.

MarkTheGreat on December 7, 2009 at 10:10 AM

SDB,
Though it has been a long time, it is always a pleasure to read what you write.
All the best.

Blackacre on December 7, 2009 at 11:49 AM

This was great. I’ve never heard it put that way, but it makes total sense. Thanks for the article. :) :) :)

Theophile on December 7, 2009 at 1:33 PM

I’d also expect that Hope-a-Dope will be a one-termer — in no small part because he’s living in a fantasy world of wishful thinking and denial — but if we’re being ruled by the “teleologists” of the left, remember that vote-counting shenangians and other forms of electoral fraud matter not at all to them: it’s getting the desired outcome that matters, not the legality, accuracy or fairness of how they did it.

Spurius Ligustinus on December 7, 2009 at 2:24 PM

I think expatmanca nailed it in his comment (December 6, 2009 at 7:13 PM).

As did Bill Ramey (December 6, 2009 at 7:35 PM).

I’m not sure the author of the main post has described materialism and teleology accurately. As others have pointed out, Marxism is materialistic.

The post seems to disregard the fact that Obama showed considerable practical skill in getting himself elected. No one defeats the Clinton machine and gets elected to the presidency just by wishing for it.

I’m a teleologist myself. I think life and the cosmos have a purpose, though the purpose may elude a strictly rational examination. To me, the purposelessness of the Dawkinsian “selfish gene” world is enervating and sterile.

I also think believing in a higher purpose is both psychologically and socially useful. One of my chief complaints about Obama is that he does not seem to believe in anything greater than himself.

sauropod on December 7, 2009 at 2:28 PM

Oh, how I have missed you, Steven den Beste! A wonderful breath of FRESH air!

Maggie45 on December 7, 2009 at 5:19 PM

I have not been overly bothered by the Obama ascent to the presdency because 15/16 months ago I had a strong premonition that whoever won the election would end up utterly discrediting his political philosophy without lasting damage.

Your piece does a nice job of describing that philosophy. So what, you say, you materialist, it’s just a premonition. Hey, all of my premonitions come true.

Chaz on December 7, 2009 at 6:54 PM

Awesome stuff, SdB. Welcome back to the conversation.

deltanine on December 8, 2009 at 12:59 AM