As the fecklessly comedic Occupy Louisville drones on into its third month, we pause to reflect upon the failed philosophy that undergirds the unfocused, leaderless (some would say, pointless) “movement.” We refer, of course, to that cognitively dissonant liberal habit of mind known as magical thinking.
The only truly American philosophy is that of pragmatism. From William James to Henry Ford to John Dewey and W. E. B. Du Bois, the notion that theory should be based upon practicability has permeated all successful political and economic enterprises in our nation’s history. Common experience leads us to the utilitarian conclusions that, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” and, conversely, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The framers of our constitution were pragmatists and keen students of human nature. They eschewed traditional and romantic theories of the perfectibility of society, in favor of a fluid concept of the possible; attenuated by the reality of experience. As the great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., observed, : "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience."
But the life and behavior of modern liberalism has been just the opposite of pragmatism; it has been a progression of magical thinking. As liberal author Joan Didion, in her wonderfully introspective 2005 book, The Year of Magical Thinking, observed: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live. … We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely... by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the 'ideas' with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria — which is our actual experience.”
It is magical thinking that causes hardcore Democrats to support the obviously failed efforts of Barack Obama to save a flagging economy. Bail-outs, stimulus plans, “Cash-for-Clunkers,” solar-energy subsidies, and myriad disgraced Keynesian nostrums have repeatedly proven ineffective; but if we would all just close our eyes and really believe in Hope & Change, there is bound to be a pony waiting for us under our Christmas tree.
And it is magical thinking that causes a ragtag bunch of leaderless true believers to camp out in the public parks of various American cities—braving the elements, rapes, infestations, disease, arrest and even death—in the vain conceit that they “represent the 99%” of the lumpen proletariat that could care less about their sophomoric neo-Marxian pronouncements. It is the 21st Century’s repetition of the Children’s Crusade.
To their credit, the Occupy Louisville squatters have been less rowdy and considerably more sanitary than their big-city cousins. They have cooperated with our City Fathers and obediently changed their adverse possession venues from 4th and Jefferson, to the Belvedere, to 6th and Jefferson, to the out-of-sight-site at Founder’s Square. If the Sermon on the Mount is to be given any credence, these Revolutionary Quakers stand to inherit the Earth.
But the same magical thinking permeates the Occupy Louisville psyche as their more noxious big-city ilk. Do they really believe they are going to effect corporate and banking regulatory reform? Do they really think they are going to influence America’s foreign policy? Can they truly believe that their nocturnal encampments will somehow erase income disparity and bring about a utopia of “economic justice?”
Or, is it more accurate to suggest that a gaggle of arrogant and unemployed youth—overburdened with student loans and worthless degrees in social sciences—have found a way to assuage their collective ennui with narcissistic displays of self-esteem and self-importance?
The often misquoted and usually misattributed line from the folks at Narcotics Anonymous, to the effect that "Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results," seems remarkably apropos to the Occupy Louisville crowd in particular, and to liberals in general. Socialism—in its various manifestations of collectivist totalitarianism—has never been successful at providing freedom and prosperity; and leaderless, unfocused mob action has yet to bring about any positive changes for a society.
After he tired of chasing commies for Joe McCarthy, born-again-liberal Robert Kennedy pretty much summed up the lefty magical thinking dogma with his famous line (lifted from Socialist G.B. Shaw): “Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?” Why not, indeed.
Louisville.com's The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of Louisville.com (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions).