The Vampire Problem
One of the most widely appreciated denizens of my blog goes by the name of Severian; no one has a clue who he really is, which is just the way he likes it. All I personally know of him is his first name, and I suppose if I bothered to check, his apparent IP address. This tells me nothing useful, save for that it’s probably safe to use masculine pronouns to refer to him.
The rest of us learn much, perhaps more than any of us would like to admit, when Severian engages those who are progressive of mind who have also seen fit to participate in greater frequency this summer. Out of the resulting fireworks, two observations have become eminent.
First: Many among those who are so passionately devoted to modern liberalism, especially those who claim to be able to provide logical support for the points they seek to make and then resoundingly fail to do so, are virtue junkies. The term means exactly what it seems to mean. You discuss the merits and possible pitfalls of a voter ID law with them, and things get strange when you ask them to describe reality as they perceive it. In our case, number of legitimate voters potentially “disenfranchised” by such a new law, ONE MILLION — in a single state, while the number of fraud incidents prevented or stopped, ZERO. And, the interested observer picks up the vibe: Hey why stop at a million? But reality, once measured reasonably, is probably not that way. The virtue junkies do not care, they want their fix. If you quibble about the million, all you get back is a bunch of tear-jerking prose about old ladies in wheelchairs who’ve voted non-stop since FDR, et cetera…
I warned you, things get strange. The virtue junkie, like all other junkies, has an unstable, flickering relationship with reality itself. He experiences the reality that you’re not open to the emotional arguments, and he reacts the way you should’ve expected: He doesn’t. He just recites the same arguments he just got done reciting. He’s tying it off, slamming it into the main vein. Not really discussing anything at all. All the impulses of a wild animal, with none of the comprehension of real objects and real events that all wild animals must acquire and sustain, in order to survive. The worst of both worlds.
The second thing to notice is a bit more complex, and is going to require a few more paragraphs. It is derivative of the first. The virtue-junkie is hooked on this virtue, which is actually a cosmetic display of virtue and not the real thing; this is to be concluded because the virtue is relative, not absolute. Example: Two election cycles ago, democrat presidential nominee and Massachussetts Senator John F. Kerry said something awkward about voting for an allocation before he voted against it…he was pilloried over this all summer long, mostly because it fit into the ongoing narrative that he’s a flip-flopper who cannot be relied-upon to stick to a position. During the first of three presidential debates, he acquitted himself of this in a most remarkable way:
…when I talked about the $87 billion, I made a mistake in how I talk about the war, but the president made a mistake in invading Iraq…Which is worse?
Now, one may argue all sorts of things about this. Kerry lost the election, narrowly, and it’s certainly plausible that the mistake talking about the war was a deciding factor, so this defensive remark didn’t get the job done. One may further argue that presidential elections are all about highlighting differences. To those of us who are experienced in arguing with left-wingers, such objections, while legitimate, do not distract from the main point which is: Our friends on the left, far, far more often than those on the right, are seen to seek shelter through the exploration of personal virtue as measured in relative terms — when, according to logic and reason, it is not germane to the discussion at hand, and does very little to add persuasive weight to what they’re trying to argue. But they don’t care about any of that. They just keep doing it. Reflexively.
Very much like vampires retreating from sunlight.
It’s worse than losing track of the discussion, it comes across as an abandonment of it. After all, what does Kerry’s mistake-magnitude-comparison exercise do, to clarify his position on the $87 billion? You have no idea where he stands at the beginning of the debate, and certainly you haven’t learned a thing about it at the end. Also, when we vote for presidents, we are not trying to vote in the guy who’s been caught making a less-glaring, or less-damaging mistake. We’d prefer not to, anyway…and we’re not trying to vote in the guy who can, given a few months to mull it over, come up with a cutting, if childish, remark to throw down in defense of his mistake…we’re not supposed to vote that way, anyway…
This thing we’ve noticed is a problem that comes from measuring the virtue in relative terms. Severian, in an off-line e-mail to me, recollected a work of fiction he’d once read about vampires that made this point. I Googled and found a page that explains it over here: “The vampire population increases geometrically and the human population decreases geometrically.” I’ll try to summarize it briefly: The vampire, feeding on a human, changes the human into another vampire, and after a relatively brief time another feeding will be required by both the old vampire and the new vampire.
The vampire, by feeding, not only incrementally depletes the food supply, but in so doing manufactures a new competitor for consumption of this limited supply. That’s at each feeding. There isn’t any way for the math to work in the vampire’s favor, none at all. All scenarios considered, lead to an all-vampire-no-human planet, on which the vampires are starving to death.
Thus it is with our friends, the liberals. They have to get their virtue-fixes — which means, virtue in relative terms, playing up the fact that they have ascertained and asserted themselves to be morally superior to some “control” specimen. An act which is forbidden when a fellow liberal is the control specimen, just as vampires cannot feed on other vampires.
They enter these “discussions” supposedly to coolly, logically and rationally exchange ideas and win converts. They’re sincere about the “win converts” part of it, at least. But, vampire problem: What if it actually works??
This is exactly what I was noticing shortly after Obama was elected President: Liberals get a lot of ego gratification out of being superior, in their own definition of “morals” and their own definition of “education,” compared to others, and it is also part of their vision that all of the “others” should eventually be converted. Converted, or…well, let’s not go there. They want everyone, everywhere, to be like them. This represents a doublet of mutually-exclusive goals. They cannot both happen. It isn’t logically possible.
My two favorite quotes from The Incredibles, become apropos:
Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.
Dash: Which is another way of saying no one is.
Syndrome: Oh, I’m real. Real enough to defeat you! And I did it without your precious gifts, your oh-so-special powers. I’ll give them heroics. I’ll give them the most spectacular heroics the world has ever seen! And when I’m old and I’ve had my fun, I’ll sell my inventions so that *everyone* can have powers. *Everyone* can be super! And when everyone’s super…[chuckles evilly] – no one will be.
That’s the trouble with everybody possessing some nifty new attribute…which is measured relatively and not absolutely. If everyone’s got it, then nobody does.
And then, the planet full of vampires is doomed to stagger around, starving to death.
Most problematic for them, the most likely outcome by far is that both objectives will fail: They won’t convert everybody, and in spite of this they still will be doomed to painful withdrawal symptoms. Because, it seems, deep down they understand the terrible truth that a virtue fix is not duly shot up, until the other party acknowledges this measurement of superior virtue.
Eventually, they will have converted everyone who might have been converted, leaving only the hardcore sloping-forehead types who aren’t going to grant this implicit-permission, this acquiescence of “Yes, you’re ethically better than I am and/or more truthy,” even in a sarcastic, “whatever” kind of tone.
And then, their frustration will be complete. They’ll be surrounded by, and very often outnumbered by, all these walking, talking unfinished-conversion tasks…and…starved for a fix, in an addiction from which there is no cure.
Perhaps our society has been in that state for quite some time now. Perhaps that is the real reason why they’re so agitated.