Is Difficult Run a Conservative Blog?

2014-04-25 DR Cover

In the past couple of months I have had a couple of people say that Difficult Run is a conservative blog. It’s a statement that bugs me, because it presumes (1) that the editors of DR agree on everything (we do not) and (2) that DR is one of those blogs where the viewpoint comes first and the facts come second. So I’ve wanted to write about it, but I didn’t really know how to address the topic. But then I posted this somewhat glowing piece about Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital, and it gave me the perfect opportunity to address this issue.

Here’s the thing: liberals love Piketty and they love Capital. The article I based my own piece from was in The New Republic. Slate is crowing that “The French economist gives the American left a sturdy framework for its economic ideas.” The HuffPo seems breathless in their announcement that Thomas Piketty Is No. 1 On Amazon Right Now. Not that I needed these cues to understand that the book I was praising and publicizing is decidedly left-of-center. It presumes that income inequality is a self-evident problem, forecasts a dire future, and (best of all) proposes more taxes, new taxes, higher taxes, and even international taxes.1 None of this escaped my mind as I wrote my own excited post about it.

But I posted it anyway, despite the fact that the book gives substantial weight to liberal concerns and policies, for the simple reason that I was impressed by the argument. I was impressed on an economic / technical level. The theory is elegant in its simplicity and rigorous in its research. I’m sure it will be criticized by economists who are much smarter than me, and maybe in the coming weeks or months or years I will see that I was a fool for getting excited so quickly. That could happen. But the reality is that it looks legit to me (and I do have some small expertise in this field) and that if it were a conservative-friendly book, I’d definitely be posting about it. I’m not going to treat the book differently because it’s politics are uncomfortable to be.

I consider myself a conservative in the general sense of the word. Your mileage may vary, but on a wide range of issues I’m right-of-center. But I aspire to be an intelligent and honest human being first, and a conservative only so long as that is dictated by my efforts at the first two. I preach about confirmation bias and irrationality as much as the next guy, but that doesn’t mean that I give up. I still want to be rational when it comes to important issues like economic policy. I want to be the kind of person who will change his mind when new evidence emerges. I want to have the integrity it takes to give opposing viewpoints fair treatment, honest consideration, and–where applicable–praise.

In short: I want to be the kind of conservative who is willing and able to engage with liberals in good faith on matters of substance and who would change his politics in an instant rather than compromise on following the truth as best as I understand it. It’s not easy and I don’t always succeed. I take flack from liberals who find me insufficiently kind from time to time 2, and I know that I make some staunch conservatives uneasy when I go yammering off in liberalese about privilege and structural inequality (which I believe are valid concerns). Believe me, I know that I could get a lot more Internet traffic and adulation if I spent more time beating the conservative drum, but I’m just not comfortable with that.3

So that’s me, but what about Difficult Run? That’s just a little bit more tricky. I’m not looking for partisans or ideological allies when I look for DR editors. I’m looking for folks who (in addition to writing well) share my values and bring diversity.4 Not everyone who shares my values shares my politics, but it is easier to find people who share values and politics than to find folks who share values but not politics. So, being perfectly candid, I expect that DR will always reflect to some degree my own politics because I pick the editors here. Therefore, DR will always be coming from a generally conservative place, or at least as long as I myself continue to come from a conservative place.5 But at the same time, I sincerely want to be a site where liberals, conservatives, and who-knows-what-else all feel that their views are treated with respect and fairness.6 I want commenters who push back, raise new ideas, and take the conversation in new directions. But not just commenters, I want diversity in the editors as well. We have or have had among our editors radical feminists, socialists, social liberals, etc.7 Shared commitment to honest inquiry comes first, but diversity is something I actively want to find.

Let me just finish this long, but honest answer, with two more observations.

First: I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m already working on a piece about white male privilege. It ends up in a conservative place, roughly speaking, but it gets there by way of taking seriously the concerns of liberals. So no one is happy. That’s how I roll.8

Second: We don’t just write about politics! My favorite piece to write, recently, was the one about constructed realities and Game of Thrones. OK, one Facebook commenter called it “The best take on not watching naughty things that I have ever read,” so I guess it’s kind of conservative in a social way, but it just wasn’t really about politics at all. And I loved that. I’m also working on a piece right now about the politicization of science fiction and why I hate it. I talk about politics as much as I do not because I care about politics (I don’t) but because I care about people and values that (tragically) are intertwined with politics.

9 thoughts on “Is Difficult Run a Conservative Blog?”

  1. If you are against the politicization of anything, you are by definition “not liberal,” as modern leftism, which goes by the name “liberalism,” seeks to politicize everything. (“The personal is political,” etc.) And that, by the logic that governs these things, means you and your blog are “conservative.”

  2. ” It’s a statement that bugs me, because it presumes (1) that the editors of DR agree on everything (we do not) and (2) that DR is one of those blogs where the viewpoint comes first and the facts come second.”

    As one of the people who has made such a statement, I did not presume…and do not presume…either of those things. While I do not agree with you on anything, I respect you more than that. It is an observation. No need to be so sensitive about it.

  3. I’d have said that feminism is mostly a subset of liberalism, so Mr. Eastmond’s origin statement seems fair enough to me. It’s true that it doesn’t resonate with all modern liberals, so his inference doesn’t quite work, but I’m a liberal and I’m moderately friendly to the idea I take them to have been getting at with it (which is a little different from “politicizing everything”).

    I think of Difficult Run as one of my few, precious windows into conservatism which offers some willingness to consider alternative viewpoints. Both of those pieces are really important. It’s a shame that most partisan blogs are so close-minded that either of the presumptions in the first paragraph would even be associated with the phrase “conservative blog”, but, upon reflection, I can understand that association. Like Chris below, I certainly don’t intend them.

  4. Actually “the personal is political” is part of feminist critique of liberalism. I would say they are all on the left (I am proud of that), but they are distinct and separate traditions. But Thomas is talking about the talk radio definitions of the ideas, not the intellectual traditions. I think that is what Nathaniel is bristling against. However, I have never minded labels. They are all contested. Those debates are what I revel in.

  5. JPII hated politics too. He had the right idea about it, though, and spoke as someone who lived under many political systems, including Nazism and communism. We sometimes forget these fundamentals in America. From his 1979 UN address:

    “Each one of you, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, represents a particular State, system and political structure, but what you represent above all are individual human beings; you are all representatives of men and women, of practically all the people of the world, individual men and women, communities and peoples who are living the present phase of their own history and who are also part of the history of humanity as a whole, each of them a subject endowed with dignity as a human person, with his or her own culture, experiences and aspirations, tensions and sufferings, and legitimate expectations. This relationship is what provides the reason for all political activity, whether national or international, for in the final analysis this activity comes from man, is exercised by man and is for man. And if political activity is cut off from this fundamental relationship and finality, if it becomes in a way its own end, it loses much of its reason to exist. Even more, it can also give rise to a specific alienation ; it can become extraneous to man ; it can come to contradict humanity itself.”

  6. You are near the crux, but on the Left/ Liberal side at present – however, I have not (yet) given up on you!

    Like it or not; you *will* sooner or later (probably sooner) reach a point where you will be forced either to become a full-on Liberal – or else you will (like it or not) become an enemy of Liberals (whatever your own views might be).

    For those on the Left, and ever more so with each passing year, those not ‘with us’ 100percent are regarded as enemies.

    I know this both from my personal experiences when I was a libertarian (who argued against certain Left shibboleths to do with class and intelligence), and from several of my friends/ colleagues in evolutionary psychology (e.g. James Watson, Geoffrey Miller, Dylan Evans, Satoshi Kanazawa) who have been subjected to international hate campaigns and sackings/ career damage organized by Leftists – on the basis that they were ‘fascists/ Nazis’ (etc) despite that – they regard themselves, and have long term credentials, as Democrats/ Leftists.

    Orson Scott Card would be another example you would be more familiar with, perhaps. One of a small proportion of Mormons who are Democrats, and yet…

    You only need to disagree with Progressives on one single hot button issue (especially in the sexual arena) and you will be hated and persecuted by the Left (and I mean *hated* – they want you punished good and hard) as much as if you donned a black shirt and organized a rally in Nuremberg.

    It’s like a (Jewish looking, Jewish named) Jewish friend once said to me when I asked if he personally considered himself as a Jew. He said: “It doesn’t matter what I personally think about it: as far as the rest of the world is concerned I *am* a Jew.”

    Nowadays, you are either of the Left – which means you must believe what the Left tells you to believe (today) – or the Left will decide that you are an enemy of the Left, and it really doesn’t matter what you personally happen to think about it.

  7. This seems to me like a generalization from a very small number of highly publicized examples. Democratic representatives have more diverse voting records, on average, than Republican ones. On a personal level, I’m a moderate liberal, and both have never felt in any danger of being ostracized for it, and also have never wanted to sharpen the pitchforks to go after thoughtful conservatives like the writers of DR. Orson Scott Card is a great example of someone who illustrates your point, but I think he’s actually more of an exception than a paradigm case.

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