Like Paul Ryan, I’m a Gen X-er. Like Paul Ryan, I like Rage Against the Machine. Mind you, I don’t like them as much as I used to, but I could still listen to an album. But it’s not because of their politics that I don’t listen to them as much these days. For I still listen fairly regularly to bands like Bad Religion, NOFX, and Lagwagon. In high school (and into early twenties) I was a huge Suicidal Tendencies fan, but I also listened to bands like Propaghandi, Pennywise, and Social D.. I still can sing many of these songs by heart. Two final remarks to secure the in vogue desiderata of “authenticity”: I have over ten tattoos, back in the day I ruled the mosh pit, and I didn’t go to the small clubs sporting an ‘x X x’ on my body or clothing (for those in the know).
Now that I’ve established my leftist punk rock (at least SoCal punk rock) bona fides I’ll get on with the point. Currently there’s been some buzz surrounding Paul Ryan’s admission that he likes the band Rage Against the Machine. Apparently, Rage is included with other bands like Metallica, and musicians ranging from Beethoven to Hank Williams Jr., on Ryan’s Facebook page. In response to this news, many liberals reacted with a fervor in-line with Sayre’s Law, which states: “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.” It’s just a band Ryan likes, guys. Relax, sit back, and enjoy the below argumentative polemic.
This truly is much ado about nothing; and it simply reveals the shallow thinking one finds all-too-common on the left. In the spirit of “the lady doth protest too much, me thinks,” liberals are constantly pointing out how the academy is littered with liberals, or how this and that study apparently “shows” that conservatives have, all things considered, a lower IQ than liberals (issues of underdeterminacy aside, of course). So it is remarkable that those who want to be viewed and defined as the uber-intelligent often exhibit deplorable reasoning. In this case, left-leaning blogs and media are literally laughing at Ryan. Why? Because he’s a clueless poseur. And why is that? The thought seems to be that either he must not listen to the lyrics or else he’s lying to give the impression that he’s cool, hip, edgy, sexy, and relevant.
But one might wonder why it is considered intellectually sexy to bifurcate. Why couldn’t it be that Ryan simply likes the music, likes at least some of the lyrics, and likes the whole ensemble in general. No, that would be too boring; and, it would undermine the self-importance of Rage’s Tom Morello and the apparent belief held by some that songs are serious substitutes for rigorous arguments rather than ways to emotionally package conclusions (songs may be polemical, but this could be a stretch since it’s hard to call most songs defenses of what one believes). It seems as if some imagine that listening to Rage entails that the listener must nod in agreement and slowly stroke his chin while deeply pondering the erudite, life-changing, and inspiring messages Rage preaches like a secular Sunday Baptist sermon. Indeed, Morello suggests this when he expands on the “clueless” motif, writing: “Perhaps Paul Ryan was moshing when he should have been listening.” But why think Ryan wasn’t listening? This is typical of leftist arrogance. Many of us have listened to leftists, and that is largely why we’ve rejected their philosophy. We simply don’t think it’s true or well-grounded, though we grant it gives many meaning for their existence, especially in its utopian, pie-in-the-sky secular ersatz soteriology and eschatology. But Conservatives don’t (shouldn’t) find their meaning in politics (see below).
Now, while I enjoy a good conspiracy as much as the next guy, why couldn’t the reason Paul Ryan listens be as simple as this: Ryan likes the music especially in conjunction with the flow, style, and sound of the lyrics? He is aware of the message, perhaps he even likes some of the message? It would be a feeble and simple mind that concludes that since one doesn’t agree with the overall thrust of a philosophy, one can’t agree with anything said. In fact, given the overrepresentation of liberals in the arts, the odds are high that an arbitrary conservative Gen X-er who likes any arbitrary contemporary band, likes a band that is at least made up of liberals but perhaps sings songs about leftist visions too.
This overrepresentation is not a state secret, take punk rock for example, it’s heavily saturated with professed leftists. Many have argued that punk simply is leftist, in virtue of its structure. So consider the conservative radio talk-show host Andrew Wilkow. On his website he lists the bands he likes. These include The Ramones, Social Distortion, Avenged Sevenfold, and the Misfits. Thus, according to the liberal logic above, leftist blogs and politainment shows should mock Wilkow. MTV.com should call him clueless. But Wilkow’s been a radio DJ for some time, cutting his teeth as a college radio DJ (see his bio). Thus Wilkow can’t be “clueless,” and he’s no “poseur.” Of course, examples could be multiplied. There’s Michael Graves, former lead singer of the Misfits (a long time conservative who’s recently shifted libertarian). Actually, there are plenty of Gen X-ers and Y-ers who are not clueless, who realize that the majority of the bands the like are “libs,” yet listen to them anyway (one feels that Gen X conservatives, or, X-Cons, aren’t fully grasped). Given this, what’s so odd about the more charitable answer that Paul Ryan is not clueless about Rage, sincerely likes them, and is well-acquainted with their overall philosophy?
This brings me to my main point. Why can’t the liberal bring herself to believe the more charitable and common sensical of the three options (i.e., (1) Ryan is clueless about what Rage sings about; (2) Ryan is lying about listening to Rage to seem cool; and (3) Ryan just likes a band he disagrees with politically). Relatedly, in light of the above, how can so many conservatives listen to somgs they don’t agree with politically? This last question confounds the leftist mind and in the answer to it is the answer to our first question about charitable interpretations. Here’s my answer: The conservative is more Augustinian and the leftist is more Aristotelian, at least in one respect. Whereas the Aristotelian views man as by nature a political animal, the Augustinian views politics (and the state) as a necessary evil. I’ll briefly expand this.
For the Augustinian, the state is coercive, which it should be given our imperfect condition qua human. But if we could get along without the state, that would be a better state of affairs. In present reality, we can’t. So the state is there, and we raise and eyebrow, sometimes two, at it. This is not to say that the state is evil in every sense. The Augustinian recognizes the conditionally necessary role of the state as an instrumental good. It’s bad that we should need the state (because we are imperfect, and some say, ‘fallen,’ beings); but, it is instrumentally good that we have it, because we need to have it (rather like a having gun when a kidnapper breaks into your home, guns are necessary evils but instrumentally good). Given this view of politics and the state, there’s a case here for limited government. Perhaps if the Augustinian where waxing Ockhamly he’d say: Don’t multiply government beyond necessity. “Augustine was the first major philosopher to reject the deeply normative politics of classical thought and its conception of the state as the highest achievement of social existence”(Linda Raeder, “Augustine and the Case for Limited Government,” Humanitas, Volume XVI, No. 2, 2003, 94-106, p.95). The Augustinian (i.e., ‘conservative’ in our story) thus finds himself in a perplexing position. He must at some level engage in politics, but he’d rather not. He’d rather live life in the private sphere, loving, working, pursuing his hobbies, and hanging out with friends and family. As one (trained) philosopher put it: “Politics for a [Augustinian] is more like garbage-collecting: it is a dirty job; somebody has to do; it would be better if nobody had to do it; and we should all lend a hand in getting the dirty job done.” So the Augustinian reluctantly engages in the political war for the good of society, either through using the political process to keep government properly limited for the good of society or having tête-à-têtes with friends and family.
The Aristotelian (in this very narrow and myopic sense), viewing man as by nature a political animal, sees everything through the goggles of the political. The state and politics order all of life, and the state is good in itself. “For Aristotle, the polis was the “perfect community”—the fulfillment of human association and the precondition for the cultivation of intellectual and ethical excellence. . . .To the classical mind, human flourishing was inextricably entwined with the flourishing of the state; personal and political fulfillments were symbiotic and inseparable” (Raeder, ibid). On this conception, all of life is political, and we order our lives accordingly. Every aspect of our lives should for a “symbiotic” relationship between “private” and “polis.” Our dress, hobbies, artistic interests, and political ideas are of a piece. A seamless fabric to cover a baby who would be naked without it. On this view, one can see where the case for a larger and more expansive government is made. To wax rhetorical, quoting Vallicella again, each side has four G’s:
“Conservative[/Augustinian]: God, guns, grub, gold.
Liberal[/Aristotelian]: government, government, government, government.”
While the above was an overly simplistic (but useful for our purposes) way to present the competing viewpoints it was also a tad abstract, so let’s concretize a bit. The/a reason the left failed to see the obvious and charitable answer, thus eschewing conspiracy theories, is simply because thinking in terms of the charitable answer is foreign to that mindset described above. For them, all of life must be ordered according to political loyalties. Ryan is white and conservative—thus, he should regularly listen to country music (but not the Dixie Chicks, though Ted Nugent is allowed when he wants to let his hair down), watch NASCAR, consume steak, ‘taters, and beer, and dress in jeans and a flannel shirt. If he were white and liberal he should regularly listen to Mozart or Beethoven (but Bob Dylan is allowed for letting down the hair), regularly go to the MET, consume organic sweet potato soup garnished with mint, drink Perrier, and dress in dockers with a cardigan draped over his shoulders (oh, and he must drive a Prius). This is of course hyperbolized and generalized, but the point is the same: the left is about identity politics. This is why they simply cringe and froth at the mouth when they hear about conservative gays, women, blacks, and immigrants. They then must assign a cover-narrative: it can’t be that some people—even some black people—simply find the conservative ideology to be true and appealing. No, blacks are called Uncle Tom’s, trying to make a quick buck. If you’re gay, black, female, poor, or an immigrant, then you simply must be a liberal and vote for the Democrat party. So Paul Ryan acted inconsistent according to this viewpoint. “How could he like Rage Against the Machine? They’re Occupy Wall Street liberals! That’s a disordered life, for life must be ordered with your political ideology in mind.”
That’s why this is such a big deal to leftists. Paul Ryan (or at least what he paradigmatically stands for in this case) is showing that politics is small fries. That the political doesn’t order all of life. That one can think for himself and be mature enough to put up with the private political beliefs of others, especially if they offer a product you like! Leftists can’t get this, if you share the politics of Rage Against the Machine then all you do, right down to the kind of chicken sandwich you eat, must reflect your political loyalties. But conservatives dissent from all that (or at least, they should). And this is where the biggest irony comes in. No, not the one that has it that Democratic blogs and politainment shows are the clueless ones—Rage cannot be co-opted by them, for big, expansive governments constitute part of the machine Rage is raging against; and Morello rages against those who don’t think we should militarily support the Zapatistas, like Obama isn’t—it’s one that hits closer to home. Rage Against the Machine‘s song, “Killing in the Name of,” includes these words:
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya, now you’re under control (7 times)
Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me (16 times)
Paul Ryan plays the part of non-conformist in this respect and Morello (six years Ryan’s senior and apparently playing the role of crotchety curmudgeon cursing “those kids and their music choices”) raged against him (“You’re not allowed to like and listen to my music!”). Ryan says he won’t be told what he must listen to because of what he believes politically (metaphorically giving Tom the middle finger). On the other hand, Morello calls him “clueless” because, you see, for the leftist, everyone needs to get in line, shut up, and do what you’re told, which includes who you can or can’t listen to (“F U, you will do what they tell ya!”). Conservatives over there, liberals over here; everything nicely divided up into all-comprehensive visions, and everyone doing what they’re told. Ryan likes Rage Against the Machine. Get over it. For all I know, a lot of liberals liked The Dark Knight Rises. I’m not going to call them clueless poseurs and demand they only watch Michael Moore films, pro Che documentaries, or Milk.