Charles Moore's Mailbag

The Mac and Politics: Point & Counterpoint

Charles Moore - 2001.06.25 - Tip Jar

Last week's column, Not All Mac-Heads Are Lefties, generated a lot of mail. Most of the responses, whether they agreed with me or not, were thoughtful and interesting. They are posted below with my replies.

It made me smile to learn, after I had posted the story, that Steve Jobs had entertained Bill and Hillary Clinton and Mrs. Clinton's parents as house guests that same weekend. I guess there's no mystery as to where Steve stands politically.

Never mind. My contention remains that enthusiasm for the Macintosh is evidence of good taste and appreciation for a superior computing experience rather than any sort of political statement. I hope that is one point upon which liberals and conservatives, leftists and rightists, who love the Mac can agree.


From: Louis Wheeler

Subject: Neither Liberal or Conservative.

I hesitate to put a label on you, but you sound like a centrist - and a high centrist at that! That is, you don't sound like you enjoy pushing people around. Could "live and let live" be one of your mottos? That would fit what I read.

I wouldn't call you an environmentalist either; I can't see you worshipping nature. Dancing naked around a fairy ring in the forest in the middle of the night is probably not your style. But this wonderful world that God granted us is a heritage and a responsibility we should pass on to the next generation. If you believe that, this would make you a Conservationist.

I find this whole left-right stuff meaningless; what does it matter who sat in what seats in the French Assembly? Does Liberal or Conservative mean what they did then? No. American politics is quite confusing. No one really knows what the politicians stand for; they are careful about that.

I'm a high centrist, because I distrust extremes. Extremists, sooner or later, are control freaks; they try to make you into their slave. And we freedom seekers try to avoid that. That's why we like the Macintosh. It's not just that it is a thing of beauty and a work of art. And that each detail has been researched and tested to give the feeling that you have a masterpiece. The Macintosh provides freedom, not just utility.

To an artist, it is like a finely crafted sable brush. Because it responds predictably and reliably, it allows you to forget that the brush is in your hand. You become one, not with the instrument, but with the canvas; you are surface and paint. It does not remind you harshly that there is an instrument in your hand. Only cheap tools do that. So, why should we Macintosh owners bother about the price? Isn't better to be concerned about value? You get what you pay for.

P.S. If you are interested in finding your political home; I suggest you take the world's smallest political quiz at http://www.self-gov.org/ .

Hi Louis,

Thanks for the thoughtful analysis.

You are an Aristotelian I think - the "Golden Mean" and all that. Puts you in good company with St. Thomas Aquinas. ;-)

I perhaps lean more toward Plato than Aristotle, and I am not a thoroughgoing Aristotelian/Thomist, but I appreciate much good sense in the Golden Mean. However, it depends on how you define "extreme."

You're right; labels often tend to obfuscate more than they enlighten, however they do provide a sort of crude and rough categorization. Have you read Thomas Sowell's "A Conflict of Visions?" He eschews the "conservative/liberal" dichotomy for "constrained vision" and "unconstrained vision," which is more useful in dispensing with the gratuitous baggage attached to the lib/con labeling.

Sowell says that the most significant distinction between the two basic visions is that the constrained camp perceived and expects the natural order of things to be harsh and difficult, and are more surprised when things go well than when they do not. In this unforgiving environment, the constrained seek systems and methods that will actually work, and regard the existence of any significant degree of peace, prosperity, comfort as arrived at only through massive effort and great cleverness, and a major achievement.

On the other hand, the unconstrained believe that affairs in an uninhibited state of nature would be inherently pleasant and easy, and that everything would go well if it were not for someone deliberately preventing the realization of such a utopia through impure and selfish motives. They beat the bushes for reasons why things are unpleasant and difficult, and seek to identify culprits to whom blame may be assigned. The unconstrained believe we have inalienable natural rights to peace, prosperity, justice, fairness, comfort, etc.

This essential conflict of visions explains the dialogue of the deaf that obtains between left and right. Conservatives ("constrained") endeavour to explain how much discipline, immediate gratification denial, and plain hard work it took to achieve the modest levels of civilization and prosperity we did, while liberals ("unconstrained') demand that the oppressors be overthrown immediately, clearing the road for a triumphant march into the New Jerusalem.

Examples:
  • Rousseau: "Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains."
  • Alexander Herzen: That makes as much sense as to say: "Fish were born to fly, but everywhere they swim."
I, like Mr. Sowell, am squarely in the "constrained vision" camp. My moral and ideological anchor is in traditional Christianity of the catholic sort, which in some people's books makes me the worst sort of "extremist." However, you're right again, I don't want to push anybody around. Orthodox Christianity affirms clear and absolute standards of right and wrong, but does not advocate coercion. As for environmental issues, "conservationist" probably does describe my position best.

Charles

From: Marcel Brown

Subject: Conservative, Liberal, or ?

I read with great interest your article, "Not All Mac-Heads Are Lefties." I was pleasantly surprised to read your in-detail description of classical liberalism vs. neo-liberalism. I think a lot of people are confused with what liberal vs. conservative means, and your explanation was pretty clear. However, I think you could have taken the explanation one step further.

I believe part of the confusion that people have with the concepts of conservative vs. liberal is that they think politics is a two-dimensional line. Either you're conservative or liberal - or a moderate. Even you admit in the last part of your article that you don't quite know how to classify yourself. Part of the solution is, to borrow from your article, to "think different" - about the political spectrum.

From your description, aside from a few minor discrepancies, you sound very much like a libertarian (basically a classical liberal). However, by questioning yourself in your article whether your views are liberal or conservative, I feel you perpetuate the idea that politics can only be liberal or conservative, and we must all fit into one of those two categories. I would have loved to see you describe yourself as more libertarian, and really break out of the liberal-conservative paradigm.

The problem, as you touched upon briefly in your article, is that modern conservatives are really a strain of modern liberals. I really have a hard time differentiating the two categories. Both are for more government - they only differ on what part of government to grow and by how much to make it grow. Liberals and conservatives both tell us how they can make government work for us. I want government to do less, but both liberals and conservatives sell themselves by promising that they'll make the government do this and that to help the people. Where the liberal/conservative parties are for more government, libertarians are for less government. If you would have explained that in your article, I think it would have opened people's eyes a little more. A great tool, if you aren't already aware of it, is the "World's Smallest Political Quiz," located at http://www.self-gov.org/wspq.html. Maybe you could do a follow-up article and post the link. It would be interesting to see what "Mac users" score.

We basically share extremely similar views (I could probably take the last part of your article, touch a few sentences, and it's describing me). About the only part we differ is in the government regulation of the environment and antitrust laws. While I myself am an environmentalist and do not like big corporations to abuse their power (yes, I am a reformed neo-liberal), I don't think it's the government's responsibility to take care of these things, especially when it comes to regulating business.

I also agree that the better-off in society have a responsibility to help others. But as you state, there is no virtue in forced government "charity". So the answer to whether your view is liberal or conservative is neither. This ideal we share really has nothing to do with politics at all. If all charity were private, there is no government involvement nor any politics. If anything, this concept is libertarian, since the philosophy is to keep government out of the charity business.

Of course, we must acknowledge the fact that I live in the United States and you in Canada, and our systems of government are different and are rooted in different historical ideologies. In the US, our system of government acknowledges the fact that all people are endowed with all inalienable rights. The government doesn't grant rights - they already belong to the people. The government is there only to protect the rights of the people. The US Constitution, in keeping with these ideals, sets up a republic with a central government of very limited power, in which the people retain all their rights (of course, the US government isn't being run according to the constitution these days, but that's another discussion). What little I've read of the Canadian form of government, I don't see these ideals expressed. The difference between the ideals that underline our respective forms of government interests me and I'd like to know more.

Thanks for reading this far! Let me know what you think.

Marcel Brown

Hi Mr. Brown,

While I have a lot of time for Libertarianism, and share many common perspectives with my Libertarian friends, we tend to part company on matters such as environmental issues. I also believe that there is a legitimate role for government, although I agree that "he who governs least, governs best."

As for the issue of "inalienable rights," I have a problem with that. I believe that there is an absolute created moral order, making right and wrong objective categories (although not always transparently discernible), but if rights are inalienable, who defined them and granted the inalienability?

The rights most people refer to with this term are provisional, and subject to the continuance of a political structure that respects them, which is not a given, and therefore the notion of "inalienable rights" tends to be idealistic rather than absolute as a practical concept.

Charles

From J. Scott Francken

Subject: Conservatives and Macs

Bravo!!

Great article. Here's another conservative to add to your list of Mac-users.

Scott Francken


From: Michael Munger

Subject: Macs and Politics

Hey Charles,

Your "Not All Mac-Heads Are Lefties" piece is most interesting. I especially liked your comments about tolerance and intolerance and how it is defined by contemporary ideology.

Munger


From David L. Duff

Subject: Not All Mac-Heads Are Lefties

Dear Charles W. Moore,

Thank you for a truly fascinating and thought provoking read. I too have been at a quandary as to what label I should affix to myself. One rather large and intolerant group (or perhaps a cluster of small groups) I didn't see mentioned, who used to be cause for as much cringing and repulsion as the communists and socialists, are the Fascists (including the former Nazi and the Falange movements). These being represented today by the neo-Nazi and other groups, some of whom are quite respected and popular. Where do they lie in the "grand scheme" of things?

Respectfully,
David L. Duff.

Hi David,

I think that at their polar extremes, both left and right circle back on each other and coalesce into generic totalitarianism. Hitler and company murdered 16 million+ in the name of fascism (although it must be noted that "Nazi" is an acronym for "National Socialist"), while Mao and company and Stalin respectively murdered even more in the name of Communism. Pol Pot killed about one-seventh of Cambodia's population in promoting his mad-dog brand of Communism.

I think that the hard right wing groups you refer to nonspecifically are a predictable reaction to the excesses of politically-correct left-liberalism in the West. That doesn't make their ugly and hateful rhetoric and actions more commendable, but as the Oriental philosophers observe, "what has a front, has a back."

As for popularity, are you perhaps including the parties led by Austrian Georg Haider, France's Jean Marie Le Pen, and even perhaps Italy's new government of Silvio Burluscone? I think it is unfair to include them with the skinhead yobs who riot in the streets and attack visible minorities. They work within the system, and respect democratic choice.

Charles

From Bob Cradock

Subject: Mac & Politics - nice column

Hi,

I enjoyed your column at Low End Mac about the wide variety of political philosophy issues associated (or not) with Macs. Nice food for thought. I agree with you on many of the points, and others helped me think more about what I believe differently. I don't always have time to read your stuff at Applelinks, but those are also good launching pads for musing. Keep up the good work!

Just a quick note about the no heart/no brain quote. I heard it attributed to Otto von Bismarck in this form:

"Anyone who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart. Anyone who is still a socialist at 30 has no brain."

I think that construction with its parallel structure works better, and it avoids the problem of what term to use for the conservative side. I think the Bismarck attribution makes sense due to the chronology of the emergence of socialism, but I could be wrong.

Thanks for the thoughts.

Bob

Hi Bob,

Glad you enjoyed the column. I think that "heart/no brain " epigram has a lot of mileage on it. I've also heard it attributed to Winston Churchill in slightly different form.

Charles

From Joe Wall:

Subject: An orthodox machine for a liberal mind

Howdy,

I'm one of the horrible, scary l-i-i-berals that you so deride, and I've used Macs from the first day they appeared on the market for the same reason many horrible, scary liberals do - I prefer to spend my working time working, not clunking around in the machinery of a baroque operating system.

I'm amazed to once again be accused, in an extremely broad linguistic class action, of intolerance, particularly on a Web site ostensibly dedicated to technical information about Macs.

Just how am I abridging your free speech, Mr. Moore? Am I banning the government from addressing a public health crisis because of the fear that a small minority of religious zealots will be offended? Am I cutting funding to overseas clinics to punish the discussion of a legal procedure? Am I drafting legislation to cut school funding for schools that choose not to provide, at taxpayer expense, facilities for organizations that exclude members on arbitrary religious grounds? Was I the one who repressed the results of a vote in the District of Columbia on the matter of medical marijuana?

How is it, exactly, that we liberals are forcing our supposed intolerance on the world? Promoting accuracy in speech? It seems like there's an awful lot of repression coming from conservatives, from the continued suppression of effective AIDS education to the ironically-named "Defense of Marriage Act," the first law in the history of the United States to invalidate the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution. Where's the liberal equivalent of this sort of legislative action?

It's a funhouse-mirror logic that you use to justify your points. Is Rush Limbaugh a liberal or a conservative? Apparently he is whatever he needs to be to justify each particular point. He's a "classical liberal" when you want to downplay his inconsistencies, but apparently is acceptably conservative when you wish to celebrate his supposed erudition, as in the hilariously self-satirizing quote you used in your article when you said, "As the inimitable Rush puts it, 'It's the easiest thing in the world to be a liberal; all you have to do is say 'yes' to everything.... In order to be a conservative you have to think [different?].' "

Apparently calling oneself a "dittohead," as Rush fans do, is a way of delineating one's unique personality and clearly considered opinions, no? It's obviously a new usage of the word "ditto" I've not yet encountered in my career as a technical writer, but what would I know? I guess I'm just too busy being intolerant to study such things.

Joe Wall

Hi Joe,

If I'm a dittohead, I'm a pretty poor one. I haven't tuned in to Rush for several years, although I used to listen to him fairly regularly on shortwave during the first Clinton term. I agreed with him on some things; disagreed on others.

What I do enjoy about Rush is his ability to get liberals' knickers in a knot in a good-humored way. As Lyndon Johnston said of Alf Landon, "I loved him for the enemies he made." 'Course Johnston and Landon were both liberals, but the sentiment applies ambidextrously.

I could fill quite a few kilobytes of bandwidth citing examples of liberal political correctness repression and infringements on free speech, but I'll just cite one topical example here. Last week, a Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission "tribunal" (there was only one tribune - a feminist lawyer) fined Hugh Owens, an evangelical Christian, and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix newspaper $1,500 respectively for posting and publishing an advertisement citing, without annotation, four Bible verse references to homosexuality in protest of the city's Gay Pride parade. This must be the first time in North American history that someone has been fined for quoting the Bible and had the Bible officially declared "hate literature."

As U.S. commentator and author Jonathan Rauch notes:
"Impelled by the notions that science is oppression and criticism is violence, the central regulation of debate and inquiry is returning to respectability - this time in humanitarian disguise.... the old principle of the Inquisition is being revived: people who hold wrong and hurtful opinions should be punished for the good of society. If they cannot be put in jail, they should lose their jobs, be subjected to organized campaigns of vilification, be made to apologise, be pressed to recant...

"The fundamental principle of intellectual liberalism is that there is nothing wrong with offending - hurting people's feelings - in pursuit of truth. Without the freedom to offend, freedom of expression ceases to exist. Can it legitimately be called 'hate crime' to upset someone? People who are 'hurt by words' are morally entitled to nothing whatsoever by way of compensation. The appropriate response should be: "too bad, but you'll live."
Mr. Rauch is, incidentally, Jewish and a self-described homosexual.

Charles

From: J. Baron

Subject: Not All Mac-Heads Are Lefties...

Mr. Moore:

Good day! Read your "Ramblings" today under the above headline, just wanted to throw in my $.02. I also read Dirk Pilat's article of last week.

I, too, am a Canuck (from Alberta) and have never been a card carrying member of any political party. Bearing the above in mind, I guess the moniker "Politically Incorrect Redneck" comes closer to summing up where I stand than anything else, although that term, in itself, causes many people to roll their eyes.

I do know that I've never voted for an individual who has become prime minister (a product of representation by party, rather than by individual) so I can take some solace there. My votes have always tended towards the right-hand side of the spectrum, rather than the left.

I find myself nodding my head to most of the observations in your article and, too, find myself sitting on the fence regarding my placement amongst classical conservative and liberal dogma. I'm probably not going to lose any sleep over it, mind you...

Regarding my association with computers, my first exposure was to an Apple ll and VisiCalc (spreadsheet software, pretty remarkable in it's day) around 1982 when I took an evening class from the local college. I did some BASIC programming on lle's and llc's in 1984 and when I started university in 1985 I programmed interpreted BASIC on VT100 and VT220 dumb terminals connected to an old DEC-20 mainframe running the TOPS operating system. Later on I programmed compiled Pascal and C through DEC Professional 350 computers which would terminal emulate to the mainframe.

I was introduced to my first Mac in 1990. The machine belonged to my girlfriend, a math teacher whom I later married (hey, she owned a Mac...). It was a Mac Plus with, if I remember correctly, OS 5 on it, which later got upgraded to 6.0.7. We upgraded the memory to 2.5 MB and bought an outrageously expensive external 80 MB hard disc drive. I immediately found the Mac far superior to my buddy's PC's and DOS and Commodore 64's. Late in the fall of 1997 my wife and I purchased one of Power Computing's PowerCenter Pro 240 closeout units w/ OS 8 on it. We use it for Photoshop work (I'm a semipro photographer), word processing, spreadsheets, surfing, a whole plethora of other things. Last year an oil drilling rig manufacturing company sold off about half of their Macintosh computers (they're moving to the dark side...) and we picked up a 9500/180MP and three 6100/60's, of which we still have 2.

So there you have it, another Mac enthusiast who is definitely not a "lefty", but borrows a few good traits from "them".

Thx for your articles and your time.

Regards,
James Baron

PS An aside: I know that 47 gazillion people have bought them, but I've always thought that the iMacs look like one of those old VT100 terminals crossed with a Fruit Loop...

PPS I have many friends, both liberal and conservative and not a Macintosh amongst them. What a bunch of weirdoes...

Hi James,

Indeed.... ;-)

Charles

From Bill Fancher

Subject: Not All Mac-Heads Are Lefties

On this very left-wing Things That Suck Web page, the Mac is listed second, after the Rushster himself.

I assume that disliking Rush is enough to qualify the site as "very left-wing" as I don't see much else that I'd consider "political" there. One needn't be "left-wing" or even "liberal" to find "the Rushster" a bombastic demagogue.

As the inimitable Rush puts it, "It's the easiest thing in the world to be a liberal; all you have to do is say 'yes' to everything.... In order to be a conservative you have to think [different?]."

Surely the above characterization of "liberal" is not in keeping with what you've said earlier about classical liberals or even what you've said about the PC variety. They don't say "yes" to everything. They just say "yes" in some cases where Rush says "no." The fact that you accept this sloppy discourse on his part indicates your inability to be objective about him: you are a "dittohead" in the worst sense.

Approval of anything is regarded as neutral and unbiased, while disapproval is deemed intolerant and bigoted.

This is just stupid (notice that it's merely a paraphrase of the Rush quote above). Those people do not approve of "sexist remarks" or "racist remarks" and they disapprove heartily of anyone who makes such remarks. This is the sort of "thinking" that "conservatives" like Rush rely on in their followers (and that's what you are: a follower. You're not thinking for yourself (differently or otherwise), you're parroting Limbaugh.)

I believe that every person is of equal worth in the sight of God, and that there should be no social, legal, or cultural obstacles to anyone realizing their full potential based on merit and hard work, and I have no patience with racial or ethno-cultural prejudice, but I also strongly oppose the reverse discrimination of race and/or gender preferences and quotas in employment hiring and educational opportunities. Conservative or liberal?

Given that there ARE such social, legal, and cultural obstacles, how then do you suggest we proceed?

How about putting ol' Rush or National Post/Telegraph publisher Conrad Black up there on some of those "Think Different" billboards?

Jeez, why associate the product with idiots? I wouldn't have a problem with Buckley (don't know if he even HAS a computer), but Rush???

To beg the question is to assume, in argument, the premise that was to be proven. To beg the question is to commit a logical fallacy. In particular, "begs the question" does not mean "leads us to ask", though many of our so called journalists seem to think it does. (If they keep at it, I suppose it will come to, though I'm too conservative to savor the prospect.)

I can't say I'm surprised that a Rush fan is unfamiliar with the classical logical fallacies, recognized since the time of Aristotle. Given that Rush employs these fallacies so frequently in his discourse, a fan would HAVE to be unfamiliar with them to be persuaded by his "incomparable logic". Perhaps you should bone up a bit, might change your thinking about "the Rushster".

Bill

Hi Bill,

Critiquing an ideology that prides itself on inconsistency can be tricky. For example, political correctness enthusiasts will tell you with a straight face: "I will not tolerate intolerance."

As a friend of mine who has four degrees in Philosophy, including a Ph.D., and was a professor of same at one of Canada's largest universities once remarked: "Arguing with liberals is like boxing with fog; you first have to frame their own argument for them before you shoot it down."

Re: the "things that Suck" page; also included are:
  • Bush (president)
  • Newt Gingrich
  • Religious Right
  • Kenneth Starr
  • Billy Graham
You don't think those inclusions are left wing political?

Re: social justice, I believe that one works to promote just policies through persuasion rather than coercion, and certainly imposing affirmative action quotas is coercion, as well as grossly unfair to non-quota individuals who compete on merit, and to members of quota-protected groups who can compete on merit but who get tarred with the stigma of tokenism.

As for begging the question, you are technically correct, and I suppose I was guilty of employing a sloppy conventional usage, much like using "hopefully" when what one means is "it is to be hoped."

Charles

From: Jonathan Vaughan

Subject: Thoughtful Analysis

Sir;

Thanks for your thoughtful analysis of the "Mac=left?" thing and the changing definitions of "conservative" and "liberal".

Ironically, while the Democratic Convention was "was jam-packed with Apple hardware," the nominee himself had famously switched to Windows several years before. He also said he was a Deadhead. Yep.

Good luck in the election.

Sincerely,
Jonathan Vaughan

Thanks for the well-wishes Mr. Vaughn. I haven't decided to run yet, but am considering it.

Charles

From Lawrence Rhodes

Subject: Excellent piece! - Not all...lefties

I'd been thinking of writing to Dirk Pilat myself, but I can't come up with anything you haven't said extremely well. Thanks!

Lawrence Rhodes

Go to Charles Moore's Mailbag index.

Join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or Google+, or subscribe to our RSS news feed

Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

Links for the Day

Recent Content

About LEM Support Usage Privacy Contact

Custom Search

Follow Low End Mac on Twitter
Join Low End Mac on Facebook

Favorite Sites

MacSurfer
Cult of Mac
Shrine of Apple
MacInTouch
MyAppleMenu
InfoMac
The Mac Observer
Accelerate Your Mac
RetroMacCast
The Vintage Mac Museum
Deal Brothers
DealMac
Mac2Sell
Mac Driver Museum
JAG's House
System 6 Heaven
System 7 Today
the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ

Affiliates

Amazon.com
The iTunes Store
PC Connection Express
Macgo Blu-ray Player
Parallels Desktop for Mac
eBay

Low End Mac's Amazon.com store

Advertise

Open Link