Miscellaneous Ramblings

Not All Mac-Heads Are Lefties

Charles Moore - 2001.06.18 - Tip Jar

I'm a political animal. This week I was referred to on a Canadian political Internet forum as "the best known social conservative in the Atlantic provinces," which may or may not be true, and I've just been invited by the leader of the Christian Heritage Party, which is pretty conservative, to run as a candidate in the next Canadian federal election.

Consequently, the topic of how Macs relate to politics always grabs my attention. Last week on Low End Mac, Dirk Pilat asked the rhetorical question: Are Apple Users Lefties? Well, the short answer is that I'm living proof that not all Mac users are lefties, but Dirk raised some other interesting points in his column.

Speaking of British newspapers in particular, Dirk notes, "If you look through the computer and Internet features, the conservative press [e.g.: Times and Telegraph] denies the existence of Apple: Everything is Windoze and Wintel, Linux is the OS for loonies, Apple doesn't exist or should be warned of.

"On the other hand, you'll find colorful full page features about the introduction of OS X, the new iBook, and holy Steve's latest whim in the [left-leaning] Guardian and the Independent."

He wonders: "Is this just a British phenomenon, or are Apple users around the world a bunch of liberal left-wingers? Is it the concept of 'being different' that attracts people with social-democratic and green ideas, or does it mean that being creative automatically means being a member of the communist party? Is it maybe Apple's 'hippie' history?"

There is certainly considerable reason for such inquisitive speculation. Take, for example, a ZDNet news story (Democrats endorse Mac at convention) from last summer that began:

If it weren't for the huge banner draped across the front of the convention center, you would think this week's Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles was a Macworld Expo convention in disguise. With more than 450 iMacs and Power Mac G4s in use, the convention . . . was jam-packed with Apple hardware.

"It's unbelievable," David Kornhauser, a researcher and producer for Nippon Television, told MacCentral. "This place is wall-to-wall Macs."

And, interestingly, the convention's director of technologies, Naz Nageer, commented, "All I know is that when we approached Apple, they were very interested in being a part of this operation." It is a matter of public record that Steve Jobs is a financial contributor to the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, arch-conservative TV and radio talk-show host and commentator Rush Limbaugh is an enthusiastic Mac fan. A November, 1999 MacCentral news item notes that on a show about the Microsoft antitrust verdict, Limbaugh said that if Bill Gates thinks he has problems now, just wait until Internet computers take hold. Then came the clincher: "Think Macintosh."

Not all lefties are Mac fans either. On this very left-wing Things That Suck Web page, the Mac is listed second, after the Rushster himself.

And in a Media Bias Web Site Review, David H. Citron notes:

You've heard Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives saying that Streisand's fame makes her no authority on politics and that she should shut up? (Paraphrase, of course.)

Well, refusing to listen to his own advice, Rush Limbaugh spent most of today's (8/9) program telling folks that the Macintosh - 10 years ago - did everything that WinDoze 95 will do...

Furthermore, boasting that he refuses to learn DOS, he acted like anyone who doesn't recognize the superiority of the Mac was just following the crowd...

Sounds like Good ol' Rush is a Politically Correct anti-PC MacBigot!!!

A couple of years ago I ran across an essay by Rodney O. Lain on the theimac.com Website entitled: Are all Mac users left-wing Liberals?

"My more conservative, PC-using friends claim that I'm just a wild-eyed liberal in love with a 'liberal's computer,'" Rodney lamented, and went on to quote (not necessarily with approval) a famous aphorism:  

If you're not a liberal by age 20, you have no heartÖ
If you're not a conservative by age 40, you have no brainÖ

I think that the original statement used "socialist" or "communist" rather than "liberal," the first time I heard it (Time magazine quoting Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, as I recall).

"Many people even go so far as saying that the Mac is a liberal computer (the implied thought being that Liberal is wrong)," Rodney continued. "I've often thought of the Mac as a liberal computer myself. Until I started rubbing elbows with a wider variety of Mac users."

"Sure there are many people who choose the Mac because they are left-brained romantics (or is that right-brained?)," observed Rodney, "but I'm seeing that just as many buy Macs after their right-brained analysis (or is that left-brained?) removes any doubt that the Mac is superior to Wintel PC. "

That certainly squares with my unscientific observation that a preference for Macs (at least in most cases) has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with aesthetic sensibility and an appreciation for quality, which neither political polarity has a monopoly on. The Mac offers an extraordinarily high-quality computing experience.

However, it true that Macintosh computers, like Volvo automobiles, are superb products that have respectively become saddled with a reputation for being favorites of upscale yuppie types, who tend to be politically liberal. This may be considered a blessing or a curse, depending upon your politics, I guess, but in neither case it is factually accurate. It's the total Mac experience that makes Mac-users - liberals and conservatives - fall in love with their computers.

I know lots of PC-using, Mac-scorning, professed liberals, and conservative Mac-users, and a significant number of conservative Volvo drivers, too. Come to think of it, most of the Volvo owners I know are relatively conservative in their political outlook. Most of my liberal friends drive Toyotas and Hondas, for whatever that's worth. I lean toward Chrysler products myself, but currently the workhorse family bus is a Toyota Camry.

Most of the Mac-users I know are conservatives, too, although it may be that I just know more conservatives, tending toward that persuasion myself. When Canada's most right-leaning national newspaper, The National Post, (founded and part-owned by Conrad Black who also owns the London Daily Telegraph, which Dirk Pilat describes as "ultra right-wing") cranked up its presses a couple of years back, each reporter was offered their choice of either a desktop Mac or a PowerBook, according to National Post reporter David Akin in a letter to Macworld.

A couple of other reasons for the Mac being characterized as a "liberal's computer" are its low penetration of the business computing market and fact that it is spectacularly popular among members of the entertainment industry, and with other creative, artistic types, who more often than not tend to be liberal in their political views.

The Mac is simply an excellent machine, which does not commend it as a liberal's device, according to the late American philosopher Richard Weaver, who noted the liberal "tendency to look with suspicion upon excellence, both intellectual and moral, as 'undemocratic...'"

Which brings me to something Rodney Lain wrote that I must respectfully take issue with: "Maybe Apple's goal, under Steve Jobs," Rodney mused in his essay, "is to show that being a 'liberal computer' isn't such a bad thing after all. If the Mac symbolizes the liberal ideology, then Windows and the Wintel PC represent the Conservative zeitgeist: conformity, sameness, and that corporate IS mantra known as 'standardization.'"

Here I perceive both a profound misunderstanding and a negative stereotyping of conservatism - precisely the thing Mr. Lain accuses those who disdainfully call the Mac a "liberal computer" of doing. Surely there can be few more aggressively fundamentalist mantras of conformity and sameness than the so-called "political correctness" movement, which advocates nominally liberal causes and positions.

Liberals like to think of themselves as freethinkers, but the impression most of most self-styled liberals I've encountered over the past four decades have impressed upon me is of fearful conformity to whatever version of political-correctness happens to be the trend du jour. There are exceptions, of course, but in my experience as a veteran of the culture wars, it is a fair generalization. These observations leave me to deduce that the largest proportion of liberals actually must be lemming-like PC users, and this also explains to my satisfaction why so many conservatives I know are Mac-users. 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?]."

I know what Rodney is getting at in terms of corporate-think about "standardization," and I am no more patient with that than he is, but please don't call that conservatism, because it isn't. Indeed the standard late-90s corporate mindset has a lot more to do with classical laissez-faire liberalism than it does with conservatism.

Part of the confusion lies, I think, in the fact that the classical definition of "liberal" has been inverted over the past 40 years to mean "conservative," while what most people perceive as "liberal" now pertains more to neo-Marxist, socialist, radical existentialist, and postmodern nihilist schools of thought.

According to the "New Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus:"

Liberalism is critical of institutions, whether political or religious, which tend to restrict individual liberty and places its faith in man's goodness and rationality. This has often expressed itself in demands for freedom of expression, equality of opportunity and universal education.

I am paleo-conservative enough to have little faith in man's inherent "goodness and rationality," based on experience, observation, and a reading of history. Note also that the classic liberal principles of freedom of expression and equality of opportunity (but not necessarily equality of outcomes), are embraced by most people these days who categorize themselves as conservatives - and denigrated by speech-policing, affirmative action advocating, politically correct "liberals."

The "New Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus" goes on to say:

Economic liberalism has its roots in the laissez-faire doctrines of Adam Smith, Malthus, and Ricardo [all 19th Century economists]. As it developed in the 19th Century, it was essentially a phenomenon of the commercial and industrial classes, favoring free trade and fixing of wages and prices by competition, and opposing state intervention.

In this context, the late 20th Century muddling of liberal/conservative terminology becomes glaringly clear, with our postmodern neo-conservatives enthusiastically advocating less government and free markets as the purest expressions of true economic freedom and bulwarks supporting political liberty - all central tenets of classic economic liberalism.

Meanwhile, our Marxist/socialist-influenced neo-liberals illiberally preach big government and planned markets. Having abandoned the historical liberal principle of opposition to state interference in the affairs of individuals, neo-liberals now affirm a new political orthodoxy of protecting the weak and oppressed (as defined by neo-liberals) against the supposed evils of private interest through a mechanism of topdown state intervention, favoring collective remedies over individual ones - surely the antithesis of "thinking different."

Classical liberal philosophy implied the denial of all coerced relationships and affirmed that all true relationships are formed in freedom. However, contemporary neo-liberal political correctness has taken the noble ideal of tolerance and perverted it into a rigid ethos in which all ideas, cultures, and behaviors must not only be tolerated, but also accepted and approved regardless of their quality or character. Neo-liberal multiculturalism has replaced the classic liberal concept that all persons should be treated fairly and equally under the law, with the notion that all cultures are equal.

Thus, any sort of criticism or disapproval of particular ideas, cultures, or behaviors is deemed "intolerance," which is the one thing neo-liberals will not tolerate, turning the classical liberal opposition to coerced relationships on its head. Approval of anything is regarded as neutral and unbiased, while disapproval is deemed intolerant and bigoted.

On the other hand, when business-oriented neo-conservatives beat the drums for unrestricted individualism and unregulated capitalism, they are affirming the principles of classic economic liberalism - not classic conservatism. In that sense, neo-conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, William F. Buckley, and the Bush administration are not really advocating conservatism at all in the classic sense of the term, but are actually a species of liberal.

In the contemporary North American political and economic context, both nominally "conservative" and nominally "liberal" beliefs are somewhat adulterated downstream products of the post-Enlightenment liberal ethos. While they disagree on a number of important nuances, neo-conservatives and neo-liberals share in common the essentially liberal notions that individual self-interest, material comfort and acquisition, and economic growth are the correct and self-sufficient ends of human endeavor. Both place their faith in science, technology, and industrial prosperity as the satisfactory means to achieving these ends. Their biggest disagreement is over who or what will be in control - government bureaucracies or individuals operating in a free market.

The late Canadian conservative philosopher George Grant observed that:

Americans who call themselves conservatives have the right to that title only in a particular sense. In fact they are old-fashioned liberals... Their concentration on freedom from governmental interference has more to do with 19th century liberalism than with traditional conservatism, which asserts the right of the community to restrain freedom in the name of common good.

Seymour Martin Lipsit of George Mason University in Virginia similarly pointed out in his "American Exceptionalism:"

To understand the exceptional nature of American politics, it is necessary to recognize that conservatism, as defined outside the United States, is particularly weak in this country. Conservatism in Europe and Canada, derived from the historic alliance of church and government, is associated with the emergence of the welfare state.

The two names most identified with it are [Otto von] Bismarck and [Benjamin] Disraeli.... They represented the rural and autocratic elements, sectors which disdained capitalism, disliked the bourgeoisie, and rejected materialistic values. Their politics reflected the values of noblesse oblige, the obligations of the leaders of society and the economy to protect the less fortunate."

Or as P. J. O'Rourke has more recently observed:

In fact, charity is an axiom of conservatism. Charity is one of the great responsibilities of freedom. But, in order for us to be responsible - and therefore free - that responsibility must be personal.

There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as "caring" and "sensitive" because he wants to expand the government's charitable programs is merely saying that he's willing to try to do good with other people's money. Well, who isn't? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he'll do good with his own money - if a gun is held to his head."

Confused yet? I ruminate a great deal myself over where I fit in this dialectic, and I find myself personally embracing a tapestry of classic conservative and classic liberal values. For example, I am a strong advocate of free speech and expression for everyone - even those whose opinions I and/or others may find offensive and objectionable. Does that make me a conservative or a liberal?

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?

I also believe that the "invisible hand" of the market operating with a minimum of government intervention is the most powerful and efficient engine of economic prosperity for the greatest number, and I'm a free trader, but I'm also a staunch environmentalist and I don't object to government environmental regulations or to antitrust initiatives (a la Microsoft) to ensure the maintenance of market competition. Conservative or liberal?

I agree with Abraham Lincoln and Margaret Thatcher that the state ought not do for people what they are capable for doing for themselves, and I am generally opposed to indiscriminate and dependence-creating welfare entitlements, but I believe that the better-off in society have a responsibility to help the genuinely troubled and needy, preferably giving them a hand up rather then a handout. Conservative or liberal?

Finally, I like Macintosh computers, and I celebrate the inclination to "think different," with the accent strongly on the "think" part.

One of the things I think is that Apple Computer is ill-advised to feed and perpetuate the "liberal computer" stereotype with things like supplying Macs to the Democratic Party Convention - which they obviously do in their advertising. Much better to project a more balanced philosophical perspective.

How about putting ol' Rush or National Post/Telegraph publisher Conrad Black up there on some of those "Think Different" billboards? I'm serious, but of course the constituency Apple chooses to cultivate would never stand for having someone who thinks that differently from them, die-hard Mac fan or not, representing their favorite computer.

Begs the question of just who is "intolerant," doesn't it?

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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.

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