Conservatives – depressing everyone since 500BC

One of the most telling comments David Cameron has ever made came last week when he accused some of his critics of being “pessimists” for believing that he won’t get a deal in Europe.

Of course we’re pessimists, we’re conservatives – that’s the whole point. Some see a glass half-full, some see a glass half-empty, we see the downfall of Western civilisation and the country going to the dogs. If you want cheery, happy people who think everything’s going to turn out like one of those Jehovah’s Witnesses drawings of heaven where the kids are lying in a field next to a moose, join the Liberal Democrats.

It’s my job as a conservative to depress you, so I’m sad to say that, as this will be my last blogpost here, you’ll have to find  some other way to get yourself down from now on; maybe stick yourself in a room with some Radiohead CDs and a bottle of gin and put Requiem for a Dream on a loop.

And in this case we’re probably right. British prime ministers have consistently failed to get a deal in Europe, and it’s a fundamental conservative principle that if something repeatedly goes wrong over and over and over again, it’s probably not going to work the next time, or ever.

Conservatism is depressive realism. That’s not to say that things are always bad, or necessarily getting worse, but that there is a natural tendency among humans to ignore problems, and it’s our job to point this out. As Tom Chivers wrote, optimism is in-built:

Daniel Kahneman, the psychologist, pointed out in his bookThinking, Fast and Slow that we systematically overestimate our chances of success: “risk takers underestimate the odds they face he says, confidently – or blithely – leaping into the unknown, with business ventures or marriages or attempts to climb Everest. Entrepreneurs, on average, have about a one in three chance that their business will survive for five years, but they tend to estimate their chances at nearly double that.

It’s the same with politics. Since the time of the Greeks, people have been coming up with schemes to create better societies that are hopelessly unrealistic, and from 1789 the human race has become hugely inventive at thinking of terrible ways to leave us all impoverished or dead, most of them based on the idea that humans are instinctively good. The European project is one such highly optimistic idea: just because every single attempt to overcome national identity in history has ended in miserable failure and bloodshed, that’s not to stop us trying again, eh, folks?

We’ve been shaped by evolution in this way. There has always been a need for innovative, creative thinkers (and this is why the arts will always be dominated by liberals), but there will also forever be a place for the depressive realist.

Conservatism may sound miserable, even misanthropic, but it only recognises that within the communities we live in, which are from an evolutionary point of view unnaturally large, there need to be firm rules to minimalise free-riding, violent conflict and economic disaster. The idea of evolutionary conservatism is to build a society that is as just, progressive, wealthy and happy as is possible within the boundaries of human nature.

Evolution explains why people are unwilling to pool their resources with people unlike them, why men who are not expected to be providers will become hyper-masculine, why poor people are more hostile to welfare claimants than the rich are, why we’re more scared of terrorists and paedophiles than car drivers, and why things like the gender gap will never be eliminated (though social forces can reduce it).

Evolution even explains why so much of political debate still revolves too much around Marx and Freud, and too little around Darwin; people just find it difficult to embrace controversial ideas, and are unwilling to accept that they’re wrong. We’re all guilty of this, because we’ve evolved that way, and that’s why political debate is always dominated by irrationality, prejudice, wilful ignorance and tribalism.

It’s why opinions can inspire very strong feelings, hatred even. We all must occasionally see the face of a know-it-all columnist whose views we disagree with and want to punch them in the face. (Sometimes I look at my own byline picture and want to punch it. I’m sure it must be impossible, after writing comment pieces for a while, not to hate yourself to a certain extent; in fact there’s probably something wrong with you if you don’t. Maybe you’re a psychopath.)

But then we haven’t evolved to live with such confrontational views being shoved in our faces; humans have a deep-seated desire to be in communion, which explains both the appeal of religion and the moral cowardice of those who hold an unpopular opinion or inconvenient truth when faced with a mob.

That’s ultimately what political commentators are for, to say something different when faced with the collective madness that passes for current opinion.

I hope that over the last four years I’ve occasionally succeeded; I’ve regretted some articles, although the Telegraph weren’t keen on a piece called “My five worst blogposts”, which could have had a Ratner effect. But don’t hold it against me.

So thank you for reading and commenting; I like many of the commenters, and often find them interesting and informative. So thank you, and I will continue somewhere the struggle against cultural Marxism, the Frankfurt School, Lib-Lab-Con, Common Purpose, Gramscian hegemony and reality in general. And remember, if you think things are bad, they can always get worse, and probably will.

This article was published at Telegraph Blogs


What do you think?