Long long ago, in another, an antediluvian world, way back in 2003, indeed so long ago that it was before Zippy Catholic became Zippy Catholic, he came up with the notion of the Hegelian Mambo in a comment thread over at VFR. This at least is how I recall that it happened. Zippy can correct the record, if he wishes. The basic idea is that liberal culture – composed as it is of left liberals and right liberals, of “progressives” and “conservatives” – must move always leftward: two steps left, one step right, or as Zippy put it:
Thesis step to the left,
Thesis step to the left,
Grab Antithesis on your right and step to the left,
cha cha cha
And step to the Left…
The rightward steps are feints only; they are accomplished via Auster’s Unprincipled Exceptions, and are entertained or undertaken only to obscure the absurdity of the two leftward steps.
The Hegelian Mambo may be understood as a repeated gyration of the liberal as he slides like a snowboarder down the Slippery Slope. It helps him keep a precarious balance, preventing his immediate crash. Thus it enables his continued steady progress toward the abyss.
Once having learned of it, there is no gainsaying the Hegelian Mambo, nor very much need to multiply examples. One only will do: the constant need to devise new terms to denote forbidden subjects without violating taboo.
The constancy of that need is informative. The liberal has no real option but to continue down the Slippery Slope, so long as he remains a liberal. Only when the jink of a given unprincipled exception fails to cover quite the sin he moves to commit, so that he crashes and burns, landing on his rear deep in a hole in the snow – i.e., when he stops being a liberal – can he have any other option than to stay as upright as possible as he swerves along toward the precipice.
But why should this be? I.e., understanding that the world is slippery (so that it is easy for any of us to Fall, and indeed to Fall repeatedly) why do we find that the world is also sloped?
Well, it isn’t really. When we falter, and Fall, the world rises up to meet us, and her impact is painful. It is our attempts to avoid this ultimately inevitable eventuality that keep the Hegelian Mambo going, in a frantic effort to avoid the final catastrophe. We’d be better off to drop on our butt the moment we began to fall, and make a sitzmark, however deep. The longer we avoid doing so, the faster we go and the wilder, and the more painful our eventual downfall. Yet our natural reflex is to try to salvage the situation (this is Pride at work, when Repentance would be wiser). So the Mambo proceeds, ever more desperate, the lurches back and forth ever wilder, overcompensation feeding overcompensation.
I’ve been there. My first week mountaineering in winter – which was my first week on skis – almost anything was better than falling at speed into snow 20 feet deep with an 80 pound pack on my back. There could be sticks and stones in the hole one made, that might break favorite bones or punch fatal holes. Even if not, the fall hurt: one slammed into oneself, and into the gear. When the powder settled, there was always an unbelievable chaos of skis, poles, and equipment to untangle before one could even begin to climb up out of the hole. Snow would find its freezing way deep under my clothing, gallons of it.
It was even worse when my fall tripped up one of my fellows; especially when his fall was into the hole my own body had just made, and onto me.
Such falls were providential, being far preferable to staying upright and teetering onward over the edge of a cliff. But they were terrifically exhausting, even for our guide and teacher, who would have to work at our rescue despite his hilarity. It seemed to take an age to get everything untangled. What a relief it was to get at last on my skis again, with all my gear in place, and on my weary way toward camp. My skill and knowledge blossomed, but still, how very cautious I became, and canny!
Is there a jot of room between wisdom and prudence?
The world is not sloped, even if the terrain sometimes is. It’s just that gravity is always in effect. And unless we are upright, we begin to Fall.
In our political economy, the counterpart of terrain is fact, of gravity truth. And truth will out; will slap us into fact. It doesn’t matter in the end what we would like to think about things, they just are the way they are. If we don’t think of them, and so respond to them, as they really are – if we are not True – then we end up Falling. And liberalism is a beautiful exciting idea that is just false to fact. It is like thinking, wrongly, that “we can make this pitch, come on, let’s go for it!”
Truth to fact is the forecondition of survival, and of prosperity. It should hardly surprise us then to find that all the organs of society, and all its members, are so formed and established as always to seek and find the truth, and to respond properly thereto, no matter what we might wish to the contrary, or how hard we might work in their contravention.
Language is an apt example. Its purpose is to convey information – not, NB, noise. It can convey noise, to be sure – we can use it to lie – but its every exercise works to frustrate and expose any falsehood. The liar, then, finds that he must work ever harder, must lie more and more, and more egregiously, too, in order to maintain his smokescreen of noise. And the eventual comeuppance of his falsehoods is assured (whether or not he himself seems to pay any price, he certainly does). It’s not just that the course of history will more and more disagree with his fictions – as it will, thus eventually betraying him – but that the very instrument of those fictions will begin to sap and erode them, in and by their first utterance.
Language itself hates the Lie.
Consider, e.g., the use of “youths” to refer to black ruffians, and to disguise the sad facts that they are black, and ruffians. No one is fooled by this euphemism, no not for a moment. Everyone knows, instantly, from the rhetorical context in which it occurs, and from the circumstances that its communication otherwise accurately depicts, that “youths” means a bunch of young black male criminals. The whole point of language is truth. Truth and its service therefore throughly forms all speech, and so it has obliterated the mendacious intention of the politically correct journalist and his politically correct commissars – er, that is to say, his editors – to mislead the reader about what has happened, for the sake of their false view of reality.
Thus is any euphemism transformed almost instantly into dysphemism. No one can now succeed in the politically correct use of the word “youths” to refer to young black male criminals, because everyone knows that it means the same thing as “young black male criminals.” In no other way could it have been useful in the first place. If “youths” was even to begin to work as a euphemism for “young black male criminals,” it was necessary that at their very first encounter with the term everyone read it to mean just what it did mean. Its very utility as a euphemism rendered it moribund as such, at almost its first use. Some other euphemism must soon therefore arise.
An interesting aside: will the search for a satisfactory euphemism for “young black male criminal” force the use of terms that denote ever younger people? From “youth” – which traditionally denoted pubescents – will we move to “youngster,” and then when that fails to “children,” then to “boys”? Where will it stop? “Babies”?
The same procedure is at work in Britain, where sex slavery is the work of “Asians,” or even “Britons.” In Sweden, the Muslim rape epidemic is due to “young Swedes.” No one is allowed to notice what is really happening, because that breaks taboo; but everyone knows what is really happening.
The same thing happens with economic statistics.
Like any other use of language, the market is a procedure that is intended to discover and communicate the truth, so that our acts can coordinate properly. The price of a good is what it is, to the seller and buyer – who, NB, negotiate their transaction using language (so that Mercury is god both of language and market) – and it reflects their best joint understanding. That understanding is not perfect, but it is at least usually intended toward an honest apprehension of what is, and of its meanings. So the price of a deal is as honest as it can be, given the honesty of the parties thereto (who are, of course, fallible, in every sense, and therefore subject to a Fall – this risk, too, being something that the market reckons, or can).
Back then to economic statistics, that can sway markets by informing the understandings of the men who make them. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that unemployment has fallen, those who follow such things, and thereby shape the market, look these days instantly to the labor force participation rate, and to the degree to which the change in the unemployment rate is due to specious factors, such as government hiring, that do not indicate anything one way or the other about economic vitality. I.e., those who know anything do not take the unemployment statistic as real information. They use changes in the unemployment number only as a prompt to investigate other statistics, that are not (yet) so noisy. The unemployment number is a euphemism. It is more or less a lie.
And because the unemployment statistic is no longer useful for confusing investors, soon the derangement of the labor force participation rate statistic will begin, if it has not already done so. Ditto likewise for real average household incomes, or any number of other statistics. And when they no longer work, some other subterfuge will become needful – perhaps a redefinition of “labor” or “employment.”
When one term no longer works to confuse the discourse in service of the liberal delusion, some other heretofore innocent term must be found that can serve as a substitute. And the same goes for policies that, founded upon falsehoods, cannot but fail. Their failures must be attributed to those who opposed them in the first place, and their errors then must be redoubled. Is family formation crumbling, and illegitimacy soaring? Illegitimacy must then be redefined as normal, and unobjectionable; and families must be redefined as adventitious clumps of people, that form and then deform – where’s the problem?
But none of these dodges can long suffice. The language by which they are implemented demolishes them, because its whole purpose is to tell the truth.
The Mambo cannot stop. So the liberal can never stop dancing, lest he complete his Fall.