“We are the change that we seek”
“Hope and Change”
These statements and campaign slogans of candidate Barack Obama in 2008 exemplified a basic difference between the Left and Right. The further left one goes the greater the belief in change. Conservatives, on the other hand, as their name implies, wish to conserve unless there is a pressing need to change, and as certainly happens on occasion.
The problem therefore, is not change; it is change for the sake of change and changing what has been proven to work well – artistically, economically, morally and in every other non-scientific (medical, technological, etc.) area of life.
The arts provide a clear example. Virtually all the criteria of excellence in the arts have been abandoned by the Left’s love of change. For well over a century, the leftist ideal in the arts has been change – “innovation” as it is often called. The artistic criteria of the ages were abandoned. What came to matter most was “new,” “different,” and “pushing the envelope.”
Sure, Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart were great in their time. But that’s old stuff. We need a new way of composing music. So all the bases of classical music – melody, harmony, rhythm, and even a tonal key – were abandoned.
All those old rules were too constricting.
By abandoning tonality, melody, and harmony a vast amount of meaningless sounds, though still called music, was written. John Cage, a leading American composer of the “avant-garde,” actually “composed” a work – “4’33” – in which the “performer,” usually at a piano, sits for 4 minutes and 33 seconds doing nothing. Not a note is played. There is only silence.
In a serious TED talk, a professor at the University of Manchester explained Cage’s intent: Cage is “a bit sick and tired of the same old thing: going to concerts, listening to performances of works that are very familiar to us.”
Perfectly put. The progressive, the avant-garde, and the innovators – they are sick and tired of the same old thing. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art features a “sculpture” called “Levitated Mass,” which is nothing more than a 340-ton rock held up by the two sidewalls of a concrete trench. A few miles away, the Orange County Museum of Art features “Bad Dog,” a 28-foot sculpture of a dog with its leg raised peeing yellow paint.
These works of “art” are not “the same old thing.” They exemplify change. And that’s what matters.
In education, the Left constantly seeks change – new ways to teach, no matter how successful previous methods have been. Generations of Americans learned to read by using the phonics method: A child looks at each letter in a word, pronounces the sound associated with that letter, and then puts the sounds together to pronounce the word. Generations of students thereby learned to read quickly and fluently. Beginning in the 1980s, the new educators, “reformers” of the Left, dropped phonics in favor of the “whole language” method that attempts to teach children to recognize whole words. The Left thus did to reading – and to education generally – what the Left did to classical music: ruined it. The average college freshman in America now reads at level of a seventh grader.
In economics, the Left similarly seeks to change the only economic system that has ever lifted large populations out of poverty – the free enterprise system and democratic capitalism. We need change, the Left tells us, meaning less free enterprise and more government control. Note that for the Left economic change never means less government control, only more – despite the fact that government-run economies fail.
This love of change and pushing the envelope extends, of course, to sex. Age-old notions that it’s best to wait until marriage to have sexual intercourse, and that men and women should be married before having children are held in contempt by the Left. The results of this “new and improved” attitude have been disastrous for men, for women, and for children. The new notions have only increased human suffering and sadness.
Now, then, given that they live in the country with the greatest amount of freedom and prosperity for the greatest number of people, why are so many Americans so attracted to “change”? If one lives in a terrible country – a Communist, Fascist, Islamist, or a war-torn one – it is perfectly understandable that people will yearn for change. But how to explain the yearning for constant change in one of the best countries that has ever existed? How does one explain, for example, the wild applause given by thousands of people to candidate Barack Obama in 2008 when he announced, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America”?
To “fundamentally transform,” after all, is to engage in radical change. Were these people living in Iran under a theocratic tyranny? In a fascist dictatorship? No, they were middle class and upper middle class people with among the highest standards of living and most personal liberty on earth.
So why this love of change?
Here are three reasons:
1. Anyone can now be an artist, poet, and writer. Without traditional standards, all you have to do is push the envelope.
2. The “new” is inherently exciting. And many people, especially the young, live for excitement.
3. According to just about every poll, people on the Left are less happy than conservatives. And instead of looking within for the source of their unhappiness, they assume the source is outside of themselves. If only things would “change,” they convince themselves, they would finally be happy.
There are times when change is absolutely necessary. But the truth is that outside of technology, “new” rarely means better. The day one understands this, one becomes wiser – and, by definition, conservative.
This column was originally posted on Townhall.com.