Mamet, Feynman, and Conservatism

Recently, Sundance at The Conservative Treehouse (TCT) wrote about liberal playwright turned conservative playwright David Mamet who somewhat famously said:

In order to continue advancing their illogical arguments modern liberals have to pretend not to know things

Mamet is a wordsmith and analyst of human nature, so he says that liberalism must by definition be illogical. An expert logician would say that any system of complex enough to be interesting, which includes social systems, will have a certain amount of internal inconsistency, but Mamet contends that the inconsistency goes way beyond accepted and understandable levels.

A related though stronger argument than Mamet’s is offered by physicist Richard Feynman (MIT ’39, Nobel ’65) who said that, the game he plays is a very interesting one called, “Imagination in a Straightjacket.”  That is, what he imagines must agree with everything he knows, and Feynman knew a lot. If what he imagines doesn’t agree with what he knows, then he immediately gives up. The integration of large amounts of knowledge in Feynman’s brain constituted his theoretical and cognitive straitjacket.

This mental discipline should apply to policy formation, but I can assure you that it does not. 21st century policy is based on the advertising ethic — “the truth is that which sells.” As Sundance points out, the very smart people in the political establishment spend a lot of time figuring out how to benefit from and sell policies, but very little thought goes into ensuring that they’re workable and benefit their intended audience.

This, it seems to me, is a good working definition for conservatism, the consideration and integration of all known knowledge to ensure workable and sustainable policies. This seems to be what Mamet is alluding to. Moreover, this is not what the modern globalist and socialist political establishment does though this is what everyday citizens expect. The new wave of nationalist politicians would do well to formulate policy based on Feynman’s discipline, but doing so will be hard.


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