anil dash’s strawmen
Blogger/Entrepreneur Anil Dash sets up a conservative strawman to debate with in a seemingly eloquent piece on his site, and takes him down to the applause of many otherwise very intelligent people. None of them will ever read this reply, but I wanted to type it out before I forgot how much Dash’s appallingly poor logic and flippant stereotypes infuriated me.
Dash first explains that Jobs is:
…the anchor baby of an activist Arab muslim who came to the U.S. on a student visa and had a child out of wedlock. He’s a non-Christian, arugula-eating, drug-using follower of unabashedly old-fashioned liberal teachings from the hippies and folk music stars of the 60s. And he believes in science, in things that science can demonstrate like climate change and Pi having a value more specific than “3”, and in extending responsible benefits to his employees while encouraging his company to lead by being environmentally responsible.
And then Dash says that because Jobs has been successful, anyone who disagrees with any aspect of Jobs’s beliefs is inept at business and has no business voicing an opinion:
Every single person who’d attack Steve Jobs on any of these grounds is, demonstrably, worse at business than Jobs. They’re unqualified to assert that liberal values are bad for business, when the demonstrable, factual, obvious evidence contradicts those assertions.
In other words: Successful man A believes B—as do I—ergo, you’re either with us or you’re dead wrong. (Sounds a lot like a particular reviled Texan, but I digress.)
No, That’s Not Me
This strawman—Dash’s “they” who disagree with “liberal” values as espoused by Jobs—is an intellectual minstrel show. I do believe in the scientific viability of the theory of evolution. I believe in significantly more open borders. I believe we get a negative ROI on the Drug War.1 I believe that America’s strength lies in the Rule of Law, and not in any single faith. I think that Victorian-era social mores have a destructive effect on society. I’m not a white, evangelical (or otherwise) Christian conservative who can be shoehorned into a Knuckle-Dragging Conservative ReThuglican™ stereotype, and to imply that disagreeing with modern liberalism means I am is disgraceful.
The worst part of this all-or-nothing approach is that in focusing on social values, it ignores the economic values that are the cornerstone of innovation and prosperity. Any student of post-colonial India who isn’t waist deep in Marxist fables could see that India tried ruthless egalitarianism, trading away economic growth and individual profit to ensure that the nation remained equal according to Gandhian notions of fairness. They made it hard for small-business owners at every step of their companies’ development: financing projects was a sin, hiring and firing workers were determined by almost anything but the content of one’s character, buying equipment required running to government officials like a twelve-year-old asking for his allowance, and any profits that were made after all of these hurdles were stripped from the entrepreneurs’ hands. Indians had a vibrant democracy with some of the greatest freedoms of any Asiatic people. But it meant nothing because individuals couldn’t thrive without worrying that they were going to be shaken down by a government who thought they were getting too big for their britches.
This system that assumes the worst of the most successful almost destroyed the Indian economy for three generations. It led to thousands fleeing India (like my own parents, and presumably some of Dash’s family), while those who couldn’t make it out were trapped in a vicious cycle of corruption and despair.
The myopic liberal economic values that pave this road to Hell with good intentions are what “they” are protecting us from. A pretty good chunk of conservatives like yours truly don’t give a damn if Jobs eats arugula. We don’t even care that he’s Arab-American. But we do care if the next Steve Jobs is thwarted from his dreams at every turn because Washington (or Albany or Sacramento) has decided that stopping his future greed through taxation and regulation is more important than allowing his current innovation through freedom from either. Social freedom is as important as Dash says it is. But without economic freedom, innovation will never leave the cocktail napkin.
1 Incidentally, these last two are explicitly supported by those evil, conservative-backing Koch brothers everyone’s getting so many emotional hemorrhoids about.
updated 9/9 Added the link to the original post, because I’m not a jerk. This is why late night posts are terrible. Also, Anil himself commented below, so…that’s pretty awesome.