So, tonight’s Debate at Lolita Bar (between Ken Silber and Ryan Sager) is about the fate and state of conservatism — and I can’t help thinking that if conservatism were a bit more like anarchism, as it should be, it could surely reformulate itself and endure.
The theme at this year’s iteration of the near-anarchist annual art festival called Burning Man (coming in August, with more than a few of my acquaintances likely attending again, though I’ll once more refrain) is the same as that of my blog entries this month: “evolution.” And while I expect that the neo-hippies, performance artists, drug-addled nudists, and assorted freakazoids at Burning Man will play even more fast and loose with the concept — and stray farther from the topic of biology — than I have, there is a certain metaphorical logic to that theme as one for an anarchist temporary city, balancing as it does continuity and nearly boundless potential for change (and Black Rock City, as they call the physical location of Burning Man out in the Southwestern desert, is indeed an anarchist temporary city).
I was on a panel about parallels between evolution and econ once in Las Vegas (alongside Will Wilkinson and others, thanks to Gerry Ohrstrom and the Association of Private Enterprise Education), and I remember thinking then that free-market economics, evolution, and being in a place that tantalizes with endless possibilities like Vegas somehow seemed like a natural combo (even though I didn’t gamble).
I have no intention of going to Burning Man and trying to lecture people about Adam Smith (though I see the Objectivists are throwing a massive eight-day conference in Vegas this summer, which may amount to almost the same thing). On the contrary, though, I would love it if Adam Smith’s ostensible defenders absorbed a bit of the anarchic spirit of Burning Man, in the sense that they should all remember that markets only make sense if experimentation and failure (and learning from even catastrophic mishaps) are part of the process. That should mean no government bailouts and subsidies, for anyone, ever — but it also means that “fiscal conservatives” should not be conservative in the short-sighted sense of thinking we must cling to and preserve the current financial institutions or, even more shallowly, fall into the stock-watching trap of thinking that whatever “reassures the market” today is politically, culturally, and economically healthy in the long run (conservatives are supposed to think about the long run — as are progressives — right?).
Despite the pro-bailout arguments that came even from some very pro-market people like Megan McArdle (initially), we should be willing to sit back, let things fail, and trust that new institutions can be created that may actually improve upon the old (perhaps rapidly-revved-up, formerly small rural banks after the death of older Wall Street firms?). If a bunch of art-hippies can build a temporary city in the middle of the desert each year, surely rich people can evolve new institutions to replace their failed, fraudulent, unreliable old ones — and do so without government holding their hands.
If fostering the open-minded attitudes that would allow such beneficial transformations to occur necessitates mixing and blending elements of radically different philosophies — into a very broad new fusionism that cannibalizes and then transcends libertarianism, paleoconservatism, liberalism, Marxism, and other strains — so be it. But we won’t get far thinking the economy must not be allowed to evolve beyond its precise current forms, if that’s the stagnant attitude that our current blend of liberalism and conservatism breeds. (Perhaps this is something we can address tonight at Lolita Bar.)
P.S. I know my evolutionary psychology expert friend Diana Fleischman (about whom more next week) has considered going to Burning Man, so perhaps this year’s theme makes it the perfect time for her to go. (Me, I’m more tempted to return to Vegas and visit the Star Trek-themed bar again.)