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Do Strawmen Wear Ear Buds or Headphones?
By Ed Driscoll · December 30, 2005 08:36 PM · The Electronic Cottage

My wife gave me a 20-gig iRiver MP3 player for Christmas, which I'm happily loading up with all of my favorite tunes, and having a blast playing.

At least, I thought I was, until I read that I actually hate it:

Conservatives don't like personal audio players. Seventeen years ago, Allan Bloom inveighed against the Walkman, arguing that clapping on the headphones was a selfish, narcissistic manoeuver, in which teenagers sealed themselves into a "nonstop ... masturbational fantasy". This year, in "The Age of Egocasting", conservative writer Christine Rosen argued that iPods and MP3 players had accelerated this cultural erosion even further: iPod users had devolved into such navel-gazing twits that they don't even notice where they're going, and miss subway stops. Personal audio players, conservatives worry, are the ultimate statement that the individual is paramount; the world around us can go screw itself, because we're not even paying attention.
Of course we hate MP3 players! That's why NRO, James Lileks and TCS Daily have all been experimenting in one form or another with podcasting. Heck, some of us knuckledraggers on the right even know how to make our own music to play on them!

Hate 'em? We hate 'em as much as we hate Weblogs!

Seriously though, blogger Elemenohpee has the best rebuttal to this strawman argument:

Okay, I don't really consider myself conservative, but for the sake of this argument, let's say I am. I also know that a big chunk of my vast and highly intelligent readership is conservative. How many of you hate MP3 players? How many of you own an MP3 player? Does anyone hate hate the idea of personal choice, especially personal choice in music players?

Also, liberals are behind plenty of movements to restrict choice of various kinds. Seattle just passed a referendum to ban smoking not only in bars, restaurants and other private businesses, but also within 25 feet of any door, window or ventilation opening. Liberals are the most vociferous opponents of educational policies such as school vouchers and charter schools meant to give parents more choice in what kind of education their kids get.

Indeed. In the 50th Anniversary issue of National Review, Lawrence Lindsey described Milton and Rose Friedman's seminal Free To Choose thusly:
Their 1980 book Free to Choose successfully instigated a revolution in public policy because it offered conservatives both a rhetorical weapon and a legislative program. Until then, the Left had a clear advantage on both scores. Rhetorically, the Left promised compassion and equality and packaged them with programmatic action in the form of ever more government power. Those opposed to an ever larger and more intrusive state were thus forced to defend hard-heartedness and inequality, and to oppose legislative change.

The Friedmans changed all this. First, they gave us the word “Choice,” the rhetorical power of which is enormous in our consumer-driven society. The Left suddenly became Anti-Choice, at least after the point at which a child is born. They are against parental choice in where the child is educated. They are for limiting choice in what medical care the child may receive when he is sick, and philosophically opposed to the idea that his parents should be able to spend some of their hard-earned dollars on better care. More broadly, they are against giving the individual a choice in how to spend a significant portion of his earnings, preferring that the state make those choices. They are against choice in how most individuals invest the major source of their retirement savings, again believing that the choice should be made by government. Rhetorically, the Left no longer has an emotive advantage: Thanks to the Friedmans, the rhetorical cleavage on most issues becomes one between “pro-choice” and “pro-government.”

But it is in the programmatic realm that Free to Choose is most empowering to those who support limited government. Conservatives in government had traditionally been the side opposing change. At a minimum this put us on the wrong side of the legislative ratchet. If we lost, individual freedom was further eroded by state power. If we won, all that happened was that things didn’t get any worse. After Free to Choose, the Right became the agent of legislative change. In the quarter-century since its publication, the posture of the Left has become so defensive that the phrase “reactionary liberalism” is now in vogue.

Now, I may not be too crazy about what you play on your MP3 player--and you may not be too crazy about what I play on mine (although you might be surprised by some of my choices). But I don't think there are too many folks on the right getting worked up about people listening to iPods, iRivers or other devices.

(Via Matt Rosenberg.)



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