A point I have returned to several times is that progressives deny generalities—you are not allowed to generalise about people, sometimes even inert objects, because that causes them neurotic upset. I use men like Lord Longford, a liberal prison reformer, to exemplify a general trend—men like Longford would talk about an accomplice to child murder like Myra Hindley and say, “Yes, she did wrong—yet that was a few minutes in a life with thousands of minutes. In prison she’s already weaved some exquisite Peruvian baskets—and that proves she has the ability to change, to play a useful role in society.”
What suddenly struck me about this argument is that the form is itself democratic: the argument is that the total number of minutes in a life should outweigh three indiscreet minutes (let us imagine it takes three minutes to kill someone)—especially if those thousands of minutes are used to “do good”. The counter-argument is elitist: the counter-argument is that those three minutes are more important than any others, have a different quality. A similar situation pertains in debates over genetics: leftists will look at the whole genome and see no substantial differences—rightists argue a few small changes on the genome can have large overall effects.
In other words, the division between quantity and quality does not just stop at arguments over whether the masses should be enfranchised or not; rather, it cuts through all these issues. Naturally, I think the elitists are right, just as with those hackneyed documentaries that tell the story of a firefighter at an airport—“Rob had trained his whole life for this eventuality, but when it actually happened everything would be over in three minutes.” Hackneyed but true. Obviously, if you murder someone those three minutes are going to be decisive for what your life is—not just because you will go to prison, but because, even after you are released, what you “are” will have been changed in a substantial way.