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Friday, November 05, 2004
Interview with Andrea Grimes

I hope to post in some depth on the US Elections soon. Until then, I gave an email interview to US liberal blogger Andrea Grimes this last fortnight. Here is the full text.

To start off - what's your background like - school, where you grew up, etc? Were there any formative experiences that led to the beliefs you currently hold?

I went to an ordinary, if probably above average, state school in Darlington, England, where I lived until I started at university a year ago. In terms of formative experiences, I think it's a difficult thing to judge. The first political experience I can remember was the most violent of the poll tax riots in Spring 1990, when I was six. My family happened to be in London at the time, and I saw a lot of violence and disorderly behaviour in a few hours by great masses of people. I think from then on I was at least politically interested, in the sense that I couldn't help but be curious about the forces and beliefs that could motivate such action. I think it's more difficult to identify how particular convictions and views emerged.

How did you go from being, perhaps, mildly politically interested to a conservative blogger? How did you get started blogging?

I love to write, and the deep political interest was already there when I first discovered what weblogs were, and that I could produce one myself for free. Those desires already being present, blogging was the perfect medium to combine them. I set up Conservative Commentary the same evening I discovered blogging.

What political issues are you most passionate about? What ticks you off the most?

I find most political issues interesting, in no small part because they do connect to one another - social issues determine the levels of taxation and government spending and vice versa. Foreign policy allows a country to express a self-confidence and self-belief, or lack of it, that says much about the internal soul of that nation.

I suppose the issues that matter to me most of all are those which directly affect everyday life in a substantial way - crime, family breakdown, values. I think when you get them right, good in other areas usually follows. If a society's values are rotten, solving almost any other problems will be much more difficult.

Your posts are far more thoughtful than most other bloggers' - why do you embrace it so fully?

I think I am much more directly interested in underlying views of life and human nature than most other bloggers. That leads to quite fundamental disagreements that go beyond simple policy differences. I take the view that ultimately liberalism, socialism, socially liberal strands of libertarianism etc. all fall down in their perspectives on human nature. In different ways, all assume and depend on a human plasticity and rationality that is not there - that the desire to put one's own family or nation first can be eradicated, or that certain values and institutions are optional extras rather than essentials in a free society.

Equally, they are inclined to assume that such goals are not just feasible but desirable and laudable. So on normative grounds, too, I like to challenge this. Getting these points across does require a certain amount of extra thought and philosophising.

What do you do when you're not blogging and writing other articles? What kind of work do you do?

I am studying for a degree in Philosophy, Politics & Economics, and I do voluntary work - writer, campaigner, advisor - for Nirj Deva, the Conservative Euro MP for the South East of England, as well as involving myself in lots of other campaigns. Away from that sort of work I read a great deal, and like most people I enjoy a drink with friends.

Your posts are pretty spicy and provocative - who do you consider to be your biggest online rivals? Best allies?

I'm not sure about either. There are bloggers and writers I agree with strongly on some and on most issues, and equally those I'm always disagreeing with, but I don't view the medium in terms of allies and rivals. I enjoy reading posts I find inciteful and accurate and also those I find deeply disagreeable.

The blogs I do find tiresome are those which adopt a sort of 'those Lying Liars' Michael Moore/Al Franken style, where every point of genuine, principled disagreement is a 'lie', and people only support x policy because they are financial beneficaries or bigots etc. I find that sort of writing almost painful - and of course extremely dull.

And, on the lighter side - what kind of music do you enjoy?

I like a lot of music, modern and classical, but the only CDs I really buy now tend to be Mozart, Wagner et al. Classical music can be uplifting in a lasting way that I don't find with other sorts of music I enjoy. I rather like Eminem while he's on, but I can't imagine feeling more driven or cheerful once it was over.

Favorite films?

No particular genre springs to mind, but I tend to prefer historically based films to the wholly fictitious. Three that stick out are The Madness Of King George, Bridge Over The River Quai and Gladiator.

Prefer cats or dogs?

Er ... dogs?

How does it feel to be called "horribly compelling" by one of the world's most respected liberal newspapers?

I think the Guardian does a good job for its readers, but I oppose almost everything it stands for, so obviously I was delighted by the description, as indicated by how I display the quotation. I think the 'compelling' part also confirmed what other lefties sometimes tell me, which is that what I write is of interest to more than merely those who agree with me. Going back to the point about delving into human nature, I suspect I sometimes make some points and arguments they wouldn't otherwise have considered.

What did you think of the Charlie Brooker Guardian remarks: "John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr.--where are you now that we need you?" - Americans are having a field day with it over here. We love having something to get angry about, especially if it involves another country. :)

I do understand why some are saying it's been over-hyped - Brooker has previously joked about his hope for a dirty bomb in London so house prices would fall and it wasn't taken seriously. But I think the reason this piece struck such a cord and angered so many is that everyone knows there are a lot of people who really would welcome the President's murder. The degree of hatred and hysteria directed at Bush is such that people who consider themselves open-minded and decent really can express such wishes and not be challenged on them.

Also, do you ever feel at all alienated as a "conservative" thinker, especially at your age? It's rare (at least in the US) to find a really active, outspoken conservative under the age of, say, 30.

I think the main alienation I ought to feel is in having a deep interest in politics at all at this age. In a way, that sets me apart more than my having conservative views. But I don't ever feel isolated. If young people are less likely to be conservative - and I know many who are - older people are more likely, and I have friends and acquaintances of all ages, so I don't feel isolated in the views I have.

Just a quick one. Am watching the US vote returns here. What do you think of the results (no matter what time you get this e-mail)?

At about noon British time, 7am Eastern Time, it does look like Bush has won again. If true, I am delighted by this, and by the way the Senate and House of Representatives looks. I don't think Kerry deserved to win this one, and I do think Bush deserves, and the world needs, a second term for the Republicans.

What's with this whole "Peter Cuthbertson is an ignorant, lying brat" thing that comes up on Google? ( peter_cuthbertson_is_an_ignorant_lying_brat.html) - did you even know about it? Do you find it amusing/troubling/inconsequential that someone's gone to such lengths to discredit you? Who does this Chris Lightfoot guy think he is, anyway?

I have seen that page, yes. Basically what happened is about a year ago he started making some very vituperative posts in my comments, and then taking whole pages from my site and putting them up on his own, despite my repeatedly asking him not to. I then banned him from leaving comments and that page was his response.

I think the 'lying' is because he took my statement that I don't delete messages because I disagree with them to mean I never delete posts or ban people for any other reason. The rest I'm not clear about.

I don't find the page troubling. Anyone who knows me or has read me for any length of time will know I am not a conspiracy theorist and so on. Frankly, it's all so immature and silly, I think I can do without the goodwill of anyone who reads it and comes away with the view "Wow the person he's writing about is a real idiot!"

I suppose the more general point as it relates to blogging is that the cranks usually have far more time and inclination to cause trouble and be a nuisance than anyone else has to deal with it effectively. I know plenty of bloggers who've taken comments down again and again on their sites because it just isn't worth the hassle to them.

You've said you're able to enjoy reading posts you find deeply disagreeable - why? Are your own views strengthened by the challenge? Have you ever been swayed on a particular issue by an unusually thoughtful post or comment made by someone you've disagreed with?

I find disagreeable posts and articles enjoyable because when I am partially persuaded, I welcome both the internal debate I have with myself, and then the external debate I have when writing a response and debating that on blogs. When I am not at all persuaded, I think there is a satisfaction in being able to meet an argument and explain why it is wrong, whether empirically, factually or morally.

I would like to think I am often swayed by such posts. I know my views have changed in the two years I have been blogging, and that is as much down to coming across posts I initially disagreed with as coming into contact with new ideas I immediately find agreeable. I think one example of a post which really changed my outlook would be After reading it and giving it a lot of thought, I came to see how correct its arguments about preferences and trade-offs was. I think overall I am a lot more pragmatic and somewhat less ideological than I was, and that is because I much more recognise these points than I did. I say a little more on this in my final two paragraphs here:

I like your recent quote - "I don't think Kerry deserved to win this one" - can you elaborate on that? Why don't you think he deserved it? Is there something more he could have done to "deserve" it, or is it just a case of Bush being the qualified guy and Kerry, well, not being the qualified guy?

I don't think Kerry deserved to win, not only because Bush had a better platform and record, but because he failed to explain in any consistent and meaningful way how he would make things better. His insistence on the value of summits as the solution to foreign policy disagreement with Europe was absurd, and his economic policies would have done almost nothing to solve the economic problems he complained about. I think there was far too much running on his ego - assuming that four months in Vietnam was a real platform from which to enter office even after twenty years in the Senate in which he seems to have achieved so little, and believing that he did not need a vision and purpose from which to campaign. In some ways, I can see comparisons with Bob Dole - running for President because it was felt in his party that it was his turn to run, rather than because he had a superlative platform with which to win votes and take America in the right direction.

Did you catch the Kerry/Edwards concession speech? A lot of people here are saying it's the first time they've seen a "real" or "human-like" Kerry. Did you get that impression at all?

I think that's exactly the impression I got. It is now actually starker how lacking in warmth and feeling he has been throughout the campaign, after those moments in the speech. I thought it was a very dignified exit, and he did himself some credit, as well as probably showing up Al Gore by how much better he has taken it.

Also, out of curiosity - you've said you're very interested in studying human nature, etc. Do you favor any particular philosophers or thinkers? Anyone whose beliefs you tend to fall in line with, generally?

If I were more knowledgeable about philosophy, I could give better and more confident answers, but for now I would say I consider the views of human nature expressed by Thomas Hobbes and Niccolo Machiavelli are the most realistic, forming the best philosophical basis for understanding people's inclinations and motivations. The other major philosopher with whom I have much sympathy would be Aristotle. If Hobbes and Machiavelli are the source of a true understanding of the world, Aristotle says so much worth hearing about living a worthwhile and moral life in that world.

You can read Andrea Grimes' profile on the interview here.

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