One of the unfortunate holdovers from very early in the evolution of humans is "Racism."
But what is racism, and why is it?
In order to successfully breed, all animals must find mates that are similar to themselves. Antelopes must breed with antelopes. Cats must mate with cats. Fish with fish. The alternative is to risk failing in that most important of activities: perpetuation of one's genetic pattern. This is natural, this is proper. No one argues that skunks should mate with hippos (thank the deity).
The problem with racism arises because humans have a very narrow view of what constitutes "human." Unlike dogs, who seem to recognize any mammal (or even inanimate object of sufficient size and composition, for that matter) as a potential mate (which may explain the incredible range of breeds), humans are very specific in their choice of mates, and growing more so as our civilization becomes more sophisticated.
These days, it is not only physical characteristics, but cultural and even subcultural characteristics that determine the "fitness" of a mate. Perhaps there is an evolutionary end to such specialization ... or perhaps it is just the perversity of human society, but the result is that humans have ever more narrow definitions of what constitutes "one of us."
Since the drive to reproduce is the primary function of any organism (human beings included), and since the dominance of one's progeny is the ultimate goal, and since (for whatever reasons) those who are perceived as "different" are not "one of us" and therefor are not potential mates, but rather competitors for the same pool of resources, the result is racism.
This is not to say that it is right or appropriate, merely an explanation for why it is there. Racism is, in its root causes, a "green monkey syndrome" - a fear of the different and a love of consistency.
There is a counter to "racism" as a social ill, one which was arrived at rather early in our history, but which many have forgotten ... that is to "assimilate." Mimicry (initially) of the culture into which one inserts oneself is an important survival tool, a lesson our ancestors (almost without exception) learned and ultimately mastered. Whether the mimicry ultimately becomes true assimilation (like for the Irish-Americans or the Gotho-Romans) or remains merely persistent and effective camouflage, is of no matter. But it is vital.
For a person, or a people, to fail to assimilate, to fail to "become" the same as the host culture, is to become an invader, and to meet with hostility that we term "racism", but which may just be a manifestation of primal reproductive instinct.
January 29, 2007
One of the unfortunate holdovers from very early in the evolution of humans is "Racism."
January 27, 2007
Nature maintains her balance through a rigorous process of selection and elimination. To attempt placing moral judgements on a natural process would be silly and pointless. To declare that nature is cruel is sentimental nonsense. The process of birth and growth, corruption and death, is so elemental that even a dull mind might appreciate Natural Law manifesting in a physical universe. Even an amateur naturalist recognizes that the struggle is necessry to maintain the natural order, to ensure the overall health of the system. The dynamic at work is so rudimentary, we can call it self-evident without ever taking it for granted.
Man sometimes intrudes on the natural order with his good intentions. Nature will have none of it. Her systems are self-correcting with or without the intervention of humans. In the natural world, it is always hunting season. Man attempts to increase the numbers of a herd by means of predator control, only to see nature knock back the numbers through disease and malnutrition. Even when man reduces a species to the point of extinction, nature will find a means to correct the imbalance.
How is it that humans so frequently fail to honor Natural Law in their own affairs? A famine comes to Africa because too many people are attempting to support themselves on marginal land. Our sentimental impulse is to send aid to the starving. We are able to save thousands who would otherwise perish. And what have we accomplished by this violation of the natural order? Only to ensure that the next famine is even larger, and its affects more extreme. We must have the courage to honor a natural process even as it cuts against the grain of our humanitarian impulses. To do otherwise is to inflict massive cruelty on our fellow human beings. I can hear the cries of altruists already: Monster! But then, objectivism is not for the faint of heart.
What applies to Africa applies also to America. Why do we enact legislation designed to mitigate the poverty of our perpetual underclass? When the struggle is removed, the unfit multiply. We compound the problem by letting these creatures breed indiscriminately and without penalty for their behavior. Is it any wonder that the forty year war against poverty is a failure? The pathologies associted with the underclass multiply, as well, filling our prisons with the poor and the ignorant. Why? Have you ever heard a police officer ask a criminal, "Why didn't you think about it ahead of time?" The question, of course, is merely rhetorical. Those with limited intelligence do not, nor cannot, anticipate the consequences of their actions. Their behavior is reactive, always after the event. They are like pool balls, racked about by forces beyond their control or comprehension. Life is a mystery, and often a misery as well. It is cruelty to subsidize the underclass in ways that guarantee the perpetuation of poverty, pathology and crime. For our social system to remain healthy, failure must be an option.
The error in socialist thinking is the belief that humans should not have to struggle. Even when not stated explicitly, the socialist believes in his heart that life should be easy. I see it everyday amongst educators who believe that children learn through play, as if mathematics and language can be mastered through some system other than the hard application of mental effort. The result is failure, but this does not deter true believers. The socialist believes that government should always stand ready with programs to mitigate against failure. At this point the population begins to succumb to a condition of absolute decadence. Idleness, indiscriminate fornication, and drug use proliferate. Public morals begin to decay. Ever lower standards of public conduct become acceptable. Patriotism seems passe. The rot becomes systemic, leading ultimately to the collapse of civilization. But this is part of a natural process, no?
Once we recognize that struggle is necessary for a healthy society, as it is in nature, we can make the appropriate adjustments in national social policy. Failure must be left open as an option. We must find new challenges and devote our energies toward ever greater achievement. How about the conquest of the solar system for a start? Utopian ideas must be denounced as the day dreaming of lotus-eaters. Social Darwinism should be resurrected and debated. National military service should become mandatory as a method to promote personal discipline and love of country. The road we are on now is the path to certain ruin. We have embraced ideas that will lead to cultural suicide. The enemy is decadence. It is part of the natural order, the ebb and flow of a universe in constant turmoil. Only the human mind, and the application of human energy, can arrest the entropic process. Only genuine achievement can lead our nation toward spiritual renewal. Only the recognition that freedom must be renewed with each passing generation by a blood sacrifice, can we hope to retain our liberty.
I would like to claim such truths to be self-evident. But decadence has a way of blinkering the masses. Let history judge my words. I am immune to the criticisms of lesser minds. If I have become a monster in your eyes, so be it. Truth arrives in the middle of the night as a revelatory experience. If you do not know the process, you cannot judge the experience. I am warning those with ears to hear that we can suffer an absolute fall. It is the abyss. Then you will know cruelty beyond your worst nightmares. But such a situation will be, as per Natural Law, ultimately fertile soil for renewal. It always is, always has been, and always will be. The natural order of the universe cannot be altered. Be content with it. Stand outside at night and peer into the cosmos and know that the Creator has constructed a system of absolute perfection. Know also that you are a child of the universe with a role to play. You have volition. You are a player in a cosmic drama. Choose well.
January 25, 2007
January 19, 2007
January 14, 2007
January 12, 2007
The challenge of distilling Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged"
By Kimberly Brown
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Back in the 1970s, Albert S. Ruddy, the producer of "The Godfather," first approached Ayn Rand to make a movie of her novel "Atlas Shrugged." But Rand, who had fled the Soviet Union and gone on to inspire capitalists and egoists everywhere, worried aloud, apparently in all seriousness, that the Soviets might try to take over Paramount to block the project.
"I told her, 'The Russians aren't that desperate to wreck your book,'" Ruddy recalled in a recent interview.
Rand's paranoia, as Ruddy remembers it, seems laughable. But perhaps it was merely misplaced. For so many people have tried and failed to turn the book she considered her masterpiece into a movie that it could easily strike a suspicious person as evidence of a nefarious collectivist conspiracy. Or at least of Hollywood's mediocrity.
Of course Rand herself had a hand in blocking some of those attempts before she died in 1982. Her heirs in the Objectivist school of thought helped sink some others. And plans for at least a couple of television mini-series fell to the vicissitudes of network politics and media mergers. But Rand's grand polemical novel keeps selling, and her admirers in Hollywood keep trying, and the latest effort involves a lineup of heavy hitters, starting with Angelina Jolie.
Randall Wallace, who wrote "Braveheart" and "We Were Soldiers," is working on compressing the nearly 1,200-page book into a conventional two- hour screenplay. Howard and Karen Baldwin, the husband-and-wife producers of "Ray," are overseeing the project, and Lions Gate Entertainment is footing the bill.
Whether Jolie, who has called herself something of a Rand fan, will bring the novel's heroine, Dagny Taggart, to life on screen, or merely wind up on a list with other actresses who sought or were sought for the role remains to be seen. Until now, at least, no one in Hollywood has figured out a formula that promises both to sell popcorn and to do justice to the original text, let alone to the philosophy that it hammers home endlessly, at times in lengthy speeches. (The final one is 60 pages long.) But Baldwin said he believed that Wallace and the rest of their team were up to the task. "We all believe in the book, and will be true to the book," he said.
Easier said than done. Published in 1957 and set in the near future, "Atlas Shrugged" plots the collapse of American society after thinkers, industrialists, scientists, artists and other innovators — Rand's kind of people — go on strike and disappear, refusing to contribute to a collectivist world. Dagny, a railroad heiress, tries to save the country from starvation and total collapse, while falling in love with the mysterious John Galt, who she later learns was the man who started the strike. The novel ends after an apocalypse.
During Rand's lifetime, her Objectivism, which celebrates rational self- interest and capitalism, was widely dismissed by academia and disparaged by both the political right and left. The reviews for "Atlas Shrugged" were not much kinder.
Yet "Atlas" was a best seller. Six million copies have been sold over the years, and it remains a popular title.
Hollywood took notice of the novel's popularity from the start, but Rand refused to consider movie offers: she had been burned, she felt, by the experience of turning her earlier novel, "The Fountainhead," into the 1949 film starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal.
In 1972, 15 years after the publication of "Atlas," Ruddy, fresh from producing "The Godfather," decided to make a run at Rand, who was already in her late 60s. "'Atlas Shrugged,' let's face it, was probably the most important novel of the 20th century that was never a film," he said.
Rand's agents warned him to expect rejection, he said, but reluctantly set up an appointment. Ruddy said he warned Rand that it was not her ideas that interested him. "Forget philosophy," he said. "The abstract of the story is quite lovely: the power and the sustainability of the great individual, of the creative person, of the entrepreneur." Rand, he said, "thought that was brilliant, because that's how she saw her book," as a story first.
But Ruddy refused to grant Rand final script approval, and their courtship quickly broke off. "It's a fool's game to spend a lot of money and time only to have her say, 'I think you should take this out,'" he said. So, he recalled, he told Rand that he would wait for her to "drop dead" and then make the movie on his own terms.
With Ruddy out of the picture, Rand began fielding new offers from movie and television producers. In 1978 Henry Jaffe and his son Michael negotiated a deal for an eight-hour mini-series on NBC. Michael Jaffe, now a partner at Jaffe/Braunstein Films, obtained script approval for Rand, and they hired Sterling Silliphant, the screenwriter of the Sidney Poitier movie "In the Heat of the Night," to adapt "Atlas Shrugged." But a regime change at NBC — specifically Fred Silverman's ascension to the network presidency — killed the project in 1979.
At the end of her life Rand tried to write her own script, but she died with only a third of her hoped-for mini- series finished.
Rand left her estate to a longtime student, Leonard Peikoff, who eventually sold an option to Michael Jaffe and Ed Snider, a friend of Rand's who owned the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. But Peikoff refused to approve the script they developed. "Leonard had huge problems with it," Jaffe said. "He wasn't Ayn. But he wanted to exercise her control."
In 1999 Ruddy resurfaced, cutting a deal with TNT for a four-hour mini- series version. But the project was dropped after AOL and Time Warner merged. Ruddy's exit opened the door to the Baldwins, who optioned the rights to "Atlas Shrugged" while running the billionaire Phil Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment. But they could land neither stars nor financing.
There was also some thought that Anschutz, whose movies are often designed to accommodate a religiously devout audience, may have lost enthusiasm for the project when he learned that Rand was an outspoken atheist, but an Anschutz spokesman called this a misunderstanding. In any case, when the Baldwins left Crusader in 2004 to set up their own production company, they took the rights to "Atlas Shrugged" with them.
Last spring in a twist that might have amused Rand and Anschutz, the latest deal for an "Atlas Shrugged" film project had its inception during Mass at the Church of the Good Shepherd, in Beverly Hills.
Baldwin said that a fellow parishioner, Michael Burns — the vice chairman of Lions Gate — approached Baldwin and his wife "right under the nose of the priest," whispering to them about the rights to Rand's novel and asking to "meet right away."
The challenge, Wallace said, was immediately tempting. As for how he is distilling Rand's novel to a two-hour screenplay, Wallace insisted he had the material under control and was on course to deliver a draft this month.
"I can pretty much guarantee you that there won't be a 30-page speech at the end of the movie," he said. "I have two hours to try to express what Rand believed to an audience, and my responsibility is not only to Ayn Rand, but to the audience, that this be a compelling movie. More people will see the movie than will read 'Atlas Shrugged.' And the movie has to work."
Copyright © 2007 The International Herald Tribune http://www.iht.com/
January 09, 2007
What is it that some people just dont get about elections? Forethought and Memory work together to help auger the future.How swift it comes upon us.Seems the Fire Levy supporters were unhappy with their electoral loss in november, so they have simply decided to hold another election(and another, undoubtedly) until they get the outcome they want.(Al Gore, call your office!).A pox on on these local petty martinets, who conceal their thievery behind the guise of Democracy.Truly-pay no attention to the man behind the curtain-he is just voting! (Schmuck).Luckily, most of the perps have already been indicted on various other money laundering schemes already.Enough says I! Remember the "Three Box Rule". Soap box, Ballot box, Ammo box. Come home Bobby Lee, we need ya.
January 07, 2007
January 06, 2007
Robbing Peter to Pay Paul
Contemporary progressives claim that socialism is the preferred model for a humane society. The underlying premise is that government should be empowered to redistribute wealth from haves to have-nots. The justification is always explained in terms of "compassion" and "fairness" for the less fortunate of society. Redistribution of wealth is used to promote egalitarianism, and taxation is the mechanism by which most western governments pursue their socialist policies. Radical or revolutionary governments frequently resort to outright collectivism to achieve the goal, creating a system more properly known as communism. But the difference between socialism and communism is only one of degree. At their core both systems require overt intrusion into market economies by the heavy hand of government for the purpose of establishing social equality. Property rights are abolished as the program degenerates into a spoils system whereby Peter is robbed to pay for Paul's indolence. The dependent population quickly becomes a political constituency willing to support any politician promising more benefits. It's a short hop to the welfare state where work is discouraged through ever more onerous taxes, and dependency is encouraged through ever more generous subsidies. The entire program eventually becomes a system based on institutionalized theft.
The more intrusive the hand of government in the market, the more distortion is caused within the economy. Distortions cause inefficiencies, and inefficiency leads to an overall fall in economic production. Unemployment begins to rise. More people find themselves dependent on government relief vis-à-vis contributing to the overall society through gainful employment. Unemployment rates of 10% to 15% in Europe mask the true face of the problem. Add those who take advantage of other generous benefits, such as disability, early retirement, and ordinary welfare, to the oversized bureaucracy necessary to regulate and redistribute wealth, and you quickly create a system where nearly half the population is by one means or another dependent on government for their daily bread. The dignity of hard work and the rewards of increased material prosperity are replaced by dependency and idleness at a base level far below the former mean. The only equality that ensues is the equality of poverty. And yet, it's a human tendency to take advantage of something for nothing when the opportunity presents itself. A great many people are content to live a marginal existence provided it requires no effort, than to pursue material abundance and earned leisure through hard work. Socialism saps the spirit of a nation turning its citizens into a coddled and complacent population.
The error in socialist theory is to assume that one part of a population is willing to labor for decreasing rewards while simultaneously accepting the burden of supporting those who contribute naught. Eventually such a society reaches a tipping point. Workers stop producing because they realize the futility of laboring for less. The statement of a worker in the Gdansk Shipping Yards during the era of Solidarity sums it up: "We'll continue to pretend to work as long as the government pretends to pay us." Atlas shrugs. The system goes belly up. Despite repeated failures, Europeans embrace socialism. Today Europe is facing economic stagnation combined with a demographic crisis. New workers are not filling the ranks because birth rates have fallen below replacement levels. Few Europeans want to be burdened with raising children as they pursue lives of ease and leisure. One might conclude that socialist decadence is a one way ticket to demographic and cultural suicide.
The final step in the socialist agenda is to eviscerate a nation's military and divert the money to social programs. When economic output lags, it becomes impossible to support both a welfare state and a strong military. Europe has chosen welfare. The combined militaries of Europe, excepting the Brits, amount now to nil. This might explain Europe's current policy of appeasing Islamic fascism. The Europeans no longer have the means, much less the will, to fight a threat that is existential. The leadership of Europe hopes to hold power until they become willing collaborators with a new power. Islam if necessary. This is not an exaggeration. A British Labor M.P. offered the other day that Europe needs to come to terms with Islam so that Muslims might fill the ranks of the working class allowing for the continuation of the welfare state. What this amounts to is an admission that Europe wishes only to die in peace.
The populace that buys into the belief that one has a right to consume without producing deserves the fate of those who embrace decadence: extinction. Rome knew a similar fate. In A.D. 456, as the Vandals approached the city, despite a fair quanity of available weapons, the able youth of Rome refused to man the walls. The rest, as they say, is history. This is the ultimate price of decadence. Europe will die. America stands on the cusp. How will we answer?
January 05, 2007
Many years ago, Kurt Vonnegot wrote one of his justifiably less famous novels, The Sirens of Titan, in which an inexplicably important Earthman becomes involved in a web of intrigue involving, among other innovations, a "chronosynclastic infundibulum" and three assorted scantily clad women. For old Kurt's hero, the trio of Titanian tarts (only one of whom was Titian in coloring, however), were the impetus for undertaking a major and risky exploration of space.
These days, I have seen in recent news reports, "the young" (that demographic which only the media seems to think is influential) are said to have difficulty understanding the value of the space program. Young folks don't see the excitement in exploring other worlds, they say, and have become so used to the marvels of medicine, communications, computing and other space-derived technology that they regard these miracles as "normal."
Sad news for the future, if these reports are accurate. And somehow, I doubt me that NASA's attempts to address this condition with PR will be successful. It could happen that in fifteen and twenty years, when the texting-addicted, IPOD-wearing, chatroom lurking masses have outlived enough of us Space Cadets, the American space program will be neglected right to death (not that the recent administrations haven't done a fair job of it all on their own). Could be that the Russians and Chinese will own Outer Space.
But wait! There's hope. As you will see from the link above, robotic space probes have found that that self-same Titan of Vonnegut's musing may be covered with "vast oceans of hydrocarbons," with an atmosphere rich in methane (phew!) and nitrogen.
Yep, that's right! There's OIL on that there moon!
Not only does this indicate that either there is a) life on Titan or b) hydrocarbons are geological, not biological in origin, but also, this could be just the lure to excite the gum-chewing masses in a way that science, exploration, discovery, knowledge and adventure apparently cannot. Can't you see it?
[Pan in from Saturn orbit to cloud-wrapped Titan, dive through the clouds to a turgidly heaving sea and a drilling rig where space-suited wildcatters tug on slimy hoses]
Voiceover - "ExxonExoEarth is working to keep your tanks full, your homes warm, your IPODs charged. Our teams of Sino-Russian technicians are working hard so you won't have to."
Now that's something they'll understand. No imagination required. They'll buy it at the pumps, if not at the polls. We can leave space exploration to the multinationals - what's good for Exxon-Mobile is good for Earth.
If not, maybe NASA could convince the teeming multitudes that are our posterity that there are armies of scantily clad and inexplicably human babes up there beneath the stinky clouds of Titan. That might convince them log off for an hour or two.
January 04, 2007
Decadence Part One: Generations
My grandparent's generation grew up without access to credit. They arrived in this country from Poland around 1900, during that period when American business needed a vast workforce of unskilled labor to service a rapidly industrializing nation. The immigrant generation quickly found work in the meat packing plants, factories and refineries along the Delaware River just south of Philadelphia. My great grandfather had at one time served in a Polish cavlary regiment attached to the Austro-Hungarian army. My family has a black and white photo of him in uniform, retouched with colors brushed on later by an unknown artist. Like most Polish peasants, he was uncouth, ignorant, brutal, and frequently drunk when not at work. One evening after a binge he passed out on his way home and slept in the rain. He caught pneumonia and died. His eldest son, my grandfather, had to quit school at age twelve to take his father's place on the factory floor. Employers at the time customarily reserved a man's place for a member of the family. In those days this accommodation to the families of working men was the only form of social security extant. It served to provide widows and orphans with food and a roof over their heads. Life was hard and there was never enough money. The day started at 0400 when trains bearing coal from the western mountains began their crawl into Philadelphia. Young boys from the neighborhood would jump the coal cars, clamber up the sides, and begin heaving coal to mothers and sisters waiting below. The women gathered the fuel in aprons and trundled home to put fire in family stoves. The daily windfall was the only form of heat for most of the row houses in the little Polish ghetto of Chester, Pennsylvania.
Throughout the Great Depression life was hard, but through a combination of gritty endurance and thrift, most families in the neighborhood managed to pull through. Extended families serve as a safety net in lean times; the community would suffer casualties through illness and accident, but as a whole the Polish community arrived intact in time for World War II. Neighborhood sons shipped out to the various war theaters without complaint. My great uncle was accepted for service despite a disability; one leg was two inches shorter than the other. Men who can't march are not combat material so he spent the war with a garrison unit in Puerto Rico. Back at home the war was providing an economic miracle for the working class. Despite rationing, for the first time there was enough to eat and even a few nickels left over for entertainment. A boy could see a double-feature at the movie house and get a bag of popcorn thrown into the deal for a dime. Life was suddenly very good. No one had a refridgerator yet, but there was a certain compensation in being able to chase the ice truck down the street in the hope of catching a few cool chips. Christmas was a bit lean, bringing maybe a hairbrush for the girls or popgun to the boys, but nobody complained. Genuine needs had finally been met. About this time my grandfather put down a deposit on a modest row house and took on a mortgage, the only time in his life he ever borrowed money.
When Ford Motor Company refitted after the war, turning from tanks and jeeps to consumer vehicles, my grandfather had a chance to purchase a new Ford at the factory discount. But he didn't because he wasn't going to borrow for it. He bought a used Pontiac instead, got fired for disloyalty, and was only reinstated after an appeal by the shop steward. His belief, amounting to an unwritten societal norm, was that if you didn't have the cash for something, neither could you afford it over time with interest. The Polish working class remembered hard times, and they squirreled away coins in preparation for the next. They were savers not borrowers. Money was a concrete asset to be stored in a hole under the garage if necessary. But they did spend for education. My great aunt worked as a scrub woman for the day when her eldest son would be old enough for college. She was furious when he took a job instead on the factory line like his father. The nest egg defaulted to her daughter who used the funds to attend nursing school. My uncles attended college and began the ascent into America's middle class.
No one saw it coming at the time, but education and increased mobility would be the death of the immigrant community. The kids began to move away to seek more gainful employment elsewhere. Before long the Polish neighborhood had become a community of pensioners. Slum lords began to buy up the modest row houses. The welfare class moved in to take advantage of cheap rents. Trash accumulated in the streets and crime ruled the night. The old people began to die, and within a decade it was all gone. Finis. My grandfather's house, valued at 35K in the mid-70's, sold for $5,000 in the early 90's when it was time to move grandma to a nursing home. My last visit to the old Polish neighborhood was like a walk through a morgue. Entire streets were borded up. Buildings were collapsing into the sidewalk. Nobody even bothered to bulldoze the debris and haul it off. The field where I played ball as a kid had become a repository for derelict trucks. The neighborhood was dead; sons and daughters had moved to greener pastures.
My very Catholic mother married a local Pennsylvania farm boy after his discharge from the military following the Korean War. They moved to Allentown where I was born. A little brother followed two years later. My parents purchased a small house in what was then considered a middle class neighborhood. The family did just fine on dad's single salary. My father might have been the first on my German Lutheran side, going back to the Thirty Years War, to attend college. Pennsylvania Military Acadamy, known now as Weidner College, wasn't exactly West Point or The Citadel, but the school graduated a hundred or so dependable cadets for the military every year. Dad was put in charge of the school mascot, a mule, on the assumption that a Pennsylvania farm boy new something about livestock. Actually, my father grew up on a chicken farm during The Depression. He hates chickens to this day, and I have never heard him in my life ever refer to the bird without some sort of profane adjective. But one must suppose that on a chicken farm in lean times everybody eats. Mom and dad had a lot in common being both products of the depression generation. And I inherited the family propensity for hard work and thrift. As a kid I lacked for nothing important. I had good schooling, the best medical care, and toys in abundance. The only snag in the new eutopia, if I really wanted something bad enough, I had to save for it. I didn't get everything just for the asking. So I learned the lessons of Polish factory workers and German chicken farmers. I saved. Even birthday money was squirreled away for college. In 1975, I left for the University of Maryland with a nest egg of $400. I thought it quite a lot.
I am hesitant to admit certain truths, but the facts of my college education lend themselves more to a life of debauchery than erudition. Nevertheless, in my rare moments of lucidity, I managed to figure out the game. In my final semester I earned a perfect 4.0 while juggling 21 credit hours. But something else had happened in the interim; credit had arrived. Not college credits, real monetary credit: bucks, denarii, ducats! And I had some of the world's largest banks willing to finance my debauchery. Is this a great country or what? Well, I nibbled a bit. Then I worked the math this way and that. It didn't work. I quickly deduced that credit was a cheat and a lie. I watched as some of my friends took the dive into consumer culture and quickly found themselves shackled to intolerable levels of debt. They were drowning in a sea of red ink. I reverted to form. Work hard. Save money. Then do what you will once you've earned it. So I did. I took six extended trips abroad between '78 and '91. And I never borrowed a dime. Sure, I returned each time with nothing more than the shirt on my back, but recovery was easy without the loadstone of debt. Today I carry one debt: a mortgage. But unlike my parents, who were always savers, I have joined the investor class. The ability to run a surplus will do that for a person.
I marvel today at the number of people I know who manage astounding levels of debt. Worse yet, many of them have no assets. Debt without anything tangible to show for it? My cursory research on the Internet tells me that half of all American households have no assets. These are the worker drones who live paycheck-to-paycheck. I see statistics that claim the average American household owes 12K to 20K in ordinary consumer debt. One must conclude the lessons of the past have been lost. What will happen when the bottom drops out? Traditionally it does, you know, it's called the business cycle. Economies, like the Kreb's Cycle, or any cycle known to nature, tend to move in an ebb and flow. What happens at ebb tide?
I might shrug it all off and not worry too much because it's not my problem. But then, I see that consumer culture is eroding the values and virtues of my forefathers. They believed you couldn't have what you couldn't pay for. Immediate gratification was always deferred in the face of experience that taught hard times might come again. European peasants have taught me a thing or two. Surplus: good. Poverty: bad. And debt: unthinkable. But today we live in a society of grab and grasp at any cost. The rule is payment deferred trumps gratification denied. I don't buy it; this is not a virtue. It's a fool's bet. The whole bloody racket smacks of societal decadence. And the present generation of college kids has bought into with a vengeance. They'll be paying for pizzas bought when they were freshmen till they're forty-five. Maybe I was just a garden variety drunk during my college years when I stumbled down to the Town Hall for a 50 cent (the cent symbol has been removed from the current keyboard. . . arghh!) quart of Ortlieb's, but at least I didn't borrow for it. I think I'll stop now on this overlong discourse for a dram of J.D. It even tastes better when it's paid for. It does, I swear it.
January 02, 2007
Core Convictions: Left vs. Right
Government under the rule of law is a cornerstone of conservative philosophy. This belief stands in marked contrast to liberals who declare that the law should serve as a mechanism for social justice. The two positions are irreconcilable. Conservatives understand that the rule of law is the bedrock of a free society. Liberals operate on a basis of constantly shifting standards of "fairness". The first position is based in tradition; the latter on the whim of the moment. The rule of law provides guarantees of personal liberty. Social justice anoints victims and attempts to remediate on the basis of group "rights". An analysis of each should provide reason to defend the former while denying any legitimacy to the latter.
Conservatives understand that government as an institution will always be flawed because human beings are an inherently flawed species. We are simply not very good at running our collective affairs. Rulership throughout history has been nothing more than a means by which the stronger dominate society while the weaker are required to submit. Over the past 5,000 years the most common form of government, regardless of race, geography, or civilization, has been some form of tyranny. It matters not at all what the tyrant calls himself, be he king, pharaoh, or celestial son of heaven, he rules by personal whim. Conservatives honor the rule of law as the only known antidote to tyranny. The idea is to divest power so that no group or individual can dominate the majority. The rule of law cannot guarantee good government. However, a properly designed system of law can limit the worst excesses of bad government. As Calvin Coolidge once said, "It's more important to prevent bad laws than to pass good legislation." And a remarkable thing happens when the use of power is held in check by the rule of law; the average citizen enjoys unparalleled freedom in his daily life. Individual freedom gives birth to material abundance, less toil, and more leisure time.
The liberal position is difficult to analyze because social justice is a constantly moving target. Interpretation is based on individual notions of "fairness". Social justice has never been defined by statute nor codified in a body of law. The most pernicious aspect of social justice is its application by judges who usurp legislative prerogative and presume to rule from the bench. The law is cast aside on the assumption that a judge can mitigate injustice through superior moral insight. At this point society has taken a step onto the slippery slope of tyranny. We have regressed to the bad old days when law was dispensed on the whim of a despot. The application of law becomes a completely arbitrary exercise in power. Such a system is devoid of precedent and lacking in standards. When the rule of law is cast aside, the only effective bulwark against tyranny becomes debased. The result over time will be rule by judicial fiat, or mob rule based on the emotion of the moment.
A good conservative is deeply suspicious of any ruling that claims to be in the best interest of the common good. He knows that anything establishing group rights is an assault on personal liberty. Group rights confer special status on victims at the expense of individuals. Such a system of law becomes bicameral with one set of standards for the majority, and a set of special priveleges established for the aggrieved. Thus can a man be charged with homicide, but the murder of a homosexual carries additional penalties under hate-crime legislation. I black man might refer to a white man as a "cracker" without penalty, but a white man who uses a racial slur against a black man will find himself facing civil charges as a racist. A man might be denied tenure at his job based on any number of reasons, but the company that denies a woman's tenure might faces charges of sexism. Society is quickly reduced to warring factions, each seeking redress in the courts based on group rights. Our national unity is fractured as the population becomes increasingly balkanized.
A good liberal, on the other hand, will always look to the courts for a redress of grievances. The standard tactic is to make an end run around legislation by filing suit in the courtroom of a friendly judge. The liberal expects that the law will be summarily cast aside in favor of social justice. His lawyer will appeal to the judge, not on the strict interpretation of the law, but on amorphous and ill-defined notions of "fairness". In this way, so-called gay marriage becomes law even though a majority of citizens might have voted otherwise through referendum. But the liberal is always secure in the knowledge that he is right by virtue of his superior moral vision. He knows what's fair, and if the local yokels don't agree, it's because they must be bigots and racists. Fortunately for our society, the rule of law is multi-layered, and appeals to a higher court will frequently overturn decisions not based on statute and precedent. We have checks and balances in our system of government, a final bulwark against law by judicial fiat, a final check on tyranny.
No citizen in his right mind should listen to anyone who declares "there ought to be a law," or "the government should do something." Conservatives should insist that all legislation be drafted with a sunset clause, more so for any legislation involving taxes. The problem with laws is that once established, it's hard to make them go away. Again, this is especially true for taxes. How often is a "temporary" tax really temporary? The rule of law works fine, but laws should have limits. The liberal believes that government has, or should have, an answer for everything: crime, nicotine addiction, high gas prices, income disparities, and clogged toilets. The conservative answer is to buy a gun, quit smoking, drive less, work harder, and purchase a plunger. The two attitudes are incompatible and irreconcilable. We have become a factionalized society at war with itself. The conservative program isn't perfect, but it has tradition on its side and the rule of law. The liberal program is a plan for incremental tyranny. I imagine the Bolshevik agenda probably looked pretty good to a lot of Russians at the outset. But we know better now. Or at least we should.