Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Having An Opinion - Pro or Con?

Should one use a blog to fulminate on matters political?


My problem with such fulmination is the degree to which good fulmination (which I mean in the virtuous sense, not the effective sense--though they really ought to go together) demands--sigh--such a thorough degree of research. I mean, to really argue a point, one should be able to defend it with fact--maybe even facts! That's a lot to ask. I mean, it's all too easy to point out the lies of O'Reilly and Limbaugh--if Rush claims that Kerry didn't mention the war on terror once in his acceptance speech, one can just Google the transcript of the speech, and conclude that Rush is, in fact, lying. Not that it matters--consider the number of 'lies' that Al Gore was accused of making: inventing the Internet, being the basis for Love Story, etc.--which the media--not the pundits, who are supposed to spin and distort and favor volume over truth, but the actual reporters, and not just the ones on Fox--cheerfully repeated. A quick check reveals that Gore never took credit for the 'Net--he simply pointed out (with justifiable pride) that he'd been part of the Congressional forces that took the 'Net from its limited use in the private sector and used government funds to expand its availability, etc. Likewise, it was author of Love Story--Erich Segal, if memory serves--who claimed that Gore had been a partial inspiration for the tale. But the press core didn't care, because it was easier to repeat the punch-line-like lie than to present the nuanced (but surely more relevant) truth. Again, sigh. (For those of you who want me to be unbiased--ain't gonna happen, but what the hell--there's the recent decision to claim that Bush 'banned' stem-cell research, when in fact he simply banned federal stem-cell research. But still--oh, hell, time for an In The Interests Of Full Disclosure moment.)

I'm a cynic. But I'm a liberal cynic. That is to say, I believe that people (for the most part) suck, myself included. That a person of ordinary intelligence is still pretty dumb. (I mean, a dog of ordinary intelligence is still an animal that will eat cat s--t at any given opportunity--why should it be any different for humans? A person of ordinary intelligence will do the equivalent, yes? How else do we explain the success of reality television?) That people are, for the most part, barely able to handle their own lives, and should in no way be placed in a position to control the lives of others. "The people are a great beast," said Hamilton (well, kind of--I'm paraphrasing for my own convenience--hey, if it's good enough for Sean Hannity...) And that the world as a result tends to spin towards decay, ignorance, and helpless catstrophe. But at the same time, we're all in the same boat--we've got to rely on each other, since the indifference of our fellow man is nothing compared to the indifference of Nature to our existence--read Heart of Darkness(http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0192801724/qid=1093371355/sr=ka-3/ref=pd_ka_3/103-6396857-7172620) . But to whom can we turn for our protection and salvation? The smart. The good. And this is what government needs to be about. Of course. A truly "duh" conclusion, I concede.

But, to continue, the "duh" analysis, there're one or two problems with this model. First, it goes against our supposedly democratic ideals, which apparently apply to our inherent intelligence and competence at all times in our lives--"Who are you to tell me what to do? You'n'me's just as smart as one 'nother!" Which is a crock. "All men are created equal / But vary greatly in the sequel," as Fisher Ames once said to a Jeffersonian. Some of us are just gonna be smarter, more capable than others. Surely, then, as Plato pointed out, it behooves the smart--and the dumb--to let the smart people run the lives of the dumb. In the same way that a parent has a responsibility to lock up the cleaning fluids and cover the outlets in a home with a toddler, a government has to take care of its witless masses--and those who, through no fault of their own, are in need of a little special attention. So never mind that objection.

But there's a more serious problem with this model--and here's why I'm a cynic--if the dumb far outnumber the smart, the smart far, far outnumber the good. It's quite easy to be smart--you're either born with brains, or you're not. It's very hard to be good--however you choose to define it, virtue only comes through enormous effort. That means that the smart people in charge are much more likely to be pr--ks than saints. Which means--sigh, yet again--that we can't just let the smart people run the show.

But here's the crux--a government devoted to helping the unfortunate has plenty of opportunities to do harm--true, yes, no question. But such a government, in a democracy, must at least make a perceptible showing with perceptible results, or face ousting. A government devoting to letting people go f--k themselves is just going to run rampant with villainy because people left alone tend not to notice things like Halliburton contracts in Iraq--far away, nothing to do with them, and who cares about Iraqis anyway? So, with grudging irritation, I'm a Democrat. Not because I think that Democrats are more virtuous than Republicans, but because Democrats are pledged to use the government to help the people--Republicans just want to turn the government into a barricade against the people so they can do what they want out of sight. I'm not a complete Democrat--I think that making people wear seatbelts and motorcylce helmets is just foolish interference with Saint Darwin's blessed culling of the herd. I think we should allow smoking in bars and in designated areas of restaurants. I think that the private sector can solve some problems better than the public--speaking of restaurants, I'd hate to eat in one where the wait-staff were on a government, 'can't-fire-me' level of employment and not dependent on my tip. I also (this may piss people off!) think that public funding of the arts is a wretched idea, since A. art is a voluntary pursuit by individuals, who ought to be prepared to pony up for their participation in said pursuit, and B. whoever signs the check, calls the dance--and that means that art that offends the constituency that politicians represent can and should lose its funding, since by accepting money from someone mean accepting the fact that that someone can take that money away if he wants to. So public funding of the arts leads inevitably to morons like Jesse Helms fulminating about Mapplethorpe and Guiliani shutting down that Virgin-Mary-With-Elephant-Dung exhibit in New York, an act that, as an official elected to hold the purse-strings, he had every right to do. Alas. So Democracts are not my part of choice, but of default. (What I really am is a Rockefeller Republican, but f--king Reagan turned that into a slur, so what's a fiscally responsible liberal to do?)

So I may, from time to time, engage in a liberal comment or two--but in an Edmund Burkean, "reform, not revolution" kind of way. And I'll try to have facts to back up my argument. I'll try. But it does kind of take the fun out of just spouting off uninformed bigotry...

N.B.: As an academic, I feel compelled to credit external sources--please see www.dailyhowler.com and www.spinsanity.com for info about the media's fables about Gore and Bush, and the Fisher Ames quote comes to me through Florence King's With Charity Towards None: A Fond Look at Misanthropy. ( http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0312094140/qid=1093379197/sr=1-5/ref=sr_1_5/103-6396857-7172620?v=glance&s=books )


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