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“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Collateral Damage in the War between Goverment and Caveman Conservatives

This past weekend, I watched Thomas Friedman on Charlie Rose and some of his comments are definitely worth discussing in the context of tribalism and conservatism. Friedman complained that American government solutions are usually suboptimal because rather than settling on any well considered plan of action the various players try to hash out compromises that will appeal to enough of the electorate to make it into law. Our programs are, therefore, the sum of all the machinations of any and all interest groups who see to fit to get involved. The Stupak-Pitts Amendment to the House health care bill is a case in point.

What worries me most about the U.S. government is its tendency toward plutocracy. As long as well funded organizations like the Christian Right are allowed to make their presence felt, not just through PR gimmicks and massive message machines, but through direct bribes to law-makers, we will continue on our downward spiral back toward the Dark Ages. If it is true that conservative economic policies lead to greater inequality in wealth, what can we expect the final outcome of greater influence for rich people to be but something resembling feudalism? If we break down the barrier between church and state, what will we have but a move toward Theocracy? Projection of military power? Attacks on science based on dubious moral reasoning?
I certainly have my problems with the U.S. government, but declaring war on it is both adolescent and dangerous. That kind of us versus them thinking makes any kind of substantial reform all but impossible. And what's the goal of such a battle? What do the small government advocates want, anarchy? If not, they must concede that there's a point where there can be too little government. But the question of how big or how small government should be is a ridiculous oversimplification.
What would be optimal here is a government that could be counted on to act in the best interest of the people it represents. Fortunately, that's exactly what the U.S. Constitution established the groundwork for. The only problem is that too many of us are drunk on religious bromides or distracted by brainless celebrity antics to pay enough attention to what's going on with our supposed leaders to make sure the worst of them don't get their second term.
"The price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance."

Enlightening the Entertainment Zombies

"What makes people so susceptible to nonsense in public discourse? Is it because we do such a miserable job in schools teaching what science is all about—that it is not a collection of facts or stories but a process for weeding out nonsense to get closer to the underlying beautiful reality of nature? Perhaps not. But I worry for the future of our democracy if a combination of a free press and democratically elected leaders cannot together somehow more effectively defend empirical reality against the onslaught of ideology and fanaticism." Lawrence M. Krauss