Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Facts Of Life

Yesterday's blog was not up to par, for which I apologize. Though I haven't succumbed to the allure of Twitter--truth is, I don't even feel it--it seems like I'm having some trouble lately organizing my thoughts into coherent sentences and then organizing the sentences into coherent paragraphs, which is, to my mind anyway, the defining characteristic of a Twit.
I feel random thoughts tugging me in all directions (how exactly did that Blue Jays reference get in there yesterday, anyway?) Distractions, distractions everywhere. And the blog journeys are getting shorter and shorter as my mental fuel economy declines. It's probably time for a mental tune-up.

What I was trying to say yesterday was concisely and elegantly put by Russell Brand in an otherwise very critical eulogy" in The Guatdian
which accuses the deceased of destroying the British idea of community:

"This demonstrates, I suppose, that if you opposed Thatcher's ideas it was likely because of their lack of compassion, which is really just a word for love. If love is something you cherish, it is hard to glean much joy from death, even in one's enemies.

An aside (see: distractions!) English could really use an antonym for eulogy. That word derives from Greek, essentially 'well-speaking', and there are an awful lot of so-called eulogies out there that criticize the deceased rather than praising him or her. Malogy? Maybe.

Anyway, I wanted to delve a little into another comment I found in my web-wide peregrinations yesterday, this on a forum where speaking ill of Maggie Thatcher would get you tarred and feathered and probably banned:

It seems that any politician that asks for any level of personable accountability and responsibility is reduced to a greedy bigot.

Why have conservative principles become so hated by so many?

If "THE FACTS OF LIFE ARE CONSERVATIVE" are we seeing a first world attitude that says - screw the facts, someone is going to be accountable for me and it won't be me?

Facts are difficult things. THE PEOPLE'S MONEY WILL RUN OUT.


It seems to me that both these contradictory phrases are true, depending of course on how you see the world. Liberals and conservatives routinely accuse each other of being blind, after all.

Are the facts of life conservative? Being a liberal, I find it hard to even parse that sentence,so I'll turn to someone else to articulate the argument for me:


"Western Chauvinist" assures us here that the plight of black families (to the extent that there are black families in America) is all the fault of liberal "compassion". I've heard this argument my entire political life--that offering a hand up to people simply creates dependency.
To some extent this is true: simply giving money to people tends not to accomplish a whole hell of a lot. But that's not an argument against giving money to people. It's not an either-or system here, it's "both-and". Give money, yes, and give more. Give wisdom. Create esteem. Not just self-esteem but esteem in community. If you want prosperity, you need community--short for 'common unity'. Remove that sense of common unity and you create an every-man-for-himself ethos that makes a very few people fantastically rich and the rest of us dirt-poor.


Our blogger here adds that no amount of progressive government will make it so. Again, true as far as it goes. The first part is an important lesson that used to be offered starting in kindergarten; the second part is being put to the test in educational institutions all over the when everyone wins a medal simply for trying and no one is allowed to fail at anything, ever. This is creating a generation of people who can't cope with inevitable failure, and I'd suggest this in and of itself is monstrously unfair.
But two wrongs don't make a right. And the problem again here is that society is not, or ought not to be, a zero-sum game. We have set it up, and conservatives want to keep it, so that for every winner there must be a loser. This need not be the case, and it's a relatively simple fix: rather than examining every scenario and situation with a view to what benefits me, try asking yourself what benefits most people.
This used to be standard operating procedure. It still is, in places that haven't lost themselves in the ethos of extreme capitalism. And it creates a society in which a few rich people are a little poor, and the vast majority of poorer people are substantially richer. You'll never eliminate all the unfairness, but mitigating it is absolutely crucial...especially if you're one of the fat cats. Because the lower class scum will only stand so much enforced inequality before they rise up and come for your head...behaviours have consequences!


Indeed it is. When you kill people's families with bombs and drones, common sense suggests those people will hate you, for instance. If you mock people's beliefs and assert your own superiority at every turn, common sense suggests that you'll be ignored at best.
These are not the examples Mr. Western Chauvinist has in mind, of course. I have to admit I particularly love the example he cites, that you can't spend your way out of debt.

FDR's New Deal was an attempt to solve the Great Depression, and it failed. Or perhaps it didn't: there's an argument to be made that without it, the effects would have been considerably worse. However, the New Deal was more than an economic stimulus package. It was an attempt to preserve confidence in American institutions. In that respect, it worked very well.

There is an increasing distrust in America today. Few trust the government; fewer still trust Wall Street; it seems that American citizens increasingly distrust each other. Washington has a moral obligation to reverse this by any means necessary, because the logical outcome of a continued decline of trust is...too hideous to contemplate. That, too, is common sense.


This maxim was popularized by one of my literary idols, Robert Anson Heinlein. I disagree with a fair bit of this author's politics, but he's one of the people who has profoundly shaped my mind.
TANSTAAFL is central to our current ideas of economics, and it's rigidly true in the context of the zero-sum game we have set up.
Canadians often brag about their 'free' health care. Of course, we understand that our health care system is not free, per se: it's paid for through taxes, distributed amongst the Canadian population as a whole.  This is an example--at least as far as I'm concerned--of a common good: better that everyone pay a little than a few people pay a hell of a lot. The extent to which you agree with that statement is a reliable measure of your compassion.
I find it very interesting that Western Chauvinist cloaks his conservatism in Christian theology, when even a cursory reading of Scripture will convince you beyond doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was anything but conservative, socially or otherwise. Look at the people He hung out with: utter rubbish as human beings, right? He thought otherwise, and that's at the core of His message to the world: we are all one. Why else are we told to love our neighbours as ourselves and even to love our enemies?


I disagree. Sure, there is evil aplenty in the world...but less and less of it as time goes by. We think humanity is at the pinnacle of its evolution, that we know it all, that we're invincible. These are adolescent traits. We're an adolescent race, going through the throes of civilizational puberty. We've got a lot of growing up to do. But we also have come a long way, in some cases in a very short period of time. Look at marriage, for example. A generation ago it was unthinkable that two men or two women who love each other could or should get married...and the option is increasingly available to them today. Every poll shows that the younger generation is more tolerant, more compassionate, and more determined to make a better world than received wisdom would have you believe. The oft-cited anger and apathy of the young is a direct result of the magnitude of the task we've set them.

"The trouble with Socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money"--attributed to Margaret Thatcher

Let me know when Norway runs out of money, okay?

The conservative brainwashers will tell you that socialism has never worked and can never work, because it runs contrary to the greedy and us/them view of the world they mistakenly call "human nature". They're also quick to tell you to look to history: socialism, they say, has failed every time, and liberals, they tell you, think it will work this time because they haven't tried it yet and they know better.


It's true that pure communism has never worked, and it's certainly arguable that it can't ever work on anything more than a  limited scale. But the same can certainly be said of pure capitalism. The tendency towards extremes is one of the most troubling aspects of today's society, in my view. Each side works assiduously to reject the slightest taint of the other, and blames any perceived injustice on the prevalence of the other's point of view.
The reality is that socialism and society come from the same root for a reason. This was recognized in ancient Rome...Marcus Aurelius tells us that which is not good for the bee-hive can not be good for the bee. I've little doubt this sentiment is much older than a mere nineteen hundred years...because behaviour has consequences and common sense is indispensable.

America fancies itself the most prosperous nation in the world. By most measures, it's not. By some measures, it's not even in the top ten.  (Unfortunately to a certain breed of conservatives, the degree of MURICA FUCK YEAH! is not one the metrics used to measure prosperity...)

There are other measures of prosperity besides material wealth. This is something held as self-evident outside some benighted corners of the United States of America.

The "facts of life are conservative" crowd have no answer for the miracle that is Bhutan. This tiny nation, poor by standard measures, is, as nations ago, deliriously happy. Its quality of life is improving rapidly, no thanks to austere conservative principles designed to impoverish the many for the benefit of the few.

There is nothing sufficient compassion can't solve. I truly believe this, and that's why I'm a liberal.

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