I stumbled over this amusing video talking about the correct procedures for oil containment booming and why it’s being done totally wrong by BP and why everybody else is contributing to it being done totally wrong. CAUTION: lots and lots of cursing. NSFW.
That said, I know what he meant. Christie is definitely a breath of fresh air in the morass of contemporary politics — not necessarily because of his substantive policies, the full impact of which remains to be seen — but simply because he treats the people of his state like adults. He doesn’t pretend that the hard choices aren’t necessary, or that they can be made without pain, and he believes the public is mature enough to grasp the facts, evaluate them and act appropriately.
It’s a sad comment on the rest of our political leadership, on the left and the right, that that alone is enough to make Christie stand out from the crowd.
While trundling around Usenet, I stumbled over a piece of spam by a religionist with the subject “What have atheists ever done for humanity?” The question struck me as interesting, not because of its contents but because of the way it frames the conflict between the religious and non-religious worldviews. The poster wants to provoke the following line of thought: ‘What have atheists done for humanity? Well, let me think of some famous atheists… hmm, nobody really comes to mind. I guess there were the Communists, and Madeline Murray O’Hare. Gee, I guess all we’ve gotten from atheism is mass slaughter. Wow, I guess religion really must be a good thing!” And, indeed, he is correct that overt atheists are pretty sparse on the list of great benefactors of humanity. But does his conclusion follow?
The problem comes from the way the distinction is framed: religion versus atheism. But is this the right way to think of the dispute? Atheism, per se, is a purely negative doctrine. It indicates the lack of a specific kind of belief. But men act on the basis of what they do believe, not what they don’t. I’m an atheist, but that isn’t the essential defining characteristic of my beliefs. Fundamentally, I’m an advocate of reason. Atheism is a derivative consequence, not a primary. I don’t believe in God because there is no rational basis for doing so.
If you reframe the question in terms of reason and faith, the entire playing field changes. What has reason ever done for humanity? In a modern industrial society it’s difficult to identify a concrete value that doesn’t flow from reason. Science, technology, medicine, industry, political freedom — all are children of the age of reason. (Stephen Hicks has a nifty diagram of the connections in his book Explaining Post-Modernism; on-line version available here.) Now consider the contrary question: What has faith ever done for humanity? The era of history in which faith was most dominant is aptly named the Dark Ages — a time when the average lifespan was approximately 30 years and everyone existed in what we would today consider grinding poverty. Disease ran rampant, literacy was extremely rare. Heretics were burned at the stake. Men who took their faith the most seriously, like Saint Francis, would use rocks as pillows, drink laundry water, and sprinkle sand on their food to dull the taste.
Reason is man’s basic means of survival. In essence, the answer to the question “What has reason ever done for humanity?” is “Allowed it to live and prosper.” The answer to the question “What has faith ever done for humanity?” is “Led it to suffer and die.” The religious men whose actions benefited humanity created those benefits to the extent that they acted rationally, i.e. to the extent that their faith did not interfere with their reason.
Attempting to think about this issue in the terms laid out by the religionist is futile. The setup leads down a blind alley to a false conclusion. The lesson is that one should never uncritically accept the terms in which an intellectual opponent wants to frame a debate. Concepts matter. Don’t let your enemies pick the ones you use.
Anyone paying attention to the news knows that 2010 is shaping up to be a Republican year. A growing grass-roots backlash against the Democrats is reflected in both election results and polls. But one should never underestimate the ability of the GOP to blow an advantage, and here’s an example of why — they don’t understand the power of narrative. The left is expert at setting up narrative lines that provide the structure for media coverage of events. Facts that play into the narrative get picked up, repeated, elaborated. Facts that run counter to the narrative are ignored, suppressed, abandoned. And the narratives are almost always ones that benefit the left and damage the right.
One of the narratives the left has been setting up recently is the classic “conservatives are just a bunch of racist rednecks”. They’ve been particularly anxious to set this frame up around the Tea Party movement in the hopes of scaring off and/or driving away the independent voters who have been attracted by the Tea Party’s message of fiscal responsibility, but they’ll use it on mainstream Republicans too. It never gets old. Now, if you want to fight a narrative line, you must not do anything that feeds into it and gives it credibility. Any fact that even seems to support the narrative may be seized upon, repeated endlessly as ‘proof’ of its accuracy, and used to cement its power in the upcoming news cycle.
Rick Moran writes, of the Tea Parties, that he has “been very critical of those in the tea party movement who seek to use anger and fear as a wedge to gain support for their cause.” The implicit assumption here is that anger is somehow an inappropriate response to recent political events. Excuse me? Let’s take one example: ObamaCare. In my judgment, the Democrats passed a bill which was:
Enacted through procedural abuse, in the face of strong public opposition.
Exactly which of these things should I not be angry about? Anger is a response to perceived injustice. Condemning anger means one of two things: either the object of the anger is not in fact an injustice, or we should be emotionally indifferent to questions of right and wrong.
Moran goes on to note that “that reason wins a lot more converts than screaming” — which is true. But reason and anger are not mutually exclusive. The appropriate response to our current political situation is anger, rationally grounded. It is the rational identification of the facts which gives rise to the anger, and the anger provides the motivation to act to correct the injustice. This is not an academic exercise. Our lives are, quite literally, at stake. If we’re not allowed to get emotional about that, when is anger appropriate?
I just received the following e-mail from my father, which I assume is circulating around the underbelly of the Internet. (I have edited it lightly, mostly by removing repetitions of the line about “Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. I got the point the first time, thanks.)
Subject: This makes sense to me!
I think we should print this off and send it to our congressmen…..over and over again until they “get it”!!!
THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!!!!!
Congressional Reform Act of 2010
Term Limits: 12 years only, one of the possible options below.
Two Six year Senate terms
Six Two year House terms
One Six year Senate term and three Two Year House terms
No Tenure / No Pension: A congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.
Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security: All funds in the Congressional retirement fund moves to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system; Congress participates with the American people.
Congress can purchase their own retirement plan just as all Americans.
Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
Congress and the President must equally abide in all laws they impose on the American people. Signing statements will not be used nor honored.
All contracts with past and present congressmen are void effective 1/1/11. The American people did not make this contract with congressmen, congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.
Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.
If you agree with the above, pass it on to all in your address list. If not, just delete.
I thought that, as a list of proposed solutions to the problems afflicting our government, this largely misses the point. Herewith, my response.
That stuff feeds an emotional desire for vengence, but doesn’t really address the fundamental problem.
The Founding Fathers envisioned a government whose sole function was the protection of the individual rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness; the purpose of the Constitution was to establish such a government, with powers limited to those necessary and proper to the fulfillment of that end. Our government has thrown off those restrictions, arrogating effectively unlimited power to itself. Our leaders are contemptuous of the very idea that the Constitution limits their power — you may or may not have noticed the derision with which House Speaker Pelosi dismissed a question regarding the constitutional authority enabling a government takeover of the health care system. (She said that “wasn’t a serious question” and refused to answer it.)
Unsurprisingly, the power we have allowed our government to amass attracts unsavory people, whose personalities are marred by narcissism and power-lust. Is it surprising that such people fasten themselves to jobs that give them the power they lust for, refuse to give them up, and proceed to act as rulers while treating the American people as serfs?
As long as you have a pot of honey, you will have flies attracted to it. You can’t stop the process by putting a lid on the pot — you have to get rid of the honey. Restore the limitations on the government’s power. A Congress that has no authority beyond protecting the individual rights of the people would be a Congress with no ability to dispense favors to favored constituents or special interests. Such a government would not need multi-trillion dollar budgets, and would not be in a position to bail out the connected or punish the productive when they refuse to abase themselves.
It is widely acknowledged today that our government is thoroughly corrupt — but what does that really mean? A government action is corrupt when it directs government power and resources to an inappropriate end. But since the proper end of government is the protection of individual rights, this means that any government action not directed to that end is inherently corrupt — and that is 90%+ of what the government does today. Corruption is the norm, not the exception, and the problem is not structural, but functional — specifically, that our government officials have lost their understanding of what their proper function *is*.
If we wish to reclaim our government and halt the ongoing theft of the liberties envisioned for us by the Founders, this is the issue we must push. We must insist that our Congressmen understand the purpose of their jobs, and we must replace those who reject that purpose with new Congressmen who do. This job starts by finding such candidates and supporting them in the upcoming primaries, wherever possible. I suggest contacting your local Tea Party organization as a good starting place.
Look, cretins. They’re either money, or they aren’t. You don’t get to have it both ways. Or at least you wouldn’t, if the world hadn’t gone insane and decided the law of identity is politically negotiable.
I assume the motivation here is that the state government has financial obligations it can’t fob off with IOUs; if they were to accept them for tax payments they’d get eaten alive by Gresham’s Law. Still, I have no sympathy. If you go long enough spending wealth that doesn’t actually exist, you burn through your savings and go bankrupt. Reality wins. Every time.