Monday, April 26, 2010

I got a little sidetracked the other day.

I didn't mean to dwell on the notion that trusting the government to micromanage an entire society was foolhardy. I just wanted to bring that up as a compound example of how naive all attempts to date have been. Naive, or come-for-critics-in-the-night fascist. Usually the former morphs into the latter, given adequate time.

Since I am lazy, I will throw out some lyrics from the John Lennon song "Imagine," as it serves as a convenient manifesto-jingle for the pie-in-the-sky progressivism that established itself maybe around the same time the song was penned. Close enough, anyway; but it still possesses some inspirational power that I wish to quell.

Imagine there’s no heaven … imagine all the people living for today.”

The only positive way I can see to read this is “imagine people working on the immediate problems in the world, rather than ignoring them or rhetorically sacrificing the victims of these problems for more abstract goals.” Unfortunately, the reality, the importance, of a problem is not determined from its proximity.

“There’s no heaven” usually means “there’s no God, no moral balance sheet to account for after you die;” and “living for today” usually means not simply “today has enough problems; don’t worry about tomorrow’s until they come,” which is often stated instead as “take it one day at a time,” but also—and especially in this day and age—means “disregard the future; don’t bother planning or preparing for contingencies.” I guess if someone else is taking care of everything, then we can throw care to the wind, or we should throw care to the wind and try to ignore whatever little voices of charity in our head we might still hear.

Imagine there’s no countries … nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace

People don’t kill or get killed just for the sovereign abstraction of their home. They also don’t only kill and die in the name of religion. Animals have no religion or politics, yet they still fight and die for resources like food, for territory, for mates, to defend their young. We are not so different from animals that we would not do the same; and we should be smart enough that we can tell the difference between a war for resources honestly fought and a war for resources rationalized with patriotic or religious propaganda.

But, okay. Let’s say there are not countries, there’s no nation-state or anything. Maybe just local governments and then some kind of enhanced UN handling the things that benefit more from economies of scale than from a preference for subsidiarity. Are people just going to start getting along? It does seem like we’re learning to do that, which was why I said last time that I can understand some of the secprog optimism, but we’re really not trying hard enough to inspire people to look past the little differences that catalyze a thousand playground fights a day, to grow up and see that underneath our subtle and sundry differences we’re all just the same. The modern defender of Marx says his system has never worked because it’s never been tried with the right people in charge. I say there are not enough of the right people to go around for taking charge of such a system, or for filling the ranks thereof.

Same deal with not having any religion. You can’t just take away church and whatever fills the role of church in pagan countries; you have to deal with what and how people think about transcendent truths, about morality and if it were immutable or not, even about the meanings of holidays and the importance of giving honor to honorable people. Humans are spiritual beings, and nigh everything we do overlaps with overt spiritual traditions of one sort or another. How Lennon would propose to treat things that fit into a spiritual system without an overarching formality, things that are still important enough to actual people that they may be disinclined to take disagreements in stride, has never been addressed anywhere that I have seen. Maybe it could be done by those people of adequate virtue and conditioning who don’t actually exist (in anything but paltry numbers, at least).

Okay, starting to look like I'm fisking the whole song. Sorry. You know how I have brevity problems as well as you should have expected me to eventually get around to critiquing these lyrics.

Imagine no possessions/I wonder if you can/No need for greed or hunger/A brotherhood … sharing all the world

Can I imagine no possessions? Yes, and thanks for the vote of confidence. Or maybe John was speaking about the difficulty of living monastically while immersed in the material world. Do we have to have greed or hunger? No, not even now; they are inevitable only because we have not developed perfect economics. Well, hunger, at least; the problem with greed, being a capital sin, is that the greedy want more no matter how much they already have, whereas hunger can be sated. Now, it is more natural for a man to share with his blood brother than with any random stranger whom he, yes, should be charitable to as his own brother; but while I don’t count the cost when I provide for my family, I recognize how fruitless it would be to take everything I have, divide it into six billion parts, and distribute—or even just attempt!—it to everyone on the planet. In His infinite wisdom, God gave us specific families to care for, and we have personal property that is dedicated to our explicit responsibilities to the closest of our brother-neighbors: our children who need us, our spouses to whom we are pledged, our siblings with whom we must share as long as we are under our parents’ care, our parents who are responsible for us and benefit from our cooperation.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I and many others just aren’t capable of maintaining charity on the scale of an entire civilization. I’ve carved out my niche of needy people to care for directly, and I save some on the side to provide to others who have needs that seem important to me. I may get along well with the guy who lives next door to me, but if we share a car because neither of us needs one all the time, eventually one of us will need it to take someone to the hospital and the other will not be willing to postpone yet another trip to the grocery store, and it will take more than the gentle reminders of a prophet of “Be Excellent to Each Other” and goadings from some authority figure to Shut Up, Play Nice, and Stop Arguing.

Imagine sharing? Yeah, in the Kingdom of God. Before then? We ain’t even close to ready.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sometimes I can understand how people get so excited about the idea that humanity can bootstrap itself into a secular utopia.

In some ways, we have made great strides. Widespread education, eradication (to the point of extinction) of some major diseases, et cetera et cetera.

But what still gets me is the belief so many often have that we've really come so far that we have more than an inkling about starting the heavy lifting on completely reinventing human society.

The government meddles with the automotive industry as if the strings they attach to bailout money as a matter of principle and of vanity would really help the businesses run better, as if the car market going soft was the result of auto executives needing some firm parenting and not being just a part of a larger economic crisis. The government forces banks to make bad loans, and when the loans default and banks suffer, the government blames the banks for being careless in the first place.

The government tries to give the economy a shot in the arm with "Cash for Clunkers," which is a much smaller scale matter that should have been easier to forecast, budget, and manage, but it still flops. The government can't even handle this, but it's supposed to be able to defy rational economic theory and save us all? Same people who made the first mistakes are going to be in there making new ones.

And that's just a few tangible concerns. The powers that be don't have the sense not to take bad advice and bad philosophy, but the people who come up with bad philosophies and give bad advice don't have the sense to see how disruptive, at the very least, it is to institutionalize the killing of unborn children, dissolve meaningful marriage, and negotiate with terrorists and other bully states that have nothing to offer but negative reinforcement.

You can't just give a severely injured person in cardiac arrest CPR. You have to find out where the bleeding is first and treat that or it won't matter whether everything else you're doing is helpful or harmful.