Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Headful Of Metaphors

     That’s what comes of spending an entire day staring at a blank screen while berating yourself for being unable to finish your tenth BLEEP!ing novel.

     One of the more contentious phrases of the past seven years, American exceptionalism, is once more in circulation:

     The listeners of this commentary are among some of the most intelligent in the country.

     Not as intelligent as the Gentle Readers of Liberty’s Torch, Todd ol’ buddy.

     So it’s not my business to tell you who to vote for today.

     Well, that’s a relief. Everyone else seems to think it’s his business.

     But I do want to tell you what this election is about.

     No, you don’t. You want to tell us what this election is about to you.

     Read the rest if you care to do so. It’s short and pretty much what you’d expect. The part I cited here is what got my glands chugging.

     What’s this election about to you, Gentle Reader? If you take any interest in it, that is?

     The typical American voter is narrowly focused. There are a small number of issues – not infrequently, only one – that matter to him. He votes according to the candidates’ positions on those issues. He’s relatively unconcerned with anything beyond them.

     One of the reasons our electoral processes have become so acrimonious is that narrow focus. When the federal government is involved in everything – hundreds if not thousands of discrete activities – it becomes rare for voters to assess candidates in a holistic fashion. They’ll make their selections according to their personal priorities. Political strategists know this, which is why it’s so hard to get the typical candidate to focus on anything other than the handful of issues his handlers have selected for his headliners.

     Donald Trump has selected those issues that he thinks will lead with the majority of voters. Ted Cruz has articulated a set of principles and has pledged to stay true to them. Which of these candidates is currently doing better in the delegate chase?

     Doesn’t seem all that closely related to American exceptionalism, does it?

     In commenting on “democracy,” Lysander Spooner – one of my personal heroes – wrote that “A man is no less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years.” Given that the federal government has burst its Constitutional bonds, that’s not a bad assessment of our electoral predicament. However, it was truer in Spooner’s day than it is today.

     Mark Steyn wrote in After America that the emergence of the “permanent government” – i.e., the millions of federal bureaucrats who can’t be fired or otherwise disciplined by the 540 elected federal officials – has reduced the Republican Party’s periods in federal ascendancy to “keeping the seat warm” for the Democrats. He had a good point: Leviathan continues to grow and to oppress regardless of who occupies the Oval Office or Capitol Hill. For instance, federal payrolls grew 13% during the Reagan Administration. (Yes, it does grow faster under Democrat administrations.)

     We no longer choose “masters,” in Spooner’s formulation. Rather, we select figureheads: persons in whom we can repose our hopes – which are usually dashed completely – and whom we can blame for the disappointments that follow.

     “Opinions change with age; otherwise what is age for?” – James Blish, The Triumph of Time

     My opinions have certainly changed over the years. In part that’s because I’ve studied different things as time as passed: first, mathematics and physics; later on, war, economics, and moral theory; most recently, human motivations and how they bear on social, economic, and political dynamics. All those subjects are relevant to the state of our nation, and that of Mankind generally. However, the earlier lessons bear less powerfully on our political decisions, and the words and deeds of “our” governments, than the later set.

     We who live in Time are fated to pursue goals: things we want but don’t yet have, and threatening possibilities we hope to avert. Because we are fallible, and not much given to reflect on what would really be best for us, we fail far more often than we succeed. Because we are various, and variously motivated and gifted, contention among us is inevitable. Satisfaction for one often means disappointment for another.

     Perfection is denied us as individuals, and therefore as societies. We know this about ourselves. Yet our tendency to think with our wishes instead of our reason – to invent pretty fantasies to take the place of dismal realities – leads us to hope that political heroes will save us from ourselves.

     I wrote of such a hero. He’s as imaginary as all my other characters. Were he to exist, and to gain the office of president, the hopes attached to him would be would the tragedies attendant upon his downfall. That’s part of why the completion of Statesman is frustrating me so greatly.

     Political heroes will not save us. They cannot: they’re as flawed, as fallible, and as subject to temptation as any private citizen. To expect deliverance by their hands is to bet on an impossibility. The larger the bet, the greater will be the anguish in the aftermath.

     Why should we have expected anything else? Politics of any form is the institutionalization not of our best aspirations but our worst: the desire for power with which to make the world over into some preferred shape. But that sort of power is purely destructive. To create a paradise through destruction is not possible even to the angels...and if I may be blunt, there are no angels in politics.

     We – flawed, fallible, temptable men – are the problem we yearn, vainly yet eternally, to solve.

     Have a nice day.


Tim Turner said...

Fran, on a personal note, I hope you just don't kill Sumner off.

I can see how it's an uphill battle to "complete" Sumner's story. My impression of Sumner is that he believes in the Founders' idea of a Federal Republic. That train has left the station full of cats out of their bags and genies far from their bottles. Instead of the national government securing boarders, providing for the common defense, coining money and a few other simple chores, it has become the speaker for the American people.

Whereas I think the Founders expected people to form their own societies, religions, factions - indeed, States - to represent their goals, desires and quests for justice and prosperity, we've let all of that devolve onto the national government. This was partly due to human nature (laziness or whatever) but surely giving the national government the ability to collect and dole out SO MUCH money is also a big factor.

So now that government is supposed to represent the monolithic will of 330 million people. Of course 330 million people CANNOT be represented by one point of view, so we have, as a result, the government using ever more laws trying to force us into a single pattern of attitudes and actions. This results in an overreaching central power which is exactly what the Founders were trying to prevent.

As you say, a political hero can't save us. Sumner can try all he can to return the rule of law and Constitutional boundaries to the American political scene. But he can't (particularly in 8 years of Presidency) change an attitude of looking at the national government as our speaker/conscience/sugar-daddy that has been generations in the making.

I wish you the best with the novel, Fran!

syd B. said...

This election for me, is about the gutting of the establishment GOP who, for years, have been moving toward the left, ignoring the principals of conservatism. It has been a painfully slow process, so slow, in fact, that many did not even notice the change. Then, in 2008, the delivery of Obama to the Whitehouse created a shitstorm, if not amongst Republicans, certainly amongst Conservatives. His radical governance has been extremely difficult for Conservatives to witness, but perhaps even more difficult has been the lack of pushback by both houses, controlled by the very so called Conservative representatives that their supporters elected to stop the leftist and radical changes in the country. Scandals, economic hardship and a feeling of betrayal have brought us to where we are today; a country devoid of direction, clarity and pride. Say what you want about Trump and I'm not a fat of his policies, but he has shaken the trees, embarrassed a few of the fossils in the party and has created an enthusiasm within Republican voters that I didn't think I'd ever see again. Like it, or not, he will be the next GOP candidate and I suspect he will go after the heart of Hillary's scandal ridden history. I think Cruz would do well against Hillary also, but that's not going to happen, so I say, lets get behind The Donald. No matter what he does, could he possibly do worse than Obama? I think not. Even if he doesn't win, I think perhaps his most significant contribution will be that he has changed the GOP party, perhaps for ever, but most definitely, for the better.

Just another opinion for the heap.

Anonymous said...

syd B.,
I won't be "getting behind" anyone at this point. Not even Ted Cruz who, though I have some issues with, is the best candidate there has been at least since Reagan, if not before that.


Given that the lyrics were written by well-known Lefty, Gordon Sumner (a.k.a. Sting), they probably have a meaning other than the one that I, lately, attribute to them. Nevertheless:

"Spirits in the Material World"

There is no political solution
To our troubled evolution**
Have no faith in constitution
There is no bloody revolution***

We are spirits in the material world
(Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world)

Our socalled leaders speak
With words they try to jail you
The subjugate the meek
But it's the rhetoric of failure

We are spirits in the material world
(Are spirits in the material world)

Where does the answer lie?
Living from day to day
If it's something we can't buy
There must be another way

We are spirits in the material world
(Are spirits in the material world)

** evolution n 1a: a process of change in a certain direction
1c(i): a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, and better state: PROGRESS
1c(ii): a process of gradual and relatively peaceful social, political, and economic advance


*** The Revolution has been cancelled due to lack of interest.

RichJ said...

"To create a paradise through destruction is not possible even to the angels...and if I may be blunt, there are no angels in politics."

As Solomon would say, this " futile, a chasing after the wind." Francis, perhaps you can get some writing inspiration from Solomon. His early chapters in Ecclesiastes dispell most of our heroic inclinations (e.g., "For an abundance of wisdom brings an abundance of frustration, So that whoever increases knowledge increases pain" - Eccl 1:18), instead suggesting this path, "24 There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and find enjoyment in his hard work. This too, I have realized, is from the hand of the true God, 25 for who eats and who drinks better than I do?" - Eccl 2:24-25

I think you will have a good day, Francis.