Absolutism

Bill Clinton, whether you like him or not (and I do not particularly like him) once said something profound that has stuck with me. He said “Conservatives seek to draw lines that should never be crossed. Liberals seek to erase lines that should never have been drawn.” I always thought that was a great analogy for the tension between right and left. Every human being has a code. Every human being has a sense of right and wrong. The problem is that each person’s view of right and wrong is just a little different than ever other person’s.

There are absolutes in nature: pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter and it never changes; the force of gravity on Earth is 32 feet/second squared. But when it comes to human behavior, we have never agreed on what is right and what is wrong. You can say murder is wrong, but for a child growing up in a primitive warrior society like the Vikings it was not just okay but expected that one kill and be killed.

Now, you can say “MY code is from God so it is both absolute and right.” But that is just another level of subjectivity because there is no agreement on who God is or what he demands. Everyone has a sense of right and wrong, and the first step to being a good person is following your conscience. But the second essential step to being a good person is recognizing that just because someone else does not follow your code, they are not “wrong.”

Every human being has a code and almost every human being tries to do what they think is right. In 19th century Virginia, blacks were forbidden to learn to read and write. Now is that the kind of line that should never be crossed or should have never been drawn? Many localities forbid dancing, or the sale of alcohol. Are those absolutes? I think you would say that rape, or child molestation, is absolutely wrong, and I would agree with you; and yet the Ten Commandments, which says flatly thou shalt not kill, makes no mention of rape or child abuse.

Some people consider “compromise” a dirty word, and yet compromise is the way American government and society functions. Following your conscience is necessary, but moral absolutism, when you measure everyone else by your code, is what grinds the gears of civility to a halt because it makes people self-righteous and closed. I believe we need to accept rather than dismiss other perspectives and not be so quick to create “enemies lists” of everything we hate and disapprove of.

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Right v. Left

I grew up a Southern Baptist conservative. My first presidential vote was for Reagan. Then I voted Libertarian for a couple of cycles. I voted for Ross Perot when he ran, though in hindsight that was probably a bad idea. Then Nader. I voted for Obama twice because his sense of idealism resonated with me. (Had the 2008 race been McCain v Hillary I probably would have voted for McCain.) I voted for Hillary this last cycle only because it was the closest thing to an Obama 3rd term. lol. And of course because I thought Trump would be an unmitigated disaster, which he is proving to be. My political views are civil libertarian, socially liberal, and fiscally moderate. I believe that the free market works, but it has no soul, so government can and must intervene to regulate where it is needed, and to provide help for our citizens who need it. I think government when it is serving the public interest is a force for good, but government can also become an unchecked cancer on the body politic. I believe it is human nature to be self-serving, but that the modern, humanistic, Age of Reason world has given rise to a sense of social justice and empathy that we must not let die because it makes us a better species. I believe in science, the scientific method, and empirical evidence, and anyone who denies these forces is standing against Nature and Reason. I believe the axiom that an eagle requires both a left wing and a right wing to fly. I also believe in the saying “Conservatives draw lines that should never be crossed. Liberals erase lines that should never have been drawn.” I believe there is value in both the left and right, and the tension between them is necessary and productive. The public interest and the private interest are equally valid concerns, and the sacrifice of one to the other can only produce instability and poor results.

Security bombs

Americans are spoiled whiney babies who don’t realize how good they have it, how awesome and efficient and well-organized American civilization really is.

And then reality comes along to make my point in a very sad way. As people bitch and moan and complain about long lines at airport security, another passenger plane falls victim to terrorism.

Since 9-11, no plane originating on American soil has suffered a terrorist attack. I just wanted to mention that, Please feel free to resume your bitching about lines at airports.

Ignorance as virtue

I came upon a blog post by Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer about an unfortunate comment by aspiring presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

Rubio is a rising star in the Tea-Republican Party, a self-made son of Cuban immigrants who fled from Fidel Castro’s regime (oh wait, no they didn’t; he made that up) for a better life in America.  There is a whiff of a birther conspiracy because Rubio’s parents were not naturalized until after he was born.  I doubt it will amount to much unless he actually gets close to the brass ring of a nomination, and then it will first be used by one of his Republican rivals.

But my focus is not on his credentials, but on his character.  He is clearly unwilling to contradict TP dogma about creationism, and it is equally clear that he is smart and knows both the scientific (i.e. correct) answer and the Biblical literalist answer.  This is sad on so many levels.

There is a political party with significant influence over the GOP that denies the reality of science.  They have taken the concept of faith and turned it into a virtue of ignorance.  And they are lifting up as one of their standard bearers a man who lacks the strength of his convictions to either embrace or to reject their dogma.

And thus you have the spectacle of an educated man who understands the issue but is unwilling to face it, a man who furthermore is being embraced and uplifted by a constituency that he may (or may not!) agree with, and a man who has no problems accepting their approbations and donations and votes even as he dodges one of their pet issues.  In other words, he is using the TP and the conservative Cuban zeitgeist of Florida as a boost to political power.

One wonders if Marco Rubio actually, honestly, believes in anything except the need to dodge direct answers to direct questions.

Updated my “About” page

Greetings, Wanderer.  I am Archfiend Maleficus.

I like to call myself a “moderate extremist”.

I have been, over the course of my life, a Republican, a Libertarian, and a Democrat; a conservative, an anarchist, and a liberal; a fundamentalist Southern Baptist Christian, a Buddhist, a pagan, and an atheist.

I have, literally, been on both sides of just about every debatable topic I’ve ever encountered.  And I am articulate and open-minded enough to take a “Devil’s Advocate” approach to just about any topic as well.

One of my favorite journalists, Hugh Downs, once said in regards to the divisiveness of politics: “An eagle needs both a right wing and a left wing to fly straight.”  I don’t know if he got the quote from elsewhere, but for now I can attribute it to him.  It’s a nugget of wisdom I have never forgotten.

In the same vein, the science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein once wrote: “No one is the villain of their own story.”

I will not belabor the point.  There is no “right” side to most arguments.  Everyone thinks they are “right” in their opinions, else they would not have opinions.

The point is, the political orcs who demonize the opposition are the real threat to our republic.  The answers to political problems must come from the crucible of opposing ideas, meaning one ingredient must always be compromise.  The so-called virtue of the refusal to compromise, when exercised in the arena of politics, is actually immoral, and toxic to the republic.

I have an agenda.

We all do.  My agenda is to hammer some sense into the intransigent foot soldiers who participate in political dialogue like it is a blood sport.  Now, I may be harder on the right than the left, but that is because I currently see the greatest threat to our republic as the authoritarian religious right and their effort to remarry politics and theology.  “Social conservatives” have their own agenda, to impose their own subjective morality on society, and such a utopia is incompatible with a free, democratic system of government.

 

BREAD

George W. Bush gave the lowest 20% of tax payers an annual tax cut of $74. That was very kind of him. $74 a year is about $6 more a month, which would buy an extra 4 loaves of bread a month, 1 a week. An extra loaf of bread a week. GWB, you are so compassionate!

At the same time, GWB gave the highest 20% of tax payers an annual reduction of $8,421. That equates to an extra 468 loaves of bread per month, or 117 loaves per week! That’s a lot of bread! So he gave the richest 20% of people 117 times more “relief” than he gave to the poorest, JUST BECAUSE they made more money. What is “fair” about that?

Also, the GWB tax cuts gave to the highest 1% of tax payers an annual reduction of $97,028, which equates to 1,348 extra loaves of bread per week. So, GWB gave to the very richest people in the country 1348 times more “relief” than he gave to the poorest, JUST BECAUSE they were the very richest people in the country. What is “fair” about that? That seems like the opposite of fair to me.

And now GOP lawmakers are fighting tooth and nail against Obama’s efforts to make sure the lower and middle classes are able to to keep their extra bread, so that the sad, struggling rich can continue to afford to put an extra 1348 loaves of bread per week on the table for their starving families. What the GOP has lost in morality it seems to have made up for in insanity.

They want to push the entire nation over the fiscal cliff in order to save that extra bread for the richest of the rich.

http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/numbers/displayatab.cfm?Docid=1860&DocTypeID=2

Why Should Atlas Shrug?

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?”

I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”

To shrug.”   –Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

 

I wouldn’t tell him anything. I would just do what I could to help him.

That is the difference between liberal thought and conservative thought.