Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Ramble on Gratitude

I just finished eating an apple off the tree in my backyard, the fruit, literally, of my labor. I'm grateful to live in a country that still permits that possibility. It's hard to say how much longer that will last. Perhaps a generation or two, perhaps ten generations and beyond. Much depends on this election, though not so much on who gets elected.

Let me explain...

Neither candidate is a big supporter of genuine individual freedom — free markets and free minds. Both have supported cap-and-trade proposals, both have declared their allegiance in one form or another with the forces that seek to turn the U.S. into Sweden.

Still, there are substantial differences and many of them lie beyond the realm of specific policy proposals.

Rightly or wrongly, mostly the latter, John McCain is associated with capitalism. That's laughable considering his first reaction to the financial meltdown was to blame the "greed on Wall Street." Having just finished a very long article on the history of Fannie Mae's role in the debacle, I know that's mostly nonsense.

I do, but McCain doesn't. His lack of knowledge, and even more so his lack of understanding of free market economics in general, gives him the barest squeak of a pass. You can't be truly evil unless you understand that what you're advocating will lead to harmful outcomes.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, is — with complete justice — associated with socialism. He's clever enough to realize that saying so out loud in public doesn't win elections and, above all, he wants to win. But he actually has worse attributes.

I believe him when he says he isn't "ideological." That came out clearly even when he was promising to make efforts to bankrupt the coal industry.

[As an aside, pause on that for a second. When was the last time you actually heard a Presidential candidate gleefully declare he wanted to shut down an entire industry, one that supplies the fuel for 48% of the country's electricity?

Maybe Ralph Nader, never a real candidate in my view, or when Norman Thomas ran six times on the Socialist Party of America ticket during the Red Decades. (He is semi-famous, by the way, for having said, "The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism, but under the name of liberalism, they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program until one day America will be a socialist nation without ever knowing how it happened." Prescient, eh?)]

Anyway, getting back to Obama's pragmatic nature, I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on that one. As a typical post-modern pseudo-intellectual, he has clearly absorbed the teachings of his mentors well. He lives in a Heraclitean universe where there are no fixed facts or cause-effect relationships, as John Dewey preached. He has no moral principles that can't be washed away with a mild soap, as everyone from Hume to Harman has argued to be the only rational position.

Still, he may not be for anything much, but he definitely knows what he's against — everything that made America the exceptional country it became: love of reason, individual freedom, productivity and property rights. That makes him the very prototype of an Anti.

Contrast that with John McCain, who knows that he is against the evils that Obama represents, even when he can't explain very well why. He is for all the things that the Anti(s) are trying to destroy, even when his defense is weak and contradictory.

So, even though the man himself — whoever gets elected — may do massive harm or modest depending on many counterbalancing constraints and pressures — the American people today choose (at least for a time) which philosophy they side with more, by choosing the symbol representing it. By so doing, they select which fate to favor. I'm grateful to live in a country where that is how people choose politicians. I hope to be grateful for their choice tomorrow, because it's that philosophy — much more than the symbol — that will determine what happens over the next four or 40 years.

In the meantime, my plans on this election day consist of consuming a little Parker and Veatch's Logic As a Human Instrument for lunch and maybe solving a differential equation for dessert. It's important to remind myself in these times that the universe is still open to reason, even when the culture gives me reason to doubt. Later, maybe I'll sup on a few Federalist Papers as an apéritif before a filling late-night supper of Cossacks In Paris by Jeffrey Perren.

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