Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Unconfirmed report...

...of bombing in Iraq, via Bank of America. Crude oil spiking - up about $1.50 - unconfirmed, once again. ??? Awaiting information!

UPDATE: OK, just a rumor. In particular, apparently the rumor was that Iran had fired on an American carrier (?). The Navy denies. Another rumor, so far as I know NOT being denied, is that the US has moved two carriers into the Gulf. I haven't been keeping up at all with troop movements and such, so for all I know, this is old news!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Idealism: what it is, what it isn't

Via Instapundit (as usual), recently I came across this very interesting piece, entitled "The Gospel of John and Yoko: The Origins of Mad Morality." An excerpt:

If you believe the Gospel of John and Yoko [ed. Think of the lyrics of "Imagine" for a quick apologia.] represents a higher morality, you will naturally begin to resent such obstacles in the way of “progress” as reason, the rule of law, common sense, the need to be a master of your own life, and the responsibility for your own well-being. And since the United States of America was built on such values and remains their most dedicated proponent, any honest and consistent “progressive” is bound to develop a seething hatred towards this country.

In the “progressive” book of virtues, American values are the quintessence of evil. So if you are a “progressive” and you aren’t mad at this country, that just means you’re neither honest nor consistent. But then again, because living by this dead-end moral code is logically impossible, one has to resort to hypocrisy and seek compromises, forever balancing on the edge of madness.

The writer, born in the Soviet Union when there was a Soviet Union, is as determined a foe of collectivism as pretty much everybody who escaped that terrible regime is. His past naturally colors his opinion. I myself am inclined to listen to the opinion of a former socialism victim, however intemperate it may seem in the current circumstances, for the same reason that I'd go to a famine survivor for accurate information about what the early stages of starvation feel like, or to a resident of the Northwest Territories to find out about SAD: he's really been there, and my baby experiences of leftism, hunger, and seasonal depression don't even mildly compare.

(Am I being intemperate by using starvation as a comparison? Hmm. Ask Stalin. Ask Mao. Of course, they're dead - like the millions they starved.)

Here's the rub: I believe there's an important role for (stereotypically) youthful idealism in a liberal society. Idealistic thinking, particularly when it's articulated intelligently, causes society to examine its postulates. When an idealistic concept is able to stand up to this first examination, it can mean that the context of a societal construct has changed and the postulate itself must be altered or even discarded. Slavery, for instance, has been a given in human society since there was human society. But perhaps the most important fruit of the Enlightenment was (and is!) the assumption of the fundamental value of each individual human being - and the idealistic concept that a slave of African descent is observably and provably a human being, and therefore a natural beneficiary of the Enlightenment, ultimately could not be denied. It kept coming back. Thoughtful people continued to hold it up to the light, to discomfit the conservatives (in the old and true sense of "people committed to preserving the status quo"), until the idea was no longer revolutionary but inevitable - because internal consistency demanded it.

But like Bills on Capitol Hill, not every idealistic notion makes it to inevitability. All societies that endure are conservative to some degree: they've come across a system that works, and they have a significant interest in preserving it. The beauty of a classically liberal society is that new ideas, propounded by free people, can be heard and debated - not that they're immediately adopted and the old stuff tossed on the rubbish heap of history. The presence of a strong conservative (still in the old and true sense) element in society is a buffer against too-precipitous change. And where that buffer is weakened or absent, the adoption of new ideas may take place without the hard-eyed examination that may, just may, prevent a really bad turn.

So here's the problem with idealism in our society today: somehow it's escaped this vital testing and tempering.

Someone (I think I know who) is going to read this post and conclude that I think slavery in America lasted just long enough, or some such drivel. No. At the moment that the Enlightenment took hold, when the value of the individual became a paramount societal concept, slavery should have passed from the earth - and ideally, of course, it should never have arisen; the intrinsic value of a human being, and the simple fact of the humanity of every mammal, however different-appearing from The People (whoever The People are to the particular observer) that can breed true with another human being, should have been obvious from the start. But the world is what it is, and apparently an Enlightenment was necessary in western culture in order to introduce the idea that human life is beyond buying and selling, and many years were necessary after that to break down the status quo.

So what about the idealistic notions of today? I believe that they too should be judged by whether internal consistency with our core principles requires them. "War is not the answer" doesn't rise to that level. Nor does "logic is male, male is bad; feelings are female, female is good." Nor does "Arabs aren't ready for democracy." Nor does "private ownership is by nature oppressive to someone." I hope that effectively instant mass communications can bring about necessary change more quickly than we saw with slavery, civil rights, female suffrage, child labor... but I draw the line at assuming that every possible change is necessary.