Saturday, February 28, 2009

Conservatism and me

Recently a liberal--sorry, I meant progressive--friend of mine, who had not previously had the misfortune of engaging me in a political discussion, accused me of being a conservative. His hurtful ad hominem came after I went off on one little rant about high taxes and profligate federal spending. For the record, I'm against them. More damningly, I suppose, I am also against nationalized health care and gun control, and I am reluctant to think that we brought 9-11 on ourselves. Sometimes I even catch myself thinking that poor people might do a little better if they would try a little harder. But despite all the hard evidence against me, I am not a conservative.

A conservative is a guy who talks about limiting the size and role of government, but he's not really buying it. Oh, he'll mouth some good words about getting the government out of people’s lives. He might even believe it. But then the guy down the street teaches evolution, starts a religion, smokes a joint or talks with a pronounced lisp, and government becomes a conservative's last best hope to save America.

So I have been forced to conclude that a conservative only wants the government out of people’s lives if those people choose to live productively, raise wholesome children, and defend the world from communists/terrorists. And I guess what makes conservatism so seductive is that these are all good and decent things to do, and most of us hope that somebody does them. In fact, it's hard to argue that the world wouldn't be a better place if everyone worked hard to support themselves, didn't go around oppressing others, and believed in a tough-loving God with a long memory. Or, more correctly, it'd be better if everyone else did. And that is the sine qua non of conservatism: live and let live, so long as everyone lives a reasonable approximation of my grandfather's life.

Alas, a lot of us don't. Some of us would rather spend the weekend wearing our Che Guevara underoos in a THC induced stupor watching Rent. Again. And that's why a conservative, bless his heart, must impose upon the rest of us his sodomy laws, drug prohibition, military conscription, and Walker, Texas Ranger in syndication.

But maybe my socialist--sorry, I meant progressive--friend wasn't too far off the mark. If I were to define libertarianism for those unacquainted with the concept, I might start by calling it a consistent conservatism. A conservative wants the government out of his life; a libertarian wants the government out of your life, too. Yeah, sometimes it's hard to be consistent. As Emerson wisely said, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Ok, I don't really know what that means. Should I be offended? Maybe. Or maybe I'm being way too consistent on this proper-role-of-government thing. After all, my libertarianism means that I must stand idly by while the latest owners of my childhood home paint it a mind-searing hot pink that would only be appropriate if it were attached to sequins and flaccid dollar bills. But if I'm going to shoot deer, watch NASCAR, and teach my children that the savior of mankind looked remarkably like Chuck Norris, I have to allow my neighbors a little leeway. And if I choose instead to snort marijuana, convert to Islaam, and bugger my like-minded friends, the government should be the least of my worries. Emerson and his hobgoblin notwithstanding, if freedom is good, it's good for us all.

*Note*: I don't really watch NASCAR. That was just poetic license.

Friday, February 27, 2009

for better or for worse

As a libertarian, I have to be for the right to marry whomever one chooses, right? Well, maybe I am. I mean, it’s not the state’s business whom I sleep with. Nor, as in the case of marriage, who’s turning me down for sex. But I get impatient with those who assert a constitutional right to gay marriage. There is no such thing.

Of course, the gay lobby trots out the old “equal protection” bromide. The right to the equal protection of law simply says that if you have a right, I get it too. The homosexual lobby’s argument boils down to this: you got to marry the person you wanted to, so why shouldn’t I? It seems a fair point. But gays are permitted to marry in every state in the union, and many have done so. What has them up in arms is the fact that in most states a homosexual may not marry a member of the same sex. They also can't marry a first cousin, an animal, or more than one person, not even if they have a really good reason for doing so. (Reasons like religion, a severely limited dating pool, or a burning need to legitimize what happened at last month’s family reunion.)

Now, are these silly preclusions? Maybe. As a people, at least 51% of us have decided that the mommy-state will feed me, my family, and my widow in the event I fail to do so, and if mommy is footing the bill, mommy should have some say in whom I will marry (More on this later). Do these preclusions represent a civil rights issue? Are there constitutional rights of gays, consanguine-ophiles, polygamists, animal lovers and people with really hot siblings that are being violated by these policies? No way. All the state has done is what it has always done, rightly or wrongly: it defined the terms. And since we all live with the same definition of marriage, we are all protected equally—if shabbily-- under the law. If you want to change the definition, change a few minds. Depending on your state, it only takes a bare majority either in the statehouse or on the street. And I will be right there at the march with you, holding your hand, singing “we shall overcome, ” and hoping your boyfriend isn’t the jealous type. But don’t get some judge to impose on a hesitant populace an invented constitutional right to do something the founding fathers clearly never envisioned--not even Ben Franklin. Forcing what--to you--is a beautiful thing down the people’s collective throat is not just a poorly chosen allegory; it’s divisive, and it’s the sort of thing that puts social conservatives back in charge.

But, as I alluded to earlier, the government should not even be involved in this issue. In a perfect world, whether I marry a man, woman, men and women, my cousin or some other forbidden object of love only affects you if the object is a child, or your prized poodle. By confiscating your money to pay for such things as family planning, survivor benefits, and social re-education, the government suddenly makes a public concern out of what should strictly be a personal or religious decision. I guarantee if marriage were simply that, a ceremony to sanctify a promise, no one but Dr. Ruth and Dr. Dobson would care anymore who does it with whom.

But, alas, we are all connected by the socialist-fascist constructs of government, and both sides of this debate--radical left and religious right—insist on rubbing the other side’s nose in it. Everyone has an agenda: the left wants recognized legitimacy for its lifestyle, and the right wants us all to stop touching genitalia that looks like our own. But government has no plenary power to grant legitimacy, and has had a devil of a time making us keep our hands to ourselves.

So I have some advice for both sides that might save us all some frustration: Stop looking for government to validate your lifestyle. Live your life, and let your neighbors live theirs. Call the people and animals you live with what you want to call them, and memorialize your union therewith however you choose to do so. And if the sexual preference of the neighbors has really got you down, put away the binoculars and close the curtains.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kyoto is cool

Note: I wrote this seven years ago, and sold it to a website that has since gone defunct. I think I'm safe reprinting it here...

The Kyoto Accord is a very progressive treaty. It has style and flair, and all the really au courant scientists are talking about it. Global warming is, by far, today’s most fashionable worldwide environmental crisis. It is all the rage. We as a nation cannot afford to let pass this opportunity to remain at the forefront of environmental trends.

In the sixties, it was the “population explosion” that captured the imagination of cutting-edge alarmists. I have seen the clips of learned men in loud clothing and long hair, with their dire predictions of imminent catastrophe. Movies like “Soylent Green” really seemed to stir the pot (so to speak). Paul Erlich had the solution, and became an overnight sensation with racy predictions that in the 1970’s hundreds of millions of people would starve to death—65 million dead in the US alone. Alas, the years have not been kind to Erlich’s predictions, and the chic-left lost a fashion statement. (The book has been a solution of sorts. To those who have suffered a table with one leg too short, it is indispensable. The book could have found even more use, if Erlich had predicted a “great toilet paper shortage.” It should be noted that Rachel Carson wrote an interesting book during the same decade. Silent Spring was, perhaps, not as prescient, but was every bit as useful.)

In the seventies, curiously, there was wild speculation of “global cooling” and of a coming ice age. This never panned out as a frightening global disaster, since, I suppose, the image of Raquel Welch in “One Million Years B.C.” was still fresh in the American male psyche. Being a Neanderthal just didn’t seem so bad after all. Scratch another promising global disaster.
I may date myself when I recall the “acid rain” Armageddon of the eighties. Every scientist with a beaker to spare was pushing this one, and even pop-culture got into the act, raising awareness while they entertained. I remember a particularly poignant episode of “Diff’rent Strokes” when Kimberly Drummond rinsed her hair in rain water, only to watch in horror as her hair turned green! Those were heady times to be a hip, intellectual environmentalist. Unfortunately, that fad didn’t have staying power, and the trendy leftist was forced to consider the “animal rights” movement as a more effective outlet for his altruism.

Sadly, it seemed that mainstream environmentalism just wasn’t “cool” anymore. Enter Global Warming; the designer disaster of a new generation. Gone are the risky predictions of previous manufactured disasters; the payoff on this one is so far in the future it doesn’t matter if it never happens. The statistics that once had to be cooked to show a causal connection are a thing of the past; Global warming began in the 19th century, just when the nasty industrialists were really beginning to hit their stride (a 2 degree increase in 150 years can’t be a fluke). And this is a catastrophe that doesn’t need any real villains; we are all to blame for this one, from the hairspray wielding teen in California to the flatulent bovines of Calcutta.

The scientists who study global warming have brought crisis-mongering into the 21st century, melding the technology of today with the superstitions of our forefathers. It’s inspiring to see an accord between the rent-seeking whores of the laboratory and the fur-eschewing Gaia-worshippers of the “rainbow warrior.” Global Warming is the most promising prospective cataclysm in 50 years. It certainly won’t become a relic of alarmism like the disappearing-fossil-fuel thing, or the ozone-layer-is-almost-gone thing. If it does, well, that depletion-of-the-rain-forest thing looks like a real winner! (Did you know that the rain forests are the lungs of the earth? And we are cutting them down at a rate of a million acres a day! Or something like that….)

An added benefit of the Kyoto accord is that it offers a wonderful opportunity to control the behavior of people, groups and corporations. While these opportunities generally occur every time congress meets, the Kyoto agreement was to be beyond such formalities as congressional approval.

Unfortunately, hide-bound reactionaries have forced a debate on constitutional grounds. Debate or no debate, there really is no choice, is there? After all, what’s good enough for Japan and Britain and Uganda is good enough for the USA. Well, not Uganda. We need to give countries like them a chance to catch up –industrially speaking – before we can implement Kyoto and cripple their economies, too. Besides, we’ll need to purchase a few “pollution permits” before this is all through, and what better way to get the permits we need than to give a few stunted economies an unlimited supply? See?

This accord won’t be a total economic disaster. It probably won’t stop much pollution either, but what it will do is redistribute some of our wealth into the coffers of countries who really could use a handout. And that’s important.

So let’s sign the Kyoto Accord. All the cool countries are doing it, and it’ll make us feel like we’re doing something about a global problem of epidemic proportions. And let’s squelch all that talk of economic disaster right here and now; Kyoto won’t cost that many jobs. After all, bureaucrats need work, too.