And overcomes my prejudices. Everyone (many Guardian contributors, for example) who thinks that US politics is dominated by a simplistic Right-wing agenda, sponsored by fundamentalist Christians, should be made to read this New York Times article that the Anonymous Economist drew to my attention. (S)he also sent this snippet from a meet-the-people piece, “In an Old Coal Town, the Old Party Labels Are Faded“, about part of one of the critical states in the presidential election:
“NEW LEXINGTON, Ohio, Sept. 3
“Sharon Alfman, the cook at the little County Seat Diner here, might seem to be a likely John Kerry supporter. She has voted Democratic most of her life. She has no health insurance through the diner, and her husband’s insurance ran out after he was on disability for more than a year. But she already knows that she is going to vote for President Bush.
‘Mrs. Alfman, 51, said that if the Democrats could do anything about health insurance, they would have done it under Bill Clinton. Now, she said, the Democrats have ‘burned themselves out.’ And like several other people here in this gritty patch of southeastern Ohio, she has already tuned Mr. Kerry out. A Kerry commercial, in which he says his economic plan would provide ‘good wages and good benefits,’ came on the overhead television by the kitchen, and no one seemed to notice.
‘Kerry doesn’t know what the working-class people do; he hasn’t done any physical labor all his life,’ said Mrs. Alfman, who gets up at 4 a.m. to start her job. ‘Bush’s values are middle-class family values.‘”
I guess the quote in bold highlights quite how rubbish Kerry’s campaign has been, and quite what a brilliant liar Karl Rove is… If you’re going to pick candidates on the basis of their work ethic, GWB wouldn’t be the intuitive choice.
(also, a minor digressional rant about how annoying it is when Americans say ‘middle class’ to mean ‘working class’ is required)
“Middle class” IS “working class”. I work my ass off. I think it’s rather annoying that you find a difference. Class is merely a state of mind over here in most cases.
Hence the traditional paradox under which the unionised ‘working class’ work 36-hour weeks, while ‘idle rich’ businessmen work 60+ hours…
But seriously: middle class implies some kind of ‘middle’ status. If you’re making minimum wage as a short-order cook, ‘middle class’ is not a sensible description of your socioeconomic position.
Oh I love the logic in that quote in bold. It’s overly simplistic to think that “blessed are the poor” is tantamount to the converse (“evil are the rich”). The relevance of physical labor, or even sympathizing with the situation of “Middle America” to the actual creation and execution of policy is sketchy at best. Machiavelli said it best: one of the keys to acquiring and maintaining power is to, at the very least, give the appearance of virtuousness. Possessing virtues and practicing them pisses off the people who are really pulling the strings.
Good government is simply the ability to find a mutually beneficial solution (read: monetary rewards) for all parties concerned and *incidentally* benefits the greater good.
Anybody who says otherwise is running for re-election.
“hence the traditional paradox under which blah de blah 36 hours while blah de blah 60+ hours.” God, I’d never looked at it like that before, maybe, in all fairness, a hard working businessman should earn, say two thirds more than a member of the unionised working class.
Incidentally given that maybe one percent of the population could seriously be considered wealthy and maybe another one percent tends to eat out of bins middle class could be considered a fair description of everyone inbetween.
Notice that the article does not mention whether or not the woman is a regular church-goer. Given the ferocity of the culture wars, no one gives a “rat’s behind”* what a person’s “class” is (whatever that tiresome word means or meant or ought to mean.) *(happy phrase first encountered on PooterGeek.)
Alas, dear Jon, “a rat’s arse” was my phrase. An unusual slip from usual ‘crudity free’ prose, but “we are all frail”!
Timbeaux, mate, for your own good I have to step in here. I know “Mr Casualsavant” personally and I’ve got to warn you before she pops round and explains these things in person with the aid of a baseball bat (or some kind of automatic weapon):
1. “He” is a she.
2. I know a lot of socialists and she ain’t one of them.
3. She is possibly the hardest working person I have ever met. On many occasions I have suspected she may be taking some kind of amphetamine derivative via a portable IV pump.
4. She is definitely the most entrepreneurial person I have ever met. She runs her own business(s) now, but I believe she started out by setting up a rusk arbitrage system in kindergarten.
I’m probably too late to save you from her wrath, but don’t say I didn’t try.
Oh God, it’s going to be so ugly. Please don’t hurt him…
::grin:: No worries, I can take it, and probably have some fun digging a deeper hole. I suppose I read a little more into it than what was intended. Still, claiming a disconnect between labor and policy just seems strange to me, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t know the value of work that has a clue how to run their own lives, much less public policy. Working merely for the “mutually beneficial solution” just seems short-sighted to me. Government is a cancer that feeds on such arbitration authority, particularly when it involves monetary rewards, and feeding the disease is not my idea of good governance. Having worked both in and with government, I tend to think that less is more.
*cough cough* Did you just call casualsavant a socialist? Third Way, perhaps, Clintonian maybe, but socialist?
Actually I find it odd that you continue to harp on the value of work (oh pardon me, physical labor a la Sisyphus) as a means of giving the laborer’s life meaning, and then later advocate small (or no!) government over big government. While I wholeheartedly agree with the latter assessment (laissez faire and all that), shouldn’t you yourself be leading the big government cheering squad? Considering the rather massive bureaucracy necessary to maintain your rock-pushing worker’s paradise, after all? You are talking about Marxist theory of work product, right? Meaning of work becoming superior to the meaning of the laborer’s life?
Jenner, all I can say is…..HUH?!?! No bureaucracy is required to work for what you want (where “rock-pushing” comes in I’m not sure…) A working man makes his own paradise, he doesn’t need someone else to provide it for him. You’ve must have been juggling to many -isms lately, it’s really not that complicated.
“I don’t believe in -isms, I just believe in me.”
Jenner, you’d better use smaller words and leave off mythological references.
Timbeaux, I can’t play with you right now. I have to “create my own paradise”.
What I want? I haven’t mentioned what I want yet. 🙂 I thought the rock-pushing paradise was your idea. You know, manual labor = meaning of life? As for the -isms, you’ll have to pardon my college education. I had no idea it was offensive to some parties, especially those remaining true to themselves. 🙂
No, the manual labor=meaning of life was your projection, and I’m not sure where you made that connection. Work ethic=wisdom, or rather the converse, was quite a bit closer to what I was saying (and that bureaucracyies in general lacks a work ethic, and should be anathema). I’ve known the story of Sisyphus’ rock since grade school, but it’s a rather obtuse metaphor; “work” and “sweat” are putting in 60 hour weeks when you need to and want to, whether it’s in an office building or building a house, and I’ve done both. But what do I know, we use “small words” in engineering…
Um, so how does the obtuse part of the reference come in? After all, the rock-pushing was being done by, according to some versions of the tale, the wisest and most sensible Greek around before he was conscripted for quarry duty. Surely this ties into — and this is where the *aha! his reference to mythology makes sense!* moment comes in — your work = wisdom equation.
Still, the Buddha was supposed to be some really wise Oriental (or so we hear around these parts), and all he did was sit all day under a bodhi tree. The bum!
But what do I know. I can’t fight this homespun early-to-bed horse sense. Nope – screw Plato; grab a hoe.
(Hey, he called her socialist! I guess socialism isn’t an -ism when you’ve got work ethic.)
That’s a bit of a stretch. Really it doesn’t tie in at all. He was only doing the work because he was arrogant, working all day and getting nowhere was his punishment. He wasn’t doing it by choice, and it had nothing to do with his wisdom (seems like a passion-induced lack of it to me, actually). That doesn’t compare very well with working all day to get what you want in life.
I framed my words too strongly, and let this get blown way out of proportion. All I really wanted to say to Casualsavant is that giving government control of money is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. Excuses such as “mutually beneficial” and “for the greater good” are the pretexts it will latch onto to supress your liberty. The examples are endless, and the path is a very slippery slope.
Being punished for arrogance? Er, haven’t you read the Odyssey?
From the Wikipedia:
…From Homer onwards, Sisyphus was famed as the craftiest of men.
In the underworld Sisyphus was compelled to roll a big stone up a steep hill; but before it reached the top of the hill the stone always rolled down, and Sisyphus had to begin all over again (Odyssey, xi. 593). The reason for this punishment is not mentioned in Homer, and is obscure; according to some, he had revealed the designs of the gods to mortals, according to others, he was in the habit of attacking and murdering travellers.
And then there’s Camus: If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals.
So in other words, he wasn’t being punished for being lazy or arrogant. He was either being punished for being a highwayman, or for being too clever, too wise, always a problematic condition to have around the gods (re: Prometheus). So that’s what the gods thought of the ‘work hard, grow wise’ plan. It was actually ‘work hard, wise guy’.
Oh, by the way. I agree that giving the government money is like giving money to a committee composed of randomly selected members of different levels of intelligence, and then telling them to spend it all, on whatever they can think of, or you won’t give them as much next year. I believe in the effectiveness of private philanthropy.
But it struck me as politically inconsistent for you to insist on small government, and then expect some sort of dignity from work, considering that without some sort of rule of law, all this hard work no matter how dignified and wise will amount to nothing in the face of unscrupulous merchants in the marketplace (working their hardest to screw their fellow man, I might add), brigands on the way to market, or claim property rights over the object of their labor. I think you expect what works for Small Town, USA (one mayor, one sheriff, no judge, everyone happy — and this is debatable as well) to work for the whole world, or at least an entire nation.
Unfortunately this isn’t an indefinitely extensible model of government.
PG and Jenner are quite correct, few people would peg me as a socialist. PG would most likely loosely classify me as right-wing. I’m more of an egotistical realist. By which I mean that compassionate or “greater good” policies should benefit the prevailing oligarchy in some way (e.g., a tax break) and that ambition/avarice should be accepted. Acceptance does not involve condoning such behavior/thinking, nor does it imply approval, permission, promotion, etc. People will behave in a manner that benefits them. Occasionally, this results in altruism (read: enlightened self-interest). Altruists are out for a pay-off as well, they’re just willing to wait for it (e.g., cleaner air, fairer social system, nation-wide economic development, going to “heaven”).
Thus, I find it naÃ¯ve to assume that someone who has performed “physical” or “menial” labor (such as government work) would create policies that benefit laborers. (Look at Stalin.) When an individual with that sort of background is in the position to create or influence policy, they most likely have a dim (and possibly nostalgic in an unflattering way, akin to looking back at one’s high school yearbook photos) memory of their blue-collar past. Their current reality is one of a power-broker in the upper echelons of government and beyond the cordon-sanitaire. Good publicity and/or sizable tax breaks are incentives that foster “greater good” policies.
On the other hand, who’s to say that Peanut Tookisheim, dilletante heir of the Duke of Tookisheim, wouldn’t advocate worker/labor friendly legislation? He might be trying to get into the pants of a virtuous woman or merely obtained a wonderful foot spa. (Maybe he’s an eco-nut.) Or maybe, just maybe, you don’t need to have experienced something to believe in it. Being a single young woman, I’m pretty sure I’ll never be afflicted with erectile dysfunction, but you can bet your blue collar booties that I’m an interested stakeholder. (By the way, this particular -ism your argument is based on is called ‘essentialism’.)
So, does the “problem with government” stem from a systematic failure or a psychological one? Guess which assumption involves more personal change and effort (and therefore cost), and guess which one everybody picks so that they can merrily complain and feel that they’re “doing something” about it. But then, isn’t effort work? Opportunity for wisdom here. Wonder why all these laborers don’t seize the opportunity, seeing as they’re so wise.
According to Albert Camus: If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals. According to another tradition, however, he was disposed to practice the profession of highwayman. I see no contradiction in this. Opinions differ as to the reasons why he became the futile laborer of the underworld. To begin with, he is accused of a certain levity in regard to the gods. He stole their secrets. Egina, the daughter of Esopus, was carried off by Jupiter. The father was shocked by that disappearance and complained to Sisyphus. He, who knew of the abduction, offered to tell about it on condition that Esopu s would give water to the citadel of Corinth. To the celestial thunderbolts he preferred the benediction of water. He was punished for this in the underworld. Homer tells us also that Sisyphus had put Death in chains. Pluto could not endure the sight of h is deserted, silent empire. He dispatched the god of war, who liberated Death from the hands of her conqueror.
It is said that Sisyphus, being near to death, rashly wanted to test his wife’s love. He ordered her to cast his unburied body into the middle of the public square. Sisyphus woke up in the underworld. And there, annoyed by an obedience so contrary to human love, he obtained from Pluto permission to return to earth in order to chastise his wife. But when he had seen again the face of this world, enjoyed water and sun, warm stones and the sea, he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness. Recalls, signs of anger, warnings were of no avail. Many years more he lived facing the curve of the gulf, the sparkling sea, and the smiles of earth. A decree of the gods w as necessary. Mercury came and seized the impudent man by the collar and, snatching him from his joys, lead him forcibly back to the underworld, where his rock was ready for him.
Casualsavant, that is a straw man argument. I did not say that someone who has worked for a living would be necessarily be good at governance. I said the converse; someone who hasn’t ever worked for a living is more likely to be bad at governance.
Essentialism? Maybe, but you can describe almost any generalized argument as essentialist, the definition is rather broad. I agree with Jenner’s sarcasm, screw Plato. He was an essentialist, and the best thing to be learned from his essentialism is that very bad logical constructs can be made on a base of nothing but essentialist arguments. Just about every -ism that has plagued Europe for the past hundred years or so is based on his fallacies of omission, the biggest ones being every man/woman’s ambition as you mentioned, and that people need to be told how to conduct their lives. For Machiavelli ambition was a given, and something to be either harnessed or supressed.
I’m not an anarchist, of course mankind needs a framework of laws, checks, and balances to keep people honest. But less is more, government is a necessary evil, and government involvement in anything should be resisted unless it is necesary, not merely beneficial. If you play with snakes, you are going to get bitten.
Ah, sounds like the Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance. Shades of Phaedrus 🙂
In the absence of any means to determine otherwise, I’ll take that as a compliment. It’s been fun.
It is one, sort of, since I love that book. But it’s also recognition that you’ve played the ‘logic is crap’ card via the ‘Plato and Socrates ruined Western Philosophy by introducing Reason’ route. It’s rather difficult to continue on debating with someone who plays that card. It’s akin to returning to a chess position you’ve been analyzing and realizing that your opponent has replaced the 8×8 board with Monopoly, your King is Just Visiting, and your Queen has just won $10 in a beauty pageant.
So yes, it’s been fun, but I’m not sure I’m in the mood for debating along the lines of the medieval ‘There are seven days in God’s creation hence there must be seven celestial bodies’ analogy any longer.
Reason is crap? Creation? You’re putting quite a few words in my mouth to say the least. Plato was excellent at reason, to good for his own good. His political theories were absolutely horrible, and were the foundation of communism, socialism, “benevolent dictatorships” and the like. According to him, democracy and self-determination were stupid ideas bound for failure. Personal liberty something to be sneered at; the proles must serve in their basic function decided by someone else, stay there their entire lives, and be happy about it. So sorry if I find those ideas to be repulsive, and completely disproven by history. Yes Plato was very intelligent, but he was also a fool. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Talking of the ancients, here is a philosophical pitfall, or perhaps, pratfall:
In ancient Greece (469 – 399 BC), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said, “Socrates , do you know what I just heard about one of your students?”
“Wait a moment,” Socrates replied. “Before you tell me I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Triple Filter Test.”
“Triple filter?” asked the acquaintance.
“That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my student let’s take a moment to filter what you’re going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”
“No,” the man said, “actually I just heard about it.”
“All right,” said Socrates . “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?”
“No, on the contrary …”.
“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, even though you’re not certain it’s true?”.
The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.
Socrates continued.” You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter – the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?”
“No, not really …”
“Well,” concluded Socrates , “if what you want to tell me is neither
True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?”
The man was defeated and ashamed.
This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem. It also explains why he never found out that Plato was shagging his wife.
(The old ones are good, but the really ancient ones are even better!)