Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Well said

My go-to worldview is pessimism. I see a Times Square billboard promoting a musical that has its audience "dancing in the aisles" and I can't help but think, "That is a fire hazard."

—Sarah Vowell, on the Op-Ed Page of The New York Times

Sarah Vowell goes on to explain how she feels betrayed by her reliable old pessimism because despite it, she did not imagine at the outset of the current Bush administration the war, death, torture, and domestic spying that would result from Bush's incompetence and arrogance.

We have our jobs (if we are lucky), our homes (if we are luckier), and our families and friends (if we are even luckier), and that is more than many people ever have. In light of this the complaints of middle-class Americans seem fairly pathetic. Nevertheless, we must raise our voices against our leaders. They are advancing a dark agenda of corporate greed cloaked in the garments of Christian fundamentalism.

I don't regard Christian fundamentalism as sheep's clothing, but for many people it is acts as such, and it is used to change our country for the worse. These people running the United States are not the friends of true Christians, or true believers of any faith except the faith of corporate oligarchy. They don't even believe in free markets; "free trade" is just a rhetorical argument they trot out when it is convenient. Halliburton has not exactly had to compete in an open market for its government contracts. Yet working-class people vote for these greedheads because they believe that under such an administration something will be done about our society's supposed moral decline.

I don't believe America's morals are any worse today than they have been in the past. One could, in fact, cite many examples of how we treat our fellow humans better now than we have in the past: There is no slavery. Child labor is against the law. Women and men have equal legal protection (if not equal economic power). Lesbian and gay people can live openly in many places. There is a minimum wage people must be paid for their work (even if it is a poverty-level wage). We have wide access to clean drinking water.

Our society is far from perfect, but it is also far from awful. It has changed a great deal in recent decades, however, and it will continue to change with at a pace that will leave many of us uncomfortable. That is the story of recent history: The advance of modernity. We are no less moral than our ancestors, but we have so many more choices than they do. This is frightening. Humans have gone from what was for the mass of people an agrarian, pre-industrial society to the present world in a matter of a few generations. There is no precedent for what we are experiencing. No wonder people are prone to simplistic ideas that purport to explain how we can feel secure.

"If only abortion were illegal, the world would be a better place." It seems absurd when one puts it this way, but this is the bill of goods being sold by the Right. How outlawing abortion provides decent, secure jobs for people or affordable health care or safety from criminals is beyond me. How spying on Americans and torturing people makes our airports or container ports any safer is also not clear to me. Investing in screening devices for shipping containers might be a better use of our tax money, but that is merely an off-the-cuff idea. Just don't award the contract to build such screening devices to Halliburton.

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