July 29th, 2004

pod

This came out REALLY shitty for a variety of reasons. Don't read it. boring.

I wanted to write about weight loss today, and I still will, but first I want to address today's Walter Williams column. In it he argues about the evils of socialism, claiming that any time the government takes money from one person and then distributes it to someone else (including if that distribution comes as goods and services) it is the equivalent of theft. This is the classic libertarian argument and it may, to some, resemble the argument I made yesterday about how graft heavily undermines the taxation system. Needless to say I don't agree with Williams, in fact I disagree quite strongly.

I think every reasonable person accepts that human beings need some sort of government. The law of the jungle works decently for the Alpha lion in the prime of his youth, but it screws over pretty much everybody else. So we all accept that we need some sort of official association to keep the alpha lions and other predators in check. This is the function of government undertaken by our police and military forces. Since a group of organized beta lions can easily keep a single alpha in check (not to say that there are no alphas in our military, but rather that even if the strongest person wanted to impose his will on society it wouldn't take more than a dozen or so average people to restrain him) this works pretty well and, in a functional society, people feel relatively safe. Of course there are always problems, primarily that police function is at its core responsive and also that it is possible to evade, but few people disagree with the principle of armed protection for the citizenry. (There are many people who take issue with how this protection is recruited or utilized, such as those in militias who fear government repression for what they believe to be legitimate actions, but I've yet to meet anybody who wasn't a complete loon and believed that in the realm of personal protection every person should stand for himself.) Furthermore, most agree that this protection should be extended to areas outside immediate physical harm, like protection from fraud and theft.

This is the minimum required to have a functional government, and it's pretty much what we had in the middle ages. The monarch made a few efforts to protect the populace from being murdered by rampaging hordes, and beyond that left it to its own devices, except when he wanted to claim his taxes or claim the right of prima noctae. Of course many local lords took it upon themselves to do nasty things to those under their purview, and there was always the church doing its incredibly complicated churchy thing, but the basic idea remains the same. The government was responsible for physical safety, full stop. This, of course, has changed over time. We now expect quite a bit more from our government. Some of it seems like a natural extension of the policing function. Fire departments, some sort of emergency medical care, civil courts, that sort of thing. Some of the functions are a bit less limited, and here we find things like public works and road maintenance. These are functions that could reasonably be carried out by private individuals, but that most people would agree are best left in the public sphere. We've had privately held transportation channels in the past, most notably in railroads. It was a bit of a mess, with all kinds of different gages being laid and a lot more transfering from train to train than people liked. Eventually government supported companies emerged, became huge sources of graft, and laid the track that modernized the nation.

In point of fact, many of the great companies that forged America's industrial past were induspitably aided, or even reliant, on the government. From land grants to mineral rights the government has always been a part of American capitalism. We like to forget this, to claim that these were companies that made their fortune through hard work and smarts. Hard work and smarts (along with ruthlessness and a loathing of 'lower' humanity only matched in modern times by televangelists) did play a part, but so did government intervention and support. Many of today's great businesses relied on government orders to grow themselves to a respectable side. Even Microsoft can be traced to a government program. Bill Gates' father went to college on a GI bill. Without that it is unlikely he would have been able to give his sons the advantages that allowed him to explore and grow his intellect to the point where he was able to create that massive company.

As you may have noticed, we've now slipped past public works and into the realm of public largesse, the area that Williams declared no different than outright theft. Here's the thing, though. There are no great fortunes in America that can not be traced back, in large part, to government largesse. It just can't be done, because in early America almost everyone recieved government largesse. The settlers who went west got land. You could argue that the land was just there for the taking and the government wasn't really involved (The injuns might not agree, but we tend to ignore them except when we realize that we're ignoring them and then we pay them lip service) but that's not the case. Government enforced land rights, provided postal services, and did all sorts of other things that allowed those settlers to survive and prosper in much greater numbers than those who recieved no external governmental support, such as the piteous dead of Jamestown. So, to say that the government should cease all involvement in distribution is rather silly. It's saying that we should accept the way that things were carved up back then, even though it was unfair and blatently disciminatory, and move on. Kind of silly, in my view.

Of course government redistribution of goods doesn't rest solely on the "well everybody else did it" principle. The more important principle it rests on, at least for me, is the fact that property rights are among the least important rights in a society. There are people who believe that the right to property is up there with the right to life, freedom from slavery, and freedom of speech. I do not. If you take away my Xbox I'll be upset and possibly angry. If you take away my freedom of expression, I will be devastated and fight you to the death to win it back. There are many rights that trump property rights, and among them are the right to food, medicine, and opportunity. People like Williams claim that food stamps are a form of theft, but I ask what right the baker has to keep his bread away from the mouths of hungry children? Because he baked it? Because he owns it? I think he has no right to plenty while others are starving. He can feed and care for his own family's well-being first (keep enough bread to trade for warmth in the winter, clothing for his family etc...) He does not, however, have a right to luxuries if there are others whose health is in danger. As a society it is our responsibility to provide for the least advantaged and even the laziest among us. If you want to call that pulling a "Robin Hood" and robbing the rich, I think that's fine.

Basically it boils down to this. It's only through having a stable government that promotes economic development that large numbers of people become prosperous. Governments like that have a responsibility to take care of their citizens. If that requires people who can afford it to pay back some of their money to the government so that it can provide services to the less-fortunate, that should be a non-issue. It's not thievery, it's just payback, and on balance it's good for everyone. The government does have a responsibility to be a good steward of the people's money, but there's a difference between good stewardship and complete non-interference.
  • Current Music
    Counting Crows
pod

What is there, really, beyond death and sex? In that order.

The endorphins I get when I'm sweating in the New York sun allow me to face the collapsing shanty of my inner self without flinching. There's a lot of misery there, and even more frustration. Depression courses through my veins, it's written into the DNA stamped in every cell of my body and deeply engraved in the pathways of my brain, a network of black on a background of gray.

I recognize these bouts of depression for what they are, a psychic expression of a chemical defect. It doesn't mean they lack punch, though. Explanation is a lousy defense when it comes to affairs of the mind. I ride them out the best I can, trying to avoid using food as medication and to rationalize the feelings into, if not submission, then an uneasy truce.

These are dark times for me, though. My life isn't going the way I'd like and while plenty of that is due to my own inertia there are real hurdles that must be overcome. This summer has been devoted in part to fighting my weight and it has been reasonably successful in that respect. I still have a very long way to go, but I've made progress every week and I've developed a healthy attitude about weightloss. I've also wrenched myself free from emotional eating, channeling that urge into emotional exercise. I walk for miles and miles, until I can almost feel the muscles in my legs cannibalizing themselves and I return home after dark, walking under the trees, listening to the crickets. This summer was supposed to be devoted to creative endeavours as well. It has been a monstrous failure. I have a few things I want to write and I've gotten a few tidbits done, but not nearly what I would have liked. Parts of that are due to unforseen obstacles, financial and personal. A lot of it is due to me. I've been unable, or perhaps unwilling, to be as disciplined and agressive as I have to be. That's acceptable for a couple of months, but it's getting to be more than that now and I have to change. I understand that intellectually but it's not an intellectual issue. It's a motivation and confidence issue. I can accept it for now, but what I worry about is whether I'll ever be able to get myself in gear. I have a problem self-motivating, and it's not easy to deal with. I probably need to just take the next job offered, no matter how heinous it is. At the very least it will give me grist for the mill and a good idea of what my fate will be if I can't get myself churning out the work. I have an idea for a story now that I'm going to write this weekend even if it kills me.

Sometimes I look inside myself and I see nothing there. It's very disconcerting. I know that I can be dynamic and exciting, but I can't call it up at will and at times I feel empty. Creativity has been credited to muses and gods for as long as people have been memorizing and telling stories, long before there were alphabets or written records of their works. I don't believe in any of that, I am a rational person and I think that the human brain is a gloriously complicated mess more than capable of churning out the millions upon millions of works that mankind has produced. On the other hand, sometimes the well does feel dry, and you just don't know how to call up more waters from below. It feels out of your hands, and at these points you would love to have a muse to blame or to invoke. I understand the impulse to throw oneself upon the mercy of divinity, just not the the rationale for actually doing so. What I need is stimulation, of a different kind than I've been getting. Stimulation that can only come from a radical shift in environment. I could travel or move, but I think that my first choice needs to be work. Many would be artists dream of the day when they can quit their day job. I need to find one.

My shrink told me, today, that I don't want a relationship. That's not true, I don't think myself capable of one. I don't believe that I have the discipline or the necessary qualities. I doubt I ever will. Despite routine accusations of arrogance I am my most strident self-critic. I don't have any trouble seeing my flaws. They are as clear as day to me and I could write about them endlessly, wallow in them as it were, but I don't believe that would be constructive. I don't think it would be worth reading either. These are the entries that I want to hide, not to expose to public view, because I know there are people who will read them and come away with the wrong perception. I am writing about a single facet of self, in order to record it, study it, and expunge some of the demons that reside within. It isn't a particularly interesting process for those on the outside. This is a society that revels in self-examination but has trouble examining others. I think the writing here is clear and strong, but it is futile because the subject is all wrong. I need to match style and substance in the right way. Perhaps I should make this journal entirely private, or share it only with those I know and trust. Perhaps I should keep it to the occasional essay or story that pleases me. It's not the process as I originally envisioned it, but I don't want to inflict these entries on the world at large and I don't want to restrict them. They are valves for my built up frustration that allow me to maintain my sanity. By the time I am done writing one I almost always feel better, relaxed and recomposed like a state of post-orgasmic bliss. I am conflicted, though. It's exhibisionist tripe. Now it's self-referential exhibisionist tripe.

Each day is a new one. We cannot bear the collected weights of our mistakes and failures upon our shoulders. It would be an unbearable burden for any human. I think one of the most important goals I need to set is to lay those weights down in the past where they belong and keep moving forward. Every life is a web of failure and disapointment, interwoven with the thin golden threads of success. Hemmingway was a drunk who shot himself, Ted Kennedy drinks like a fish and killed a young woman, Socrates used to sexually abuse young boys, and man was he ugly. I could talk about the failures and misteps of George W Bush, but I would like to get to sleep at some point. We don't hear about the failures, at least not often enough to accept their magnitude. We must learn about them for ourselves, in our own lives, with our own sweat and tears. To err is human. To transcend is divine.

P.S. John Kerry's speech was better than I expected but still rather stinky. There were a bunch of gaffs on his part, and plenty of non-sequitors and sillyness. One particularly amusing thing is that when it ended they put on "Beautiful Day" by U2. Right before that he was chattering on about "America this" "America that." They couldn't find an American tune to play? He entered to a totally inappropriate Bruce Springstein song. He should have gone with something more his speed, like The Mamas and the Papas, or Enya.
  • Current Music
    Chris Isaac - Baja Sessions