Friday, January 20, 2012

Night Thoughts of a Baffled Humanist

I was talking to a long time friend a few days ago about the current state of affairs that not only our nation faces but that the planet as a whole faces, i.e., the economy, the worldwide demonstrations, pollution, etc... He mentioned that he was going to send me an article but forewarned me that it was a bit long and difficult at times but that he thought I would appreciate.

I found this article very interesting and wanted to pass it on in part because I thought it covers so much that we take for granted and also because it is so well written… It was written by Marilynne Robinson who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005...

Night Thoughts of a Baffled Humanist
By Marilynne Robinson

This brings me back to the subject of competition, great ally of austerity. There is the ancient habit of competition among nations, for the biggest fleet, for access to commodities, for colonies, for the technologies of warfare. Even cultural competition is ancient; for example, the Roman desire for an epic to compare with Homer’s. I know Americans are supposed to believe in competition. I think it is wasteful and undignified in most cases.

Our competition with the Russians, insofar as it was cultural, was harmless to moderately beneficial. Insofar as it was military, it was disastrous for both sides. I am speaking of those stockpiles and everything that has gone into the making of them. But the story that has currency is that we competed with the Russians and we won. So there is a heightened and ongoing zeal for competition, without a continental power on the other side of the earth to dignify the role of competitor. Since September 11, 2001, some have attempted to put radical Islam in the place of godless communism. But the Muslim world is too diverse, too important to Western interests, too indifferent to the Tchaikovsky competition and speed skating, to fill the role. In need of the focus that comes with having an alien and threatening government to contend with, an appreciable number of Americans choose to consider their government alien and threatening, and, for good measure, socialist. Again, this kind of thinking is eminently compatible with austerity, as the redistributive activities of government are exactly what they choose to be austere about. Other alternatives include returning tax rates for the very wealthy to historically typical levels and cutting subsidies to oil companies. Or there could be a candid admission that the responsibilities of the government involve it in great expense. None of these options ignite populist zeal. This is reserved for attacks—call them “austerities”—directed toward public schools, Social Security, national healthcare, the laws that protect air and water quality.


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