His speech was not just preoccupied with our sameness - though he does compare the wall in Berlin to many other walls across the world - but recognized the differences too, and left us thinking of those. It did not place History over Nature, but quite the opposite. Obama does not add a wisdom or a lyricism to oppression or lack of liberty (as the intellectual tradition upon which Poulos rests his claims would accuse) but in fact asks us to recognize the impulse to "build walls" as historical rather than human. Obama's speech does scour nature and ask us to change how we behave -- it asks us to stand against the weight of history, not to accredit it wisdom.
Sure. Obama's pitch has its appeal. But we have got to be clear that there are many different kinds of walls...that some walls merit criticism, or destruction, and others do not...and that distance -- of which the kind created by walls is but one easy instantiation -- is as natural and essential to human social order as closeness. On the left, the primary strategy to close bad human distances has been the extension of political equality and its coercive enforcement. Oftentimes, this has improved justice. Sometimes, in its more obsessive, totalitarian, and transgressive forms, it has destroyed justice, sacredness, and a decent ordinary life besides. I'm the last righty blogger to claim that Obama's a Marxist. I'm comfortable sensing that he isn't any more of a Marxist than I am (and I've repeated often enough my admiration for Marx's critique of the dislocating and alienating and leveling powers of capitalism). But Obama is a very American heir to a long, storied tradition on the left that views political power as the instrumental means to the realization of super-political ends, and equal citizenship as the only means by which the coercive exercise of force by moral elites can be legitimized in its drive toward the transcendence of politics and the replacement of imperfect justice with the social brotherhood of man.
So citizenship, which in my view is an equality that incorporates and depends on the presence of civil distances between and among citizens, appears on the left view as an equality that incorporates and depends on the closing of civil distances, as a sort of cathartic calisthenic preliminary to the closing of personal distances and the realization of full human solidarity. I view citizenship as the necessary imperfect substitute for the impossibility of solidarity, which is an absurd but God-given longing that has been exacerbated and twisted out of shape by those who deny that heavenly solidarity is either real or possible or -- aha -- total.
And so I have an ambivalent and nuanced understanding and feeling about walls -- much more so than Arendt, for example, who in typical European fashion sees them in all-or-nothing terms: stark dichotomies, private versus public, abstract ramparts, a Symbol in the Firmament of Philosophy. Nonsense. We have invented lots of different kinds of walls, freighted with lots of different kinds of real and symbolic and practical and ornamental and explicit and implicit and hostile and reticent and polite and useful meaning. In practice, one can get pretty close to Kantian world hospitality without beating every last wall into a superhighway for cosmopolitan migrants. Including the 'walls' of sovereignty, of which there may be many different types. Talk of world citizenship is talk of transcending any such walls in a way that somehow always appears as a current reality of the present and an ecstatic vision of the future. And I can't go for that...especially because I'm so firmly convinced that we have real alternatives for interrelating with one another and amongst our various human groups on terms of true friendship, mutual benefit, and general peace.
1. John Schwenkler, that fake conservative on a laughably transparent pinko-commie rebranding trip, has lots of goodies up this week, but this one says all that needs to be said -- and all I was thinking of saying this afternoon -- on the concept of universal higher education.
3. This story makes me want to kill myself. Is there a pill for that? Now depressed women can have all those mirthless orgasms they'll still be emotionally unable to pine for. It's an off-label world, and we're just surviving in it.
4. I have no moral problem with this in isolated-event form, but it is a pretty dishonorable way of warfighting. And what a practical nightmare we're working on unleashing. What a lot less fun when they are finally read to blacken our sky with drones. My evil colleague sitting across from me says this is why we have to start the arms race -- before they do. What would Machiavelli do? Extol the virtues of the Swiss mountain people, that's what.
* That is what Ken says during his flying hurricane kick. Isn't it?!
2. It's not an official editorial statement, but Al Jazeera is running commentary like this:
others in the region are more optimistic and see the Union not as a
zero-sum process, but rather one that will pave the way towards
implementing substantial progress and cementing partnerships that would
ultimately benefit all the countries of the Mediterranean.
is this sense of optimism that the organisation's foreign ministers
will use when they meet in November, to decide on a permanent home for
the secretariat of the Union and a number of other specific projects
that were suggested during the summit.
Either way, France has
taken the lead - and the risk - and succeeded in bringing everyone on
board, with the exception of Libya.
[...] But more importantly, the Paris summit also stands in stark contrast
to the US position, as voiced by George Bush, the US president, (from
the Israeli Knesset in June) that Europe and the Middle East not speak
to radicals and "terrorists".
3. Without getting too overheated about it -- because this song keeps playing in my head, something called "No War With Iran's Gonna Happen (Least Till Next Time)" -- let me second Daniel and Pat Buchanan as forcefully as I can: war with Iran is not in the American, Israeli, or Arab interest. Not to mention it looks awful for Turkey and Iran as well. I've been on the record against war and for negotiations for a couple of years, now, but the sticking point is this: it very much is in Israel's interest, and ours, for Israel to successfully blow up the Iranian nuclear program without triggering a general Middle Eastern war. The really dangerous delusion haunting us now is the notion that this just might work. Because it might! But it won't.
5. Shawn Macomber charts the continuing transformation of Tyra Banks into crosslegged barefoot therapeutic goddess Shethang, the beast with eight hundred foreheads.
6. Red Spam: Chinese communists junk-emailing God-fearing Americans!
7. Ezra sees a gulf of sanity and intelligence between Obama and Romney on jihadery and Islam. But during the primary season Romney struck me as the only 'big league' Republican candidate with any kind of nuanced vision of America's 'role' in the 'Arab world.' Yes, he's wrong to think we need to lead Muslims into modernity -- they're already there, and that's why some of them have been radicalized into crazy nihilists and savage reactionaries -- but I read him as saying the following: the Arab/Muslim world is a fluid realm of different allegiances and faiths, but jihadists are a brutally united cadre of freaks that cross these subtle boundaries with their common devotion to killing innocents, and so they all must be treated as the innocent-killers they are, without regard to their particular sect or sub-identity. I think that's pretty oversimplified, but it's an arguable claim: "This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim
Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the
collapse of all moderate Islamic governments" -- ? To this I answer "yes but," not "no."
8. For the record, I'm also hearing some pretty sketchy rumblings about Wachovia. Not good, dog.
conservatives no doubt will ask, "What's the point of electing an
ideologically unsound Republican president who is almost certain to
further damage the GOP 'brand'?"
A fair question, and it's hard
to summon a positive argument in response. But the purely negative
argument -- the potential benefit of dealing the Democrats their third
consecutive presidential loss -- is not entirely without merit.
[...] Granted, there's no
civic virtue in electing a Republican president purely for the pleasure
of crushing the hopes of liberals. But wouldn't it be fun? -- Stacy McCain
Maybe. I don't know. In the best of all possible worlds? Could be. In real life? Not actually. Because after beating Obama, all tomorrow's problems would still be ours to confront and solve. Which is fine, or is one thing, but look out Elephant Co.: will a freshet of hot new ideas reallycome pulsing out of a McCain administration? One which has to govern under a Democratic -- probably a fiercely Democratic -- Congress?
Win or lose, Republicans face a reckoning. And there's no hoping for a draw; you see how that turned out in 2000. Beating the other guy is usually fun, but cleaning up one's act under conditions of extreme time pressure and partisan dogfighting, internecine and otherwise, is not. Go and sin no more.
Like Barack Obama, whose infamous 'bitter' comment has entered into the public lexicon this election season, Phil Gramm -- a man I was sure would never be in the news again -- has given us 'whiners', the 'wimps' of 2008. His apologia runs as follows:
"what I meant is that American leaders are whiners -- they've got
excuses for everything," he said Thursday, adding that some look for
scapegoats instead of addressing problems. He criticized Obama for
blaming oil companies and speculators for higher gas prices, rather
than supporting more oil and gas drilling and nuclear power -- as
“Gramm defended his recession comments, saying
journalists have been ‘amplifying bad economic news’ and too many
people believe things are worse than they really are. -- MSNBC
Whatever. The point is that Americans are whiners, but also sometimes not whiners. They are sometimes whiners about bad actual things they can't affect, and sometimes whiners about stupid things (my gas is going up! It'll cost so much to drive to Starbucks!) but not about much less stupid things (I won't be able to afford heat this winter!). Gramm's rhetoric is so troublesome because it's so falsely polarizing -- in a world where there are two types of people, whiners and nonwhiners, a redress of grievances is impossible, because there are no grievances worthy of the name.
Sorting whines from grievances is a critical task of politics -- witness the housing situation, where many irresponsible buyers and their irresponsible corporate partners whine for money they should've had the foresight to keep in the first place. But sorting appropriately, with dispassionate conservatism, is a task made more, not less, difficult by the likes of Gramm's sweeping generalizations.
Flint, MI, one of the biggest hellholes in America, is trying to get a grip on things by criminalizing sagging. I don't know if this would be my way of improving city life at the margins, but I do think -- as I scroll down through the long and colorful and occasionally hilarious list of comments at Hit & Run -- that it's exceptionally easy to ridicule this new slate of laws at a safe distance from Flint, MI. We are dealing with a profoundly decayed polity, here. I'm fairly confident that a statewide law banning the exposure of underpants would run afoul of a number of judicial and commonsensical judgments, but I'm also pretty sure that nobody has a constitutional or moral right to hang their boxer-clad ass out of their jeans in Flint, MI.
The wealthy "aren't locked in to being here in California," said
Senate Budget Committee Vice Chairman Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga). -- LAT
It's simple, really: the California government spends money it doesn't have and then takes some from whoever has the most. At least state legislators have a common-sense idea of what rich is -- wealth penalties would affect $321,000-earning families to the tune of a 7.5% increase, families with $642,000 to the sourer tune of a whopping 18% increase. Tough times, but nowhere near as outrageous as the standard Kerry/Clinton line that if a husband and wife (with four kids) each make $100,000 in pretax income then they're not a working family but a rich one.
But Vice Chairman Dutton is right -- not even the rich have a right to live in California. One possible problem with my mobile-society defense of (fairly) radical federalism is that it's easier for the rich to leave than the poor. Another problem could be that legislators will cater to the rich in order to keep them from moving away. But it's arguable that the wealthy are often so plugged into the social and economic networks of their jobs and peer groups that moving away is simply not possible. And obviously here with California you have legislators basically betting on the likelihood that that's true. Fair? Not really. Just? Yes. Rotten policy? Of course. Why? Because California can't afford its 'social' spending. And California's spending anyway. Just as rich people don't have a political or moral right to live in California (although of course rich California citizens have a political right not to be kicked out of California), they don't have a duty to give away their money until people stop asking (unless of course tax increases are passed and they elect to stay in California, but that's no moral duty).
(An example, PS, of why 'justice as fairness' seems like a mistake to me. Fairness is actually more exacting a standard than justice (at least sometimes, probably often, and maybe always; I'm still working that out). And it plays by different rules. If you think that standard is better than justice, say so; but don't say fairness should be justice, because then our legal institutions (especially courts) become organs designed for the manufacture and imposition of fairness -- which they are certainly not, and never should be, designed to do. The imposition of fairness can actually be -- unjust!
Megan picks up the thread with some sharp-sounding Actual Economist's Observations, noting that
places like Buffalo are still saddled with a tax-and-spend system that
they literally can't afford--the city recently ended up in receivership
despite large transfers from the state government.
McArdle readers and others should refer at once, if they haven't already, to Edward Glaeser's definitive City Journal piece from last year, Can Buffalo Ever Come Back?: Probably not—and government should stop bribing people to stay there.
I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams. -- Hamlet, Prince in Darkness
The best time capsule of the present time that I have come across lately is here, the latest entry in what seems to be an ongoing series of soul-searching wire reports. Pauline Arrillaga's coverage -- and the commentary of those she interviews -- speaks for itself. Best/worst line:
"There is a sense of helplessness everywhere you look. It's like you're stuck in one spot, and you can't do anything about it."