Sunday, January 25, 2009

It's Not That Simple

It's easy to get press if you simplify a problem so that any idiot can join a side and cheer for his ideology. In the Wall Street Journal video piece here, author Steve Moore is inteviewed about a book, which I won't read, purposely, about Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged. You can argue that this is ignorant of me but I have my reasons. I would push back that having actually read Atlas shrugged, having understood and liked portions of it myself kind of gives me some leeway.

I agree with Steve Moore on some rather key points -- I think the bailouts were wrong (I've said it here many times). I think big government is bad. But I feel compelled to point something out that is far more dire -- Atlas Shrugged is a work of fiction. I don't need to read some authors lame posturing based upon a work of fiction to understand the problems we face today -- and I certainly don't need to read some book by someone who wants to superimpose a fantasy on top of our reality. Especially a fantasy written 50-some odd years ago.

Look, it's simple -- Ayn was trying to prevent the United States from turning into a socialist, communist or dictatorial state. The more government you get, the more dangerously close to this line we get. I'd argue that we're already partially there, what with buying into the banking and auto industries. We have a huge government, despite the professed belief in less government by the prior administration. We owe a huge debt to the Chinese, in part to help fund a war -- but also due to huge trade imbalances and a lack of manufacturing in the US.

Steve Moore, the author of the book, doesn't realize a major problem he's creating -- or possibly he does realize it and is part of some vast conspiracy of people that I would classify as ideological idiots. These are the people that, if the world ends sometime soon will be still doing the same thing. Picture them sitting among the ruin, shouting at shell-shocked passers-by saying "You liberals did this!". Just as stupid, sitting on top of some other pile of debris, will be some other idiot shouting something similar back about conservatives or big business.

And the truth will be far more painful to accept: if the world ends, it will be a mass of stupid human beings that allowed it to happen. Possibly part of the problem will be that they didn't figure out that problems are not liberal or conservative in nature -- the ability to classify things as someone else fault, instead of working through the issue as a cohesive society -- I believe that this is a big part of this problem. People want to adopt an ideology much like a brand. They want to believe in something. It's human nature.

For a great example of this, watch the video segment. Steve, in the interview over his book about a hypothetical book states clearly "Liberal's are going to say it was Free Markets that cause the collapse, and people like me and Ayn Rand would say 'No it's government programs' that created the crisis in the first place." During this time he's all smug and smiling -- he's reduced our current crisis to a "debate". I have a shocking concept for ya Steve: How about it was not quite that simple. Possibly the economic problems we're facing today can't be simplified into two sides of a debate that third-graders would have on a playground. Maybe it wasn't something quite so simple as the failure of "Free Markets" or "Government Programs" that got us here.

No, it's possible that what's caused the collapse of our present system is a multitude of variables. Rampant immorality by some corporate executives. Deregulated derivatives. Legislation that allowed sub-prime (and worse) mortgages. Banking executives that should have tempered their zest to make more money by not embracing things that they knew were high risk. People that wanted to own things that they could not afford. A contrived war in the Middle east that was funded by borrowing money from a Communist state. A lack of accountability by people in the executive wing -- of our country and businesses. People voting for politicians for the wrong reasons. People not caring about government. People not caring, period. Rampant lobbying. A lack of trust in government overall -- for really good reasons in some case.

In other words, I'm not objecting to Steve's embracing of the concepts in Atlas Shrugged -- I'm objecting to his desire to simplify the debate. To make a bold, callous, and stupid statement like the one above is counter-constructive. Has Steve missed the fact that all of the things I've mentioned here were spread across the at least the past 16 years of "Liberal and Conservative" leadership? No, I don't want to debate Steve on his view that all of the problem we're facing would go away if we could just get our government to not interfere. It's a nice fantasy, and it makes a good read. But it is, at the end of the day, a fantasy.

I have my own opinions: I think we need our government to interfere -- the right way. We need them to step in and tighten the rules for financial institutions, for example. We need to stimulate new ideas around reducing our energy dependence on foreign oil. We need to re-evaluate the wars we've taken on, how we're funding them, and our image on the global stage. We need some action, in other words, that's going to take unity of purpose and general cooperation. Do I think we need more people using the word liberal or conservative as hate speech? Get a clue here: No, I think I've seen enough idiotic ideology to last me a few decades, if not a lifetime.

None of the above items are liberal or conservative agenda items. All of them are pressing problems. To make some sort of lame debate around them at this hour might feel good, but haven't we had enough of this kind of stupidity? Atlas Shrugged is a wonderful read -- I loved the book, for what it's worth. It's view of the world and the weights that government add to productive business paint a terrific canvas for Ayn's philosophy.

Coming from Russia, Ayn obvious was obviously motivated to write something that would warn people away from totalitarian communistic society, and I can't blame her at all.

It isn't going to be a liberal or conservative point of view or stupid one-sided debate that gets us out of our present jam. It is going to be some smart politicians working together on solutions. Note the shift in my language here -- a point of view is an observers stance. A one-sided debate is something that Bill and Rush do for (sad) entertainment. Solutions are things that solve problems -- dialog is something you do to hold a constructive conversation. You can post comments to my blog and I will respond to them. That's dialog. You want to simplify reality and back it with a fantasy and say "You disagree with me because you're on one or the other side of a contrived debate" -- I'm not going to be involved.

Here's a thought -- maybe I disagree with simplification of extremely complex problems. Possibly I view this kind of simplification itself is a worse problem than the oil crisis. It's worse, in my opinion, than the economic crisis. It's worse than a lot of the things we face right now. Oversimplification is worse because it keeps people from working together on solving the obviously hard problems of the day.

Steve Moore feels good reading Ayn's book. Good for him! Give the man a lime sucker and have him join the 3rd-grade debate team that's probably already forming on the playground. I'd like to say this to Steve: It's fiction, man -- get over it. We're living in a real world with lots of complex problems. We don't need you to simplify these problems -- we need you to work with the rest of us who are trying to solve them. It's time for you to stop feeling smug about your fictionalized view of the world. Let's try something new -- let's try looking at problems as they exist in our complex society, free of the prism of liberalism or conservatism. Possibly then, after dropping this filter, people can truly understand what things like our government are for at the end of the day.

We don't need liberals and conservatives heaving rocks at each other over stupid ideology. I am not going to be blowing my time in stupid debates (cast from fictional work no less) -- look where it's taken our country these days. I sincerely believe that rabid, rampant partisanship has taken us here. I worry that more of the same is going to be what brings about the end of the world as we know it. I also sincerely believe that its going to be unity that gets us out of the mud at the end of the day.

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