Life, Liberty, and the Subsequent Pursuit

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: An author’s blog is like a peek up a transvestite’s skirt. Instead of something special, all you find is another dick.

Happy belated 4th of July to all you Americans.

Since self-satisfied piety is the order of the day for so many Canadians these days I thought I would take some time out to – surprise-surprise – dissent.

I lived in Nashville, TN for some three years while I studied at that bastion of southern privilege, Vanderbilt. This was during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and the resulting impeachment hearings. And for all the carnival absurdity of those days I actually found myself falling in love with the American system of government.

I came to several conclusions during that time. First, I realized that Canadians spend a whole helluva lot more time talking about ‘being Canadian’ than American’s spend talking about being American. Second, I realized that the differences between various populations within America are generally greater than the differences between Canadians and Americans (which is probably why so many Canadians spend so much more time talking about being Canadian). Third, I realized that Canadians, on average, are more cosmopolitan than Americans – probably because our per capita immigration rates are so much higher. Fourth, I decided the rural/urban divide is much more pronounced in the US. Cowpokes and city-folk just don’t seem to mix as well down there as here.

But there’s a couple of realizations I want to single out in particular: First, that class distinctions are far more prevalent in America. I know that, despite the ‘land of opportunity’ mythology, impoverished Americans are far less likely to jump income brackets than the poor in pretty much any other industrialized nation, and I find myself wondering if this lack of economic mobility, combined with fracturing of modern media, where competition to appease our hunger for confirmation and flattery is nothing short of fierce, has led to a troubling cultural stratification.

Second, that the American system of government is amazingly robust. The thing that Canadians generally fail to realize is that Americans, in terms on feet on the ground, don’t have that many more politicians than we do – at least at the national level. And yet, in terms of population and money, those politicians find themselves juggling at least ten times as many balls. Think of Washington as a ship braving tempests ten times more severe than the HMCS Ottawa. And yet somehow, despite the crazy swells of capital, the blasting gusts of mercantile power, the ship does not capsize.

Not yet.

Lately, I’ve been hearing quite a few right-wingers saying that they believe in liberty, not equity. Though I appreciate the rhetorical force of this slogan – in a climate of PC fatigue, ‘equity’ has taken on an oppressive odour – logically it strikes me dubious in the extreme. Liberty? Liberty from what? From the unjust excesses of the market? From poverty? From the lack of opportunity? No. From the government – as though vast public bureaucracies that people can replace every few years is worse than vast private bureaucracies that only shareholders can replace. A very selective, self-serving definition of liberty indeed.

In the market, he with the bargaining power wins. Given our hardwired tendency to confuse self-interest with natural law or divine edict, it stands to reason that those with the bargaining power would think that the accumulation of more bargaining power is in everybody’s best interest. And that they would correspondingly come to think that legislative constraints on their power, constraints enacted in the name of equity, are damaging to the well-being of everyone.

Since, as research shows, our attitudes are generally fixed by who gets to us first, it should be no surprise that these bargainers would command wide sympathy among those with little or no bargaining power – in many cases, among those who actually depend on government redistribution. Think of all the Medicare grannies at those Tea Party rallies.

Well, all I can say is, keep strangling the middle-class, and we’ll see how everybody is better off serving your preposterous wealth – you included. In the meantime, how about considering liberty and equity? Modern democracy isn’t about one or the other, it’s about walking the messy tight-rope of a million feet.

Fears aside, Canadians and others would do well to remember that, given the yardstick of history, America is pretty much the first imperial power to hold itself somewhat accountable to their ideals. American self-interest is not bald. And this, considering the human track record, is out and out extraordinary. Of course, it’s fucked up. That’s what happens when you lock 300 humans in a can, let alone 300 million.

When things like unions, science, and America are criticized my question is always, Compared to what? Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything falls short when held against the yardstick of imagined ideals. The United States really is unprecedented. Which is why I think every person on the planet should be thankful there is an America.

May we always be so.