Snow, Scheming, and Socialism

As someone who loves sunlight and hates twilight, winter is not so fun and can seem very long at times.  January and February, in my mind, might as well be one long, wretched month, frosted by a bitter cold unmitigated by the Christmas lights and holiday cheer of December.  Many of us spend December wondering where the previous year went and then pass the time in January and February waiting impatiently for spring.  Such is human nature.

Despite all this, I found myself recently enjoying a late night walk through a mild snow storm that passed through my city just before the clouds broke and we were bejewelled with a glorious week-long Indian summer.  I really thought that the four or so blocks between the subway and my house would be a miserable passage, an opportunity to get my feet wet—literally—and to catch a cold, perhaps, as well.

Better instincts soon took over, however, for a walk through the snow makes it unmistakeably clear how a white blanket can transform the world.  Everything is quiet, and perhaps what is best, most people stay home.   Snow forces us to slow down, both within and without, to ponder, to give thanks, to pause and simply wonder at the beauty of the world.

I tend to use such opportunities to think a little too much, and perhaps to put together painfully right-brained blog posts that might well border on the incomprehensible.  Be that as it may, I used this quiet walk through the snow to think about my life, and about the way it has crystallized thus far.  This may seem to be a narcissistic exercise but in truth it is important to look in the rear view mirror from time to time, not looking for our sins of commission and omission, as we tend to do a bit too often, but rather looking for the ways in which things have come together, how fate has transformed our imbecilities into blessings.   Such introspection reveals the uncanny turns our lives have taken, the surprises and the magnanimous gifts that have fallen into our laps, having dropped seemingly right out of the azure sky.

These surprises and gifts, both the good and the bad, have a way of making a mockery of our most dearly-held plans and aspirations.  How many of us are now exactly where we thought we’d be, or where we thought we wanted to be, ten years ago?  We scheme and we plan; we dump thousands of dollars into college degrees; and we make all the right connections.   But to no avail!  Our best laid plans go astray, as Steinbeck once said.

Yet how many of us sincerely regret these strange twists that the vicissitudes of life have put us through?  Have they not been, in the main, fortuitous?  Take friendship, for example.  There is an old saying that your friends you can choose, but that there’s no getting away from your relatives.  Even with friendships, though, there is a great element of mystery, much more than a simple of dynamic of “I choose you; let us be friends.”  I have a number of friends with whom it is not uncommon to sit around and muse, “So why are we friends again?’  Most of my friends are egalitarians, but I am a “snob” as many would say.  (Really, I’m just a merit-ocrat.)  Most of my friends are Statists, but I am an anarcho-capitalist.  Most of my friends listen to dreadful music, but I will settle only for the upper crust variety of artistic delights.  Even so, there is something that binds us together, a mysterious force that is hardly in keeping with our proud notions of what it means to plan a life.

And so it goes.  Random things and incomprehensible things cook together.  The hurried phone call to a friend, the unexpected job offer, a rushed coffee hour, the surprising book deal, a beer (or three or four) after a hard day at work—all this comes together, and in the current moment it may all seem incomprehensible, but with the passing of years and the added context of further events, it all starts to make sense (hence the limits of “living in the moment”).

Some look at these graces—and by that I mean these things which we could never gain of our own efforts—and say that it is a perfect illustration of the meaningless randomness of life.  We are evolving in a confused, nihilistic mess of violence, theft, and sex.  Others call it fate; others call it the grace of God.  Whatever the case may be, these gifts and mysteries of life illustrate the limits of our planning and scheming.  The best things in life are surprises, and even the seemingly earth-bound can have the air of mystery to it all.

Now, if we, even through our best efforts, cannot completely plan our own lives in neat and tidy ways, how are the distant bureaucrats of the State supposed to do it, these self-appointed masters of “urban planning” and other pseudo-sciences?  More than violating certain ideological views, these paper pushers are fighting human nature and the nature of life itself—a fool’s errand if ever there were one.  The State will always lose this battle because it is impossible to win.  Unfortunately, it brings down the citizenry along with it by destroying economies, currencies, and lives.  It goes against the grain of modern thought to say so, but the best societies have organized themselves to allow for contingency.  An indispensable part of that is an economy based on free exchange and a social order that is not based on violence or coercion.

All of this is, quite possibly, the long-winded way of saying that the State, and even more so, the socialist State is a violation not only of the manner in which humans act, but also of the human spirit.  The bureaucrat, in a very real sense, not only violates the freedom that God has given us, but also prevents the surprises that he would like to give us.  And that is not only a perversion of human nature as such, it is also a grave crime against humanity.

The News and Obscenity

I’m idling putzing around the house before I run out to get some things done today, and I’ve got the local Philadelphia news on the Idiot Box.  It’s really amazing what passes for news, and it’s also interesting how even in legitimate news stories the reporters waste so much time pleading for our sympathy.  We should be sensitive to tragedy, but I don’t need to be told how sad something is.

It would seem that there are certain things that are not meant for public eyes.  Richard Weaver points out that the real meaning of the word “obscenity” is “offstage.”  There were many things which the Greeks considered to be inappropriate for the stage, and these go far beyond our present standards, even to include weeping.

Contrast this with the news clown who asked a grieving family member how she felt about the violent death of a loved one.  Beyond the fact that it is a collossally stupid question, it’s simply not a dialogue that should be broadcast all over the place.

Of course, only good taste can solve this problem, so it would appear that we’re quite simply stuck with it.

As a side note, they showed the results of a few polls while I typed this.  Sixty-seven percent of Pennsylvanians are in favor of raising the cigarette tax.  Just wait until all these officious idiots are harassed by the government for some other bad habit that has not yet been ostracized to this extent.  The sin tax is nothing more than an exercise in self-righteousness.

Pennsylvanians are also in favor of legalizing video poker in order to pay for “education.”  So the puritanism can be set aside to make room for a little quaint Fascism.

Isn’t absurdity wonderful?

Two Buddhist monks and three American consumerists

I just returned from my daily pilgrimage to Starbucks (yes, I could do better, but it’s the closest thing to the house), where three fat Americans (but I speak redundantly) were sitting around talking about the Neo-Roman circus known as the Super Bowl, which apparently took place yesterday.

Moments later, two Buddhist monks came walking down the street, right in front of the large windows of the coffee shop.

“Must be nice to live like that,” said Baboon #1.  “All they have to do is beg for money and chant.  Hummmmmmm, hummmmmmmm.”  Baboons #2 and #3 yawped in agreement.

I am not a Buddhist, and I do not know much about Buddhism, but it seems pretty safe to point out a crucial distinction which the booboisie at Starbucks did not get.  Yes, the consumer class works long hours, but in many cases it’s to pay for their various distractions—big screen TVs, cars that are three times the size that they need to be, etc.  The monks, on the other hand, live a simple life, stripped of those things which they do not consider to be essential.  Indeed, in Buddhism the material world is considered to be evil, and they have forsaken it.  So when they beg for money (if in fact they do beg for money), they are doing so in order to live a simple life.[1]  The truth is that, for all the big screen TVs that the consumers own, the Buddhist monks are probably happier people.

Some will observe this and begin a well-intentioned but dreadfully mistaken tract against capitalism, and even against material goods.  This misses the point. The real evil to be dealt with in our society is neither capitalism (would that we actually had a free market rather than mercantilism!) nor even material goods, but rather the consumerist mentality which dominates the contemporary mindset.  Capitalism, while it is a function of the metaphysical right to liberty, ultimately has a wax nose, to plagiarize what St. Thomas Aquinas said about reason.  It can be used for good or for ill, just like material goods.

The lesson here, then, is that in order for a more virtuous society to exist, men must change.  Don’t think for a minute, however, that I think it’s a good idea to try to change other people.  Working on oneself is quite enough.

Now, with all this mind, I have decided, years behind the curve, that it’s probably time to get an iPod.  Dear reader, tell me:  Which one should I buy?  How do I know how much memory I need?

[1]  As a side note, one might point out that even the process of begging and giving is a free exchange, perfectly compatible with the ideals of the free market, even if it’s not smiled upon by those who don’t know how much work is enough and how much is too much.

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