On excellence

This is a dangerous post because the risk is high that it will reek of self-congratulation.  I can only hope that my stating from the very start that this is not my intention will be adequate assurance for the reader.  And maybe this caveat is the foremost symptom of what I’d like to talk about:  the confusion, fear, and hatred that is stirred up by excellence.  After all, why should one be ashamed to admit that much of what he does is in the unapologetic pursuit of excellence?

As a musician, I have had entirely too much opportunity to reflect on the way the American booboisie embraces mediocrity.  (And lest my current employers find this post, they should know that I am not speaking of them.)  I was once an organist for a church in the fields of Pennsylvania, and I enjoyed remarking (only to the trustworthy, of course) that if there were ever a contest to compose the best parish motto, I would submit, “We excel at mediocrity.”  It was the kind of place that liked to do crappy stuff well, which to me seems a waste of time.  Why put all that effort into something which could never be good, since the raw materials—a bad piece of music, a ridiculous liturgical dance, etc.—were piles of dung?  But this attitude on their part flowed from a hatred of excellence.

As a runner, I have seen less the hatred of excellence but more the confusion that it rouses in people.  I run by perfectly capable but overweight people sitting on their porches who look at me as if to say, “Why would anyone want to do that?”  A 32″ waist and legendarily-low blood pressure is why.  But most people haven’t the patience.  Most of them have endured too much disappointment in life to try any more.  “Just give me my paycheck and leave me alone to watch my favorite TV shows.”  It is not my intention to judge; many of these folks have made a calculated choice based upon past experience, having been beaten into submission by an overlord who “knows better.”

Capitalism—or perhaps more accurately, the almighty dollar—has often shouldered the blame for our institutionalized mediocrity.  “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public,” said Mencken.  But the real problem is human nature:  enjoying a piece of fine art, cooking a fine meal, and exercising to stay in shape all require hard work, and most of us avoid that at all costs.  This has a lot to do with the shortsightedness which Henry Hazlitt talks about:  most people haven’t the wherewithal to forego a short term gain in favor of  a greater return in the long run.  This translates into higher economic demand for stuff that is crappy, and business owners respond accordingly, to the great disappointment of their idealistic employees.

At times in my life I’ve been tempted to give up and retreat into my inner room in despair over all this.  If my efforts are misunderstood or despised, what’s the use?  But this can never be the final word:  excellence is ultimately its own reward.  But that reward will rarely come in the form of congratulations from others; more often the pay-off is integrity and honesty.

None of this is to say that there are not great injustices which thrash against those who see the possibility for better things.  Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King all met with the cruelest fate in this regard.  There are others who have suffered less but not insignificantly:  last week one of our time’s foremost musical talents was rudely dismissed from an institution which has decided to embrace something—I’m not sure what—over musical excellence.

Given what I’ve said so far, I’ve even become suspicious of compliments, particularly coming from certain people with attachments to certain places that have a tendency to enjoy a comfortably nondescript artistic malaise.  I’m also quite slow to accept anyone’s advice:  “Ok you’ve lost enough weight now,” I heard repeatedly last year.  “No I haven’t; you’re just jealous,” was usually my retort.

It’s hard to know what to do about all this, exactly.  Anger and frustration only turn me into one of those people who have given up.  For my musical side I always have the ideal of beauty to help me along; in other things there are other rewards.  Maybe the secret lies in a teleological perspective:  Each of our lives has a purpose, an end, which it is our duty to pursue.  For now I suppose that will have to be the answer, especially since there is now a bad storm here and I need to get off line, lest my computer be torched.

Global Warming as a False Religion

I really don’t like Rush Limbaugh all that much.  I don’t listen to his show, and I rarely even visit his website anymore.  He appeals to the booboisie, and much of his work lacks any real intellectual vigor.  I know whereof I speak; sadly, I used to listen to conservative talk radio.  I have been clean now for about four years.

Limbaugh’s work is not all dross, however.  On certain matters, he cuts fairly close to the truth.  Global warming is one of those issues.  Years ago, I heard him compare the theory of global warming to religion.  It was ingenious.  In each, there is the concept of sin, and a concept of an armageddon that will ensue if the sinners are unrepentant.  The global warming nightmare is a doomsday scenario, a hobgoblin, as Mencken called it (one of the imaginary ones, of course), from which the people expect the government to protect them.

There is also an aspect of divine revelation to the approach of the global warming-believing environmentalists:  When certain contentions of the theory are held up to logical scrutiny and subsequently questioned, the retort often comes back with an air of more than a little self-assuredness, an expectation that we are simply to accept the assertions of the environmentalists de fide.  Logic is often thrown out the window if it is inconvenient for the cause.

Kind of on the flip side of this, interestingly, is something that I have as yet not heard anyone discuss in relation to this issue:  the hubris of objectivism, a problem which F.A. Hayek touches on in his book The Counter-Revolution of Science.  Those who proselytize on behalf of the global warming cause come to the table armed with their statistics, and these raw facts, we are told, “prove” global warming.  But these statistics only exist for a small portion of the history of the earth, and so they offer no more proof for global warming as it relates to human behavior than Joseph Smith has that angels showed him gold plates documenting a visit of Jesus Christ to America.

An article about Australian geologist Ian Plimer touches on both of these aspects of the global warming theory:  its tendency to act like a religion, and its foundation built on the sand of an objectivism which interprets facts in less than thoughtful and thorough ways.  He is one of many scientists who have questioned the whole climate change racket and has suffered for it.  Take heart, professor; people don’t ostracize a man unless they’re threatened by him.  It means that you’re on to something.

The dark grey cloud that hangs over this blogger’s head

I have to confess something:  Sometimes I think the whole activity of blogging is a bunch of crap.  Here I am, some dude who set up a WordPress account for free, and on these pages I can say anything I want.  This really is one of the great temptations of the modern age:  So many of us itch for a chance to get up on our soapboxes and flap our jaws on behalf of our favorite causes.  It can be quite therapeutic.  Every now and then, you can even slip up and write something that’s worth reading.  But a minimum requirement for that is not mixing one’s metaphors; so much for this little article!

But have you ever suffered through a dinner in which one know-it-all yammered on and on, in a fit of what is commonly known as “male pattern lecturing”?  It gets tiresome.  I’ve had instances in which I’ve lost my appetite listening to some self-appointed expert cover every irrelevant corner of a subject, just to make sure that the whole table knows that he knows what he knows.  Sometimes I think blogging is like that, and that we bloggers can be bigger jackasses than we realize.

The first question that comes to mind when I listen to a know-it-all is, “So what have you accomplished?”  In other words, so many people that talk don’t actually do anything; they are either has-beens or nobodies.  Many of the talking heads on TV are like this, and the people who are accomplishing things don’t have time to talk, because they’re working.  Sometimes I think I’d be better off not writing the occasional post here and instead reading another chapter of Mises or Rothbard or Weaver.

Will our era go down in history as the age of talking?  Our world is filled with constant yammering, little contemplation, and perhaps even less sincere self-criticism.  We are egotists, and it’s probably a good idea for me not to assume that I’m not the worst of them all.

Why do we talk so much?  Why can’t we keep our mouths shut?  How much chatter is enough?  How much is too much?  Is blogging a good thing?

These are the reservations I have about blogging.  For now I will continue, but I wonder about what our chattiness does to our ability to be happy.  But I am about to yammer some more, so before I get started down another rabbit hole, I’m going to shut up, because I have said enough.

For once, politics might save us

Usually politicians are pretty adept at working together to screw over the citizenry, but with respect to Obama’s health plan ambitions, the pettiness between Congress and the White House seems to be keeping anything meaningful from happening.

This is really good news.  Socialized medicine has not worked in other countries, and it will not work here.  The government is already in a staggering amount of debt, while foreign lenders are becoming increasingly cautious about giving the federal government more money.  Moreover, robbing one person to help another (usually through taxation) is morally wrong.

I fear that socialized medicine would also destroy good relationships between patients and their doctors.  The mutuality will be gone, particularly if bean counters decide who goes where for what treatment.  But not only that, will some patients lose their favorite doctors due to unforeseen dynamics that might take shape after socialized medicine is begun?

The cost of medical care is high, and many poor people—and middle class people, for that matter—cannot afford it.  But perhaps if our economic system weren’t such a sham, if the government hadn’t engaged in inflationary monetary policy to pay for a century of foreign wars of aggression, if taxation weren’t so damn high that a good portion of society works until June just to stay out of jail, and if government intervention in health care didn’t set aside the free market principles that keep the consumer in the driver’s seat, then maybe the charitable organizations—hospitals begun by churches, etc—would be a viable solution to all of this.  In a certain sense, the government has made serfs out of all of us, leaving most of us to feel helpless, and I can’t really judge people for supporting a wrong-headed plan out of desperation.  But seriously, the government proposes to solve yet another problem that it helped to create?  Please.

“Mr. Paulson, do you have any credibility?”

Sometimes, reality TV is interesting…

Jeffrey Tucker on these stupid cell phone laws

Over at Mises.org, Jeffrey Tucker blogs about a New York Times article which indulges in the usual paranoia about the use of cell phones while driving.   I suspect this debate could get pretty interesting.  My comment is here.

Vacationing and Marxism

My absence can be explained thus:  Last week a friend of mine invited me to come to Cape Cod in Massachusetts for a spur-of-the moment vacation.  I almost said, “Well, no, too much to do; can’t find a substitute for work, etc.”  But I decided to dive in head first and live a little, and the reward was more than I anticipated.  You have never gone for a good run until you have run around the beach on the cape. I have experienced nothing like it.  The weather was fantastic, but I have a feeling that those parts of the country are gloriously beautiful even when the weather is crappy.

While I was vacationing I got to thinking about poor old Karl Marx, who said something once about labor, or the right kind of labor, at least, being what makes man happy. Mises argues with this ferociously, but one need not read the books, really.  The fact of the matter is that most of us work because we must, and not because we feel like it.  This is something that musicians-in-training are warned about:  There will be days when you don’t feel like playing that you must play, and you must play well.  This is labor, even toil at times.  Engaging in work is a way of dealing with a present difficulty in order to obtain a future reward.  This becomes abundantly clear when you’re on vacation in a beautiful place.  Work does not make man happy; leisure does, and it is in leisure that he pursues the highest activities:  art, philosophy, story-telling, etc.

I shared all of these thoughts with a friend who was along on the vacation, and he, a liberal, said, “The problem with Marx is that he never worked a day in his life.”  I suppose that’s doubly-ironic.