Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Virtue and Danger in Belief

"To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy."

That was my favourite part of President Obama's inauguration speech. It seems lately a lot of people have been making the point that terrorism is ultimately useless because the people using it have no real drive to create a better world for people. It's the application of bloodlust under the guise of a righteous philosophy of God. Which is of course the inherent danger of taking unsubstantiated dogma as a great truth. Nothing will come from nothing.

But the most important parts of Obama's speech were those calling for the sacrifice of habit and comfort from the American people in order to meet practical ends. Politicians call for that sort of thing all the time, but Obama's charisma and popularity is such that I could feel the crowd listening was actually willing to follow through. And there's such a backlash now against the "I got mine, Jack" ideology. If we want any hope of doing anything about global warming, we're going to need a more socialist country. The idea of everyone pursing their own selfish needs leading magically somehow to the greater good is simply not good enough for the climate crisis.

Now I'll supply our national moment of divisiveness. About a week ago, a guy I know named Franklin posted about sending an e-mail in reply to The New York Review of Books' automated subscription solicitation. Franklin posts everything under LJ's "friends lock", so I'll refrain from quoting him directly, but he quoted an e-mail he sent to The New York Review of Books in reply to the solicitation wherein he said he could not subscribe to their publication because they were proud of publishing this essay by Paul Krugman which Franklin felt grossly misrepresented the work and character of Milton Friedman.

I was rather surprised Franklin would take the time to complain to someone who probably wasn't going to care about something only people who were already relatively versed on the subject enough to gauge its veracity on their own would care about, especially in light of Franklin's continued support for Ron Paul's presidential candidacy after it was discovered that Ron Paul had published a number of extremely racist newsletters. So I replied to Franklin's post with something like (I forget my exact words), "Dude, are you kidding? Aren't you the one who still liked Ron Paul after it was found out he'd published a bunch of racist newsletters?"

A few days passed and Franklin didn't reply, which didn't seem like a very big deal to me because Franklin's never actually won an argument with me. He has a tendency to make unsubstantiated proclamations and then clams up when it's been made clear to him that he actually has no evidence to back up his statements. I just thought I'd gotten to the clamming up part early, and Franklin was too embarrassed to say anything. But after a couple days, it occurred to me that LJ may have simply failed to send me the e-mail notification of his reply, as it sometimes does, and maybe Franklin had said something and I was being rude by seeming to ignore him. So I went back and checked his post to discover he'd simply deleted my comment.

I have to say, I mainly found this rather funny. Apparently he couldn't take even that tiny chip in his ego. But I wonder what Franklin told himself as to why he was deleting the comment. Was I being outrageously inflammatory? It's not like Ron Paul has denied publishing the newsletters. Here he is talking to Wolf Blitzer about it. One might say that an important distinction here is that Ron Paul apologised for the newsletters while The New York Review of Books is proud of Paul Krugman's essay on Milton Friedman's occasional intellectual dishonesty. To which I'd reply it took years for Ron Paul to apologise for the newsletters, and then only when it was a political liability, which most people would recognise as bullshit.

I think Franklin, among a lot of other people, still has his heart with Ron Paul for some reason. But on the other hand, the fact that Franklin sent an e-mail to a publication in rebuke to their advertisement which would naturally mention a contribution from a recent Nobel Prize winner as an incentive for people to subscribe, seems a little cartoonish. I've sincerely been wondering lately; is Franklin doing shtick? Is he like a Stephen Colbert? If so, I do feel a little silly for taking him seriously for so long, but I guess I'm not perfect. Because I still don't actually know if he's doing shtick or not.

I feel like I ought to have mentioned Edgar Allen Poe's two hundredth birthday yesterday. A couple weeks ago, I was actually looking like mad for my Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe. It's amazing such a massive, hardback book could just disappear like that.

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