We Need Government, But Not Necessarily Governing

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

Fantasy fans may be expecting a quote from the Harry Potter series this morning, since today is J.K. Rowling’s birthday; while that was tempting, I decided to take this in a different direction.

In addition to being Ms. Rowling’s birthday, today is also the birthday of US economist Milton Friedman (31 July 1912 – 16 November 2006). Friedman received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976, and is something of a hero to libertarians because he argued for smaller government and a freer economy. However, it’s important to note that Friedman understood the importance of government, as he said in 1973:

We need a government to maintain a system of courts that will uphold contracts and rule on compensation for damages. We need a government to ensure the safety of its citizens — to provide police protection. But government is failing at a lot of these things that it ought to be doing because it’s involved in so many things it shouldn’t be doing.

And in 1978 Friedman said:

We have to recognize that we must not hope for a Utopia that is unattainable. I would like to see a great deal less government activity than we have now, but I do not believe that we can have a situation in which we don’t need government at all.

The problem is that often government spends too much time and effort governing — that is, imposing requirements and restrictions on citizens as to what they must and must not do. If we as citizens need governing, it is only because we have failed to govern ourselves; and if we freely impose upon ourselves a government to rule us rather than to operate alongside us — if we accede to be governed in that way — then we will have admitted that liberty is too great a burden for us to bear.


(Image: “US Capitol at Dusk,” by Martin Falbisoner, on Wikimedia Commons.)

I prefer the idea of a government that governs itself well; that leaves the rest of us to govern ourselves as best we can; and that intervenes and interferes in our lives very little.

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And now, if you’ll permit me an aside on “This Day in History” … I was interested to read on the Internet (so of course that means it’s all true) that today marks three separate events in the US space program, each having to do with the Moon:
– In 1964, the Ranger 7 spacecraft sent back the first close-up photographs of the Moon;
– In 1971, Apollo 15 astronauts David R. Scott and James B. Irwin became the first to ride across the Moon’s surface in the lunar rover; and
– In 1999, NASA crashed the Lunar Prospector spacecraft into Shoemaker Crater at the lunar south pole.

I was interested in all of those things, of course, because last week my lunar colonization novel, Walking On The Sea of Clouds, was published. And not just that, but I mention the Lunar Prospector mission in the novel! It comes up as a group of colonists pass Shoemaker Crater on a journey to retrieve polar ice needed to keep the colony alive.

Walking On The Sea of Clouds is available as an e-book on Amazon or as a trade paperback on Amazon, or if you prefer it’s also available as an e-book from Kobo and Smashwords.

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Thanks, and have a great week!

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New Video: Of, By, and For the People

Have you thought much about the placement of the prepositions in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? Does their placement — “of the people, by the people, for the people” — matter much in understanding what they imply for our government?

In this video, I suggest that their placement is pertinent … and proper:

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Related:
– Video: The Verbs in the Preamble
– More videos: My YouTube channel

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The Author and Politics

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

This past Saturday, at the ConCarolinas science fiction and fantasy convention, I was part of a panel called “Author and Politics” which was both well-attended and well-run. We agreed on some points, we disagreed on some points, but we did so like grown-ups — respectfully and without rancor.

It was, in the end, quite refreshing.

So when it came to figuring out a good quote to start the week, I thought of this one from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, which I copied out of The Gulag Archipelago many years ago.

Is it not true that professional politicians are boils on the neck of society that prevent it from turning its head and moving its arms? And why shouldn’t engineers have political views? After all, politics is not even a science, but is an empirical area not susceptible to description by any mathematical apparatus; furthermore, it is an area subject to human egotism and blind passion.

That quote has always resonated with me, mostly because of the imagery in the first sentence but also because I was trained as an engineer and still to a small degree think of myself as one. And it hasn’t lost any of its power: certainly we saw in our most recent election plenty of instances of “human egotism and blind passion.”

Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey - Icons
The parties don’t often see eye to eye, do they? (Image: “Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey – Icons,” by DonkeyHotey, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

But when I have experiences like the panel on Saturday, and I recall the adage that “all politics are local,” I am a bit more hopeful that if we conduct ourselves well we can avoid (at least in the small circles of our friends) the worst excesses of either side, and chart a course that’s mutually beneficial.

I admit that I may be hopelessly naïve about such things.

After all, I’m The Anti-Candidate, and I approved this message.

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Related Items:
– Listen to “I Think I’ll Run for Congress”, from the album Truths and Lies and Make-Believe
– Listen to “The Anti-Candidate Song”, from the album Distorted Vision

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Political vs. Personal Priorities

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

It’s been said that “politics makes strange bedfellows,” and over the last few years we’ve been treated to some evidence of that. It’s also been said that “power tends to corrupt,” or (if you prefer) that power “is magnetic to the corruptible,” and I daresay that’s been evident from time to time as well — on both ends of the political spectrum.

But no matter where we are on that spectrum — left, right, or center — it seems prudent to remind ourselves that politicians’ priorities rarely match ours. As Thomas Sowell said,

No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems — of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.

Can you think of very many politicians who pursue causes that are independent of their reelection prospects? How many would risk losing their positions in order to achieve something on behalf of someone else?

(Not The Anti-Candidate, that’s for sure.)

Political Guide
Instead of “new ideas,” I think “different ideas” would be more fitting, but in general this seems to hold true for many people, much of the time. (Image: “Political Guide,” by Jason Nelms, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

If Mr. Sowell is correct, and the evidence suggests that he is, maybe we’re better off taking care of our own priorities ourselves, and helping our friends and neighbors with their priorities when we can, instead of entrusting them to and relying on politicians who clearly have priorities of their own.

Something to think about. Hope you have a great week!

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Ideas as Rabbits, Writing as Horse-Racing?

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

Today is John Steinbeck’s birthday (27 February 1902 – 20 December 1968). Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, and wrote classics such as Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row, and The Grapes of Wrath (which won the Pulitzer Prize). As you might expect, Steinbeck had a few things to say about writing.

In the April 1947 issue of Cosmopolitan, for instance, Steinbeck said,

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.

The trick, of course, is to turn the ideas into fully-formed stories and books. It’s not always easy, and it’s not the most predictable line of work, as Steinbeck observed in a December 1962 issue of Newsweek,

The profession of book-writing makes horse-racing seem like a solid, stable business.

That’s why so many of us ply other trades to support our writing habits. But we persist (as I pointed out last week), whether we consider it art or craft or simply obsession. But how can we persist long enough to create something worthwhile? In June 1969, Steinbeck told The New York Times,

The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.

Certainly the prolific writers I know prove that writing is the most important thing in their worlds — and I suspect one reason why my output is not what it could (or possibly should) be is that I don’t think of my own writing as all that important, and am too quick to prioritize other things over it.

Horse Racing
How does writing compare to horse racing? (Image: “Horse Racing,” by Peter Miller, on Flickr, under Creative Commons.)

But before this blog post devolves into self-recrimination, how about something completely different?

Given our current political environment, it seems important to close with something Steinbeck wrote in one of the essays in the last book he published, 1966’s America and Americans.

The President must be greater than anyone else, but not better than anyone else. We subject him and his family to close and constant scrutiny and denounce them for things that we ourselves do every day. A Presidential slip of the tongue, a slight error in judgment — social, political, or ethical — can raise a storm of protest. We give the President more work than a man can do, more responsibility than a man should take, more pressure than a man can bear. We abuse him often and rarely praise him. We wear him out, use him up, eat him up. And with all this, Americans have a love for the President that goes beyond loyalty or party nationality; he is ours, and we exercise the right to destroy him.

Thus it has ever been. So even if writing is less stable than horse-racing, maybe it’s not so bad after all.

(But I still think I’d make a good President.)

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We Must Be Strong

Much of what I observe in our polity today — and over the past several years, frankly — seems calculated to weaken the United States. Sometimes it appears to be for short-term financial or political gain, by people who want to cash in before everything goes Tango Uniform.* Sometimes it appears to be for ideological gain, by people for whom the U.S. represents something terrible.

In contrast, I believe we must not allow ourselves to weaken, to diminish, or especially to disappear. The U.S. must be strong: economically, diplomatically, and most especially militarily. I hold that an enfeebled, chastened, toothless United States would be a prelude to disaster for the world.

"If You're Not Outraged...You're Not Paying Attention!"
Our national symbol, making its voice heard. (Image: “‘If You’re Not Outraged…You’re Not Paying Attention!’,” by Kenny P., on Flickr, under Creative Commons.)

Why? Because for all our faults, for all our failings, for all our missteps and miscalculations, we have done more than any other nation in history to protect and preserve the weak by virtue of our strength. The way I see it, in terms of the sheer power at our disposal, we have wielded our strength more judiciously and with less outright malice than pretty much anyone.

If you believe otherwise, I will not attempt to dissuade you in this brief missive. But I will not let your negativity become my prophecy or your perception become my reality. I will not let reports of our decadence and decay or predictions of our doom and decline dash my hope in a better future, or my belief that our systems are the best systems under which people can be free to live and produce and thrive.

We must be strong. I would rather we could demonstrate our strength in ways that build rather than break, heal rather than harm, and even when — not if, in this imperfect world — we need to use our strength to defend ourselves and those we treasure, I would prefer that we do so swiftly, cleanly, with as much restraint as possible. But we must be strong in the first place.

We are not perfect, and we will make mistakes. In spite of our imperfections, however, we are in general a shining example of what is good in the world: freedom of thought, freedom of action, freedom of association. If we are to remain so — both free, and an exemplar of the best that freedom conveys — we must remain strong.

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*A technical term.

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Feeding Upon Corruption

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

Given the response to the first full week of our new Presidency, it seemed fitting to share one of my favorite quotes about our tendency — and here I use the royal “our” when in particular I am thinking of the media and of political pundits — to think the worst of those we dislike or with whom we disagree, and to give voice to the worst of our thoughts.

This week’s quote comes from the Occasional Meditations of English churchman Joseph Hall, specifically number 31, under the title “Upon the Flies Gathering to a Galled Horse.” The language may be a bit difficult (it was published in 1630, after all), but it will reward a close reading:

How these flies swarm to the galled part of this poor beast; and there sit, feeding upon that worst piece of his flesh, not meddling with the other sound parts of his skin!

Even thus do malicious tongues of detractors: if a man have any infirmity in his person or actions, that they will be sure to gather unto, and dwell upon; whereas, his commendable parts and well-deservings are passed by, without mention, without regard. It is an envious self-love and base cruelty, that causeth this ill disposition in men: in the mean time, this only they have gained; it must needs be a filthy creature, that feeds upon nothing but corruption.

Horse Fly
“It must needs be a filthy creature ….” (Image: “Horse Fly,” by Jonathan Bliss, on Flickr, under Creative Commons.)

Does that not describe our sensationalist media? Does it not often describe many of the rest of us, as well?

Do we not, from time to time, gather at the metaphorical wounded flesh of an opponent, feast upon the blood and fill our bellies with the gore? Is it not both self-serving and cruel for us to do so? Does it not say something about us that we focus our attention not on that which is admirable, but on that which is tainted? Yet of course we do so with only the best of intentions, or so we tell ourselves, forgetting where good intentions leave us.

This week, even when it comes to people with whom I disagree, I think I’ll try to find things I can commend more than condemn. You’re welcome to try the same.

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Monday Morning Insight: The Angry Truth

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

It’s the last Monday of 2016, and I think everyone will agree it’s been quite a year.

One characteristic of this year, and especially this political year in the US, has been the sometimes difficult relationship both sides of our cultural divide have with the truth. From presenting things as true that are unverified, to believing things to be true in the face of reasonable doubt, to “news” from various sources that ranges from fake to simply untrustworthy, truth has sometimes been hard to find.

With that in mind, it seems like a good time to focus on a little piece of wisdom I read a long time ago from Wally Bock, a Marine veteran and management consultant here in North Carolina. I wrote it down when I first read it, and it’s a warning many of us should take to heart:

You can hide from the truth, but it will find you. When it does, it will be angry.

Truth ->

“Truth ->,” by Jeremy Brooks. (On Flickr, under Creative Commons.)

 

It may seem odd for me to focus on an idea like that; after all, my first album was called Truths and Lies and Make-Believe. “Perceptions and illusions,” I sang, and I meant it.

But the idea that angry truth may find me one day gives me pause. So I don’t offer any commentary on the quote, just a suggestion — for myself as much as for anyone — for this week leading up to the New Year and maybe, just maybe, for the New Year itself: Don’t hide from the truth. Face it. Acknowledge it. And either learn to live with it, or find a way to alter it.

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P.S. If you want to know more about Wally Bock, here’s his web site. And here’s his June 2009 blog post that ended with this week’s quote.

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Monday Morning Insight: The American Crisis

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

On this date in 1776, the first article of a series known as “The American Crisis” was printed in the Pennsylvania Journal. Written by Thomas Paine and signed “Common Sense” — after his own pamphlet which had been published in January and was fundamental to the case for the colonies’ Independence — the series was meant to encourage the American public to remain steadfast in the Revolutionary War.

Paine wrote the first article in a particularly dark moment of the war, when General George Washington had been forced to retreat across the Delaware River. Washington had the article read to his troops to bolster their morale. And how could it not, with an opening like this?

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

The American Crisis

The first page of “The American Crisis,” number one (1776). (Image on Wikimedia Commons.)

 

Two hundred forty years later, our republic — for which Paine and so many others risked so much — is in the latest of a series of recurring but relatively minor crises over how best to govern our affairs. In some respects this may be because “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly,” and a great many of us have obtained a great deal with far less labor, risk and cost than our forbears.

I don’t think this latest internal strife is the existential crisis that some have made it out to be; in spite of all our faults and foibles, I remain optimistic about our prospects. But this passage from further on in “The American Crisis” seems particularly apt:

‘Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country…. Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. In fact, they have the same effect on secret traitors, which an imaginary apparition would have upon a private murderer. They sift out the hidden thoughts of man, and hold them up in public to the world.

In the days of our Revolution, panics spread through word of mouth and the printing press: how different from these days of mass media and rapid messaging! And in this modern age, many people — whether secret traitors or not — are all too quick to reveal their hidden thoughts even without a panic, especially when those thoughts are hateful or destructive or degrading. The concept of shame has fallen out of favor, after all.

It is hard to deny that recent events have been “touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy” in our ongoing discourse, and have brought things to light about many of us … about our prejudices and preferences, our desires and depravities … “which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered.” These are just the latest in long lines of events, monumental and minuscule, that have prompted outpourings of angst, turmoil, and passion. Yet I still remain optimistic about our future, that we stand a reasonable chance of getting through these strange days with our nation intact.

And in the end, as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy points out, some of the best advice may simply be, “Don’t Panic!” Because this panic, too, will come to an end.

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Monday Morning Insight: My Country, Right or Wrong

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

Since the week starts with Election Day Eve, I thought this 1872 quote from U.S. Senator Carl Schurz (2 March 1829 – 14 May 1906) would be appropriate:

My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.

When we vote, we either vote to keep the country right or to set the country right. It depends on our point of view, whether we think the country is or isn’t moving in the right direction.

But the work goes on after we vote, too.

(Image: “2016,” by Gordon Johnson, on Pixabay under Creative Commons.)

 

Every day we have the chance to keep our little corner of the country right, or to set it right if it begins to go wrong. It’s harder work than voting (when we vote, we delegate the work to others), but it’s more direct.

And if more of us did the work, it would be far more effective.

The trouble is, recently so many people have put so much effort into tearing down each other, a lot of work needs to be done no matter who wins the election. I hope we’re up to it.

But, have a great week, no matter what happens tomorrow!

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P.S. Don’t forget, if you’re not already sure who you want to vote for, you’re welcome to write in yours truly for any office, anywhere.

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