Sunday, August 02, 2009

Miscellaneous Thoughts

I'm fascinated and occasionally horrified when liberal friends ask why a "smart guy" like me is a Republican/conservative/libertarian. The assumption behind the question is rude on its face; might as well just come out and say it: "Only stupid people are Republicans, so why are you joining them?"

Well, I happen to believe this position is wrong, but I've let the insult(s) slide, for the most part. I do, after all, have a life to lead and don't feel like arguing all the time. I save that for the blog because I write better than I speak. But the opinions and attitudes that lead me to vote to the right of John McCain probably deserve an explanation or two. I'll try now.

I am a libertarian on economic issues because I believe that the private sector is more fair and less coercive than government "transactions." The only coercion that occurs in the private sector is if you're borrowing money from the mob. Texaco, Burger King, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Publix, Microsoft, Dell, and the local book or trinket shops do not receive my business because they threaten me. If I stop buying from them and go to another provider of the same services, that's a result of my individual choice or competition. The original vendors are welcome to try things--sales, discounts, new products or services--to try to win my business back, and they might succeed. But I don't worry that representatives of any of those companies are going to come to my house or serve me with an arrest order if I stop paying for their services. I have no such choice with government. I must pay my taxes or I will be audited and sent to jail. The sheer difference in power should make this position self-evident, but some folks still rail against "the power of Big Business." Well, "Big Business" is about to get bought out, wholesale, by the government. Now you've got a reason to worry. What do you suppose will happen somewhere down the line if you don't purchase cars from GM or banking services from Goldman Sachs? And unlike free-market businesses, which must control costs to make a profit, government is under no such constraints. How efficient will the new quasi-government entities be? Or a nationalized healthcare system? Or some new carbon-credit monitoring agency? We will soon find out, I'm afraid.

I am a conservative on social issues because I don't particularly like drug use, child exploitation, pornography, or abortion-at-convenience. Such things come from my attending church on a regular basis and my respect for women and mothers in general. I don't want tougher laws on any of these things, just consistent and rational enforcement of the laws currently on the books. I might even go so far as to suggest that the states, not the federal government, deal with such things. That might be a little radical, but what the heck, a guy can dream.

I am somewhere else on foreign policy compared to many of my conservative peers. I don't see the need to force our way of life on others. I don't think we need to be the world's policeman. I believe we have a right to defend ourselves if attacked. I believe we can and should pursue activities that benefit the direct, vital interests of the country. I don't believe we should lower our standards of conduct to the average tyrants in the United Nations, nor do I believe we do ourselves credit by aping the social policies of our European allies.

In general, my approach to domestic and foreign policy is rather simplistic, but it follows from my own personal behavior: if you don't get into my business, I won't get into yours. Privacy matters to me, as does hands-off leadership. I don't like micromanaging others and I don't enjoy others micromanaging me. I would like to think that everyone would think that way, but I would be wrong. Some folks sincerely believe that unless certain people are "in charge," the rest of society will go to heck in a handcart. This overestimates the abilities and virtues of certain people and underestimates the abilities and virtues of those they mean to rule. However, we appear to have given up on self-government--both of ourselves and of our nation--so perhaps I expect too much.

Again, some of this attitude comes from my upbringing in the church (Lutheran, for the record), where premiums are placed on honesty, respect for life, personal charity, obedience to the laws (civil and spiritual), and self-restraint. If most of my fellow citizens and I are doing all of those things, there is less need for intrusive government. If I wasn't getting a steady diet of these behaviors, perhaps I might require an iron fisted government above me to tell me what to do. But then who would restrain the government? What higher power would they answer to?

The view of a conservative is one of a "fallen" humanity--one that sees human nature as essentially unchanged throughout history. The Bible still has resonance today precisely because human nature hasn't changed: violence, lust, shady dealing, power-seeking, lack of self control--they're all there. And yet religion persists as well because it offers human beings an ideal, a way off the wheel of history, which cycles through good and bad periods. Am I blind to the evils done in the name of religion? Hardly. But the wars against human sin are still to be fought at the individual level, by changing hearts and minds, not forcing them at the point of a sword or a gun. What has been true in the past and is occasionally true in the present need not continue in the future.

Religion offers me a hope for a better future, and standards by which to make that hope come about. However, it does not assume that human beings will ever be "perfectable," through brainwashing, tinkering with our DNA, technological additions to the flesh, or any other radical alterations. Human nature is what it is, and therefore radical experiments in government control (or largesse), behavior modification, or childhood education are to be approached with the utmost caution. One way or another, we'll all have to answer for the wrongs we've done, regardless of what justification we use.

There you go: now you know.

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