Significance for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

The Washington Post, in an editorial of dashing boldness, suggests that the president should get Congress to make him into a tyrant instead of just doing it on his own. Here's the key sentence in the paper's Monday morning message: "Especially without knowing the parameters of the surveillance, we hesitate to second-guess the president's argument that FISA's limits are unduly constraining." If the FISA limits, which are virtually no limits at all, are unduly constraining, it's hard to know what limits the Post might believe the president should have to live with. Might it impede the president too much not to be able to gun down his political opponents in the street? The Post, not wanting to second guess anybody as  august as the the president wouldn't want to take a position about that on it's merits. But it would expect the president to get Congress's approval before he started shooting. As long as overweening state power were approved by both the president and Congress, the Post, evidently, couldn't possibly think of a reason for standing up against it.

Most of the things we denounce as being dangerous in the world are actually parts of a larger thing we almost never think about. In the Boston Globe this morning Don Aucoin has an extensive article titled "The Pornification of America." It's based on the thoughts of a number of sociologists who argue that the standards of pornography are creeping into our mainstream culture, and that this is a bad thing, particularly for the self-image of young women. It's a reasonably informative piece but like most journalism it suffers from a failure to define what it's talking about. The closest it comes is when it speaks of pornography as "hypersexualized." But that's a bad definition. Pornography is vulgar sex and it is accompanied in our era by many other vulgarities. It's true that "vulgar" itself is a complex word and that it has progressed from being a fairly neutral term to one that's strongly pejorative. And, it's in this latter sense it's being used here, to mean "deficient in taste." Vulgarizations cluster together to make up a whole. A single manifestation of vulgarity has a hard time persisting in a culture. So, yes, we do now have much bad taste in sexuality. But along with it we have imperialism, which is bad taste in foreign policy, oligarchy, which is bad taste in domestic policy, fundamentalism, which is bad taste in religion, unrestrained corporate capitalism, which is bad taste in economics. These all support one another. So, if you don't like pornography you had best start thinking about the family from which it comes, and get as worried about Karl Rove's campaign tactics as you are about the steamy movie down the street.

How many people are on the government's no-fly list which bans them from boarding planes for internal flights because they are considered to be security risks? You can't find out because the government won't tell. And if you get on the list, you might have a hard time getting off. Senator Edward Kennedy was on it for a while. But he managed to get off, presumably because he has more influence than the average citizen. A four year old boy was on it. It's not clear if he's off yet or not.  The size of the list that's been reported is 80,000. One might say that 80,000 out of 280 million people is not so many. But think about it. Eighty thousand people are thought to be such security risks that they're not allowed on  airplanes. Does a number of that size make any sense? How can it?. These restrictions are not just minor glitches. They are a part of a pattern and though any single one of them might be dismissed as a mere annoyance, the pattern cannot be. Yet, the pattern is what the people and the press have trouble concentrating upon.

Men are much more ready than women to inflict pain on other people, to kill them, torture them, blow then up with bombs. That's the conclusion of a long and convincing article in Slate by William Saletan. He bases his argument on an extensive series of polls which show repeatedly that men's eagerness for vengeance far exceeds women's. There's nothing surprising in that. It's what most of us would expect. But it does raise the question of why. Why do men like to see others suffer more than women do? Why do they take more pleasure from punishing people they think are bad? Why are they more judgmental generally? Probably evolutionary psychologists would have a plenitude of answers. Whatever answers emerge out past eons, they surely are related to the quality and nature of imagination. Men and women clearly dream about different things, and what they dream about affects, more than anything else, how they relate to the world. To over-simplify, women dream about how people feel, and men dream about how things work. As a consequence, men don't expend as much of their psychic energy imagining how it would be to exist in another person's situation. They have less of what is called empathy. It's clear that men can learn to be empathic. It may be there have been more dramatic examples of empathy among men than among women. But one thing we can be sure of: a majority of men don't want to learn anything different from what they already know. They may be ready to find out how a new carburetor works. But they not very eager to step outside the realm of carburetors..

At the World Economic Conference in Davos, Switzerland, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius celebrates the coming economic order called globalization. What it seems to mean at the moment is that India and China, the most populous nations on earth, are poised to take a much larger slice of new wealth than they have in the past. Is that going to hurt the rest of us? Maybe. Globalization  means that the people with the most innovative technological minds  will rake in the greatest wealth, regardless of where they were born or where they live. Opportunity will spread world wide. The process, says Ignatius, is inevitable, efficient, and ruthless. We've seen the latter characteristic at work at the Ford Motor Company over the past week. All this may be true, but it suggests to me a new opportunity for government as much as it does for technological entrepreneurs. If it is the function of the world economic machine to create as much wealth as possible, it is the function of government to see that the creation doesn't destroy large segments of a population and also to insure that the wealth is distributed with some semblance of fairness. The idea that economic energy alone will produce equitable societies is probably the most fatuous notion at work in the world today. There will always be politics. Bad politics will oppress people. Good politics will protect them. The government of the United States at the moment is not protecting as well as it should. There are two main reasons for its failure. The first is the ambition to use military power to rule the world. The second is the desire to govern internally through oligarchy. The great challenge for the people of the United States is to set those two goals aside so that the whole population can participate fruitfully in the new economic dispensation and see that it does not run roughshod over people who have been left out of it.

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