Implication for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

John Turner

The minimum wage in the United States is $5.15 per hour. In 2005, the average chief executive officer in America made $4,228.15 each hour. Yet the Republicans in the Senate have decided that the country can't afford a wage hike and that the man making over four thousand dollars an hour needs a tax cut. This is one more indication that what Republicans want is slaves. The Republicans will tell you, of course, that the guy making $5.15 an hour can climb up the ladder and eventually make more than four thousand per hour. But what they know, of course, is that few will make that transition, so few that it won't materially affect their privilege of getting an hour of human labor for $5.15. If our mythical chief executive wished, he could command the services of eight hundred people and still have more than a hundred thousand dollars left over each year for incidentals. These are the so called values of the people we have decided to place in command of the nation. And, then, we wring our hands and wonder why "morality "is decaying.

Here on the 4th of July I went to my dictionary to check the definition of "patriotism." Here's what it said: "Love of and devotion to one's country." I guess for many people that's a clear and simple notion. But, I confess, for me, it's charged with questions. What is one's country? Is it a geographical region? Is it the people who live within certain borders? Is it a particular government? Is it a set of ideals? Is it a political philosophy? Is it a stretch of nature?  Is it a history? I suppose one could say, simple-mindedly, that it's all of these. But if he did he wouldn't be telling us much. Let's say a set of ideals conflicts with the actions of a government. What then do love and devotion demand? Let's say a history has incidents in which people were so opposed to one another they shed torrents of blood. What do love and devotion say about judging the combatants? Let's say the political philosophy of one time has been turned on its head. Do love and devotion tell us whether to revere the right-side up or the upside down version? If we're going to love something, in a genuine way, then we have to know what it is we're loving. And that I don't think is known by many of the  people who will today declare themselves to be ardent patriots.

Robert J. Samuelson of the Washington Post says that there's nothing we can do about global warming so we would do well to hush up all our moral claptrap. In the absence of new technological fixes, the world is simply going to keep on getting warmer and humans will have to endure the inconveniences that come from the process. This is nonsensical talk posing as hard-nosed realism. Though it's probably true that we need major innovations to stop warming, it is not true that we can't slow it down. And global warming is an issue of increments. None of us knows, for sure, what tiny change might lead to calamitous results. The changes we can make could avert some terrible consequences. If, for example, the people of the United States started driving cars that got 20% better mileage and if they drove 20% fewer miles, the impact on the rate of warming would be significant. Are those changes beyond the ability of American citizens? The answer is, not if awareness increases. So, although Mr. Samuelson is annoyed by talk of our duty to use energy more wisely, I hope people keep right on talking about it. The difference between the ocean rising three feet and four feet is momentous to people who will be flooded at three and a half.

The furor set off by Senator Obama's speech on religion shows once again that we have disabled ourselves so far as religious discussion goes. In all other broad areas of speculation, such as politics, economics, diplomacy and international relations, we acknowledge we have to use critical faculties of mind to advance our understanding. But religion, for some reason is supposed to be treated differently. If we can't use our minds on religion, what is it we can use? Our problem is we think of religion as an area beyond criticism and, therein, open the door to pure demagoguery. We say, for example, we should respect religion. But what do we mean by that? Do we mean we should respect any statement, no matter how foolish it may be, if it is put forward as religious belief or faith? When I was a boy, I knew a preacher who would regularly proclaim that he knew going to the movies was a sin because God had told him so.  Guess what? God didn't tell him any such thing. Is it wrong to point that out? Must we always back off from silliness just because it is preceded by "I believe that" or "I have faith that?" That's the ultimate refusal to take religion seriously, which for those who are actually serious about it, should be the strongest insult of all.

We shouldn't fear a world that's more interacted, says Mr. Bush. To tell the truth, I don't know if I should or shouldn't be afraid of an interacted world. I guess it must be the case that the world I grew up in was uninteracted and it did have its problems. But whether they arose from its uninteraction I can't say for sure. The world strikes me as a pretty fearsome place regardless of whether it's interacted or not. Consequently, prudence dictates, at the least, that we be wary of it. I met a friend last week who asked how the world was treating me. I told him it's treating me horribly, just as it does every other human being. The world, as far as I can tell, is not solicitous of human felicity. It's good, I suppose, to have a president who's warding off terror of interactivity but I wish he were more concentrated on what the world actually does, regardless of the creative adjectives we apply to it.

Everybody can be relieved. We have a new standardized pattern. A bunch of dopey guys get together in a cafe in Beirut, or Amman, or Cairo, one of them says, "Hey, maybe we should go blow up something," somebody else overhears them and gets money for turning them over to the police and, thus, another gigantic terrorist plot has been undermined and the anti-terrorist offices all round the world pat themselves on the back. The media leap on the story as thought visitors from outer space had been discovered. And everyone, whether from government, the press, or television looks very solemn. I guess it's a happy process, except for the poor schmucks who get thrown in jail and tortured. But might it divert attention from the guys who are astute enough not to gab about their plots in restaurants? I wonder if anybody is worrying about that now.

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