Greater Than Thou...Not.
In the commentary, Boaz challenges the notion, implicit or explicit, put forth by the presumptive nominees which states that we as citizens should commit ourselves to higher national causes.
Boaz is obviously not impressed with this vision.
First, with Obama, he takes issue with the theme he put forth in a commencement speech over the weekend at Wesleyan University in CT.
In the speech, Obama stated that the students need to devote themselves to "collective service" and that "our individual salvation depends on collective salvation." while speaking quasi-pejoratively to students who would "take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy."
I agree with Boaz that while this sounds nice and sounds like the "the right thing to say", it also flies in the face of what life is really like and the pursuit of happiness. People will be looking for jobs, looking to start families, raise children and basically looking to be human while trying to be somewhat happy and fulfilled between now and retirement. Within that crowd may be future leaders or innovators who will contribute to society's improvement in their own way....whether they realize it or not and whether it was their intention or not....much like Adam Smith's proverbial Butcher or Baker who provide meat and bread...not out of altruism or some "collective salvation" but out self interest for one's family. As mundane and unsatisfying as it sounds, it's really as simple as that. Sure, it doesn't ring with a sense of altruism or beauty or "Amazing Grace" but it's how it is.
This concept is always a real problem to express because there just isn't an eloquent enough way of saying it without sounding "wrong" or heartless and that just isn't the case.
The people Mr. Obama is sneering at are the ones who built America – the traders and entrepreneurs and manufacturers who gave us railroads and airplanes, housing and appliances, steam engines, electricity, telephones, computers and Starbucks. Ignored here is the work most Americans do, the work that gives us food, clothing, shelter and increasing comfort.
The unshakable irony is that the lion's share of goodwill and happier, healthier lives we all lead comes from this but it just doesn't sit well with the human imagination.
Onto McCain who denounces "self-indulgence" and has said that we need to serve ""a national purpose that is greater than our individual interests." and that ""I led . . . out of patriotism, not for profit." while he tried to undermine Romney as someone who ""managed companies, and he bought, and he sold, and sometimes people lost their jobs. That's the nature of that business." The implication here is that McCain is somehow a "better man" than Romney because of all this or that Romney and others like him somehow lead a cheaper or less worthy existence because they come from the business world. Well LA-DEE-DA, Mr High-and-Mighty. We are not worthy! I guess being in the military puts you into a higher class of life! Maybe we all need to be soldiers in order to be up to your social standards. Kinda like thhe knights of yesteryear. Pompous jerk.
This may not be far from the truth. After all, McCain did speak highly of national service programs where we: "not only wear uniforms and work in teams . . . but actually live together in barracks on former military bases, and are deployed to service projects far from their home base,". IOW, we need to value what McCain values to be good people. Perhaps that's a harsh way of putting it but the implication is clear and I agree with Boaz that it stinks and all of it wreaks of true fascism...not the misused, narrowly and selectively defined and abused label applied to atrocities reminiscent of Hitler...but the real textbook definition where the rights and interests of the individual are unequivocally disparaged, discouraged and made to be shallow or inferior to the goals and interests of the collective state. Remember, fascism wouldn't sell if it were marketed as a military police state complete with a Gestapo and tribal salutes, it is the conditioned and well ingrained idea that you don't count by yourself...only as part of a national unit. And there's no better way to massage this into people's minds than by playing on their goodwill and desire to be good people and do good deeds.
And is with any type of regime like this, it's bursting with hypocrisy. McCain and Obama (and most "public servants" in politics for that matter) have all made nice and comfortable lives for themselves while they mildly or overtly sneer at the desire to do it.
Again, this lofty rhetoric sounds nice but it flies in the face of reality and what individuality and freedom are all about. And again, such explanations just don't sit well with human emotion and desire for a better world.
"A greater cause," "community service" – to many of us, these gauzy phrases sound warm and comforting. But their purpose is to disparage and denigrate our own lives, to belittle our own pursuit of happiness.
Too true, whether they or we realize it or not.
Boaz concludes with:
Messrs. Obama and McCain are telling us Americans that our normal lives are not good enough, that pursuing our own happiness is "self-indulgence," that building a business is "chasing after our money culture," that working to provide a better life for our families is a "narrow concern."
They're wrong. Every human life counts. Your life counts. You have a right to live it as you choose, to follow your bliss. You have a right to seek satisfaction in accomplishment. And if you chase after the almighty dollar, you just might find that you are led, as if by an invisible hand, to do things that improve the lives of others.
And yes, it just doesn't sound as nice to put it this way but it's the truth. And it's also the major principle upon which this country was founded...not national service nor a glorification of collective will (or the will of the "wise and powerful") nor a desire to be shown "the way" by people who did exactly what they are sneering at. Such conventions are the product of our mind and its pliability to tribal ideals or service to rulers...a state of living that has dominated human existence far longer than the notion of a truly free society. Indeed, a slow acceptance that individuals are worth more than their sum as part of whole (such a nasty thing to say...I know) is the major reason we have come so far. Yet, the continued and self-destructive allure of tribalistic rhetoric and idealism show just how far we still have to go.