The Stars My Destination

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I must have been in my early teens when I came across A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, edited by Anthony Boucher. It wasn’t ALL great, but a pretty large percentage of it was, including the four novels that began and ended each of the two volumes. And, in my opinion, the best novel was saved for last: The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester.

Bester wasn’t one of the brightest stars of the so-called Golden Age of science fiction that began in the 1930’s when John W. Campbell became editor of Astounding Science Fiction, and began emphasizing literarty quality along with good science and fictional ideas, but he was still a star, with quite a number of arresting short stories, as well as two novels published in the 1950’s. The Stars My Destination was the second of those, and his best work overall, in my opinion. Sometime after it was published he worked fulltime for a magazine, took a long vacation from science fiction, but then returned, 15 or 20 years later, after the magazine folded, to write some more novels, which weren’t bad, but, in my opinion, weren’t quite as good either.

This novel is built on Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, which I had already enjoyed. Like its model, it takes a fairly ordinary man, unjustly imprisons him, and turns him bitter and vengeful. In Bester’s novel the time is in the future, and (as usual) there’s a war going on. The solar system has been colonized, and the Inner Planets and Outer Satellites are at war for reasons no better than the usual. But death and universal destruction threaten, which gives the primary characters a certain amount of motivation.

The other main feature of the story is “jaunting”, which is the ability of people to teleport themselves from one place to another. A large number of people have learned to do this, which has destabilized society, as people are no longer isolated in their home countries. They can and do travel the world, bringing a wave of crime, among other things. But ability to jaunte is limited. No one can jaunte more than 1000 miles at a time, they have to know where they are, and where they’re trying to go. Some have tried to jaunte through outer space, but have never come back.

The main character, Gully Foyle, is motivated by revenge, though. He begins the book as a very ordinary man, who has sort of coasted through life, but now is marooned in a wrecked spaceship, going through a dangerous routine just to survive. Mere survival is the only thing on his horizon, until a spaceship passes by. He shoots of flares, yells and screams (useless in the vacuum of space), but the ship passes him by. Suddenly he is inspired to punish that action, finds a way to make the ship’s engines fire, and eventually is rescued and returned to civilization.

His first attempt at revenge is to try to blow up the ship that passed him by. He fails, and is drawn into the drama behind the scenes of the war. People want something from him, he can’t understand what, and lands in prison. Coincidence brings him in contact with an inmate of the women’s section of the prison: for some reason they can hear each other from a great distance, and she becomes the teacher to Foyle that the Abbe was to Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo. Here the story diverges though, as Foyle and the woman with whom he’s fallen in love escape prsion together, unlike Dantes, who only gets his chance to escape when his teacher, the Abbe dies. Foyle has meanwhile discovered one reason why people want information from hm: 20 million credits worth of platinum bullion in the ship he’d been marooned in. That ship has been cemented into an asteroid where Foyle had landed, and been tattooed on the face by the savage people living there. He had escaped in another ship. Now he and the woman head for the asteroids to find the platinum.

When they arrive, they find the ship, get the safe out, then find they’ve been followed. They manage to get the safe into their ship, but it’s so big it blocks the cargo door, so the woman can’t get aboard. Unwilling to be captured, Foyle blasts off and leaves her behind.

When next seen, he has transformed himself. His tattoos have been removed, leaving scars beneath his facial skin, which show blood-red when he gets emotional, so he’s learned to control his considerable emotions. He’s also become something of a showman, spending money voluminously to gain attention so he can travel around the world finding out just why the spaceship didn’t stop to pick him up. Jisbella McQueen, the woman he met in prison, had pointed out to him that the ship itself had nothing to do with what had happened. He had to find out who gave the orders to leave him behind, and why. That is what he sets out to do, in disguise, but disguises are only good for so long, and the people hunting him before become aware of who he is, and are hunting him again.

Meanwhile, the Outer Satellites have been bombing the Inner Planets, so the Inner Planets are getting desperate. During a bombing attack on Earth, he meets the daughter of a magnate, who is beautiful, but can only see in wavelengths that most of us cannot. She doesn’t have normal sight, and though beautiful, she’s also enraged, though she doesn’t often show it. Foyle meets her, falls in love, but then must leave, driven by his obsession with finding the brain behind his desertion. He follows another lead, which takes him to Mars, where he kidnaps a telepath to tell him what the former captain of the ship knows. The captain is a Skoptsy, of a sect that originated in Russia, believing that sexuality was the root of sin, and castrating themselves. In the 24th century, they now believe that sensation is the root of sin, and the captain has entered a monastery after having her (unusually in that culture, the captain is a woman) nervous system turned off. She can’t feel, hear, nor speak, so telepathy is the only way to get her knowledge.

But the telepath is uncooperative. Instead, Foyle is confronted by hinself, in flames, who tells him who the person was that gave the order to pass his spaceship by. It’s the woman he’s only just fallen in love with. He is devastated by the knowledge, but immediately after that discovery, the telepath calls for help, help arrives, and he’s about to be captured when Mars is bombarded by the Outer Satellites. This gives him the chance to escape, but he drives his spaceship so hard he passes out. He wakes to find the woman he loves has rescued him.

Now conscience assails him. He realizes both he and the woman he loves are monsters, and seeks punishment by confessing to a lawyer. But the lawyer is an agent of the Outer Satellites, who wants the secred of PyrE, a material tremendously explosive, which had also been carried by Foyle’s ship, and which can be exploded by Will and Idea: a telepath who wishes fervently enough can explode it. This, after the principal actors pursuing Foyle consult, a telepath does. The lawyer has taken him to the ancient cathedral in New York City where his headquarters currently is, and where a small amount of PyrE is exposed. There’s PyrE in other corners of the world too, but most of it is there, and that amount explodes. There isn’t enough to completely destroy the cathedral, but there’s enough to ravage it, start a destructive fire, and melt a large amount of copper which threatens to engulf Foyle, who is dazed, trapped, and hurled into a condition called synesthesia, in which his senses become cross-wired, so that he hears movement, tastes different materials around him, and so on. Dazed as he is, he tries to escape, and jauntes, but not from one place to another–rather into his past. He’s unable to escape the flames until the telepath who set off the blast explains what he must do. When he wakes up he’s with the people who have been pursuing him.

They want the PyrE from him, and he questions why he should give it to them. The magnate offers him money and power, and, under prodding, his daughter, with whom Foyle has fallen in love. Another man offers him glory, and to excuse his crimes. The woman he left behind in the asteroids explains to him what PyrE is, and urges him to destroy it. But the head of government Intelligence wants something else from him.

Foyle has never been able to remember how he became trapped in the spaceship. Now he’s told that his ship had been disabled by the Outer Satellites, and he had been removed from it, and stranded in a spacesuit where he might lure Inner Planets ships to be desroyed. This ploy hadn’t worked because he had space-jaunted 600,000 miles back to his spaceship. Intelligence wants to find out how he did it. He asks each of them if they’re willing to follow the logic of what they’ve proposed. Is the magnate willing to give his daughter up to the law to be tried for murder? Will the telepath forgive that daughter for murdering her mother and sisters? Is Foyle to allow PyrE to be used against the Outer Satellites to turn his name into another synonym for monstrous behavior? No one answers. Except for a servant robot, apparently deranged by radiation, who suddenly speaks like a philosopher. It tells him that man is a member of society first, an individual second, and must go along with society, even if it chooses destruction. He may disagree, but must teach, not dictate. He must live, not expecting society to stop because he wants to, and if he wants a deeper meaning, must find it in himself. The robot then collapses.

So Foyle jauntes to the gutted cathedral, gets the rest of the PyrE out of the safe, and starts jaunting around the world, throwing pellets of PyrE to the crowds, and exhorting them to find out what it is. The people he’s been talking to follow him, telling him he’s crazy, that ordinary people can’t be trusted with a secret like that. “We’re driven,” says one, “We’re forced to seize the responsibility that the average man shirks.”

“Then let him stop shirking it. Let him stop tossing his duty and guilt onto the shoulders of the first freak who comes along grabbing at it….”

“D’you want to die in their ignorance? You’ve got to figure out how we can get those slugs back without blowing everything wide open.”

“No, I believe in them. I was one of them before I turned tiger. They can all turn uncommon if they’re kicked awake like I was.”

He jauntes to the top of a statue above Piccadilly Circus.

“Listen a me, all you! Listen, man! Gonna sermonize, me. Dig this, you. You pigs, you. You goof like pigs, is all. You got the most in you, and you use the least. You hear me, you? Got a million in you and spend pennies. Got a genius in you and think crazies. Got a heart in you and fell empties. All a you. Every you…”

“Take a war to make you spend. Take a jam to make you think. Take a challenge to make you great. Rest of the time you sit around lazy, you. Pigs, you! All right, God damn you! I challenge you, me. Die or live and be great. Blow yourselves to Christ gone or come and find me, Gully Foyle, and I make you men. I make you great. I give you the stars.”

He jauntes then, but is unable to go where he wants to go. It can be done, he thinks, it must be done. I believe. I have faith.

He tries again and fails again.

‘”Faith in what?” he asked himself, adrift in limbo.

‘”Faith in faith,” he answered himself. “It isn’t necessary to have something to believe in. It’s only necessary to believe that somewhere there’s something worthy of belief.”‘

Then he jauntes to one great star after another that mankind has looked up at and revered for millenia, then finally back to the asteroid from which he had escaped, now in a trance as his whole organism tries to assimilate what he’s experienced. There he is found, and hte priest there says, “He is dreaming. I, a priest, know these dreams. Presently he will awaken and reat to us, his people, his thoughts.”

The book ends there, with Foyle apparently about to become a prophet.

This isn’t a perfect piece of writing, but it’s suffused with a momentum that carries the reader with it to the end. It’s an evolutionary story in which a man begins as nothing and becomes human, then something beyond the ordinary human. It’s a story always applicable to current events, in which humans usually show their worst sides, and all to rarely transcend themselves to become something great. Ordinary people are always lied to, always condescended to by those with power, those who are driven. The exception is the driven person who refuses to be seduced by power and tries to bring others to the higher ground he or she may have found.

I was amazed and inspired by this novel, but didn’t take its lesson, and never accomplished what I could have. But the lesson is still there for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. It’s a novel I’d recommend to anyone. The lesson speaks for itself.

Catastrophes

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Immanuel Velikovsky may not be a name many people recognize, but 60 years ago it was. That’s when he was publishing a series of books about what he claimed to be mistakes in our vision of history. He claimed that Venus had once been a comet, ejected by Jupiter, and it was later discovered that Venus has a tail. He claimed that Venus had not always been in its current orbit, and that it’s proximity to earth in about 1500 BC had caused the plagues of Egypt described in the Bible, for which he found corroboration in some Egyptian writings.

He claimed a number of other contoversial things too. That the model for the myth of Oedipus had been Akhenaton of Egypt, and that the history of Egypt was misdated, so that Akhenaton lived in the 8th or 9th century BC, instead of about a thousand years earlier. This timeline would make sense of Greek history, which seems to have about a 400 year Dark Age between the fall of Troy and when we begin to know something of Greek history again. Maybe there wasn’t such a long break.

In Earth in Upheaval a lot of Velikovsky’s point is that that the geological and evolutionary theory of Uniformitarianism makes no sense. He doesn’t argue from speculation in this book, but from the writings of scientists of the previous 150 years, more or less.

Uniformitarianism theorized that there were no geological forces operating in the past that we don’t see today, and that geological processes therefore take a very long time. This view was also part of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and Uniformitarianism is demonstrably false, as Velikovsky duly demonstrates.

We find that there are fossils of tropical life near the north and south poles, that many of the highest mountains in the world are the youngest, and that some of them seem to have risen during the lifetime of the human race, including the Alps, the Himalayas and the Andes. To underline the age of the Andes is the town of Tiahuanaco, situated on what used to be the shore of Lake Titicaca. This is a saltwater lake, with ocan-like life in it, but at a height of 12,500 feet above sealevel. People can survive at that height, but not live comfortably or grow crops, as they evidently did in the Tiahuanico area.

Why did a theory like Uniformitarianism get started? One theory is that it began after the Napoleonic Wars, the chaos of which had disgusted many. The theory was born of revulsion for war. Velikovsky also points out that the theory of ice ages was formulated largely to avoid admitting there had been at least one worldwide flood, as stated in the Bible, and a number of other places. But there is much evidence for at least one flood, and Velikovsky gathers a lot of it in this book.

One is boulders called “erractic stones” found in places to which they’re unrelated geologically. Possibly glaciers could have deposited some of them where they are, though it’s questionable if glaciers could have pushed boulders uphill, but it seems that a particularaly violent flood explains their appearance much better.

Not only that, but there have been findings of the remains of both tropical and arctic animals mixed together. You couldn’t imagine a circumstance in which both sorts of animals lived together, so how did they die together? As a hint, note that in many cases they were torn apart, and/or their bones were mostly broken. Sounds like the effect of a flood. So does finding the fossilized remains of whales all at least a hundred feet above sea level in Alabama, Vermont and Ontario.

The name of the doctrine opposing Uniformitarianism is Catastrophism: the idea that the earth has been shaped by catastrophic events that we often know little about. There is evidence of a worldwide flood, but what caused it? We can speculate, but don’t really know. Not only that, but there’s evidence of extensive vulcanism in that past that makes modern volcano eruptions look like nothing. What was once lava flow covers much of Canada, as well as much of India. Volcanoes were BIG whenever those deposits were laid down.

We also know that many species of animals died at the end of the last Ice Age (there’s evidence of ice ages as well as floods–the problem is attributing the action of floods to glaciers), particularly in North America, but we don’t know why. One clue is that many of these species were of big animals, generally bigger than are alive today, which suggests that there were conditions in which there wasn’t enough food. At least one writer thinks that humans exterminated these animals (we know there were humans in the Americas at the time), but that seems unlikely to me. Not only were there a lot of these animals individually, but a large number of different species, who had been surviving just fine until a certain point at which we don’t know what happened. Mammoths, mastodons, sabre-toothed tigers, camels, horses, giant sloths and giant beavers, to name just a few, used to live in North America. Something happened to exterminate them, and we still don’t know just what.

Catastrophism is becoming more accepted now. It’s generally accepted that the reason for the death of the dinosaurs was an asteroid landing in a shallow part of the Gulf of Mexico near Central America. The tremendous heat generated by that landing killed a lot of life immediately; the dust and gas cast into the upper atmosphere must have blocked off the sun, preventing plants from growing, and possibly starting an ice age. What’s amazing is not so much that the dinosaurs were killed, but that any animals at all survived.

We don’t know the mechanics of all that we find evidence for, though we may eventually find out. In the Bible the declared reason for the flood was mankind’s sinfulness, though it doesn’t go into detail of just what humans were doing that was so sinful. This explanation doesn’t seem to be limited to the Judeo-Christian tradition either. Many cultures, around the world, say that there have been previous worlds, which have been destroyed because of man’s sinfulness. There doesn’t seem to be any theory giving details of how that works, and a lot of people will simply put that view down to superstition. But suppose there’s some truth to it? We can’t say scientifically that this behavior will cause earthquakes, and another will cause meteors to fall. But we’ve entered an age of potential catastrophe that we CAN ascribe to human behavior.

There’s climate change, which is controversial: not so much that it may be happening, but that human behavior may be a primary cause. What’s less controversial is that pollution of various kinds isn’t good for the environment, including human beings. That doesn’t stop pollution, though. There’s money to be made from many pollution-causing actifities, especially in manufacturing and the acquistion of energy sources to power both manufacturing and an awful lot of other human activities, especially in this country.

An essay I read a couple of weeks ago points out that the beginning of the United States of America coincided with the beginning of the industrial revolution, so that our economy has been expanding for most of our history, and our way of life has changed very dramatically in just over two hundred years. My father, for instance, was born in 1906, which means that the manufacture of cars didn’t predate him by much. Radio became a commercial proposition in his teens, and he was very interested in that. Television didn’t become common until he had gotten married, at about the same time that I was born. America changed a lot during that time, and since.

One of the inventions that made life a lot more convenient was the invention of plastic. Working in the medical field, I see quite a variety of things made of plastic that were designed to be used only once, then thrown away. The one problem with this is that plastics don’t biodegrade–unless over a very extensive period of time. I read that there are places in the ocean that there are large amounts of plastic sheeting, in which the sea life gets tangled up. That doesn’t seem particularly smart, on the part of humans.

Plastics are just one of the products of carbon in the form of oil, coal and natural gas, which also are used to make artificial fertilizers, as well as supplying the lion’s share of our energy needs. There’s only one problem with this: we’re running out of these resources.

It was only in the 19th century that oil began to be widely used for providing energy. Now we read that there’s still plenty of oil left, but very little where it can be extracted most easily. That has mostly been used up, a lot of it in the wars of the 20th century and since. It’s notable too that we’ve used these resources wastefully. Many places have automatic doors, for instance. In the case of hospitals and nursing homes this may make sense. I don’t think stores need them quite as badly. Most kitchen appliances are electric now, as I discovered when I tried to find a grinder like my mother had, with which I could make the sandwich spread she used to make, as well as cranberry relish. Electric appliances you can use for grinding usually have a set of blades at the bottom of a large sort of cup. This isn’t a good design for grinding, and it’s wasteful of electricity. I eventually found a hand grinder in a hardware store, which works much better.

The essay I mentioned above displayed a graph of the primary carbon-based energy resources, which showed their extraction rates getting higher into the near future, then all going down precipitously, because there is realtively little of them left. Yes, we can still get more by fracking, but injecting water and chemicals deep into the earth sounds like a risky business to me. Some say it causes earthquakes. I don’t know if that’s true, but I would suspect it causes pollution of the ground water. I know there’s money to be made supplying those resources, but at the cost of poisoning people? And maybe a lot of people?

I shouldn’t be surprised, though. Large industries have been polluting for a long time, and the way we buy their products shows that we don’t mind very much. Do I sound preachy? I might be entitled to be if I lived in way really harmonious with nature, but I don’t. I’m just as much a part of the problem as most people. We’re used to our comforts, and don’t want to lose them. But the time is coming when we’re likely to lose not only our comforts, but our ability to survive.

Suppose we start running low on oil and natural gas (we’re already running low on coal, I understand). Recently electric power in India was blacked out in an area so large that it constituted twice the population of the United States. That’s something we may have to look forward to. Another is the breakdown of transportation, not only of our own personal transportation, but of the freight haulers who bring us food and other supplies we’ve come to depend on. Unless we find other dependable forms of energy and have them ready to carry the load soon, expect not only discomfort, but death.

That’s one of the causes of conflict in the world. Those producing coal, oil and natural gas want to get as much profit out of them as possible, while they still can. That makes them hostile to more environment-friendly resources like wind, solar, etc. You could also make a good case that oil was the main reason for the most recent war in Iraq and the possible war with Iran that some people want us to undertake. Remove oil as a power source, and one reason for conflict is also removed–assuming that other forms of energy and the infrastructure to deliver them are in place first.

Otherwise, we’re going to have a very painful, and possibly very long period of adjustment which could easily be catastrophic if we fail to plan for it and implement an effective plan. I may live to see that, or not. My grandchildren almost certainly will.

The products of cheap energy have been very seductive, and continue to be. But they come at a price. We have recently fought two wars on China’s credit card, which hasn’t seemed very smart. The price of cheap power is on Nature’s credit card, and I see no reason to believe that Nature is going to be more forgiving of us than the Chinese. We can speculate about the reasons for natural catstrophes, but for a lot of the potential catastrophes of this century we have only ourselves to blame.

A Musical Memory

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Me and some of my high school friends moved to the nearest big city after we graduated, and started going to a music club called La Cave at a time when almost everyone our age was excited by music.

We all felt the power of it  then. We’d gotten the message from radio and records, and were thirsty for the embodiment of it. That’s what we were there for. Others may have seen it differently, or gone for other reasons, but I think a lot of us felt that music was going to save us, and maybe even saave the world. Moby Grape was one of the bands we saw there.

The band missed the first night they were supposed to be there, so we went back the second night. I knew there were 5 members, but only 4 were there. I didn’t know what had happened, and the band didn’t play much of their own stuff, just played a lot of blues, which I was unable to appreciate much at that time. So I didn’t much care for the show they put on that night, but still listened to their first two albums (especially the second) now and then. Many years later I may have found out something of what was going on then.

The band had been founded by Skip Spence, who had drummed for the Jefferson Airplane, but was more comfortable with a guitar. He’d put the band together, they apparently worked pretty well together, got a pretty big push from their record company, but failed to get very far. Part of that seems to have been because of their manager cheating them, something that wasn’t unusual then. But part of it had to do with Spence.

It was part of the zeitgeist that musicians had to take drugs, and if you were from San Francisco, you had to take psychedelic drugs. Such drugs are volatile in a way that depressants, for instance, are not. Some people who took them never came back. Some felt raised beyond what they usually were; others went straight to hell, or to madness (which may be much the same thing). Spence picked up a fire axe one night, and tried to kill one of the members of the band with it. He then spent some months in an insane asylum. I think that may be why there were only 4 people in the band when I saw them. That incident may have just happened.

The band tried to keep going, releasing at least two more albums in the years immediately following. I didn’t buy them, and I don’t think too many others did either, but there seem to be some people who remember them fondly. And strangely enough, according to what I read in reviews on Amazon, the band kept trying to record together during the ensuing dcades, probably with mixed results.

According to writers on Amazon, two of them had been homeless for awhile in California, while Spence had been in and out of mental hospitals. Then, later, I read that he had died.

All that made one of the songs on the second album particularly poignant for me. The song was called Rose-Colored Eyes, and had a kind of unusual sound. The tune was somber, the guitar sort of skittered around the edges, and there were bass runs between each vocal phrase.

Stars eyes once gazed upon me here/Now fallen ……../ Empty smiles on youth today/And wisdom’s teachers gone away they say….

(There are dots where I can’t remember the words).

Smiling people, crooked toys, walked by the store/ Go ahead to the monkey clock/Said I what for?/A horror sight went laughing too/And broken dreams are just as they are told to you

Tell me I’m wrong/I don’t care if I’m right/I’ll just groove along/….and ring your gong/Forget the breath you’ve stolen each day/And someone prays the rains will come/And that’s today

From there into the bridge:

Heartache, nothing but trouble/haunts my every dream/Sadness, you take me/Inside of that which I have seen….

Then it goes into a spoken word hippie-dippie kind of thing which you have to ignore to appreciate the beauty of the song, after which it returns to the final verse:

forget the breath you’ve stolen each day/And someone prays the rains will come/And that’s today….

How hauntingly isolated and alienated the singer sounds. I think the writer (who was probably the singer) was one of the band who became homeless later on. Looking back, the song seems to foreshadow that. This was the time of rebellion, as this is the time of counter-revolution. Children just barely grown were asserting their adulthood, often enough in unfortunate ways. Durg-taking,, and especially psychedelic drugs, were supposed to lead automatically to the New Jerusalem. Obviously, it didn’t quite work that way.

As I remember it, there was a kind of hope in the country then that was pretty unique. I was caught up in my own problems at the time, so I only shared it to a certain exent. Maybe it’s just as well I didn’t get lost on some psychedelic journey, but I was lost in another way then, which may not have been a lot better.

Some peoples lives seem to have been consumed with trying to make the world better through protesting, political action of various sorts, and art, and they were much more alive to the the times than I was. Some of them accomplished some pretty wonderful things. A lot of them didn’t accomplish much, or accomplished mostly negative things. That’s the period that a lot of conservatives hark back to now, hating the way my generation helped to change the country. I didn’t take much personal part in that, but liked a lot of the changes, and wish they had gone deeper. But not having made myself deeper in any active way, I didn’t have much of a positive impact on the world. I’m hoping I can do so now, if only in a small way.

I’d like to be someone who brings hope to people, because that helps bring hope to me. Did Moby Grape, or any of the other muscians we saw then do anything important? I don’t know. We saw musicians in other venues besides the club, and some of them bcame quite famous and outstanding musicians. And maybe they were even, some of them significant in a deeper way. A lot of them spoke to me in ways that seemed meaningful at the time, but whether anything I’ve done has been meaningful because of them, I don’t know. The old world passes away, and I don’t know what the new one will be like. If the people I care about have hope, and the possibility of good lives, that will make me happy.

We Need Better Voters

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In Friday’s Roanoke, VA Times there’s an editorial entitled We Need Better Voters, by Timothy P. Buchanan. I can agree with a lot of what he says, but not with his conclusions. The writer’s basic postition is that the current presidential election is a struggle between right and wrong, though it hasn’t always been that way. One of my friends sees it in those terms too, but his conclusion is the opposite of this writer’s. Mr. Buchanan’s basic definition of right and wrong has to do with abortion, acceptance of homosexuality, and higher taxes to support wasteful government. His position on these matters is based on sterotypes.

Not everyone sees abortion as a black and white issue. I used to, but from the opposite point of view. My reasoning was that laws against abortion didn’t stop it from happening, but it did prevent women who chose it to have it performed competently. Many such women would have complications that prevented them from ever having children again, and some died as a result from the procedure. That didn’t seem like a good thing to me.

I’m reminded of an article I read many years ago by a woman who got into an argument about abortion with a conservative friend or acquaintence, lost her temper, and said, “Abortion is a matter between me and my God.” She said that inadvertently she had put her feelings into terms her friend could relate to. That suggests that even abortion, which many people DO see as a black and white issue, can be seen from different viewpoints. Does that make it absolutely right or absolutely wrong? Not in my opinion. I believe that, given the right of abortion, the decision should be made for better than superficial reasons, but no one can be forced to make decisions by the criteria or in the spirit that we think they should. As with anything else, some will treat abortion as a serious decision, and others will not.

Homosexuality is another issue that causes a lot of people discomfort. Some consider the Biblical prohibition of it to be the absolute indicator of its wrongness. Others see the Biblical context as having little to do with our times. Just why the subject is so threatening to some people I don’t think many of us understand clearly. Somewhere in the first five books of the Bible, where the prohibition is, is also this quote: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, sayeth the Lord.” I would interpret this as saying that if there’s something wrong about the practice, God will punish it. Humans need not involve themselves. Many will disagree with that view, especially those who consider homosexuality a choice. If they believe this, then they presumably can make that choice themselves, and until I get clear evidence that at least one person with such beliefs has done so, I will politely disagree. I never felt my own sexual orientation was a choice, and doubt that those who see themselves as gay feel that way either.

There’s no question that government is frequently wasteful, but that’s not true in every case. According to my reading, Medicare, despite a high incidence of fraud (unacceptable, but probably difficult to prevent), is more efficient than private insurance companies, with (according to my memory) approximately 2% overhead, compared to the insurance industry’s average of 20 %. I also read that we have the most expensive health system of the developed world, much of the rest of which has “socialized” medicine. By some this is considered an obvious evil. I used to have a German friend who became a doctor and subsequently worked in many parts of the world. He explained that European governments considered it to their advantage to have a healthy population, which seemed reasonable to me. The whole uproar about “death  panels”  in which the government decided who was to live and who die, actually referred to something we already have: private insurance companies have the power to decide, on the basis of “preexsisting conditions” who gets treatment and who doesn’t. Does this being a private sector phenomenon make it better?

Mr. Buchanan says that Republicans generally favor life over abortion. In the case of abortion, that’s true, but Republicans also generally favor war. That’s a bit of a contradiction. I read tonight about a Pro-Life woman who concerns herself with the welfare of children after birth as well as before. That comes a lot closer to something I can get behind. The article said that she also tries to find ares of agreement with people who disagree with her, and works with them on the issues they DO agree on. That seems much closer to a Christian way of doing things than what we often see.

He says that Republicans also generally support the rights of individuals to create and hold wealth, and the right to do with it as they please. Generally this is true, but says little about the way in which wealth is obtained, for one thing. Many Republicans seem to think that almost any method of obtaining wealth is defensible, and some of the results of that attitude is that jobs get shipped overseas, to the detriment of American workers, and fraudulent practices go unpunished. Recently on Facebook I saw a sign which said, “Why is Bernie Madoff the only crooked banker doing jail time?” or words to that effect. The answer at the bottom was, “Because he stole from the 1%.” That seems to be all too sadly true.

And the question of freedom to do what you want with your money has limits too, and should. Wealthy people shouldn’t be able to raise private armies, for example, or contribute to their favorite politicians doing so, as happened in Germany between the end of the First World War and the accession of the Third Reich. Granted, a lot of what wealthy people choose to do can just be silly–see Romney’s elevator for his cars–but it can be pretty serious too, if you care about democracy.

Mr. Buchanan also says that our government imposes higher taxes “…to fund wasteful government programs, stealing the public’s money through taxation to pay for the basic needs of those who would rather not work for a living.” Here’s a stereotype that only the poor are lazy. Are wealthy people, especially those who have inherited money, more motivated to work than poor people? I would guess they’re often less motivated, and that they often use their money to influence the government to treat them preferentially. I see no good reason for CEO’s to make 300 to 400 times as much as their individual employees, especially when this depresses the economy because ordinary people have little money to spend. I also suspect that I know more poor people than Mr. Buchanan, and can assure him that not all of them are lazy. Laziness is not specific to one social class, though I would suggest that people with inherited money have less reason to want to work than poor people. Most people I’ve known who have been on welfare haven’t particularly enjoyed it.

And a lot of the wealthy who are taxed preferentially aren’t doing anything particularly productive with their “earnings”. They’re often using it to on the stock market and other places to make a profit. Something like what the Marxists used to call the “rentier class”. They don’t work for a living, but let their money make money for them.

A few hours before reading Mr. Buchanan’s piece, I heard a discussion on the radio about disgust. The fundamental form of that is an instinct that helps prevent us from putting things in our mouths that might cause us harm, but the phenomenon strays far beyond that to various ideas that many people are sensitive to, on one side or another. As I was listening to this, I found myself wondering if there was any connection to political mindset, and discovered there was. The people studying this question had discovered that conservatives are generally more squeamish than liberals, and that they prefer low-risk occupations. This seems paradoxical, since those who claim to speak for conservatives seem, at the moment, to idolize entrepeneurs, and to suggest that all of us should become one. It’s hard to think of a higher-risk occupation than being an entrepeneur. Not only do you have to have access to a lot of money, but you have to have a good idea and the ability to implement it. Not many people have all three, and more entrepeneurs fail than succeed, as it is. For years I’ve compared this entrepeneurial idealization to mandating that everyone become a musician. Self-made billionaires, according to another interview I heard on NPR, tend to the world-view that if they can make it, so can anyone else. A friend of mine, who has met a number of successful people, told me that all of them said they’d been lucky. Who’s right? You can probably guess my opinion.

The writer at least admits that Republicans aren’t blameless, as I admit that Democrats are far from blameless themselves. HIs view is that Democratic positions appeal more to people’s basic desires than noble principles. That one I have a lot of trouble with. You can find abortion ignoble, but what’s ignoble about ending discrimination, whether it’s of homosexuality or other minorities? That’s a form of nobility that Republicans don’t seem to get much at all, much less economic discrimination. He points out that adults can become vicious when denied their wishes, just like 2-year olds. That’s not specific to any political party or any other group, though. Consider Sarah Palin.

He ends by saying that we need a better electorate as well as better legislators, and it’s hard to see how anyone could disagree with that. Just what that better electorate, to say nothing of the better legislators would look like is probably in the eye of the beholder, though. If you consider homosexuals and other minorities evil by definition, you’ll have a different view from those who find other people acceptable who don’t look just like them. We don’t just need better voters, we need better thinkers: people who won’t fall for the propaganda of either side.