Saturday, July 30, 2005

We're all in the same boat

In the last New Yorker Republican Grover Norquist is quoted describing the conservative movement this way:
"The guy who wants to be left alone to practice his faith, the guy who wants to make money, the guy who wants to spend money without paying taxes, the guy who wants to fondle his gun -- they all have a lot in common ... They all want the government to go away. That is what holds together the conservative movement."

I think he has correctly identified one of the key impulses behind many people who identify themselves as conservatives. Its mythic equivalent is expressed in the idea of rugged American individualism, its classic image is the lone cowboy or pioneer making his own destiny without either the aid of or the limits imposed by other people. Apart from the most egregious hypocrites who confess to following this philosophy -- the ranchers who "hate the government" but enjoy beef subsidies and ridiculously cheap grazing rights for their cattle, the industrialists who hate the burden of taxation and regulation but love fat government contracts -- there are a number of my fellow citizens who are, I am sure, quite sincere in believing it. They want "to be left alone." They want "government to go away." Unfortunately, they seem to forget that they will not be left alone, nor will they leave alone others. They are social animals, they live in a society and work in an economy in which no action can occur without affecting others. As much as they are "individuals," they are not alone.

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
-John Donne

John Donne was a great Christian writer and this is a great Christian sentiment. It surprises me that so many people who identify themselves as Christians and vote for the GOP because they are Christians seem to not want to be bothered with the existence of their fellow man or woman. They want to be left alone. But for Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, and everybody else, the same thing is true. Love, hate or feel indifferent to your fellow man or woman, it's the same. Your life affects him or her; his or her life affects you. We are all in the same boat.

You may want to fondle your gun, but the fact that guns are readily available make it that much more likely that I will get shot. If you don't pay taxes because of Bush's tax cuts, it's my child who will be saddled with debt. You want to make money, but if in doing so you poison the river, I'm the one who will get cancer. Also, if you do make money, there is more than one reason you are successful. Yes, you may be smart and willing to take risks, so good for you. But you also may be privileged and start off with an advantage depending on your social standing, level of education, gender and ethnic background. And no matter who you are, you make money in our society, in our economy. You do so because in this country there are workers for your company, roads for your transportation, consumers for your products, and a social infrastructure you build your success on. You are not a lone pioneer in an uninhabited land. You owe us -- at least you owe us enough to participate in a way of negotiating order in society, that is, government.

And who is the person that is not let alone to practice his faith? Perhaps the one who can't practice it without pushing it on me? I am a good practicing Catholic, and I don't need to force anyone else to make the sign of the cross.

Anyway, I think I've made my point. There is something infantile about wanting government to go away. I think of two-year-olds who want to run wherever their whim takes them and cry when stopped, but also cry when they are not fed. By all means, make government more just, transparent, honest, and efficient, but it's not going away. It's just a question of who it's working for. The whole boat, or the select few in the captain's quarters?


r said...


And isn't history replete with non-Christian-acting Christians?

More of these Jesuits please...
- tu primo metido en el sur -

Henri Beauregard said...

There is much hypocracy in the Christian/GOP relationship. I would assume those who hate big government and Federal meddling in local issues would be pro-choice from a purely theoretical point of view. Yet the choice/life divide most likely demarcates the country's division into Republicans and Democrats. Same for gay rights, aetheist rights, and most other civil rights causes where a conservative Christian social agenda is pushed forward by those professing to hate a large, overbearing Federal government. The fact is, conservative Christians love Big Government, especially when it comes in the form of a personality cult that mimics their paternalistic, Heavenly Father worship. Vide Ronald Reagan, GOP exemplar. This doesn't even address the hypocracy in the neo-conservative break with traditional Republican isolationism. Conservative Christians like Big Government carrying a Big Stick strutting anything but softly.