Monday, April 29, 2013

Of Family and Political Philosophies

The Van Norman men … some years before Sept. 11th.

I was asked how my brother and I ended up with such differing political views. It was a pointed question that deserved a considered answer. I will pour myself another drink and answer it again here.

I would describe my brother as a highly intelligent modern “liberal.” He has intentions as noble as anyone’s and may not be as ideologically inconsistent as most, but his consistency is at least soft, and I suspect that he can be swayed fairly easily by appeals to “social justice” or political utilitarianism. He studied computer science and now works in the well-paid programming field—when he can.

Our father is a self-described bleeding-heart liberal and was born to working-class parents who came of age during the labor movement. He would even consider himself a communist at times, but in practice, I find him to be a garden-variety Keynesian—which would be perfectly reasonable in a fiscally responsible regime. He studied engineering and followed his father into the trades as a machinist. He has been a modestly successful small businessman, weathering the ups and downs of the industrial economy in southern California.

Our mother has wandered more both politically and geographically, but she has trended slightly more “conservative” throughout the years. She wanted nothing more than to be a wife and mother but found herself a single parent working at low-paying clerical jobs. She eventually left the crowded, regimented world of suburban California for the open, semi-rural environment of Cache Valley in Utah.

I can be described as a libertarian or as a classical liberal, someone who advocates equality before the law and individual freedom for all. In fact, I would make a better communist than my father, but I keep my communism in storage next to my perpetual-motion machine. I studied history, wherein I discovered that humanity has not changed at all in the last 20,000 years, despite the historical chauvinism that visits every new generation. I have also worked in academia for almost two decades now, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to see the dark side of the ivory towers.

My parents taught me to be financially responsible and to respect others. Why those qualities should be expected of an individual but not of the governments constituted by individuals at large, I cannot say. However, it is that fundamental hypocrisy that irks me so.

It took me 30 years, but I ultimately confronted and rejected utilitarianism. Until then, I was surely as self-important and chauvinistic as anyone. I made a very conscious decision on that day in September. The ends do not justify the means. My previous worldview was destroyed utterly, and my grief is still as raw and primal as ever, but I am a better and more moral man for it—shamed and humbled though I may be.

Philosophically and morally, that decision left me with only one ideologically consistent path to follow. I would like to think that, when shown the same historical facts, any intelligent person would reach the same conclusions, but that is simply not the case. Utilitarianism is an incredibly seductive philosophy, appearing to offer the collective power to do great good—though the underlying causes of various social problems are often misunderstood—and too few will look beyond that promise to see that it can also be used to justify great evil. Indeed, regimes that I would die fighting have accomplished very great things.

I could say more, namely about the moral courage required to allow others to fail, but I think that I’ve answered the question. Different political philosophies are valid and have been proven so by their historical success, but that doesn’t make them necessarily moral. I chose objective morality for its own sake—or perhaps because the alternatives too horrified me. Everything else is mere detail.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mr. Kashalsky Doesn’t Go to Washington

We are heading into danger.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review the matter of Kashalsky v. Cacace, which unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of New York’s discretionary handgun-licensing regime. There are several more right-to-carry cases in the queue, so the rank speculation is that the high court would prefer to hear one of those examples instead, since the justices have already telegraphed their intent to review further Second Amendment litigation in the near future. However, the danger inherent to avoiding Kachalsky lies in the timing. The longer these important issues go undecided, the more likely that longstanding frustration will turn into anger … and anger into defiance or even violence.

In other words, we’ve moved frighteningly closer to constitutional crisis.