Joe Friday, Call Your Office

I have to admit, Jennifer and I are fans of police procedurals, radio and teevee shows which “show” how cops and prosecutors “do things.” Stuff doesn’t really work this way, these shows are fantasies full of over-competent cops, shiny technology in which mistakes are rarely made and always fessed up to. The guilty always confess, and those who confess are always guilty.

They make for neat little morality tales. I admit — it would be nice if the world really worked the way it does is Dragnet or Law & Order. But it doesn’t. The world is probably more like DaVinci’s Inquest, the first season of which was absolutely incredible. Jennifer and I just enjoy the entertainment.
The police procedural began with the Dragnet radio show in the very late 1940s. After playing a string of overly hard boiled private detectives, Jack Webb hit his stride as LAPD “Detective Sergeant” Joe Friday. The original radio show had an interesting edge: Friday had a home life (he lived with his mom, showed an interest in girls), but that and the early 1950s teevee show (Joe actually had a girlfriend, her name was, I think, Ann) were done in the era before the Miranda Warning. (Quick quiz: how many of you know the Miranda Warning by heart because you watched the late 1960s Dragnet or Adam-12?) Friday and his partner could, and often did, enhance their interrogation techniques. One radio episode had Friday and his partner frog-march a suspect (played by Harry Morgan, Webb’s future teevee partner) around downtown Los Angeles in 100-degree heat for four days looking for an apartment, for example. The bad guys are bad, the good guys follow the rules, and everything works out for justice in the end. Again, nice fantasy.
Law & Order is just Dragnet with lawyers attached on the back end. Jennifer and I watch for the characters, mainly, though the various L&O franchises (SVU is Dragnet: Sex Police, a role I could never see Joe Friday doing, and CI is Dragnet+Columbo, which again is a role I could never see Webb filling on his own) help assure both of us that the world is a rotten place full of rotten people who do rotten things. And there’s the morality tale. I claim not to like happy endings, but I’m sort-of lying when I say that. But only sort-of.
While the shows are very much the same, there’s an intriguing difference. Joe Friday has to carry around a pocketful of dimes for pay phones, and he frequently asks to use someone’s phone to call his office. (In the radio show, several minutes of one episode are taken up when Friday calls “long distance” from LA to somewhere in Idaho, as operators connect to exchanges and hook the call up.) There are times, when he’s not in the car at his radio, or not near a payphone, when Joe Friday is incommunicado. All of the L&O cops have cell phones, and can always be reached (unless the writers contrive a situation to put them out of reach). Calling Idaho is no problem.
It’s interesting, this change in telephone affairs, and is more noticeable than any other difference in the two shows.

Now in the First World

Pipelines are the most vulnerable part of the extensive and complex systems the produce, transport, refine and distribute oil and natural gas. They are long, tough to patrol and secure, and easy to attack. It doesn’t take much to put a pipeline out of action, even temporarily, and pipeline attacks have become the way to disrupt oil and gas production in Nigeria, Iraq and Mexico. (I believe there have also been significant pipeline attacks in Ecuador and Colombia as well.) It is a relatively cost effective way for a non-state group to challenge the state and disrupt the local and national (and in the case of Nigeria, global) economy.

This tactic has apparently spread to Canada. If whoever does this is able to maintain the pace, and other groups (for whatever reason) with grievances adopt the practice, it will have very troubling implications:

VANCOUVER — For the sixth time in nine months, and the second time in three days, a bomb has exploded near EnCana’s natural gas pipeline in northeastern British Columbia.

The blast early Saturday morning took place less than a kilometre from where EnCana workers were trying to cap a gas well damaged in an explosion Thursday.

“Our crews were at the wellhead site, where they were working to stop the gas leak,” EnCana spokeswoman Rhona DelFrari said from Calgary.

“Around 2:30 in the morning they heard a loud bang, so they immediately went to the spot where they thought it was and that’s where they discovered the explosion at the pipeline.”

The Mounties are labelling the bombings as domestic terrorism and have flown in a unit of its Integrated National Security Enforcement Team to investigate.

The bombings have all taken place along a 15-to-20-kilometre stretch of the pipeline near Pouce Coupe, just south of Dawson Creek on the B.C.-Alberta border about 1,050 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

The piece does not speculate as to who might be doing this or why.

I Want My $5,000!

The WSJ’s Thomas Frank (also the author of What’s Matter With Kansas) notes in a column today that Sarah Palin’s vice presidential candidacy, and everything about her since then, has showed just how thoroughly the GOP has embraced the “culture of victimization”:

Indeed, if political figures stand for ideas, victimization is what Ms. Palin is all about. It is her brand, her myth. Ronald Reagan stood tall. John McCain was about service. Barack Obama has hope. Sarah Palin is a collector of grievances. She runs for high office by griping.

This is no small thing, mind you. The piling-up of petty complaints is an important aspect of conservative movement culture. For those who believe that American life consists of the trampling of Middle America by the “elites” — that our culture is one big insult to the pious and the patriotic and the traditional — Sarah Palin’s long list of unfair and disrespectful treatment is one of her most attractive features. Like Oliver North, Robert Bork, and Clarence Thomas, she is known not for her ideas but as a martyr, a symbol of the culture-war crimes of the left.

To become a symbol of this stature Ms. Palin has had to do the opposite of most public figures. Where others learn to take hostility in stride, she and her fans have developed the thinnest of skins. They find offense in the most harmless remarks and diabolical calculation in the inflections of the anchorman’s voice. They take insults out of context to make them seem even more insulting. They pay close attention to voices that are ordinarily ignored, relishing every blogger’s sneer, every celebrity’s slight, every crazy Internet rumor.

This has been Ms. Palin’s assigned role ever since she stepped on the national stage last summer. Indeed, she has stuck to it so unswervingly that one suspects it was settled on even before she was picked for the VP slot, that it was imposed on her by a roomful of GOP image consultants: Ms. Palin was to be the candidate on a cross.

The GOP, as long as I can remember, has ridiculed and rejected victimhood claims, especially those of non-whites, women and homosexuals. (However, long ago, Republicans accepted victimhood claims for Jews.) The whole point was an emphasis on individual, self-defined, autonomous human beings, people whose identities were not ascribed by race, class or gender (though religion was a separate matter). At least I thought that was the point. Maybe I wasn’t listening.
But Frank is right. While Palin represents the GOP’s final evolution into an angry and very stupid peasants party, the Republicans were well on their way long before that. I do not know if Sarah Palin has a political future or not, but it would probably not be wise to count her out. That Obama won handily last November is meaningless, especially if he cannot govern effectively (and I’m betting he won’t do much better than the man he replaced). It may be the national GOP is headed for the same perpetual wilderness as the California GOP, and for the same reasons, but it is much too early to tell yet.
Palin’s aggrieved and enraged GOP reminds me a lot of Bernelius “Buzz” Windrip’s campaign and presidency in Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. And that didn’t end well.
UPDATE: Something Awful gets it just right.

Who Gets to be a Person

I must confess to being almost militantly ambivalent about the matter of abortion as discussed in the United States. I cannot passionately take a side one way or another, being suspicious of both sides’ arguments. Pro-lifers strike me as all too invested in the kind of collective morality/sanctifcation that Jakob Kaplan described as being the essence of the confessional polity — the community that fails to see a distinction between church and state — that seeks to avoid God’s wrath on the community by punishing or forbidding sinfulness. (This, I believe, is the motive for most of the Protestant pro-life movement.) I also understand that, law or not, people have limited family size by killing or abandoning unborns and newborns (abandoned babies were one of the major sources of slaves in the Greco-Roman world). It is one of the horrible realities of human existence that will not change this side of Eden or the eschaton, no matter how much we want it to. God’s love is infinite. Human love is significantly more finite.

That said, the choice argument doesn’t work well for me either, since pro-abortion activists seem to want to make a sacrament out of the act, though I will almost always opt for for individual against the will/desire of the state or the society to make choices for the individual. I am not happy with this, and would rather the whole matter disappeared into the shadows where it belongs.
The always brilliant Will Grigg, however, puts an anti-abortion argument in a way that tends to work for me. I am no fan of eugenics or population control, seeing concerns about overpopulation as always the concerns of spoiled, wealthy white Americans/Europeans. Eugenics was just about everyone’s politics in the latter half of the 19th and first few decades of the 20th century — Planned Parenthood ought to simply come clean about involved Margaret Sanger was is making sure certain folks — poor brown ones and immigrants — didn’t have children. But progressive social reform politics were especially wrapped up in “improving humanity” by making sure the poor and other undesirables did not have children. (SOURCE: In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity by Daniel J. Kelves, University of California Press 1985; I own the book and have read it through twice.) Sanger was hardly alone.
At any rate, Grigg writes at length about population control efforts in the 1960s and early 1970s and the link to the Roe v. Wade decision. At least in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s mind. He ends the piece by noting about Roe:

Every argument on behalf of state-imposed population control rejects the concept of individual self-ownership and assumes that human lives – individually and in the aggregate – are a resource to be managed by society’s supervisors on behalf of the “common good.” And, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg correctly intuited in 1973, the Roe vs. Wade decision was a triumph, albeit an incomplete one, for the cause of eugenicist population control.

Although it was swaddled in the language of individual empowerment, the Roe decision was a dramatic victory for collectivism: It enshrined, in what our rulers are pleased to call the “law,” the assumption that a human individual is a “person” only when that status is conferred by the government.

While Harry Blackmun’s opinion in Roe pointedly avoided the question of when “personhood” begins, it emphatically made it clear that, for purposes of “law,” that the term doesn’t apply to any human individual in his or her pre-natal stage of development. This, not the liberty to procure an abortion, is the real gravamen, or central legal finding, in the Roedecision: It put the government in charge of defining who is, and isn’t a person.

On some level, the state will always have the final word about who is a “person” and who isn’t. But Grigg’s point here really resonates with me.

On Empire and Immigration

Bought the latest (I hate to call it new) Madness album, the two-CD version of “The Liberty of Norton Folgate.” There was a time in my life when I would not have waited three months to buy a new Madness disc, but those days have long passed. It’s a good collection of songs, probably the most interesting collection of the band’s career. Musically, “Norton Folgate” sounds like a cross between “7” and “Wonderful.” In fact, the disc sounds vaguely like a “best-of disc” (not that Madness needs another one of those), revisiting nearly every one of the musical styles the band has recorded in over the last 30 years. Scott Miller did this (not sure if it was on purpose) on The Loud Family’s “Attractive Nuisance,” which had the feeling of a retrospective of his musical career. Which is was.

Madness has always been something of a guilty pleasure for me. I can’t really explain why I like this band (it’s not the words, which aren’t terribly sophisticated), but I love the way their recorded music is put together. “Norton Folgate” does not disappoint in this regard. David Quintack wrote in Uncut:

But none of these stylistic revisits are retreads. “Everything” is infused with some of the best melodies of the band’s career, and everything is enthused, too. The tiredness of Keep Moving and Mad Not Mad has been replaced with an older, but fresher, sound. Songs like “Forever Young” and “Sugar And Spice” sound like singles, and should be. Everything seems to gel – the arrangements are the best ever, the production is thoughtful and smart, and the influences melded perfectly (we all know that Madness were more than the sum of Ian Dury and The Kinks, but we all chose to ignore the huge, conspicuous chunks of Motown and The Beatles also in there).

Based on everything I’ve read, “Norton Folgate” tells the story of the Norton Folgate neighborhood (or area, or whatever it can be called) of London. The title track, something of a 10-minute long mini-symphony, supposedly tells the story of Norton Folgate, especially as a neighborhood of immigrants. Madness has never been afraid to use the musical motifs of the east (as imagined by Westerners) in their music — “Night Boat to Cairo” and “New Delhi” being the two examples which come to mind. The song “The Liberty of Norton Folgate” squishes these eastern motifs together with what I’m guessing is late 19th and early 20th century English “vaudeville” (I had the word I wanted to use stuck in my head until the very moment I needed to use it), telling, in effect, the story of the British Empire.
As the song was winding around me last night (I’d listened to the moodboard version several time, by the actual CD release version is fuller, being three minutes longer and fully mixed), and heard this:

In the beginning I’d the fear of the immigrant
In the beginning was the fear of the immigrant
He’s made his way down to the dark riverside

In the beginning was the fear of the immigrant
In the beginning was the fear of the immigrant
He made his home there by the dark riverside

He made his home there down by the riverside
They made their homes there down by the riverside
The city sprang from the dark river Thames

They made their home there down by the riverside
They made their homes there down by the riverside
The city sprang up from the dark mud of the Thames

Which, for some reason, crystallized a thought the song had already stuck in my head: you cannot conquer and colonize the world and expect to remain unaffected by it. If you are going to have an empire, you must be open to the world. It will come to you, settle in you, and change you. It will colonize you too.
Or, you cannot want an empire — or a “strong defense” forward deployed in more than 100 nations — and then demand the borders stay closed, the immigrants stay away and the culture remain unchanged. Empire means open borders. You cannot have one without the other.
The strongest defenders of American nationalism, the Scots-Irish and their physical and ideological descendants who cannot imagine an United States that doesn’t beat up on foreigners, want empire but they don’t want the immigration. They don’t want to the openness to the world, because empire — for them — is solely the legitimate defense of family, community and culture, a supposed superior way of life, against those inferior foreigners who want to take those things away. It’s all about subjugating those foreigners, even as it claims to better their lives.
You can, I think, have openness without empire, but that requires smallness and a kind-of cosmopolitan outlook that only small and relatively powerless societies that are sometimes (too often?) crossroads for outsiders and invaders. But you cannot have empire without openness. I would rather not have empire, but since I rather like the world outside the United States, I appreciate that one of the consequences of empire is that kind of openness, especially in big cities. I don’t think most supporters of American empire, especially those who want the borders closed, understand that.

Resting Quietly… As Much as Possible for Me

I’m recovering from a bike accident, got hit by a taxi cab on Saturday. I’m fairly lucky — nothing broken, no serious injuries, just very, very sore. So, I’m sitting as still and as quietly as I can. I don’t do still and quiet well.

Right now, I’m watching the original “The Taking of Pelham 123.” Great movie. “How can you run a goddam railroad without swearing?!” Great quote.

Seek Ye First…

William Miller writes the following of Dorothy Day in the 1940s:

It was in the course of the retreats that [Dorothy Day] came to see Christ not primarily as social reformer but as the exemplar of all-sufficient love. In the January, 1944, issue of the Worker, she pondered certain questions about Christ. “When St. John [the Baptist] was put in prison by Herod, did our Lord protest? Did He form a defense committee? Did He collect funds, stir up public opinion? Did He try to get him out?” No, she said. He had done none of these things. His mission was not primarily concerned with the world and its forms but with the Kingdom of God. (p. 190)

Jesus was not a social worker and he was not a community organizer. Now, there are those called to follow Christ who are also called to be social workers, and called to be community organizers, just as some are also called to be soldiers and some others to govern. But these things in and of themselves — especially social work, reform, community organizing, making and enforcing the law — these things are not the Kingdom of God. They may, tangentially, touch the kingdom, they may obliquely reflect that Kingdom, but they are not the kingdom.

The Irony of “The Law”

I have recently finished Dutch academic Benjamin Kaplan’s Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe, and it gives me a way to introduce a subject I’ve wanted to write about since sometime in late March.


In describing how tolerance as an ideal evolved in Europe, Kaplan writes a length about how Christian Europeans, particularly in Germany (where the Reformation hit first, though not quite hardest), lived, both before and after the events of the first half of the 16th century. Something essential to Christian European life was the mixing of polity and confessional community:

The uses of church bells [to mark civic events] reveal something else of prime importance too, the lack of separation between the secular and sacred. In towns and villages across Europe, “the body social, the body politic, and the body of Christ were so closely intertwined as to be inseparable.” A heritage of the Middle Ages, the equation of civic and sacral community survived the Protestant and Catholic Reformations as an ideal, even where it was no longer a reality. (p. 50)

While the church and the state were, mostly, separate entities, the congregation and the polity were not. Church and civil community, even before the Protestant Reformation, were contiguous; membership in one assumed membership in another. This is important because as Christians struggled with what it meant to live godly lives, they expressed those lives not just individually, but communally as well.

For Europeans, every town and village had a spiritual dimension: more than a convenient, worldly arrangement for human cohabitation, it was a religious body—a “corpus Christianum.” Viewed through the prism of Christian piety, its unity was an expression of Christian love, its peace godly, and its provision of mutual aid an exercise in charity. The communal welfare it existed to promote was spiritual as well as material. Indeed, the word welfare and its cognates, like the Latin salus and German heil, meant both, for no one dreamed the spiritual and material could be kept separate. God rewarded those who deserved it, and the blessings he bestowed included peace and prosperity in life as well as salvation after death. The fate of entire communities, not just individuals, depend on divine favor. Gaining it was therefore a collective responsibility. Protestants and Catholics did not differ on this point, except where Protestants focused their prayers and hopes on the divine will, Catholics directed their supplication also to the Virgin and saints. (p. 60)

Sanctification, a word important to Calvinists, Lutherans and Catholics, became the aim of community life. With the Law of God, as given in the Torah and most manifest in the Ten Commandments, as the guide for sanctified behavior (both individually and communally), laws were written, imposed and enforced. Violence was done. To this day, many Christians (many American Christians) assume that these laws should be the laws of the community, and that the failure of the community to uphold these laws is the cause of misfortune (such as hurricanes and terror attacks).

But is that the way to read the law — the Torah תורה, literally “the teaching?” Because I don’t think so.

Let’s consider the marriage laws of Leviticus 18, which specify who may not marry whom, so that Israel “shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I [the Lord] am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws.” (Lev. 18:3, JPS Tanakh) In verse 12, יהוה tell Moses the following:

Do not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is your father’s flesh.

עֶרְוַת אֲחֹות־אָבִיךָ לֹא תְגַלֵּה שְׁאֵר אָבִיךָ הִֽוא׃

Okay, so who’d want to marry their aunt anyway? Yet, in Exodus 6, as the genealogy of Moses is outlined, we read:

Amram [a grandson of Levi] took to wife his father’s sister Jochabed, and she bore him Aaron and Moses. (Ex. 6:20, JPS Tanakh)

Moses’ father married his aunt (who was probably younger than he was).

Getting back Leviticus, a few verses later, יהוה tells Moses:

Do not marry a woman as a rival to her sister and uncover her nakedness in the other’s lifetime.

וְאִשָּׁה אֶל־אֲחֹתָהּ לֹא תִקָּח לִצְרֹר לְגַלֹּות עֶרְוָתָהּ עָלֶיהָ בְּחַיֶּֽיהָ׃

To find an example of this, we need to go back to Genesis 29, where we find Jacob sojourning in “the land of the Easterners” (v. 1). He meets Rachel at the well, is clearly smitten with her (she is the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban), and agrees to work for Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel. On the night the marriage is consummated, Laban gives Jacob the older sister Leah instead, claiming “[i]t is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older. Wait until the bridal week of this one is over and we will give you that one too, provided you serve me another seven years” (v. 26-27). Eventually, Jacob gets both sisters as wives, and they become the mothers of the 12 sons who will give their names to the tribes of Israel.

Okay, a point can be made here — these relationships were made before יהוה gives the teaching to Israel in the wilderness, and thus they were not really against the law. I suppose that argument will work — I don’t buy it, and I will explain later why I don’t — but then consider David and Bathsheba.

The commandment has been given and written — twice, in Exodus and Deuteronomy — “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house: you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female slave, or his ox or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s” along with “you shall not commit adultery.” In 2 Samuel 16, we read the story of Kind David, spying a beautiful woman taking a bath. He “sent messengers to fetch her; she came to him and he lay with her,” (v. 4) which sounds like a rape to me. She becomes pregnant, and David then tries to trick her husband, the loyal soldier Uriah, into sleeping with her so that everyone would think the child is his. No dice, it doesn’t work. So David then orders to put Uriah in the front of the formation and during the battle to withdraw so that Uriah can get killed. This happens, and Bathsheba comes to live in the palace with David. Rumors must have flown, because Nathan the prophet condemns David for what he did:

David said to Nathan, “I stand guilty before the Lord!” And Nathan replied to David, “The Lord has remitted your sin; you shall not die. However, since you have spurned the enemies of the Lord by this deed, even the child about to be born shall die.” (v. 13-14)

A harsh consequence, the innocent paying the price. David later “consoled his wife Bathsheba; he went into her and lay with her. She bore a son and she named him Solomon.” (v. 24)

David should have known the law. And yet the eventual result of his coveting and adultery is Solomon, the greatest and wisest king Israel would know, the one who built the temple and extended its frontiers out as far as they would go.

Yes, a case can be made that the characters in the story, especially Jacob and Moses’ father, did not know the law, because it had not yet been revealed in the narrative, but the readers would know the law. Hearing that Jacob married sisters, that Moses and aaron were the fruits of a Levitically forbidden marriage, that David coveted and arranged to have killed and from that came Solomon, this says something about the relationship God’s people Israel have with God’s teaching. They would have been taught the law, reminded of who could not be married, but also reminded in the stories that the best of us violated that teaching. Or were the results of the violation. Without Jacob marrying Leah and Rachel, there would have been no tribes of Israel. Without Amram taking his aunt as wife, Moses and Aaron could not have responded to God’s call to lead Israel out of Egypt. Without David spying (and likely raping) Bathsheba, and getting her husband killed, there would have been no Solomon, and no temple in Jerusalem.

Israel owes its very existence, its covenant with God, to the violation of the teaching.

There are very few examples of human beings deliberately and purposefully punishing other human beings for violations of the teaching. In Exodus 32, after the episode with the golden calf, Moses commissions some Levites to take up their swords and “go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay brother, neighbor, and kin.” (v. 27) In Numbers 25, God commands Moses to “publicly impale” (v. 4) Israelites cavorting with Moabite women (and worshiping their god). Phinehas the priest follows the command with vigor, stabbing an Israelite man and a Moabite woman in the belly after following them into their tent.

But the example that comes to mind is Numbers 15:32-36 (Numbers is something of a gruesome, no-holds barred book, almost as violent as Judges). Israelite come upon a man gathering wood in the wilderness on the sabbath.

Those who found him as he was gathering wood brought him before Moses, Aaron and the whole community. He was placed in custody, for it had not been specified what should be done with him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death: the whole community shall pelt him with stones outside the camp.” So the whole community took him outside the camp and stoned him to death–as the Lord had commanded Moses. (v. 33-36)

What strikes me about this passage, and the punishment it mandates for violating the sabbath, is that Jesus spends a lot of time deliberately breaking the sabbath. He violates the law, as it is understood, and tempts readers and listeners who might know that the punishment for sabbath breaking is death to appreciate the situation.

(Jesus doesn’t cavort with non-Israelite women, but he does encounter them, and he is present for them as he is for Israelites.)

This is why I find the law ironic. It is a guide to sanctified behavior, promising salvation if followed and exile, slavery and death if not. But God doesn’t abandon God’s people merely because they have abandoned God and God’s teaching (though God does come close in Judges 10). God continues to reach out, to forgive, to redeem, to make real God’s promises as God’s people struggle with the teaching we cannot follow and the law we cannot obey. It must be remembered that the history of God’s people is salvation in the midst of exile, slavery and death, God present with us in our suffering and amidst the consequences of our inability to follow God’s teaching. In the end, it isn’t the law that saves us, not our keeping ourselves sanctified as individuals or a community, but rather God’s unremitting faithfulness to us.

The Common Good

I’ve now listened to two of the four lectures in the BBC World Service series of Reith Lectures this year, given by U.S. political philosopher Michael Sandel. He spoke at length on his call for a “new politics” geared toward the “common good.”

I’m not a fan of the notion “common good,” and Sandel’s lectures clearly outline some of my major problems with the concept. But first, I’ll try to do some justice to Sandel’s views. First, his single biggest problem with the last 20-30 years of politics in the West — especially in Anglo-America — was a surrender of morality to the cost-benefit analysis of the market. And that governments, especially the Blair-Clinton governments (following in the wake of the Thatcher-Reagan regimes) were too willing to let markets “work” or to have governments pretend to be markets as ways of attempting to provide state services for all (or as many as need) without actually making the hard political — and moral — choices to provide those services. In this, politicians have handed over actual policy making to technocratic elites, who have too much say in means and ends.
In the end, there are some goods markets (and economists) cannot price, and so some things cannot simply be subject to a cost-benefit analysis. Politics is all about moral choices — will all citizens of an allegedly democratic polity have access to health care is a moral, not an economic choice. Sandel apparently believes that electorates would — no, better, should — choose the social democratic welfare state if given the chance.
Missing entirely from Sandel’s calculus on the subject is the reality of force — violence — as a tool of government. (Any question of government policy or law must always begin with “who are willing to shoot in order to get your way?” It is the only question to ask.) Who is he willing to shoot in order to get his idea of the “common good” enacted? Assuming that an electorate has the “conversation” he wants, the reality of electoral politics is that 50%+1 win the vote. That means that minorities, say people who don’t believe that access to health care is a moral issue or a civic and social right, can be compelled to participate, to support, policies and programs that they otherwise do not wish to support. Sandel assumes consensus, but how does that consensus come about, aside from propaganda — ahem, excuse me, education — coercion and all that goes with it? There is little room for dissent, and that’s the problem with assuming the moral validity of the nation-state as “communities” in this instance. Can there be consensus on anything in a polity of 300 million people and more than 100 million voters? And what happens if that consensus happens to be something other than Sandel’s happy liberal democratic social welfare state? Do we have to discuss and vote — like certain European electorates in dealing with the EU constitution — until we get it “right?” Is that what consensus is? Then why bother with the voting? Why not just send in the soldiers first and create “consensus” at gunpoint? Because it all amounts to the same thing.
In this regard, I do not understand Sandel’s disdain for technocrats. (Maybe he’s using that term solely to disparage Chicago-school economists, investment bankers and central bankers — all well worth disparaging — I don’t know.) Ever since the American welfare state was born (more or less at the University of Wisconsin, with help from the University of Chicago), it was an elite and technocratic exercise, America’s version of Britain’s Fabian Socialism. It was heavily dependent on planners, on data, on the social sciences to measure, regulate and control human existence. Laws were passed, such as compulsory public education, with no popular demand and almost no popular support. Indeed, politics was not about determining the direction of government, but ratifying decisions already made. And linking the people “mystically” to those who ruled them.
Sandel’s politics is an endless committee meeting in which no real choices can be made and no real dissent can be accepted. This is, of course, always how the “common good” is presented to us, which is why there is absolutely no such thing as the “common good.”
* * *
As an aside, Sandel was at his best when responding to a young George Washington University Republican. Not that he answered well, but when the foolish young GOPer said that America is the only country in the world where people can live out their dream, Sandel rather bravely took on such nonsense, noting that there are plenty of countries where people can pursue dreams.
The attitude by the young Republican is, of course, not only a Republican attitude — it is most reflected in Wilsonianism, a monstrous worldview invented and embraced by Democrats. But it is the kind of attitude that effectively says: human flourishing can only truly happen in the United States. (Sandel and his ilk are little better, since they believe that human beings can only truly flourish in the social democratic welfare state.) It is the kind of attitude that says: America must be open to all so that they may realize their dreams, and that the world must become America so that all may realize their dreams. The realizing of human dreams in the context of being American is the end (the conclusion and the purpose) of human existence. Which makes Republicanism a false religion that worships a very false god, the United States of America. Again, Democrats are no better, since they worship that same damn false god with a dollop of health care atop.

Hyperbole? Maybe? Ya Think?

A commercial attached to a short online interview with Edward James Olmos about the upcoming Battlestar Galactica film The Plan described the animated Transformers TV series from the 1980s (?) as “defining a generation.” Oh, please.

But maybe that explains all the 20-somethings around me.