Saturday, April 5, 2008

Buying Water

I'm a plodding reader, something left over from my elementary school days. I had undiagnosed learning disorders. But Amazon dot com is my drug. I've spent more time in my life reading than sleeping. It's hard to find really good writing though. Very hard. If it's just about the information, I don't mind workmanlike prose. But if it's fiction, it's mostly about style, with me. I've read a lot of old pulp stories, and the writing is so cloyingly bad it's perversely delicious. But it has to be really bad, to be good. My point is, I do look for good writing.

One genre I like is sports writing -- specifically boxing. I'd rather read about it than watch it. Only if it's good writing, though. So when I came across A.J. Liebling, I practically plotzed. That led me to other of his efforts, most recently his book, "The Press." I have it in the first edition, paperback original, 1961, and the paper is so acid it is literally crumbling in my hands. Can't open the book all the way or pages fall off the spine. But it's a most peculiar artifact for reasons other than this.

In those long ago days, it seems -- and I know it's hard to believe -- the press, specifically the newspapers, were dominated, corruptly, FROM THE RIGHT! Liebling is simultaneously indignant and gleeful as his observes, for example, that 84% of the publishers were Republican. He observes that four out of five papers endorsed the Nixon-Lodge campaign over that of Kennedy-Johnson. First of all, Lodge? But the case Liebling makes is interesting, and thought-provoking. Indeed, from the safe vantage of a half-century down the line, we can risk some objectivity, and must concede the merit of his case. A biased press is a bad thing.

I wonder if Liebling, a man of the left, would have the same extravagance of outrage today, when the press, expanded in its scope beyond the mere printed word, is 90% skewed to the left. I have to believe it would be so. He decries the steady loss of independent newspapers, observing the inexorable trend toward one-paper monopolies in any given city. He outlines the reasons, or rather the process by which this occurred, and his case is not uncompelling, where one paper gobbles up another simply to avoid the competition, and then enjoys the benefit of cutting back on its actual news reporting -- so expensive, don't you know, to pay all those reporters, when feature pieces will do just as good a job to fill up column space.

We can't argue with the profit motive, but it does tend to strive toward the monopoly, which provides great profit with the least amount of effort ... and of service.

That's why the terms liberal and conservative are so unsatisfying.

Fifty years ago, I would have been called a liberal. You too, most likely. We understand that greed is foundational to the human condition. Greed for individual profit, which is stereotypically a "conservative" concern, and greed for ideological conformity, from the Left. Given this continuum, prudence requires that we gauge our society's relative position, and urge it toward some sort of human and workable balance. We conservatives like small government, because bureaucracies are dehumanizing, inefficient, and profoundly corrupt. But we understand, as our predecessors did not, that the profit motive unmollified by a social conscience is just as cruel and dehumanizing. Without government regulations, we'd still have children working in coal mines and a six day work week, 12 hours a day, at a dime an hour. We'd have raw sewage and chemical waste pumped into rivers. They want to drink our milkshakes. Thus, regulations are not only not bad, in themselves -- they are necessary. Human nature is what it is, irresponsible and selfish, and we need laws to inhibit vile conduct. Regulations are just laws for companies.

On the flip side, the excesses of the left are just as poisonous. Exclude communism and such odious examples. Take unions. A good idea, necessary, and a counterbalance to the robber baron mentality that strong men may bring to their quest for profit. But featherbedding and strong-arm intimidations and mafia corruption and the suppression of secret ballot voting -- how vile. I can't join the robber barons, and I refuse to join the corruption of the unions. Given such required independence, I'd just have to call myself conservative, since the only actual choice, the only thing that I could join, I wouldn't.

The left has the media monopoly now, as the right did in grandpa's day. Things change. The internet mammal is destroying the MSM lefty dinosaur. Good. When the pendulum swings to the right, finally, at long last, again, in the media, I may need to counterbalance myself just a bit toward the left. Because it isn't labels, ever, that matter. It's principles. Individual responsibility has to be countered by social accountability. This doesn't mean peecee word police. This means not adversely affecting someone else's health. It means being more responsible for your own kids than you are for anyone else's.

It's about wisdom. That requires a certain flexibility. It requires moderation in almost all things. It means dodging between license and repression, tolerating what is annoying while opposing with all your might what is toxic to virtue and liberty. We draw the lines where we may, and understand that we may have to redraw them. We understand that this is the dance of integrity that every mature adult must join. Children think that words are rules. Men remember the hard lessons of experience.

All decent people have a social conscience. Whether that concern is expressed through individual generosity, or facelessly and corporately through taxation and entitlements is as it may be. If personal responsibility is insufficient to care for the truly needy, then government interference is not inappropriate. But taxation is not a virtue, where personal charity is. And, as they say, bad money drives out good. The point is that we do what we can do, and if enough people involve themselves, the world gets better. If not, government gets bigger.

What was a conservative, 50 years ago? Someone who was for segregation? I beg to differ. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed with a higher percentage of Republican than Democrat votes. But the Solid South is largely responsible for that disproportion: Democrats being, historically, the party of White Supremacy, Segregation, Racism and Slavery. Alas, Barry Goldwater blundered on an epic scale when he opposed the civil rights bill. As a consequence of that error, American blacks abandoned the Republican party and flocked to the Democrats, and thus brought disaster down upon their heads. I feel the urge to coin a new cliche -- something about politics and strange bedfellows ... I'll work on it. The point is, conservative isn't just about keeping things as they are. It's about self-reliance. Likewise, liberal isn't solely about license and abortion. It's about a helping hand. Who among us is not both liberal and conservative? The devil is not so much in the details, as in the excesses.

In speaking of press monopolies and the indulgences of the information moguls, then almost exclusively positioned on the right, Liebling said, some 50 years ago, "My point here is not only that there are evil, or potty, or capricious, as well as benevolent, despots, but that it is evil that men anywhere be forced to depend, for the information on which they must govern their lives, on the caprice of anybody at all. There should be a great, free, living stream of information, and equal access to it for all. Our present news situation, in the Untied States, is breaking down to something like the system of water distribution in a casbah, where peddlers wander about with goatskins of water on small donkeys, and the inhabitants send down an oil tin and a couple of pennies when they feel thirst."

Eternal verities. Only the devils change. The poles have shifted, and north is south. The press is a Bolshevik bastion. Now outrage must emanate from the right. Well, we're not good at outrage. We're the quiet desperation crowd. In the back of my mind is some biblical verse about craving truth like a dying man craves water. That's why we have such contempt for the leftist press. They lie, and call it righteousness. The way, most likely, the right used to do, fifty years ago.



GUYK said...

I have a suspicion that you, as many of us, are no more of the right wing than you are the appear to realize that both are dangerous to our ideas of individual liberty.

Jack H said...

That's why I'm careful to distinguish between right-wing and conservative.

Liebling informs us that railroad workers had to strike, in 1960, in order to get a five hour week. Well, we know what happened to the railroads. Damn them socialists.

Will C. said...

"Alas, Barry Goldwater blundered on an epic scale when he opposed the civil rights bill. As a consequence of that error, American blacks abandoned the Republican party and flocked to the Democrats, and thus brought disaster down upon their heads."

Hmmm, perhaps this is why many Republicans of note (Bush, McCain) are so soft on the illegal immigration issue. Not wishing to repeat the past they look the other way on a similar issue. Only they've swung the pendulum too far back in the other direction...past equilibrium where law and order and sovereign borders exist.

Stupid BG. And I suppose he opposed it because LBJ was for it. Much like Senate Democrats opposing the surge and denying it's success simply because of their diaposition to Bush.

diaposition is a word, right?

Jack H said...

Yes, diaposition, a portmanteau word combining diaspora and disposition.

Charlton Heston marched with MLK.
So it can't be a conservative thing, this Goldwater vote. It must have been politics. But it was awfully shortsighted, too, of the blacks, to switch allegiances. Maybe the Republicans did too, though, over the years. It's the party of Lincoln mostly in name. The Dems are still the party of slavery, though, so there's some historical continuity.

Will C. said...

Yes, I love that about Chuck. Must burn the libs that they can't box him in to their narrow viewpoint.

Earlier I think was trying to combine two words dipole & opposition into one.

Oh wait, thats what a portmanteau word is. Jack, I learn something new from you everyday.

Jack H said...

Did I ever mention that I bear a striking resemblance to Heston? Now now, of course -- I'm must more lifelike. Once in college I was in age makeup -- um, Mardi Gras, yeah, that's what it was -- and the similarity was quite pronounced. You will be tested on this fact later, so remember it.

Sometimes it's just breathtaking, how wonderful I am.

Will C. said...

My response to that can be found at 3 across, 3 down on your avatar...hehehe

Jack H said...

Rank one, file four.