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Turning Tide? - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Turning Tide?
My mother-in-law regularly forwards everyone in her address book the messages that others forward to her. Consisting in equal measure of inspirational sayings, Reader's Digest-style humor and photos of adorable puppies and kittens, these messages are the air fresheners of the internet, ubiquitous and irrelevant. I'm sure you know the kind. Sometimes, though, a little political content seeps through. I have expressed outrage over the offensive racist content in a few messages which my mother-in-law had apparently not bothered to think about before passing them on. Today's missive, under the rubric "3 Thoughts," doesn't fall into that category, but it is interesting to me for a couple reasons:
1- Zero Gravity

When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ball-point pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat this problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion developing a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside-down, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to over 300 C.

The Russians used a pencil.

Your taxes are due again -- enjoy paying them.

2 - Our Constitution

They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq . Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years and we're not using it anymore.

3 - Ten Commandments

The real reason that we can't have the Ten Commandments in a Courthouse is that you cannot post "Thou Shalt Not Steal", Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery" and "Thou Shall Not Lie" in a building full of lawyers, judges and politicians! It creates a hostile work environment.
Recognizing that these messages constitute the sort of data that a contemporary folklorist might subject to critical scrutiny, I wonder what the binding together of these three items says about the temper of the times in Middle America.

The first item repeats a common theme of government waste familiar from comedians' monologues -- remember all those references to $700 hammers in the military? -- but throws in the odd counterpoint that, "The Russians used a pencil." Is this a backhanded endorsement of Communist efficiency? Or is the point that even the backward Russians weren't as given to governmental excess as we are?

The second item repeats an argument that has made the rounds on the talk radio circuit, but adds the bit about "not using it anymore," suggesting either that the point functions as a critique of Bush Administration policy or that the abandonment of the Constitution being lamented is the result of liberal misdeeds.

The third and final item is another staple of comedy, but serves to make the second item seem less like a poke at Bush & Company's overstepping of legal boundaries and more like a lament for the loss of the good old Constitution of the Framers.

What's odd about the list taken together is that it allows -- not unlike the slogan in my previous entry, "We need to stop belting our children and start belting our children" -- for a wide range of interpretation from a political standpoint. I was sure that the second item was directed at the Bush Administration, for example, and didn't see the other alternatives until I thought about if or some time. This suggests, among other things, that the animus against government that has formed the backbone of Neo-Conservatism from Thatcher and Reagan onward is now being shared by many on the Left as well. Conservative or liberal, the temptation to regard the government as wasteful, out-of-control, and corrupt is hard to resist these days.

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Muse: If You Knew My Mind - Colossus - West Oaktown Remixes</e

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From: bobo_amargo Date: February 8th, 2006 09:42 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Zero Must Tell

Re: #1, it seems to me that the dominant strain of American individualism (as opposed to the recessive and sublime [by my lights] Thoreauvian kind) knows itself only when it's exploiting any and all resources, as well as any and all advances in technology (many of which have come about in the first place only to serve this strain of individualism), in order to refuse to submit BOTH to limitations of any kind AND to the common-sense alternatives (i.e., pencils) effected by the acknowledgment of such limitations. That said, one of the funniest episodes of _Seinfeld_, the one in which Elaine, doped out of her head, does Brando in _Streetcar_, is also the one in which Jerry praises his father's friend's zero-gravity pen.

As to your final sentence (i.e., "Conservative or liberal, the temptation to regard the government as wasteful, out-of-control, and corrupt is hard to resist these days"), do you think this fact has something to do with what I've been experiencing as the growth, especially among younger folk, of Libertarianism?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 9th, 2006 01:06 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Zero Must Tell

Totally. I see a big rise in libertarian thinking among folks under 40 and especially among the college-age. The success of South Park is an indication of the attractiveness of a kind of nihilistic tolerance-through-universal-intolerance to young people and 20-somethings. Interestingly, the libertarians I have intercourse with seem wedded to the notion that limitations are either natural and unavoidable or social -- and therefore artificial -- and able to be overcome through force of personal will.
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