24 September 2008

Washington's Rules of Civility

Recently I read through George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation. The book is quite small and contains a list of 110 rules. Most are common table manners (don't clean your teeth at the table, for instance) and many are holdovers from a now-dead era and deal with how to treat one's social inferiors and betters. I don't consider the people in the Social Register to be my betters by any stretch of the imagination -- and I don't see myself as better than people living under bridges and overpasses. I enjoyed reading some of the rules, though, and I wrote them down.
  • Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy.
  • When you see a crime punished, you may outwardly pleased, but always show pity toward the suffering offender.
  • Be no flatterer; neither play with any that delights not to be played with.
  • Use no reproachful language against any one; neither curse nor revile.
  • Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.
  • Associate yourself with men of good quality, if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.
  • Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for it is a sign of a tractable and commendable nature; and in all cases of passion admit reason to govern.
  • Speak not injurious words, neither in jest or in earnest scoff at none though they give occasion.
  • Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.
  • Labour to keep alive in your breast that little celestial fire called conscience.

17 September 2008

McCain, Palin, Opportunism, and Democracy

Until recently, I wasn't paying much attention to the upcoming presidential election. I've become increasingly more cynical about the state of democracy and liberty in the United States, and remain unconvinced that either candidate can or will turn things around. I wasn't even sure who I was going to vote for, since until recently I couldn't honestly support one candidate over the other. I was thinking of writing in Mike Gravel, myself, or Marcus Aurelius. But recent events have compelled me to make a decision, and I'll probably be enabling the two-party system again this November.

Until recently, I was pretty much OK with John McCain. He was far from ideal, but considering what the Republican party gives us to work with, he looked like a bastion of integrity, civility, and reasonableness by comparison. I wouldn't mind if he lost to Obama, but my world wouldn't fall apart if he became the president. It's not as if I'm entirely comfortable with the idea of Obama being president, either. As said, until recently I was pretty much "eh" on the election. When it came to my decision of whether I should vote my conscious (Marcus Aurelius) or vote for Obama came down to one question: how far will McCain go to appease the religious right -- the supporters of Pat Robertson, the happily late Jerry Falwell, and the rest of that gang who decry every scientific advance since Galileo as "Satanic" and who think homosexuals are demon-possessed?

In recent decades, this group has become a political force to be reckoned with. As a result of decades of pandering to this group of uninformed peasants, it is now impossible to be elected without payng lip-service to the state god. This situation is a violation of Article VI of the Constitution, but who cares about that quaint little document? I realized that if McCain wanted to be elected, he had to pander to this group. I know that referring to these people as uninformed peasants sounds snobbish and elitist, and it is -- and with good reason. I want my broken bones set by doctors who know what they're doing; I want criminals pursued by police officers who know what they're doing; and I want my laws passed by people who know what they're doing -- and I do not think for one moment that people who think the Earth is six thousand years old can be trusted to choose the people who will deliberate on education standards. These people believe sickness and homosexuality are the result of demonic forces and they want to elect people who are in charge of health and medicine? Call me elitist if you will, but I do not want my politicians elected by people whose political opinions are solely informed by commercial television. Yet I see no solution to this problem, which is the reason I've become so cynical about the future of liberty and democracy: its fate is to be decided by mass hysteria.

You can see now why I was apathetic when it came to the election and why my only concern was with John McCain's relationship to the religious right, these lovable peasants whose fathers stopped the Freedom Riders and set their buses on fire and who think that the hypothetical Creator of the universe, with its billions of stars and solar systems, cares about the welfare of a political abstraction on one small continent of one small planet in a backwater galaxy -- and cares about it because It wants worship. Not only are these people wrong, they're insufferably arrogant. To think that Deity would care about the worship of primates!

So a week or so ago, John McCain answered my question and in so doing made an enemy out of me. I don't like being McCain's enemy, but I have no choice. He chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate, and in so doing told me how far he'll go: he will happily bend over and take it in the bum from Ted Haggard. That's how far he'll go. Sarah Palin is inexperienced, and is sure to alienate half the nation and all of the world -- but McCain wants to ensure his victory, so he'll risk her becoming President to get himself elected. It doesn't bother me that he's being a cynical opportunist -- that's American "democracy". Reagan made his bones by being a witch-hunter, after all. What bothers me is that he's so brazen about it. Other cynical politicians at least try to HIDE their opportunism. This guy is brazen about it. His contempt for the American people and reality is impressively massive. What is he going to next? Start flinging Mexican immigrants into "internment camps" to await deportation? What will McCain do to stay in power? I don't want to learn the answer. If he wins, I do not see good things in store for the future of human rights, informed democracy, and liberty -- those liberal values his party despises so much.

03 September 2008

It's Been a Good Life: Asimovian Reflections

Last week I read It's Been a Good Life, written by Isaac Asimov (late author and American Humanist Association honorary president). It was a sheer delight, and I'd like to share some of it.
"To those who are not bookworms, it must be a curious thought that someone would read and read, letting life with all its glory pass by unnoticed, wasting the carefree days of youth, missing the wonderful interplay of muscle and sinew. Thee must seem something sad and even tragic about it, and one might wonder what impels a youngster to do it. But life is glorious when it is happy; days are carefree when they are happy; the interplay of thought and imagination is far superior to that of muscle and sinew. Let me tell you, if you don't it from your own experience, that reading a good book, losing yourself in the interest of words and thoughts, is for some people (me, for instance) an incredibly intensity of happiness." - p. 18

"I have never, not for one moment, been tempted toward religion of any kind. The fact is that I feel no spiritual avoid. I have my philosophy of life, which does not include any aspect of the supernatural and which I find totally satisfying. I am, in short, a rationalist and believe only that which reason tells me is so." - p. 20

"History is the best thing to reread -- and to write. I know history so well that Earth's past is like a rich rapestry to me...in history, everything's one peice. YOu pick up history by any strand and the whole thing comes up." - p. 165

"To learn is to broaden, to experience more, to snatch new aspects of life for yourself. To refuse to learn or to be relieved at not having to learn is to committ a form of suicide; in the long urun, a more meaningful type of suicide than the mere ending of physical life." p. -165

"Knowledge is not only power, it is happiness, and being taught is the intellectual analog of being loved." - p. 165