18 February 2009

Minding Our Own Business

Oh, no! The Venezuelans voted to abolish term limits. That means Hugo Chavez can be president for life! Oh, no! Pakistan is going to let a large piece of the country be governed according to Islamic law. The poor women! The poor gays! What's the world coming to? Why, for that matter, do so many Americans seem so ready to man the barricades whenever they hear stories like these from foreign countries? Why do they act as if they're in danger? Is their empathy really so strong and so sweeping in scope, and is it true, as they seem to think, that no man is an island, and that every man's death, or loss of freedom, diminishes me?

These are times that separate the real, respectable conservatives from the posing ideologues. The latter take alarm at all reports of "freedom" in retreat around the world. The former are often damned as "isolationists" for thinking that none of it is really their business. But what does it mean to believe that? Does it mean that you don't give a damn for the people who might be oppressed elsewhere? Not necessarily. You have every right to regret what's happening in Pakistan, or to worry about what might happen in Venezuela. But read this carefully: "Mind your own business." Does that mean, "Who cares about foreigners?" You might infer that, but in literal terms it's a reminder, perhaps only a suggestion, that you have some business of your own to mind before you worry about other people's or other countries' problems. A corollary principle could be expressed this way: "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." Is your home really so brittle or transparent? Perhaps not, but shouldn't you make sure of that before you criticize someone else's architecture or housekeeping? Is our house really so well ordered that we can spare time to pass judgment publicly on every other place? The posers, the so-called conservatives who are really irrational ideologues, may say yes, we are a free country and we can judge the unfree. They may even say and even believe such things as: "a tyrant anywhere is a threat to liberty everywhere." Or: "no one is free as long as one person isn't free." These are debatable notions and the debates might be interesting, but let's also debate the notion that, so long as a nation is "free" in the sense that any idiot can gripe against the government without penalty, there's nothing more that could be done to make it a better, more just place. If there's still work to do in that direction at home, shouldn't that take priority over worrying about every little outrage far away? I would bet that some of those so-called conservatives would tell you that those issues you're hinting at are none of their business. But if the material well-being of their fellow citizens is none of their business, ....well, then!


Anonymous said...

If we have the right to judge them, they have every right to judge us. If we have a "right" to act against them after having judged them, they have a right to act against us after having judged us. That is called "equality". The "poser conservatives" always like to talk about "freedom", but what about equality and justice? Don't those words come into play as often as "freedom" and "liberty" in the writings of our founders? Aren't those ideals just as important as "freedom"?

Samuel Wilson said...

Sometime in the 20th century these ersatz conservatives latched on to "freedom" as the only concept that mattered because it was the only one, as far as they were concerned, that couldn't be co-opted by Marxists. If a Marxist is for "justice," than "justice" is suspect. "Equality" was already out of the question for these guys, but having Marxists use the word made it even more taboo. Of course, Marxists also write and talk about "freedom," but for some reason the American ideologues fought harder for ownership of that word and built it up into something that seems to be at odds with the other values. But that really goes back to the days of the French Revolution, which was also too radical for many Americans. So while the French called for "liberty, equality and brotherhood," many Americans preferred "liberty" alone, as if the three couldn't go together in their imagination. Why should that be the case?