Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

One of the underpinnings of human self-deception is a concept I will call containment. This is the idea that even when things go wrong, society knows how to throw up walls, concrete or human, to keep the bad stuff on the other side from us. People who get out of bed at two in the morning to watch a house down the street burn are there watching a spectacle they believe will remain completely separate from them, isolated by a wall of brave firefighters; they are not really anticipating the idea that the fire can come to them.

Nothing in our time did so much to breach the idea of containment as September 11. It also pulled down another underpinning of ours, the idea that the world is run and inhabited by rational people who will work very hard for their own self-preservation and that of others. September 11 would never have happened if nineteen mostly middle-class and well-educated men hadn't been willing to immolate themselves to bring it about. Though the world had long gotten used to the idea of terrorists driving bomb-laden cars and vans, it still (because of the self-deception) had not occurred to anyone that suicide pilots might be possible as well. Particularly pilots with the ability to steer quite large planes.

I first learned that the world was not run by rational people during the Vietnam and Watergate years. However, it is a lesson that has to be relearned from time to time, and I still feel shock at the way the current administration is running things. I have written articles here and published other people's thoughts about war in Iraq, faulty intelligence and the like. Today, I am thinking about the quite radical act of cutting taxes while increasing spending. Back when I was a poli sci major in college, these contradictory promises-- spend more, raise less revenue--were considered the epitome of political dishonesty, of sucking up to the electorate without a single thought to the future. During those years, the Republicans championed Gramm-Rudman, the budget-balancing bill, presenting themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility. Now it is hard to see what the Republicans are if not the party of junk politics, the political version of junk food: politics which loads you up with calories, makes you feel good, and disclaims any responsibility for the consequences.

Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Spectacle Letters Column Guidelines. If you write to me about something you read in the Spectacle, I will assume the letter is for publication. If it is not, please tell me, and I will respect that. If you want the letter published, but without your name attached, I will also respect that. I will not include your email address unless you ask me to. This is in response to many of you who have expressed concern that spammers are finding your email address here. Flames are an exception. They will be published in full, with your name and email address. I have actually had people follow up on a published flame by complaining that they thought they were insulting my ancestry privately. Nope, sorry.


it seems that the separation of church and state has been nailed to the death throes of the land of what was once free.free from crime,teenage pregancy,drug abuse,murder,sexual perversion,sexual assault and a business world that discourages christian based morals because it does not want its associates to be honest.teach a child that it is wrong to kill and maybe our children will not kill us in the dead of night while we sleep.teach the child not to steal and maybe the child will not steal from mom and dad to buy drugs.teach a child that sex before marriage is wrong and maybe their will not be so many innocent bastards to support on welfare.


Hi Jonathan,

I know you wrote your article on lying years ago, but I just came across and wanted to thank you for putting into words exactly how I feel about lying. I only realized in the last year and a half that I am married to a habitual liar. He lies about anything little such as saying he took out the garbage but I come to find he didn't to HUGE lies about an affair he had while I was pregnant. He has been fortunate in his life that no one has hurt him with lies. I don't think he understands how painful it is to be lied too. I am going to ask him to read this article in hopes that he can get a better understanding of what a lie does once it's out there.

Thanks again!

Dear Jonathan:

On reading Why Must Governments Tax Us? I was interested enough that I thought I would offer you a piece on the area, including bringing together some detailed work I've done here and there. If you're interested I'll gather together some of my existing material and organise it properly.

Meanwhile, I'll just point you at the approach used by the Dutch in their "culture system" in the East Indies, and at the article in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica on taxation that does actually cover the approach of using the revenues of a "domain" (this is on the internet these days, at http://1911encyclopedia.org).



Dear Mr. Wallace:

From reading your articles I see you've flirted with libertarianism but have an overall leftist stance. From last month's article on NASA, I also see that you understand the problems involved when the government tries to run things instead of letting people do it themselves. I was interested to read your comment in the latest issue about how you restarted someone's heart and were later disappointed to find out they didn't survive.

It might surprise you to learn that the technology required to resuscitate people after long periods of cardiac arrest has existed for years. The problem is not technological but political; The FDA simply won't allow it to be used because it can't pass their approval process. For more information you can read the story straight from the guy who invented it here: http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=7jfpas%242om%40sjx-ixn1.ix.netcom.com&output=gplain

http://yarchive.net/med/resuscitation.html (A more detailed description of the above)

The conclusion you should draw from the above is not that we've got one little problem in one little area of medicine. What I would like you to see is that it's a small part of a very general problem that always occurs when the government tries to control things it shouldn't be controlling. The problem with resuscitation research is just like the problem with NASA. No matter where you look you're going to see these kinds of problems. Everyone knows how regulation has screwed up the area of work they specialize in, yet they assume that things are better in other areas and the government does a good job overall.

Although each of these problems could individually be fixed by the government if it were to pay attention to them, the lesson to be learned is that governments only pay attention to the big issues that make people vote for them. Big government is good at fixing big problems that can't be solved by individuals. As for the rest, it only makes things worse.

The solution is not to look at each problem as you notice it and say "Let's allocate federal money to resuscitation research" or "Let's make a comittee to study the feasability of privatizing NASA". You'll never be aware of all the millions of problems in every area that are due to government intervention. The only real solution is to keep government intervention to a minimum in all areas of life. I know that doesn't mesh with your liberal views. I know you'd really like to lock people up for posting a job ad which contains a statements like "Jews need not apply". And maybe you don't even see the connection between that last sentence and the rest of my message. Just remember, when you're keeping the government out of other people's business you have to be honest about it. You have to be able to do it even when you know those other people are going to do some things you don't agree with.

There's always going to be something other people are free to do which doesn't appeal to you. So far, the leftist solution has always been more laws to stop people from doing it. Do you really like the place this has lead us to?