August 2008

Letters to the Ethical Spectacle

by Jonathan Wallace


For about a dozen years, off and on, you and I have been jousting about the Second Amendment and related issues. I would have thought I would feel some sense of achievement to read in your July Rags and Bones column that "Bruce, and the Supreme Court, are probably right." Actually it's a disappointment.

I am left feeling as if I have been waterboarding someone for over a decade, and beating him about the head and shoulders, and the person finally said "Ok, Ok, I'll agree." That's not success; it's failure.

You have been and still are a true champion of the First Amendment. You have taken firm stands, even going to court, to defend what you think is important. I see that what I have failed to convince you (and other Ethical Spectacle readers who agree with you) is that, regardless of the compromise-induced technicalities of its wording, the Second Amendment is an ideal just as much in the center of the ethos of the founders of this country as is the First.

A little research shows that common sense won't help anyone understand it, any more than common sense will convince one that the First Amendment not only protects output from a manual, single-sheet letter press, but also speech communicated via all of the other technical means society has today; that it not only protects the practice of religion, but protects us *from* the practice of religion.

On looking, we will find that there were numerous prior attempts at wording the Second Amendment. We will also find that the founders expressed in other writings how they felt that keeping and bearing arms was a normal, usual part of day-to-day life (now as then, as with the technology of free speech). And we will also find that they recognized the ancient right of self-defense with arms, as well as that possession of arms is necessary to protect liberty and society *in case* it becomes threatened (the militia part).

The founders' views, as well as the way the wording of the Second Amendment was decided upon to express all of those views, is readily available. However, as with much knowledge, if one doesn't seek it, one will not find it.

Bruce A. Clark

Dear Jon:

I have three books to recommend to you.

The first book actually refers to your article Progress from January. Forgive me for not sending you this link earlier.

You wrote about Malthusian limitations. I must admit I've come to the conclusion that mankind, when unfettered in a capitalistic and free society, can go beyond any limitation.

Julian Simon in The Ultimate Resource 2 has the data to back this statement up. He was the economist who bet against Paul Erlich that a bunch of commodities would be less expensive in a decade. Simon won and Erlich ran away from a renewal of the bet.

The next two refer to your piece Imaginary Emergencies in which the Great Depression played a role.

Amity Shlaes wrote a history of the Great Depression called The Forgotten Man in which she blamed the policies of both Hoover and Roosevelt, which were both activist, for creating and prolonging the depression. She further stated that the Second World War did not lift the country out of the depression but the revocation of many of the policies of Hoover/Roosevelt following the war under Truman brought the economy back to life.

The final book is on economics, Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell. It makes it clear that the basic cause of inflation is not a diminishing belief in money but an increasing amount of money chasing after a static amount of goods and/or services.

Joe Schuster

Hi Jonathan,

In Iraq, at least 13 deaths by electrocution, 283 electrical fires, and countless injuries and electical shocks. The Pentagon says that the majority of these are atributed to faulty workmanship and materials by AMERICAN contractors.

Any electrical contractor in the states would be fined, sued, and licenses pulled. Perhaps one good thing about a Democratic White House will be the prosecutions and executions of war profiteers. (but most likely not)

Have a great summer,

Bram Ponivas

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Thank you for your excellent article reviewing Mr Krakauer's book Into Thin Air.

I read the book about six months ago, and as a journalist I was fascinated by Jon's account of his time on Everest and the detailed way in which he described his ascent of the mountain.

The book has haunted me since I read it, and in no small way that's due to Jon's role in the ascent, and the way his book dealt with the various moral issues resulting frorm the expedition.

His account of almost walking off the edge of the mountain affected me markedly, and the account of his confusion over the people he saw on his way down the mountain, and who fell off, who survived etc, left me significantly uneasy as a journalist.

Thank you for your account, and thank you for the indisputably true last paragraph in your article: "But maybe humans should renounce going places where they can't afford morality."

After having recently seen a Geographic Channel documentary series about Everest ascents (ironically run by fellow New Zealanders) I can only think that the whole ascent economy (and the growing death toll) should be stopped immediately. The slopes should be cleaned as much as possible, the dead removed where possible, and the mountain declared a no-go zone for the entire world.

Again, thank you for your article, I enjoyed reading it and was significantly challenged by it.

Graham Hawkes
Auckland, New Zealand