Kathy Shaidle had a short but ingenious post the other day, headlined "If we're crazy, they made us that way":
The same people who told us 30 years ago that "marriage is just a stupid piece of paper" now insist that it's a "human right."
The same people who told us that "a flag is just a meaningless piece of material" now want certain flags banned and others raised â or else.
The same people who say you can't change who you want to f*ck tell us you CAN change the bits you f*ck them with...
The same people who used to tell us to "lighten up" and "learn to take a joke" now fire people who make them.
It's always a mistake to expect first principles from the left. In Turkey President Erdogan famously explained that democracy is a train you ride until the stop you want to get to - and then you get off. That's how the left feels about "rights". There are no principles, only accretions of power.
For those of us cursed by principled argument, the problem of the passing years is that, whatever comes up in the headlines, we had our say five, ten, twenty years ago, and haven't changed our minds. Six years ago I wrote a column for Maclean's, which was itself a restatement of a column from The Western Standard another five years before that - all about polygamy, and the gay activists purporting to scoff at it:
Five years ago [ie, 2004], proponents of same-sex marriage went into full you-cannot-be-serious eye-rolling mode when naysayers warned that polygamy would be next. As I wrote in that Western Standard piece:
"Gay marriage, they assure us, is the merest amendment to traditional marriage, and once we've done that we'll pull up the drawbridge."
Claire L'Heureux-DubĂ©, the former Supreme Court justice, remains confident the drawbridge is firmly up. "Marriage is a union of two people, period," she said in Quebec the other day. But it used to be a union of one man and one woman, period. And, if that period got kicked down the page to accommodate a comma and a subordinate clause, why shouldn't it get kicked again? If the sex of the participants is no longer relevant, why should the number be?
Ah, well, says Mme L'Heureux-DubĂ©, polygamists don't enjoy the same societal acceptance as gays. "I don't see a parade of polygamists on Ste-Catherine Street," observes the great jurist, marshalling the same dazzling quality of argument she used back in her days as the Supreme Court's most outspoken activist on gay issues.
Etc. Headline from this morning's Politico:
It's Time to Legalize Polygamy
Why group marriage is the next horizon of social liberalism
The right never learns that there is no last concession, only a nano-second's respite to catch your breath and then (to reprise another Kathy Shaidle line) more KY for that slippery slope.
Someday soon some judge somewhere will rule in favor of polygamy, not because the left is especially invested in this particular "expansion" of rights but because of the opportunities it provides for further vandalism of what's left of the old order. That's what matters.
That's why the US Supreme Court decision was a twofer for the left. As I said the other day, even if one disagrees, one can respect the process in Dublin (gay marriage by referendum) or London (gay marriage legislated by the people's representatives in parliament). But the American left preferred to go the Supreme Court route - because, if you're hardcore about these things, to divine a right to gay marriage in an 18th century parchment or to insist that "established by the State" refers not primarily to states but to the Secretary of Health and Human Services is a totalitarian act that destroys both law and language by rendering them meaningless: what's not to like? After the incoherence of John Roberts' health-care opinion and then the next day's effusions on the profundity of gay love and loneliness by Anthony Kennedy, the Radclyffe Hall of American jurists, the justices' total capitulation to the zeitgeist is all but complete. Modifying Wonderland's Queen, the Supreme Court of Wonderland seems to work on the principle of "Verdict first - reasoning afterwards, if at all."
In the gloomier moments of my own case, my lawyers and I occasionally discuss how, if it all goes pear-shaped in DC, we'll be off to SCOTUS. But we're not Larry Flynt in the Eighties anymore. It would seem to me rather complacent to assume these days that there are five votes for free speech at the US Supreme Court.
~Likewise, the looming rendezvous with destiny in the Hellenes. Greek banks remain closed today and all this week. Steven Hayward spots this revealing comment from one Athenian:
"How can something like this happen without prior warning?" asked Angeliki Psarianou, a 67-year-old retired public servant, who stood in the drizzle after arriving too late at one empty ATM in the Greek capital.
Don't you just hate it when the Germans refuse to re-fill your ATM?
Given that "retired public servants" have been at the center of Greece's crisis for years, Ms [apologies for earlier mistering] Psarianou's bewilderment is rather touching. It certainly wasn't bewildering to me because I've been writing about Ms Psarianou and her ilk for years. See After America (personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available, etc, etc, and, while royalties are not as reliable as a Greek civil-service pension, the author is most grateful):
From The Times of London, May 6th 2010:
'The President of Greece warned last night that his country stood on the brink of the abyss after three people were killed when an anti-government mob set ïŹre to the Athens bank where they worked.'
Almost right. They were not an "anti-government" mob, but a government mob, a mob comprised largely of civil servants. That they are highly uncivil and disinclined to serve should come as no surprise: they're paid more and they retire earlier, and that's how they want to keep it. So they're objecting to austerity measures that would end, for example, the tradition of 14 monthly paychecks per annum. You read that right: the Greek public sector cannot be bound by anything so humdrum as temporal reality. So, when it was mooted that the "workers" might henceforth receive a mere 12 monthly paychecks per annum, they rioted. Their hapless victims - a man and two women - were a trio of clerks trapped in a bank when the mob set it alight and then obstructed emergency crews attempting to rescue them.
Unlovely as they are, the Greek rioters are the logical end point of the advanced social democratic state: not an oppressed underclass, but a spoiled overclass, rioting in defense of its privileges and insisting on more subsidy, more benefits, more featherbedding, more government.
Who will pay for it? Not my problem, say the rioters. Maybe those dead bank clerks' clients will - assuming we didn't burn them to death, too.
This is the world Ms Psarianou willed into being. How can she be surprised now that it's shown up?
To prop up unsustainable welfare states, most of the western world isn't "printing money" but instead printing credit cards and pre-approving our unborn grandchildren. That would be a dodgy proposition at the best of times. But in the Mediterranean those grandchildren are never going to be born. That's the difference: In America, the improvident, insatiable boobs in Washington, Sacramento, Albany, and elsewhere are screwing over our kids and grandkids. In Europe, there are no kids or grandkids to screw over. In the end the entitlement state disincentivizes everything from wealth creation to self-reliance to the survival instinct, as represented by the fertility rate. If the problem with socialism, as Mrs Thatcher famously said, is that eventually you run out of other people's money, the problem with Greece and much of Europe is that they've advanced to the next stage: They've run out of other people, period. All the downturn has done is brought forward by a couple of decades the west's date with demographic destiny.
The United States has a fertility rate of around 2.1 â or just over two kids per couple. Greece, as I pointed out in America Alone, has one of the lowest fertility rates on the planet - 1.3 children per couple, which places it in the "lowest-low" demographic category from which no society has recovered and, according to the UN, 178th out of 195 countries. In practical terms, it means 100 grandparents have 42 grandkids â ie, the family tree is upside down.
That's the arithmetic that brought Ms Psarianou to her empty ATM: As I said all those years ago, how likely is it that the debts run up by 100 people will be paid off by 42?
Greek public sector employees are entitled not only to 14 monthly paychecks per annum during their "working" lives, but also 14 monthly retirement checks per annum till death. Who's going to be around to pay for that?
So you can't borrow against the future because, in the crudest sense, you don't have one. Greeks in the public sector retire at 58, which sounds great. But, when ten grandparents have four grandchildren, who pays for you to spend the last third of your adult life loafing around?
Welcome to My Big Fat Greek Funeral.
We hard-hearted small-government guys are often damned as selfish types who care nothing for the general welfare. But, as the protests in Greece, France, Britain and beyond make plain, nothing makes an individual more selfish than the generous collectivism of big government: Give a chap government health care, government-paid vacation, government-funded early retirement and all the other benefits, and the last thing he'll care about is what it means for society as a whole. People's sense of entitlement endures long after the entitlement has ceased to make sense. And, if it bankrupts the entire state a generation from now, so what? In his pithiest maxim, John Maynard Keynes, the most influential economist of the 20th century social-democratic state and the patron saint of "stimulus", offered a characteristically offhand dismissal of any obligation to the future: "In the long run we are all dead." The Greeks are Keynesians to a man: The mob is rioting for the right to carry on suspending reality until they're all dead. After that, who cares..?
Greek public servants have their nose to the grindstone 24/7: They work 24 hours a week for seven months of the year. It's not just that every year you receive 14 monthly payments, but that you only do about 30 weeks' work for it. For many public-sector "workers", the work day ends at 2.30pm. Gosh, when you retire on your 14 monthly pension payments, you scarce notice the difference, except for a few freed-up mornings...
They share that at least with the US Supreme Court. "Rights" are no longer restraints against the state but the gift of a generous sovereign:
Greece, wrote Theodore Dalrymple, is "a cradle not only of democracy but of democratic corruption" - of electorates who give their votes to leaders who bribe them with baubles purchased by borrowing against a future that can never pay it off. The advanced democracies with their mountains of sovereign debt are the equivalent of old people who've blown through their capital and are all out of ideas looking for young people flush enough to bail them out. And the idea that it might be time for the spendthrift geezers to change their ways butts up against their indestructible moral vanity. In 2009, President Sarkozy prissily declared that the G20 summit provided "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give capitalism a conscience". European capitalism may have a conscience. It's not clear it has a pulse. And, actually, when you're burning Greek bank clerks to death in defense of your benefits, your "conscience" isn't much in evidence, either.
~A programming note: On Wednesday morning I'll be starting the day with the great Bill Bennett, live coast to coast on your radio at 8.30am Eastern.