Saturday, March 1, 2008

History Continues

Where to begin?

For the few people foolish enough to bother asking themselves what the big picture is — what the best moral philosophy is, what our political system should look like, what the most urgent issues of the day are — it’s not immediately, intuitively obvious what the first intellectual step should be. Luckily, the overwhelming majority of people, I am convinced, never ask themselves these questions unless badgered into it by opinion survey-takers or someone who already has a strong opinion about something.

Thus things like the recent University of Wisconsin survey showing that about 30% of Americans, if asked, say they are morally opposed — morally opposed! — to nanotechnology (the relatively harmless science of moving around tiny things, described in my Reason cover article).

The usual response by the media and intellectuals to a poll like that is to say that the public needs to be better educated or that the public’s fears about nanotech ought to be respected or that their fears of nanotech are a proxy for other worries, etc. The response ought to be: We really need to stop asking the public its opinion. I very much doubt most respondents in the survey knew anything more about nanotech than they do about Beijing, steel tariffs, Pakistan, or half the other things poll-takers insist on asking.

There will always be an elite, though, that keeps talking about the big ideas, and to the extent they delve into politics, they need to ask themselves what it is they’re primarily interested in protecting or promoting.

I don’t know if the late William F. Buckley was ever asked to give a one-word answer to that gigantic question, but one gets the impression that his answer might have been “civilization,” which I think is the right idea. So: more about civilization, coming soon (and throughout this “Month Without Buckley” on

No comments: