Friday, June 20, 2008

Retro-Journal: The Ownership Society (and Gotham City) in Early 2005

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Things appeared to be going very well from my perspective in early 2005 as Bush began his second term. Consider:

•Bush had unexpectedly seized upon his re-election as an opportunity not to launch another war but to turn his attention to the domestic economic reform libertarians had waited for so patiently, proclaiming his vision of an “Ownership Society,” the centerpiece of which would be privatized retirement accounts, under the Social Security reform plan that he tirelessly toured the country promoting.

•Bush’s Second Inaugural speech was worthy of, well, Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose 2004 convention speech I praised in last week’s Retro-Journal entry. Bush actually expanded upon the Schwarzeneggerian theme of freedom’s progress throughout American history — and Republican Party history — to include Republicans’ founding achievement: ending slavery. Who knew that some people would be calling Bush a willing mass-murderer of Louisiana blacks mere months later?

•Iraq held its first democratic elections, citizens holding their purple-stained thumbs aloft with pride.

•Christopher Hitchens, a living embodiment of political fusionism after my own heart, gave a speech here in New York City, on one of several occasions I’ve seen him talk, and put a leftist critic in the audience — who asked whether democracy can be imposed by force — in his place by saying: I don’t know that it’s ever been imposed any other way, and let me add that without the backing of the French army in North America in the late eighteenth century, no one today would remember the name of Thomas Jefferson. Well put.

•I had given a speech in December 2004 at an event in New York City I co-organized with the libertarian Institute for Humane Studies, in which I explained the potentially cozy though far from perfect place of “Libertarians in Bush’s World” — and was invited to turn the speech into an article a few months later in the NYU Journal of Law & Liberty, its own existence a positive sign for the future. You can download a PDF of my whole pro-Bush case here. (I have nothing to hide, obviously.) It may now read like an eerie time capsule from a bygone, more naive era (much has changed in the past forty months), but I still think it’s a pretty good read — and probably not that many people have read it, so check it out.

(My favorite comment at that IHS/Seavey event, though, was from Michael Malice, who responded to a skeptical question about whether the U.S. is any freer than the Middle East by saying, without even blinking or taking a breath, “Well, we let women read, and kosher is a choice.” It’s moments like that I’m willing to believe his neurons fire faster than my own.)

•Early 2005 was also the half-year in which Michel Evanchik and I became the official ongoing heads of the Debates at Lolita Bar — and though this blog was not fully functional until early 2007, you’ll find its archives contain my mass-e-mailed debate announcements all the way back to the beginning of our reign. If I included every mass-e-mail I sent back then, this would be a much larger site.

•My feminists critics will probably snort at our choice for first debate topic, but I for one was trying to take an analytical look at gender relations, more rooted in science than tradition, around that time, writing a still-unpublished overview of evolutionary psychology some 9,000 words long under the editorial direction of Heidi Julavits from The Believer, who’d soon apparently lose interest in having me revise the piece, instead assign me an almost equally-long book review about death and cannibals and zombies, which I think turned out to be quite riveting, then lose interest in that as well and become electronically unresponsive (not that I’m suggesting for a moment people have to like my stuff).

Don’t trust those hipster venues. Luckily, since I hate to waste any effort, multiple good things have come of my faith-shaking Believer encounter:

(1) I fissioned off a section of the evolutionary psych piece to become a Radar item about monkey crimes.

(2) I cannibalized (ha!) the cannibals-and-zombies piece for a Metaphilm article, and I think it holds up well.

(3) I have recruited my informal advisor on the evolutionary psychology piece, Diana Fleischman, to be one of the three women who’ve sold their own eggs for our panel on that topic next month at the aforementioned Debates at Lolita Bar on July 22, 8pm (instead of our usual first-Wednesday). I hope she we will bring her monkey-loving experience to bear.

•Meanwhile, my favorite comics writer, Grant Morrison (whose second issue of Final Crisis comes out in just five days), released one of his most ambitious projects, multiple interlocking miniseries called Seven Soldiers, starting in early 2005, while DC surprised fans by releasing a twentieth-anniversary sequel to their Crisis on Infinite Earth miniseries: the turning-point comic one-shot (so to speak) depicting the death of Blue Beetle, Countdown to Infinite Crisis. DC appeared to have some workable long-term strategy…much like the Bush administration.

•And you know, as much as we’ve all suffered at George Lucas’s hands over the past decade, Revenge of the Sith, out in May 2005, wasn’t half bad, I’d contend, and the fact it was plainly framed as an anti-Bush and anti-imperialist (duh) commentary didn’t even bother me (though I think most neocons are smarter than Palpatine’s useful idiot Jar Jar Binks, in my experience) — but Kyle Smith’s first words when the advance screening we saw together was over were: “That sucked.” And he’s the professional movie critic, not me (though his paper, New York Post, may carry a book review by me this Sunday, if all goes according to plan, by the way). As of last month, he’s also a dad.

•I went to a libertarian wedding or two around that time (I see the female half of one such wedding, Bretigne Shaffer, is now urging journalists to cover the opening of the new Kelo family house, a sequel to the events of the tragic Kelo Supreme Court decision that affirmed government’s power to take private property and give it to other private agents for mere econ development purposes — which reminds me: I think your comfy sofa would aid my writing efforts more than yours, so I’ll be picking that up on Tuesday, and don’t try to stop me or I’ll lock you up in a small room).

•I also spoke to high school kids in Arkansas about my work at ACSH that June, invited there by now-State Rep. Dan Greenberg, who taught at that state’s Governor’s School…

…and as it happens, I speak to high school kids for only the second time in my life (since being one myself) tomorrow, as part of a panel on the topic “What Is America?” at Bob Chitester and Free to Choose Media’s Winning Ideas Weekend event here. I’ll be summing up America, with an emphasis on industrial and technological progress, in seven minutes. I hope I don’t leave anything out.

Of course, some might plausibly argue that Dan Greenberg and I are the juveniles — not only holding onto faint hope that the Republicans will recover their limited-government principles but also going to see Batman Begins on that Arkansas trip in 2005 and loving it. But we weren’t the only ones: It was clearly a big influence on last month’s Iron Man, and I look forward to next month’s Dark Knight — with much more optimism than I feel contemplating politics, believe me.

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