And Speaking of History
Jim Henley looks at the outbreak of gay marriage and thinks of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
I look at Bush’s proposed amendment and think attempted
hard-liner coup. Desperate rear-guard (er, no pun intended)
measures don’t have a stellar record of success, and this one may
already be a loser (PDF).
The Verdict of History
A principle of political action that’s always seemed intuitively
obvious to me is that one should advocate policies such that, in fifty
years, one won’t be embarrassed to leaf through a high school history
book and remember how one acted.
Naturally, this is advice that doesn’t apply to the little issues
(high school history is unlikely to have much of an opinion on even
something as relatively major as the Telecommunications Act of 1996).
Nor is it always obvious what’ll be in the history books. Will the
Iraq War be seen as a trumped-up and unnecessary adventure, a la the
Spanish-American War; or will it be seen as the dawn of an era of
Middle Eastern democracy, peace, and tolerance? Will terrorist mania
look as hyperbolic in retrospect as The Red Menace, or will terrorism
prove to be a significant and enduring threat that really does demand
the abolition of civil rights and legal protections?
I suspect I know the answers, but it’s plausible that people could
imagine that history would come out the other way.
But then, there are times when everyone knows exactly how
things are going to go. It’s incredibly obvious to all that in fifty
years, gay marriage is going to be commonplace; even its opponents tacitly admit as
much. So I should be surprised to see the President fight strongly to end up on the wrong side of historical judgment, but I’m not.
The only historical question before us now is whether, in fifty
years, there’ll still be a debate about which President was the worst
Perhaps a Tactical Error
New York Times headline:
Bush's Campaign to Intensify, With Emphasis on His Record
Yeah, good luck with that.
Blaming the Victim
One of the more unappealing behaviors of both conservatives and the Slashdot crowd is the insistence
that whenever something bad happens to someone, it must be that
person’s fault. Lost your job? Well, you must not have been a good
worker. Disabled? Maybe if you’d exercised more, you’d be okay,
lardass. Mugged? You should know better than to go down that street
at that time. Don’t go looking for sympathy, you problem-causer.
As I say, distasteful. But sometimes, it’s awfully damn hard to
keep myself from doing a bit of victim-blaming myself. Consider this sob story on
Mark, who made between $47 and $55 an hour as a contract programmer
back in Arizona, applied for between 300 and 400 jobs after his last
contract expired in April 2001. He got just four interviews, and in
the last one his interviewer was a foreign worker in the United States
on an H1-B visa. He didn’t get the job. ...
His wife, Janine, ... made $52 an hour as a programmer,
before losing her last job in January 2003 when she says her company
replaced her with an H1-B visa worker.
So here’s a couple making around $200K a year. That’s pretty nice
money — oh, hell, it’s huge money, more than 95% of American
families make. Now, maybe they’re worth it. If they’re good tech
people, it’s not a completely ridiculous number. But:
Between the two of them, the couple owe $75,000 in student loans from
their years of technical training at DeVry University, which they now
consider useless. To return to work in the technology sector, Mark
says they’d need to update their skills yet again to the “latest and
greatest,” which would mean $5,000 or $6,000 more for classes — money
they don’t have.
They got their degrees from a tech school. And they’re
apparently under the mistaken belief that the only way to update their
skills is to spend big money on classes, rather than just learning
stuff on their own, maybe contributing to an open source project, and
possibly taking a certification test if they really want something for
checklist employers to look at. These really aren’t tech people;
these are just people who got into computers because the money was
good. The end of their $200K lifestyle was the world returning to
normal, not a descent into drugs and madness.
So far, I’m with the Slashdotters; but where I leave them is when
they fail to appreciate how much this really sucks for those
former $200Kers. This irrational and temporary boost of fortunes was
one of the crueler aspects of the tech bubble. In a rational world,
these DeVry people may never have had a $200K lifestyle, but they’d
likely be content with whatever they were doing. I mean, really, who
makes $200K a year? That’s not something you beat yourself up about
not doing. You compare yourself to your peer group — other regular,
middle-class people — and figure that you’re doing pretty well.
But having had those years of ultra-luxury, their lives got
redefined. Their peer group became the successful and well-off, and
they feel like failures now. Plus, they know what they’re missing,
and they remember what it was like to live that way. Every time they
clip a coupon, every time they buy the store-brand, they get a little
reminder that life used to be a lot easier, and that they used to be
better-off. It must be damnably hard to be content with one’s lot,
when your lot used to be so much more.
Like the temporarily-brilliant protagonist of Flowers For
Algernon, the tragedy of their lives is that they got a peek at
something better without being warned that it was only a peek. They
might not have “earned” that better life, and there may be nothing
that could sensibly be done to ameliorate the pain that comes when
reality reasserts itself; but at the very least we can say that yeah,
that really sucks for those guys.