Friday, May 29, 2009

Shifting the terms of the debate for a minute

While our ruling class labors to make us complacent and comfortable with the unacceptable, perhaps these thoughts from the late David Foster Wallace deserve another look:

What if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?

Is this thought experiment monstrous? Would it be monstrous to refer to the 40,000-plus domestic highway deaths we accept each year because the mobility and autonomy of the car are evidently worth that high price?
Go read the whole article. Despite the writer (one of these days---maybe when I retire!---I will sit down for a few years and read Infinite Jest), it's not very long. But the questions Foster Wallace dared to raise are worth asking. What kind of people do we want to be? Where do we balance our perceived "safety" and our integrity? Does "America" actually mean something, or is it just a country stolen from its rightful owners that thinks too highly of itself? The right wing in this country loves to talk about "courage"; here's a new frame for discussing the subject.

UPDATE: Look who's agreeing now. Wonder how long till Rush Limbaugh starts dusting off the old "Betray-us" jokes?

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