Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Government Guns Compel Your Kindness

Today was well spent doing a little wine tasting here in California. My mother, grandmother and friends made the rounds to several lovely vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley region. We discovered some lovely old-vine Zinfandels and Barberas. We also set up a picnic outside of small vineyard owned by a Croatian named Milan. We had some artisan cheeses, cherries, pears, sourdough bread and fresh heirloom tomatoes. The food, sun and wine was heavenly.

After our picnic outside Milan's vineyard, we went inside to taste his Syrah. We were quite pleased with all of his well-crafted wines, bought a few bottles, petted his two jack russels and were almost out the door. Then my mother mentioned to Milan that I was a philosophy professor, and he beamed a wide smile. "I was a philosophy major too! What sort of philosophy do you specialize in." I was a bit non-descript, mostly because I was tired and looking forward to a dip in the pool with Oma. But, I said I admired Kant, Ancient Greek Philosophy and 20th European philosophy.

Milan: "Kant is too hard! Do you like Rousseau?"
Aspazia: "Rousseau is Ok, I just don't like many folks who admire Rousseau."
Milan: "Ha! Me neither. Why don't you like the followers?"
Aspazia: I am far more afraid of communitarians now than I used to be. I am seeing a lot of social conservatives appropriating the idea of an ideal society with shared values, and influenced by philosophers like MacIntyre or Sandel."
Milan: Wide eyes, head shaking. "What? That is so surprising. The social conservatives? No, its the left that wants to make over society with goverment, with socialism."

Uh -Oh! I am supposed to be on vacation. Why? But, Milan says, "come over here, back to the bar. Here, take some wine, we are gonna talk. You're not leaving. What you say to me is so surprising."

I am encouraged. Maybe this will be a good conversation. But, I am worried that my companions are tired. His wine pourer also warns me that we are likely to sit for the next 7 hours talking politics and philosophy--drinking wine and then making dinner upstairs. While that sounds heavenly to me, I know that everyone else will tire quickly of this debate and the pool calls.

Nonetheless, I come back to the bar and try to explain my view of communtarianism and why social conservatives, like Santorum are embracing this. I also try to explain that I am far more sympathetic to classical liberal thought (John Locke or John Stuart Mill). But, the conversation gets nutty quickly.

Milan is a hard-core Ayn Rand reader. He begins to rehearse the same "talking points" about the left and its welfare state policies that force me (yes, he was pointing at me), that compel me by gun point to pay for his (yes, he was pointing to himself) social security. [This particular characterization is just a tad bit out of synch with the times, eh?]

Milan: "Why should you have to pay for me? Why should two of your generation being paying for my retirement?"
Aspazia: "Well, should we let old people become homeless, without healthcare, in the poorhourses again?"
Milan: "Now you are appealing to emotion."
Aspazia: "Fair enough. I need to go. But, I just want to remind you that my original point was that social conservatives have appropriated communitarian thought."
Milan: "Humanism! Ha! The damn left." He pours more lovely Syrah. "They are the Rousseau lovers!"
Aspazia: "You are against Humanism? Aren't you from Croatia? Haven't you lived through terrorism? Ethnic cleansings motivated by religious zealots? Why wouldn't you embrace secular humanism or at least hope that secular humanism tempers fanatical religiosity?"
Milan: "Well, yes, secular is fine!" Huge smile. "But, the left wants to make a socialist government and to compel people to be humanitarians by gun point."
Aspazia: "Aren't you being a bit overdramatic here?"
Milan: "Why should I be forced to pay for people I don't give a damn about? If I want to give charity to someone, then let me give them charity. But, don't compel me to by gun point."
Aspazia: "Gun point?"
Milan: "What is the government?"
Aspazia "The bodies that make legislation, protect citizens from foreign threats, that funds scientific research . . ."
Milan: "NO! The government is power." He points at me again, and says, with a smile: "I am not intimidated by your philosopher." He then points to my friend "Drew" and says, "I want to hear what you think. Don't let this philosopher intimidate you. Why should you?"

Sorry, I can't help it. I start uncontrollably laughing and take up his offer for a bit more Syrah. Drew is getting amused too and starts talking to Milan about social security. I stay out of this particular debate because, ultimately, I wanted to make one point only: that I don't like most communitarian thought anymore.

Aspazia: "The conservatives are in power right now."
Milan: "What?! The conservatives are not in power! At least not culturally."
Aspazia: "You are deluded!"
Milan: Big laugh. "Come back here, come here drink wine." He pours me some of the Zinfandel. Now, Aspazia, just tell me what defines the left and what defines the right?"
Aspazia: How do you define them?
Milan: "The left want a big powerful government and the right wants the government off our backs."
Aspazia: "Well, your description, at the moment, sounds right, but you have the political factions reversed. The right has the power and they are using their power to impose their morality on us: i.e. stem cell research, teaching intelligent design, limiting access to birth control, etc..."
Milan: What is government! You didn't answer my question."

[I know this sounds repetitive, but Milan had been sipping the sauce all day long!]

Aspazia: "I don't know, what is it?"
Milan: "Goverment is power, with guns. And if I don't pay my taxes they will force me to by gun point."
Aspazia: "Milan, I gotta go. My friend Jack is sitting in the car, melting."
Milan: "No, you must stay. We have to keep talking."
Aspazia: "Some other time Milan"
Mom: "We'll come back tomorrow Milan."


We all returned safely home to mom's house and then went over to Oma's for a swim with her friends Doris and Hazel. Doris was quite talkative, but hard to follow. It was if she was leaving out every other sentence, so Jack and I were working hard to figure out the timeline, the story. Oma and I got out of the pool and into the jacuzzi (actually, Oma says sacuzzi, which is cute). While in the jacuzzi, Oma let Drew, Jack and me in on Doris' drinking problem. Apparently she goes on 2 day benders and almost drowned in the pool 9 days ago. Oma: "We're all really worried about Doris. She has a car she should be driving!"

I asked Oma when Doris' husband died. Oma caught my drift and said that Doris is really depressed and tends to drink and isolate herself. Now, her friends are all avoiding her because of her looney behavior. I suggested to Oma that she may have early dementia.

We left the pool, went back to mom's and ate like kings. We had a bottle of the old-vine Zinfandel with Tomato and Bread Salad, Pasta and Bruschetta. It was a tomato-heavy dinner, but they are to-die-for here.

Now, I am ready for bed, feeling very content from a full day. Seriously, I don't think there is ever a dull moment in my life.