Sunday, May 9, 2010

Just say "No!"

Patrick Deneen's recent post on the two recent crises, the Gulf of Mexico spill and Greece's debt problem, suggests an argument which is not being mentioned in the Public Square. He says both cases reveal an "inability to live with one's means." Deneen criticizes Sarah Palin and the political right for their mantra of "drill, baby, drill" because it only encourages excess, which is what got us into this mess in the first place.

In this sense, Deneen seems to align with the political left. On the other hand, his reasons for opposing offshore drilling differ markedly from someone like the NYT's Thomas Friedman. While Deneen agrees with Friedman that the spill harms the environment, the more pressing problem is our insistence on living a super-size me lifestyle no matter the cost. We want to continue to drive our gas guzzling SUV's whenever and wherever we like and we do not like how recent oil prices interfere with that. This "inability to live within one's means" AKA vice is not something that concerns Friedman. Indeed, like his opponents on the political right, he thinks these impediments can be improved, albeit his solution to the problem is alternative energy. Either way, both sides are telling the public they can have it all. Right and Left share the Modern assumption that scarcity can be conquered and man can live a life free from material want.

Deneen would probably say this type of thinking was also behind the financial crisis of the last two years. Again, while he would agree with the political left about the vices of Wall Street fat cats, he would still come down hard on the borrower who wanted to own a home he couldn't afford. It is just another example of people being unable to deny their appetites.

In an earlier post, I talked about how it is popular nowadays to criticize poor eating habits (Super-Size Me, Fast Food Nation). The argument behind such works is it harms health. This is certainly true, but it is also a problem because it is a symptom of gluttony. In all these cases then, what is absent in the discussion is whether self-denial and delayed gratification are still important to human happiness.

No comments:

Post a Comment