Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Clear and Present Thinking

The question of whether or not to lift the ban on off-shore oil drilling turns on a question of priorities: do we privilege the needs of present generations or those of the future?

If communism hopes for the future in a utopia that has not come and monarchy privileges the past as legitimate prologue to the present, democracy is like a petulant child who lives forever in the present. Take any poll today and a majority of Americans want the moratorium on oil drilling lifted; and they believe it is a matter of commonsense to advocate so. We want cheaper gas prices and we want it now. (Paradoxically, lifting the moratorium will likely not make a difference to gas prices today, and only by a couple of cents in several years.)

The tyranny of the majority is sometimes better read as the tyranny of the short-sighted. Because of this democracies (and democratic leaders) are more responsive than other political forms to shocks to the system, but this is achieved only at the price of being haplessly presentist.


Anonymous said...

Can "presentist" be the new hip, academic insult Weskids throw around now? As in "His belief in the transitory nature of social paradigms is soooo presentist!"

Elvin Lim said...

I'm guessing it's hip to be environmentalist these days, not to be wanting to drill for oil. If Inglehart is right, only the privileged get to have post-materialist pretensions. Those who struggle in the present do not have the luxury of worrying about future consumption - thus the gradual transformation of the Dem Party into a college-educated, latte-drinking hip party.

Nik said...

Wouldn't a belief in the transitory nature of social paradigms require thinking about the past and the future (since you can't measure change without looking beyond the immediate state), and thus be precisely UNpresentist?

Nice, hip comment, though.

I do love the post by Dr. Lim, though. There is some interesting baggage that comes with democracy.