Face To Face ...
By William Westmiller
Having been born on June 1st, my astrologic sign is Gemini. The Twins constellation suggests a dual personality. Happy and sad, strong and weak, intelligent and passionate. A proverbial incarnation of the conflicting passions in life. Granting even the smallest credence to the influence of the stars on our lives, I've never met anyone - no matter their birth sign - who wasn't a complex, ever-changing, multi-faceted and occasionally conflicted personality. If duality is the criteria, perhaps we're all Geminis.
Dualism is a slightly strained effort to comprehend ourselves and society. The distinct emotional and intellectual features we can identify do seem to have degrees, from nearly nothing to the dominance of one characteristic over others. Occasionally, for short periods in our lives, one of those sentiments or inclinations will dominate all others. For good reasons, we'll be timid, even fearful, about our future. Then, in a new context, swing to the extreme of strength, even bravery, in pursuing our dreams. The same occurs with intellectual talents and inclinations. This duality never concerns us at the time, simply because we are fully in the context of our own sentiments. However, when we review them in the abstract, or in the society at large, they seem different.
In the abstract, we tend to personify those temporary inclinations as incarnate drives that propel us toward either good or evil. When we consider the extreme poles of emotion and intellect, we fault the devil for our failures and praise divinity for our successes. It seems to add sense to our world to imagine some insuperable force of dualism at work than to understand all the complexities in our lives or in society. So we enjoy neat dualist categories of rich versus poor, conservative versus liberal, strong versus weak, libertarian versus totalitarian, arts versus science, or Republican versus Democrat.
In her new book, "The Future And Its Enemies" (The Free Press), Virginia Postrel coins her own social dualism, the dynamists versus the stasists. Dynamists are, of course, the friends of the future, demonstrating creativity, enterprise and progress. Happy to have everything always changing all the time. With prolific empirical evidence, she makes the case for allowing these dynamic forces to flow freely. On the other hand are the stasists, those tired, old stick-in-the-muds, who want to suppress or control everything and everybody. Dynamists are our salvation and stasists are our damnation.
We would probably all agree, to one extreme or another, with nearly the examples she presents, but Postrel's dualism suffers the same fault as any. Even the most dynamic among us wants to lay down in a comfortable bed at night, confident that our home is secure, dependent on some prolonged serenity for a peaceful sleep. Even the most temperate and cautious among us will indulge in a passionate artform or apply ourselves to solving a vexing problem. It's no surprise that we are all part time dynamists or stasists, in nearly every respect. We are all Geminis.
Postrel documents a broad assortment of dynamic social and political heroes. And she's always correct. Fostering an environment that allows playful novelties and astounding innovations is a good thing. Many people do marvelous things in wondrous ways. But Postrel begs off any ethical criteria or political guidelines for creating such an environment. In a stiff journalistic commentary, she skips thorough a continuous string of authorities and copious references that get in the way of her clear convictions about justice, liberty and rights, which are always evident in her writing and editing of Reason magazine. Her book itemizes a range of opinions about dynamic rules and guidelines, but lacks the vitality of a central ethical premise. At times, she almost proposes that the means justify the ends, that dynamism forces always lead to favorable outcomes.
The dynamic versus stasist dualism falls far short of being an inspirational nostrum. Dynamic human conduct can be a boon to our lives, or a scourge. People can do terrible things with disastrous consequences in a very dynamic way. Temperance, caution, and skepticism can be stasist virtues when it comes to the beneficial evolution of the human condition. Perhaps the other dualisms are equally unsatisfactory. In the context of our lives, we all push and pull, swing and sway, between extremes. Since we're all Geminis, both facets make the whole life, where moderation is the norm, if not the rule.
In spite of the grand premise, there emerges some passion and delightful exuberance in Chapter Seven, "Fields Of Play". Postrel almost succumbs to a hearty delight in composing an ovation to whimsy. While explaining that play -not necessity - is the mother of invention, her dry commentary approaches exuberance. The creativity, enterprise, and progress that flows from the joy of simple exploration and learning is worthy of a book on its own. When it's all said and done, the future will be decided by the whimsy of our children. Perhaps she can dedicate it to the Geminis of all ages.
©1999, William Westmiller
California Coordinator of the Republican Liberty Caucus
Past Candidate for the Republican Nomination for (24CA) Congress
Former National Secretary, California Chairman, Libertarian Party
postrel.c24 ~840 Words
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