Barack Obama, speaking on the stump in Oregon over the weekend, and arguing that America must "lead by example" on environmental questions, stated that "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK." To do so would represent a failure of leadership.
The response of the conservative commentariat was as predictable as the rising of the sun, death, and taxation. Jim Geraghty, writing at NRO's Campaign Spot, delivered himself of the following:
Would an Obama Administration really mean an end to "eating as much as we want?"
I want to jokingly ask if that includes airstrikes on buffet tables, or John Kerry's "global test" being followed up by Barack Obama's "global diet," but I'm semi-serious — Obama apparently feels Americans eating as much as they want is something that cannot continue, or at least with other countries' approval. What will his administration do to change that? If he isn't going to act as president on this matter, why bring it up?
Radio and TV talk-show host Glenn Beck was still more substantive than Geraghty, playing the old Soviet National anthem and declaiming that the counsels of Obama portended the imminent imposition of socialism and the demise of capitalism, and therewith the abrogation of the American way of life.
Frankly speaking, were any government, let alone our own, to establish a Quantitative Dietary Commission, for the purpose of promulgating and enforcing dietary moderation, it would be an abomination, not to mention utterly unfeasible. Nonetheless, I'm dubious that any such thing lies in prospect, and find this characteristic combination of mockery and fearmongering to be hyperbolic and overwrought. It seems manifest that, in context, Obama was not so much isolating three discrete instances of American crapulence, each of which he proposes to moderate by coercive regulation, as associating the three under a general rubric of excess and indifference, desire and entitlement, and were conservatives interested in reckoning with reality instead of scoring political points and stoking fears, they might relate Obama's utterance to recent news. For example, interpreted in connection with ongoing price inflation in foodstuffs, driven in part by the American insistence on converting food into fuel for the Happy Motoring Paradise, which has occasioned shortages and hunger abroad, Obama is essentially stating that Americans cannot a) consume all of the motor fuels they want by driving as much as they want, even transforming food into fuel in order to do so, b) eat as much food as they want, further pressuring world supplies, and c) consume yet more energy pretending that our homes can all possess, at all times, the internal climate of San Diego on a fine Spring day, and then, d) expect the remainder of the world to accept our actions as legitimate. In what alternative universe would the rest of the world, particularly the poorer parts thereof, deliver the verdict that, in a globalized economy, American profligacy is legitimate, even when it adversely impacts them? No one reasons in such a fashion: what that other party does demonstrably harms me, but it's all OK, because they possess the right to do the things that indirectly, though logically, cause those harms.
I reiterate that I oppose the creation of a Quantitative Dietary Commission, the legal regulation of thermostat settings, and the proscription of the SUV. Not that my opposition is of any consequence, as none of these things is really in view. It appears to me that 'market incentives' are addressing these questions, at least to some extent. Nonetheless, there is something more at work here.
While it pains me to make the observation, conservatives are still labouring under the mythology of morning in America; along with all of the generalized awfulness of the Carter administration, they have jettisoned that pessimistic, but ultimately realistic, recognition that resources are finite, scarcity is real, and that adjustments to scarcity will entail discomforts and inconveniences, which can be postponed only at the cost of increasing their severity. World demand for petroleum resources is increasing, concomitant with globalization, the idol of the epoch, at a time when world extraction of those resources is probably, at best, stagnant, and possibly either declining or shortly to decline. Simultaneously, modern agricultural production is overly dependent upon those resources, and an increasing percentage of arable land is being diverted to biofuels production, to compensate for the former problem. Both developments augur alterations in our modes of existence, to say no more than the patently obvious.
Apparently, however, an acknowledgment of the finitude of the resources around which we have articulated the entirety of our political and economic modernization, amounts to communist wrongthought, a traducement of the imperatives of eternal optimism, and an affront against the sovereignty of the desire, hence the 'right', to brook no limitation upon our appetites, nay, even the intimation of the advisability of self-limitation. In this, contemporary conservatives, right-liberals almost to a man, disclose their philosophy as a mere modulation of the dominant political frameworks of modernity; we are creatures of affects and drives, desires, forces of attraction and repulsion, and political society is a contractual artifact engineered to facilitate, for the individual, the maximal potential satisfaction of appetites compatible with the MPSoA of all other individuals in the simulacrum of society. The specific good of the political is the facilitation, and protection, of a regime of preference-satisfaction; the political is instrumental towards the acquisition of the objects of desire, and towards their security from the vicissitudes of history, the malice of our fellows, and, increasingly, the judgments rendered, from within the older teleological traditions, against the essentially disordered foundations of the age. In this respect, both left and right are modulations of a common theme, the left valorizing progressive lifestyle experimentation on the basis of sentimental identitarianism ("I have experienced repeated, persistent feelings of attraction to members of the same sex, and therefore, I am gay."), the right analogously valorizing a consumerist acquisitiveness ("I wish to enjoy all of the trappings of material abundance, as I define them, and no impediment should be placed across my path, no ethical crosswind should divert my trajectory."); both essentially want what they want when, how, and in the quantities they want it, and it is not the underlying disposition that distinguishes them, but only their objects, and the political doctrines expressive of the respective desire-object pairings. The givenness, the desirability (pun half-intended), the moral liceity, of this passional disposition is a feature of our discourse, an axiom or presupposition which it is simply uncouth to interrogate, notwithstanding the fact that the older tradition perceived the spiritual and psychological interrelationships between the multifarious appetitive disorders of the soul.
Confronted with trends in political economy and resource exploitation, which prophesy a future unlike the past we have known, and in the wake of the decision of the California Supreme Court abrogating the legal distinction between civil unions and marriage, a determination reflective of our societal norms of affective contractualism and hostility towards the ascetic norms of self-limitation and self-sacrifice, conservatism, in the main, wallows in its unseriousness, incognizant of the chain which binds our moral declension to our economic predicaments: a repudiation of limits, a celebration of limitlessness in a bounded world.