Wednesday, August 10, 2011

An Open Letter To Penn Jillette: Ask What Your Country Can Do For You (But Also Ask What You Can Do For Your Country)

Dear Penn,

I enjoy your persona. I like the work you do. I think you played a part in softening my hard Christian heart to the beauty of atheism.

I also used to be a libertarian, but I question some of that stuff these days. I’m still a civil libertarian, but I think—economically—it makes an increasing amount of sense to share our resources, you know, for the common good (which ultimately is for our own good).

I watched this Penn Says video awhile ago, and appreciated hearing one of our culturally approved faith statements (…ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.) put under the microscope.

I left that video with a vague sense that I generally agreed with you, although suspected you might have gone off the rails a couple of times.

Recently, a facebook friend of mine posted that famous Kennedy speech as a piece of inspiration on his facebook page, and I thought it would be fun to post your rebuttal beneath his post, partially because I like to agitate people, and partially because I think culturally approved faith statements need to be questioned even more than religion-specific faith statements*.

I watched it again after I posted it, and this time I had some objections.

At one point you say,

‘I don’t think we owe jack shit to our fucking country. I think we owe our time our time our hearts our love our creativity to ourselves, the people we love, and the people of the human race.’

This—like the ‘ask not’ line—sounds good, but what does it mean? Why do you draw a line at helping out your country? Don’t you, the people we love, and a sizable population of ‘the people of the human race’ live in our country? When you help make our country a better place, you are helping to make the world a better place.

You are also creating a safe spot for you and the people you love to grow and be healthy. In essence, what JFK is saying on one level is to take care of all of those things you say you want to take care of. Don’t just sit on the sidelines, don’t just suck up resources and not put anything back into the system, contribute!

If that’s not a libertarian-friendly message, I don’t know what is.

You also boil government down to sheer force. You can think of it that way, sure. Sometimes it is that. Sometimes it has to be that. Oftentimes, government as sheer force is an ugly and evil thing. But it’s not always that.

Government (that works) can also be a tool for its citizens to use to create infrastructure to provide the kind of programs and ready-response to catastrophe that makes it easier for us citizens to do the things we need to do. It’s not here to tell us what to do (although certain representatives of government love to tell people what to do), but to allow us to do what we need to do in a better and more efficient way.

I detail why I think a working welfare state is worth investing in here and here.

So those are the major points of contention. A lot of life boils down to our perspective. I think the best way to look at government is not as some frightful, oppressive machine, but as a tool that we can climb into (we have to be careful), and use to build and sustain things.

Keep being awesome, Penn, and keep challenging our culturally approved faith objects. We could all probably benefit from doing a lot more of that.


Spencer Troxell

*Why? Because culturally approved faith statements cross the boundaries of nearly all religion-specific faith statements, and are generally totally unopposed in the public sphere. They are assumed to be true by everyone; that makes them more dangerous if they’re false.


Lodo Grdzak said...

You'll never be a good pundit Spence. How're you gonna piss people off or stoke their emotions with viewpoints such as yours? And the way you express them--my God! Where's the name calling? Where's the anger? The forthright positivity that you're absolutely correct? This...(what's the word for it?)--civility! A real head-scratcher. And you call yourself a blogger?

Spencer Troxell said...

Maybe you're right, Lodo. Of course, all of those other pundits are a bunch of phony-communist-pig-fucking-american-hating-atheist-muslim-fascist-misogynistic-feminist-libertarians. And they're all really fat too, and their kids are ugly.

Willie Y said...

That's crazy talk Spencer.Just kidding. What we need in this country is for people,like you to to get into politics. Someone with a brain and most of all a heart.

the elegant ape said...

I dig penn alot.
I dig vegas alot.
All should be taken in moderation with a lot of detox to follow....