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The New Commandments on the Barn Wall

8) Neanderthals need nerds. The cool gang banger who is knifed on Saturday night suddenly in extremis worships the surgeon who stiches up his liver and kidneys — a target whom he would otherwise have robbed earlier that Saturday afternoon. The thug who strips the copper wire from our streetlights nonetheless assumes a nerdish engineer will keep designing the wiring scheme that runs his car’s CD. For the good life to go on, each illiterate punk demands one corresponding graduate student at MIT to take care of him. When the former outnumber the latter, then civilization usually winds down.

9) Ideology, for all the protestations of the zealot, is now not to be taken too seriously — not in this age of global leisure and affluence. The pro-Palestinian European activist expects to stay at a comfortable Israeli hotel. The zealous supporter of affirmative action in row 22 on a transcontinental flight expects that tribal considerations will not adjudicate who is piloting his 747. The opponent of vouchers prefers his kids in Sidwell Friends to the D.C. public schools. The La Raza activist at the university does not really wish his tony suburb to resemble Oaxaca. Guantanamo is a horrific gulag in December — and a reasonable solution to an intractable problem by January 21. These hypocrisies are driven by both age-old and more recent fuels: power is always preferable to principle, at least for those who are attracted to office-seeking. And in this affluent age, it is nearly impossible for the populist to live the life of deprivation. Politics has become too lucrative a business; and the populace is no longer so poor.

10) Owing in our new millennium shall be less stressful than saving. The man with a little money in the bank is more worried that he thereby will be taxed more, earn no interest, or have his small sum expropriated, than the borrower is worried that he will have to pay back the full amount of quite a lot that he borrowed for his mortgage, credit card, or student loan. The saver is suspect of doing something bad to the borrower; savers are always active-voice beneficiaries, debtors passive-voice victims. An American without debt or a federal program to relieve it is not really an American. Before this Greek mess is over with, the press and elite opinion will have convinced us that the Germans who lost nearly $400 billion really are merciless and conniving and the Greeks who squandered it really are victims and largely innocent. In the modern age, the history of lending and borrowing does not count; the present ledger book trumps all: why do poor Greeks have to pay back rich Germans? Or better yet, if the defaulter of mortgage, credit card, and tuition bills is still poorer than those who lent him the money or others who did not take out such loans, why, then, should he become even poorer paying the richer back?

I keep these commandments in mind daily. That way what would have seemed absurd in my youth is now as natural as the sun rising.

Try it.