Thursday, August 28, 2008

Five Reasons To Love P.J. O'Rourke

P.J. O'Rourke has been a huge influence on me over the years, on my thought if not on my writing (although on good days I hope there's a trace of him evident there as well).

I ws a longtime subscriber to Rolling Stone, to no one's amazement more than mine these days. In the early days of coming to grips with being a conservative (I didn't used to understand the "liberal / conservative" distinction - I thought there were just sensible people and silly people, and didn't realize that the silly people were taken seriously by anyone), I began noticing that once in a while a political article in Rolling Stone seemed to make sense.

Most political articles in Rolling Stone revolved around two themes: legalizing the smoking of anything that can be rolled inside paper, and freeing all convicted felons who happen to be minorities because those people clearly aren't capable of understanding what they did wrong. Those oases of sanity were invariably written by the same person: P.J. O'Rourke. As a bonus, those articles were usually funny, making excellent points with well-sharpened verbal daggers.

Then I found out that he had written entire books, and quickly formed a small collection.

I don't agree with O'Rourke on everything, to be sure, but we agree on enough that I can without hesitation recommend any of his books to anyone who wants to start comprehending exactly how messed up the world has gotten because of taking silly people too seriously. You can either laugh at life or cry about it - I made my choice a long time ago. I'll sit with P.J. in the Mocking section.

Today I present what is probably the first in a series (this is almost like a Reading Log entry in a way, since I'm re-reading several O'Rourke books simultaneously, looking for the best quotes) of Five Reasons To Love P.J. O'Rourke:

1. About environmentalists:

The Green dweebs want a world where individuals don't count for much, where all the important decisions - such as whether to shift the Viper into fifth - are made in Washington. They want a world controlled by the political process. That's because the shrub cuddlers are, as individuals, so insignificant. They're losers, the three-bong-hit saviours of the earth, lava lamp luddites, global warming dolts, ozone boneheads, peace creeps, tofu twinks, Birkenstock buttinskis, and bed-wetting vegetarian bicyclists, who bother whales on weekends. They have no money, sense, or skills. But they can make their mark on politics because the whole idea of politics is to achieve power without possessing merit.

- Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut, p. 194
The best thing about this quote is that it comes from out of nowhere. It's not in an article about politics, or even environmentalism. It's from a luxury car review (hence the reference to the Viper). It was originally published in Automobile magazine in 1994, and the article's title was, I kid you not, Die, Eco-Weenies!

You have to admire someone who finds a way to work a slam on liberalism, apropos of pretty much nothing, into the middle of a car review.

2. About "human rights":
There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you d*m* well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.

- Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut, p. 227
This quote comes from the transcript of a 1993 speech given to the Cato Institute, a libertarian organization. Whereas this was a speech, and a remark meant to be funny (although true) at that, O'Rourke did not stop to flesh out the ramifications of this position. Upon any serious consideration whatsoever, it becomes obvious that the right to do as you please cannot possibly include imposing your wishes on others against their will, since that would negate their own right to do as they please. Many long books could be - and have been - written to discuss this exact idea, but O'Rourke nails it in two pithy sentences.

3. From the Acknowledgements at the front of All The Trouble In The World, published in 1994 when Al Gore was still the Vice President of the United States:
Particularly, I'd like to thank Vice President Al Gore for being the perfect straw man on such subjects as the environment, ecology, and population. Sorry, Al, for repeatedly calling you a fascist twinkie and intellectual dolt. It's nothing personal. I just think you have repulsive totalitarian inclinations and the brains of a King Charles spaniel.

- All The Trouble In The World, p.xi
O'Rourke called it, many years before Parker and Stone made everyone realize just how completely and serially crazy Gore is.

4. From the dedication page of 1993's Give War A Chance, which O'Rourke dedicated to whoever wound up going to Vietnam in his place after he dodged the draft:
I hope you got back in one piece, fellow. I hope you were more use to your platoon mates than I would have been. I hope you're rich and happy now. And in 1971, when somebody punched me in the face for being a long-haired peace creep, I hope that was you.

- Give War A Chance, p.vii
O'Rourke freely admits that he's made mistakes in his past. Like lots of former liberals - including me - he eventually put away childish things. I thought this was a nice tribute.

5. From a major piece about Cuba, which O'Rourke uses as an example of "bad socialism" (as contrasted to Sweden, which he calls - relatively for purposes of contrast - "good socialism"):
Socialists think of society as a giant, sticky wad. And no part of that gum ball - no intimate detail of your private life, for instance - can be pulled free from the purview of socialism. ... Socialism is inherently totalitarian in philosophy.

-Eat The Rich, p. 90
That last sentence sums it up. The only way socialism could even come close to being ethical or moral would be if an opt-out mechanism were readily available, but that would cause the socialist system to collapse completely. If such an option were available, anyone who was even remotely productive would exercise it and leave the takers sitting there with their hands out.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the controller for the radio-controlled vehicle we met yesterday.

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