The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

5 April 2003

We get letters

Margaret Atwood's "A Letter to America", which started out as an op-ed in Toronto's The Globe and Mail, tries very hard not to sound accusative or bitter, and for the most part it succeeds, but some of its points deserve a response.

What's being done to Iraq, she says, pales in comparison to what we're doing to ourselves. For instance:

You're gutting the Constitution. Already your home can be entered without your knowledge or permission, you can be snatched away and incarcerated without cause, your mail can be spied on, your private records searched. Why isn't this a recipe for widespread business theft, political intimidation, and fraud? I know you've been told all this is for your own safety and protection, but think about it for a minute. Anyway, when did you get so scared? You didn't used to be easily frightened.

The latter question is easily answered: 11 September 2001. However, it's no particular secret that some of our law-enforcement types have always had a wish list of things they would love to do if only that damn Constitution didn't keep getting in the way; the war merely provides an excuse.

You're running up a record level of debt. Keep spending at this rate and pretty soon you won't be able to afford any big military adventures. Either that or you'll go the way of the USSR: lots of tanks, but no air conditioning. That will make folks very cross. They'll be even crosser when they can't take a shower because your short-sighted bulldozing of environmental protections has dirtied most of the water and dried up the rest. Then things will get hot and dirty indeed.

We're definitely back in an advanced stage of Deficit Inattention Disorder, though the fact that the number of balanced budgets we've had in half a century can be counted on one's fingers without having to take off more than one mitten makes me worry just a bit less about the sheer volume of red ink. I doubt, however, that "most", or even much, of the national water supply has been rendered unusuable, and I can't bring myself to blame drought, which your standard insurance weasels consider an Act of God, on the Bush administration.

You're torching the American economy. How soon before the answer to that will be, not to produce anything yourselves, but to grab stuff other people produce, at gunboat-diplomacy prices? Is the world going to consist of a few megarich King Midases, with the rest being serfs, both inside and outside your country? Will the biggest business sector in the United States be the prison system? Let's hope not.

King Midas, as I recall, was just as capable of damaging his position as of enhancing it; there's a self-correction cycle built into the process. And for a "torched" economy, we seem to be doing pretty well: the war has business expansion largely on hold, but that's obviously a temporary anomaly, and some businesses are truly in trouble, but much of that trouble is due to failure to respond to public demand (the airlines) or attempting to keep a dead business model on life support (the record industry) or believing despite an utter lack of evidence that economies of scale can be derived from operations that really have nothing in common (AOL Time Warner).

If you proceed much further down the slippery slope, people around the world will stop admiring the good things about you. They'll decide that your city upon the hill is a slum and your democracy is a sham, and therefore you have no business trying to impose your sullied vision on them. They'll think you've abandoned the rule of law. They'll think you've fouled your own nest.

The world is a glass house — let's watch it with those flying pellets.

There's no doubt that we could be doing a better job of upholding our own traditions. And one of those traditions is to blow off criticism from the postmodernist and premedieval sectors, neither of whom have anything to contribute to anything resembling a world dialogue. If we claim to have the moral high ground, it's not because we claim to have video of [insert name of deity here] saying so; it's because we have the track record to back it up.

Dear Ms. Atwood: Your concerns are noted, but don't worry about us. We'll muddle through this somehow. And thanks for writing.

Posted at 11:59 AM to Outgoing Mail , Political Science Fiction


How many of the things Canada does as well as America does, are because of American dollars being invested in Canada? And then there's the gun control disaster they've let their government impose on them even without a 9/11 as an excuse.

I'm not sure I'm prepared to take a scolding from Canadians on matters of economics or Constitutional rights.

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at 12:42 PM on 5 April 2003

Wow, Charles...you have way more self-restraint that I do.

(seethes in rage, sends mind-darts in Atwood's direction)

Posted by: DavidMSC at 7:07 PM on 5 April 2003

And probably slightly more than McGehee. But having read some of Atwood's stuff before — I still am fond of The Handmaid's Tale — I tended to read this with a "Geez, can't she find a different dead horse to beat?" mindset, rather than the "Who the hell does this denizen of deepest Canuckistan think she is?" attitude that leads to more typical blogozoid Fiskussion.

Or maybe I wasn't in bad enough a mood. Who knows at this point? I'm still trying to duck Oscar Jr.'s Verbose-O-Meter.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:19 PM on 5 April 2003

FWIW, Ms. Atwood is only the most recent example I've seen of unwelcome scolding from up yonder.

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at 8:12 PM on 5 April 2003

Jeez. Is every intellectual in Canada a common scold? I could hear her voice rising with every paragraph, and see the shaking finger.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 10:31 PM on 5 April 2003

Well, that particular persona she's long since mastered, so I assume it's her default posture.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:20 AM on 6 April 2003

When, oh when will medical science come up with a cure for the common scold?

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at 11:18 AM on 6 April 2003