Sacred things are tearing us apart

July 28, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More

We human animals are an irrepressibly symbolic species. So much so that any thing can represent almost anything else. A cloth flag, a firecracker or a slogan can represent a social order. A piece of bread or an animal can represent a god. The bottom of a shoe can represent a harsh put-down.

We endow some of our things with a special significance, such that we deem them “sacred.” I struggle to define what is sacred, but Jonathan Haidt gives us a big clue: sacred things seem to be the opposite of things that disgust us. But there usually seems to be something more to those thing that are the most sacred; there usually seems to be a public declaration or at least an implicit group acquiescence that the thing is sacred.

By recognizing things to be sacred, we seem to endow them with other-worldly significance; with heavenly significant. Once a thing is declared “sacred,” it would be disgusting and, indeed, immoral to consider compromising with regard to that thing.

So here we are, in a nation where half of the national politicians have declared that no-tax-increases is a sacred proposition. This means that there shall be no negotiation regarding this stance.

Image by Kriscoven (Creative Commons)

Unless it is realized that this sacred proposition conflicts with other sacred propositions. At that point, we can proceed to negotiate, it would seem.

Thus, I’m sitting here tonight, wondering what “sacred” value which will be impinged by the failure to raise taxes has any chance of being used for negotiating a tax increase. I don’t know whether there is such a thing at this time. It seems like no-new-taxes is not only sacred to the conservatives, but super-sacred. No-new-taxes is godly. It might not be proper, ever, to compromise on no-new-taxes. Even if the failure to raise taxes keeps children from getting decent education or health care. Based on the past 10 years, even the “need” to start a new war cannot justify increased taxes. Thus, we have a string of expensive wars we are unwilling to fund.

And thus we are watching dramatic theater in Congress. We are watching a plot that doesn’t seem to have a resolution or, for many of us, a purpose.



Category: Politics, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. Jim says:

    You may be correct about the sacredness of no-new-taxes.
    I am incredulous that you list no other possibilities of sacred things which are tearing us apart…from your own congregation…defined benefit pensions and taxpayer-funded medical-bill-payment, for two examples.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Jim: I don’t know who my “Congregation” is. I’ve attacked both major political parties rather vigorously over the years. I also tend to be a fiscal conservative. I am aghast that we have gotten ourselves into a position where as much as 40% of every dollar spent by the federal government is borrowed. and see this The way we are running the country right now is leading us to financial ruin, in my opinion.

      I’ve never spoken out about defined benefit pensions, to my knowledge. People should keep their promises. But on the other hand conditions often change such that enforcing a promise will do more harm than good. This is a terribly wrenching issue in the area of defined pensions, where a business is truly about to go under due to promises made and incorrect assumptions made many decades earlier. We now know that defined pensions are extremely dicey, because it has never been clearer that we cannot confidently predict the financial picture 30 or 40 years into the future. That’s why so few businesses offer these plans anymore. What should we do about the ones that are struggling? I would suggest that the devil is in the details, and each situation should be examined carefully. But I would NEVER pass a law saying that all defined benefit plans should be A) enforced as-is, no matter what the context, or B) dismantled simply because a business claims that it prefers this to happen.

      As far as single payer, I’ve never advocated that a system should be set up such that it is financially irresponsible. I’ve advocated for a system like Oregon’s–we should only put into place things we can afford. Extraordinary or experimental treatments I would leave to private insurance, but give everyone a standard medical plan that covers most common and treatable ailments. I’m certain that this issue sets me apart from those who you think are my “congregation.”

      The bottom line of your comment is something that I do agree with: The liberal/progressive side of the aisle has deemed as “sacred” many things, thereby making negotiation of those things difficult to impossible, even where they should be negotiated. I’ve met liberals who refuse to consider overall government balance sheets when insisting that the government should commit itself to a huge new program. That’s a huge problem on the right too, however (e.g., the Medicare modifications made under Bush II, that have no hope of actually being paid for). We all have “sacred” things. Fair enough.

      I am quite often surprised how commenters to this website assume that I hold certain beliefs when there is no evidence of it.

      BTW, I do believe that the U.S. should have been, as a general rule, running on a balanced budget, except in times of real national emergency. Unfortunately, we are in a real mess now because of what we’ve been doing with the federal budget for many decades. The current situation is a travesty, yet I’m also convinced that suddenly balancing the budget for this year will lead to massive catastrophe, and failing to take steps to get things into line would make the future cure even more painful. These are scary times.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    To continue this thought . . . once you brand your opponent as the Devil, there is no possibility for your to moral even negotiate with him or her. I think that is about where we are. The Republicans did an excellent job branding Obama as despicable all through his campaign, and this has guaranteed that deal-making is almost impossible.

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