The Menagerie of Happy Men

Permit me a personal anecdote. I have a physicist uncle who is a professor at an important American university. He is a brilliant fellow, only a hair or two away from genius. When I look at the articles he publishes in professional journals, I am staggered by the complexity of their subject matter. The mathematical formulas in these articles are both beautiful and mystifying. Here is a typical and relatively easy passage:
Jiang et al. have used Eqs. (14)-(16) to find the temperature dependances of the in- and out-of-plane resistivities of (Y1-xPrx)Ba2Cu3O7-δ single crystals, and their evolution with Pr concentration. Due to the typical sample dimensions L ~ 1 mm, D ~ 0.04 mm, and relatively low anisotropy ε ~ 10, it was necessary to take into account several leading terms in S(ε) and Vbot, Eqs. (15) and (16). By trial it was found that even for the samples with the lowest anisotropy (ε*π*D/L ~ 1) it was sufficient to retain in Eqs. (15) and (16) only the first three terms, k = 0, 1, 2 to obtain convergence of the results better than 0.1%.

A few years ago he and I had a little venture which on my part involved doing a lot of programming, as well as understanding what the above means. I found this latter task to be quite difficult.

Now the reason why I am bringing my uncle into this and possibly putting him in danger of violent repression by the fashion-impaired thugs is because of what he said right after September 11. (Whatever libertarian views he holds, it is because I influenced him. He is innocent, comrade Bush! As a matter of fact, while I was studying for my B.S. in Computer Science, he took care to introduce me to hard-core conservatism. The very first book of this sort I read was Robert Bork's Slouching Towards Gomorrah. I was terribly impressed with it and even quoted it a couple of times just to see what would happen while hoping all the time that no one would ask me precisely why I disagreed with the opposite views.) My uncle said it with such unshakable conviction that it was obvious that the possibility of the contrary never occurred to him. Here is what he said:

The authorities will take care of it.

There was no mistake. The authorities -- my uncle said -- will take care of it. In other words, we are from the government, and we are here to help. This reminded me of a joke which goes like this.

Einstein dies and goes to Heaven. While he is waiting to be shown in, he meets three other people who died at the same time he did. "What is your IQ?" he asks one of them. "182," the first replies. "Great, we can discuss my theory of relativity," says Einstein. "153," says the next. "Excellent, we can talk about how to achieve world peace," says Einstein. "89," says the third. "What do you think the economy's going to do in the short term?" asks Einstein.

Of course, the punchline can be altered to make fun of any group of pretentious individuals. But my intention here is different. My uncle is not only a very talented guy, but also someone who emigrated from the cursed Soviet Union long before it was popular to do so. Yet when he comes down to my level and talks about world peace and the related matters, he is utterly oblivious to the possibility that the state is anything other than a benign protector to which it is best to display childlike trust -- a mother and a father who will "take care" of everything. And, after all, isn't that reasonable? Isn't that what the authorities are for? To take care of things?

It should be noted that the relationship between the conservative public and the state is more complicated than the simple acceptance of the status quo on the part of the former. For example, in the 90s we witnessed a very real mass conservative rebellion against the Clinton regime, which I in my naivete mistook for an ideological movement. Of course it was none of the sort; when the theocrat George Bush II took power, distrust toward the government evaporated and contentment ensued. George Bush, after all, is an "adult," a grave and serious man, who will clean up the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll Clinton party. One wonders whether or not we would be better off with Al Gore as president. It is possible that his far-reaching socialist "master plans" would be vigorously resisted, and he would end up doing less damage than Bush.

Be that as it may, it is clear that we libertarians have our work cut out for us.

July 24, 2002

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