Politics & Policy

On The Road Eve

Tomorrow morning I head out on the highway.

At the end of the movie Goodfellas, Ray Liotta is frantically trying to make the pasta sauce, while at the same time picking his brother up from the airport and buying some new untraceable guns while also cutting up the cocaine so he can give it to the babysitter who’s going to mule it to Detroit. The entire scene is a massive crescendo of a cinematic run-on sentence.

#ad#Now, I’m not strung out on white-bag and I don’t have to buy any illegal rods and I certainly don’t have a helicopter following me everywhere. But I kinda know how he feels.

Tomorrow morning I head out on the highway, looking for adventure and whatever comes my way. Before then I have had to write this column, and a syndicated column, and I also have to join a panel at the Heritage Foundation on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge which will be broadcast live at noon on C-Span (about the time this column should be posted — hint, hint, web-mister) which means I have to shave and shower earlier than anticipated. After that I have to go buy some shoes for my wedding, which is a week from this Saturday, because I don’t think I can get dress shoes at truck stops on the interstate in Montana and, for all I know, “Do you have any black loafers?” is either code for sketchy truck-stop love or else profoundly racially insensitive. Then I have to go to Nordstrom’s and get my new wedding jacket, which is being altered because I’ve gotten so large around the midsection it looks like I wear a money belt with the entire proceeds from the Brink’s Robbery under my shirt — which is a funny coincidence because that was the robbery in Goodfellas.

Then I’ve got to come home and take CTWD (Cosmo the Wonder Dog) to the park so he can chase a tennis ball for at least a half hour. If he doesn’t chase a tennis ball — or a Frisbee® brand flying disc, or perchance the head of Alfredo Garcia — he gets extremely cross and tries to erase my computer files. The frickin’ dog can’t figure out that a ringing doorbell on the Drew Carey show doesn’t mean there’s someone at our front door, but he’s a whiz at using Norton Utilities to reformat my hard drive.

After that, I’ve got to write a syndicated column so I won’t have to write one on the road tomorrow (which would be fine, except for the fact that I’d have no way to file it — unless Bob’s Big Boy now provides internet connections). Instead, as you will see in the coming days, I will have to file from grubby motels and porta potties with T1 lines.

I’d much rather use cellular modem — so long as I didn’t drop it in the blue waters of the porta potty — so I could really file on the road, which would give me an advantage even Kerouac didn’t have when he wrote On the Road. Speaking of which, I assume everyone out there knows that Jack Kerouac’s favorite magazine was National Review — also true of Vladimir Nabokov. Kerouac was even a (profoundly drunk) guest on Bill Buckley’s Firing Line. In fact, Kerouac reportedly died with a tall stack of the magazine by his side and a drink in his hand. Not a terrible way to go. This isn’t to say that Kerouac was a conservative, but he was a lover of the hurly-burly of American life, and a believer in the idea that freedom is what puts the hurly in America’s burly.

I can’t say I’m a lifelong fan of Jack Kerouac, but I do like names that rhyme, and I do love the stream-of-consciousness oeuvre he mastered — even though he put a lot more work into On the Road than legend would have it. Which is why Truman Capote — no doubt a big fan of “black loafers,” if you know what I mean — was such a jerk when he said of On the Road, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

It takes a lot of work to make things look easy.

Then again, sometimes things just are a lot of work. Which reminds me of a story from Don Quixote. A man walks to the center of town, and gathers a crowd to watch the show he’s about to put on. The man picks up a dog and inserts a tube into its rump. He begins to inflate the dog. The crowd watches, fascinated. The dog grows larger. Eventually, the man pulls the tube out and lots of air noisily escapes — think Alan Dershowitz on Geraldo. The dog runs away. The man turns to the crowd expectantly, and asks: “You think it’s easy to inflate a dog with a tube?”

To be honest, I never read the book, but I heard a very smart (Straussian) man tell the story once, to make the point that just because something is hard to do doesn’t mean it’s good. The subject at hand was rap music. As you can imagine, Cosmo (a.k.a., Notorious D.O.G.) hates the anecdote, the comparison, and, well, just about everything to do with inflated dogs.

Anyway, I’ve really got to stop writing now, but I still have to come up with a topic for the syndicated column. Yesterday I wrote about the late, great Julian Simon and a new book that validates everything he ever said. Which is cool.

There was an NPR story this morning, about the indigenous peoples of Australia, which might make a good column. Apparently they want to preserve their culture, language, and religion because they’re slowly disappearing, which is certainly understandable. But, for some reason, they also want more stuff — better education, housing, etc. — from the Australian government. Isn’t it odd that it never occurs to such groups that maybe, just maybe, the reason their cultures are evaporating is that they get too much of that stuff already? Indeed, I’m at a loss as to how mastering algebra and biology will make aboriginal kids more likely to believe — oh, I dunno — that hallucinogenic excretions from a frog have spiritual value. And I’m at a loss as to how better clinics and hospitals will do anything but make the shamans and medicine men look more useless.

And now that I think about it, that’s the point I was trying to get at a few paragraphs ago, when I was talking about the symbiotic relationship between freedom and the hurly-burly of life. Cultures grow on the vine of tradition. These traditions are based on habits necessary for survival, and day-to-day problem solving. Wealth, technology, and medicine have the power to shatter tradition because they solve problems. Home delivery and the microwave solved problems (especially for me), but they also made the family mealtime more difficult to sustain.

One man’s help is another’s cultural destruction. The “gentle Gwich’in people” of Alaska, for example, pride themselves on being a subsistence culture. I might think of this as poverty, but they think it’s great to live off the land. Okey dokey. But that also means helping such people by giving them food or money or shelters will do them only harm, because it will shatter the traditions of their subsistence lifestyle. Why revere the great hunter when you can get better grub at the general store? Reagan was more right than he knew when he said “I’m here to help. I’m from the government,” was bad news.

Freedom ain’t a place like Maine or Virginia, as the song goes (What? Am I the only person who saw Shenandoah?) — and sometimes it’s just a state of mind, as the song continues. Sometimes, freedom is best served by leaving people in need alone. Which is what you should do, so I can get this stuff done. This column may be “just typing,” but even that can be hard.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now. @jonahnro

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