Three stories caught my eye yesterday. They are stories of utter failure to recognize that is is possible to do bad in the pursuit of a good. They are stories where the pursuit of self-justification, even with altruistic desires, can result in the most uncharitable of outcomes. They are stories that fail to recognize the most basic of human conditions.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants hotels to monitor how much time its guests spend in the shower.
The agency is spending $15,000 to create a wireless system that will track how much water a hotel guest uses to get them to “modify their behavior.”
Yep, nobody seems to want the government in our bedrooms, but they are busy worming their way into the bathroom. Is the upper middle-aged person that needs a long, hot shower to loosen their joints in the morning to be penalized? Speaking of governments and bedrooms leads me to another piece, this one from the AP:
From the Oscars red carpet to the TV smash “Empire,” Dolce & Gabbana is everywhere in Hollywood. But might that soon change?
Several celebrities have joined the boycott bandwagon launched by Elton John after fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana criticized same-sex parents and the use of in vitro fertilization in an Italian magazine, calling the resulting children “synthetic.”
And for the record, (because I did not know it until I started to read about this) Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are themselves gay.
And from the corporate world we learn that Starbucks is going to harangue us:
We now live in an era in which corporate executives have grown convinced that their customers don’t merely want a product or a service, but spiritual and intellectual enlightenment. And they’re relying on their entry-level employees to provide it.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has decided that his 4,700-store enterprise is no longer just going to be offering customers coffee, frothy drinks, and overpriced pastries. His baristas will soon serve up a venti-size helping of social justice.
“Starbucks published a full page ad in the New York Times on Sunday — a stark, black, page with a tiny caption ‘Shall We Overcome?’ in the middle, and the words ‘Race Together’ with the company logo, on the bottom right,” read a Fortune Magazine report previewing a forthcoming Starbucks campaign in which the coffee chain’s baristas will be encouraged to talk about race relations with their customers.
Beginning on Monday, Starbucks baristas will have the option as they serve customers to hand cups on which they’ve handwritten the words “Race Together” and start a discussion about race. This Friday, each copy of USA Today— which has a daily print circulation of almost 2 million and is a partner of Starbucks in this initiative — will have the first of a series of insert with information about race relations, including a variety of perspectives on race. Starbucks coffee shops will also stock the insert.
All of these stories are just ugly — shrill — petty — downright mean. It is no wonder to me that we cannot see the evil that is a nuclear Iran when we cannot see this kind of petty ugliness in ourselves. I just cannot wait for some barista of color to decide I did not say “Thank you” with sufficient enthusiasm to accuse me of being racist when my perfunctory gratitude could be due to anything from the troubling phone call I just hung up on to the gout flare I am suffering. Give me a break. Ironic is it not, that we want to modify the length of showers people take, but not modify the grossly intrusive behavior required to achieve the modification. Most ironic is that the LGBT community that seems so desperately to want broad and general acceptance cannot understand that driving one of their own out of business over a simple difference of opinion would tend to make people relate to them warily.
This is not about simple confusion over right and wrong. Nor is this simply about the irrational pursuit of a rational good. This is a desire to seek self-justification regardless of cost or consequence. In the EPA case there is a whole sequence of self-justifications being sought, the grant writers, the grant receivers, and so on. And in that entire circle, no one stops to ask, “Is this a step too far?” Has Howard Schultz ever stopped to ask if some of the people working for Starbucks might not just be a little over zealous in their efforts in this regard? Have we lost all capacity for genuine, realistic self-examination?
I am sorely tempted to explore that question, but it would lead me down deeply theological corridors which are really not appropriate for this esteemed blog. But I do think these stories say a lot about what we will need from a good GOP presidential candidate in 2016.
We will need someone that is the exact and polar opposite of this sort of shrill, mean ugliness. But without being shrill, or mean, or ugly, they will need to be able to lead us in taking a hard look at ourselves, helping us diagnose the real problems and then come up with good solutions. That’s a tall order. There is a tendency to look at that and think of Reagan, but I think the task is larger than even the one Ronald Reagan faced. When Reagan did his thing, the country knew it had problems and it knew there was something better possible and everybody knew they had a hand in both the problem and the solution. I am not confident that is true for a majority of the nation anymore.
Nowadays everybody seems to think the problem lies with somebody else and the solution lies in forcing that somebody else to “behave.” So our new candidate has to be able to convince us, somehow winsomely, that we are the problem and that we are the solution. I am really looking forward to a candidate that can fit that bill.