In book nine of Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus tells of how he and his men came upon an island populated by the Lotophagians – people who do nothing but eat the Lotus plant, "which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home." Odysseus forced the three of his men who had eaten this plant back onto their boat, "though they wept bitterly."
These three men wanted to stay, to be forever under the effects of the illusion of the lotus, to the point that they would forget everything that thus far had given their lives meaning.
There is a desire indulged by many on the left to have all things taken care of, to be free of worry, free of hardship, free of stress, free of the toil and difficulty of life. It can be a wonderful thing to have abundance, to live a life where you are free to do as you please and where your needs and desires are taken care of.
But it can also be a gentle curse, as dangerous as the rocks to which the Sirens of that same Odyssey lured their prey.
It is this desire to which modern day liberals or progressives are appealing; it is this curse to which their agenda seeks to subject us, and it is this temptation that has drawn many supposed conservatives to also indulge in liberal programs and spending.
People often reflect longingly about a time in their past when everything seemed "simpler, people were healthier, air was cleaner, people were more prosperous on one income than they are now on two, morality was stronger, the world was more civilized."
That time is called childhood, a time when our parents were taking care of everything, worrying the great worries and providing us with what we needed.
This is the myth of socialism; the promise that those on the left seek to create for us is the more dependent and less care-burdened time of childhood.
There's a real and harsh conflict here that America is going to have to wrestle with. Because we have grown so wealthy and successful, we are at a point where enough of us can be easily seduced into eating of this particular lotus plant.
The current scramble of our government to bail out and control particular businesses that are in trouble is an attempt to keep the lotus supply constant, to try to make it so that the booms and busts no longer happen, so that we can be securely, constantly on a gentle, complacent upward path.
Of course, the "constant and gentle" part of that equation negates the "upward" part. Economic growth is not constant and gentle; it never has been and never will be. Some businesses will fail as innovations make them obsolete or less competitive – just as people have to experience and deal with their own failure in order to grow personally and professionally.
This longing for gentle constancy is the same impulse fueling the global warming hoax. Lotus purveyors of the environmental stripe have created a mythology that the earth's climate should stay at some ideal set point and any slight deviation would mean disaster. But of course, climate has and will always be in flux. That is a fact of life on earth, and part of what makes this planet dynamic and livable.
If we threaten to force these folks back onto the boats, to undermine their environmental dream of rescuing the earth from these dreaded changes in temperature, and away from their Lotophagian paradise, well, they weep bitterly, and call us lots of names, and attack us for our disbelief in their precious vision.
This is where the bitter anger towards classical liberals comes from. We are telling everyone that they have to get back onto the darned ship.
About twenty years ago I spent some time with a band of San Bushmen in the Kalahari of Botswana. I was struck by their vibrancy, their humor and the good life they had made for themselves in such a harsh and primitive environment. Their lives were hard, they had none of the comforts or services that we in the West take for granted, and they most certainly live shorter, more hazardous lives than most of us would choose for ourselves.
Then we travelled to Tsodillo hills, where some of the San had come to live in a village, where their food and water were provided by the state, and the necessary activities of hunting, gathering and surviving were no longer necessary. The results were depressing. The complacency, the lethargic qualities, the lack of that sparkle in the eyes betrayed a fundamental unhappiness to their lives.
The pull toward the villages is so very strong, even though it is obvious that it is also a great loss. How does one decide to go back to a harder, harsher life? Depression makes such a bold move nearly impossible.
The rate of depression in America has risen dramatically over the past several decades – even while our abundance has skyrocketed and the very real, measurable circumstances of our lives have improved in near miraculous fashion.
This increase may be the result of the very medications that are supposed to ameliorate that depression – see Roger Whitaker's important book, Anatomy of an Epidemic. But it also may be abetted by a sense of too much dependence on the illusion of a secure and predictable abundance.
I want that kind of abundance and improvement. I want it for my kids. It is a good thing to be healthier, wealthier, with more opportunities and possibilities for a rich and fulfilling life. But there is a dark side to all of this: When we see that some of our idealistic visions can come true, we can imagine that all of them can.
Such a belief can work well for those who work to make those visions practically possible – producing the goods and services that form the building blocks of such abundance – because there is a fulfillment and a joy that comes of making good things happen. And by doing the workyou stay connected with the realities of how things actually come to exist. It makes them tangible, meaningful and gritty.
But it is also a dangerous and seductive fantasy that we have been riding out, where people can live disconnected from the means by which such miracles are created.
Like city folk who buy a neatly wrapped steak at the grocery store but have never seen or participated in the raising and slaughtering of a cow, many people have lost a connection with where our wealth comes from. They literally don't know that it is created by people; and they therefore don't see that those who have created this wealth have also earned their own personal wealth through their creation.
Oil, minerals, timber, water and the other basic foundations from which are created everything we use every day are no longer appreciated as having been brought here to us by tough and persistent characters who are willing to do the hard and often dangerous work of bringing these resources to us, to be used to manufacture what too many of us take for granted.
So it's easy for environmental Lotophagians to just decree that we should not drill for oil, we should restrict mining to only the most "earth friendly" techniques, we should not cut down "our forests" and we should not build dams or reservoirs to provide water and power.
We take our medical miracles so much for granted that the main public discussion is not about how incredible it is that we can be cured and healed of so many ailments and injuries that would have been fatal – or at least more debilitating – just a few years ago. The main discussion is a complaint that it costs too much, and that complaint has become a movement that now assumes these miracles, rather than appreciating that they are created by sometimes heroic and devoted hard work by men and women who spend their entire lives making these improvements for us.
We are now told that we should take these miracles for granted, and access to and benefits from this body of scientific creation is now openly and arrogantly labeled as a right.
Envy is often cited as a motivation for the left, fueling their desire to take material wealth from the "haves" and to give that stolen loot to the "have-nots." But frankly, I don't think that word, envy, makes an impact on many people. The left has a stronger word that they use against the producers and this word shelters them psychologically from the diagnosis of envy. That word is greed.
But when people demand that they be given wealth unearned, when they demand that they be given the most cutting-edge healthcare as a right, when they demand that they be given housing, good food and clean water without any responsibility for even acknowledging where it comes from – this is greed.
The left is motivated by greed. I spoke with a retired schoolteacher the other day who told me that she wants more programs from our bankrupt California government – she is greedy. She wants stuff, lots more stuff, and she doesn't care if her greed does grave harm to our economy and to millions of other people. She wants her stuff.
Of course, envy is greed. It is passive greed. It is greed indulged in by people who can't or don't believe that they can make for themselves what they would like, and so they would rather that other people can't, either.
This is the greed of the lotus eaters. We have landed on the island of the Lotophagians; and those of us who are calling for everyone to get back on the ships are hated by our intoxicated fellow citizens because they do not want to leave their cursed island of hallucinations.