We still cogitate

A couple of years ago, BB&T — the bank whose black monolith starkly dominates Asheville's skyline — dangled a generous donation in front of Western Carolina University in exchange for teaching Ayn Rand's fundamentalist capitalism. Yet Rand was also a high-profile, militant atheist who called Christianity “the kindergarten of communism." If that fact became better known here in the “belt buckle of the Bible Belt,” BB&T might lose a multitude of Jesus-worshiping customers.

A more recent example of this ironic contradiction occurred last November, when the Asheville City Council voted 6-1 to allow developments bigger than even the 160,000 square foot BB&T behemoth to be erected without Council review. The sole vote opposing this anti-democratic, anti-community (and, thus, anti-Christian) approach came from Cecil Bothwell — Council’s lone atheist. Ayn Rand would have loved it.

Both these events illustrate the central argument of my new book, Liberating Liberals: "Liberals can run intellectual circles around conservatives." This is true mainly because conservatives simultaneously follow a first-century, fundamentalist religion that commands self-sacrificial community, and an 18th-century, fundamentalist economics that demands just the opposite — self-interested individualism.

Conservatives, of course, don’t have a monopoly on fundamentalist thinking. Remember the Rev. Ralph Sexton’s "One Nation Under God" billboards that caused such a stir awhile back? They came in response to the "One Nation Indivisible" billboards partly funded by the WNC Atheists. Both groups were trumpeting fundamentalist theories about the existence (or nonexistence) of God, alongside a freeway named for Billy Graham — Buncombe County's, America's and perhaps planet Earth's most famous fundamentalist.

Freethinking's boundless boundaries

Still, my book’s premise is that liberals (meaning everyone to the left of Republicans) are this society’s freethinkers, following Socrates’ delicious dictum: "Know that you don't know." This, of course, often makes for hard choices with no right answer — except that liberals need to stretch themselves to generously empathize with one another's hard choices.

One of the main tools Liberating Liberals uses to combat fundamentalisms of every sort is Friedrich Nietzsche's exploration of meaninglessness. Although liberals love meaning as much as conservatives, we tend to be more flexible about which meanings we select. Just look at our collective responses to another of the Rev. Sexton’s campaigns: the “We Still Pray” rallies and bumper stickers. In response, local liberals began displaying bumper stickers declaring "We Still Play … Read … Chant … Work Magic" and even "Pray: Five Times a Day." Yet a true freethinker also understands that excessive adherence to meaning can severely inhibit thought.

Thus, liberals easily saw through Tiger Woods’ sponsorship of The Cliffs at High Carolina, an environment-trashing golf development spanning Swannanoa and Fairview. The resort takes advantage of a status-seeking obsession concerning an earth-based heaven requiring only the anemic exercise of riding through manicured, pesticide-laden meadows, stopping periodically to try to knock a little ball into distant holes. Tiger’s personal turmoil aside, his “inspirational” message, looming over the interstate, provided an ironic counterpoint as the local economy inevitably saw itself dragged down by the global malaise.

Let them eat greenbacks

In December, the Asheville metro’s unemployment rate was officially pegged at 7.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but unofficially it was much higher. Kurt Vonnegut, a key player in Liberating Liberals’ philosophical synthesis, explained this frightening phenomenon in his novel Timequake:

“There was a planet where little green people with one eye in the center of their foreheads could get food only by selling goods and services. The planet ran out of customers, and no one could figure out anything intelligent to do about it. So all the little green people starved to death.”

Meanwhile, every Buncombe County commissioner except Holly Jones recently maintained that their hefty salaries were appropriate, as if mocking their electorate's economic suffering. Soon after, however — when the political fallout became glaringly obvious — these same people publicly executed a daring, triple-axel flip-flop. It was Groucho Marx — another of my book's principal guides — who quipped: "These are my rock-hard principles! But if you don't like them, I have others."

The tree museum

Readers of my work know I tirelessly embrace the absolute morality of Gandhi — the last of my book's spirit guides — in ranting against development and population growth. And living in Asheville, I never seem to run out of suitable targets. Among the more recent developmental atrocities are the ransacking of Reynolds’ once-majestic, now-mangy Mountain and the destruction of a rare urban-forest sanctuary bordering Broadway and Catawba streets to make way for The Health Adventure's ludicrously ironic “environmental” museum. So I've tended to dig in my self-righteous, absolute-morality heels.

Is this overly rigid of me? Naw. Maybe…

After all, I do enjoy urban spelunking in the new Hotel Indigo, and I probably would have done likewise in The Ellington or Tony Fraga's twin towers — proposed local monstrosities that didn’t get built (or not yet, anyway). So should I compromise, retreating into Machiavelli’s wispy relative morality? Naw.

— Asheville resident Bill Branyon will discuss his new book, Liberating Liberals: A Political Synthesis of Nietzsche and Jesus, Vonnegut and Marx (Groucho, not Karl), Gandhi and Machiavelli, Sunday, March 13, at 3 p.m. at Malaprop’s in downtown Asheville.

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25 thoughts on “We still cogitate

  1. Cosmic Ballroom

    I thought this site required payment for advertisements?

  2. Wingnut

    Thanks for telling us about BB&T. I always wondered where those capitalism lovers/propagandists were, and where they came from.

    By chance, do folks have to dangle cash in front of you in (new world-) order to read your book?

  3. Bill Branyon is correct: conservatives are a walking bag of contradictions. Witness this glaring example: http://is.gd/9E6in5

    What Branyon does not understand is that if liberals were liberated they’d be libertarians.

  4. Asheville Liberty on the Rocks
    Weekly socials are held 7PM Mondays, El Chapala Restaurant, Merrimon Ave.

  5. Asheville Dweller

    If I had a nickel for every time the word Free thinker was used I would have a whole bunch of Nickels . . . .

    Freethinker is such worthless word, if you have to label yourself then you are trying to reassure yourself of what you are labeling yourself.

  6. Bill

    Webster on “fundamentalism”: An attitude stressing strict adherence to basic principles.

    W. on “freethinker”: one who forms opinions on the basis of reason, and independent of authority.

    W. on “libertarian”: one who upholds the princples of ABSOLUTE and unrestricted liberty.

    W. on “absolute”: FUNDAMENTAL, being self sufficient and free of external references.

  7. TallPaul

    I’m still waiting for Bill to explain how, as he has alleged, we can all live well off of what we earn by working 20 hours a week.

  8. who

    The real problem, I think, is that we (meaning society) still think of our world and ourselves in a Newtonian way, when science and the discovery of the nature of reality is far beyond that. Our thinking about who we are is far behind what we have discovered. So, I wonder if left/right, liberal/conservative thinking will/should be obsolete. Although liberal, elitist, intellectual (whatever you want to call it) thinking is more conducive, and accepting, to scientific discovery than conservative thinking is. Conservative, almost by definition, is the holding onto beliefs and the rejection of new ideas and truths. Strong belief holds back progress – in a nut shell. Would it be hard to imagine that, maybe, as a species, that we could transcend duality, left/right thinking not intellectually, but genetically? To whom am I asking this question?

  9. bill smith

    @Paul– We COULD all live ‘well’ working 20 hours a week if we lowered our bills.

    -A different Bill.

  10. Asheville Dweller

    How about thinking for yourself and not trying to label yourself into one of two narrowminded groups?

  11. JWTJr

    Mr Branyon – The entire premise is designed to pump up your already pumped up ego. You know best. All the rest of us should just pack our stuff and go home. Your elitism is something special. You should be proud.

  12. travelah

    “Liberals can run intellectual circles around conservatives.”

    I recall a wonderful discussion on William Buckley’s Firing Line many years back with his guest, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Neither man ran circles around the other and each was representative of the best intellectualism had to offer. What seems more appropriate with this diatribe is that an intellectual lightweight can spout an anti-Christian and anti-business bias with all the bigoted and intolerance expected from a liberal partisan and still, with a straight face, refer to himself a a “free thinker”.

  13. Jessica B.

    Travelah says: “What seems more appropriate with this diatribe is that an intellectual lightweight can spout an anti-Christian and anti-business bias with all the bigoted and intolerance expected from a liberal partisan and still, with a straight face, refer to himself a a “free thinker”. ”

    And it’s obvious here and elsewhere that a conservative partisan can do exactly the same thing. We seem to have forgotten what actual debate and discussion is and how to participate in it, on both sides.

  14. TallPaul

    Thanks to travelah and JWTJr for resoring my faith in the intelligence of the user of this website!

    Bill Smith: Lower our bills? Move out of the house and into a tent? Ride a horse? Got any practical suggestions? Do please explain how YOU would live well on what you could make working 20 hours a week.

  15. TallPaul

    Also, please explain the impact on the job market of all of us learning to get by with less.

  16. bill smith

    [i]Thanks to travelah and JWTJr for resoring my faith in the intelligence of the user of this website![/i]

    Now, THAT’s a gem on MANY levels.

  17. bill smith

    [b]Do please explain how YOU would live well on what you could make working 20 hours a week. [/b]

    It’s called not living beyond my means. Not going into debt. Not buying things you can’t afford, etc. It is possible.

    Also, moderators–What does a guy need to do to become un-moderated?

  18. TallPaul

    Rather simplistic, Bill. A lot of people live just within their means on working 40 or more hours a week. What is it that makes you assume that they need to work 40 hours a week just because they live high on the hog?

    Further, you have yet to address the consequences on the job market of everyone learning to do with half as much, assuming such a thing was as easy to do as you expect us to believe.

  19. JWTJr

    TellPaul – it seems Bill would be ok with half production and the cataclysmic economic repercussions that would follow.

    The EU is just fine right? No budget problems there.

    Maybe we could all stay at his place.

  20. TallPaul

    Should we assume from his post that Bill lives well on what he makes working only 20 hours a week?

    Or, is this perhaps another case of “do as I say, not as I do”?

  21. bill smith

    Sheesh, guys. I merely responded to the person asking how it could be done. You really seem to be reaching for an argument I am not making and have no interest in making.

    But, believe it or not, one’s expenses do tend to be less when one isn’t in debt for needless trinkets. But if you bought into the scheme, little will get you out now.

  22. TallPaul

    Thank you, Captain Obvious.

    The fact remains that many just get by on 40 or more hours a week, and neither you nor Mr. Branyon have explained how they could be getting by on working half as much or less.

    You have also ignored my other question regarding the impact of such a change on the job market.

  23. bill smith

    Well, if it’s obvious, why did you ask?

    Your question is for Mr. Branyon, not me, but:

    [i]neither you nor Mr. Branyon have explained how they could be getting by on working half as much or less.[/i]

    Yes, I did. Twice. It’s called not buying crap you dont need and can’t afford. Should I be more clear?

  24. TallPaul

    I guess in your world, people “just get by” on what they make working 40 or more hours a week only because they are “buying crap you dont need and can’t afford”.

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