Hiking in Bandelier National Monument 15 years ago, my friend and I saw a sign stating “Designated Burn Area 1998.” As an environmentalist, I said, “They should just let nature do its job; it knows more about taking care of itself than we ever could! Why are we hell-bent on controlling the natural world?” I was confident in my position when my friend replied, “Sure, but in the past a lightning strike might have burned half of New Mexico. We now have Los Alamos and Santa Fe think about.” His comment changed me. My idealism was tempered that day.
I had said, “The body knows how to defend itself,” in my opposition to immunization. But we don’t live in villages anymore. Air travel and international commerce have changed that.
I had said, “The free market is a natural system. A strong economy is best served by staying out of its way.” But we no longer live in 1776, when Adam Smith wrote about the invisible hand of market economies. We have huge financial markets, bundling of mortgages, derivative traders and massive government spending. Letting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fail would be like letting Santa Fe burn in the service of holding true to some idealized notion about the natural world or the free market. Those who hold fast to idealistic notions of natural ecosystems, family values or the free market will forever live in discontent, because the world is not how they would like it to be. The world is as it is.
A pragmatist is willing to honor that truth and seek change based on what is—not on what he might wish it to be. A conservative holds fast, regardless of the facts on the ground. We should seek to honor the Apostle Paul, who reminds us: “Whatsoever things are true.”
— Tom Sherry