Most of my favorite opinion columnists come from the conservative-to-libertarian portion of the political spectrum, but the one who makes me think the most is one with whom I usually disagree.
Leonard Pitts is my favorite liberal. His conversational style, nuanced opinions and willingness to admit he doesn't have all the answers make it easy for a reader — even one who doesn't share Pitts' politics — to relax and let his guard down.
One of Pitts' columns that I've saved and reread occasionally is the one he wrote after the 2009 execution of Washington sniper John Allen Muhammad, who in 2002 terrorized the greater Washington area where Pitts lives. Pitts confesses that although he opposes capital punishment, he couldn't manage to feel any remorse for Muhammad's death, only an "appalling satisfaction." As he puts it, the execution caused his emotions to "thoroughly misalign with my convictions."
That expression always makes me wonder which issues pit my emotions against my convictions.
Certainly not capital punishment. When it comes to matters of justice, I'm a bloodthirsty vengeance-monger. The only reason I haven't danced on John Allen Muhammad's grave is that I don't know how to dance.
No, the greatest fault line running through my psyche would have to be the fact that I'm a believer in free market capitalism (dynamic! innovative! forward-looking!) who also loves old things and tends to resist newfangled innovations. Capitalism and antiquarianism are strange bedfellows.
I read old books, watch old movies and listen to oldies radio stations. Some of my favorite oldies, from Ray Price's "City Lights" to Gladys Knight and the Pips' "Midnight Train to Georgia," speak directly to my preference for the old and simple over the new and shiny. L.A. certainly would prove too much for this man.
The latest gadgets and gizmos don't interest me. I wouldn't give a rat pellet to follow any celebrity's "tweets," and the only way I'll end up on Facebook is if I get married and my wife puts me there without my knowledge.
Recently, a co-worker and I were traveling to Abilene for some training when I noticed the crumbling remains of what appeared to be an old general store sitting in someone's pasture. I told my co-worker, "On the way back, remind me to pull over and take a picture of that." I did, and he didn't have to remind me.
Capitalism, however, shows no such affection for old things that have outlived their time. Economist Joseph Schumpeter called capitalism "the perennial gale of creative destruction." The old, complacent, and inefficient are constantly swept aside so their resources can be redirected to the new, innovative, and efficient. This endless quest for greater efficiency is the reason people in capitalist economies enjoy a higher standard of living than those in centrally-planned economies. Creative destruction is why it's better to be "poor" in the United States than "rich" in some other countries.
However, there is that "destruction" part.
Creative destruction is why wristwatches are becoming obsolete as more of us check the time by glancing at our cell phones. Personally, I think old mechanical watches have far more character than cell phones. Nevertheless, if you ask me for the time, I'll reach for my phone. I haven't bought a watch in years.
Creative destruction is why the small family-owned store or restaurant almost inevitably gives way to its larger, less charming, but more efficient competitor.
I understand that this process improves our standard of living and makes more products more affordable to more people. That's one reason I support capitalism.
But that doesn't make me any less sentimental about Mom and Pop's Burger Shack or, say, the vanishing craft of wristwatch repairing. Part of me would like to step in and rescue these bits of our heritage from oblivion. Maybe that's why I snapped that picture.
But why settle for snapshots? Shouldn't the government do something? Give the failing restaurant or wristwatch repair shop some money to keep it afloat?
No, I don't believe it should.
The only way the government can give a failing business any money is by taking the money from you and other private citizens. All sentiment aside, that's the deal breaker for me. Your money is yours to spend as you see fit. No one, including me, has any business forcing you to spend your money as he or she thinks you should. If that means Mom and Pop's Burger Shack gets bulldozed so Gadgets Unlimited can expand its parking lot, so be it.
But first, let me take one last picture.