It’s almost embarassing how strongly I am affected by polemics

When I was around eighteen or so, I was very into famous speeches. My favorite one was Eugene Deb‘s speech at his sentencing hearing for his 1918 sedition trial.

I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the men in the mines and on the railroads; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children, who in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul. I see them dwarfed, diseased, stunted, their little lives broken, and their hopes blasted, because in this high noon of our twentieth century civilization money is still so much more important than human life. Gold is god and rules in the affairs of men.

The little girls, and there are a million of them in this country, this, the most favored land beneath the bending skies, a land in which we have vast areas of rich and fertile soil, material resources in inexhaustible abundance, the most marvelous productive machinery on earth, millions of eager workers ready to apply their labor to that machinery to produce in abundance for every man, woman, and child—and if there are still vast numbers of our people who are the victims of poverty and whose lives are an unceasing struggle all the way from youth to old age, until at last death comes to their rescue and stills the aching heart, it is not the fault of the Almighty, it cannot be charged to nature, but it is due entirely to the outgrown social system that ought to be abolished, not only in the interest of the working class, but in a higher interest of all humanity.

If I read something heart-felt, I will utterly believe in it…for about twenty-four hours. It doesn’t have to be liberal, either. I felt the same way about Barry Goldwater’s speech at the 1964 Republican National Convention (“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!….Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”) Luckily, these effects tend to go away eventually.

I think that the largest component for most people — including myself — in determining their beliefs is expediency. We believe in the things that don’t require us to change what we’re doing. Sometimes I believe that things are alright the way they are, and that incremental government-led change is the way to go. Sometimes I take a fatalistic attitude. But rarely does any belief in the need for radical change manage to last long with me.