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The late Sam Kinison, an incomparably loud and invariably offensive comedian, once delivered a comedy routine about famine. He remarked that whenever he sees heart-rending scenes of famine victims he wonders, “How come the film crew didn’t just give the kid a sandwich? How come you never see that? What are they afraid of”that it would spoil the shot?”
His famine routine was really very funny. In a twisted way it was also trenchant. The “Camera or Sandwich” problem is a good starting point for examining any human problem. Is it better to try to collect lots of insights about many issues than to get bogged down in particular problems involving particular people?
– George Tobin, First Things December 1992
One of the earliest things I learned on my path to becoming a conservative is that some ideas remain valid despite the passage of time. As an annoying kid, I wanted something with a bit more depth than the regular soap opera at school. My father passed me one of his old copies of First Things, and I dug in. Richard John Neuhaus made me laugh, and most of the other articles made me think. My father and I would often talk about the ideas involved – this was before I had easy access to the internet. I loved the fact that they were written for a higher level than any of the stuff I had to deal with in English class, and I can say that I owe a lot of my development as a reader and writer to these magazines.
I had reason to dig back into First Things recently, and I ended up getting a link to the piece by George Tobin. Written in 1992, the same dynamic applies today. I live in Chicago, and people love to talk about our horrible crime problem. I’ve yet to see much in the way of a solution or any kind, possibly because it is difficult to imagine how one person could directly reduce crime. After 9-11, I remember people looking in vain for some way to get involved short of mass enlistment. (The Marines need a few good men, not a few OmegaPaladins) The camera option keeps on coming up in one policy debate after another
In fact, much of Ricochet is the Camera option writ large. Many issues seem to just be an excuse to wind people up without some kind of productive outlet. Raging at the heavens or denouncing the Left with righteous indignation is fun and all, but how much does it actually change anything? Are there ways to pick the sandwich option in politics, even if you live in the People’s Democratic Republic of Obamastan?