Monday, October 14, 2013

Two Brief Questions

I have two questions I wish to ask:
1. Why is it that when a doctor, or a businessman, or anyone else wants the fruits of his labor it is greed? But when someone else demands to be given the fruits of his labor, it is social justice? 
2. Why is that those who recognize the heartless, inefficient, soul crushing nature of say public education or the social service bureaucracy can then call for more government intervention in other areas?
I know some of my readers will argue that it is because of some sort of agenda, or some other form of dishonesty, but I just do not buy it. I spent too much of my life around those who hold a casually liberal agenda, and recognize, though their ideas may be harmful, they have no ulterior motives.

In fact, this entire issue arose because my mother and I were debating Obamacare. As I have said elsewhere, she is a liberal, though inconsistently so. For example, having been a teacher all her life, mostly in private schools, she find the bureaucracy and absurd over-standardization of public schools horrific (in fact, had mentioned as much the same day as our debate), yet, when I point out it is the logical outcome of government involvement, somehow it does not occur that expanding government to other are will produce similar horrors in those areas of the economy.

Similarly, the day we discussed Obamacare, I had also mentioned that it was absurd to criticize businessmen for not giving away money or otherwise "thinking only about money", as their profits paid for the income of their workers, created jobs, provided low cost goods and so on. In other words, if they were less concerned with profits, it would actually harm others. And my mother seemed to grasp this. yet, when there is suddenly an appeal about children without care (though no one has yet shown me these people who cannot find medical care, after nearly 50 years of government intervention...) she forgets all that and doctors and hospitals are heartless and greedy and should be fleeced.

I tried to point out how the more government there is, the less freedom, and that it is hardly a coincidence that the most authoritarian states have inevitably committed the greatest atrocities. Stalin's purges and planned famines. Mao's reeductation camps and cultural revolution. Castro's imprisonment of librarians, homosexuals, dissidents, anyone else he felt failed to fit in. Pol Pot's massive horrors. Hitler's death camps. I challenge anyone to name an all powerful state that lacks at least one such horror. Yet, somehow those who promote bigger government think this argument is meaningless and somehow, this ONE time, the state will be granted all that power and not use it. All those past experiences were just unfortunate coincidence.

When that failed, I turned to our previous talk about public school, and pointed out that when the state becomes involved in business, the inevitable outcome is precisely that mass of meaningless rules she despised in public schools. When the government regulates, of necessity it is "one size fits all". and not just uniform, but guided by the vision of whoever has political pull. (It is a common delusion of big government supporters that all right thinking people think as they do, so any big state would enforce their prejudices. It is why so many supporters of totalitarian regimes are quite surprised when they are imprisoned or executed, as they cannot imagine a right thinking state believing differently than they do, and always image the future state will be the one they imagine in their dreams.)

Well, there was much more, but to make this brief, I pointed out repeatedly that government is the antithesis of freedom, that more state means more bureaucracy, less freedom, appropriation of wealth, loss of incentive and a general decline in both freedom and affluence. And yet, as has been my experience with so many others on the left, she understood individual points, yet could not see the big picture. Government could be seen as an evil in specific cases, but once it because the tool for some big, vague goal, all of that was forgotten. Likewise, freedom is good for specific individuals, but once they become a category "doctors", "hospitals" and the like, then they deserve no respect.

Perhaps that is the problem with those who support the left. It is not any problem with comprehension, it is that they are too attached to abstraction. They can see the problems in specific examples, can understand how government is a problem in specific cases, but once someone proposes a large, vague project to "do good", suddenly the connection between the abstractions of that proposal and the specific cases and individuals is lost. They cannot connect "greedy bankers: with John down the street, or "government regulations" with those annoying forms or the rules that prevented them from putting in a pool. They just cannot jump between the two.

POSTSCRIPT

I once made a similar argument about those promoting conspiracy theories. I cannot find the link, as it was on Townhall and is no longer visible, but the basic idea was this: People were arguing that China was buying up defense industries and were worried this could impair US security. I wrote a short script mocking the idea something along these lines:
Technician: So, what are we doing today?
Supervisor: Comrade Vice President said we have to install these circuits.
Technician: What do they do?
Supervisor: He told us we don't need to know, and shouldn't look. They're called the "Evil Circuit" I think.
Technician (Quietly into his phone) Hello, Homeland Security...
It is a bit silly, but so is the idea that your neighbor who manages a bank is employing Estonian hit squads to improve his bottom line, and that really is what many conspiracy theories suggest. When they speak of "evil banking conglomerates" or "multinational corporations", substitute the image of your uncle who works for Citigroup, or your neighbor who works at Bechtel and tell me you can take them seriously.

POSTSCRIPT II

There are several other issues I have found underlying the ability of liberals to hold quite contradictory ideas.

First, as mentioned above, they have a hard time imagining a "good" government doing anything differently than they would. In short, they always imagine socialism with themselves as dictator, enforcing all their own prejudices, as, of course, all right thinking people think as they do.

Second, as I wrote in my, as yet unfinished, series of essays on liberalism ("Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences - Preface"), liberals do seem to believe a large number of people are not competent to make their own decisions, and thus need to be told what to do. Of course they exclude themselves and their friends from this category, but oddly cannot imagine that any government might include them in the category of those who need to be told what to do, though experience shows that everyone not in the government ends up in that category (Of course, as I said, they believe the state will just be enforcing their prejudices, so cannot imagine that such rules would be an imposition on them.)

Third, they have a tendency to caricature their opposition, arguing those who are not liberals want the right to dump poisons in the water or allow people to starve. Combining this absurd caricature with an exclude middle of massive dimensions, they can easily justify their liberal beliefs, since what they cast as the only other choice is intentionally so absurdly sinister. (I have noticed this quite a bit in my arguments with those on the left. Even after I have drawn a clear picture of the libertarian alternative, as soon as I criticize the liberal position, they return to these straw man arguments, pretending the positions I presented is not an option and the only choice is between their ideas and those of the caricature "Republican position" they imagined.) [Not that the right is immune to this, I have heard quite a few on the right engaged in the same silliness, especially when it comes to social conservative positions, where the choice is between some extreme social conservative position and mandatory abortion, death camps for any holding religious beliefs and handing our children over to pedophiles.]

Fourth, the left also ascribes to a belief which is a problem for both ends of the political spectrum, and that is the inability to imagine a non-government solution for any problem. Sadly, both left and right seem to have trouble imagining private solutions for a problem, especially if it effects more than one person. As soon as a problem touches several of us, it seems right and left leap to the conclusion that the state is the only solution. But the left, with its belief that the individual is largely incompetent, is even more strongly inclined to such answers, and thus the immediate reaction of "what can the government do?" is felt more strongly on the left, though the right is not far behind.

Fifth, many on the left have a strong tendency toward perfectionism. Because the free market is not perfect, because leaving individuals to make their own choices does not produce the results they would find best, they imagine the system can be improved, made perfect. Oddly, when their own efforts fail, they do not reject them on the same grounds, instead they argue that they just need more power. The thought that perfection is not possible, and that efforts in that direction might make things worse, rather than better, never occurs to them.

Finally, as a consequence of the belief in general incompetence (along with the malevolence of much of society arising from their caricature of the opposition, as well as the inability to see abstract groups as being made up of ordinary people), the left does not believe in any sort of self-help. They may pay lip service to "helping people to help themselves", but as many people are incompetent, and the greed and evil of those abstract groups making up most of society threaten the well being of these incompetents, they tend to think without big government forcing people to do the right thing, to enforce workplace safety, minimum wage, make people save for retirement, and make evil companies allow them to retire at 65, no one would be able to succeed. (It reminds me of a Senate hearing I once heard where a black man who was a professor of law at Harvard gave a long speech about how black men could not succeed in America. Amusingly he said it without the slightest trace of irony. Speak about a disconnect between belief and reality.)  I recently read a quote which seems to fit this well. At parks across the country we see signs telling us not to fed wild animals, as they will not learn to fend for themselves, yet every day we give food stamps to millions. However, to a liberal, this would not make sense, as, unlike animals, they do not believe most people can figure out how to fend for themselves, and those that can would likely be manipulated and exploited by the evil, greedy individuals around them.

There may be a few other concepts I have not listed, and doubtless there are some on the left who act out of less sincere motives, those who are motivated by envy, by resentment, by a desire to tear down those who succeed, by a love of power and so on. But by and large, I think the left is mostly made up of a sincere rank and file. Many, obviously, do not have clear reasons for their beliefs, just like those on the right and center, they believe what their parents do, what their friends do, what their boss does or their teacher. Some probably have more emotional, less rational reasons. (Again also like some on the right and center.) But for those rank and file who do think about their beliefs, I really think the vast majority is sincere, just like the rest of us. Their beliefs are dangerous, harmful and help those with less savory motives, I agree, but that does not mean they are themselves acting out of anything but the best of intentions.

Unfortunately, good intentions often result in horrible outcomes.

POSTSCRIPT III

Just to point out the obvious, there are many on the right who hold ideas with which I disagree, even find dangerous.  ("Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "Harming Society", "In Loco Parentis")For example, I have argued that the war on drugs is justified the same way as gun control, and thus I find it a terribly dangerous belief. ("Guns and Drugs")Yet I do not think those on the right who promote the war on drugs have sinister motives. As I wrote on many posts no longer available, a lot of evil comes from those who mean well. and having grown up in a very liberal state, and associating at times with the most liberal of liberals, art students, law students, English majors, actors, philosophy students and so on, I am well aware that most of them were hardly adopting liberal beliefs out of sinister motives. It seems obvious, but having read the caricatures of liberals on many conservative sites, I feel the need to sometimes point out the obvious.

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