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Monday, April 21, 2008

Politics for Dummies

If you are trying to eliminate the effects of a particular problem, do you think it would ever help to understand the causes that give rise to the effects? For example, if a building were on fire, do you think it would help that the firemen in charge understood what tends to fuel a fire and what tends to extinguish it? If they did not understand the causes, wouldn't they be as likely to throw a ham sandwich on the fire as to pour water upon it? For another example, recall that doctors used to "bleed" their patients, reasoning that less blood slows infection or in earlier times that it would release the evil spirits from the body. Obviously, if one does not understand the causes, the solution may actually be worse than the problem itself. At best, the supposed solution can only mitigate or eliminate effects through random chance.

So, let's say you are concerned that the price of gasoline is going up. Or, perhaps you are concerned about the rising cost of health care, education, or food. Maybe you are concerned about the declining value of your home and the fact that your mortgage payment has increased due to higher interest rates. Perhaps you are concerned that you may become the victim of a terrorist bombing or a random gang shooting. Perhaps you are concerned that you may literally roast to death in an Al Gore-ish global warming apocalypse or be drowned in a pile of aluminum cans if they are not recycled in time. The point is that all of these issues whether real or theorized must have causes if they are to have effects. Therefore, the first step in understanding how to deal with them must be to understand their causes.

This all seems absurdly obvious, right? Yet, is this how modern intellectuals and politicians approach problems?

Before offering a health care solution, does Hillary Clinton (or any of the others) offer an explanation as to why health care costs are rising? When Obama goes on national television to discuss high gasoline prices and proposes a windfall profit tax on oil companies, does he first offer an explanation of why gas prices are rising and explain how a windfall profit tax on oil companies will reduce oil prices? When John McCain blames the mortgage "crisis" on"greedy Wall Street Bankers" does he explain the causes of the mortgage crisis and explain how the "greed" of Wall Street Bankers has caused the current situation? Given that they do not understand the causes of these "crises", isn't likely that their proposed solutions may indeed make the problems worse just as a doctor bleeding his patient only exacerbates disease?

At a more fundamental level, does anyone discuss exactly what the role of the government should be in a free society? Wouldn't such a discussion not only involve the purpose of government but consequently the nature and meaning of individual rights which defines and delimits the power of the state? Wouldn't that discussion be predicated upon an understanding of the essential nature of man and the purpose of our existence? Shouldn't the discussion be not "what is the government going to do about this and this problem" but "is this really a problem", "what is the cause of this problem", "should the government have any role at all" and "what exactly is that role"?

Rather than treating each "crisis" as an isolated concrete, shouldn't we see problems as particular instances of a more abstract problem, i.e., shouldn't we think in principle? Why do prices rise or fall, or, indeed, why do they change at all? Today's intellectuals deal with increasing gas prices as an isolated phenomenon, then put a committee on to studying why food prices are increasing, and then move them on to studying why health care costs are rising. Gang violence is treated by today's intellectuals as an intractable societal ill. Among other things, shouldn't we draw a comparison between the outrageous violence that occured during Prohibition when a lucrative black market developed around alcohol bootlegging and the gang violence we see today centered around the narcotics trade? Today's intelletuals debate endlessly about what we should do in the Middle East as if we have never had conflicts with other nations. Shouldn't we study history for examples of similar military conflicts to the ones in which we find ourselves today for lessons on how to proceed and attempt to abstract some general principles of foreign policy? For example, shouldn't we study the American occupation of Japan after World War II which turned a fanatically religious culture into a productive and peaceful ally? Could you imagine any political candidate today actually referencing history much less articulating principles upon which to base their actions? I literally can not imagine this occuring.

The reason it is difficult to imagine today is that this approach would require people to think in principle. It would require making generalizations from observation. In other words, it would require reason. If you think the problem in America or the world today is increasing prices, gang violence, terrorism, etc. you are wrong. The problem is the unwillingness of modern intellectuals to think in principle. They have been trained by their professors to believe that reason is not absolute. They have been trained to believe that morality is subjective and there is no right and wrong. They have been taught that every culture is equal. There are no black and whites. And on and on. This culture of unreason seeps into every aspect of our culture especially politics.

Read any of the candidates' positions on their websites. They usually have some meaningless bromide on their banner such as "hope for change" or "change for hope" or "making America better through hope for change", etc. Then they have a litany of positions statements on every conceivable issue. Obama's website has position links as follows: civil rights, disabilities, economy, education, energy and environment, ethics, faith, family, fiscal, foreign policy, healthcare, homeland security, immigration, Iraq, poverty, rural, service, seniors and social security, technology, urban policy, veterans, and if that's not enough a category called "additional issues". Not only is each issue treated as a disconnected concrete but even within categories there are sub-concretes. For example, notice that there is category for "Iraq" separate from "foreign policy" and a category for "economy" separate from "fiscal". Apparently, "ethics", "faith", and "family" are all separate from one another.

Despite the absence of any explicit reference to principles, there is one principle implicit in all of the candidates campaign platforms. It is the principle that the government should have unlimited control over your life and property. It is the principle that the omnipotent government should redistribute the earnings of the productive to the non-productive. It is the principle that the government should protect you from yourself - that it regulate your children's education, your food, your medicine, with whom you trade, what you produce, when you can produce it, who you employ, how much you can charge, where you can work, what you can do with your property, what you are allowed to read or watch, with whom you can bank, and what currency you are allowed to trade. All that distinguishes them is the degree to which they wish to control any particular aspect. Wendell Phillips said "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." An uneducated populace unable and unwilling to think in principle can not be vigilant about who should be America's Next Top Model much less about an abstract concept like liberty.

We are in trouble.

p.s. It's ironic to me that the government demands that practically every profession in America be licensed, i.e., meet the dictates of some arbitrary government standard that allegedly deems one to be qualified in their individual occupation. I oppose all forms of licensing, but the fact is that licensing today is required not only of doctors and lawyers but even stock brokers and cosmetologists. Yet, what are the qualifications of those running for president of the United States or congress? Here we have persons seeking to be in positions of immense power not only to command the armed forces and to enforce criminal law but in today's culture to dictate the minutia of practically every activity that takes place in our lives. If my barber has to be licensed to cut my hair, shouldn't Hillary Clinton have to pass some sort of test if she wants the ability to steal my money and give it to others?


High said...

It is a good post and I agree with many of your points however I wish you wouldn't stoop to insults and cheap put downs like in the last sentence. It really weakens your arguement to start making wisecracks and can only make whoever you're trying to convince offended.

padfoot said...

perfectly appropriate language, aligned to the law of casuality