Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world

3/3/2010

My Current Thoughts on Politics and Other Things

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 7:38 pm

The Democrats' current fixation with health care reform and the lengths to which they'll go in order to obtain it are impressive while utterly wrong and politically suicidal. I also find their behavior, especially their determination to use reconciliation, profoundly undemocratic. The blowback from the maneuver, if used, will be immense. A good number of Democratic representatives and senators will likely lose their seats in the this year's midterm elections. And they know this will be the case if they keep pushing the issue and in the way they're pushing it because either or both have become so immensely unpopular with their constituents. But they keep going. We must then ask why they would be so willing to sacrifice themselves, their political capital, and possibly even their party's Congressional majorities? Obama, Pelosi, and Reid have been framing the reform as a necessary good for which there is some kind of moral imperative. In the face of Democratic Congressional losses, they have advocated that their legislators must have the courage to pass reform even if it means sacrificing themselves and their party's dominance.

What kind of courage is this? It's described as some kind of personal courage to risk self-sacrifice. It's put in terms of consequences to the person and the party. In reality, however, the courage in question is the courage to defy the will of the people. Obama has said in the past that if constituents don't like their legislators' decisions, they can fix that at the next election, and that's certainly true. This kind of vote only fixes a problem that already exists, though. It's a corrective measure, not a preventative one. Voting, however, is also meant to be preventative. If you are an elected representative and you discover it's unlikely you will win reelection, then that is an indication your constituents have a problem with you and you have an opportunity to make corrections. If you go against their will and what they desire, then you're not acting as a representative and you will accordingly be replaced with someone who will behave and vote in line with the constituents' wills. What is galling, then, is that many of the elected so-called representatives in Congress would continue to pursue health care reform and use certain tactics even though it means they lose reelection since this likely loss indicates that the representative is defying the will of the people.

Certainly, a representative may not perfectly match up with his constituents' desires on all issues and votes and many voters may not particularly care about many issues. A politician can also tack in different directions, against the constituents' will in some cases while with it in others and the latter often enough to preserve their favor. In this case, however, this single issue of health care reform is enough to determine voters' intent at the next election such that nearly no amount of currying their favor will be sufficient to save the politicians' skins this November. This means their will on this issue is particularly strong and deserves their representatives' deference.

So the representatives who are at great risk are not being representative at all. I suppose someone could claim they are demonstrating leadership, another position Obama has taken. Good leaders must occasionally defy their followers in order to do what is right, best, or simply necessary (and Obama would likely claim all three are in effect for his reform). But this doesn't wash. First, leaders must have followers and the people have increasingly shown their unwillingness to follow in this matter. If leaders are going to be effective, they must be able to communicate the rightness, superiority, and necessity of their chosen course of action such that the followers will truly follow. Given that Obama and the Democrats have had a year to accomplish this and have been unsuccessful indicates not that the message has been poorly communicated as Obama claims (indeed, how he is supposed to be both a gifted rhetorician and great communicator and also a man unable to sway majorities to his side after a year of trying is unknown). Instead, it indicates that the message itself and its content have been rejected. Finally, in this leader-follower relationship, the leaders have no authority in their own right. Their right to govern is not absolute, is not handed down from above, nor are they installed in a position of managerial authority over others. It comes from the consent of the governed themselves. This means the leadership abilities of the leaders is stunted. They are not free to defy the will of the people to do what they judge what is right, best, or necessary, especially when it comes to long-term, well considered legislation (as opposed to, say, responses to crises when there is no time to determine the will or passions are inflamed). The majority opposition in public opinion to the Democrats' reform has been constant for months and any changes only see it grow larger. Indeed, the more people learn about the plan, the less they like it. Our leaders can try to sway public opinion, and in this they have clearly failed. The governed have determined that the proposed reform is not right, best, or necessary and, much like the politicians cannot continue to be representatives when they do not representative the will of their constituents, they cannot be leaders when they pointedly defy those who provide them with the right to lead.

What are we then left with? If the Democratic majorities continue to push their reform in defiance of the people, then they act as elitist paternalistic tyrants who seek not to follow the people's will, but who seek to force the people into compliance with their will.

And elitist paternalism it is, which disgusts me. Some people need the guidance of those who necessarily know better than them. Moreover, the knowledge, wisdom, morals, and judgment of these people are so deficient that they can easily and almost constantly cause both themselves and others harm without the proper guidance of others. Because these people lack even the basic abilities to properly care for their daily physical well-being or direct their efforts towards what should be their rational self-interest, they often require the attentions and ministrations of their superiors who will provide for them and direct them and they are as a result quite dependent on their superiors. These people exist. These people are called children.

I, however, like most other citizens of our good republic, am not a child. I am an adult. As such, I possess sufficient knowledge, wisdom, morals, and judgment to operate and preserve myself and others. I can care for myself and my own dependents, can direct my efforts, judge what is in my self-interest, set goals, etc. And where I do not have or cannot do these things, it is at least within reach of my abilities and only I bear the blame for their absence or for accepting the risk of their absence. I need not have others determine for me what I will do as would a parent to a child. I need not have my options restricted, my behavior manipulated, or my hand forced in order that I may do what others have determined it is my best interest to do. Indeed, it is in no other human's purview to decide what is best for me. Yet this is what paternalism does and worse.

By restricting my options and funneling me down into preset paternalistic notions of what I should do and what I should want, not only is my liberty restricted, but so is my ability to pursue what I consider to be happiness. If I am going to be treated like a child by those who have decided they are my and others' paternalistic superiors, then I am no longer in a position to determine what should be happiness. Indeed, this is one of the many threats of all the paternalist favors granted by governments. The beneficiaries of the favors are handed a vision of what others decide should be best for them and the favors push them into accepting that vision instead of determining their own happiness. What they want and what makes them happy were determined not by them but by someone else. Those who are compelled to pay for the favors are also restricted since with fewer funds, they have a lessened ability to pursue what makes them happy and are slowly forced to conform to what the paternalistic few determine.

And still it get worse. Paternalism creates a terrible dependency. Children are necessarily dependent on others. Adults, however, are made to be dependent. Among the abuses heaped upon slaves is that they become dependent on their oppressors. They cannot be independent as they are dependent upon the owner for their food, housing, place in society, and for their very survival. Paternalism fares no better. It throws chains on people, only instead of being done with a fist, it's done with a smile. The newly enslaved are told it's for their own good and that they need the guidance of others in order to succeed. And the dependent believe them. More damage surely was done by the hard-fisted slave owners of the antebellum South, but the damage wrought by smiling liberals from the 60's on can't be too far behind. Only the latter is in some ways more insidious. When somebody abuses and oppresses you, openly restricts your freedom, and creates an obvious and personal dependency even though all the while they may say it's for your own good and that you need the guidance… it's easy to know the enemy. But when somebody keeps you down through the myriad machinations of society and government, covertly restricts your freedoms through your own acceptance of its restrictions and creates an anonymous dependency to an anonymous system while being smiled at and being told it's for your own good and that you need the guidance, and you believe them… the enemy is far less obvious.

Minorities and the poor have suffered most from this smiling paternalism through untold measures that generate dependency on the government and on those who grant the favors, though they're not alone and its scope is ever expanding. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, minimum wage, affirmative action, the projects and other government housing, food stamps, now health care and any number of other programs which create not independence, but dependence and all by the paternalistic few who have determined what's best for others. And like some kind of Stockholm Syndrome, the recipients think that's true, no matter what damage they face, no matter what stagnation they suffer, no matter how they may fail to advance or better their conditions over not just years, but decades. The paternal few implicitly ensure them through word and deed that the unfortunate just aren't quite qualified enough to achieve on their own or direct themselves. They need the help and guidance of the paternal few. They'll call it a hand up. The paternalistic few will smile and will grasp hands with the unfortunate many and both sides will tug slightly while never pulling. Instead of pulling them up, they are merely suspended. But don't worry. A new program will always make sure they get pulled up and always tomorrow.

And still it gets worse. The necessary paternalism set over children has a particular goal, namely its own destruction. The dependency of children is supposed to be temporary and parents raise their children and direct them in such a way that they will one day be sufficiently able to be independent of the parents' direction, that their paternalism will no longer be necessary. The paternalism over adults, however, seeks not its own destruction, but its own perpetuation. Rather than taking children and turning them into adults, it takes adults and turns them into children. It infantilizes them and makes them more dependent, not less. And, tragically, the more dependent they become where they allow others to make their important decisions and to direct their lives, the less able they are to direct their own lives and make important decisions. Unlike with children where paternalism builds up abilities, the paternalism over adults breaks them down. In the process, the paternalism becomes self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating. In saying that people require the well-intentioned guidance of their so-called superiors and then imposing it, it creates people who then slowly begin to actually require it and then who continue to need it since their ability to operate without it has been destroyed. And so the paternalism will continue to be offered and only enslave more people and more generations.

And still it gets worse. The dependent will want more of it and even begin to demand it as they thrust out their hands for the chains. And more people who did not previously benefit will want to be included as well. Because there is a strange freeing aspect in not having to worry about things or having to make the big decisions. Indeed, many liberals argue for government paternalism on the grounds that its positive action is necessary for people to truly achieve their potential, possible freedom, potential, fulfillment, etc. If people are free from want, they are free to do more with their lives. But this freedom of being protected from decisions, from self-determination, from hardship, from effort, from risk, from responsibility, from blame, from duty, from obligation is not the freedom of men and women, it is the freedom of boys and girls; of children. The inherent freedom of humans is the freedom to choose for oneself without undue restriction or guidance resulting from compulsion. It's to make decisions and choices. It's not the freedom to achieve, it's the freedom to try to achieve while sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing.

I suppose I could be accused of being paternalistic myself in that I seem to be arguing that I know what's best for others. But I advocate that's what's best for anyone is that they have the freedom to decide what's best for themselves. I seek not to guide anyone but to let them guide themselves; not to treat them like children, but to treat them like adults.

We need to strip away the manifestations of paternalism, not add more.

Notes (possibly unrelated):
– I'm advocating from a position of natural rights and negative rights. That means your freedoms still aren't unlimited, e.g. you're not free to assault and murder. You're not free to do things, even those that make you happy, that fail to fulfill others' negative rights.

– I don't know that there's a hierarchy of freedoms necessarily, but perhaps at least those of differing levels of importance. Many on the left, for example, are obsessed with expanding sexual freedoms. While perhaps unwise, I'm not against this in and of itself, especially when it entails expanding legal freedoms, i.e. less paternalism on the part of government in determining how people should behave. But far less import is often given to other freedoms and/or they are restricted. Campus speech codes, fairness doctrine, pushing back religion in public entities, guns, etc. All these other freedoms, however, are uniquely human while sexual freedoms are not. Nearly all animals engage in sex. Only humans, though, engage in speech, religion, press, freedom to assemble, et al. In other words, the freedom the left pushes most is bestial while they are willing to sacrifice human freedoms. While I'd prefer to push forward all freedoms, if I have to prioritize them, I'll go for human freedoms over bestial ones and I will oppose those who try for the reverse.

3 Comments »

  1. 2,608!

    Comment by Sean — 3/4/2010 @ 12:37 am

  2. Like you’re surprised. Wait for the next one I’m working on over health care. It’s close to 6,000… so far.

    See more.

    Comment by Dangerous Dan — 3/15/2010 @ 5:38 pm

  3. anonymous 411, if you occasionally stop and take 10 deep btarehs, you will experience less annoyance at redbean’s twisty tongue.Every state in existence has been ultimately due to the will of the people.I think deep down, Singaporeans simply don’t trust each other and therefore the spontaneous order that’s resulted is a system; a regime of control, such that the Average Singaporean rests assured that his fellow “evil and untrustworthy” Singaporean is kept in check by a government wielding a big stick.Now the interesting question is:What is the future for a society made up of individuals who are paranoid of each other?Fucking hilarious hey?

    Comment by Jakrayut — 12/26/2015 @ 9:16 am

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