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October 19, 2010

A Sense of Justice

Having cleared a small space on her desk and brushed a few of the cobwebs out of various Inboxes, the Princess is back.

Read this during the plane ride back from Vegas. I can't speak for the Tea Party, but this adequately describes my sense of what is wrong with the direction government is taking in America:

The notion of karma comes with lots of new-age baggage, but it is an old and very conservative idea. It is the Sanskrit word for "deed" or "action," and the law of karma says that for every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction. Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering. No divine intervention is required; it's just a law of the universe, like gravity.

... To understand the anger of the tea-party movement, just imagine how you would feel if you learned that government physicists were building a particle accelerator that might, as a side effect of its experiments, nullify the law of gravity. Everything around us would float away, and the Earth itself would break apart. Now, instead of that scenario, suppose you learned that politicians were devising policies that might, as a side effect of their enactment, nullify the law of karma. Bad deeds would no longer lead to bad outcomes, and the fragile moral order of our nation would break apart. For tea partiers, this scenario is not science fiction. It is the last 80 years of American history.

This, in a nutshell, is my problem with liberalism. I understand liberal ideas, and if the world were a different place or human nature different than it demonstrably is, I might even be on board with some of it.

My problem with liberalism is that I believe progressives are elevating a utopian vision that willfully ignores how people act in the real world over a more pragmatic and constrained vision that takes the real world into account. I don't believe public policy that ignores human nature will be any less disastrous than would a public policy that ignored the law of gravity.

Laws have to work in the real world. They are implemented and enforced upon real people, not ideal beings who only act from the purest of motives. And although I acknowledge that the world is often an unfair place, I've seen no evidence that my fellow human beings can come up with a scheme that doesn't just replace the natural unfairness of the real world (which I stand a chance against, as an individual competing with other individuals) with artificial unfairness enforced by a government jackboot.

I think Haidt is spot on when he talks about competing notions of fairness. To liberals, fairness means equality but to conservatives, fairness means justice.

Equality? What I'm fighting for is to prove I'm a better man than many of them. Where have you seen this "divine spark" in operation, Colonel? Where have you noted this magnificent equality?

No two things on Earth are equal or have an equal chance. Not a leaf, not a tree. There's many a man worse than me, and some better. But I don't think race or country matters a damn.

What matters, Colonel,is justice.

Which is why I'm here. I'll be treated as I deserve, not as my father deserved. I'm Kilrain... And I damn all gentlemen. There is only one aristocracy... And that is right here. [points to his head] ...and that's why we've got to win this war.

As I said last week, we are engaged in an all out battle for the soul of a nation and it is being fought by those who understand moral hazard against those who want to pretend it doesn't exist.

I think the reason the Kilraen quote has always resonated with me is that that's what I want too - the freedom to fight for my own vision of America, to fight for what I believe in. I don't need government's hand on the scale, tipping it in one direction or the other, because I don't trust government to be impartial.

Posted by Cassandra at October 19, 2010 08:13 AM

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The chart about money-for-bad-behavior is interesting. It's odd to me that "never for any amount" didn't come up more often in some of those -- especially the one about the blood transfusion. Disease isn't the only kind of contamination.

Posted by: Grim at October 19, 2010 09:59 AM

My problem with liberalism is that I believe progressives are elevating a utopian vision that willfully ignores how people act in the real world over a more pragmatic and constrained vision that takes the real world into account.

Ah, but you see, once the knuckle-dragging populace *sees* the purity of the progressive vision, each will individually and collectively -- and magically -- *change* into ideal humans.

In fact, the only reason that didn't happen in the USSR, the DDR, Kampuchea (née Cambodia), North Korea, Mao's People's Paradise, and hasn't happened in the various Democratic Republics currently flopping around is because the folks dwelling there were -- and are -- too busy trying not to be murdered by their enlightened, *progressive* masters.

Scratch a Liberal and you'll find a tyrant...

Posted by: BillT at October 19, 2010 10:26 AM

Utopians have always been with us.
"Everything would be better if . . ."
See Plato for details.
Folk who are smarter than other folk (in their own eyes) have always been with us. And they presume to instruct us in how to live our lives.
The modern progressive or liberal is a dewy-eyed dreamer. The dreams have no grounding in reality. There are no government programs of which I am aware which have produced social justice. I will gladly list the names of many programs which have made situations worse.
In the real world, something never comes from nothing. In the real world, if you spend money you do not have, this has bad consequences. The Weimar Republic and the recent adventure of Argentina show what happens: disaster for all.
And when our national leaders throw us into permanent debt, without any national emergency as an excuse, we end up owned by the Communist China government, or some other oppressor.
Not good.
It is nice to have you back on line!

Posted by: mathman at October 19, 2010 10:26 AM


In the real world, something never comes from nothing. In the real world, if you spend money you do not have, this has bad consequences.

Preach it, Brother MathMan! Seriously, I am constantly amazed by the willing suspension of reality that seems to animate political rhetoric.

I had to laugh at that quote from Obama about science and facts and such not gaining any traction with those irrational, scared voters.

These folks constantly invoke "science" to tell us that we should ignore the evidence of our own two eyes and ears simply because some jackwagon has a theory that says otherwise. It must be enormously comforting to be able to tell yourself that the only reason your arguments can't gain any traction is that other people are dumb and irrational :p

Posted by: Cassandra at October 19, 2010 11:09 AM

Since most of us here did not attend Harvard or Columbia and lack the cache of old money elitism, our bonafides lack standing in their eyes. John Kerry tellingly spoke his frustrations during his presidential run when he said "I can't believe I'm losing to that idiot(Bush)!"

At least we know what they really think of us in the hinterlands.

Posted by: vet66 at October 19, 2010 12:12 PM


Spew warning, please! I barely missed my computer screen with the coffee I was drinking!

Posted by: DG at October 19, 2010 12:42 PM

You're sitting too far away, then.

Posted by: BillT at October 19, 2010 01:09 PM

If my legions of flying monkeys ever take over the world . . . I would pick up the most willingly blind of the intellectual and political gentry, drop them off in central Nebraska, western Kansas or southern Idaho, smile sweetly and say "no work, no eat. See you in a year. Or two." Or leave them in some much less inviting local and let them see how their visions of human nature play out in reality.

Twenty Four months of having to pay their own bills with money they earned, less the taxes they have to pay, might do wonders for their outlook on individual enterprise, initiative and effort. (Yeah, who am I kidding. I know.)

Posted by: LittleRed1 at October 19, 2010 02:09 PM

Or leave them in some much less inviting local and let them see how their visions of human nature play out in reality.

I know a lovely spot in the Swat Valley...

Posted by: BillT at October 19, 2010 03:16 PM

Thought it was an interesting article. "Karma," in the sense he uses the word, is pretty similar to "feedback"...and when the feedback doesn't happen quickly, at the lower level of a system, it tends to happen with delays, and a lot more destructively, at a higher level.

Reading something about the out-of-control discipline situation in many K-12 classrooms, I thought about the old practice, sometimes followed by idiots, of putting pennies in the fusebox to replace blown fuses. You might turn your lights back on for a while, but heat up a wire in a way that will eventually burn down the house. Many "progressive" policies have this common attribute: they suppress the action of the circuit-protection devices at the lower levels, and even at the intermediate-levels, so instead of having separate containable problems, you have a society-wide conflagration.

Posted by: david foster at October 19, 2010 08:39 PM

Scratch a Liberal and you'll find a tyrant...

A tyrant? Is that like a miniature progressive dinosaur?

Posted by: Ymarsakar at October 19, 2010 09:34 PM

Scratch a Liberal and you'll find a tyrant...

People have a name for what you proposed.

Re-education camps.

They work, though. It isn't a fiction.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at October 19, 2010 09:36 PM

Last was to LittleRed1

Posted by: Ymarsakar at October 19, 2010 09:37 PM

That Kilrain quote didn't resonate with me because the gentlemen he is "damning" were born as gentlemen, raised as gentlemen, and behaved according to the culture they were brought up in, some better some worse. The way he phrases it means reducing people to their birth and blaming them for it. Condemning caste systems as systems is one thing but that condemnation is directed at individuals. It is in a way another example of the sloppy habit of political-religion to treat people as reductive examples of one single aspect of their circumstance and then to praise them or "damn" them arbitrarily. In a sense Kilrain is being no different then the gentlemen he "damns". Except most gentlemen at least don't sanctimoniously "damn" all peasants.

Posted by: jason taylor at October 22, 2010 10:16 PM

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