Monday, May 05, 2008

Where the Real Men Are

Conservatives and leftists (I have a hard time calling them liberals because of their fascistic tendencies) have a fundamentally different view of human nature. Leftists see humans as innately good. That is why they think rehabilitation works. It is also why they think the United Nations is a good idea. If people are innately good then, surely, they can talk out their problems without resorting to war.

That's from today's Mike Adams column - and I found it interesting because in addition to being plain dead wrong, I think it's revealing about conservative vanities.

Let's start with what's wrong.

Leftists see humans as good.

Erm, no. In fact, this is one of the main points of disagreement I have with them. I guess if I'm being charitable I can say that I don't really know whether leftists think people are broadly "good" or not, but that they certainly think them selfish and weak. To understand this point you only have to consider that religious conservatives give more to charity than liberals, regardless of income level. In other words, the people who reject the welfare state really are willing to pick up the slack. Now go talk to one of the people who supports it. Generally they'll tell you that charity is great, and that they're all for it, but how are people to get help when charity isn't available? And then you see what I mean. If leftists really thought people were inherently good, this question would never occur to them. They'd assume that for everyone down on his luck, there was someone waiting to give him a hand up. But they don't. They see "someone waiting to give him a hand up" as an unreliable thing. And so it goes with all their policies. Leftists are the people who push for ever more regulations on industry, workplace safety, the environment, international trade, gun ownership, public education, etc. etc. I guess I can't really deduce from all this that they think people are bad, exactly, but you don't support a broad ban on cigarettes if you think people are strong. No - the underlying leftist assumption is that people are weak. For the leftists I can stomach, this takes the form of "people are weak, and they need someone to take care of them; that someone should be the government to ensure that everyone gets taken care of to the extent of his needs, regardless of circumstance." The leftists I absolutely can't stomach and want to pull out a gun to defend myself from on sight are those that say "people are weak and stupid, but if we play our cards right the government can make them better with each passing generation." These are the social engineers, and most of the truly terrible chapters in our history are entirely their fault. But in either case, I don't think leftists are primarily motivated by an underlying belief in the goodness of people.

That is why they think rehabilitation works.

No. Leftists think rehabilitation works because they think people are cogs in a great machine. It is their great vanity - the idea that, whatever it is, "we can fix it." This is another point of objection that I have with leftists. I talk about it most on economic matters, but it applies across the board. In principle, we should have a free economy because people have the right to trade on their own terms. If I own something, then I get to set its price, determine its uses, etc. But a secondary reason we should have a free economy is that planning the economy is a doomed enterprise. This is not because economic planning is doomed (corporations do this all the time), but because planning the economy - the whole shebang - is doomed. Let's leave aside, for a moment, that free market prices are a self-planning mechanism, "the economy" is simply too complex to be planned. There are too many variables, too poorly understood, for any person or group of people to have a prayer trying to consciously manage it all. And that is why socialist economies invariably end in chronic shortages. The Law of Unintended Consequences is NOT a mysterious bit of magic - it's common sense to anyone who understands that you can't control something you don't understand. No matter what you do, there's a variable you didn't consider, and the system reaches equilibrium by switching that parameter in ways you (obviously) didn't anticipate. Well, the same arrogance that allows leftists to believe they can plan the economy makes them think they can rehabilitate people. It isn't that they think people are "good," it's that they think people are manageable. People, to leftists, are things that can be manipulated, repaired and controlled, not too differently from how you deal with a broken car. And the same arrogance that gives them the impulse to put their completely untested economic theories to practice with all our money backing up their gamble is the arrogance that enables them to turn known criminals back out on the streets after some half-baked "treatment." It isn't a belief in the goodness of human nature, it's a faith in their own intelligence - with the key word here being faith because they never bother to test their theory that they know everything before applying it. They just sort of think "in theory, an economy can be planned, and a person can be rebuilt," without bothering to verify that they have the knowledge necessary to accomplish these feats - and, well, history has amply recorded the results.

It is also why they think the United Nations is a good idea. If people are innately good then, surely, they can talk out their problems without resorting to war.

The United Nations IS a good idea. The problem with it is that it's way ahead of its time. It's trying to impose a system of order on a world that doesn't share a common moral understanding. Some nations are less civilized than others, and the problem with the UN is that it pretends that everyone's on equal footing. The world isn't ready for the UN. But I do believe that among civilized nations, it is possible to talk out one's problems without going to war, yes. War is not inevitable - it's just something we haven't grown out of yet. Consider, for a moment, what the chances are of going to war with the UK. Sweden? The Netherlands? Canada? Right, you say, none of those nations are a match for us. Fine, then consider the possibility of Sweden and the Netherlands going to war. Or Sweden and Brazil. It won't happen, because civilized countries are indeed capable of talking through things. Wars happen when a beligerent comes along who can't be reasoned with, and the idea behind organizations like the UN is that they bring enough international pressure to bear on the beligerent that even he can see it's pointless. But it only works if the majority is on the level, and the majority of the planet right now is still pulling itself out of poverty. So the UN is a kind of application of deterrence theory - and deterrence for those who can't talk fair. It doesn't work not because the theory is flawed, but because the cart got put ahead of the horse. It's sort of like expecting lawlessness to go away as soon as you institute a police force. Um - no. The police only maintain order in a society that wants to be ordered. They don't create order, they just prevent a handful of bad seeds from ruining it for everyone else. In a society where half the seeds are bad, then the police force obviously isn't going to make much of a difference because it will itself be hugely corrupt, and therefore ineffective. So it is with the UN. The idea isn't wrong, it's just that it isn't time for it yet. The world isn't yet civilized enough to expect to be able to cooperate on a police force, that's all.

So what does this say about conservative vanities? If the problem with leftists is arrogance, I think the problem with conservatives has always been the cult of "realism." If you're eager for everyone to know that your opponents are the ones who think people good, then you must have some stake in believing people bad, and usually that's because you see, and want everyone else to see, your opponents as naive. There's little more condescending than saying "you have a good heart, but you're just out of your league here." Which is exactly what conservative rhetoric tends to amount to. Let the "big boys" handle it, where the "big boys" always happen to be the ones saying that. If liberals like to see themselves as the good guys, conservatives like to see themselves as the hardened realists.

But conservatives have a more tragic view of human nature. We believe that people with innately destructive tendencies must be held in check. That is why we so frequently speak of traditional values. That is why we also speak of the need to have a punitive criminal justice system, which serves as a back-up plan when traditional values fail. The ideal system would mete out punishment that is swift, certain, and severe.

Why "severe?" Why can't it just be "effective," where by "effective" we mean "good at preventing recidivism?" If you want "severe" because you think it prevents future crimes, then your philosophy is no different from that of the leftists, you just favor a stick rather than a carrot. Both sides think that crime is ultimately eliminable, in other words, they just disagree as to which methods work.

I think the answer is "none of the above." Humanity's problems aren't for the government to fix. The government is a framework that lets us get on with the business of living our lives with minimal interference from everyone else. Utopia will come, or not, when individual people come up with effective ways to solve their problems, or don't. What I don't want is leftists who don't know what they're doing managing the world economy because they read in a science fiction book that it can be done. And I further don't want conservatives living out their "big man" fantasies with the police force, meting out justice that is "swift, certain and severe." What I want is a government that sets out minimal, and clear, guidelines and sticks to them and lets the rest of us well alone to live our own lives in our own ways. I am neither a science project, nor a sounding board for propping up anyone's ego, thanks.


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