Thursday, February 18, 2021

Criticism of Government

The divide among populists, liberals, libertarians and conservatives is getting murkier. Websites that one would associate with the right side of the political divide are railing about vaccine rollout.  They focus on the hypocrisies of the well-connected, and tie this to the fact that people are DEEPLY UPSET that they can't get "their" vaccination.  Massachusetts is doing very well, one of the best in the country, in percentage of people getting vaccinated.  But today one million people became newly eligible, and the registration site was overwhelmed and crashed.  The citizens of MA are outraged.  It is fun to for conservatives elsewhere to say "Well, heh-heh, that's because all those liberals want the government to fix everything for them, that's why they are acting like that." But they do have a vaccine rollout that is likely better than your state's.

Okay, now do Texas.  T99 put herself into the line of fire in her county after the hurricane to try to keep accountability and feet to the fire on relief.  After all the posturing about Texas Strong and we'll-show-the-country-how-it's-done (and to be fair, there has been a lot of that in Texas), she encountered a lot of folks with the same fix-it-for-me attitude as in other places and worse, fix-it-for-me-NOW.  And then there is the freezing and power outages now, and the public response. 

It's not that there are all these incompetent government officials who can organise a two-car funeral. It's that difficult things are difficult, but people would rather complain. Who is responsible for all this?  We are.  Our governments are doing exactly what we told them to do, but now we don't like it. Every year I have at least one incident where I escape by the skin of my teeth even though I did not prepare well enough. We forget grace the next morning and look down on those whose teeth has less skin.

In Dostoevsky's The Grand Inquisitor, the inquisitor accuses Christ, who does not respond, of creating all this evil because He has allowed freedom instead of rescue for the bulk of humanity that suffers.  He imputes a rather libertarian attitude to Jesus, that all this suffering occurs because he want to preserve freedom. Dostoevsky is not drawing a two-dimensional easy distinction here. Though he paints the Inquisitor as something of a devil, an antichrist, in the full corpus of his writings it is clear that he has enormous sympathy for those who would rescue mankind, which is usually foolish, to provide bread, and shelter, and safety.  Many students read that section of The Brothers Karamazov and conclude that Ivan is not fully answered - not in the moment and not in the rest of the novel - and the devil seems the kinder, more compassionate one. 

There is a long tradition in Jewish mysticism and Hasidic lore that Satan separated from God because he thought he was the compassionate one who loved humans more and wanted to rescue them from suffering. In such imaginings, the devil wins every battle and every argument with God until the end, where God reveals in what can only be seen as a rather 51-49 victory for mankind in this life that this slight advantage for free choice is ultimately the only way to true happiness. It is Satan's refusal to trust God that this narrow benefit is eventually all that is his downfall. He offers the third temptation of all power to relieve the suffering of the world to Christ not to trick Him, but to convince him that the devil's idea is really the better one. (Once you have thought this, applying it retroactively to the previous two temptations is fascinating in it's thoughts about suffering.)

The populist says that we should let the people have power over their own lives because they are going to get it right nearly all the time, while the government is going to screw it up.  There are libertarians who think the same, and that is the fun rhetoric to play with in arguments, listing all the stupidities of bureaucrats and career civil servants and pretentious people who think they know better.  But that's a cartoon. In reality, a lot of people, not just a few, will screw up their lives and it is easy to see why it might look more compassionate to just fix it for them. The more realistic libertarian sees that and at least understands why the liberal would want to intervene and reduce suffering. The populists are flat wrong.  It is not merely the few who won't get it right, who can be shrugged off as the necessary cost for the rest of us to have good lives.  It is is the many who will get things wrong.  Including you, Jasper.

Related, but an aside, there has been entirely too much this year of complaining that all those Other People just want power, and telling us what to do, and getting off about how important they are.  Yes, political argument is so easy when you can read the motives of your opponents with your magical Motive-o-Meter and expose them as rotten to the core. Yes, life is convenient when your opponents are always evil, as I have been complaining to liberals for years. All of us have mixed motives, and once you open the door to that conversation, be prepared to have it returned.

Freedom is morally superior only by a whisper.  That whisper, repeated for eternity is eventually The Great Divorce, the final and full separation of good and evil.  Yet we live in the world where that is barely visible.


james said...

WRT incompetent government officials: PJ O'Rourke, in one of his books from back when, wrote about visiting the DoT, and finding people who loved cars everywhere he looked. He said he had to change his ideas a bit.

Grim said...

Labels are always tough. I think of the populists as being pro-government; they want a government for Americans (or Poles, Huns, Scots, etc). They're all about collective action for the benefit of the nation. Tariffs, etc.

Texan99 said...

It may be true that it's the many, not only the few, who will screw it up if they have liberty. It doesn't follow that it will be not be screwed up for even more if they don't have liberty, and are left with nothing but the hope that their government may take care of it instead.

Every state has its "fix it for me NOW" contingent. If there's a difference between red and blue states (and employment rates alone tell us there is), it lies in whether the "fix it for me NOW" crowd has gotten big enough consistently to win elections.

The "fix it for me NOW" is virtually the same as the "use other people's money to fix everything" crowd. "He's so generous, he'd give you the shirt off another guy's back." There's no limit to how much and how fast you want stuff when it doesn't hit your own budget for necessities and conveniences.

Sam L. said...

I got jab #2 on the 17th; my arm is still sore.