We are the state

Many moons ago, in the gap of time between when I graduated from medical school and when my residency began, I went on a medical mission trip to Central America.  Two of my best friends from school were also going, and though the trip was sponsored by a religious group with which I was not affiliated, I still felt like it would be worthwhile to go.  It was an illuminating trip for a variety of reasons, among them that it was my first time seeing what abject third-world poverty really looks like.

As I mentioned, the trip was religiously-sponsored.  What impact this sponsorship had on access to care became evident after we had set up our little clinic and started greeting patients.  Before they could get in to see the doctors and nurses, they had to sit through the sermon.  Following the sermon was an impassioned plea to accept the doctrines of the sponsoring religious group.  Only afterward did they get to come and see the medical personnel.

I found this arrangement deeply objectionable.  While it seems obvious to me that a religious group can deliver its charitable care however it sees fit, this struck me as the wrong way round.  You give people access to care because you believe doing so is in keeping with (in this case) Christ’s call to minister to the poor and the sick, not as a way of coercing a nominal religious conversion.  If they are moved by your charity to wonder why you would be inclined to do so and then stick around for the sermon, that is the arrangement that I would have strongly preferred.  But I wasn’t in charge, and so simply delivered what diagnoses and treatments I could and kept my mouth shut.

This experience sprung to mind when I read Jason’s post this morning about the relationship between entitlements and private charity:

Suppose I were a billionaire and I decided to spend my fortune supporting people who would otherwise have to rely on Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security.

So I set up a trust fund for as many of them as I can afford to support in perpetuity. I tell them that they can draw on the fund for medical and basic living expenses, as long as they don’t become a drain on the U.S. government. No government checks for them.

My guess is that no one would applaud me. “Monstrous,” I can see the left-liberals saying. “You’re making them personally dependent on you, and that’s terribly undignified.”

Well, I can’t speak for left-liberals in general, but this particular liberal wouldn’t say that at all.  Let me explain.

What Jason calls “people who would otherwise have to rely on Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security,” I would describe as “people who would be rendered destitute by their medical and living expenses.”  Having worked in various medical settings with patients who fall into that category, I know that they have very real, pressing needs that, if unmet, leave them sicker, hungrier and less secure in their homes.  (In my corner of New England, it may also mean “freezing cold during the long winter.”)  I do not think it is monstrous to help them.  Quite the contrary.  I think it is commendable.

Now, we as a society can have several responses to their plight.  We can, as a whole, consign them to their fates, viewing that as the meet endpoint to whichever string of decisions led them to those straights in the first place.  We can view it as a morally corrupting influence to provide subsistence care for those who should be able to provide for themselves, and (as Jason writes) an assault on their dignity.  I do not take this view.  As I’ve already written, I know firsthand how the accidents of one’s birth can profoundly affect one’s chances of success in life, and I don’t really feel like I’m in a position to pronounce on the moral failures of people who were born into poverty.  Further, I live in a state that used to have several thriving industries that supported its numerous communities, and many of those industries have fled overseas.  It is hard for me to find a place to blame those who live in these now-blighted towns for the sudden and permanent loss of their livelihoods.

So that leaves this left-liberal with a desire to see the indigent given a certain baseline level of support to meet their needs for food, shelter and medical care.  If there are sufficient numbers of similarly-minded people out there, it follows that we as a society must then decide on a solution.

One possible solution is to exhort the affluent and generous to establish charities to meet these needs.  And I think it is wonderful when they do.  But relying on private charity alone to meet the needs of our country’s poor does not strike me as the final answer.  Putting the needy at the mercy of the wealthy’s largesse subjects them to the whims of their benefactors, and makes them reliant on the ongoing good will and good fortune of those doing the giving.  Should either of these factors change, the help for the needy evaporates.

What other entity exists as the agent of our societal wish to help the neediest among us than “the state”?  What is the state except the civic manifestation of our collective will?  The only other large-scale charities I can think of have religious sponsorship, and while I would have to be a fool to deny that religious charities do wonderful work, can anyone deny that they sometimes have ends other than simply the welfare of the poor?  Is it not an assault on their dignity to make them endure efforts to convert them in order for them to receive assistance?

I read Jason’s post and I see “the state” as something “other.”  Again, it is probably my left-liberalishness talking here, but that is not how I understand it.  I understand it to be an emanation of “us.”  It is not something separate from society, but  within it.  Ideally, in a democratic society it is responsive to the collective will of the people and does their bidding efficiently.  That it falls far short of this ideal should be apparent to anyone with anything better than a second-grader’s knowledge of the world.  But what alternative exists?

Having Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security provided by the state does not “ennoble” the care these services provide.  They are simply our best answer to the persistent reality that there will always be people who need help, and we feel it is in their best interests and ours to see that they get it.  These programs were created to keep the elderly and the poor healthier and somewhat less desperate.  Private charity lacks the stability and religious charity lacks the disinterest in other ends which should be hallmarks of our best solution as a compassionate society.  If the state does not act on our behalf to render these services, then who or what can we rely on to do so in its stead?

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

209 thoughts on “ We are the state

  1. I do not think it is monstrous to help them. Quite the contrary. I think it is commendable.

    I keep hearing this from everyone. Does it remain true when I emphasize the bit that everyone’s leaving out — that the recipients of my aid need to forsake the government’s?

    Because that’s the part I imagined the left would especially dislike. Instead, everyone’s ignored it. Which I find very weird.

    As to whether the state is “us” — is Coca-Cola also “us”? In what sense is the state more meaningfully “us” than Coca-Cola? I give both of them some money; they both give me some goods or services. I can always make my views known to either. And anything beyond that borders on the mystical to my mind. Neither one of them is me. Or you.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • I keep hearing this from everyone. Does it remain true when I emphasize the bit that everyone’s leaving out — that the recipients of my aid need to forsake the government’s?

      Because that’s the part I imagined the left would especially dislike. Instead, everyone’s ignored it. Which I find very weird.

      I think it’s because this is an objection that only the monsters made of straw are likely to feel particularly dire about it. So long as your help had no other strings other than “not getting money from the government in exchange for me helping you” that doesn’t sound particularly outlandish at all or particularly monstrous, at that.

        Quote  Link

      Report

    • The state is more meaningfully “us” in the sense that every citizen is entitled to equal democratic representation. In Coca-Cola service and representation are determined entirely by your economic qualities and choices. You must pay Coca-Cola specifically for the goods and services you wish to receive from it, and it has no responsibility to respect your views unless you own shares. The state, by contrast, has a responsibility to respect your views in the same light as those of any other citizen and to provide to you the same opportunities as every other citizen, and as such it has the right to compel your participation in a program as well as the ability to provide those programs free of cost to you. You participate in the state simply by virtue of being a citizen – not so with a corporation.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • The state is more meaningfully “us” in the sense that every citizen is entitled to equal democratic representation.

        That and a dollar will buy you anything in the dollar store. The state does not represent us. It may represent you—though, as Jason points out, it would be rather uncharitable to make any such assumption—but it most certainly does not represent me.

          Quote  Link

        Report

          • Liberals of course do say “not in my name”, and, in a democratic country everyone is entitled to disagree with any aspect of governance. Nevertheless the organs of the state are designed to represent you personally. The state is not just the currently elected executive government but the entire apparatus of governance. Even if the current executive government is inclined to act against your personal wishes or best interests the law and the constitution protect you to some extent. You may disagree with the executive government but if you don’t obey the law the state will take measures against you. But the law gives you redress even against the president should he step outside its bounds.

            You are not obliged to give personal support to any particular arm of governance, even to the armed forces. But you would do well to give your support to the system and the idea of efficient democratic government this includes acceptance of the duly elected government’s right to govern. It may be a long way from perfect but it’s the best we’ve managed to think of so far.

              Quote  Link

            Report

    • Does it remain true when I emphasize the bit that everyone’s leaving out — that the recipients of my aid need to forsake the government’s?

      Of course it does. I want my patients not to freeze, wheezing in the dark. If they are able to eschew government aid because of your charity, what is that to me? But if your investments go bad and suddenly that magical fund to keep them in heating oil and albuterol dries up, I’d like the alternative to be something other than freezing in the dark.

      And Coca-Cola is not, and is not meant to be, “us.” Coca-Cola is simply a monster-sized merchant. Its end is to make money for its shareholders. Its obligations to me are subordinate to its obligations to its shareholders. The state serves a completely different set of functions with a completely different set of obligations. I cannot understand how you would compare them, just because both traffic in money and services.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • And Coca-Cola is not, and is not meant to be, “us.” Coca-Cola is simply a monster-sized merchant.

        So too is the state. What it sells are the so-called “public goods,” the ones that (we are told) cannot be provided in any other way.

        Sure, I can vote in the elections of the state. I can vote in the elections of the Coca-Cola company, too. The latter only costs me $38.65.

        I tell you, there’s still some muddled thinking going on here. And it’s a really, really good thing that I don’t believe for a moment that any of you here are the state. I’d have a hard time being your friends, if I hadn’t already concluded that you were all so muddle-headed.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • I will assume your last paragraph is meant to be jocular, rather than simply insulting? Knowing you like I do, I will make that assumption, though I wish you had expressed yourself rather differently.

          The interests that are meant to be guarded by the government of a people are totally dissimilar to those held by a private enterprise. The welfare of the people should be the ultimate, in fact only, true end of the government. The enrichment of the owners is the interest of private enterprise.

          Further, I can choose to buy or not to buy with Coca-Cola. Short of withdrawing from society wholesale, I have little choice but to invest in that society’s way of regulating itself.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • When you say “We are the state,” I am left no choice but to conclude that it is a lot of Hegelian nonsense and wish fulfillment.

            If I did not think this way, I would be forced to start blaming you for things that you personally oppose. That would be both mean-spirited and nonsensical on my part, and I don’t want to be either one.

              Quote  Link

            Report

                • Jason, I don’t know Loviatar from a hole in the ground. I can’t speak for what he says. His words aren’t mine.

                  My intent in the original post was to offer a respectful disagreement from your perspective. If you feel there is something contained therein that is an insult to you personally, or that denigrates your intelligence, I don’t see it. It certainly would be far from my intent to write something directed at you as a person or as a thinker, or (for that matter) to write something meant to be taken as an insult to anyone here. If I offended you with what I wrote, I apologize.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

            • In contemporary American liberals, I see a bastardized Hegelianism, without the sort of radical communitarianism that Hegel himself advocates when he says shit like, “On the other hand this final end has supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of the state.,” but I think you’re making a mistake if you interpret contemporary American liberalism, or progressivism, through your knowledge of Hegel. The reasons for this are twofold: they don’t read Hegel (how many people really do, anyway? I bet there are some Hegel scholars who’ve never really read Hegel through), and what they’ve kept of Hegel is far outweighed by what has been discarded and replaced from other sources over the last two centuries. So when Hegel says that our supreme duty is to be a member of the state, he means something different from what liberals mean when they say that as part of a community we should participate in the state.

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • I’m of the opinion that if ants, bees and other social insects can create societies where the needs of the group are taken care of then we certainly should be able to. We should also be capable of that ingredient we claim for humanity of being humane. We are born the most helpless mammal on Earth and often die in similar helplessness. None of us would have lasted a day without the protection and support of the group. All we enjoy and depend on comes from the minds and hands of others. You don’t need to machete your way through Hegel to understand what the bees know and what Mercy and enlightened self interest teach..

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                • Dana, what do you think happens to the ants, bees and other social insects who can no longer pull their own weight?

                  Liberals throw me. On the one hand they claim to disbelieve God and believe in Evolution, but on the other hand they don’t understand the first thing about it. Evolution says if you can’t pull your own weight, you don’t get to reproduce and you get to die. For moral superiority reasons the Left argues that they must get power and remain in power to take care of “the poor”. Of course once the Left has enough power we end up with Chavez, Kirchner and Castro. The poor are still poor.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                    • Dude, I’ve read Spencer but apparently you just read the book cover. Did you ever read “The Coming Slavery”? He not only doesn’t buttress YOUR argument, he reinforces mine. Thank you for that.

                      I like this quote of his enough that I have it bookmarked from elsewhere:

                      The Republican form of government is the highest form of government: but because of this it requires the highest type of human nature, a type nowhere at present existing.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                    • Jason, Strauss isn’t really fair either, I know. He wasn’t so much a social Darwinist as a hero to later social Darwinists, like Spencer.

                      But I was mostly pointing out that Wade was advocating social darwinism, and suggesting that liberals had a problem because they don’t accept it. Forgive the quick hit.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                  • Evolution says if you can’t pull your own weight, you don’t get to reproduce and you get to die.

                    Well, that’s just wrong in at least two fundamental ways. First, evolution isn’t about living, but reproducing. Some insects have extremely sort lives, but will have more offspring than the League’s authors will collectively. Evolutionarily, if I died at twenty leaving five offspring that survived to reproductive age, and you died at 105 leaving only one offspring that survived to reproductive age I’d be evolutionarily more successful despite my much shorter life.

                    Second, pulling your weight doesn’t matter except insofar as it enhances your reproductive success. Cowbirds lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and let them care for them. That’s hardly pulling their own weight, yet it’s a selected behavior.

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

                  • “Evolution says if you can’t pull your own weight, you don’t get to reproduce and you get to die.”

                    I’m sorry, where in the literature on natural selection, mutation bias, or genetic drift is there anything remotely approximating this sentiment about pulling one’s own weight?

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

                    • Note that the clause at a minimum should read can’t pull your own weight until you reproduce, after which you are irrelevant (as some in some insects where the male dies after reproduction). So the elderly by biology are basically irrelevant by this view since they are not likely to have new offspring.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                    • Cmon james you know better than that. Dana talked about the ants and bees as if they followed some noblesse oblige. That is patently absurd. Some might quibble about my choice of verbage but in no insect society will you see the infirm and defective “carried” by the rest. In other words doing so flies in the face of natural selection. Meanwhile for the umpteenth time my larger point is ignored while the commentariat grasps at minutia.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                    • That’s not what she said, though, Ward.

                      She doesn’t say anything about ants caring for other individual ants (which, as you point out, would be absurd). She’s talking about ants working as a collective for the good of the hive.

                      Which is worthy of its own criticism (we’re clearly not ants, and we clearly *won’t* just let our incapacitated individuals die, and thus we have burdens ants don’t have, etc., etc.) but that’s not where you went with it.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                    • So the elderly by biology are basically irrelevant by this view since they are not likely to have new offspring.

                      Moving away from the politics, old age (defined as living past reproductive age) is an issue for evolutionary biology. Some portion of the resources an organism gathers is being diverted from reproduction to post reproductive survival and we might expect this to be selected against.

                      I believe a common explanation is that in a social species older individuals increase the reproductive success of their offspring by sharing child rearing thereby increasing their own inclusive fitness.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

        • I tell you, there’s still some muddled thinking going on here. And it’s a really, really good thing that I don’t believe for a moment that any of you here are the state. I’d have a hard time being your friends, if I hadn’t already concluded that you were all so muddle-headed.

          If you find yourself thinking this a lot, then it might be helpful to keep an open mind about the common denominator here. Maybe it’s possible that some of the paucity of charitable interpretation and some of the surfeit of muddle-headed thinking does not come solely from those who differ from you.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • To elaborate, it’s one thing to say “I find your claim that ‘we are the state’ to be conceptually problematic and even dangerous, for the following reasons….” and quite another to say “well, if you really understood what you were saying, we wouldn’t be friends, so I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and say you’re just stupid.”

            Jason, this is really how your comments are coming off, at least to me. Every once and a while you seem to adopt this tone, and because almost all of the rest of the time your comments and posts are thoughtful, we, or at least I, get taken by surprise and get so repulsed that instead of talking about your points–some of which are either valid or at least something to consider–we end up talking about “tone” and “style” because those issues have derailed the conversation.

            Not all people who disagree with you, and not all people who might not fully get what you’re saying, are enemies, but you seem to be treating a lot of your interlocutors that way, and most of them don’t deserve it.

              Quote  Link

            Report

    • Jason,

      When I read your original post, I honestly didn’t notice the proviso about recipients rejecting government aid. Knowing that makes me have a better idea where you’re coming from when you frame the “monstrous” epithet lobbed by liberals. Still, as long as the deal is voluntary, then this liberal (and I assume that liberal and the one next to her, in fact, a huge subset of “liberals”) would not find it objectionable.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  2. So…this is just nitpicking on a fantastic post (because I’m churlish and can’t give compliments gracefully) but didn’t you read the meeting minutes from the last left-liberal secret meeting? You’re supposed to use French for titles like this one. Make it like “L’etat c’est nous”.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. I made the following observation a few days ago in another post, but I think there is a notion among our conservative and libertarian friends that the “State” is a monolithic object: something all-consuming, and with tentacles that reach into every little crevice of society.

    And because “it” is so large, and so pervasive (and therefore powerful), it is something to be necessarily feared and mistrusted. But I don’t think that this conceptualization is very useful, and the outlook leads to a number of fundamental preconceptions with really harmful consequences for policy and society.

    There are many roles played by government entities: virtually all because there is no other possible actor with the resources of the “whole” society, or who don’t otherwise have terminal conflicts of interest in exercising these roles. As a non-exhaustive list of such broad societal interests, I would include:

    Infrastructure. I think this is the role where all parties can best agree. Someone has to be responsible for building the roads and bridges, the electrical grids, the national defense, and so on.

    Rule-setting. Markets do not spontaneously arise: it is in the interest of market players to constrict them (read Adam Smith–he was well aware of this). Rules establishing enforcing the fundaments of a healthy marketplace can make markets more functional and more efficient, and more “fair” for all parties. When there is transparency, accountability, and competition, markets can do a lot that benefit everyone. When these are missing, they often result in perverse incentives that are broadly destructive.

    Protection. Of course we need an army, and a police force. But we also need protection from the more rapacious and less ethical members of our own society. We may not, for example, all agree on the way that OSHA rules are implemented, but I think there is a pretty fair consensus that workplace rules that protect worker safety are a generally good thing.

    Arbitration. Business exists to make money. Goverment exists to… what? To protect the general interest. We designate the government as the “decider” in many cases because its fundamental mandate is the general welfare. That is not to discount the libertarian critique of bureaucratic entrenchment and rent-seeking, and we should always be on guard for these. But our court systems, and political processes are there, in large part, to make disinterested decisions when we need them. How else would we deal with such issues as global warming, environmental versus resource trade-offs, and the like?

    Culture building. I’ll find a lot of disagreement here, I suspect, but I consider it a fundamental public sector responsibility to encourage the best of the society: civility, a common language and culture, the promotion of the ideals and underlying values that undergird any healthy culture. This is especially true now, when the competing instruments of common culture all come from corporate entities: the MTVs and HBOs and Fox Newses.

    Outcome mitigation. Although many consider the outcomes produced by a marketplace to be–by definition–fair, it is pretty clear that market rewards are only tangentially related to social worth. Our society rewards a certain kind of person in an outsized way: the risk-taking, socially-connected, organizer–the entrepreneur. That’s all good to the degree that the benefits of commerce is widespread. But–let’s be honest–Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett, or Rupert Murdoch, may be a fine and upstanding citizens, but each has assets that are one million times (or more) that of the median citizen. Each of them makes more in an average week than an average person makes in a lifetime. And because human nature is what it is, they still want more. The social programs you wrote about (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) fall mostly in this category.

    Only a government can construct a set of common rules that promotes widespread prosperity, equity, and “fairness.” It would be great if these outcomes could come about spontaneously, but there is really no other party that has the reach and incentives to achieve this.

    But I don’t think that it’s really very useful conceiving of “the government” as a single thing. Social Security and National Defense are different things, as are market maintenance, adjudication, education, or public health promotion. They are all “government” roles, only because there is no one else that can reasonable assume them.

    By lumping all of these together, and decrying that they are all vested in a single powerful and overwhelmingly powerful “interest,” many conservatives see the government as something frightening. But it is no more a single entity than the marketplace is. It is not competing with the private culture, or private enterprise–it undergirds it.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • “the “State” is a monolithic object: something all-consuming, and with tentacles that reach into every little crevice of society.”

      It isn’t? Whether or not you think well or ill of the State’s intervention, is there really any aspect of our country/society that it does not have a stake in?

      As for being a monolithic object, just because it does many things, doesn’t make it many objects. It makes it one object with numerous departments that can do many things. My heart and my kidneys have largely separate functions but they are still part of the Pyre entity.

        Quote  Link

      Report

    • The state is an immensely powerful organization that is run by individuals who are not me. The fact that it claims to speak for me, and to act on my behalf, doesn’t make it necessarily so.

      My guess is that conservatives find these propositions more obvious when a Democrat is in the White House, and liberals find them more obvious when a Republican is.

      Was the state still you when it was invading Iraq?

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Yes, it was. I was outvoted, but yeah, the state was still me when that happened. Sucks, but hey, that’s part of living in a society. Sometimes it does things you don’t agree with. I don’t take my ball and go home, I work to make it better in the ways that I can.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • And I do the same — work to make it better, by my lights, in the ways that I can.

          I can’t help but think as follows: It’s the belief that the state is us that fosters complacency, and not the belief that the state is an often-unruly group of other people. The latter motivates me to admonish; if I believed the former, I might be more inclined to make excuses.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • Yup, that’s us liberals. Complacent about things, not wanting to change things like the brave libertarians thrusting into history!

            The problem is that many of the issues you have with the state, I and a lot of liberals, moderates, and even conservatives simply don’t have with it. Yup, taxation is me being forced to give money to another entity with force. Oh well, still the best system we’ve figured out for funding a populace of 300 million people reasonably well.

            In other words, to you, taxation and regulation are these great forces holding you down. For me, they’re flies occasionally annoying me.

              Quote  Link

            Report

          • I sharply disagree. This notion that the state is an “other” allows complacency in hand-wringing by a larger portion of the population than otherwise. In so far as there has been examples of states acting as moral agents, it was precisely the drivers feeling that the state represented them (and thus they and their progeny would pay the temporal and spiritual price for the state’s actions) that drove them to improve the state’s behavior and impose new norms on society writ large.

              Quote  Link

            Report

    • In the United States, we got a step increase in government (State) power for ‘good’ purposes in the 10’s and then we got World War 1.

      We got another step increase in State power for ‘good’ purposes in the 30’s and then we got World War 2.

      We got a third increase in State power in the 60’s for ‘good’ purposes and then we got Vietnam.

      Then in the 80’s we got a final step increase in State power for its own sake, and we’ve been fighting any and all dang wars ever since.

      War is the health of the State. You put all that money and power in one nexus, and you can think you can put that all toward social welfare, and you can try.

      But the Warriors will be beat you. Because they’ve always been first at the table for 10,000 years.

        Quote  Link

      Report

        • Europe’s had one decimating and then one genocidal war during the same time, then was assisted by the United States or the Soviet Union for the rest of the 20th century. It’s not clear that if the US ever finally does draw down its complex that Europe won’t just step its own up. (particularly the big countries) (look at how eager everyone was to bomb Libya) (and there may be soon a BAE EADS super group).

          Canada is next store, and massive and tiny at the same time. Plus they keep most of their social welfare spending at the provincial level and Nova Scotia is not allowed to form an army.

            Quote  Link

          Report

    • Snarky (and those agreeing with him),

      I really disagree with the emphasis of your admittedly thorough comment.

      “I think there is a notion among our… libertarian friends that the “State” is a monolithic object: something all-consuming, and with tentacles that reach into every little crevice of society. And because “it” is so large, and so pervasive (and therefore powerful), it is something to be necessarily feared and mistrusted.”

      I would disagree.  The problem with the state is that it is a coercive, monopoly which attempts to solve problems top down even if better solved decentralized, voluntarily or bottoms up. If making it larger makes it more efficient and effective, I am all for it. In brief, the problem is not size, it is that it is used inappropriately even where not needed.  It can forcefully crowd out superior solutions. Let’s discuss this one at a time…

      Infrastructure.  National defense could be a minuscule fraction of what we label defense. Bridges, roads and utilities frequently are provided by private parties. Where government can supply these better than other institutions, I will support doing so.  My number is a very small fraction of the current number though.

      Rule setting  Markets do spontaneously arise.  You are right that good rules are necessary, but you are wrong that they can only be provided by government entities. We do need simple, consistent rules, and governments CAN provide these. In reality we have been getting out of control arms races of rent seeking regulations and red tape.  Again, if you were arguing for one thousandth of the rules we actually have, I would agree.  You aren’t though, are you?

      Protection. There needs to be protection against predators and parasites, yes. These are often handled well by government entities.  The danger is in extending too much power and rule making to government agents, which attracts the predators and parasites to government office or influence. Again, the danger is in too much government. and you are promoting too much government.

      Arbitration. 

      “Business exists to make money. Goverment exists to… what? To protect the general interest. We designate the government as the “decider” in many cases because its fundamental mandate is the general welfare.”

      You are completely conflating personal and institutional goals here, Snarky.  Businesses exist to solve voluntary consumer problems.  Government exists to solve a class of problem for citizens which cannot be handled voluntarily due to various collective action problems. Employees and investors specialize in voluntary problem solving for consumers in order to make money and achieve status and other life goals.  Politicians, administrators, govenment employess and bureaucrats enter government to make money and achieve status and achieve other life goals. 

      Governments do not make disinterested decisions. Obviously we’re all interested in our environment and the costs taken to address them. We often just disagree dramatically. Coercive majority representation is not necessarily the best way to address all these issues.

      Culture building. Which cultural values should be promoted? In a winner take all system such as democracy, fractured interest groups will do anything to ensure that their values reign supreme and can be coercively shoved down their enemies throat. The better response here is that the range of top down values needs to be extremely thin and isolated to issues which we overwhelmingly agree. 

      Outcome mitigation. 

      “Although many consider the outcomes produced by a marketplace to be–by definition–fair, it is pretty clear that market rewards are only tangentially related to social worth.”

      In a voluntary, mutually agreed to interactions, which are the sphere covered by markets, rewards to both parties of any interaction are by definition value creating for both. Money is made by workers, entrepreneurs and investors by cooperatively solving problems better than those they compete with. They compete to optimize social worth with the latter term defined as consumer preference or utility.  Market rewards in an appropriately working market are not tangential to social benefit. 

      “Our society rewards a certain kind of person in an outsized way: the risk-taking, socially-connected, organizer–the entrepreneur.”

      Free markets reward risk takers and creative types and organizers that actually manage to solve problems for fellow men better than others. Risk is not rewarded. Successful risks that make our lives better are rewarded. Work is not rewarded.  Successful, efficient, creative work that contributes to consumer needs is. 

      You then make a strange shift to criticism that some make millions of times more than others (so?), so we need social transfer programs.  Huh?  I agree we need social safety nets, but these are irrespective of whether Gates is super rich or not.  Again though, the real question is which social programs need to be coercive and top down monopolies, and which need to be voluntary and less centralized.  

      “Only a government can construct a set of common rules that promotes widespread prosperity, equity, and “fairness.” It would be great if these outcomes could come about spontaneously, but there is really no other party that has the reach and incentives to achieve this.”

      Governments have existed for ten thousand years in countless societies and basically never managed to deliver widespread prosperity or fairness.  Never.  The key to prosperity and fairness is good institutions and cultural values. Government is just one such institution, and if too monolithic and meddlesome, the larger institutional and cultural system will become dysfunctional. 

      I do agree that government should do things that it can do better or more efficiently than other entities or institutions.  We need to debate what this list is.  The problem classical liberals have with progressives and conservatives is that we believe your answers to this question are wrong. 

        Quote  Link

      Report

  4. When you say “Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security” are given to people, that is not completely true. People pay in part of the costs for the first and third, and through taxes, the second. It is true that they get far more out (esp. Medicare and Ryan has a point on this one), then they put in but they do put in a good part of their income.

    That said, there is a possible issue with the billionaire doing what is outlined. A billionaire can become bankrupted and then the payments to these people will stop. If these people did not pay into the system their working lives due to his promise, it would become evil that he did this to them since they would then lose all SS and Medicare benifits (or disability) due to his attempt at largeness. Then, yes, his approch would be evil.

    Some people are rather strange in their limited belief systems – to generialize an idea to one class of economic, social or racial group and claim they would call something evil because they support government programs is dangerous thinking – generalizing an idea about one or two people that you have talked too and then extending it to all such people in that group is a dangerous approch to thinking about other people. This has done great evil in the past and much of the world today.

    AS for the church people giving medical care after trying to convert the natives, do remember that these church people really do believe they are saving these peoples soul’s (silly, yes) but honest and not really a bad thing for believers to do as long as it isn’t forced. Its not like they refused to help these people in need if they did not convert.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  5. I completely disagree with the notion that the state reflect “us” in any way. There is no collective “us” withe a shared will. Instead there are just individuals, with their own desires and preferences. I would argue that the state does not even reflect the majority in any meaningful way, other than the pandering the politicians do to get elected.
    I would actually argue that Coke has more of an interest in serving my needs than the government does. If it does not, I will no longer purchase their product, and there is no longer any interaction. When the state does not serve my interests, I have no recourse, but I am still forced subject to its rules and regulations, and I am still forced to give it my money.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  6. I have to say that this post satisfies absolutely none of my objections.

    You want to claim the moral authority of the state for all the nice things it does, like feeding the hungry and caring for the sick.

    Do you not realize that this puts you on the hook for all the crimes of the state? Every single nonviolent pot smoker who has been arrested — at least since the moment that you first realized that you are the state — is now on your head as well. Every career ruined, every home invaded in the senseless War on Drugs. Every drone strike against every innocent civilian abroad. All of the surveillance state. Every prisoner we’ve tortured.

    If I thought myself guilty of these crimes, even guilty of 1/300,000,000th of them, I’d seriously be contemplating suicide. How do you all put up with yourselves?

      Quote  Link

    Report

      • That’s not the prong of the dilemma I had meant to seize. Rather: You’re mistaken, and you’re committing a category error whenever you think that you are the state.

        Other than that one error, you’re not noticeably better or worse.

          Quote  Link

        Report

      • You fixate a bit too much on the title.

        Russell in his initial post makes it clear:

        I understand it to be an emanation of “us.” It is not something separate from society, but within it.

        Ideally, in a democratic society it is responsive to the collective will of the people and does their bidding efficiently. That it falls far short of this ideal should be apparent to anyone with anything better than a second-grader’s knowledge of the world. But what alternative exists?

        And what alternative does exist as an emanation of societal forces than the state? Does sourcing the responsibility out to a third party and claiming it doesn’t speak for you actually absolve you of guilt when you participate in the larger system that said party operates within?

        Unless you absolve yourself of all human relationships, this becomes in essence an impossible way of avoiding responsibility.

        Yes, society is collectively responsible for these ills you list and the crimes you posit and attribute to the state. Why? Indifference.

        If it cared enough, and if you could actually make the rest of society care enough, the changes would happen.

        Ask William Wilberforce if the state was a moral other. And ask those he freed.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • That it falls far short of this ideal should be apparent to anyone with anything better than a second-grader’s knowledge of the world. But what alternative exists?

          What alternative exists? Well, there’s always public choice theory, of which I am quite a fan. It would do a lot for your understanding of my views here to read up on it. The state is a set of actors whose interests may or may not coincide with my own, and the organization with which they are affiliated. That’s all.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • I’ve done public choice theory, I’ve also done post state and state decline theses and all of the above. I will also note, that I specifically left the state I felt was not meeting my interests in a way that I found amenable, and despite the barriers being thrown in my face at nearly every time I could think of, I’m still in the process of looking for a new state and society that fits better my personal preferences while also trying to shape preferences.

              Quote  Link

            Report

        • I’m not saying you’re not doing enough to advance the things you believe.

          But you seem hell bent on interpreting everyone in the least possible charitable light today.

          My insinuation and point rather was that collectively, this society doesn’t care enough about the causes you think are crimes or otherwise damnable. And in a democratic society, that choice matters.

          The question is why you choose to continue to participate in said society instead of emigrating, when at this point it’s quite clear what this set of actors has no interest in acting in accordance to the interests to which you ascribe importance in a moral sense.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • The question is why you choose to continue to participate in said society instead of emigrating, when at this point it’s quite clear what this set of actors has no interest in acting in accordance to the interests to which you ascribe importance in a moral sense.

            Not to speak for Jason, here, but I’ll give my answer.

            Because I’m going to carry moral burdens regardless of where I live, how I live, and what I choose to do and not do. Leaving because I don’t like moral burdens here assumes that I’ll get better moral burdens somewhere else.

            I don’t see much in the way of promise that moral burdens are better, anywhere else. They’re just different.

            We’re all damned, or we’re all saved. Or the reality is somewhere in-between and we can’t get easy comfort by pretending that our principles are always going to guide us to one or the other.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • Except that’s explicitly the formulation that Jason’s arguing against. That the moral burdens are his to bear and therefore, he should consider the state to be an agent that imposes moral interests that are substantially different from his own.

              There’s an enormous laundry list of OECD countries that do not do the crimes that Jason ascribes to the American state, but he’s not living in those. Why? If he really does believe in public choice theory, then he should in fact use emigration as a means (if a rather drastic one) of choosing between the actors that most satisfy his interests, whether material or moral.

                Quote  Link

              Report

            • I take it as a badge of pride, actually. I’ve accomplished something today.

              A lot of conservatives bring out the “love it or leave it” argument immediately, which is proof that they have almost nothing to say.

              Now two of the smarter liberals here have also apparently been reduced to this pathetic non-argument, the adults’ way of saying “Yeah, well you can’t make me!”

              When Zeus reaches for his thunderbolts, it’s proof that his reasons have failed him.

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • There’s a huge difference between “love it or leave it” and “accept its strictures and some share of responsibility for its actions or leave it”. I don’t “love” the state, but I’m willing to own my share of what it does, good and bad, by virtue of the fact that I live here, pay taxes here, and participate politically here.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                • Here are some actions I’ve taken within the last couple of years:

                  Paying taxes fully and promptly.
                  Voting.
                  Writing letters to representatives.
                  Donating money to political campaigns.
                  Writing here and elsewhere.

                  I still don’t conceptualize this as either me being part of the state, or the state being some alienated aspect of myself, with which I am trying to be reconciled. The state is a group of other people who make a bunch of fairly extraordinary claims of moral authority.

                  They do a lot of good, as you’re right to point out. They also do a lot of harm. But I simply don’t agree that the state is a “civic manifestation of our collective will,” whether highly imperfect or otherwise.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                  • I think a state tends to be an aggregator of social preferences in a way that few other institutions can be. Maybe the box office, or maybe the Nielsen ratings are…I dunno…

                    …anyway, for the record, I’m going to lodge an apology here, for being churlish and uncharitable in my reading and intemperate in my responses. I should know better than to get involved in debates of this nature when my head’s not in a good place.

                    Sorry, Jason.

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

                    • Nob,

                      I agree that the state is a preference aggregator in a way few other institutions can be. But le’s get Weberian for a moment. Weber argued that the state cannot be defined by its ends because it does nothing that other human organizations don’t also do; it is distinguished by its means. So Weber agrees with us. But what is that unique means? It’s the monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

                      Grant that this means is sometimes necessary, I don’t see how it makes that particular organization more an emanation of “us” than any other organization. I see the “the state is us” claim as a pleasant and useful fiction. Platonic even.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

              • I’m not certain how it’s a non-argument. Your explicit argument is that the state is an other, like every other choice you should have a right to reject or accept in accordance with your interests. It does not, nor should have any particular value outside of that as an actor or an institution. Am I mischaracterizing your argument?

                  Quote  Link

                Report

              • Don’t strain your muscles patting yourself on the back.

                The difference is, Nob’s argument isn’t a love it or leave it argument. Nob’s argument is, “if you truly think the American system of governance is horrible and so different from your moral center that you can’t stand it anymore, well, here’s the door. Find a better place if you can. Good luck.”

                That’s a little different from saying, “you disagree with this policy? Get out, commie!”

                  Quote  Link

                Report

              • “A lot of conservatives bring out the “love it or leave it” argument immediately, which is proof that they have almost nothing to say.

                Now two of the smarter liberals here have also apparently been reduced to this pathetic non-argument, the adults’ way of saying “Yeah, well you can’t make me!””

                I don’t usually endorse the love-it-or-leave-it argument, and I don’t do so here. But there is a difference between lobbing that argument against someone whose complaint is “things are bad, we should make them better” and against someone whose complaint is “things are bad and I don’t want to stay.”

                  Quote  Link

                Report

    • Do you not realize that this puts you on the hook for all the crimes of the state?

      Are you less responsible for the War in Iraq than a liberal because you’re a libertarian?

      Is a liberal more responsible for Iraq because than a libertarian because even tho both believe in cops and courts, the liberal believes in Medicaid as well?

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Look, I’m not saying

        I am the state, only I’m somehow less guilty than you.

        I’m saying

        There is no meaningful sense whatsoever in which any of us are guilty, particularly if we have already done all we reasonably can to oppose the things for which we might feel guilty, were they fully in our power to prevent.

        Subtle, I know.

        It’s mystical thinking to imagine that we are all a part of a collective called the state. If I own shares in Apple, that doesn’t mean that I am Apple. I am a shareholder and a citizen, but I am not the state.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • Apple is an entity that’s a collective representation of the shareholders that produces a certain product. If all the shareholders decided that they wanted to switch from making iPhones and computers to washing machines, the entity known as Apple would do so. And as a shareholder, you have in fact acted in that capacity.

          Again, your fixation with the title over the substance of the post. The point is that the state is the entity that most collectively represents civil society. If you think your local NFL football fan club or whatever actually does that more, then that’s an argument you’re more than capable of making.

            Quote  Link

          Report

        • There is no meaningful sense whatsoever in which any of us are guilty, particularly if we have already done all we reasonably can to oppose the things for which we might feel guilty, were they fully in our power to prevent.

          I think one measure of greatness is how much you unreasonably oppose things that make you feel guilty, particularly when you are relatively powerless to prevent them.

          I’m pretty sure there aren’t very many great people out there. I’m also pretty sure that they feel guilty, too.

            Quote  Link

          Report

        • There is no meaningful sense whatsoever in which any of us are guilty, particularly if we have already done all we reasonably can to oppose the things for which we might feel guilty, were they fully in our power to prevent.

          This can be understood two ways.

          1) That since you (personally) unlike liberals in general, have done everything in your power to oppose what you view as state crimes, you have no moral culpability and liberals do.

          2) Given that state policy is ultimately administered by an entity entirely distinct from the body politic, none of us (as non-state actors) has any moral responsibility for crimes committed by the state.

          1) gets us pretty close to a notion of collective guilt for unsanctioned state actions, which I think you would reject on theoretical grounds. 2) dissolves moral culpability in any event.

          So it seems to me what you’re trying to say is that mere identification with the state implies culpability for unsanctioned state crimes.

          But how can identification with the state imply culpability for state crimes, when those crimes aren’t sanctioned? If the state is necessarily evil, maybe?

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • Neither of your two ways is quite what I mean.

            Suppose my highly unbalanced neighbor is going to (a) give away a large portion of his own money to charity, (b) give away a large portion of other people’s money to charity, including my own, and (c) plant explosive devices in a nearby elementary school.

            It seems less than appropriate to say “That’s me!” when he does (a).

            It seems not quite appropriate to say “That’s me!” when he does (b), even if I personally approve of what he’s doing with my money, and even if there is no other realistic way that the needy people could be helped.

            And it seems completely insane to say “That’s me!” when I know that he goes around killing children.

            That’s the state. What we are morally permitted to do about it is another question entirely.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • This is a good clarification.

              However, I’m still thinking you (and the opposing bit on this thread) are either inappropriately conflating the state with the neighbor or the state with the self.

              It’s neither of those things, and both of those things at the same time. Democracy is a full contact sport, but it’s a participatory sport. The more you participate, the higher the costs go.

              How much you ought to participate? That’s up to you to decide. How much change can you actually make? That’s kind of up to everybody (sucks, but there it is). How much of what the state does can you disavow? Also up to you to decide. How much of it can you legitimately disavow? Well, that depends an awful lot on whether or not you think objective truth and justice exist, and how hard you’re really trying. It’s not on me to judge that, though.

              I have a hard enough time judging myself.

                Quote  Link

              Report

        • I spent much of my “free” time in 2002 and 2003 protesting the war in Afghanistan and the impending war in Iraq (I stopped the day we started bombing Baghdad). I have to admit, to this day I feel somewhat guilty over those two wars, because we were so ineffective. I wish we’d known more about how to organize. I wish the protest movement hadn’t become something of a fashion statement by 2002. I wish I’d been better at it. On top of that, I figure that when the system fails, and if not in 2001, it definitely failed in 2003, everyone who participates in it is at least a little bit guilty. And I actually don’t think we are the state. I think the state is an actor, or a group of actors, within a larger system in which we all participate, and from which we all benefit in some ways and are harmed in others.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • A little off topic…

            Bush called the anti-Iraq protestors, all dozens of millions of them, a “special interest group”, and said he wouldn’t determine policy based on the demands of a special interest group. I remember being impressed, even in that moment, by the Orwellian genius of that phrase.

              Quote  Link

            Report

              • Yeah. No doubt. Just one of many competing interests vying for policy….

                What’s interesting about Bush’s use of that phrase was the way it trivialized the basic humanity of the people – the individuals – who in effect comprise the body politic. Suddenly, by the bold use of that phrase to describe those folks, Bush obliterated a distinction between the individuals who comprise a society and the role individuals play within a society. They were “activists”. Or “liberals”. Or “pacifists”. And their interests were just one of many other political interests that need to be balanced by the Decider.

                It was a little bit … heartbreaking, I guess, in retrospect.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

    • What you’re missing is that for myself at least, and for Russell too I’m betting, the good done by the state outweighs the evil. Sure, the war on drugs is awful. But the existence of the war on murder is a good thing! I’m glad that there are homicide detectives investigating murders and jailing the perpetrators thereof, and I’m glad that there are OSHA inspectors, and construction crews working on public transit, and all the rest. I emphatically don’t agree with everything the state does; but that doesn’t mean that it should do nothing.

        Quote  Link

      Report

    • Thank you.

      Government is not, nor can ever be, us, for the simple reason that it claims power over us. If someone claims they can legitimately say “do this or I will assault you”, and the response you’d give anyone else stating such isn’t an option, you are emphatically not part of the club they’re in.

      If they were you, they’d put the gun down and ask nicely, and you could say No. They’re not. Seriously, it’s not that hard to understand.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • “Government is the only thing that we all belong to.” When the Dem Convention aired that video, we were told that didn’t mean what this post is saying.

        But it does. I’m glad to see it out in the open—I wish it were more in the open for this election. It all ties in to “You didn’t build that” and other communitarian sentiments.

        FTR, I think it’s a perfectly valid political philosophy, as is the libertarian/conservative view of not “we are the government” but “we own the government” and tell it what to do and what not to do.

        Bitchslapping from either side unnecessary, and unhelpful.

          Quote  Link

        Report

    • Because now it seems to need saying:

      1) I wasn’t clear when this comment was posted what “bitch slap” referred to.

      2) This post was in no way intended as a “bitch slap” (a term I find unseemly, at best) to anyone, but rather (as I say supra) a respectful counter to the perspective expressed in an earlier post, and

      3) Delivering “bitch slaps” to anyone by way of a blog post isn’t my style, nor would be posting something with the intention of insulting a friend of mine (such as Jason)

      If someone takes the post as a “bitch slap,” I suppose there’s not much I can do about that. Something something free country. But it certainly infers more than I would want to do so.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  7. I really liked this post, even if you’re muddle-headed.

    I’d also remind Jason that finding other people’s political philosophies frustrating and insane is a two-way street. Libertarianism strikes me as pretty clearly immoral, so my only recourse is to believe either (a) Jason is confused, or (b) I don’t have a monopoly on being right. (I’m excluding (c), because I know for a fact that Jason isn’t evil.) In either case, the tone of any number of comments here strikes me as ill-advised.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  8. Reading this all again, I’m still just astonished.

    Jason, you’d let the indigent starve.

    Jason, you should really just leave America if you have serious disagreements with mainstream liberalism.

    Jason, it’s so great you got bitchslapped!

    Jason, why are you so touchy?

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Jason, why do you keep talking to yourself in the third person?

      Sorry, couldn’t resist.

      I think people were harsh. I was harsh, though I didn’t mean to attack you personally, and hope nothing I said was perceived as a personal attack. I think you weren’t exactly tactful either, though. Also, I think your interpretation of this particular instance of “if you don’t like it, leave” is pretty ungenerous. They weren’t saying what you say they’re saying in your third person dialogue here.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Really?

        Here’s Dan Miller:

        You can opt out, dude. Nobody’s stopping you from buying a boat and living in international waters. If the downsides of that are too high for you–no protection from pirates, no guaranteed access to the economy of a nation-state, no common currency, etc etc–then you’d better pick a state and try to change its laws from the inside.

        It differs only trivially. And it is of course what I do. But it’s not an argument for anything.

        I also find it a bit condescending, just as people on the left formerly did when conservatives took their turn at pretending this was an argument.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • But that’s the truth. You can continue to live under the oppressive state that kills people and steals your tax dollars and learn to live with the fact that’s going to continue until you’re probably dead (since an isolationist who eliminates most taxation isn’t winning anytime soon) or you can find a better place.

          We’re not saying you should leave, like stupid righties say to people who disagree on policy. We’re saying, “this is the society. It has some bad and good points. You can work to make it better in your view or walk out the front door, but most of the world is worst on the issues that you care about, so yeah, your alternative is to go out in a boat by yourself. Good luck with that.”

            Quote  Link

          Report

        • Yeah, it’s condescending in that case, but it’s still not saying “Accept the liberal world view or leave.” It’s more a poorly worded argument about your options. But I guarantee you that if you want other people who don’t already agree with you to feel like you’re being treated unfairly, misrepresenting even the unfair treatment won’t help. And when you say that someone’s saying, “you should really just leave America if you have serious disagreements with mainstream liberalism,” that’s what you’re doing. It’s definitely not going to go over well in a thread that started with you misrepresenting the position of the group of people from whom the unfair position is coming.

            Quote  Link

          Report

    • It’s a theological argument:

      P1: With you on our side, we’d be powerful enough to change things for the better (or closer to it, anyway)
      P2: Evil exists

      The third premise is still up in the air. It’s actually up to you to provide it. Please choose between:

      P3subA) I am a bad person
      P3subB) I’m on your side, look at him, let’s go get him

        Quote  Link

      Report

        • The theodicy argument is one that I see bubble up all the time.

          The basic assumption is that we, as a society, can do whatever we happen to put our mind to.

          The second assumption is always that evil exists.

          Which brings us to that inconsistent triad. The train of thought always deals with well… why haven’t we accomplished it yet?

          The answers usually involve getting more people on our side to be of one mind with us and speculation as to the motives of those who aren’t on our side. Usually. You see this attitude with most social issues among the liberally inclined and when it comes to military objectives among the conservatively inclined.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • Hmmm. Interesting. I’ve never heard this view presented is a formal argument. Is there a site you could point me to?

            {{It does sound whacky. If people are evil, then the will of the people will track that evilness rather than overcome it, no?}}

              Quote  Link

            Report

              • Well, that’s why I want to read more about the argument. It seems to me if that the premise is that people are flawed, rather than evil, then you get a different answer to that question. Part of the resolution of evil in society, then, can be accounted for by individuals evolving as social beings, and the evolution of social structures in ways which reduce those flaws over time (where “flaws” would be understood as institutional processes that conflict with otherwise morally good (or at least morally neutral) desires).

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                • This is an oversimplification, of course, but one of the big themes in Freud is that we start out, as young children, wanting instant gratification, but from infancy, we’re forced to delay gratification (starting with eatin’, then moving to poopin’, and continuing on). This is what life in a society, or more broadly a culture, is — learning, over the course of our development, to delay the gratification of our desires, or eventually, to sublimate them. It doesn’t make sense to call these desires evil, or even irrational in any universal sense, but they are not compatible with our living together in a functioning group, or at least their immediate gratification isn’t. Of course, they keep popping up, sometimes unexpectedly, and often counterproductively, from the viewpoint of society, but overall we do a pretty good job of regulating and sublimating them (to the detriment of our psychological health, often, but that’s nothing 20 years of deep psychotherapy can’t fix).

                  So, culture, even in today’s… let’s say industrial form, does a pretty good job of molding us into functioning members of society, and to the extent that government is a product of and even an embodiment of that society (and this isn’t my view, but let’s run with it for now), the state aids in that, the question of whether we can accomplish even greater things, even more “productive” sublimations, seems like a pretty natural one to me.

                  Also, yes, this is very Hegelian in an anachronistic way. It’s actually this that causes Nietzsche, who had very similar views of the psyche to Freud’s (coincidence? I think not!), to reject much of the functioning of modern society and the modern state.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

            • Formal argument? Never. I can point to Matt Yglesias’s “Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics” and Julian Sanchez’s sister theory “The Care Bear Stare Model of American Politics”. When I looked at both of the theories, my insight, if you want to call it that, was seeing the “omnipotence” and “evil exists” premises hiding in plain sight.

              Thinking “why, surely no one would question whether other people are actually good” was rewarded quite regularly…

              But nothing formal, no.

              Edit: This comment originally said that the care bear stare model was one of McArdle’s. It wasn’t. I changed it.

                Quote  Link

              Report

    • With the caveat that I can’t speak for any of the other commentators, I offer a few points:

      1. I can understand your objection to

      Now, we as a society can have several responses to their plight. We can, as a whole, consign them to their fates, viewing that as the meet endpoint to whichever string of decisions led them to those straights in the first place. We can view it as a morally corrupting influence to provide subsistence care for those who should be able to provide for themselves, and (as Jason writes) an assault on their dignity.

      Re-reading it, I now see where you’re coming from. And if so, then perhaps he was indulging in one of the tropes liberals like me sometimes engage in–the trope that libertarians don’t care if people starve. But it took an awful lot of commentary to register your objection in terms clear enough to us to understand what you were referring to.

      Again, I can’t speak for Russell. I do, however, prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he was merely noting–perhaps in terms more confrontational than he intended–the logical conclusion of what he thought followed from the reasoning in your other post. I think this is the same benefit of the doubt I, and probably others, try to give you when you make your first few confrontational comments. Perhaps a better response on our part would have been to request that you clarify specifically what you objected to and then for us to listen to/read you patiently.

      You responded in kind, albeit without mentioning until much later what part of his post you objected to. And the rest of us, not realizing what was objected to, responded, yet again, in kind. And now a lot of us have had a long tit-for-tat instead of a productive dialogue.

      2. The “bitchslapped” comment was indeed made. In my opinion, it was inappropriate. Russell disavowed it.

      3. I’m sorry I misinterpreted you as saying “I don’t like the way things are and I don’t want to stay” when what you said was something more along the lines of “I don’t identify myself with the state, and I have serious disagreements with mainstream liberalism.”

      On two related points, I’ll note the following. One, I said, in my offending comment, that I didn’t necessarily endorse the “if you don’t like it then leave” argument. Two, others, but not all of us, might have really meant “you should leave if you have serious disagreements with liberalism.” The rest of us were probably thinking along the lines of my misinterpretation. That doesn’t justify my misinterpretation, but I hope it clarifies where I was coming from.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • I mostly agree with the above. I definitely wasn’t as helpful as I might have been in this thread.

        Part of it was that I’m terribly un-interested in rehashing whether I, in my secret heart of hearts, am really just Scrooge. I don’t find that an interesting question.

        I do find political obligation and collective responsibility interesting questions, and I imagined that it was obvious that the answers to questions hereabouts could explain why people do think libertarianism is so deluded.

        But if it’s not so, it’s not so. I’m sorry to have offended.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • Well, there’s blame to go around from my end, too. And as a fellow (but alas, still not PHD’d) historian, I should know better than to take arguments as personally as I do. I do appreciate your response to my comment.

          And I do enjoy reading your posts, even the cold, heartless ones I disagree with in the frothiest of my liberal rages :)

            Quote  Link

          Report

      • I am running late for a meeting I am supposed to lead at a site an hour and a half away, so I will have to keep this very brief.

        I did not mean to imply that Jason would let people starve in the dark. I described the possible option of letting people do so as one of many theoretical choices one could make when faced with the plight of the destitute. One can choose to help them or choose not to. It was not directed at Jason specifically, but simply as a way of making a more complete argument for my viewpoint.

          Quote  Link

        Report

  9. Re-reading this thread, I’m doing a lot of that thing I do sometimes when I’m using declarative language when I ought not.

    It’s too much work to clarify and fix it all, so I beg charitable reading.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  10. Reading all of this, I am struck by the thought that you and Jason are having two entirely different conversations, based on using ‘we’ in two very different ways, which I’ll call “Russell.we” and “Jason.we”.

    “Russell.we” means “has some control over, and is supposed to act in our benefit”, while “Jason.we” means “is synonymous with”.

    I think it’s fair to say Russell.we are the State, but Jason.we are not the State.

    Does that sound right to anyone else?

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • How much control does anyone have over the state?

      A thought experiment helps. Imagine changing your ideology. You’re now a communist, say. Or worse — a Republican.

      How much will the state change in response? The answer is that it won’t change at all. (Of course, if you pick the “wrong” ideology, like Occupy-ism, or Anonymous-ism, it might start monitoring your communications, which it already appears to intercept and archive.)

      But anyway. That’s not control. It’s wishful thinking.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Well, no one of us exerts that much control, which is both a bug and a feature.

        The state won’t change much in response to a change in my party affiliation. However, if that change is accompanied by sufficient passion and motivation to organize others into some kind of collective action, then perhaps the state will change as a result.

        It helps to live in a small state, population-wise. I know a lot of the policy-makers in my state personally, and it’s very easy to meet with them and lobby effectively. As a motivated member of the community, I could take a relatively activist role simply as a citizen. This ability is diluted a great deal in a state like California or New York.

          Quote  Link

        Report

      • Depends on how smart you are.
        Small people whine and bitch about the security apparatus.
        Smart people with some knowledge of security start Wikileaks.
        I’d say that person/people had or will have a lot of effect on how much
        is labeled “top secret” (I trust you get the joke).

          Quote  Link

        Report

  11. I have only had the League in my RSS feed for a few weeks now, but I think this is the first place I have read comments that go from very heated to “sorry, I misspoke,misinterpreted, etc.”
    I also enjoy the diversity of the group here. Most of the sites I follow tend to be more of an echo chamber, and the few dissenters do not get much of a voice.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *