Risk, Part 2: Fear and Control

Part 2 of a 2-part sequence on different aspects of how American society deals with risk:

It seems that government policy – and social convention, and cultural aspiration, and the tyranny of public opinion expressed through social media mobs – is now all too often fashioned by a destructively self-reinforcing partnership between those, on the one hand, who have lost all trust in their fellow citizens and who want so badly to be protected from risk, and even from discomfort, that they will trade away almost any freedom for a promise of a bit more security; and those, on the other hand, whose innate and fervent proclivity is to tell everyone else, with great piety and self-assurance, how to organize and operate their lives.

The more we have come to – and the more we have been taught to – rely on government to regulate the behavior of others, the less we have come to rely on – and the less we have been taught or practiced – the virtue of regulating ourselves. The more success the solipsistic fringe – economic more than cultural on the “right”, cultural more than economic on the “left” – has had in attacking and emasculating the economic and religious and social and cultural mores that historically disciplined such self-control, the less able we are to count on self-regulation and the more pressure there is to empower government to impose yet more external regulation upon us.

We can no longer negotiate and compromise – we can no longer embrace a shared process for governance rather than seeking a raw power over others – because we no longer trust each other either to have empathy or, more importantly, to act in good faith.  Why are we intolerant of risk?  Because we feel a lack of control.  Why do we feel a lack of control?  Because we don’t trust each other to do the right thing, either as individuals or as a polity.  In the absence of trust, even small risks loom large.

Continue reading

Why Do Mass Murderers Murder?

What most mass murderers — and, for that matter, ordinary murderers — share is a form of solipsism, a mental landscape in which other people have no innate value but exist, rather, merely as props to facilitate the action in the murderer’s own self-scripted and self-focused drama.

That would appear to be the result of a moral disease, not a psychological one.

Continue reading

Socialism, Capitalism, and the Liberal Republic

It is true that people — not only ignorant self-described “conservatives” but also many ignorant self-described “Socialists” — often throw the word “Socialism” around without seeming to understand what it means.  But,it is also true (OK, it is at least my not-so-humble opinion) that the many articles published recently trying to explain why various brands of “liberalism” are not actually the same as “Socialism” have been overly narrow and parochial in their view of what Socialism is and entails, limiting their argument to the simplistic (and flawed) formulation that it can’t really be Socialism if the government doesn’t “own” the means of production.

But, if that isn’t the defining nature of “Socialism”, then what is? For that matter, what is the defining nature of “Capitalism”? And how do either interact, for better or worse, with the moral premises and practical structures of our Liberal Republic?

In six parts:

Continue reading

Security, Liberty, and one of my “Triggers”

That is why America is more risk tolerant than other countries and societies in the world: because to guarantee security you must always sacrifice some amount of liberty; and, in assessing that sacrifice, Americans have traditionally factored liberty higher in the equation than have most other peoples.

Continue reading

A Trifle: Does the “right wing” really control EVERYTHING?

I don’t like the current administration and its boosters any more than you do, but really? In what country are you living where they control “nearly every element of our government and society?”

It seems to me — and much to their obvious chagrin — that there are vast swaths of society — and even significant portions of government — over which they exercise very little control at all…

Continue reading

“Republican or Conservative, You Have to Choose”

Since I gave Greg Weiner a shout-out for his New York Times piece about what it means to be an American liberal — and since the topic is dear to my heart — I’ll give David Brooks’ take on what it means to be an American conservative equal treatment. It’s worth reading.

For my part, anyone paying attention will know that I made my choice — conservative over Republican — many years and many presidents ago…

Continue reading

The Office and the Occupant

The uproar over President Obama making a speech to school kids is ludicrous and, once again, undermines efforts to steer the liberals away from their most harmful and anti-liberty projects by making the conservatives, by association with such paranoia, look like idiots. The response, even to well-reasoned and principled opposition, is now the general-purpose dismissal, “Oh, it’s just those crazies again”; and a Republican party (and any Republican office-holder or aspirant) that wants to reclaim any moral authority and/or intellectual integrity should be up front in telling those people, “Get over yourselves! And stop claiming to speak for me!”

But I have to ask: Wasn’t the root of this paranoia established by the left during the Bush years?

The wingnuts complaining about Obama’s speech are failing to distinguish between the Office of the President and the man who occupies it. They so dislike and distrust the man that they can’t accept any action of the Office, no matter how proper and reasonable.

But wasn’t that precedent set by those leftist nutters who utterly refused to accept George W. Bush’s legitimacy — “He’ll never be my President!” — and who did everything in their power to undermine anything and everything he did just because he did it, even if it undermined the nation in the process? Did they not create the template of contempt for the Office that we are now seeing? Did they not set the pattern of refusal to respect the Office because they did not respect the man? And, if we are honest about it, was that not, in itself, a continuation of the pattern they set during the administrations of Nixon and Reagan (and, to be fair, embraced by the right during the Clinton years)?

Continue reading

Common Folk

Those born to the lower class that are now living by upper class values and norms have made a conscious choice to do so. In a sense, they have repudiated their roots, declared by their actions that the way they live now is better than the way they lived then. And believe me, those on the other side of that divide are aware of the choice and feel it as a challenge. When you’ve actively chosen one way over another, it’s hard to make the argument, even to yourself, that the choice was merely between two equivalents rather than between a better and a worse.

Continue reading

Conservative in Context

I think that, 90% of the time, business (and I use the term loosely here) brings regulation upon itself by tolerating and even embracing sleazy practices. If we want less government regulation, we need a lot more ethical sense among the business community in particular and among the public generally.

…’Conservatives’ have always offered a different compact than ‘liberals’. ‘Liberals’ say:

Cede some of your political and economic liberty to us; in return we will protect you, both from bad guys and from yourselves, and grant you all the cultural liberty and irresponsibility you can stomach.

‘Conservatives’ say:

We offer you political and economic liberty, but in return you must agree to take responsibility for your own well-being and everyone else’s; and, in particular, you must agree to exercise cultural restraint, both by controlling your own base impulses and by being willing to judge others’ indulgences of theirs.

Continue reading