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Monday, March 31, 2008


Chipping away at my liberal ideals

The duality between my conservative tendencies and my liberal instincts keeps becoming more and more distinct.  I am absolutely no longer amused about the situations in the world's poorest and most violent countries.  I tire of, after hours of research and surfing Wikipedia, confirming to be mostly false the politically correct notions of why the African third-world is in poverty and seeming perpetual misery and what can be done to solve those things.  I tire of hearing all these amusing anecdotes from left-wing citizens of Fantasyworld about how they did such things as join the Peace Corps or how they donated money to help save Darfur or how they think it's disgusting that the US only donates something like .002% of its GDP to global monetary aid to the third world (compared to Western European countries, which donate substantially more as a function of their GDP).  

I tire of all this for the same reason I have begun to get sick of many liberalist ideas:  they work very well in the abstract, but they don't translate well into reality when  you consider the negative aspects of human nature.  And many of these negative things, I believe, probably have far more to do with explanations vested in nature than in nurture.  This is important because if this is true, then on a macro scale it means that many of the problems we have today will never go away, and many of the inequalities we see on a micro and macro scale will probably never go away, even though they might lessen.  

The idea that there is inequality that exists and will never be neutralized is a hard idea to accept to someone who cares or has a fundamentally optimistic view of the world and of people (ie, a liberal).  However, this is a necessary concept to accept in order to be able to make tangible policy decisions and be able to render effective solutions.  

At the same time, accepting such a notion is, correctly, probably evil.  This duality I have described is one that I have understood for some time.  However, in the past I have advocated as part of my philosophy on life that shooting for the idea, even if the ideal is unrealistic or unlikely, is the correct and civilized thing to do, because in the abstract it is beautiful, and that had value to me.  I would say that the IMF, donating money to causes such as Darfur and Feed the Children, etc. are good things, even if the chances of them actually doing something positive are low (but not zero).  

Now, however, I don't believe I feel this way anymore.  I have come to conclude that the ideal is more fantastical than I had hoped.  Also, I believe the differences amongst peoples and cultures are deeper than one would like to think.  When you combine this with my belief that there are at least some things about life and of humanity that are absolute and universal, and that therefore value judgements can be made about one culture versus another, the result is a painful move towards pessimism.  I do think that our Western culture and way of life is superior.  Is it our right or responsibility to force what we know to be better onto other cultures, or at least try to?  I don't believe so, but partly because I believe it is not realistic to expect it to work.  We see this in Iraq.  It is a people's obligation to steward its own destiny.

What do we do with a Haiti, or a Sierra Leone?  Do you ignore it and watch as it wallows in misery?  Do you throw money and aid and resources at it, even though it has been shown that those things will make little to no difference in allaying the misery?  Do you hold as official policy some ethereal notion that "expanding and liberalizing trade and privatizing the economy" will solve any problem?  

There is no right answer, because in these situations there is no solution.  Food for thought:  one of the only large differences between the early progression of South Africa and the progression of the US as countries  is that the native population of the US was practically exterminated by Smallpox before Europeans really began settling and migrating west, rendering the whole continent easily conquerable.  This never happened in South Africa, and the Europeans were not able to penetrate the continent as a result; the natives were not killed en masse.  If it were not for Smallpox (and subsequent quasi-ethnic cleansing that the US engaged in until the late 1800's), the US might very well resemble closely South Africa today, a country clinging to life of the size of the current Eastern Seaboard, perhaps, with a minority white population and little global relevance or power.   

I am not necessarily advocating that the Smallpox or the killing were good things at all.  Some of the things that the Americans did were horrid.  However, when one considers what the US is today (I consider it to be a wonderful thing), one would be ignorant to ignore the painfully conflicting ideologies that result.

Capitalism embraces the negative aspects of human nature.  That's why it works.  

Ahhh... I know the feeling! Liberal-thinking "feels" good and for many people, feeling good is a contributing factor in their utility function.

The only thing about Liberalism that fails, in my opinion, is that it forces betterment unto people at the cost of liberty.

For many, they WILL contribute to those less fortunate or needy, regardless of policy that infringes upon people's preferences to NOT contribute.

Personally, I say keep your liberal ideals and act on them, live and prosper with those ideals factored into your utility function... just don't expect me to do the same... because in some regards, maybe I do more.

But, with something like doing good, how can a poor person who contributes 1/5 of his income to social causes compare to someone who is rich and only gives 1/100 of his income, but far outcontributes the poor person?

THIS is where capitalism and free market individual-ism succeeds.
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