Friday, October 07, 2011

Anything Goes

One of the scarier aspects of many people is their undying belief that everything's going to work out alright.  And while that's a positive attitude to have, it's entirely naive and quite possibly fatal.  Because there are no guarantees in life and everything can get a lot suckier than it already is.

The Sun might explode, the killer might be in the house, the alien missiles might already be on their way; and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.  There are no promises and the world is a scary scary place.  That's one reason I can't take any of this stuff seriously, as it's all a crapshoot without much rhyme or reason, and the best we can hope for is to enjoy the ride while it lasts.

And part of that means that Might really *does* make right, and by nature, the strongest get to have anything they want.  Absent of any other agreement, me and my buddies and my weapons get to run roughshod over anyone who can't stop us.  But that's not much of a way to live, so people agree to work together under any rules they can, and then punish people for violating those rules.  Not because the rules are inviolate, but because we need to have rules and those were the rules we decided upon.

How Governments Formed

And that means if a warlord can gather enough followers to establish rules over his own territory, that's what happens.  And if someone can establish themselves as King of England, then that's what happens.  And if the King's top men get enough strength to force the King to relinquish some of his powers, that's what happens.  And that's how we eventually got to democracy.  I learned that from Winston Churchill.

And in our current system, we're not a democracy because we have to be a democracy, or because it always picks the right policies, or as some courtesy to us peons who aren't rich enough to field our own private armies.  We have a democracy because it's the best system for getting everyone to agree to work together and do the right thing.

You're given a voice in our government so that you're vested in seeing it continue and flourish.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and it doesn't matter which outcome you get, as long as you keep playing.  And anyone who might deign to remove our voice does so at their own peril, as it's the only thing that's keeping them as well fed as they are.

The Commies Are Coming!

But too many people don't see this.  They imagine that things will always be as they are, and can't fathom the possibility that things could be any other way than how they are.  And so they think we can get rid of child labor laws without kids getting hurt, or dismantle our financial system without hurting the small businesses that rely on them.

And we see this with George Will, who referred to Elizabeth Warren's speech on shared sacrifice and the Social Contract as her "collectivist agenda," writing:
Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession. 
The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.
Greg Sargent already did a good job of showing how Warren's speech was making the exact opposite point that Will said it did.  So I wanted to address a deeper point: Why *can't* society choose to take as much as it damn well pleases?

Now before you think I've gone all crazy on you, I promise, I'm not suggesting such a policy would be advantageous, advisable, or sane.  But on a theoretical level, why can't society do this?

Because of course society can do this.  Society can do anything it wants.  Society can wipe their butts with the Constitution.  Society can legalize rape.  Society can choose to end childbirth.  Society can do anything it damn well pleases, unless someone can stop it.  Because there are no real rules.  There are no guarantees of democracy or peace or anything else for that matter.

And we know that, as we see what happens in places like Somalia, and Africa, and Nazi Germany, and anywhere else where injustice reigns.  The natural state of things are that you can do whatever you can get away with, period.

A Natural State

And the reason that doesn't happen is because of the social contract.  We don't kill one another because we realize that's mutually destructive for everyone, which is why lawful countries are generally superior to lawless ones.  Who wants to set up a factory if they know a warlord can come in and steal everything with impunity?  But we outlaw theft by choice, not because we need to.

And the reason we allow individuals to reap the benefits of their efforts is to encourage people to work hard, as that's what's most beneficial to society.  But there's no god that promises such things.  That's by the grace of society.  We built you up; we can take your ass out.  And if there's a god that has a problem with that, then he'll have to deal with us in the next world.

And if we help educate you, and build roads to facilitate your business, and educate your workers, and protect your factories, you're expected to pay for it.  And since the rich get more benefits from society than the rest of us, they're expected to pay more than the rest of us.  Not because they're doing us a favor, but because we're the ones who helped set them up in the first place.

That's the deal: We let you have lots of great things so you can make your fortune, but we get a piece of the action on whatever it is you make.  And we get to change the terms of the deal whenever we like.  That's not even disputable.  That's how it works and if you don't want to build a fortune under these conditions, then don't.

And it all comes down to us doing what's mutually beneficial for all of us.  And the more someone imagines they can build their empire in spite of the rest of us, the closer they are to learning otherwise.

1 comment:

Johnny Pez said...

We live in a society where you can not only make as much money as you want, you even get to keep most of it. Instead of being grateful, though, most of the rich fucks spend all their time complaining because they don't get to keep it all.

I'm coming to the conclusion that it was a bad idea to let people make as much money as they want. There turn out to be serious drawbacks.