Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Forget Third Parties: We Need a Fourth Party, (And Why We Won't Get One)

A lot of people are unhappy about the choices this election year (no need to fill in the year. It happens every election), believing there's no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, sort of like how there's no difference between steak and liverwurst because they're both meat, or between whipped cream and Limburger because they both come from cows. Democrats tend to be enlightened about environmental, social and economic responsibility, and abysmal on individual responsibility. Republicans talk a good game on individual responsibility (if they don't always carry through in their personal lives) and totally suck on social and environmental responsibility. Some voters are ready to vote Libertarian. Libertarians manage to combine the personal irresponsibility of liberals with the social and environmental irresponsibility of conservatives. "Conservatives who want to smoke pot" is one fairly accurate label.

I posted the observation about liberals and conservatives on one forum and one respondent agreed on the personal responsibility point. He went on to say that's why he supported an individual health insurance mandate, because many people would otherwise not buy insurance and society would be stuck with the costs when they got sick. Superficially, it looks like he's in favor of individual responsibility, but in fact he's pushing the exact opposite. If he were really in favor of personal responsibility, he's argue that people ought to be able to decide or not decide to get insurance, but if they didn't, and got sick, society would not be stuck with the costs because society would not be responsible. The person would have to deal with the problem on their own, and that includes not asking their friends to organize a charity drive, or appearing in some maudlin human-interest piece on the news.

What we actually need is something nearly opposite to the Libertarians, so (drum roll) let me announce the formation of the Responsibilitarian Party. The emphasis of the Responsibilitarian Party is not on personal rights, entitlements, or liberties, but on personal responsibility. Government has legitimate authority to require people to live up to their personal responsibilities. It also has legitimate authority to require businesses to live up to their responsibilities. It has no authority to require others to pitch in if people fail to be responsible, nor to limit the freedoms of anyone because some people use those freedoms unwisely. Society has a moral obligation to help people who are victims of disasters not of their own making, and to warn people of danger. It has no moral obligation to mitigate the consequences of unwise actions or to restructure reality so that actions have no consequences.

The Problem with Rights

The concept of personal rights was a radical step forward back when the only alternative was the divine right of kings. The concept of personal rights meant that there were things the State could not, must not, do. In America, the concept of rights started from a loose formulation of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence, which were really statements that people had the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest, punishment, and restraints on personal freedom. Those rights, by the way, were "endowed by their Creator," so they have presumably been nullified by separation of Church and State. Rights became more explicit in the Constitution. Some were guarantees of personal freedom, like freedom of speech, religion, the press, and peaceful assembly. Others were procedural safeguards promised by the government, such as trial by jury, freedom from arbitrary search and seizure, and the right to cross examine witnesses. None, it is important to note, were rights to specific life outcomes, or anything belonging to another. The Declaration of Independence espoused the right to the pursuit of happiness, but neither it nor the Constitution obligated anyone else to finance the chase, much less guarantee happiness. As has often been said, the First Amendment gives you freedom of the press; it doesn't give you a printing press.

The rights were very basic, indeed primal, and the details subject to restriction. Some rights, like trial by jury, were absolutely guaranteed. Others, like freedom of speech, the press, and religion, could not be infringed by Congress but could be regulated by the States. (The idea that freedom of speech applies within the States is a Twentieth Century interpretation; it was once considered perfectly Constitutional for states and cities to ban books or theatrical performances) And - one of the most interesting things about the Constitution - terms like "freedom of speech" and "establishment of religion" were never precisely defined. You don't have a right to mouth off in court or lie under oath because contempt of court and perjury are not considered free speech. Neither are revealing state secrets, passing information to the enemy in time of war, libel, slander, discriminatory advertising, false advertising and shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. "Establishment of Religion" has been interpreted broadly as any government support for or opposition to religion, an interpretation that many people reject.

Unfortunately, people have a way of assuming that privileges are rights, and rights are entitlements, that is, things to be provided at no personal cost by society. Thus, Internet access, something that did not even exist in 1980, has been declared to be a basic human right. Organ transplants, not even attempted in 1960, have now become entitlements in the eyes of many. After every airplane crash, relatives of the victims cry "We have a right to answers." Actually, nobody has a right to what cannot be done, and if the plane crashes at sea, it may not be possible to get answers. And the reason we piece together crashed planes is to benefit society by identifying possibly unknown hazards to aircraft. The reason there was a massive international effort to find out why Air France Flight 447 crashed in the Atlantic in 2009 was to benefit society, because airplane crashes in mid-flight are extremely rare, and if there's some hitherto unknown danger, we want to know about it. Providing closure to victims' families is a courtesy, not an entitlement.

In a world where people were encumbered by obligations and had no rights, rights were a breath of fresh air. But the concept of rights divorced from responsibility has become pernicious. We can see this in the sorry state of American political discourse. Conservatives believe they have a right to police and fire protection, roads, bridges and airports without paying taxes. Liberals believe people have the right to highly advanced medical procedures and complex drugs - absolutely safe, of course - without paying for them. And the tiniest asymmetry of rights soon degenerates into abuse. When defendants had the advantage in civil litigation, we saw gross negligence and callous disregard for people's safety because the offenders knew they could get away with it in court. Now that we've tipped the balance a bit toward plaintiffs, we see frivolous lawsuits and militant self-righteousness on the part of people who are completely at fault for their own misfortunes. When there were no penalties for being crude at work, women suffered gross indignities with no recourse; now that we have rules against sexual harassment, people have been sued for having photos of their spouse in a swimsuit on their desk.

Basic Principles

You are responsible for your life outcomes. Think of responsibility this way: if the hero doesn't show up to rescue you, who will bear the consequences?

As far as the physical universe is concerned, you have no rights whatsoever.  If you are struck by lightning or killed by a tornado, who are you going to sue? If a gamma ray burst knocks out all our electronics due to EMP, what will happen to your "right" to Internet access? If an asteroid impact creates a global winter that destroys all crops, what will your "right" to food mean? If our health care facilities are overloaded by a global pandemic, what will happen to your "right" to health care? The lesson is clear: there can be no such thing as a "right" to anything external to yourself. If circumstances can make something unavailable to you, it's not a "right." It's been said "You have a right to what you can carry off a sinking ship," or "You have a right to what you can carry out of a burning building." If the fire starts while you're in the shower.

You did virtually nothing to create the conveniences you enjoy. The retirement plan 300 years ago was: get up, go to work, come home, go to bed, repeat. Then one day, you didn't get up because you were dead. The combined wealth of all the nations in the world could not have bought a heart transplant, television, smoke alarm or a microwave oven in 1900. The total lifetime output of a medieval peasant could not have bought him one second of electric light or a crumb of chocolate. The real 1% in our society are the people who innovate. You do not have a right to any of this. For all you know, a super solar flare or gamma ray burst will happen before you get to the end of this page and knock us all back to the days of the steam engine. You have no right to an interesting, lucrative job. Most people who ever lived worked at drudge labor for enough calories to get through the day. It is your sheer good fortune that you were born into the present instead of as a Neolithic hunter-gatherer or a medieval peasant. (Most demographers estimate that about 100 billion people have ever lived. Only 7 billion are alive now, and only 10% of those are affluent. So if you can read this you're better off than 99% of the people who ever lived) This is a privilege, not a right. Your obligations to material society are:
  • Gratitude for the availability of material prosperity and especially for any assistance you receive.
  • Supporting innovation, particularly by getting and supporting education.
  • Supporting the maintenance and improvement of our material wealth.
  • Not obstructing innovation through ignorance or selfishness.
  • Not damaging, abusing, vandalizing or wasting anything, or allowing things to decay through neglect. As the Navy likes to say: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."
  • Knowing the risks and consequences of any action you take.
  • Getting informed about the risks if you don't already know them.
  • Being prepared to deal with the consequences of your actions.
  • Not taking an action if you can't deal with the consequences.
  • Using any advantages you have to improve society.
You have an obligation to maximize your ability to contribute to society. That means you stay in school as long as possible, and you take the most demanding courses. Whether they're required or not. Math. Foreign languages. Show me the crappiest school in America, where there are books in the library that still say "someday people will go to the Moon." I guarantee that if a student learns everything that is in those books, he or she will be better educated than a Harvard graduate. An elementary school library has more knowledge than any Ph.D. possesses. The flood of knowledge around us is so immense there is no reason for any person in the developed world to be ignorant.

If you want the benefits of an advanced technological society, you consent to live next door to the mine that supplies the raw materials, the factory that fabricates them into goods, the power plant that supplies energy and the disposal site or recycling center that deals with the waste.

You have no right to an uninformed opinion. If you can't speak knowledgeably about the issues, stay home on Election Day. And stay off Internet comment sites.

Given that "reasonable" people pass down ever more unreasonable verdicts these days, the legal standard for evaluating actions and passing judgement should be changed from "reasonable" to well-informed person.

You have a responsibility not to impair your ability to contribute to society. No, we don't care if it's uncomfortable. Wear the f****** helmet. I don't care about the anecdotal story of how your aunt Maude was miraculously flung from a car into a pile of rose petals just before her car went off a cliff, burst into flames, and sank in quicksand. Wear the seat belt. You have an obligation not to make yourself useless by abuse of drugs or alcohol, or by failing to live a healthy lifestyle, or by remaining ignorant.

Sex is for adults. You have no right to engage in sex without knowing the consequences and being able to cope with them. Sex is not a right; if it were, people wouldn't be dateless on Saturday night. You absolutely do not have the right to create a child without being able to care for it. No, we don't care if you find condoms uncomfortable or vasectomies scary.

If you produce a child, you help support it. No ifs, ands, or buts. The child's needs come before yours, and definitely before your wants.

The only entitlements are to things you personally have created or earned. Programs like Social Security or Medicare, where people have paid into the funds, are entitlements. Veterans' benefits which have been promised as a reward for service, are entitlements. Interest on money loaned to the government is an entitlement. Assistance for other problems, the "safety net," is charity. Educational assistance is something we as a society do for our benefit; for the recipients it is charity. The proper response to all charity is gratitude.

Charity is for people who genuinely need it. You have an obligation not to steal from society by misusing charity, using it to excess, relying on it when you are capable of supporting yourself, or by impairing your ability to contribute to society.

Someone doing research on AIDS or climate change with a grant is expected to account for every penny. Society has a perfect right to expect recipients of charity, who do nothing in exchange, to do the same. Society has the right to demand that recipients of charity behave in a socially responsible manner: stay off illegal drugs, avoid alcohol abuse, avoid crime, practice responsible sex, cooperate with the police, and reject any peer pressure to the contrary.

If you mess up, the consequences are principally on you. If there are legitimate mitigating circumstances, people may help you out. That is charity, something we do as a benefit to society to protect us all from unforeseeable catastrophes. Your proper response in that case is gratitude.

If you indulge in a risky activity, you accept the consequences. If you pass a danger sign, you, and nobody else, are responsible for what happens. You will pay the hospital bills and the cost of rescue. In fact, there should be a simple process for declaring immunity to liability. Trespassing or bypassing any warning sign should create an absolute bar to liability. (Obviously places where there is a reasonable expectation of safety, especially all places that charge admission, places of employment, or public buildings should be liable)

Nature can be dangerous, so if you venture into a natural area like a park or a beach, you accept all risks whether they're posted or not. This means grizzly bears, falling rocks, cliffs, rip currents, heavy surf, exposure, poisonous plants and animals, pointy branches, brush fires, avalanches and floods. You have a responsibility to inform yourself about the risks and be able to recognize and avoid risky situations. You have a responsibility to carry a map and compass and know how to use them. A GPS is a nice addition but it is not the same. Oops, you dropped it and it got broken. Now what?

If you build in a place prone to natural hazards, be prepared to pay the costs. The Midwest has tornadoes and California has earthquakes. But buildings can be made safer for both hazards. You do not have to build on a slope prone to landslides. If you want to live where wildfires occur, make sure your house is absolutely fireproof (It can be done. No, we do not care if you like the appearance.) If you build in a flood plain or a coastal area subject to storm surges, buy flood insurance. If nobody will insure you, maybe you need to build somewhere else.

Society has neither the right nor the obligation to forbid something solely to protect people from negative consequences. But if you're warned that something can be dangerous, and you do it anyway, you bear the consequences. If you engage in a hazardous lifestyle, like alcohol or drug abuse, risky sex, extreme sports, or crime, you deal with the consequences.

Your obligations come before gratification. If you get a windfall, you service your debts first. (Nobody says a balanced approach is wrong. If you get a raise, you can pay down your debts and also go to Disney World.)

Bankruptcy is a charity we extend to people who are in over their heads. In the old days, prison or slavery was the remedy. If someone loans you money in good faith, you at least owe them a convincing explanation for why you can't pay it back.

It is not cruel to expect people to take ten or twenty years to pay off debts.

The fact that you borrowed money, and the thing you bought has decreased in value, and is worth less than you owe, is not a legitimate reason to ditch the debt. After all, a new car is worth less than you owe on it the second you drive it off the lot.

The most fundamental rule of personal responsibility is the social contract. Every person is in a social contract with every other person. The non-negotiable core of that contract is that, if the other person is not harming you, or posing a serious risk of harm, you are absolutely obligated not to harm that person. If you are a victim of injustice, you have no right to vent your anger on some innocent person. If you are poor, you have no right to take from someone who has done you no wrong.

On the other hand, if you are wealthy, you also have an absolute obligation not to hurt others through the use of your superior resources, especially if you've made people dependent on you. So if you close a plant, bankrupt a company or lay off workers, you are absolutely responsible for any harm you cause.

One aspect of the social contract is that society protects businesses solely for the benefit of society. A business exists solely to benefit society. Society allows businesses to earn profits so they can go on providing benefits to society. Society has no obligation to protect an enterprise that harms or contributes nothing to society. If you own a business, your obligations are to society as a whole, your customers, your employees, your creditors and investors, and your executives  In that order.

If you expect people to provide for themselves, you have a responsibility to make it possible for them to do so. If you expect your employees to provide their own health insurance and retirement savings, you have a responsibility to pay them enough to make it possible.

Obey the law. Period. We can debate whether or not drug laws do any good, but while they're in force, obeying them is not optional. Ditto stop signs, red lights, and not downloading child porn. Also meeting emissions standards, paying taxes, and not committing discrimination or sexual harassment.

If your precious snowflakes run afoul of the law, your responsibility is to society. In school, your responsibility is to support the teacher.

If you choose to disobey the law, you consent to whatever consequences ensue. This may mean being shot while fleeing or resisting arrest, or being put away for a very long time. If you get hurt in the commission of a crime, or injured by your victim, you bear the burden. It should be absolutely forbidden for criminals to sue their victims.

Even the most petty crime carries a long tail. Count in the costs of police, judiciary, incarceration or supervision, and restitution to the victim, and it's entirely possible you could spend the rest of your life paying for a crime.

If you are seen with a gun, anyone else has the right to assume you have criminal intent and react accordingly.


But, many will object, "I can see all sorts of injustices that could flow from these principles." That's why we have laws, to deal with complexities and prevent abuses. This is not going to be a lawyer-free society. People will find ways to abuse their freedoms and we will need laws to stop them. But principally, you avoid the injustices by recognizing and avoiding situations where they might happen. You sharply reduce the risk of being being arrested by not committing the crime. You avoid having to pay exorbitant child support by not getting someone pregnant.

The most nearly infallible recipe for injustice is complexity. Case in point, the tax code. Also, after decades of "reforms" designed to make the judicial system more just, O.J. Simpson walked. All those changes made the system less just, not more. The recipe for a more just society is simple laws. The laws may lack subtleties that tweak some rare unfortunate miscarriage, but the simplicity of the law will make it far easier to avoid those situations to begin with. So yes, a homeowner may shoot an unarmed burglar unjustly, but you avoid that injustice by not committing burglary.

Why We'll Never See It

Simple: too many of us have a vested interest in avoiding responsibility. Not in the sense of covering one anothers' backs in case things go bad: aid for towns that get flattened by tornadoes, insurance for when someone runs a red light and T-bones your car, unemployment insurance for when the economy turns sour.

No, I'm talking flat-out denial of responsibility. The IRS could easily be tasked with collecting back child support and court judgments with a hefty surcharge as an incentive to pay up. The deadbeat lobby would make sure it never got out of committee. Doctors don't want malpractice statistics published, especially who's been sued most often. Judges, prosecutors and police don't want to be held responsible for misconduct. Habitual screw-ups don't want to be held responsible for their own dumb choices and lawyers don't want to be held responsible for representing them in court. Conservatives would be all for holding ordinary people responsible but would want executives and corporations shielded. Liberals would be fine with holding corporations liable but are in outright denial that ordinary people create any of their own misfortunes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Problem With Politics is the Truth, Not the Lies

When politicians lie, it's generally for one of a handful of simple reasons. First, of course, is denying something embarrassing. "I did not have sex with that woman. Or that woman, either. Or those women over there. Or any of the women in that line stretching down the block."

The second is claiming credit for something they didn't do. Al Gore is widely ridiculed for claiming to have invented the Internet. No, he didn't, but he did as much as anyone in Congress to facilitate it. Barack Obama has been accused of lying when he said his father helped liberate Auschwitz. He didn't, but his grandfather helped liberate Buchenwald. So he got some family history muddled, but the core fact, one of his ancestors helped liberate a concentration camp, is true. On the other hand, we have Hilary Clinton's comical claim to have landed in Bosnia under fire, and we have politicians who have claimed military service but never served, claimed to have earned medals they never earned, and claimed to have college degrees that were either wholly fictitious or were from diploma mills. And a significant fraction of them are among the loudest critics of Gore and Obama.

John F. Kennedy, interestingly, did visit Costa Rica under fire. Irazu volcano, not far from the capital San Jose, erupted the day JFK arrived for a state visit.

There are two other major reasons politicians lie, but we'll discuss that later.

The problem is not so much that politicians lie, but rather that they tell the truth. Just about every negative claim that liberals make about conservatives is true.

  • A conservative is a man who is too cowardly to fight and too fat to run. --Elbert Hubbard
  • Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home–but not for housing. They are strong for labor–but they are stronger for restricting labor’s rights. They favor minimum wage–the smaller the minimum wage the better. They endorse educational opportunity for all–but they won’t spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine–for people who can afford them. They consider electrical power a great blessing–but only when the private power companies get their rake-off. They think American standard of living is a fine thing–so long as it doesn’t spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.” ~Harry S. Truman
  • “Republicans are men of narrow vision, who are afraid of the future.” ~Jimmy Carter
  • In the United States I have always believed that there was a big difference between Conservative and stupid. Boy is it getting harder to prove that one by the minute.” ~Rick Mercer
  • “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” ~John Kenneth Galbraith 
  • “Conservatives define themselves in terms of what they oppose.” ~George Will 
  • The Republicans are looking after the financial interests of the wealthiest individuals in this country.” ~Edward Kennedy 
  • Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.” ~William E. Gladstone 
  • You have to have been a Republican to know how good it is to be a Democrat.” ~ Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis 
  • Brains, you know, are suspect in the Republican Party.” ~Walter J. Lippmann 
  • Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a Republican. But I repeat myself.” ~Harry Truman 
  • Conservatives remind me of Yosemite Sam, Wile E. Coyote, and Elmer Fudd. They bring the guns, the stupidity, and of course, the failure. --Stephen D. Foster
  • Herbert Hoover once ran on the slogan, “Two cars in every garage”. Apparently, the Republican candidate this year is running on the slogan, “Two families in every garage.”~Harry Truman
  • “Social conservatism and neoconservatism have revived authoritarian conservatism, and not for the better of conservatism or American democracy. True conservatism is cautious and prudent. Authoritarianism is rash and radical. American democracy has benefited from true conservatism, but authoritarianism offers potentially serious trouble for any democracy. ”  ― John W. Dean
  • Deregulation is a transfer of power from the trodden to the treading. It is unsurprising that all conservative parties claim to hate big government.” ― George Monbiot 
  • The Right thinks that the breakdown of the family is the source of crime and poverty, and this they very insightfully blame on the homosexuals, which would be amusing were it not so tragic. Families and 'family values' are crushed by grinding poverty, which also makes violent crime and drugs attractive alternatives to desperate young men and sends young women into prostitution. Family values are no less corrupted by the corrosive effects of individualism, consumerism, and the accumulation of wealth. Instead of shouting this from the mountain tops, the get-me-to-heaven-and-the-rest-be-damned Christianity the Christian Right preaches is itself a version of selfish spiritual capitalism aimed at netting major and eternal dividends, and it fits hand in glove with American materialism and greed.” ― John D. Caputo 
And almost every harsh thing conservatives say about liberals is also true.

  • Liberals defend the guilty and impugn the innocent not only because they side with barbarians, but because a fair and just system of law challenges their hegemony as judges of the universe.--Ann Coulter
  • Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”~ Winston S. Churchill
  • Words mean nothing to liberals. They say whatever will help advance their cause at the moment, switch talking points in a heartbeat, and then act indignant if anyone uses the exact same argument they were using five minutes ago. ~ Ann Coulter
  • Inside many liberals is a totalitarian screaming to get out. They don't like to have another point of view in the room that they don't squash and the way they try to squash it is by character assassination and name calling. -- David Horowitz
  • Indiscriminateness of thought does not lead to indiscriminateness of policy. It leads the modern liberal to invariably side with evil over good, wrong over right and the behaviors that lead to failure over those that lead to success. Why? Very simply if nothing is to be recognized as better or worse than anything else then success is de facto unjust.
          There is no explanation for success if nothing is better than anything else and the greater the success the greater the injustice. Conversely and for the same reason, failure is de facto proof of victimization and the greater the failure, the greater the proof of the victim is, or the greater the victimization. ~ Evan Sayet
  • When one becomes a liberal, he or she pretends to advocate tolerance, equality and peace, but hilariously, they're doing so for purely selfish reasons. It's the human equivalent of a puppy dog's face: an evolutionary tool designed to enhance survival, reproductive value and status. In short, liberalism is based on one central desire: to look cool in front of others in order to get love. Preaching tolerance makes you look cooler than saying something like, “please lower my taxes” -- Greg Gutfeld
  • Stupidity is a luxury and you will find time and time and time and again that those who are overwhelmingly on the left are those who can afford to be. -- Evan Sayet
  • If there is ever a fascist takeover in America, it will come not in the form of storm troopers kicking down doors but with lawyers and social workers saying. "I'm from the government and I'm here to help.” ― Jonah Goldberg
  • Inside of many liberals is a fascist struggling to get out. --John McCarthy
  • Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views. --William F. Buckley, Jr.
  • There's the great line: the definition of a liberal is someone who's afraid to take their own side in a fight. And that's my problem with my fellow liberals. --Paul Begala
  • Why is there never a headline that says "Government program ends as its intended goal has been achieved? --Oleg Atbashian
  • That is one reason "feelings" and "compassion" are two of the most often used liberal terms. "Character" is no longer a liberal word because it implies self-restraint. "Good and evil" are not liberal words either as they imply a moral standard beyond one's feelings. In assessing what position to take on moral or social questions, the liberal asks him or herself, "How do I feel about it?" or "How do I show the most compassion?" -- not "What is right?" or "What is wrong?" For the liberal, right and wrong are dismissed as unknowable, and every person chooses his or her own morality. ~ Dennis Prager
  • Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. --Karl Rove 
  • If you're a liberal, anything you say is protected. If you're a conservative, anything you say is hateful.
  • Liberals, it has been said, are generous with other peoples' money, except when it comes to questions of national survival when they prefer to be generous with other people's freedom and security. --William F. Buckley, Jr.
  • Including especially the Liberals, who pretend — and often quite honestly believe — that they are hot for liberty. They never really are. Deep down in their hearts they know, as good democrats, that liberty would be fatal to democracy — that a government based upon shifting and irrational opinion must keep it within bounds or run a constant risk of disaster. They themselves, as a practical matter, advocate only certain narrow kinds of liberty — liberty, that is, for the persons they happen to favor. The rights of other persons do not seem to interest them. If a law were passed tomorrow taking away the property of a large group of presumably well-to-do persons — say, bondholders of the railroads — without compensation and without even colorable reason, they would not oppose it; they would be in favor of it. The liberty to have and hold property is not one they recognize. They believe only in the liberty to envy, hate and loot the man who has it. --H.L. Mencken
  • The New Deal began, like the Salvation Army, by promising to save humanity. It ended, again like the Salvation Army, by running flop-houses and disturbing the peace. -H.L. Mencken
And there are those who see the faults of both:
  • A liberal is a person who believes that water can be made to run uphill. A conservative is someone who believes everybody should pay for his water. I'm somewhere in between: I believe water should be free, but that water flows downhill. --Theodore White
  • I claim neither liberalism nor conservatism - one tends to be airheaded while the other tends to be brickheaded.” ~ Criss Jami 
  • To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil. -- Charles Krauthammer 
  • Indeed, Miss Manners has come to believe that the basic political division in this country is not between liberals and conservatives but between those who believe that they should have a say in the love lives of strangers and those who do not. ~Judith Martin 
  • Liberals often don't see the problems, and conservatives don't see the promise, of government. --William Weld 
  • When you practice reporting for as long as I have, you keep yourself at a distance from True Believers. Either conservatives or liberals or Democrats or Republicans. --Bob Woodward 
  • All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. ~H.L. Mencken 
  • A man who has both feet planted firmly in the air can be safely called a liberal as opposed to the conservative, who has both feet firmly planted in his mouth. ~Jacques Barzun 
Liberals are right: Conservatives care more about money than people, and favor the rich over the poor. They're anti-intellectual, authoritarian, mean spirited and selfish.

And conservatives are right: Liberals favor barbarians, criminals and terrorists over the law abiding. They're moral and physical cowards, closet authoritarians, sophists, intellectually dishonest, and dilettantes.

Both conservatives and liberals apply Eli Wallach's great line from The Magnificent Seven: "If God did not want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep." The only real difference is who should do the shearing.

But there's a third important reason politicians lie, revealed in these remarks by H.L. Mencken:
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost... All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
We have political candidates who tell the truth: that services cost money, that cuts in taxes mean cuts in services, that oil is finite, that climate is changing, and every election day, we have a name for many of them: defeated.

Politicians lie because the voters want them to. This is my principal reason for refusing to talk to political pollsters. Their sole aim is to help their candidate say what the voters want to hear. And when people complain that politicians don't tell the truth, what they principally mean is that politicians don't tell their particular pet lies. Voters want to be told that there's an infinite amount of oil and we could have gasoline for 25 cents a gallon if it weren't for "them" (bureaucrats, Big Oil, Ay-rabs, environmentalists, or all of the above). They want to be told their taxes can be cut in half with no cuts in services, that they can find teachers who will make their lazy, spoiled and undisciplined kids brilliant for $20,000 a year, and that evolution is a lie.

And so they get candidates who say those things, and they vote for the one who prostitutes himself the worst. Most of the truthful candidates get weeded out in the primaries. But when the victorious candidate gets to work, even if he really believes the pap he told the voters,  reality smacks him in the face. Contractors just won't bid cheaply enough on sewers and roads. He'll either fail to deliver the cheap services he promised (and have angry voters call him a liar) or he'll have to vote for more taxes (and have angry voters call him a liar), or he'll try to take the money from some other program and get smacked down by supporters of that program. He'll discover there just isn't enough money to buy all the things everyone wants, and nobody has enough power to dismantle the programs they'd like to.

And so the disgruntled voters conclude they've been lied to yet again. Well of course they have. They voted against anyone who hinted at the truth. They voted for liars at every turn. They selected liars in the primaries and then select the grandest liars in the elections. So now they find their candidate can't deliver on his promises because he never had any intention of delivering on them, or they were unrealistic to begin with, or he goes back on his promises because he's between a rock and a hard place. If he votes to raise taxes, people will be angry. If he holds the line on taxes and the roads don't get fixed, the voters will be angry. Or, possibly most karmic of all, he actually gets what he promises and illustrates the adage "Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.". He taxes the wealthy and they retire and liquidate their businesses. He dismantles the Department of Education and college tuition climbs even faster. He dismantles farm subsidies and farmers go bankrupt and the cost of food skyrockets. He privatizes roads and prisons and the costs go up. He legalizes drugs and cities are overrun with drug users. He abolishes the FDA and counterfeit or contaminated medications are everywhere. And the voters call him a liar because they didn't expect all those bad side effects. My karma just ran over your dogma.

Finally, the fourth and most fundamental reason politicians lie: the public and the media lie.

My favorite example is the way NASA tightly managed media access to the Mercury astronauts in the early 1960's. Many critics have said that NASA "deceived" the public by portraying the Mercury astronauts as saints and heroes.

From fifty years in the future, it's incredible that we sent people into space on primitive rockets in craft that had less computing power than today's average cell phone. Hell, Mission Control had less computing power than today's average cell phone. Against that backdrop, who cares if some of the astronauts slept around or partied too hard? Who, really, was out to lie to the public: NASA, who kept the focus on the missions, or the news media hungry to sell gossip?

Here's another one. Currently there's a raging debate over opening a series of huge iron mines in Northern Wisconsin. I recently talked to an activist who shows a video on coal mining in the Appalachians to citizens' groups. There is no similarity whatsoever between coal and iron mining. The rocks are different, the methods are different, the environmental issues are different. Showing that video in this context is flagrantly dishonest.. It's lying and there is no nice way to say it.

So if someone transporting equipment at a nuclear power plant clips a doorway and chips the concrete, was there an "accident at a nuclear power plant?" Yes, if you define accident to include every mishap, No if you interpret the phrase "accident at a nuclear power plant" to mean something that might endanger public health and safety. Is the plant justified in concealing the incident from the media? Absolutely. They, and not the sensationalizers, are telling the truth.

But shouldn't the public decide that? If the public showed anything remotely like honesty and competence, yes. But in a society where people believe in creationism and deny climate change, the public has forfeited its right to complain about lying. You will get honest politicians when you can accept the truth. You will get honest information when you can accept and admit that information may not support your pet ideology. Both the public and the media wrench comments and incidents out of context to justify their preconceptions.

As long as we have a delusional electorate, we will get the government we deserve. Good and hard.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Principle is Never The Principle

When asked to justify some viewpoint, people often invoke some lofty general principle, only to get tangled up very quickly in contradictions. Conservatives claim to be for personal freedom and against regulation, but then face the question why they don't support freedom for others, and are often willing to impose regulations on others, especially when it comes to sex. Or they claim to be pro-life, but then their accusers ask why they support war or capital punishment. Liberals tend to be less bothered by contradictions and are more likely to shrug them off. They appeal a lot to compassion and simply shrug off the costs and burdens their versions of "compassion" impose on others. Or they simply deny there's a contradiction.

When people say "it's the principle," it's never the principle. It's the specific situation. And by looking at examples of "hypocrisy," we can often work backward to figure out what principles people really hold.

We can see this process at work in some of the bizarre comparisons people make between their own stances and those of famous, revered historical figures. For example, opponents of gay marriage or health care compare themselves to Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. The reasoning goes that King and Mandela encountered fierce opposition, and opponents of gay marriage or health care encounter opposition, so therefore the two situations are equivalent.

It's a variation on the popular crank fallacy, the Galileo Fallacy. "They criticized Galileo, and he was right. They're criticizing me, so I must be right, and of the same stature as Galileo." Ultimately it's undergirded by one of the great intellectual fallacies of modern times, the obsession with structure as opposed to content. If structure is all important, then if two conflicts have similar structure, they are similar. Unfortunately, content is supreme. Comparing your opposition to health care reform does not make you equivalent to Nelson Mandela because, for one thing, you haven't spent 27 years in prison. Beyond that, the issues are completely different.

Let's look at the pro-life thing. Conservatives claim to be "pro-life," but generally have no problem with war, killing in self defense or by the police, or capital punishment. In this case, it's pretty easy to spot the real principle. The term "pro-life" was coined as an alternative to "anti-abortion" because it sounded more positive, and "pro-choice" was coined in reaction.

But "pro-lifers" are not pro-life, as is often pointed out. They generally support war and capital punishment. So what is it with abortion? First of all, unlike an enemy soldier or condemned criminal, a fetus is defenseless and guilty of no crime. Second, Roe v. Wade was imposed by judicial fiat. Third, there's the sex angle: abortion enables people to escape responsibility for the consequences of sex.

So if the issue is innocent, defenseless fetuses, what about innocent civilians killed in war, or innocent people executed for crimes they didn't commit? Well, enemy civilians aren't wholly defenseless. They can flee, surrender, join the army, or turn against their country's armed forces. They have options, not very palatable ones, maybe, but it's war. As for innocent victims of capital punishment, I'm afraid conservatives simply don't believe opponents of capital punishment because, to be very blunt, why should anyone trust people who defend criminals? In addition, if wrongful conviction is such an issue, why waste legal resources on technicalities instead of rebuilding our legal system to focus on guilt and innocence?

On the other hand, "pro-Choice" advocates are really not very "pro-choice." They have no problem at all telling others how to select employees or lodgers, or how many disabled parking spaces to have. They have no problem at all appealing referenda in the courts, overturning the choices of large majorities of the electorate. Ah, but all those actions are to protect the rights of others. Maybe, but why exactly do the rights of those people supersede the rights of those whose choices are being limited? More to the point, what gives one group the authority to say that something is a right in the first place, and therefore claim the authority to override the decisions of others?

So why are conservatives upset by abortion being decided by judicial fiat, but okay with court decisions striking down anti-gun laws or giving unlimited free speech rights to corporate campaign contributors? They'll champion states' rights in some cases, but have no compunction at all about appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn state gun control laws. Opposition to judicial fiat sounds a whole lot like a principle, and the whole point here is that the principle isn't the principle. So in cases like this, it's never judicial fiat, it's the specific issue. Let's also note that many critics of Citizens United being rammed through by judicial fiat have no problem with abortion or gay marriage being legalized the same way.

Isn't that hypocrisy? Yes, if you really are aware of your agenda and use the "judicial activism" card as a cover. But most people don't think that deeply. In fact, most people are out of their depth in a mud puddle. So complaining about judicial activism is a quick and shallow way of articulating the feeling that bullies are imposing their will on you, and you have no way to fight back. And the real issue is they're thwarting your will; you're perfectly happy to see them do it in support of some cause you endorse. It also creates the illusion of holding the moral high ground. "Freedom" sounds so much noble than "cut my taxes" or "let me smoke pot."

Mostly it's laziness (or shallowness) and an attempt to seize the moral high ground. It's hard to defend specific issues when you're confronted by someone who simply rejects your basic premises. How do you find out what lines of argument they would find persuasive? (Hint: ask them. Say "what exactly would you accept as proof that I'm right?" Most of the time they don't have a clue, because most people only think about why they're right, not how they might be wrong.) It's far easier to enunciate some broad, high principle like Judicial Activism or Equality, except that it's very easy to get tangled up in contradictions.

A failed research effort on my part was most illuminating. I searched for lists of the worst Supreme Court rulings. I was hoping for lists of rulings that had contemporary impact. What I got was mostly scholarly lists of long-overturned rulings like Dred Scott or Plessy v. Ferguson. Or there were pivotal rulings that shaped modern jurisprudence that most people have never heard of. Or there were pro-forma inclusions that I don't think for a moment the listers actually agreed with, such as conservative sites listing Buck v. Bell, which upheld the sterilization of mental patients. So, based entirely on a subjective appraisal of liberal and conservative commentary, here are the rulings I think hit the hot buttons of liberals and conservatives the hardest.

Rulings Liberals Hate


Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

This ruling struck down most of the limits on political campaign spending in the name of free speech. Critics ask where it says in the Constitution that corporations are persons. It doesn't. But in U.S.C. 1.1.1 - the very first page of U.S. law - it says

the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals
Think about it: how can you limit the rights of any group without simultaneously limiting the rights of the people who make up that group? And the Constitution does say

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people (Amendment IX)
In other words, just because the Constitution doesn't explicitly give corporations free speech is not grounds for saying they don't have it.

The issue here is not judicial activism or free speech. It's that corporations have lots of money to spend and they spend it on conservative causes.

Bush v. Gore

Not hard to sort this one out because subsequent events had such far reaching implications. Al Gore would probably have favored a vigorous military response to 9-11, including rooting out al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.  Would he have gone into Iraq? It's not inconceivable, since Saddam Hussein was jerking the U.N. around on a daily basis and trying hard to act like he did have chemical weapons. Even as a humanitarian move, to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein and end the hardship caused by sanctions, he might have invaded. Would he have racked up huge deficits in the process? Depends on how he could sell Congress on the financing.

It's actually not hard to envision a scenario where Gore is President and the events of 2000-2008 play out pretty much the same. We can hope he'd have taken a longer view of Iraq and anticipated the looting and sectarian violence. But how to pay for it? Picture Gore caught between a rock and a hard place: pilloried as weak-willed and indifferent to American security if he doesn't invade Iraq, a betrayer of those killed on 9/11, yet faced by a Congress that refuses to raise taxes or cut spending.

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

Probably ranking a distant third on the list of recent judicial rulings hated by liberals might be this 1978 case, which ended up striking down racial quotas as a means of ensuring equal opportunity. There have been so many other erosions of preferential hiring since then that Bakke has faded into the background, but it was highly unpopular at the time.

Rulings Conservatives Hate


The commonplace complaint that the Supreme Court has turned "conservative" is awfully hard to believe when we look at the sheer length of this list.

Kelo v. New London

To be fair, a lot of liberals dislike this ruling too, but not for the same reason. This ruling allowed cities to condemn private property so it could be sold to other parties in the name of redevelopment. Conservatives don't like it because of the assault on private property, and probably because of opposition to cities getting involved in redevelopment. Liberals don't like it because it benefits powerful interests at the expense of less powerful ones.

Lawrence v. Texas

This ruling overturned State sodomy laws and effectively shut the door on any regulation of private sexual conduct between adults. Needless to say, since it pretty much gutted State laws outlawing homosexuality, it infuriates many conservatives.

Miranda v. Arizona

One of the early "judicial activist" rulings of the Warren Court, this 1966 ruling, familiar to every Law and Order viewer, requires prisoners to be advised of their right to remain silent and have an attorney. Most of us can probably recite the warning from memory. But it irritated, and continues to irritate conservatives because it completely ignores the issue of guilt. The actual impact of the ruling is minimal since the warning is given by rote after almost every arrest, but Miranda symbolizes the whole problem of criminals being released "on technicalities."

Brown v. Board of Education  

Nobody will admit this, but come on. All those "Impeach Earl Warren" bumper stickers that once graced (and probably held together) many American cars (since Detroit had no foreign competition in those days) weren't about interstate commerce. And Obama Derangement Syndrome just happened to crop up when we elected our first black President. The interesting thing is, black Presidents have been commonplace in the movies and on TV for some time: Deep Impact (Morgan Freeman), 24 (Dennis Haysbert), 2012 (Danny Glover). But those guys were all middle of the road, as far as anyone can tell. Mostly they came out boldly against asteroid impacts, terrorists, and the end of the world. Hey, who wouldn't vote for Morgan Freeman? Obama is unabashedly liberal, intelligent, and acts like he knows it. He's "uppity." People who think they're superior run headlong into someone who is superior, and they don't like it.

Engel v. Vitale (O'Hair v. Everybody)  

Surprisingly enough, the name of uber-atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair is not on the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed official prayers in school (unofficial or personal and private prayer in school has never been outlawed). But this is the ruling that started the Culture Wars. Brown v. Board of Education stuck in a lot of craws, but segregation could easily be carried on simply because blacks and whites tend to live in different neighborhoods. Also, the courts have no enforcement capability of their own, and their ability to compel governments to do anything is limited. Local governments made the process a slog through hip deep mud, and in reality much of the progress was made by Congress stepping in, but most of all, the evolving attitudes of Americans themselves. And the real problem with segregation, the inequality of schools, persists because of the local funding of schools based mostly on property taxes. (My evil twin wonders if we might not be much better off had the Court said "you can have separate schools, but they will be equal, right down to the number of bristles on the janitor's broom.")

So people grumbled about Brown, but formal segregation was becoming a laughingstock anyway, and the actual impact could be blunted. Whites weren't officially supreme, but they continued to hold power, anyway. But Engel v. Vitale declared unequivocally that Christianity could not have any official standing. The notion that the government couldn't declare any one denomination supreme was generally accepted, but most people took it for granted that America was religious and specifically Christian.

Roe v. Wade

Well, here it is, the arch-nemesis of the Right. Roe v. Wade has it all: rejection of yet another Judaeo-Christian standard, judicial fiat, intrusion into States' rights, allowing the "undeserving" to escape consequences for their actions, legitimizing extramarital sex, a regular perfect judicial storm.

What the Principle is Not


Judicial Activism: In the 1960's and 1970's, the Right was condemning judicial activism while the Left was denying it existed at all. Legalizing abortion and outlawing publicly supported expression of religion weren't activist; they were simply the natural, inevitable state of things. Now we lave liberals blasting judicial activism in Citizens United. But a little reading of conservative opinion shows just how laughable the notion of a "conservative activist" Supreme Court is. When the rulings on conservatives' hate lists start falling like dominoes, then we have a conservative activist court.

States Rights: For liberals, States' Rights were bad when they were used to justify segregation, but they're laudable when the States try to resist Federal authority and liberalize marijuana laws. Conservatives champion the rights of the states except when Congress steps in to override State regulations on businesses.

Although "States rights" tends to evoke images of segregation, one of the most valiant exercises on behalf of human rights came in 1854 when the Wisconsin Supreme Court declared the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional in defiance of Federal rulings. When Wisconsin was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1859, the legislature urged "positive defiance." The Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to file the writs reversing its ruling. To this day, the writs have never been filed. (The Civil War sorta rendered the issue moot.)

So the real principle is clear: whether States' Rights are morally justified depends on whether the Federal Government or the States are in the wrong. It's the specific issue, not the principle of States' Rights.

Free Speech: Liberals see no problem with banning discriminatory advertisements and public prayer, but protecting flag burning and pornography. Conservatives favor the opposite. 

Privacy: Liberals invoke privacy when advocating abortion, but see no issue with requiring people to report their income and other business dealings to the Federal government or answer detailed census questionnaires. Conservatives view personal business conduct as private but see no problem trying to regulate private access to pornography.

Personal Freedom: Conservatives are all for gun rights but see no problem regulating peoples' sex lives. Liberals don't want restrictions on peoples' sex lives but are perfectly comfortable dictating what products people can buy.

The Sanctity of Life: Conservatives oppose abortion but are okay with war and capital punishment. (So am I - I think everyone in the capital deserves to be punished) Liberals oppose capital punishment but are willing to jeopardize society by freeing murderers on technicalities.

Private and Public Effects: Liberals see peoples' sex lives as a purely private matter, but view discrimination in hiring or renting as public, because one person imposes his will on another. Conservatives view discrimination as private because the owner of a business or hotel owns it, but sexual ethics are not private because, among other things, sex leads to babies who may have to be publicly supported.

Hypocrisy: None of the examples above are examples of hypocrisy. They are actually unarticulated recognitions of the fact that reality is complex and that weighing the pros and cons of actions may cause people to take one stance on issue A and an opposing stance on superficially similar issue B.

So What Is the Principle?


Who Reaps the Rewards?

Both liberals and conservatives argue that the reward system of society should favor those who do the most for the society. For liberals, that's workers and intellectuals, without whom there would be no labor force to accomplish anything. Conservatives argue that any Third World country illustrates what labor alone can do without vision, capital and direction. Conservatives believe the rewards should favor those who provide the vision, direction, resources and structure to make labor productive.

Who bears the Costs? 

Liberals tend to assume that social problems stem from inequality and lack of empowerment. Their suggested approach is to redress the inequality by redistributing wealth and limiting the powerful. In the face of some social problem, their approach is to restructure society to minimize the problem or restrict actions that contribute to the problem.

Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to assume that social problems stem from sociopathic or stupid individuals. Their approach is to protect the law abiding population while restricting the sociopaths and allowing the stupid to endure the consequences of their actions.

Both groups want to place the burden on the people they consider the root of the problem. Liberals want to place tax and regulatory burdens on the wealthy and privileged, conservatives want to place them on criminals and the nonproductive. Given a dangerous footpath on the edge of a cliff, liberals would close the path; conservatives would expect people to watch their steps. If people hurt themselves by reaching under power mowers while they're still running, liberals favor installing cutoffs to shut off the motor when the handle is released; conservatives expect people not to reach into moving machinery. Liberals view payday lenders as predatory; conservatives counter that nobody is forced to take out a loan and that some access to emergency loans is better than none.

Nothing illustrates this point better than gun control. If gun control were only about guns, we'd have solved the problem ages ago. It's really about who should bear the brunt of laws to curb gun violence. Liberals feel the problem is the availability of guns, and the solution is to control guns. Ultimately they feel that the root problem is the inequalities that tempt some people to solve their problems with guns. Conservatives believe the problem is criminals, and the solution is to eliminate the criminals. (And I suspect "eliminate" is what many literally would like.)

Nobody Really Wants Equality or a Classless Society

Since both liberals and conservatives favor some groups over others, it's clear that neither group really believes everyone should be equal. Both have their own hierarchy they would like to see in power.

The liberal theory is that groups that have been systematically deprived of a place in American society should be empowered, while the forces that have denied them a place should be held in check. Superficially, this attitude looks a lot like favoring equality. Looking below the surface, we find a widespread sentiment that the middle class is inferior. For example, there's the sneering "Little Boxes" of Pete Seeger (written by Malvina Reynolds):

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

The song starts out being about houses made of ticky tacky but by the second verse, the people are made of ticky tacky.

Then, in response to a question on the site Quora, "What are Middle Class values?" the lead entry (January 9, 2012) comes from "Venkatesh Rao civilized person" who writes:

Keep up with Joneses. But don't get too far ahead.

The middle class has no values of its own. Its behavior is 99% driven by imitation, so values are mostly unnecessary. The underlying values are unexamined. The stated values are merely oft-repeated platitudes and bear little or no relation to the actual ones.

The unexamined actual values are only visible once you leave or attempt to leave the class. The core one is simple: avoid all risk.
The disdain for the "middle class" on the part of liberals suggests pretty strongly that they consider the middle class drones, whose only value is to generate tax revenue for social programs to benefit the "real people" of society, who don't allow their authenticity to be sullied by deferred gratification. After all, a self-styled "civilized person" says the middle class has no values because they are "99% driven by imitation" and their expressed values are "merely oft-repeated platitudes."

Interestingly enough, the middle class has become heroes to liberals after the economic collapse of 2009, as pawns to set against the 1%, and as a potential pool of voters to be recruited against conservatism.

The conservative theory is that "socially constructive" people should govern while the "nonproductive" should change their lifestyles and work their way up. In practice this means conservatives favor
  • The wealthy over the poor
  • The managerial class over the working class
  •  Property owners over non-owners
  • The law-abiding versus criminals
  • The self-supporting over those on assistance
  • "Practical" people over intellectuals
  • Whites over minorities
When it comes to regulation, conservatives feel their favored groups should be minimally regulated and, if regulations are needed, the burden should fall on the less favored groups. Liberals more or less reverse the priorities. Where we really see a class preference is in attitudes toward crime and punishment. Liberals tend to view common criminals as victims of inequality and poverty, but want severe punishments for white collar economic criminals. Conservatives favor harsh punishments for common criminals but tend to show little indignation for offenses committed by the well off. They favor busting street prostitutes and crack dealers, and banning abortion, but don't get particularly upset by the wealthy snorting coke, patronizing call girls and getting abortions for their mistresses. They reason that the vices of the wealthy don't degrade everyday life and that the wealthy can afford to pay for the consequences of their actions. $1000 a night call girls don't hang out on sidewalks harassing passers-by, and drug dealers to the upper class don't randomly spray neighborhoods with gunfire. Basically conservatives feel that the contributions of the wealthy offset whatever damage they do through personal misconduct.

    Nobody Really Wants a Meritocracy

    More specifically, nobody wants a meritocracy based on actual accomplishment.  What both camps really want is a meritocracy of values, that is, an aristocracy in which position is dictated by attitude and conduct. Class is neither race, nor wealth, but behavior, though different socioeconomic classes have distinctive behaviors that identify their members. The disdainful term "nouveau riche" applied to people with money but not the conduct to go with it shows clearly that class is not solely determined by economics. The equally disdainful term "white trash" applied to lazy and dissolute whites shows that class is not solely, or even mostly, determined by race.

    The problem with meritocracy is there has to be a definition of merit. And liberals and conservatives hold radically differing views on the subject.