9.12.2009

Comment:

Liberty is more important than Equality.

9 comments:

Wishydig said...

ah, but the right to oppress needs very little protection.

Mark said...

what is the definition of oppression?

Casey said...

Inequality?

Mark said...

It can't be simply inequality because there are all sorts of inequalities that are not the result of any human action. And oppression is something that someone does to someone else.

I think oppression is the use of one's power or influence to exploit or treat someone unfairly. It does so in a way that may or may not involve any liberty of the victim. Being treated unfairly seems to be broader than an invasion of private rights.

So it seems that the danger of liberty alone is that it does not protect against oppression; that seems to be a valid point. Thus, In order to preserve a regime based on liberty, one could respond that liberty must be restrained by virtue (justice and charity namely) to curb exploitation (Adam Smith). Another approach seems to say that in order to curb oppression, it must be remedied after the fact (the Great Society).

The problem with this approach is that it is not a precise art. Because the actual circumstances of human relationships are too complex and diverse to treat individually, it operates under broad categorizations. It makes assumptions: All people of x class, have a right to y benefit. And in doing so, it infringes on the liberties of those who my not have been involved in the oppression. And furthermore, it may help some who have not truly been oppressed. Working in social services, Shanna has seen this process first hand. many people learn, ironically, to exploit the blindness of the system which was created to remedy exploitation. It is very frustrating to watch.

Another approach is simply to deny that exploitation exits. This is the hardcore libertarian approach. Absent actual fraud or duress, any exchange freely entered into in the marketplace is fair. It seems like this is the other extreme.

As I see it, the old wisdom was kind of in the middle. Then it was decided that in order to benefit the property-less and exploited, we should smash private rights and distribute all the benefits of society to create utopia where the rivers flow with lemonade. Then in response, the other extreme is put forward (Austrians) where the system of private rights is held up as an end in itself, no longer to be tempered by virtue or moral restraint. So we are now stuck in this annoying pendulum swing. One side is willing to walk all over private rights in order to benefit the oppressed. The other side is content to do nothing for the oppressed in order to protect the sanctity of private rights.

Casey said...

"The purpose of government is to prevent crime, not sin."

--Charleston, SC mayor in about 1950...

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I don't know if that's quite relevant or not, but Gretchen just quoted it to me yesterday; I thought it was interesting.

But Mark, I'm reminded of a conversation we used to have all the time: you argued that part of a government's responsibility was to foster virtue (or something along those lines), and I kept trying to say that virtue is only virtue if it's voluntary.

For example, colleges have been moving toward models that include mandatory volunteer-work... and somehow, few see the irony there. Some of my most liberal friends seem to give themselves moral/ethical points for paying taxes in a liberal society. They do not personally do good to the least among them, but they figure that they chip in so that a bureaucrat can take care of that responsibility on their behalf.

So I think you're missing one more possibility: a capitalist society in which "misfortunes" (not injustices) are acknowledged, and voluntarily remedied by the community. Obviously, that seems extraordinarily unlikely in this day and age -- and it is. But that fact alone doesn't make a charitable model of social-organization altogether impossible, does it?

Mark said...

The whole crime versus sin thing is a rhetorical tactic. Both terms concern the prevention of evil in society. “Sin” is just the pejorative label people use when they want to dismiss someone else's idea of good and evil as oppressive and antiquated.

But anytime "we the people" identify certain activities and behaviors which we deem evil, or anti-social, or inefficient, we are doing the same thing. We just use different terminology; and we just have a different list of "sins" in our society. For example, discrimination is now a big sin which you can get in trouble for committing. Whereas older ideas of evil like adultery are not considered as a big deal. Same concept. Different list.

I would agree, however, with your assessment of required volunteerism. If the point is to promote a mindset that seeks to do good with being required to, it does not help to require it. But that is not to say that the only way a society can promote virute is through legislation and threat of punishment. The only thing criminal sanction can do is punish wrong-doing, whatever it is deemed to be. I should be clear on that. I'm sure we can agree on that point.

But there are lots of other ways we seek to promote positive behavior through socialization. Isn't that a big part of public shools? If you were to step inside an elementary classroom, say 50 years ago, you would probably hear a lot about being thrifty, respecting authority, etc. A lot of concepts considered out-of-date now. Today, you will probably hear a good bit about recycling and being tolerant of other people. Or with volunteerism, we hold it out as something to aspire to. And we give preference to those who engage in it. However, as you point out, it seems to become self-defeating when we go so far as to require it. My point – there is this myth of neutrality out there. A political community will always be engaged in promoting a set of values.

I would agree with your eye-roll at people who credit themselves with having a giving spirit for simply paying their taxes. One might ask, If you really want to help the poor, why don't you actually do something yourself? No, they don't want to really give of themselves unless everyone else is require to also. There is something distasteful and selfish about that attitude. The weird thing about modern liberal society is how we have so completely given over a idea of a personal duty of charity to government agencies. There is no sense of being personally responsible for the poor in our community. No, that's the job of some distant and faceless government agency. And all we have to do is throw money at it.

Casey said...

Yeah... although, I'm stumbling on that sin vs. crime point.

Sin seems to me to have reference to "Truth" -- transcendent, eternal, etc. Crime is just what happens to be illegal at the moment.

It's a crime to smoke marijuana. Whether it's a sin or not is more questionable...

Those kinds of non-violent offenses (the Charleston mayor was speaking with reference to prostitution) are iffy areas for me.

As for the rest of what you said, yeah.

Now I can just wait for Wishydig to chime back in...

Wishydig said...

the purpose of government is to prevent or enable whatever the people want to give it the power to prevent or enable.

(lately, i'm trying to keep my contributions to political conversations down to single sentences.)

Casey said...

That's admirable, if a bit cryptic.