Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Hidden Philosophy

I came across a conservative argument against progressive taxation recently.  It began:
“To be clear, I do not believe the market rewards virtue of achievement. I believe it rewards choice.... I am all for helping people that make a series of choices toward one path, and something unexpected arises that changes their course. But I don’t feel the need to help people that chose to value different things”.
What to make of such a statement? If we all make our own choices (and are accountable as such), then how can we be helped to make choices? Am I missing something?

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one in the world interested in how the determinism/free will debate drives liberal/conservative politics.  Nothing is more central to the liberal/conservative divide.  Yet it receives almost zero discussion. 

Now mind you, I know plenty of liberals who consider themselves to believe in free will. But then you start talking about reality and it is soon clear they do not. I suppose maybe the real problem is that the subject is difficult to parse and meanings become confused.

But his point is clear, as is any conservative you’ll ever meet. In fact, the degree to which they are conservative is basically expressed in the degree to which they believe that we are rational actors, aside from biological/environmental causality.

Basically, he believes that the rich have chosen to be rich, just as the poor have chosen to be poor. The devil is in that terrible word “choice”. Because yes, most people are aware of their actions to a degree, and the rich and poor have done things differently – but in only a strict sense of the word is this a “choice”. Rich kids don’t generally stay rich out of choice. Neither do poor kids stay poor.

They have had it all handed to them by the world. They are not little Gods.

Liberals grasp this. Conservatives do not. I think in both regards it is an intuitive understanding; the details get tricky pretty fast. But liberal phrases like “it takes a village” say it all.  The folk wisdom has been around for millennium, yet the science overwhelmingly backs it up.  We are far from having a perfect model of the mind, but the extent to which is essentially a deterministic organ has been proven again and again.

I know the partisan divide has become rigid in this country.  Little dialogue seems to be taking place.  Each side sees the other as unfathomable, if not immoral or even mentally ill.  But worse convictions have been held.  I wonder if the great lever we have right now, one standing in the way of revolutionary political change, is sitting right beneath our noses.

1 comment:

  1. If you want to talk "choices" then you need to talk "values". Primary school teachers make bullsh*t salary and there are no 65 year olds. The job is too tough. Then the bankster shouts, "Well, you made your choices, dude! Live in poverty for your actions!"

    Yeah, they shoulda sold drugs on the street corner, right? The money is better.