Thursday, May 07, 2009

The system isn't screwed

Lately I've been involved in some very heated conversations, here and elsewhere, about the state of the U.S. government. Some of these have gotten decidedly personal. I'm sorry this has occurred, because I consider many of these people good real-life friends and intelligent to boot. Perhaps part of it is that I may not have articulated my stance as well as I should have. So I'll try to do that now.

One notion I've always struggled with is that government is irrevocably screwed, and that the two major parties are one and the same corrupt mechanism. Anyone who thinks otherwise, we're told, is part of the problem. I support Barack Obama and his administration's efforts to clean up the mess left by the Bush regime. Ergo, I am not only part of the problem, but delusional as well.

When confronted with this allegation, I ask if they have a better solution. A new system that is not only viable and relatively incorruptible, but one that will bring the majority of Americans into the fold in the long run. If such a thing exists, it might very well be a positive development. It's never a bad idea to seek solutions to corruption.

But I have yet to hear one. Instead, I hear simplistic, almost cartoonish, comparisons between the Democrats and Republicans. They're alike, I'm told, because all they care about is getting elected and holding power. And they both have a lot of money. Obama is exactly the same as Bush. The people are screwed. End of story.

Under this convenient stance, those who support Obama are hypocrites if they did not also support Bush. Why? Because both were executives who had the nerve to use their power. Forget political leanings, appointments, actions, world relations, economic decisions, etc. - those are mere details unworthy of discussion. The real loyalty isn't with a political party, but with big government. If you support one powerful politician, you obviously must support them all. By definition, anyone seeking high office through the channels most likely to facilitate such a goal is an active participant in the destruction of the Constitution.

Frankly, it's not a convincing argument. Lumping all presidents and politicians in the same group both diminishes genuine accomplishments and trivializes real travesties. It does a disservice to dismiss any party - or any person - out of hand. I voted for Barack Obama and support his efforts, because he is our president and is taking what I feel are necessary steps to address our problems. I don't agree with all of his actions, but agree with enough to have confidence in him. Conversely, I liked almost nothing about Bush, but he did increase AIDS funding in Africa and protect more ocean habitats. No one is all perfect or all evil. All of these people who trash our government out of hand should exercise the same nuances; it would certainly lend weight to any specific arguments that they might have.

I believe that our political system, though not without many, many flaws, is worth salvaging. The best chance anyone has to improve government in the United States is to work within the system. That may give our leaders less street cred with the third-partyists and libertarians, but it's also more likely to matter. Until these self-proclaimed outsiders have a solution of their own, and/or make a serious run for office, their condemnations will ring with all the resonance of an armchair quarterback's rants.

I don't have all the answers. Neither does anyone else. But I do have hope, and too many people don't have enough of that.

11 comments:

Robert Taylor said...

Hi Ian. You're right. A lot of paleoconservatives are now claiming that support for Obama is delusional, and yet offer no solutions to the problem.

My own conclusions in the past 2 years have fallen drastically of the known political map: the solution is NO GOVERNMENT. Not reduced. Not minimalist. NONE.

I suggest you start to leave your comfort zone and read yourself some Libertarian and Anarcho-capitalist literature. It's extremely enlightening. And contrary to many (including potentially yours) claims that the concept of a free market society based on indivualistic freedom may be utopian, your friends calling you delusional are partly right in that to believe the "flawed" system you continue to support could ever achieve its goals is crazy. And unwanted. Utopia is not just an ideal world economically, but socially and psychologically. There was a famous writer who used to say of Russia: "in Russia there's only one answer to every question: The Right one". Seems as though you'd like everyone to agree with you in that way.

Ian McGibboney said...

If the solution is no government, Robert, then I think our aims must be different. I understand why people want less interference in their lives, and to the degree that people aren't hurting one another or are causing harm to the outside world, I agree that people should have more freedom.

But for all of the benefits anarchy would have, it would do that much more harm in so many ways. I, for one, see nothing utopian about the Mad Max reality we would have the very second government shut down or was overtaken. Nature experts have said that animals in New York City would consume it as soon as humans died off. The same thing would happen with humans if law and order broke down. I think most people realize this, but many are willing to take that risk if it means they get a break on their taxes.

Like I said, I'm open to hearing an alternative to the system we have now. But no one has one, aside from, literally, nothing. And I'm willing to stick with the benefits of a broken system rather than go with a poorly thought-out one for its own sake.

There can be no such thing as a complete utopia, simply because people are too different. What's paradise for you might be a nightmare to me. So-called "utopias" tend to be defined by the most aggressive, tyrannical and armed type of people. And that's who takes charge in a power vacuum. So not only are you selfish in your aims, but you don't even get it. You actually wind up with more autocratic rule.

I've read plenty and talked to many people about anarchy and libertarian philosophy. The more I hear about it, the less inclined I am to support it. The implication that I am an inferior who just doesn't know better doesn't exactly help to sell it, either. But that's a widespread problem.

Robert Taylor said...

Ian, it does not seem clear to me that you have read enough about anarchist-capitalist libertarian philosophy.

As a liberal, you should find it particularly interesting when I point out the way you responded to me: "I'm open to hearing an alternative to the system we have now. But no one has one, aside from, literally, nothing. And I'm willing to stick with the benefits of a broken system rather than go with a poorly thought-out one for its own sake". You may claim to have no god, but you commit to the same kind of thought process as the religious: the government, or as you put it, "law and order" is your god.

Furthermore, I think if you were to truly study the "broken system" you talk about, you'd understand that it is not only in a stage past that of repair, but that the very system itself is geared towards constantly taking away personal freedoms.

Your claims that an anarchist world is poorly thought out is absolutely bunk. I suggest you look into Institutes like Cato or better yet the Mises Institute to see that what the students of Mises are involved in: constantly testing the theories of the free market to find flaws. Instead what they have proven time and time again is the ethical, monetary and social consistency that a pro-liberty society would have. Specifically I would be highly enthused if you read Murray Rothbard's "For a New Liberty". It is the seminal introduction to anarcho-capitalist system of thought and available free online as well as in audiobook form. If you find flaws in that book, which is just a primer, I'd be happy to read your arguments. It might however serve as a jump start for you to start opening your mind to the fallacies on power and control.

And so my response is ultimately the same: stop asking for the solution only under the terms you deem acceptable which is a 'structured hierarchical system of control'. You sir, are the elitist. Not I.

Ian McGibboney said...

For me, government is a means to adhere society. I see the good in it as well as the bad. But I don't revere it as some messiah.

On the other hand, you're pushing an extremist philosophy under the guise of heaven (anarchy) or hell (government), suggesting books for me to read as gospel and berating me personally for what you claim are my wicked ways. That's no different than a street preacher on a college campus, and has about as much impact on me.

What I'd like to know is, what do you get out of the literature and think-tank studies? What kind of conclusions has it led YOU to? What do you advocate in terms of day-to-day living? I want to know your thoughts, not someone else's. I can get theirs, so I'm asking for yours. Are they identical?

The reason I think anarchy is poorly thought out is because I don't think a nation of 300 million people should be able to do literally anything they want with no repercussions. Sure, the system is not perfect, but neither is it as extreme as you portray it. And nothing at all is reactionary at best, destructive at worst. I, for one, appreciate public works and laws that keep our society from being overrun by the worst elements among us. That system is imperfect, but I'm willing to address those issues rather than leave all government for dead. If that makes me elitist, then they're really lowering the bar for elitism these days.

twodiddle said...

Robert - - It does no good to suggest any other idiologies to Ian, because in his mind, his government hasn't failed him ... yet? He has been brain washed by the likes of Al Gore and other Dems who are telling him that everything is all right, and to trust in his government. I too once believed as Ian, and thought all was well and thought, even though corrupt, it's not that bad. Sadly, I admit...I was blind. Ian - just to be clear. I am not attacking you, I just think your scope on government is too narrow. I don't have your answer yet on who or what is better. I just know the direction we are headed isn't the one people signed up for.

Robert Taylor said...

Ian, first off there's a contradiction in the terms you use: adherence in and of itself is a term reserved for partisans or the religious, both who act outside of the realm of facts in attempts to achieve some 'ideal plan'. So yes, the state is a messiah to you one way or another.

Then we have the issue that you yourself raised which is the inherent differences in the values of men. My ideology can't prove me selfish when it is ethically based on the supposition that there are no constant relations in human actions. I say ethically, because the only understanding a person must have to engage in it is to act in human fashion. Follow human nature.

My views might seem extreme to you, but only because you've never lived in a world free of state rule. But believe me, I'm not trying to "sell" you on anything. That's where the suggest comes into play. Do whatever you want. AND THAT'S THE POINT. Do what you want, as long as it avoids aggression on other's liberties. Your system forces people to do things they don't want to with the threat of ultimate violence.

Finally, I want to express adamantly that I know not all of my views are in sync with the think tanks or authors. I believe in the non-aggression principle which to be honest happened to fall under some of the personal morals I was already taught as a child. Ethically, universally, and logically I believe it holds up. The anarcho-capitalist and libertarian authors have simply helped assure me of the soundness of my beliefs universally, for all times.

But dude, get it straight: liberty is not a concept which entails the power to do whatever you want. That's as ridiculous as conflating liberty with equality. No one is born identical, and there are consequences to aggression on others. In a anarcho-capatalist world, the judges and juries however wouldn't be fixed.

Ian McGibboney said...

It seems to me that something worth arguing shouldn't delve into personal attacks. And yet, that's mostly what I get whenever I broach this topic. Neither one of you knows the first thing about my upbringing, my education or what I have studied in my life, and likewise me of you. So it's a safer bet to address the issue at hand.

Twodiddle: What does it mean to say, "the direction we are headed isn't the one people signed up for?" Obama won in a landslide. He enjoys an approval rating in the high 60s. I'm very satisfied with his leadership so far, and I haven't regretted my vote for a second. I don't know or have read anything from anyone who has. What and where is this phantom dissatisfaction of which you speak?

Robert: First off, I did not use the word "adherence." I used the word "adhere," by which I meant government helps society function as a cohesive whole. And you're the first to tell me that word is reserved for a certain group of people; you learn something new every day, I guess. But that's splitting hairs on an atomic level. Let's get back to the point.

You say I've never lived "in a world free of state rule." Have you? Where? I was just going to ask you to cite an example of a successful anarchic society, but apparently you've actually been to one. Tell me about it!

As for following human nature, I think some form of oversight is necessary precisely because not all human nature is positive. If everyone does what they want and no one's hurt, great. But what happens when (not if, WHEN) someone kills, maims or otherwise infringes on another's rights? Where is the redress?

The problem with your argument is you're going after the wrong targets. No judge? No jury? If everyone did what they pleased: someone would set up a quasi-vigilante system of justice with no oversight aside from the whims of whoever set it up. How is, say, Thunderdome better or even remotely desirable?

As I've said several times, I'm not 100 percent in harmony with our current government or judiciary. But I ultimately believe that its foundation is stronger than the people in it, and that it is still the best we've got and we must fight to save and improve it. Give me some real, workable specifics of your ideas, and I'll entertain them. Because it's still somewhat vague to me.

twodiddle said...

"I ultimately believe that its foundation is stronger than the people in it, and that it is still the best we've got and we must fight to save and improve it"

As you quoted is the problem. Why do we need to improve it. Since the 1900's all we've done is try to improve it. Why can't we move away from BIG government? Why is it the answer is always to have the government involved? I am not for MAD MAX, but I am for a smaller government. Even if it's the same government that's currently in place, that's fine. Let's just have less of it.

Ian McGibboney said...

Twodiddle, that is a fair point. Robert is arguing for literal anarchy, which I think is an extreme (non)fix. That's what this conversation's mostly been about so far.

Government could certainly be streamlined and taken out of some situations altogether. The problem these days is with definition.

Conservatives, who talk most about the evils of big government, define it as spending on Medicare, infrastructure, education, research, Social Security, free lunches and other social programs. (But, curiously, not the PATRIOT Act, blue laws, illegal gay marriage, border enforcement, runaway defense spending, business subsidies, etc.)

For liberals, government can be a good thing when it ensures a safety net for those who might need it in hard times, as well as to ensure the nation is meeting critical needs on a daily basis. It's not perfect, and it often overreaches, but it has its benefits and each offense should be taken on its own merits.

Libertarians argue that government exists to protect the citizens from threats and little more. Anything apart from that is Big Government. They've studied this topic over many years and across many authors, presumably without ever approaching a public library.

The list goes on. There's no real common thread in the argument against "big government." Everybody thinks it's too big, but everyone has different suggestions on how to fix it. That's why I grow weary when anyone insists they have THE answer.

Robert Taylor said...

There's been examples throughout history like in Medieval Iceland and Ireland, including during the western expansion of this nation where people were free to do what they liked with their property. I don't have to have lived in through those times to understand what it was and stood for. I was just trying to express my ability to identify with your claims of my "extreme" ideology without pointing to your ignorance of the historical roots of anarcho-capitalism. And although I myself have not been to a true anarcho-capitalist society, I lived in New Hampshire and was lucky enough to meet many Free Staters. In 2008 alone, 6 of those libertarian members were elected to office in New Hampshire. Hopefully that may be a good rebuttal to your claims of libertarians not making a serious run for office.

Without getting to deep into the subject, I will clarify again in stating that in an anarcho-capitalist society, there WOULD be a judge and a jury. Just not a fixed one. I said that. Thunderdome is an example of a socialist state run by oligarchs. It's an extreme of your system, not mine.

Finally I will use the same quote that twodiddle used "its foundation is stronger than the people in it" is a seriously troubling statement for me. Ian, I don't want to lecture you, but I have to suggest that you seriously rethink what you said there. A group is only made up of individuals at its base. There's no metaphysical, intangible "more" to a group than the individuals it comprises. Yet you still hammer on talking about the system with religiosity.

What would you like to know specifically? I can start philosophically from the beginning, but I guarantee you Murray Rothbard and gang explain it better and more thoroughly than me in their literature.

Ian McGibboney said...

"Ian, I don't want to lecture you, but..."

Robert, your condescension is irritating and detracts from the valid points you make. Can we just debate the issue without you repeatedly branding me as ignorant and/or unenlightened? I am doing no such thing to you and I'd appreciate it if you could extend the same courtesy to me. Thank you.

By "Its foundation is stronger than the people in it," I simply mean that our government is one of laws, not of men, structured by the Constitution. I don't see why that's such a troubling statement. As unhappy as I was about George W. Bush being president, I never wanted the office itself to vanish. And, most likely, the office will be around long after he's a historical footnote. So, yes, it IS bigger than the individuals who populate it. And that's why it will endure.