(This is the continuation of the dialogue reproduced in A Response to a Conservative on Patriotism, Militarism)
DK: Anyway, I appreciate you efforts in trying to communicate with me. I was happy to learn you served. I didn’t see the justification for the war in Vietnam, but whereas my dad served in WWII & grandfather in WWI I couldn’t dodge service. My solution was to serve 6 years in the Army National Guard, most of that as an officer. Becoming an officer reinforced my belief that making excuses can be harmful. If you want something, go for it. I was working full-time during that time and in a four year JD program nights at Suffolk Law. I came from a blue collar background but found a way to put together a fairly successful career. I now run a small investment advisory service to keep busy in retirement, helping people as well as I can. I help with children’s services by raising funds through my service club. When I grew up this was considered a duty. I now fiind that there are those today who think it should all be the “job” of government. In fact I hear that whatever I do is done just to make myself feel better. I guess that is true. Given my upbringing helping others is a core principal. Of course we do that too with paying our taxes that also provide help to those in need, but passing the buck isn’t enough. I answer to myself, which is part of being a responsible person. I don’t need or want to to judge you. Obviously you are driven to help others by working very hard providing the justification for the government making more decisions for us and how we should lead our lives. I can’t figure out why you believe you can make better judgements than I can for myself. Your subjective opinions are made to look like axioms. In support of your beliefs you accumulate experts, like Krugman. You do know that some smart people have different opinions, but they are just selfish. I can provide you with contrary “evidence”, but because I don’t find it in “liberally approved ” resources you will dismiss it out of hand. I really do think you are a good person with just a different set of values (bias). We need to know ourselves. The smartest people do and are always questioning their assumptions (bias).
SH: It is not sufficient to respond to informed arguments by saying, “well, that’s just your bias,” and then burying the precise analysis that was employed under a lot of misdirectional rhetoric about others trying to tell you what to do when you know better than they do what is best for you to do. Because, let’s face it, we all know that there are numerous circumstances in which we reject that premise out of hand: You don’t get to murder people because you know what’s best and no one has any right to tell you what you should do. The issue isn’t whether we are interdependent or not, whether we, as a society, have some rights over you as an individual, to protect and advance the rights of all other equally valuable individuals; it’s a question of how and where and by what reasoning and values to realize the ideal balance between your individual liberty and our social coherence. I believe in doing it through the careful and systematic use of the full breadth and depth of our consciousness, in service to humanity, all values considered. You believe in relying on a convenient set of ideological platitudes that carefully remove a plethora of relevant information and analysis from consideration, and then declaring that all opinions are equal.
Of course, no one is without bias, and no one has any final claim on absolute truth or absolute expertise. The competition of ideas is vital to the process and outcomes I am talking about. This is a part of that competition, involving competing arguments and competing narratives. You do your best to advance your preferred narrative, using all of your skill, trying to appeal to the emotions of your audience in a way which you think will resonate with them. I, too, do my best to advance my preferred narrative, using all of my skill, trying to appeal to the emotions of my audience in a way which I think will resonate with them. But, on top of that, I make it clear, through the consistent application of disciplined reason to carefully acquired evidence, that I am doing so in service to the reason, not in service to blind ideology. My narrative IS the use of disciplined reason and disciplined imagination, applied to carefully acquired information, in service to humanity. Yours is the repetition of right-wing ideological platitudes. In the world as it is, tragically, blind ideology frequently prevails over informed reason. In the world as we should strive to make it, that should never happen.
You have the habit, which I’ve commented on several times already, of not actually responding to the facts and arguments presented, but rather simply reiterating your talking points, your preferred emotional appeals, pretending that the analyses that have challenged them simply don’t exist. That certainly can work, and has worked in many times and places. But it SHOULDN’T work. It is the undermining rather than mobilizing of reason in service to humanity. And, in the long run, it does not prevail. Our goal should be to bend that arc of the moral universe more sharply toward justice, and expedite the exploration of all other alternatives before arriving at that which is recommended by reason.
I’m all for community involvement and volunteerism, and do a fair amount myself. But we had a history of reliance on that informal and unenforced “duty” to take care of the needs of the poor and unfortunate, and we know that it does not do so to any adequate degree: It produces a Dickensonian world (and Dickens, in fact, was responding to an ideology virtually identical to your own, which had come to displace a more compassionate and responsible one that had preceded it). There’s an inherent free-rider problem; a diminishing few step up and bear the whole burden, while an increasing many say “well, I can’t solve these problems on my own, so why should I bear the burden of trying? My contribution can never meet the need out there, and my individual failure to contribute won’t change things much either.” That’s why we can, should, and must use an agent of our collective will to commit us all to responsibilities we believe we should collectively assume; because that’s what works.
“Passing the buck” isn’t saying “not only should we all do as much as possible for others, of our own accord, but we should also work together, through our social institutions, to do as much as possible for others and for us all as a society.” Passing the buck is saying “it’s up to each person to decide whether they want to help others or not; the poor, the destitute, the sick, the unfortunate, are not society’s shared problem, but rather only the problem of those who decide of their own accord to take on the burden that we do not insist that we all share, and so ensure that it is not adequately met.” Passing the buck is saying “we can’t meet those needs that can only be met as a society, because to do so would require us to act as a society, and that is anathema to our values.”
I am not looking for justifications to give more power to the government to make decisions about how we should live our lives, but rather am striving to give more power to us as a society to act through a democratically elected and constitutionally framed agency of our will to accomplish goals and meet challenges that we collectively face and cannot be accomplished or met merely as a group of disaggregated individuals. We are a society, and have to act as a society, which means using the social institutions of being a society to exercise a collective will, bear collective burdens, and meet shared responsibilities. That is one part of what it is to be human.
Using government to do what really has never been adequately done without it isn’t “passing the buck,” but rather just the opposite: Stopping the buck in the one way and one place where we can effectively stop it, in the agency of our collective will and collective action, because it is a “buck” that requires and merits no less resolve than that.
It’s not about making better judgments for you than you make for yourself; it’s about acting cooperatively to accomplish ends that can only be accomplished cooperatively. Here is an explanation of how that works: http://coloradoconfluence.com/?p=1459. This isn’t a “subjective opinion,” it’s a mathematical reality. We ARE interdependent, and if we fail to act in ways which explicitly recognize and respond to that fact, as effectively as possible, balancing the simultaneously complementary and competing values of individual liberty and social coherence, then we fail both to achieve the full realization of both our individual liberty AND our social coherence, and fail to achieve the full realization of our humanity.