Weaponized Empathy is a chief weapon of the Left, and we need to deprive them of it. To do so will impose a cost. Namely, many Leftists will hate you, and say the worst about you. But its a cost that must be lived with if the truth is to prevail. Indeed, the longer the cost is deferred, the worse it is likely to be.
On Monday, Francis penned an interesting post which touches upon the idea delayed gratification, something most Americans do not practice. By pushing instant gratification, and kicking the cost can down the road, our civilization has incurred an enormous amount of debt, and not merely financial debt (though that too).
The perverse incentives of our political figures has made this possible. But the citizenry itself cannot avoid responsibility either. After all, Americans have been voting en masse for short-sighted, destructive policies as long as I’ve been alive. The money quote:
We the People have earned a certain suffering-debt for our previous sociopolitical sins – never mind that we were set upon our sinful courses by an earlier We the People, who passed their accumulated suffering-debt down to us – then our choice is simple:
We could accept the penalty, endure it, and come out healed;
We could reject the penalty, which would compound the ultimate suffering.
Since World War II at least, the public has preferred politicians who will “kick the can down the road.” In consequence, government has gone ever further astray and our accumulated debt of ultimate suffering has compounded year by year. At some point, though the moment is difficult to predict, the debt will be paid. If it’s grown large enough, it will destroy our society completely.
But a payable sociopolitical suffering-debt is like a prison term: it’s finite. It will end. It can and should be endured, especially if the alternative is to raise it to an unpayable level. Our unwillingness to accept and endure the penalties that have already accrued is propelling such debts toward the threshold of sociopolitical bankruptcy.
Note, when Francis speaks of sociopolitical bankruptcy, is essentially discussing the fall of the United States as a functional, intact nation. And the longer we kick the can down the road, the more likely that outcome becomes. Indeed, I’m not even sure we can still avoid it.
On a positive note, Trump managed to push tax cuts through. They are not anywhere near as extensive as I would have liked, and I am sorely disappointed with the behavior of the GOP (more with the Senate than the House), but this is something.
Tax cuts used to be a sort of bread-and-butter of GOP politics, alongside strong foreign policy. The various factions within the party would jockey and argue over everything else, but low taxes and strong military were generally always agreed upon. That this much infighting was required to get the GOP to push through a tax cut – any tax cut at all – is disturbing. It demonstrates the slow evolution of the GOP Establishment away from the base, and toward a more Fabian Socialist agenda, agreeing with the Democrats in principle if not in time frame.
Still, this was why many folks chose Trump over Hillary. We knew we weren’t getting what we wanted, but a tax cut is better than a tax hike. Still, some Dems are going off the deep end telling us the tax cuts will literally kill people. They’ve clearly left sanity behind.
These days, I figure almost everybody knows someone who is a complete idiot with his money. Somebody who, perhaps, makes a decent wage but constantly overspends in an effort to keep up with the Joneses. This is the kind of person who buys a $5000 Italian leather couch and then tells you that it’s a $5000 leather couch. It is important to him, you see, that you acknowledge his ability to spend money on overpriced couches. This is nothing new; it’s a form of status signalling that goes back to the dawn of humanity, most likely. My beads are prettier than your beads. My mud hut is bigger than yours.
The fascinating thing about it, however, is that most folks I’ve met who do this don’t actually have the money. They have car payments and furniture installment loans. They have credit card debt and student loan debt. They may have home equity loans on top of their regular mortgages. And frequently, they lack the liquid assets to cover any of these notes. Their lives are constantly stressed, for any interruption in their income stream could expose the lie of their status signalling. People would know that they were broke. That is more terrifying to such folks than losing the possessions themselves.
Even folks who do have the money often spend themselves into poverty trying to chase status. Stories of celebrities who spend their vast sums of money and wind up in crazy amounts of debt are absurdly common. But at least they had the money at some point. The status signal wasn’t entirely dishonest.
SJWs do something similar with regards to various forms of bigotry. Their goal isn’t necessarily to defeat bigotry, as some of the more honest among their number admit that it isn’t really possible to eliminate all biases in human beings in the first place. And even the most idiotic of SJWs has to know deep down that in America, we have it pretty good with regards to demographic group tolerance – or we did, anyway, before SJWs started screwing around with it again. Rather, the goal of the SJW is to signal that he is not racist/sexist/whatever.
Like the guy who shows you his expensive couch, the SJW who spouts off how much he loves Antifa, and how he goes to all the local BLM protests, is actually saying look at me I’m better than you. He’s signalling that he’s one of the enlightened, educated, and right-thinking individuals. Not like those icky poor people; not like those icky Right-Wing would-be Nazis.
It’s all about ego gratification. It’s about feeling superior, and being able to look down with disdain on the unwashed, the impure, the unrighteous. Even some who are nominally Right-Wing have fallen victim to this (see: Tom Nichols, Bill Kristol, etc…). But like the neighbor who wants you to think he’s rich, many of them aren’t. Like Joss Whedon, feminist warrior who cheated on his wife with a dozen women, they are signalling a lie. Some, like Bill Kristol, may have once been what they are signalling, but aren’t any longer. Somewhere along the way, they took the signalling to be more important than the truth.
It’s confusing the packaging for the product, confusing PR with the people behind it. It is tacitly saying that appearances are more important than realities. This is a core tenet of Social Justice Leftism. A superficial understanding leads many to believe women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. That is the appearance. Dig deeper, and the truth comes out: women make different career choices, work less hours, and tend toward lower risk tolerance. When these things are accounted for, the gap vanishes into irrelevancy. But this doesn’t matter, because the superficial appearance trumps the reality. Thus the SJW signals his acceptance of appearance over truth by constantly bleating this metric.
Underneath this ideology is a house of cards. One misstep, one accidental exposure of truth, and like the indebted man with his fancy furniture, the repo man will come and take it all away. Harvey Weinstein’s casting couch, Joss Whedon’s infidelity, or as I spoke of once before… an SJW’s obsession with getting beaten by men dressed as Nazis in a BDSM club… and it all it comes crashing down around them. Their moral preening is no more true than the yuppie’s affectation of wealth.
I often tell folks that I’m not that great of a guy. I prefer the position of Socrates on wisdom: none of us are truly wise. I prefer the Christian’s view on sinning: we all do it; we all fuck up. And I prefer a dose of humility to the obsession with social status. I don’t always achieve these lofty goals (see #2), but I’ve long believed that trying to achieve them is worth something. On the flip side of that, it’s very irritating when someone tries to signal a lie, and we all know it’s a lie.
I don’t judge my neighbor on the basis of his wealth, why should I care about that? But if he goes out of his way to lie about it, then I care about being lied to. I can’t be too harsh on a man who has committed various sexual indiscretions (provided they aren’t grossly illegal, of course – see pedo shit, rape, etc…), sex is and always will be a hangup for humanity. But if you pretend to be a moral puritan about sex, and it comes out that you are a creep, then I care about being lied to. It is a ‘cast the first stone’ situation. If you are casting stones at someone, and you are guilty of the same, you are tacking on intentional, self-centered dishonesty in addition to whatever it is you did. At least have the courtesy to be quiet about it. Better yet, go ask forgiveness from Christ.
On top of the aspect of dishonesty, it’s also insulting and patronizing. We know the signals are a lie. For the man bragging about his wealth, look… we can do math. For the man bragging about his sexual purity, we know you’re full of shit, we’re human beings too, you know. We know how it is with sexual desire. For the man declaring himself wise, an expert in all things, we know it’s all bullshit. We see when you are caught in lies and mistakes. In other words, we aren’t fooled, and by continuing on with your status signals, you’re only fooling yourself. Even your fellow signalers know, deep down, that you are lying. They merely enable your lies so that you may, quid pro quo, enable theirs.
Ultimately, the signals won’t work. Even if you fool us for a little while, sooner or later we’ll find out.
I don’t think any human can remove all signalling from himself; some of it is undoubtedly unconscious. And sometimes a signal can be true: Donald Trump’s ostentatious wealth is actually true in his case. But better to err on the safe side when it comes to signalling. Best not to do it. If you must, be very sure it’s not covering a lie.
Poverty is an issue Leftists badger the Right about incessantly. Poor people provide a convenient excuse for government control over your wallet. They need food, shelter, transportation, healthcare, and so on, and why shouldn’t these things be guaranteed by a friendly government? Why rely on the charity of individuals to do this, when it is possible that private charity will miss some people, that some of the poor will slip through the cracks and suffer? Only government can make this a mandate. Let us raise taxes, they say, or reduce funding for the warmongering military, to help our poor people! As one Leftist detractor explained, let’s do it for national pride, compassion, and empathy!
The buzzwords sound great, of course. But they are empty platitudes. You cannot eat compassion, nor will empathy put a roof over your head or supply you with good, inexpensive healthcare. And as we give government our money to do these things for us (or, rather, as it is taken from us), be advised that the bureaucrats and politicians will take their slice of the action. They are the middlemen, and naturally a middleman wants his share of the spoils.
Government inefficiencies aside, many of those who are supported by government anti-poverty programs are, essentially, lifers. They are mired in permanent poverty, never to escape. What percentage, exactly? Well, it’s difficult to tell. But those receiving government benefits in the 37-48 month category (the longest period I could find concrete stats for) stands at around 43% of those on government assistance.
In browsing around these statistics this morning, I came across a Huffington Post article that was using essentially the same data (they differed by a couple percentage points here and there, but were clearly using a similar source). Their conclusion was that a majority of people used welfare benefits of varying types for only short periods of time. This was technically true (after all, 43% is a minority). But nonetheless, we are not far from that magic 50% marker.
In any event, for our purposes 43% of welfare recipients will do. These are people who are essentially in a state of permanent poverty. There are probably some who are too proud to take government benefits for long, too, or who do not qualify for one reason or another. So the actual number of those in permanent poverty is probably somewhat higher than that number would indicate.
Thing is most of us, myself included, have probably experienced some form of temporary poverty. For me, this came during the dot-com bust in 2001, when getting work as a web developer was essentially impossible. This happened to a lot of my friends in the industry, too. Those were tough times for folks in my line of work. I took a job as a Costco stocker for a time. Some friends took various odd jobs, or moved back in with family.
When talking to friends, family, and some of my readers here at The Declination, I can safely say that most of us have experienced temporary poverty. When I was born, my father was broke and just barely struggling to keep the lights on and food on the table. But that, too, was temporary. My wife’s family came from Cuba with nothing but the clothes on their backs, all that Castro permitted them to take with them. But their poverty was temporary, also. My wife’s grandfather quickly landed a job (all physical labor, but that was enough) and he managed to claw his way out of poverty. Her father managed to prosper, working his way up from a minimum wage pharmacy worker job to part-owner in a lucrative pharmacy business.
What is the difference between those who fall into poverty, for whatever reason, and those who stay there?
There is a mindset I’ve seen with people who are stuck in permanent poverty. A family friend, who for sake of anonymity I will call Harry, exemplifies the permanent poverty situation quite well. Harry was a general contractor, and had a set of skills that ought to have made him permanently well off. But when he’d land a good contract, and score some hefty profit, he would quickly burn through money. Harry’s house would be filled with toys, from a new lifted F-150, to boats, RVs, motorcycles, whatever. And then, a year or two later, after going through several lean months, the possessions would disappear one at a time, sold or repossessed by the bank.
Feeling sorry for Harry, my father helped him score a job worth a substantial amount of money. Half was to be paid upfront, the remainder upon completion of the job. But Harry spent the advance too quickly, burning through it at the bars and the strip clubs, and found he did not have enough money leftover to buy all the supplies needed to finish the work. The broken contract cost him his contractor’s license, and he found himself out of work. Things continued to go downhill after that, and he spent several months in jail on some unrelated charge.
Harry has since been released, and is back working in construction, but now as a regular laborer. His lucrative career as a general contractor is gone forever. And even still, after all this, he quickly spends his money on booze, women, and toys, and finds himself in financial pickles. So far as I know, Harry has never taken a dime of welfare money, but he is still stuck in permanent poverty. And all the help my father and I could give him was for naught.
The thing is, you could give Harry a million dollars, and it would soon vanish. Just as you could give some folks on welfare piles of money, and in the long run it would do them no good. The money would not improve their lot, but if taken out of your paycheck, it could worsen your lot. That isn’t to say money can’t help a poor man at all. Those who are in temporary poverty may very well be helped by a timely infusion of cash, or some food, shelter, or otherwise.
Differentiating between the temporarily impoverished and the permanently impoverished is a mission we’ve largely outsourced to the government, and I consider that a mistake. The government is ill-equipped to do this. Some of the temporarily impoverished may be turned away, and many of the permanently impoverished may supplied with money and/or benefits that are, essentially, wasted. Take this story, confirmed by Snopes, of a man using his girlfriend’s EBT card to buy steak and lobster. He then resold the food for cash, 50% of the value of the original food. He was caught and arrested for fraud; for reselling the food and using someone else’s benefits. But this sort of thing goes on all the time. And sometimes the EBT benefits are sold more directly. And let us not forget the FEMA cards after Katrina, often being used for strip clubs and booze, not unlike what Harry did with his profits. Some got caught. I suspect many more got away with it.
The point is, some of these folks have a mindset that mires them in permanent poverty. Even given the food, they will sell the food at a discount and use it for something else. Given the welfare cash to pay bills, they will spend the money on something else. Give them millions, and they will soon be broke again. Such aid only truly improves the lot of the temporarily impoverished. And even then, I’ve never taken such benefits, even when temporarily impoverished, and neither have most folks I know. Most of the time, we can get out of temporary poverty with some bootstrapping and some assistance from family and friends.
How do you change the mindset of the permanently impoverished? I don’t know. What I do know is that if the purpose of government welfare spending is to lift them out of this state, it’s not going to work. It may help the temporarily impoverished, though I’d argue we could do that more efficiently via private means. But the permanently poor are going to stay that way, short of changing their mindset. I’ve spoken at length on the possibility that pain is a good teacher; that maybe making people too comfortable in poverty (the regularity and guarantee of government assistance) may work against learning the habits and mindset necessary to escape poverty. But Harry’s example is also instructive, he’s had every incentive in the world to change his behavior, and he never did. Some people may be beyond our help. It’s an unpleasant thing to contemplate, but it may nonetheless be true.
The question is, if some people are beyond our help, if lifting them out of poverty is beyond our means, what is our responsibility to them? Do we owe the government an ever-increasing slice of our earnings to fail to help them? Where does our obligation end? To those in power, of course, middlemen taking their slice of the action, the answer is that the obligation never ends, and is an essentially unlimited mandate.
A reader of The Declination by the alias of fslenentine had this to say on the matter of Padraig and others like him.
The question of Padraig’s intellectual insecurity is more consequential than is generally realized.
Today, intelligence is increasingly the most important attribute one can possess. No longer are there multiple avenues to social worth, just the one.
The problem is that most people aren’t smart enough to be special, and two thirds of the population is average to below average.
This has produced a culture of lying. Everyone has to pretend to be smart, and we all have to pretend that they are so in order to avoid being called out for our own banal mediocrity. After all, the average IQ in this country is 98 but the average self-reported IQ is 118, more than a full standard deviation away.
The internet makes it incredibly easy to give the superficial appearance of intelligence. Consider the old tactic of “link-storming” in which someone would just post, in place of an actual argument, links upon links which often only have passing relevance.
The end result of this is that most everyone is pretending to be smarter than they are, and thus live lives of deceit. They are wracked with insecurity and it manifests in malice.
Psychologically speaking, they’re angry and resentful at the world because they aren’t as special as they’ve been told and/or imagine themselves to be.
I call it the “American Idol” problem in which a competent but unspectacular singer is turned down and leaves in utter shock, having never considered that he/she might not be good enough. After all, everyone told them how great they were.
People who live fraudulent lives are prone to resentfulness and then true malice.
I suspect that this has much to do with the embrace of postmodern marxism.
Universities, in a classic sense, challenge students with truly difficult material from truly remarkable minds. The brutal truth is that most people aren’t intellectually equipped to deal with Kant, Aquinas, Jung, and so on.
Bringing in more students means lowering the bar, intellectually speaking (and please, this is no comment on gender or race because that’s the first place Padraig will go. It’s a pure numbers game), not just for students but teachers.
Now we have generations of failed intellectuals with delusions of grandeur and wracked with resentment, unable to solve the immensely complex problems that society presents. As such, they retreat into pseudo-intellectualism, i.e. postmodernism.
It demands no rigor and affords them the ability to create what is the equivalent of fan theories about movies. Clever, fun, but meaningless. More so, they bury it in opacity. They abhor clarity for it exposes the vacuity of their efforts.
Increasingly mediocre teachers combined with even more increasingly mediocre students means a ripe environment for pseudo-intellectualism.
This affliction affects the slightly above average person the most because they’re smart enough to know that they’re above average, but not smart enough to be insightful or special. Thus, what’s their intelligence worth? To them it should entitle them to a place of status. Instead it just means that they can be a mid-level accountant or marketing manager. That’s simply not enough. They expected more. They were promised more. Now they feel angry and betrayed which causes them to lash out.
My rambling point is this: we overvalue pure intelligence and thus we create a situation in which many, many people have to pretend to be smarter than they are, and that produces psychological resentment, which is the foundation of malice.
Enter Padraig. He’s not here to discuss, which is what intelligent people generally do. They recognize the limits of their intellect and enjoy discussing with people who see the world differently. He’s not here for that. He’s not even here to lecture. He’s not even here to show-off his superior mind. He’s here to establish his bona fides as a true intellectual by attacking. That’s all he has: malice.
The all-too obvious problem is that he’s not particularly impressive. I don’t think he’s stupid but he seems perfectly average to slightly-above average. He offers no original thoughts of substance and I think it’s because he doesn’t have any, and he knows it, which is why he’s here, attacking a small blog.
Dystopic is, in his mind, an easy target. He wouldn’t risk going after someone who’s a heavyweight. Hell, I doubt he’d even risk attacking a minor leaguer like Ben Shapiro. He has no intellectual heft and he knows it. He just thinks Dystopic and his viewers don’t either.
This is a very important concept to understand. I’ve said for a long time that many Lefties are motivated by a desire to appear intelligent and moral, to be superior to those knuckle-dragging, hateful Republicans, or whatever the Leftist boogeyman of the day might be.
The question is why?
Fslenentine answered it succinctly. I frequently tell people here that I’m just a regular guy trying to work through the political ratfuck of our age. But the fact is, I could have been a Padraig myself, were circumstances a little different. I recognize in him certain character flaws that I once expressed, though not quite so obviously. Two things conspired to prevent that. First off, while I was probably the smartest kid in my high school (and it was not small), when I began writing software, I realized that much smarter men existed. I soon had the notion that I was uniquely clever or special beaten out of my skull.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, I began gaining recognition for genuine intellectual accomplishments. Nothing too big, nothing that would make me famous or land me a chapter in the history books, but real nonetheless. I started seeing my work out in the world – you’ve probably seen it too, though you’d never know it. And once you accomplish something real and meaningful like that, the sort of false ego-stroking you get from winning Internet debates on meaningless shit feels hollow and fake.
Nonetheless, it’s easy to become a cruel, angry person when reality doesn’t kiss your ass the same way all the fawning idiots of your youth did. I don’t blame a man for going through that period. But I do blame him for never exiting it.
Usually, when you encounter an item with no definitive price tag, it is because the item is significantly overpriced. When a customer must ask for the price, the salesman can estimate wealth, gullibility, and many other things before finding a way to screw the customer. It also provides an opportunity to sell the customer, rather than merely counting on the item and its price to convince the buyer.
In simple terms, forcing another to be open about his wants, and being closed off on your own, gives a man a decided bargaining advantage.
Lately, we’ve seen this at work with Antifa, BLM, #TheResistance, and other assorted left-wing groups. Grievances are produced, from slavery, to the plight of Native Americans, to American foreign adventures in the Middle East. Being honest with ourselves, some of these grievances have at least a historical merit to them. But for such leftist groups, the price for burying the grievance is obfuscated behind buzzwords and jargon. We must dismantle the cisheteropatriarchy, we must check our privilege, we must become a positive advocate for change. Everything from microaggressions to cultural appropriation are cited as examples of these things.
But I ask, what change?
Allow me to step into the shoes of one of Babylon 5’s villains, Mr. Morden, and ask the question: “what do you want?”
Well, leftists? What do you want? What is your price for putting away identity politics and your incessant portrayals of right-wing racism, sexism, homophobia, and islamophobia? These portrayals have silenced some of us, enraged others, and sent many conservatives running for the political closet. And once there, they still voted right-wing. Thus we now have one Donald J. Trump, despite all predictions to the contrary.
Some of us, like the esteemed Francis at Liberty’s Torch,have made peace with the incessant accusations and said something to the effect of “if you think that means I’m a racist then fine, I’m a racist. Now what?” Others, like myself, maintain that the portrayal of racism as the greatest of all evils is a mistake, dredged up because of the relative historical freshness of Nazi evil, and America’s own struggles with slavery. These evils most Americans are familiar with, but judging from the proliferation of Che Guevara t-shirts, the evils of Communism are less well understood.
And so racism becomes the number one evil in America, a sort of 21st century red scare, except there are even fewer to play the part of the reds (and many more actual reds).
All of that is immaterial, however. What is the end goal of the leftist? What does he want? What does his ideal America (or world, for those of a globalist persuasion) look like? Who gets to live there? What becomes of us and others who do not fit this progressive vision of the future?
When asked, leftists are often quite silent on the price. Just today, one explained that I should google the matter (never mind that I’ve exhausted google as a resource for this) because she didn’t want to “perform free emotional labor” on my behalf. Naming the price is now something that, in itself, costs money. Imagine if you asked the salesman what the price of a thing was, and he replied “you have to pay me to find out.”
Like the little psychological trick of decreasing sticker shock with slick salesmanship, the left understands that by hiding the price, they increase the possibility of ripping off some gullible idiot. Namely, us. And it works well enough on some. Enough that the thought of being accused of racism or prejudice is enough to elicit outright fear in many, not just an answer to the question.
Once an accusation of racism is leveled, very little is sufficient to dismiss it. Do you have many friends of the race in question? RationalWiki tells you that this is insufficient (after all, Hitler liked one Jew). You’re still a racist. What if, instead, you married a black woman, loved her and her family, and had a child with her? Well, you’re still a racist, because as some Puppy-kickers explained on Facebook (they have since deleted the posts in question, but I saved a screenshot, and Brad Torgersen can confirm it), black pussy doesn’t mean you aren’t racist. The Puppy-kickers even made this into a t-shirt. This argument was recently resurrected on Twitter by Talib Kweli Greene where he explained that if you marry an Indian woman, you’re still a racist, you just like Indian pussy.
So your friends, family, and relationships are dismissed. The accusation still stands. And remember, you are guilty unless proven innocent. And to prove your innocence, you must embrace leftist politics. That is the only accepted coin. And even by doing that, you would still have to abase yourself thoroughly and completely. Meanwhile, a woman who murdered her own 4 year old son applied to Harvard, and was denied. Naturally, this had something to do with racism, according to Vox.com. Of course it has little or nothing to do with being a convicted murderer of a child.
Ultimately, the choice is this: convert to leftism, or risk being tarred as a racist with no possible way to prove otherwise, because you are guilty until proven innocent, and all evidence except leftist political sentiments will be summarily dismissed as insufficient.
Meanwhile, a reasonable man might be inclined to ask the price of buying this weapon off the left. What would it take for them to put it away?
Their rants and raves on this matter are difficult to parse. Ta-Nehisi Coates penned a long piece in support of reparations, and when I first read it I expected a concrete answer to the question “what do you want?” Instead, we were treated to a historical lecture on the plight of blacks in America. We already knew this. Everybody knows about slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination against blacks. How can anyone not know? The media has been bombarding us with these things for as long as I’ve been alive. And if the media wasn’t, BLM sure has been making a rather more raw effort at doing so. We get it. These things happened, and blacks got a raw deal.
What I want is a price. What are the demands? What do they really want?
I suspect the reason the demands aren’t named is that the sticker shock is likely to be quite mighty. I recall reading some time ago (and I can’t remember where presently, but if any of my readers know, please reply in the comments) that one black leader suggested a one-time payoff of $1 million to each black citizen. That bill would come out to approximately $36 trillion, approximately double the GDP of the United States, and likely an impossible sum. But to be honest, I suspect the left’s real demands would be much more expensive, and involve something much more Marxist than a massive one-time payment. The left would probably want to ensure the racist right-wingers never got to express their racism again, and would need to be actively suppressed. Somebody has to be the kulaks when things go bad, after all.
In the end, it’s just like Barack Obama’s campaign of hope and change. What change? How much will it cost? Hopeful for whom? These are questions the left leaves unanswered. There are never any (accurate) price tags on their merchandise. And so, I’ve no interest in buying.
Earlier, I spoke of hardship, and the notion that our world is a fallen world; that a utopia of man is impossible. But the philosophical principles that hold up this view are much more fundamental than all that. It boils down to something Nassim Nicholas Taleb discusses in his books rather frequently. A certain degree of hardship produces resilience in a man. It tests him, teaches him, makes him stronger. Like how building muscle requires a certain level of pain to achieve. Without this pain, strength is impossible. It’s related to the concept of antifragility, something that gains from disorder, something that benefits from stress and pain. Human life is like this.
This is a fundamental bone of contention between what we account as the political Left and the political Right. Ever notice how many Leftists are opposed to the very concept of punishment (save for their political enemies, of course)? Spanking your child is child abuse, to them. Imprisonment of criminals is unfair. Some have even come the view that prisons ought to be closed; that nobody really commits a crime, for free will and choice do not exist.
Poverty causes crime, in their view. So if fault is to be assigned, it must be pinned on the evil rich people who took the wealth from the poor. Redistribution will fix it, they say.
This goes against not just human nature, but Mother Nature. Hardship produces strength. Or maybe it kills you. But either way having everything provided for you, having the eternal safety net, the assurance that no matter what happens, you will be safe, winds up sucking away human potential.
Unfortunately, this is an unpleasant truth. The child doesn’t want to be spanked, even if he must be. People don’t want to suffer through pain to gain their reward. And so they are often receptive to the charms of folks who say that all is possible without this pain. Just give the poor man some money; just give the sick man some care, and the hungry man some food. It’s so simple, so easy. And it’s so difficult for the mind to reject the idea. The simplistic morality of it is clear and easy to grasp. And it’s hard to look at person suffering, even if the suffering was his own fault, and say “no, let him suffer.”
Get rich quick schemes pop up all the time, and for all the evidence that they do not work, people still fall for them. Every diet plan on the TV is about some way to lose weight without exercise and while being able to eat things that are tasty and satisfying. Hunger and pain from a day of hard exercise… these are the prices paid for achieving the goal.
Deep down, this belief separates people rather obviously. One sees a man in pain, a man dealing with some terrible problem, and thinks immediately that society has failed him; that his pain can be taken away by waving a government wand. And sometimes, the government wand can do exactly that. It can remove the pain from that man. But at what cost, not only in dollars, but also in the soul of the man so “helped?”
Some years ago, I recall watching all of the old Milton Friedman Free to Choose videos, and there was some interview conducted with some welfare recipients in Britain. They were ordinary folks, a small family just trying to get by. But they lamented that welfare was actually holding them down. Getting a job would take the welfare away and, paradoxically, result in them making less money. But without long job experience, they could never rise up the ladder and make more money. Their poverty was made easy for them, escaping it was made difficult.
In such circumstances, I would take the job anyway. I would take the pain and the hardship of making less and doing more in an effort to escape. But the unpleasant truth is, many folks won’t, because they’ve been given an easy path. A path with less pain, less overall hardship. Good intentions or none, this path destroyed that young family. It sucked something out of them.
When you spank a child, he’ll look up at you in pain, in anger. In that moment, many parents melt. They can’t stomach that look, that moment of suffering, the tears. And so the punishments stop. But this is to the long-term detriment of the child. It’s a good way to raise a spoiled brat, a child who does not understand consequences.
The problem is that the benefit of pain is not immediately apparent, whereas the benefit from the cessation of pain is immediately apparent. Take this quote from Frank Herbert’s Dune:
“You’ve heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap? There’s an animal kind of trick. A human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper and remove a threat to his kind.”
This requires a certain amount of forward-thinking. The child does not yet possess this thinking, and so the spankings are a way of temporarily providing it to him until he gets the idea on his own. Pain in the now may be beneficial later.
It is also true at a meta level, at a civilizational level. Something that utterly horrifies us may, in fact, be to everyone’s long-term benefit. Consider what would have happened if the first refugee boat floating over to Europe had been sunk on sight? Some would die, this is true, and it would feel horrible. It would cause great pain. But the migrations would have stopped. Maybe there wouldn’t have been dead Syrian children washing up on the beach, because they’d have known not to get on those damned boats to begin with. Now, I suspect the future of Europe is much darker, even, than a few dead kids on the beach. Something very sinister is brewing.
America herself made a similar decision in World War II, to commit what might be seen objectively as a great atrocity: the dropping of nuclear weapons on Japan. We paid a moral price for doing this. But it was the right decision. Accepting the pain of that decision in the near-term prevented worse in the long-term.
Tom Kratman often touches on this theme in his books, where acts that might be seen as barbaric and utterly cruel on their own are actually a form of mercy when measured in the long run.
Don’t take this as an ‘the end justifies the means’ argument of the sort espoused by Communists either, however. Communists assured folks that the revolutionary utopia was just a few more piles of bodies around the corner. But it never was. The promised utopias never came, the payoff never arrived. In the end, we are forced to conclude that, to the Communist leaders, the piles of dead bodies were a feature; an end, not a means. The utopia was a lie.
In the end, the possible utility of pain is a fundamental point of contention between the political Right and the Left. The Left can’t look past the first boat of refugees to see the chaos and conflict beyond, they cannot see past Hiroshima, filled with civilians, to the piles of bodies required to force the war to a close via other means. They cannot see past the poor person struggling to make ends meet financially to the soulless culture of dependency beyond.
They are the children recoiling from a spanking, wondering why their loving parents would ever do this horrible thing to them. They don’t understand that pain can be a benefit.