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.