Sunday, September 8, 2019

Week 51: Equality

In a prima facie sense, it might seem nice, even desirable, for everyone everywhere to have the same of everything. In such a world, outcomes, such as health, wealth and happiness, would be distributed equally among all people. Want, and by extension avarice, would be banished to the pages of history. Everyone would sow the seeds of plenty and reap the harvest of prosperity.

Upon even superficial reflection, such a pursuit turns out to be a fool’s errand and can quickly be seen as antithetical to individual liberty and incongruent with nature itself.

In terms of the individual and of liberty, each of us has our own interests, desires, pleasures, wants and even needs. What I find to be a pleasurable outcome of today’s pursuits may bring displeasure to you. If I had my way, each day would be spent on my paddleboard with one of my dogs along for the ride. The outdoors and a pack of dogs may be repugnant to someone else. (Although, I have a hard time believing that if they knew my dogs!) Conversely, someone else may find a day spent shopping in an air-conditioned mall to be an enjoyable endeavor. I would liken that to the misery described in Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. So, as you can see, individual tastes stand in the way of equal outcomes when considering personal fulfillment.

In terms of nature, people are also different. Yes, we all need water, food and shelter, as Maslow describes in his hierarchy of needs. However, each of us requires different amounts or types of these staples of life. An athlete may require greater caloric intake and more water than someone with a sedentary lifestyle in order to physically function at an optimal level. A nomadic herdsman may require a significantly different type of shelter than a businesswoman in Manhattan.  Yes, these may be extremes in terms of examples, but they illustrate the point.

So, to achieve a state of equality described in the opening paragraph of this letter, someone somewhere must account for these differences and take action to eliminate their impact. Someone somewhere must exercise control – control over the athlete, the herdsman, the businesswoman, and yes, control over you and me.

Throughout history, philosophers and futurists have written much about such a state and the perils therein inherent. Plato in Republic (381 B.C.), Thomas More in Utopia (1516), Yevgeny Zamyatin in We (1921), Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1932) and Lois Lowry in The Giver (1993), to name a few, describe states in which some sort of outcomes equality is attempted. Each delves into the perverse and frightening results of such states, and they illustrate why such states are impossible, even immoral. They also demonstrate why states that endeavor to create such utopian conditions are doomed for failure and for ruin.

In Republic, all that may be otherwise enjoyed by the individual (e.g., property, family, etc.) are sacrificed for the common good. In such as state, where everyone lives for everyone else, happiness is elusive, as Adeimantus found. Honor and glory are not to be had, as Glaucon found.

In Utopia, we again see a lack of personal property, a subjugation of one person to another, a central authority manipulating the lives of each person – even whether or not a person is allowed to remain in his or her home, his or her city or on the island of Utopia. Individuals are but pawns of the state. There is no privacy, because it is assumed that a person will behave badly unless being observed by all. This, as mentioned in an earlier letter, gives into the belief that people are fundamentally bad. I believe this premise to be false. How, I ask, can that be true?

In We, people are reduced to numbers and their lives are run by a central power according to the Table, or instructions for what is to be done and when. All people live in glass buildings, again, a belief that people are fundamentally bad and must be watched. As is found commonly in similar arrangements, people are encouraged to watch one another and to report others for violations of the rules. As also is often the case, wrongdoers are put to death.

In A Brave New World, people are artificially created, born into a rigid caste system and drugged in order to maintain an orderly society. Granted, equality is not the goal of Huxley’s state in this work, but it is an illustration of the perils of centralized control to try to achieve some sort of societal utopia.

In The Giver, the concept of “sameness” is extolled by the “Community,” a group of towns based on the principle that harmony can be achieved if differences among people are more or less eliminated. The Giver, as with A Brave New World, drugs the populace to achieve this end. Society is planned by a central authority, embodied in a group elders. By the way, one of my favorite actors, Jeff Bridges, did a great job as the Giver in the movie adaptation of this book.

Common threads in utopian philosophy are that equality of outcomes is desirable and that elimination of individualism through the application of central control is necessary to achieve such equality. I would argue that such control destroys those very things that make us human, those very things that help us climb Maslow’s hierarchy from the physiological needs toward self-actualization.

Take, for example, the construct of the family. In many works about utopia, the family unit is eliminated. Certain women are selected for the communal role of child-bearers. Their progeny, through various mechanisms based on the writer’s concept of utopian society, are raised and trained by some other person, group or family-type unit. The generational bonds from parent to child and so forth and so on have no real meaning.

Another example includes the choice of profession. In some conceptualizations of utopia, the central authority, like the elders in The Giver, evaluate the person and assign to him or her a role that they deem most appropriate to their skills. The individual has no choice in the matter.

Sadly, frighteningly actually, neither of these examples are confined to imaginary societies in the pages of philosophy or fiction. Both hit very close to home, temporally and proximally.

From 1935 to 1945, the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) operated an organization called the Lebensborn, which translates to the Fount of Life. In the Lebensborn, typically unmarried women would give birth to as many “racially pure” and healthy children as possible. Conception was achieved with “racially pure” and healthy members of the SS. When ready, the children would be adopted out to Aryan families that subscribed to and supported Nazi ideology. Sadly, SS racial doctrine was based in part on the eugenics movement espoused by Englishman Francis Galton and American Federick Osborn.

Jump forward to 1975, when for four years, the Khmer Rouge led by the dictator Pol Pot tried to implement a classless society in Cambodia by emptying the cities, tearing families apart and assigning everyone (that is everyone who wasn’t killed, as were teachers, doctors, architects and anyone else perceived as intellectuals) to agricultural forced labor camps. Children were taught, or rather indoctrinated, that families were wrong and that their true allegiance was to the state. Children were even taught to spy on family members and to report anything antithetical to or critical of the Khmer Rouge government and its ideology. Does that sound familiar? Thinking of the Spies children’s group in Orwell’s 1984, children under the Khmer Rouge were compelled to do the same type of spying. This was true, also, for the Hitler Youth organization in Nazi Germany.

Even in the United States, in this day and age, the concept of family is adversely impacted by the role of a central authority (i.e., the federal government) in the lives of citizens. Welfare participation is an example of this impact. Our welfare system is designed in a manner that makes it monetarily advantageous for recipients, particularly recipients with children to avoid marriage and even to grow their family with additional births out of wedlock. This perverse incentive, built into the welfare system, results in impoverished, single-parent families that, despite the best – and often heroic – efforts of the parent, struggle to get by. Couple this with the horrendous state of public education in impoverished neighborhoods, and you end up with a disastrous, desperate situation that becomes self-perpetuating, leading to generations of our fellow human beings, who are lost to the blessings of liberty.

Coming “to the rescue” is the government, which tells these families that the government is there to help. Recall former First Lady Hillary Clinton stating that it takes a village to raise a child. On the surface, this may sound nice – everyone chipping in, everyone caring about everyone else. I agree that our lives are enriched by the connections we make with others and what we can learn from others, in all the richness of our diversity. Clinton’s concept of a village was not this voluntary type of association. Her vision was about the forced transferring of responsibility from individuals to society, specifically the government. Think about the miscreants whose backsides warm the seats of Congress. Would you want them raising you or, someday, your children? I would not.

Advocates of utopia know that the family is indeed the foundation of society. It is the setting in which we begin the learning process. It is the environment in which we first learn to interact with others, which is the precursor to the broader social contract. It is the structure that helps form the moral and ethical principles that inform our worldview. It is a place into which the government does not have an unobstructed view. Consequently, the family is the most dangerous institution to those who believe in utopian principles.

So much for the family and its role as a cornerstone in the social contract. Let us turn now to our work.

In 1993 in the United States, Mrs. Clinton was selected by her husband, President Bill Clinton, to lead a taskforce that would reform healthcare for Americans. One provision of her proposed reforms included a role for the federal government in determining how many physicians were needed in the various fields and specialties of medicine. No longer would a medical student interested in some area, such as orthopedic surgery, be able to pursue that type of work, unless it was deemed necessary by a central committee and approved by that committee for that student to pursue that career.

Just think for a moment about all of the innovation and beneficial advances in medicine, or any other field for that matter, that have come from the right person in the right place at the right time. These “right” conditions have not been achieved because the government has manipulated people, placement and timing. No! Improvement in the human condition often comes about because of the individual passion a person has for his or her work as well as the sometimes-serendipitous workings of time and place.

Similar control and direction from some central power in determining the professions a person may pursue have been a key component in many totalitarian regimes throughout history. Such was the case in the Soviet Union, particularly in the days following the October revolution of 1917, as well as under three generations of the Kim regime in North Korea in which you are assigned a job, trained for it, and it is your job for life. In time, they all fail to achieve their desired ends. The Soviet Union abandoned this approach to the goal of 100 percent employment. North Korea still uses this approach of total control; it’s results being evident in any examination of the regime and the lives of its people.

Control is an essential component in utopian societies. It can be achieved in a variety of ways. As with soma in A Brave New World or the daily pill (or injection in the movie adaptation) in The Giver, the people were drugged into submission. In the pursuit of utopia, socialist and communist regimes, like the social democratic parties of the Nazis or the modern-day Democrats, and communist parties like the Khmer Rouge or the Soviet Union exercise control through violence, terror, threats, and most dangerously and insidiously through policies and laws. Take, for example, the opioid addiction epidemic in the United States today. Overprescribing, if in fact true, subdues the population taking it and makes them dependent on the healthcare system, a system deeply intertwined with government. Despite politicians excoriating the physicians and pharmaceutical companies for this crisis, they still collaborate with and take money from these special interest groups. It makes one wonder if their outrage and concern is genuine or feigned.

I understand that one of those examples may seem quite controversial. Democrats are, after all, our fellow citizens. But we must separate the people who identify as Democrats from the philosophy of the party. Democratic philosophy is focused on equality of outcomes, or creating a level playing field, as they might say. So it is true, too, for many Republicans. This is achieved through the redistribution of private property, such as income and wealth – taking from some to give to others. This redistribution is not voluntary. Instead, it is forced redistribution under the threat of fines and imprisonment. They see a fundamental role of government as compelling one person to labor for the benefit of another. Simply put, the government compels me to give up approximately one quarter of the money I earn so that it may be given by the government to others for their benefit (e.g., subsidies to all manner of industry, such as energy, automotive and farming; funds that promote abortion in vulnerable communities; and health insurance – notice that I did not write health care, which is a very different thing). This is the government requiring that one individual works for the benefit of another.

Does this arrangement not describe a state of servitude? Granted, you and I do not have an overseer lashing us with whips or beating us with canes or clubs. It was not long ago, however, that those in power would easily turn firehoses or release attack dogs on those sought equality under the law.

Perhaps ironically, this party, which today claims to extol the virtue of equality, is the same party that fought for slavery in the Civil War, that opposed Civil Rights legislation and from whose ranks groups like the Ku Klux Klan were born.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that today’s Democrats are crazed, lynching mobs of power-hungry socialists. No, they are much more insidious and much more dangerous, as are many, if not most, of their Republican colleagues in the chambers of Congress and in the halls of government.

I would argue that politicians today, regardless of affiliation with the Democrat or Republican parties, are more concerned with establishing and perpetuating their own power than they are with ensuring that individual Liberty and equality, as envisioned by the Founders, are preserved and protected for We the People. To solidify their power, they must make us think that they are necessary to our happiness and are our protectors from a society that would take advantage of us and that would do us harm.

One way they foster this thinking is by casting our individual differences as evil and by promising us that they alone can mitigate the ill effects of difference by planning a society in which our outcomes are essentially the same. This approach preys on the Hobbesian notion that we are, in a state of nature, nasty and brutish.

Another way they do this is built on the foundation of mistrust they have laid. They create all manner of laws and regulations based on the false idea that differences are bad. Look through the Federal Register and you will find laws, rules and regulations that apply to treating one group differently from another, be it based on gender, race, color, age or any other characteristic that outwardly differentiates one person from another. In none of this legislation is any consideration given to the inward attributes that truly define our humanity – our hearts, minds and souls.

With outright oppression, such as police turning dogs and firehoses on black Americans and white supporters in the 50s and 60s, government control and hypocrisy has been on display, naked in the evil ideology of its purveyors. With legislative oppression, inequality is concealed in the voluminous pages of the Federal Register, virtually inaccessible to all but those who have studied the language of juris prudence. That is why I say it is insidious. Their efforts to separate us are hidden behind twisted language that is buried in the law; law that truly benefit one type of person – the politician.

So, I’ve painted a pretty rosy picture, wouldn’t you say? If history indeed serves as a teacher, there is a silver lining. When I look at societies in which central control and planning and the manipulation of the lives of the people have been core to their systems of governance, nearly every one of those societies has crumbled or is crumbling. Some are even trying, to varying degrees, to manage a transition away from social control toward freedom and liberty.

The USSR fell in the 90s, and they are still trying to determine what that means for the Russian people and the people of the former satellite nations of the Soviet Union. The Khmer Rouge is no more. The regime in North Korea, which has been on the verge of collapse, has begun making overtures to the south, even appearing under a unification flag in various Olympic games. In our own country, many aspects of the central planning efforts of the New Deal were ruled unconstitutional. China, really the last remaining, major communist stronghold, has been for a number of years embracing greater economic freedom for its citizens, something that I believe will serve as a precursor to political and social freedom for the Chinese people.

Some will say that a little bit of socialism or a little bit of government control is not only necessary but is a good thing. They will hold up the examples of Sweden, Canada and Britain, but they will ignore the history and social development of these nations compared to ours. Nima Sanandaji’s book, Scandinavian Unexceptionalism: Culture, Markets and the Failure of Third-Way Socialism, exposes the false narrative about Nordic socialist utopianism. Its arguments can also serve as a lens for us to view nations like Canada and Britain. The bottom line for me is to always question thoroughly the ruling class’s efforts and motives for convincing us, the People, to give up responsibility for our own wellbeing and to relinquish it to the panacean promise of equality they claim is inherent in their control and planning.

Again, think of who comprises the ruling class. Harry Truman called them the C students of the world. Almost daily, they are exposed in the media as much, much worse. Philanderers, liars, embezzlers, creatures of a quid-pro-quo system that makes them wealthy, often at the expense of you and me. Am I flawed, too? Of course! Each person is. Perfection, I believe, is found only in God. So, for those of us in the mortal realm, degrees of perfection and imperfection are relative. I believe, on whole, each individual is vastly more capable of determining what is right or wrong for himself or herself than politicians and government functionaries in Washington. In making decisions for ourselves, we have our own self-interest in mind, and we weigh our options accordingly. Those in government almost universally must consider being re-elected and maintaining power. Certainly, their re-election is linked to the promise of ensuring you and I are able to fulfill our own self-interests, but as government grows and as those in government devise new and perverse ways to divide and conquer us, that linkage becomes increasingly tenuous.

How long will it be before we are required to take our daily dose of soma or some other drug to pacify us and extinguish the flame of our individual desires? How long will it be before we are required to listen to an unending stream of propaganda designed to change our thinking, as in literature’s 1984, or in the real-life factories and fields of North Korea? That sounds so far-fetched, doesn’t it?

The scary truth is that it has been happening. I would suspect it is still happening. The CIA’s Project Artichoke and Project MKUltra, both sought to achieve mind control through various types of drug addiction. The government also collaborated with universities to test the efficacy of brain washing, based on the power of suggestion and coercion from perceived authority figures. Yale’s Milgram experiments and Stanford’s prison experiments are just a couple examples of these types of research.

Broadly speaking, many of these efforts are undertaken with the implicit and sometimes explicit goal of creating a social structure in which everyone is equal. Should we entrust the pursuit of this goal to those who would employ such unethical, deceptive and immoral means to achieve it? For myself, I have come to the conclusion that the answer is an unequivocal no. Each person should investigate, analyze and carefully consider their own answer to this question. I hope these blogs help you in your deliberations. Even the thoughts that I share with you – question them, test them, evaluate them on your terms and through your own research, and guided by your own moral compass.

I regret having to write such a doom and gloom post. I think we may rest assured that no politician starts out in life with the plan to subject another human to drug-induced psychosis for his or her own political gain. At least I sure hope that’s an accurate assurance. So, what is it then that transforms otherwise good and decent people into monsters who would so abuse their fellow human beings? I think Lord Acton had it right when he named that corrupting force: power. He said, “Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” While our rulers are not yet absolute, they become closer and closer to absolutism with every shred of Liberty that we give up to them.

John Barrymore said, “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.” This is part of my purpose in writing these posts. I don’t want to grow old. I want to trust that my dreams and yours hold in them the reality of a beautiful tomorrow in which each person is free to create and to fulfill their own destiny and to voluntarily engage in commerce with others – be that commerce for the goods and services of one another’s labor, or for the ideas and opinions of one another’s mind, or for the love in their hearts. I dream of a future in which we are not subject to the will or whim of someone else, but are free to work in harmony with others, harnessing the goodness and beauty of each person’s inward qualities that today’s laws, rules and regulations fail to consider.

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