Sunday, January 30, 2005
Dichotomy classics – Addressing the Underlying Differences In The Worldviews Of The Right And Left
One can debate a variety of issues from opposite poles of the political spectrum. No matter how specific or complex an issue may be, the motivations for a worldview can be traced back to more fundamental beliefs. Many points of contention between the Right and the Left ultimately reflect more basic chasms in philosophical temperament. The subjective natures of such motivations make some values ultimately meaningless as issues for debate. It’s impossible to prove that what’s “fair” to me is fair in the general scheme of things.
In appraising daily events among people, one need not even consider politics to hold impressions as to what is, “fair” or “unfair.” When such values are extrapolated into the political sphere they are often embellished with common cries like, “It’s not fair…!” or, “It wouldn’t be fair if…!”
Anyone who has ever made a work schedule (I used to manage restaurants) realizes the power they hold to reward, punish, or acknowledge an employee by the shifts and hours they assign to them. When such employees take issue with their scheduling fate they inevitably argue the “fairness” of satisfying their personal interest in the matter. “I have more seniority than…” “I should get the good shifts and best hours…” “Why does X have off Saturday, I’ve worked here longer?” Of course seniority is a worthy consideration between employees of similar ability and application, but should a hard working, responsible, or superior worker be given a worse schedule at the expense of a less effective or committed employee who “has seniority?” Is there even such a thing as a “superior” employee, who deserves superior consideration? Similar mundane predicaments arise daily everywhere. Such issues can be extrapolated into the most complex social/political circumstance. Some economic systems clearly reward intelligence or initiative or even tolerate “luck” more than others. Some actually reward or tolerate apathy, sloth, and failure. In my college Teacher Education School, one fellow student once protested that in her classroom all students will get “A’s” because they all have equal potential, and any shortcoming on the part of a student must be the teacher’s fault. (By saying this she was of course also suggesting that she was an “A” producing teacher in general). If everyone is “special” doesn’t that ultimately mean that no one is? (This insightful question was asked by a character in the recent movie, “The Incredibles”).
Is it fair when one sacrifices a dollar to buy a lottery ticket and wins two dollars…or thousands? Is it unfair when they “win” nothing and are a dollar poorer? Should one person be punished for winning or another rewarded for losing? Of course the typical left-minded political idealist would compel such people to “share” the win or the loss. If they didn’t “share” (relinquish) they’d be seen as “selfish” (e.g. “unfair”) and, in the ideal leftist system, probably publicly chastised and punished.
It’s ironic that some who see possession of wealth as unfair also see theft of wealth as…fair!
The entire socialist perspective is ultimately based on the idea of redistribution of wealth as a means of establishing “equality” and by default, “fairness.” To achieve such a “fair and equal” system always necessitates conformity and submission to an arbitrary authority (e.g. The state). Is being forced into such submission fair? Those of us on the right -- classical liberals -- don’t think so.
In the rarified realms of ideal philosophy and religion one can of course speak of everyone as being equal “in the end,” or equal “before the law” or “before God” etc. These ideal values hold little practical significance when genuine standards are applied in appraising the differences among us. In honest contexts, some people are "better" than others (though many people hate hearing that). Certainly some are more honest, thrifty, original, ambitious, or prone to take risks. None are “equal.” There isn’t a molecule in existence that is truly “equal” to another considering factors of time, location, or other contextual status. One can claim it to be unfair to lose a loved one to a natural disaster. Would it be fairer for it to be someone else?
Definitions of fairness always assume that one’s self or groups favored by one’s self should be on the receiving end of such fairness. Then there’s the argument that, “I want a system that is fair to everyone…so give me your money” (a paradox, indeed).
The same obsessions that some have regarding fairness toward individuals or groups are often applied to differences among nations as well.
In the United Nations, random members each get a turn leading its “Human Rights Commission.” This includes unelected dictatorships known for their serious lack of basic human rights – another bizarre manifestation of left-wing “fairness.”
It is often said that America’s wealth and success is unfair in a world where some nations are seen as unfairly poor. Zimbabwe is poor. North Korea is poor. Is this fair? I think it would be more honest and accurate to ask if it’s fair that the citizens of such countries live under authority that deprives them the freedom to pursue wealth and good fortune, but this is never much an issue of concern to those who sympathize with collectivism and the tyranny required to implement it. Robert Mugabe – in classic Marxist style – seized land from white farmers who he decided had owned it unfairly, and gave it to the blacks of Zimbabwe to farm. The result has been that the socialist definition of fairness has once again turned a “bread basket” into a region wrought with famine. Now some would claim that it’s not fair that some countries have so much food and Zimbabwe doesn’t. The socialist solution would no doubt be, to let them continue their stupid Marxist “agrarian reform” and give them food -- or seize it -- from the free market countries that produce surpluses.
In the left’s pathetically simple view; the US is wealthy, North Korea and Zimbabwe are poor, therefore citizens of the US should give their wealth to North Korea, – “We should all learn to share.” Usually the demand is made in a more roundabout way, “We need to do the things required to create a more just and equal order among nations.” How about supporting the concept of giving all citizens the freedom to create, buy, and sell freely, and allowing them to keep the wealth they obtain from such interactions? – Well, no, that’s not quite what they have in mind when calling for socialist "fairness."
One’s sympathy or support for capitalism or communism ultimately arises from the stance one takes in considering what is “fair” in a natural world that takes no sides. To classical liberals, communism -- the seizing of personal property, wealth, and values -- is unfair; to the left and its varieties of socialism, capitalism is unfair because free agents and actions will skew society considerably from a cherished “equality.” To them, it’s simply not fair that life isn’t fair (e.g. doesn’t give them automatic access to conditions as they want them to be).
Self-interest of course enters the picture when considering the motivations that draw one to a side of the political spectrum. First one must acknowledge the existence of self-interest in the first place. The Left prefers the word, “selfish” and thinks the concept is “socially constructed,” but that’s a whole other issue in the dichotomies that separate right from left.
Operating a large company for profit is no more an act of self-interest than imposing state authority over such an industry to placate one’s philosophical yearnings. Is it not an act of self-interest to want one’s own philosophy to be the standard upon which society operates?
Related to the issue of “what is fair” is the often-arbitrary appraisal of what one “deserves.” If someone works hard, is ambitious, makes sacrifices, bides their time, and achieves their goals, I would say they “deserve” the rewards of their actions – monetary or otherwise. To many on the left, however, a person’s mere possession of wealth is in itself cause to claim they “don’t deserve it” and it should be given to people who “deserve it more” (another one of the lefts’ more common and groundless assertions).
Those of us who value our individuality and have faith in our capacity to achieve our goals when unhindered will always see it as unfair when others seek to restrain our free thought and action or deprive us of what we seek or what we have gained. There will also be those who feel their own lower status can only be the result of victim hood at the hands of unfairness. One side of the issue will always favor individuality and freedom, the other, “equality” (of outcome) and coerced “redistribution.” Both sides will be arguing from a standpoint of self-interest. While a belief in self-interest and individual freedom certainly drives the philosophy of the right, the left is no less motivated by self-interest.
When the Right seeks to make the case for what it sees as fair to its own self-interest and values, it need only say, “Leave me alone.” The Left’s case is always stated as a variation on, “Give me your stuff” and, “Do what I tell you to do.” What could be a more unfair definition of fairness?