Thursday, June 14, 2012

Conservatism and the Implications of Human Nature

Let's try to get to the essence of the nub of the gist of our political differences. For me, conservatism is simply the cultural and political implications (in that order) of human nature, both good and bad. Given the constraints of human nature, only so much "hope" is rationally warranted and only so much "change" can be reasonably expected, man being what he is.

Which is why leftism in all its forms starts with the denial of human nature. Once that particular obstacle is removed, then anything is possible. For example, the left talks about "greed" as if it is something invented by conservatives instead of an intrinsic defect in man, like some kind of original sin or something.

And once it is projected into conservatives, it is possible to imagine that the state isn't susceptible to the same greedy impulses. Then one lives in a fantasy world in which corporations are driven to increase profits but the state isn't driven to increase revenue. This naive mindset can only be maintained if one has already engaged in primitive psychological splitting, projecting the bad into the private sector and the good into the public sector.

Me? No, I do not imagine that huge corporations are magically good or altruistic, nor do I believe that the state is intrinsically evil. Rather, both institutions are shaped and limited by three things: human nature, a system of incentives, and negative feedback. The first cannot change, but the second two can limit or exacerbate the damage.

In an ideal world of market forces, businesses are subject to a continuous flow of corrective feedback known as profits and losses. A business owner can be as greedy as you like, but this greed is impotent if it doesn't translate to providing a product or service that people want, and for which they are willing to part with their cash. The leftist will no doubt argue that people want the wrong things!, but that's a different argument, one that again touches on human nature.

For example, it is natural for human beings to seek and enjoy sugary substances. The conservative argues that this is no doubt true, for which reason the essence of psychological maturity involves mastery of one's impulses, whether they are directed toward food, sex, drugs, or any other pleasurable activity.

No one can call himself a proper human if he hasn't even mastered himself. Temptations are everywhere, and that's just the way it is. In the Islamic world they don't like sexual temptation, so they put women in black bags. Good idea? Or should they apply a more Bloombergian rule, and just bag women with C-cups and larger?

The leftist instinctively rejects the strategy of self-mastery because of a paradoxical affirmation and denial of human nature. One also sees this in their hatred of "abstinence," as if sexual impulses are beyond anyone's control, unless, of course, you use dirty words in front of a fragile female coworker, in which case you should be sued and fired. I mean, isn't the whole point of political correctness that people can be bullied and cowed into unnatural thought and behavior?

The best part of human nature is actually supernatural and cannot be reduced to nature. Quintessentially this applies to free will. The leftist denies this higher human nature, but accepts the lower nature. And since we have no power of free will to exert control over our lower nature, we need the state to intercede and do this for us. As a result, the state treats us all like impulsive babies, even those of us who have attained control of our bladders and mouths.

Dennis Prager makes this point in a recent essay, Science Demands Big Government. Specifically, with regard to Mayor Bloomberg's proposed ban on beverages he doesn't like, a Harvard professor of evolutionary biology helpfully points out that human beings "have evolved to need coercion." There is a contradiction here, because science proves that there is no such thing as human nature, and that the state can control it.

Note first of all that this is an ironic conclusion for a "progressive," since it denies any human capacity for progressing beyond our most primitive impulses without assistance from the state. And those of us who believe we can control those impulses on our own, thank you, are not only wrong but ANTI-SCIENCE!

Such an attitude, if permitted to stand, leads to devastating -- and profoundly anti-human -- consequences. For example, if we use natural selection "to guide social policy, little that is truly decent will survive. Is there anything less prescribed by evolution than, let us say, hospices?" Likewise, "if evolution demands the survival of the species, wouldn’t evolution call for other 'coercion' -- against abortion, for example?"

Left unanswered because the left won't answer is the question of how private human beings cannot know -- or at least exert control over -- what is bad for them, but a public human being -- a state bureaucrat -- somehow magically acquires both the knowledge and the wisdom to coerce others. Or in other words, government employees are better than us. But you knew that already. In fact, too good for us, really. We are not worthy of his demonization!

Thomas Sowell makes a similar point in a piece called Barack Obama: Dictator of the Left (Sowell is an obvious racist, so forgive the hyperbolic title). In it, he essentially shows how politicians such as Obama are shielded from the rigors of negative feedback, very much unlike the market.

For example, "the Obama administration can arbitrarily force insurance companies to cover the children of their customers until the children are 26 years old. Obviously, this creates favorable publicity for President Obama. But if this and other government edicts cause insurance premiums to rise, then that is something that can be blamed on the 'greed' of the insurance companies."

The identical dynamic played out in the collapse of the real estate bubble in 2008, in that instance, the state forcing lenders to make bad loans to unqualified borrowers.

In both cases, note that the state is subject to feedback, but not market feedback. Rather, the state responds to political feedback, so it will implement destructive policies in exchange for positive political feedback and refrain from helpful ones if they generate negative political feedback.

Back to the reality of human nature. Human nature isn't, of course, "unitary." Rather, there are things like sex and temperament through which that nature is inflected. Now, it is clear that political differences are rooted in these deeper distinctions, for which reason the quackademic left, for the past 60 years or so, has been attempting to pathologize half the spectrum: the male half, precisely.

Scruton discusses these contrasting "political temperaments" in his How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism. I think you'll agree that it is just common sense.

For example, there are "individualists, who look for opportunities and freedoms, and who are disposed to hold people responsible for their acts." On the other hand, there are "egalitarians, who seek a solution that will not make distinctions between people, and who are apt to to entrust problems to the state, as the impartial provider and distributor of goods."

Scruton has just defined the characterological distinction between (classical) liberals and leftists, and no amount of tenured nonsense is going to eliminate the former, at least not here in the United States, which is founded on those very principles.

Does this mean there is no place for the egalitarian impulse? Of course not. It's not going anywhere either, at least so long as there are, for example, single women, feminized men, and various victim groups anointed by the left.

My problem is that I see no need to embody the egalitarian impulse in a massive and intrusive state, just as I see no need to displace self-control into the government, a la Bloomberg.

A fully functioning -- which is to say, integrated -- human being harbors a complementarity of mercy and severity, compassion and justice, violence and magnanimity, self-interest and charity, male and female, individual and social, etc. I think to embody just one or the other is to be in a state of imbalance, and that a big part of maturity involves realizing -- and tolerating -- their unresolvable complementarity.

And that is a state no state can force upon you.

9 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

I like what you said recently about genetic mutations being rarely conducive to survival. Most of the "new" ideas result in catastrophic failure if implemented.

No, I do not imagine that huge corporations are magically good or altruistic, nor do I believe that the state is intrinsically evil. Rather, both institutions are shaped and limited by three things: human nature, a system of incentives, and negative feedback.

I read this article about Spain's problems. It says that Spain is having trouble selling its bonds and "...an increasingly large amount of Spanish government debt is being bought by its banks".

So the government of Spain is trying to work out a way to recapitalize the banks -- wait for it -- to "...help shore up Spanish banks' balance sheets, giving them back the freedom to loan out money to businesses and individuals - and also buy more government debt".

The banks just want to make more money. The politicians just want to keep the voters happy and/or buy votes with borrowed money. The parasites just want their free stuff, government job, government pension, etc. In a way, it's almost like a free market -- except that there is an awfully interesting relationship between the governments and the central banks.

6/14/2012 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Mush, sounds more like a flea market.

6/14/2012 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Yes, bloodsuckers.

6/14/2012 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

And once it is projected into conservatives, it is possible to imagine that the state isn't susceptible to the same greedy impulses.

Notably, too, it becomes possible for the leftist to believe that he himself is never motivated by greed; that is strictly a conservative and corporate sin.

6/14/2012 06:01:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

It's not going anywhere either, at least so long as there are, for example, single women, feminized men, and various victim groups anointed by the left.

Heh - I initially read that last bit as "groups abominated by the left." Which still works, actually, given that just as there are privileged groups, they must have their untouchables...

6/14/2012 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Temptations are everywhere, and that's just the way it is. In the Islamic world they don't like sexual temptation, so they put women in black bags. Good idea? Or should they apply a more Bloombergian rule, and just bag women with C-cups and larger?"

My cups runneth over.

Well...not mine per se but I do partake of them.
Does that make me greedy or blessed?

6/14/2012 09:00:00 PM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

The denial of human nature is the first step apart, from there our paths split. To the left go the deniers. To the right go the rest of us. It seems the farther along the divergent paths, the fewer the crossroads. At some point, you've gone too far and there's no crossing over.

It seems so simple - so reasonable to understand the things I understand. It's hard to fathom that the deniers don't understand the same. We just speak another language. Sadly.

6/14/2012 09:49:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thomas Sowell makes an important distinction between socialism and fascism.

I concur that Obama is fascist rather than socialist.

In a sense, fascism is even more diabolical than socialism.
At any rate, being a business owner under fascism virtually guarantees you'll become a scapegoat, eventually.

Leftist business owners never seem to realize where the "coercion" (and force) they favor will lead.

6/14/2012 11:46:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Which is why leftism in all its forms starts with the denial of human nature. Once that particular obstacle is removed, then anything is possible."

That's it in a nutshall, which was Rousseau's gift to modernity dressed up as 'freedom'.

Some people, for some reason, seem to think that the sort of freedom that requires an all powerful govt to force you to be free... might not be the sort of freedom you'd like to be at liberty to enjoy. But of course, that's just us reactionary authoritarians agitating for oppressive policies that would forcibly stop some people from forcing their preferences on others.

Such haters.

6/17/2012 09:40:00 AM  

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