Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Government Of, By, and For the Unhappy Losers

I would like to discuss human happiness vs. what is typically thought of as "success." Sometimes they go together, but the older and wiser one becomes, the more one recognizes that there is no necessary correlation between the two. Indeed, all you have to do is read a few biographies of the rich and famous to find out how tortured, or driven, or persecuted, or conflicted, or tormented, or insecure, or unsatisfied they were.

Part of the problem is that an unhappy person tends to project happiness elsewhere, into other people. In other words, the unhappy person sees happiness in the people he envies. This is obviously not a true -- or even conscious -- idea of happiness, just a fantasy, often allied with projection of other primitive impulses, such as greed.

When a leftist complains about all those greedy and happy people, you can be sure he's just projecting, and that if he knew how to be happy he'd just be happy without any need to obsess over the projected emotional muddleman. In reality, no matter how much money X has, it has no impact whatsoever on my personal happiness. It can only have an effect in fantasy, and this fantasy needs to be rooted in some personal lack. For every fully functioning man has the means to happiness.

This pathological mechanism almost defines the left, since the left reduces reality to material and economic terms. Now, matter is not nothing, but it clearly isn't everything. Nevertheless, the left has managed to convince the majority that human happiness can be reduced to a crude economic metric, and that it is the task of government to force this metric up via transfers of wealth.

How's that working out? Trillions of dollars spent on the war on poverty, and the needle of human happiness hasn't budged an inch. Not only that, but because people in the meantime have bought into leftist philosophy, they imagine that the government isn't spending enough on the insane project of making them happy (instead of preserving the conditions which allow happiness, more on which below).

There is no question that the welfare state directly undermines happiness by short-circuiting its causes. To cite one obvious example, a big part of happiness involves a feeling of accomplishment for an achievement of something genuinely difficult and worthwhile. At the opposite end we have state-mandated affirmative discrimination, which can confer the effect of achievement on blacks or women or hispanics, but not the cause. But what is an achievement with no cause?

That's right: it's just narcissism, or self-deception, or theft, or cheating. Clearly it's not the real thing, and on some level, every so-called beneficiary of affirmative discrimination knows this. The only way to preserve one's dignity in such a situation is to attack the entire system as corrupt, so that genuine achievers are thought to be just lucky, or connected, or greedy, etc.

I think Obama falls into this category -- a weightless mediocretin who was effortlessly wafted to the top on the winds of white liberal guilt. A man that is literally not permitted to fail can never find true happiness, for what has he achieved? Nothing. If Obama really thought about this -- that is to say, if he were normal -- he would be embarrassed or ashamed. I mean, Ben Carson he is not, and how embarrassing for him to even be seen in the same photo.

Indeed, Obama is Carson's antitype in more ways than one, in that Carson is a man of singular accomplishment who has devoted his life to saving babies, while Obama is a vacuous demagogue and corrupt politician who has devoted his life to murdering them. (And let me emphasize that I have some sympathy for aspects of the pro-choice argument, but I cannot imagine ever being "proud" about it, nor can I imagine being so delusional as to think that abortion isn't a grave evil, irrespective of whether or not it is legal.)

Much of Obama's outlook can be attributed to his implicit awareness of the fact that he has ascended to the top of a system he thinks of as absolutely corrupt. Therefore, in order to preserve his dignity, he will be the one who "fundamentally transforms" this rotten system. He is like someone who becomes a mafia kingpin, and then decides to make the organization legitimate.

The problem is that such a person doesn't really "know anything," so he'll ultimately fail at whatever he tries. In the real world, corporate CEOs aren't just greedy and corrupt mafia godfathers. As Thomas Sowell says, if all it requires to be rich is to be greedy, then we'd all be rich. Problem solved.

Now, any system -- even the very best system in the world -- will be regarded as rotten by those who fail in it, but who cannot take responsibility for their failure. This is just human nature. Few people are brave and insightful enough to say, "I'm a loser and it's my own damn fault," especially when an attractive ideology is available to tell them that nothing is their fault. In a democracy, this can easily lead to a situation in which we have a government of, by, and for Self-deluded Losers, which was precisely one of major headaches of the founders.

In his classic Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Bailyn writes that "faith ran high" among the framers

"that a better world than any that had ever been known could be built where authority was distrusted and held in constant scrutiny; where the status of men flowed from their achievements and from their personal qualities, not from distinctions ascribed to them at birth; and where the use of power over the lives of men was jealously guarded and severely restricted." Only with such a distrust of political authority could institutions spontaneously emerge to "express human aspirations, not crush them" (in Murray, emphasis mine).

The founders were quite aware of the fact that something in a man changes when he goes from private to public -- in short, when he is suddenly given access to political power. Such men are to be profoundly distrusted, especially the ones who seek it. For starters, just what personal defect(s) are they attempting to conceal or compensate for?

That one's for you, Obama.

What? You only want to "help"? Why you passive-aggressive bastard. What about the half of us who not only don't want or need your help, but regard it as destructive even to those you presume to help? When I say that I despise Obama and everything he stands for, I am obviously speaking for millions, not just the imaginary "one percent" of wealthy malefactors who have caused all our problems.

We can be sure that Obama has never had the thought, "what if the founders of this great nation were wiser than I am?" Because to even think the thought would create a contrast so odious, so ridiculous, that he'd banish it from consciousness. It would be like sitting in the shadow of Ben Carson. That won't happen again! Better to just stick with what cognitive heavyweights such as Andrew Sullivan or Chris Matthews feel about him. Ahhhh, that's better!

The founders weren't only aware of the danger of ambitious but mediocre men with power, but concerned about the source of this destructive power. In the past we have called this Loser Power. In nature, a being with no power has no power, period. There's no way to get around it. Only humans can convert loserhood into genuine political clout, making it a farce multiplier. In a quantitative world of majority rule, qualities literally do not count. If 51% believe 2+2=5, it's a done deal.

For which reason a central message of the Federalist is that Loser Power is "a danger so great and so unending that all the structures of the government must be arrayed against them," because "republics collapse when a faction is able to use the state to impose its vision of the good on the rest of society" (Murray).

Are we there yet? Or, is the left correct: that the federal government is just too small and unobtrusive?

To be continued....


Magister said...

I think Obama falls into this category -- a weightless mediocretin who was effortlessly wafted to the top on the winds of white liberal guilt. A man that is literally not permitted to fail can never find true happiness, for what has he achieved? Nothing.

Anton Ego

"You supply the food, and I'll supply the perspective."

Progressivism in a nutshell. This is their only value-added.

mushroom said...

This is rather like the opposite side of the coin to Sultan Knish's analysis of winning the minority vote.

While I get what he is saying, that it is necessary to play the game or as Joan says about it "money on the street", is winning an election the issue?

I like to win, but if the Dodgers all put on red caps, does that make them Cardinals or change who wins the game?

Magister said...

Simple messages for the GOP:

Dems kill the goose.
Dems create plantations.
Dems hate risk.
Dems are about taking, not creating.
Scratch a Dem, find a fascist.
Dems love Cuba.
Dems are about "more for me, not for thee."

Gagdad Bob said...

BTW, the book by Murray is a little dated but quite interesting (a new edition is coming out soon from Liberty Fund). I think I read somewhere that it was his favorite of the books he's written. It gets quite deeply into the whole question of What is happiness?, and how this relates to politics in general, and more particularly, to what the founders had in mind in explicitly setting up a state designed to protect and preserve the pursuit of happiness.

First of all, if you don't know what the Founders meant by "happiness," your political philosophy will veer straight off the rails. Right up Van's alley, I should think.

River Cocytus said...

This is one of the fundamental issues with democracy, but especially with general suffrage democracy - essentially, not simply direct democracy but democracy where even the uneducated can vote.

While it makes sense to keep ambitious men away from office, the word is used in somewhat of a misleading way. Consider Calvin Coolidge: the man clearly had ambition, but not for personal aggrandizement or money or sleaze or getting high. Obviously, the worst thing for a democracy is to have a Loser Power guy in power - one who uses democractic sentiment against its own general interests, which is as the Federalist Papers state in another way, one group making its local good the general good. The concern of the poor is legitimate, but it is not the only concern nor the biggest concern of a nation. To exemplify is simple: try to give to charity beyond your means and you will soon find that like a gambler, you have nothing to give either way. So in the end your imbalance of priorities ends up benefiting no-one, and especially not the poor. If the system designed to help the poor gets itself impoverished, then the poor cannot be helped, priorities be damned.

The big issue seems to be that in general suffrage democracy this innate check gets highly glossed - instead of being a check against narcissists it becomes a check against certain characteristics narcissists have - things which smart narcissists easily play down or disguise, especially ambitious ones.

In general, it seems to become a check against any forceful charisma such that a good leader would need, and you end up with mediocrities with hidden narcissists lurking.

Narcissists would be perfectly willing to tell you you're wrong, but that doesn't mean telling people they're wrong about something makes you a narcissist or a bad leader. But with this extremely low-brow democracy with mass media, it pretty much does.

mushroom said...

Good points, River.

No representation without taxation would be a step toward the fix.

Joan of Argghh! said...

'shroom, my somewhat tongue-in-cheek post is more about what the GOP doesn't do: it doesn't invest in its own future. The heirarchy of the pecking order and whose turn it is at bat sets the GOP up for failure in a world that is changing almost too rapidly to take in.

Dr. Carson, however, is not forming a PAC, he's forming a generation. And that's where the GOP is losing ground. They're waiting for wisdom and logic to catch up to the next generation, for the beauty of their ideas to win the day. But our educational institution has all but guaranteed that they will be too handicapped to evaluate the problem, much less seek out a solution that involves any sort of adversarial challenge. Or real work.

I'm not proposing government money on the street as much as the idea of getting the GOP on the street and out of the country clubs.

Sal said...

Picked up a book at the Goodwill by Thomas Howard on the novels of Charles Williams. Read the Intro and two of the chapters, but realize it would be better to read the novels first.
One of Williams's main themes is that not facing facts will damn you. Especially the facts about oneself, without that, there can be no metanoia.
Instantly thought, of course, of the left, and how their rejection of reality makes everyone's life a little (or big) hell on earth.

From Howard's assessment, Williams seems quite the Racoon.

mushroom said...

I understand. I sorry if it sounded like I was criticizing you or Greenfield. You all are just pointing up where the GOP's desperate "Quest for Fire" is headed.

Jack said...

I just watched a segment of Dr. Ben Carson's talk. That has to be just about one of the best things I've seen in a long, long, LONG time.

Was it me or did Obama look a bit uncomfortable?

Rick said...

"Do you think about retiring?

I’ve just started writing another book. I think it’s my 10th book, and I am so fired up about it.

Can you tell me what it’s about?

Sure I can. I decided to move on with my Paris focus into the 20th century and explore the birth of aviation. And of course, the culminating event is the arrival of Lindbergh in 1927. There were 100,000 people who went out that night to see him come in. And in the crowd were Isadora Duncan and Cole Porter and William Shirer and on and on. This emblematic invention changed the 20th century, and, of course, you see that dramatically in World War I.

You sound excited.

I’m having a ball. I can’t wait to get out of bed every morning. To me, it’s the only way to live. When the founders wrote about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, they didn’t mean longer vacations and more comfortable hammocks. They meant the pursuit of learning. The love of learning. The pursuit of improvement and excellence. I keep telling students, Find work you love. Don’t concern yourself overly about how much money is involved or whether you’re ever going to be famous. I’m giving a talk at Dartmouth this week. It’s called the Hard Work of Writing. And it is hard work. But in hard work is happiness."
~ David McCullough, Harvard Business Review Jan/Feb 2013

Gagdad Bob said...

You've read my mind as to where this post is going: Raccoons are among the most privileged humans that have ever lived.

Gagdad Bob said...

Or McCullough read my mind, anyway. You peeked.

julie said...

Trillions of dollars spent on the war on poverty, and the needle of human happiness hasn't budged an inch.

I hadn't looked at it quite that way before, but of course "making people happy" must be what the war on poverty is about, and also why it is doomed to failure. People in a (relatively) free society who live in squalor will do so no matter how much or how little they have. Squalor - and lets be honest, that's what the war on poverty is really meant to fight - is a state of the soul. It cannot be combated by being fed and pampered; rather, the only way to defeat it is through instilling dignity.

And yes, what a great statement about happiness, Rick! Thanks!

Rick said...

How young does McCullough sound.
And he's 79.

Rick said...

I wanna be David McCullough when I grow up.

Gagdad Bob said...

That would be a contradiction in terms.

Neoteny forever, adulthood never!

julie said...


Rick said...

OT confession,
Even though I've watched it a zillion times, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, I never realized there are two Phil's in this movie. But really one.

Opening Seen

julie said...

Off topic (butt not really), medical advice on how best to watch the SOTU address.

Van Harvey said...

Ahh... that was nice, a cool shower to rinse away the evening's sewage spewage.

Van Harvey said...

Gagdad said "First of all, if you don't know what the Founders meant by "happiness," your political philosophy will veer straight off the rails. Right up Van's alley, I should think"

Yep & yep. Though I had an unusually few words up my alley tonight.

It just seemed like Obama said all that needed to be said. Assuming that you realize words mean something and have consequences, that is... but then if you do, you're already half way up that alley already.

Gagdad Bob said...

Well, it's official: no time for a post that wouldn't just be half-baked nonsense instead of the fully baked kind.

ge said...

Though each and every brain is different
the basic mind we have is all the same:
it's one, it's now, it's open & empty/contentless perfection!
[I and my Father are One--
'she stuck out her tongue and the fun begun']
Once content is added the differences and trouble and politics begin that will never end, yet...
underneath it all
that singular present zeroic naked power & light shines still the same and will be forever, like God, creating and sustaining all but unlocable enthroned in spacelike everywhereness
['she stuck it out at me and I just thumbed my nose...and went on washing my clothes']
extra credit to anyone who recognizes the quotes without googling :)

River Cocytus said...

Right back at ya, GE:

Ledger, ruler, slate and chalk
The old man set them all aside
The guard called, 'we need to talk.'
And turning, broke his stride
'At last the master is called to account
For his keeping such a man as you'
Or what did in truth simply amount
To what the old man already knew
'Tell his daughter to remember well
All that I have taught her here
How to figure and how to spell
All knowledge man holds dear'
And he put upon his neck the shawl
Tattered, was his yoke to bear
And stood against the further wall
'Tell her also to beware --
And remember most the very last
To keep always upon her breath
As I see my life is already past
That life must live again in death
That God is dead - but death instead
Has died and immortality
Comes to those who without dread
Follow the path of Deity.'
The guard nodded, and opened the gate
And stooping undid the iron bands
And although the hour was late
Knelt and kissed the elder's hands
'Son,' said he, 'A time will come
When I too will join the tales of myth
And my memory will be lost to some
Who will misunderstand my discourse with
The master's daughter, and our love
As too I love you as my son
And though Ignatius has written of
How this Eros is made undone
Crucified!' And blessed the man
Who then led him forth in solemnity
And down corridor he led chain in hand
And said, 'Is that a prophecy?'
The ancient one just smiled and strode
Up the gibbet's staid incline
Those there but say when they behold,
"Hail to the elder, Hail Valentine!'