May 6, 2011

Paternal pessimists

The other day, my significant other was describing a conversation she had with a friend. The topic meandered into politics in which they got into a bit of a debate on various issues, mostly ObamaCare and current things. After a bit of this, she told her friend "You don't seem to have much faith in people."

This simple statement succinctly sums up exactly my issue with most conservative and liberal opinions.

The reason libertarians are so often at odds with the major parties is due to this. Neither party actually favors choice and freedom. They always have some ulterior motive that only occasionally has the same end result. Liberals are more interested in egalitarianism and conservatives with tradition, neither of which I see any reason to aspire towards. When we do agree, say, on cutting taxes with the reds or separating church and state with the blues, it is always a sort of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" kind of tense relationship. We agree on the what, but not the why.

And that's the rare occasion when we have any sort of alliance. Most of the time we're in stark disagreement with both major parties.

Whichever side you want to focus on, the reasoning behind a lot of their policy positions always seems to come back to her statement above. They don't trust people. They know better. People, given the choice, might make the bad choice! So let's make it for 'em. Remove the option to do the bad one and the world is better, right?

Except that it is never that simple.

  • Who decides what the bad choices are?
  • Who decides what is better?
  • How do they know what's best for me and everybody else?

This gets into the problems most laws have: the one-size-fits-all weakness. Rarely is anything ever truly one-size-fits-all (even for hats and gloves that claim this). It ends up being only decent at best for a few and various levels of awful for the rest. So in the end nobody is happy.

In the interest of mitigating that common pitfall, laws typically get written with a ton of exceptions and stipulations, but this still only sort of solves the problem. More often it makes things worse, because the law is always exceedingly more complex as a result and, again, who makes the decision of what's best for each group they've decided to single out as special? Who decides the divisions of applicability? The law gets pretty complicated pretty fast, as you can guess, and thus we end up with unreadable incomprehensible messes like the 1000+ page ObamaCare act. Nobody actually read that in its entirety before voting on it. It was better to pass it and find out what's in it later.

How can any nation with laws that count into the thousands of pages of rules, all in turgid legalese, expect its citizens to understand and abide by them? It's ludicrous to expect us to obey them when only high-paid specialized lawyers can sort of figure them out (and only after poring over them for hours). Ignorance of the law is no excuse in court, and too bad it's easy for practically everyone to be ignorant of most them. If that isn't designing the game to be unwinnable, I don't know what is.

Now, granted, it isn't exactly deliberate on their part. They weren't trying to design a system that everyone would automatically lose under, but that's what we're left with at this point. The incentives are all fucked up.

But, no worries, it's all just a matter of getting the right people in charge. Having just the right hands at the wheel and everything will be fine. Any time it's not fine is only a problem of either A) not the right person, or B) he/she didn't have enough resources to execute his/her bold and glorious vision.

But that line of thinking is exactly the issue. It admits to not trusting people to think and act for themselves.

Yes, sometimes people will make the wrong choice.

And sometimes that's seriously bad.

But you know what?

Freedom means the right to be stupid.

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