Friday, January 28, 2011
This is because social policy inevitable involves decisions about ethics and morality which can get rather murky and involve what amount to certain gray areas. As an example, the abortion debate. I'm not going to get into my stance on it, just to point out that it involves religious beliefs, health concerns, population control issues as well as the freedom to choose ones lifestyle and what restrictions should be placed on that freedom of choice. You can't dismiss someone's beliefs, even if you disagree with them, as not being valid. If someone believes, as a matter of religion or faith, that life begins at conception then that is a valid belief. No matter when the organs or the brain are functioning, that won't change their belief because their idea of when "life" begins doesn't have to have anything to do with when the organs are fully formed and functioning. Therefore, their stance on the issue of abortion will come down to whether or not they believe it is ever okay to sacrifice the life of the child and if so, under what circumstances.
I have a friend who is obsessed with the idea that our legal system and social policies should be "fair". Define fair, please. Let's simplify and assume we're talking about fair being essentially equal to all. That leaves an important question up in the air; do we want a fair outcome or a fair process? A fair process that guarantees everyone a shot at a good outcome doesn't mean everyone will GET a good outcome. What outcome people will get will be determined by a number of factors. It's like five people with four apples drawing straws to see who has to go without; you each have an equal chance of drawing the short straw so it's utterly fair in that respect but at the end of the day one of them will be going without an apple. A fair process isn't guaranteed to produce a fair end result. So let's think about what goes into a fair result... wait, we can't because that's impossible to really define. Is it everyone getting equal shares of everything? Including all essentials and all luxuries? Is it everyone being happy with the outcome? What makes an outcome fair? And fair to who? Let's use a food analogy again. Let's say you've got five apples and ten people. Each person can have half an apple. That's fair, right? But is half an apple actually going to be enough for each person? Maybe a farmer, because of the calories he expends doing his labor day to day, needs more nourishment than a clerk who might expend several thousand fewer calories each day. So giving everyone equal amounts of the apples will leave some with much more than they need and some with much less. Is that a fair outcome?
Social policy is murky, filled with ethical issues, conflicting morals, different values and ideas of what equality and fairness means. That's why I don't like to get involved in discussing it very much.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Using the farmer analogy from earlier
Taking some of the surplus of a farmer's crop is not unethical if there is some benefit to the farmer from doing so. If the system which takes of the surplus also provides certain things of benefit to the farmer in exchange, this is called taxation. It is part of a societal contract. The system which provides the farmer with a method for enforcing his contracts and securing his property from theft or damage from others must pay the costs associated with providing those things somehow and it is perfectly reasonable that the farmer should bear part of the cost through taxation. That the benefit does not flow solely to the farmer is not a bad thing, either.
The problem with taxation is not whether or not it is right or wrong. It is necessary and is neither right/wrong nor good/bad in and of itself. It can be abused, however. The main problems with taxation can, I feel, be summed up in two questions.
1; How much taxation is appropriate? Too much taxation and you stifle the individual's effort to improve their personal lot in life which creates a disincentive to strive for something better. Too little taxation and you can't sustain the system.
2; What should taxation support? This is a major contention when it comes to discussing specific programs. When a person feels as if they receive no benefit from a particular program, they may feel like they don't want their money(or their effort/energy/the products of their labor, in any form) used to support that program. This can further be boiled down to "should we(society/the system) do/provide this particular thing?" Even if they don't disagree with an end goal, they might have problems with the structure. Ex. comparing two different universal health plans, one where the government acts as an insurer and one where the government acts as the provider. Even someone who believes universal health care is a great idea might have a preference for one of those over the other, believing one to be superior for whatever reason. Is one necessarily superior? Both have their pros and cons. Are either of them superior to what currently exists in the US? Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know, I can't answer that; it can't be answered without examining which of the available options does the most good while doing the least harm while being sustainable.
But obviously, whichever program is thought to be best will end up being supported through that system of taxation I mentioned. I personally wonder, if we were to figure out what should be provided by a system, what level of taxation would be necessary to support all that should be provided?
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
I get frustrated at times when discussing policy with people. I’m not actually particularly attached to a particular set of policies more than any other, personally. I’m against consolidation of power into one place to too great an extent. Other than that, I tend to analyze policies from a fairly objective standpoint. Since it’s been in the news and I’ve discussed it here before, I’ll use healthcare as an example.
I’m actually not against the idea of a nationalized health service or a single payer system. I am not really specifically for the current distributed free-market care system in the United States. I’m against the idiotic rhetoric that most of the people who espouse changing the current system spout. The discussion of which system is “better” shouldn’t end with “other people manage to do it” or “x group of people will suffer if we don’t do this” or “it’s the good/moral/right thing to do.”
Any choice of systems needs to be analyzed from an effectiveness standpoint. What’s the point of trying to accomplish a good end if you wind up making the situation worse than it was when you started? Which system to choose shouldn’t be analyzed solely by saying “our goal is to ensure everyone gets healthcare when they need it.” There’s a lot that goes into making that happen. Can everything that goes into making that happen be provided for? If so, what’s the best way of doing that? I’m more concerned with finding the structure that can accomplish the end goal – whatever it might be.
Monday, December 13, 2010
I have a novel idea for how to fight childhood obesity; how about parents start paying attention to what their kids are eating instead of expecting others to do it for them? Making people take responsibility for their own choices... I know it seems like a radical idea but maybe we should give it a goddamn try!
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
The argument was about whether an individual's judgment is better than a community's judgment. This friend of mine who I argued with is a self-described liberal. Who claims that the judgment of the community is more important than the rights of the individual.
It occurred to me afterward, I wish it had occurred to me then, that their stance is somewhat inconsistent when you consider their opinion on certain issues. Proposition 8, for example. They consider it a good thing Prop 8 was struck down. But they had also said, during the conversation, that it was okay for the community to decide on rules and laws that individuals didn't agree with and that as long as it was the will of the majority, it should be followed. Yet Proposition 8 was proposed and voted on in California. Where a majority of those who turned out to vote on the proposition decided they wanted it as law. So that was the will of the majority. That was the will of the community. The decision to try and overturn it is the will of individuals. The decision to try and claim it is unconstitutional is the judgment of an individual.
I generally trust an individual to have better judgment than a community, I'll be honest. At least when it comes to THEIR OWN LIFE. Not necessarily when it comes to what constitutes public policy and the public good. The truth is that if you fully embrace individual choice with no communal structure, what you have is anarchy. And if you fully embrace community with no individual choice, what you have is a machine dictating the lives of the people whose individual lives, devoid of choice, lack meaning.
There has to be a communal structure for people to co-exist on a larger scale. What that structure should be depends on the individuals involved in it. There have to be some rules people can agree on. Some areas that the communal structure - the system - that we can call government are responsible for. But what areas should the community be responsible for and what areas should an individual be responsible for?
If a farmer works hard, by himself, and has a surplus of his crop - more than he needs - he might decide to sell or trade some of his surplus to those who need it in exchange for something he needs or wants. In that way, he benefits from his efforts, his time, energy and resources he expended on growing those crops. If the community decides it's important to feed those who can't feed themselves, I believe the community should PURCHASE the excess from the farmer. Not take it. The community should not force charity. And there are a lot of reasons for this.
Moral reasons: Forcing someone to labor for others without being able to benefit from their efforts and without a choice in the matter is basically slavery. People have the right to benefit from their labor. They have the right to make certain choices when it comes to what to do with their life.
Practical reasons: Motivation. If the farmer knows he's not going to be allowed to keep the surplus, why would the farmer ever grow a surplus? Maybe some people would. But a lot of people won't spend their time, effort and other resources on something so labor-intensive if they can't in some way benefit from it. And if the farmer decides he's not going to make a surplus anymore, the community can't take a surplus that doesn't exist. So the only thing the community can do is suffer because now, instead of people being able to trade their goods and labor that the farmer may need to get the surplus, the community as a whole has less food. Unless the community decides it's okay to take what the farmer grew for himself. And leave the farmer without enough food to feed himself and his family. And when that sort of thing happens, it never ends well. History has shown that it never ends well. Best case scenario? The farmer decides "screw you guys, I'm going to take my stuff and leave" and the community loses all benefit from having the farmer at all. Worst case scenarios tend toward violence.
The US decided, ages ago, that US citizens should be subject to various forms of taxation. No matter where they are in the world. There are US citizens who have been living and working in foreign countries for years who are giving up their citizenship because they are being taxed to support a country they haven't seen in years, don't know if they will ever see again and which is spending its resources on things that in no way shape or form that they can see benefit them more than becoming a resident of the countries in which they live and labor. People do decide "I'm taking my stuff and going away. Screw you guys." You can't stop them from deciding that. Unless you want to try to force them into full on slavery. And there's no way to pretend it would be anything other than that.
That's not a strawman. That's not an exaggeration. Yes, it addresses the extremes of the spectrum. But we move further and further toward the extreme ends of the spectrum as long as we let one side keep pulling us in one direction. Unless you really truly believe, somehow, that the much-vaunted idea of the "community" is so perfect, that the people who make up the community are so perfect that such a thing could never happen. And if you believe that, go read your history books. It already has happened. It has happened before and it could happen again. Communities are not noble. Communities are built on self-interest. The choice, then, is which you would rather have. Individuals pursuing their self-interest? Or the community forcing individuals to bend to its self-interest even if it means giving up their rights?
I know which one I choose.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I'll keep this short. Before I left, I got into an argument with someone about the police. Now, I used to work for the police department. I tend to be pretty pro-cops. I do know that you have some bad cops. And that even good cops are just ordinary people doing the best they can under the circumstances and sometimes they lose control or they have a lapse in judgment. People screw up.
The other side basically attempted to say that cops are all bad and used all the stories that have been in the news about all the times cops have been found to have used excessive force or overstepped their bounds. I have a hard time figuring out what he was actually trying to say, mind you. Because he claimed he wasn't advocating the lack of a police force. That he even acknowledged the necessity of a police force. But kept going on about how cops are bad and cops shouldn't do these things.
Yes... and? Cops should not lose their temper. Ideally, they should always be aware of their surroundings and use proper judgment. And ideally there should be no bad cops. But we don't live in an ideal world and cops are still people. And you have some people who are going to abuse their authority no matter what. And you have people who are going to screw up from time to time. And when you're a cop, your screw-ups may have bigger consequences than those of the average person. But there's not exactly a "solution" to that problem. You train the cops the best you can and have oversight, investigations and disciplinary action when they step out of bounds. We have that. Of course, that doesn't work exactly the way some people would like it to since it sometimes clears cops of wrongdoing when some people believe they shouldn't be cleared. I'm not saying there aren't cases where a cop has been cleared when they shouldn't have been. But I AM saying this; if a cop is in a dark alley, responding to a call for assistance or pursuing a perp and sees someone holding something that looks like a weapon and that cop calls for the person to put it down and that person raises it pointing in the direction of the officer? The officer should fire. If the officer was close enough to discern whether or not it was a weapon and found it wasn't, that's different. But when the officer doesn't know? That officer's life is on the line. And not firing his weapon could mean his death. And an officer should be cleared in a situation like that.
An officer should be cleared in an investigation where he used his taser to gain compliance from a subject who is flailing about and resisting arrest in a manner that is likely to end up causing serious injury to the subject, the officer or bystanders. An officer should be cleared for using pepper spray on a violent drunk.
Now there are a million things an officer shouldn't be cleared for, too. But all these people insisting how bad cops are happen to be forgetting; the officer's job isn't just to arrest someone. It's to keep the peace and ensure the safety of themselves and the general public.
If you don't like the cops, do everyone a favor; before you start badmouthing them, at least have a coherent point to make. Don't just point at things they've done wrong over the years without an endpoint to your argument. If you think there should be no cops and it should be lawlessness, I vote we petition the US government to send you to some third world country where things are basically that way so you can live the kind of life you claim to want. If you just think we need to be more effective at oversight, investigation and discipline? Ok. I can grant that. But keep in mind we're also severely shorthanded in law enforcement in the US. We're trying not to let go of officers where we don't have to in a lot of places (though from what I've read lately, that may be changing). So how do you balance those priorities? The need to have officers out there is real and significant.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
I'm not making that up.
I don't think it's wrong to make jokes about celebrities. I don't think it's necessarily wrong to make jokes about dead people or about death. But every single joke told by these people was told in a manner that made it apparent that they believe themselves smarter, wiser, somehow more worthy than the rest of the world. And don't even get me started on their so-called social commentary. Or their political bits. Now, I understand so-called "entertainers" have a tendency to be fairly liberal. I get that. And I get that it's because they've generally either a) been raised privileged enough not to have to worry about a real career, b) been raised to believe that education somehow makes up for intelligence, c) been indoctrinated by the culture of their industry. I get that. I get that most of them won't have a 9-5 job for the majority of their life. I get that most of them probably don't want a 9-5 job, preferring a job that allows them to have their nights free to pat each other on the back and drink too much. I understand how attractive a drug and alcohol induced haze can be compared to the realities of life.
I understand how people feel like something is wrong as long as some people starve to death. Or freeze on the streets. Or die of heatstroke. Or just don't have a home to go to, don't have the money for clothes. All while a minority of our population live in luxury. I understand how that can look like some form of injustice must be being perpetrated. And I'm not saying there isn't any injustice. I'm not "pro-wealth." I'm pro-reality. I'm for realizing that there's more to it than just seeing that everyone has a good meal and place to sleep. And it is beyond ridiculous to try and blame the wealthy "because they're wealthy" for the state of affairs. What would be a perfect solution to hunger? Hmm? Making sure everyone gets enough to eat isn't "the solution", it's the goal. The solution is how you're going to make sure everyone gets enough to eat. First, determine "how much is enough?" Because the more you have to give everyone at each meal, the more you have to somehow produce. Then ask yourself "how will we produce this amount of food?" Let's assume it's all crops. Someone has to grow the crops. Someone has to plant them, see to irrigation, keep pests away, harvest and process and transport the crops. Who's going to do all of that? And who's going to pay for all of that?
The government isn't an endless supply of money. "Government cheese" is a ridiculous idea, the government is already hemorrhaging money. Is everyone going to chip in and donate money to this endeavour? Or are we going to somehow do all of this without any money? That's not going to happen, not in this world.
What should the government provide for people? What should people provide for themselves? Does equality mean everyone has the same things and the same amount of everything? Or does equality mean providing a system in which a person's hard work, dedication and drive to succeed can give him the opportunity to acquire for himself what it is he desires? Some people denounce greed as evil. Greed is not evil. Greed is a human motivator. The desire to have something you do not have or to have more than you have. Greed is not evil. Greed motivates people to succeed. It motivates people to study, to work hard. It motivates people toward accomplishment. Greed can be taken to extremes. There are those who are greedy to have everything but who do not want to work or expend resources to acquire the things they desire. Those who want others to provide for them. These people are lazy. They are greedy AND they are lazy. That is when things start going bad. They want what others have. They want more than what others have, in fact, because they don't want to have to earn what others have. When people have no incentive to put forward any effort, they don't. The struggle for achievement, for improvement, for advancement of the self-interest is motivated by the promise of some kind of reward. Perhaps the reward is peace of mind. Perhaps the reward is access to greater resources. Perhaps the reward is self-fulfillment. When someone else provides everything for you, you have no incentive to advance your own interest.
In short, I understand the sentiment behind being upset and thinking it is "unfair" that some people have more than others. But that is life. That is the way the world works. Things aren't always fair. And I don't begrudge people their grumbling. Everybody grumbles. Especially on the bottom of the ladder. The person who goes out and works sixty hours a week swinging a hammer and hauling cinderblocks and shingles around and gets paid less than the scrawny twerp who sits in an office counting pencils all day is going to bitch. That's normal. I've been that kind of guy.
But the kid whose only job has been waiting tables, not because they were too poor or stupid to go to college and pursue a better career but because they were too LAZY.... the kid whose parents are still paying their bills ofr them... the kid who has never had to worry about such basic things as budgeting and making sure they had enough to pay the light bill and buy groceries for the month... that kid has no damn right to bitch about unfairness. And more to the point, that kid has no damn right to sit there and tell me - when I'm working 60+ hours a week - that I have to give up a pile of the money I'm earning to try and provide for myself and my family so that someone can make things "more fair."