Monday, November 24, 2008

Going to Extremes

I have previously written that the cause of Houston's economic success is the relative freedom enjoyed by Houstonians. Despite the practical benefits of individual freedom, there remains a large segment of the city that is eager to enact more controls on the citizenry, particularly in regard to land use. Unable or unwilling to identify the principles that underlie Houston's prosperity, the proponents of regulations seek to enact the very causes of the economic turmoil gripping the nation.

The consequences of government regulations and controls are evident to anyone who cares to examine the issue. For example, American cities with the most stringent land use regulations are among those most affected by the housing bubble. And the epitome of government regulations and controls-- the Soviet Union-- was an abysmal failure by every objective measure. Despite this overwhelming evidence, there is growing support for more government control over our lives, both locally and nationally.

So long as that trend continues, it can have only one ultimate end—complete government control of our lives. Some may consider this an extreme statement. After all, there is no open movement for dictatorship. The American people are not demanding that all political power be vested in a single individual.

Ideas have consequences. The logical implications of a principle do not change simply because they are not identified and/ or stated.

Consider for example, a politician who openly endorses the idea of “spreading the wealth”. He has not explicitly called for the wholesale seizure of private property by the government. And few citizens would identify his statement as such. However, this does not change the fact that if government can seize some property it can, in principle, seize all property.

If you grant to others the right to take some of your money, you cannot complain about the amount they choose to take. If you grant to others the right to dictate your actions, you cannot complain about the prescriptions and proscriptions they enact. On what possible grounds can you complain? That their actions are too extreme?

Some might argue that my argument is illogical, that I am putting words in the mouth of someone. They might argue that those who advocate "spreading the wealth" don't mean to seize all property. Such an argument illustrates a profound disregard for principles.

A principle is “a fundamental, primary, or general truth, on which other truths depend.” Principles allow us to identify the long-term consequences of our actions, as well as the actions (and words) of others.

So what principle or principles underlies the belief that “spreading the wealth” is proper? And what are the long-term consequences of those principles?

Politically, “spread the wealth” schemes are founded on collectivism. Collectivism holds that the group—whether the community, the race, or the State—is the standard of good and the individual is subservient to the group. Morally, “spread the wealth” schemes are founded on altruism. Altruism holds that service to others is the standard of virtue and the individual must place the welfare of others above his own. Collectivism is the political implementation of altruism.

Altruism and collectivism are the dominant ideas in America (and Houston) today. Both liberals and conservatives exhort individuals to serve a cause higher than oneself. Both advocate programs and policies that force individuals to sacrifice for "the public welfare".

It is impossible to practice altruism completely and consistently because life demands the opposite. The simple act of eating is aimed at sustaining oneself, rather than others. Few can completely and consistently renounce all values because the consequences are asceticism. This is the trap of altruism--morality or practicality.

Both liberals and conservatives acknowledge that altruism is impractical and contrary to the requirements of life on earth. Both declare that man’s “natural, selfish inclinations” are contrary to altruism. Liberals declare that man is not good enough for socialism, while conservatives declare that man is naturally depraved and must be “saved” through the blood of Jesus.

The purpose of morality is to provide man with a guide for living his life and achieving his values. A morality that is impractical is not designed for human happiness, human welfare, or human life. A morality that is impractical is a self-contradiction, and is nothing more than intellectual poison.

It is possible to ingest a small amount of poison and not die. However, one's health will be compromised. And if one continues to ingest that poison, over time the results will ultimately be fatal. The same is true of intellectual poison-- a small dose will not necessarily be fatal. But one will ultimately face a choice: reject the poison and embrace its antidote, or suffer the consequences.

History is the story of philosophy, that is, the implementation of philosophical principles. The Dark Ages were guided by the principle that man is inherently depraved and must obediently serve God and his earthly minions. America’s founding was guided by the principle that all men possess the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Nazi Germany was guided by the principle that the individual must sacrifice in service to the Volk.

The same cause will always lead to the same effect. Altruism and collectivism have only one ultimate result—death and destruction. That is not just going to extremes, that is a philosophical fact. Ignoring that fact won't change it.

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