A Philosophical Precipice


As I debate with people about public health care as a specific, and about giving assistance to the weak and ignorant as a general, I find myself struggling with an ugly thought. It’s a thought I’ve had for a long time, and one that has pushed me in the past toward libertarianism.

What if none of these social programs will ever work? What if the speed with which the weak and ignorant become more weak and ignorant under welfare-like programs simply outpaces the speed with which those programs can do any good?

In other words, I worry often that giving money and food and healthcare to those with no education is little more than the simplest way to create more people with no education.

This would mean that the idea I cherish and use as the backbone to all my arguments–i.e. the notion that offering all this aid will result in this class of people suddenly realizing that education is important, and suddenly start becoming responsible, quality parents–might just be a complete fantasy.

It might be that the best solution is to simply save those who can be saved, and to have a strict policy against allowing those who cannot from spoiling the society as a whole.

I’m thinking on paper here.

What About Sweden?

I always come back, in my arguments with others, to the European countries that have successfully taken the socialist path. They’re proof that it works, right?

I’m not so sure anymore.

There’s no doubt that the system works. And I’d also argue that it’s the best system for controlling the negative human impulses that erode a quality society given our current human balance of reason vs. primal desires. But this doesn’t necessarily equate to it being the best system for every country or every population.

I think we might be missing a very simple variable in trying to apply the Swedish ideal to the United States: the size of our underclass.

The feasibility of high-quality socialist government policies, like those in Sweden that produce an excellent quality of life, depend on a critical ratio: the ratio between the number of people producing between the number of people who only consume. In a more general sense, however, the issue is simply one of quality–as measured by intelligence, education, and civic-mindedness.

Societies that have high marks in these areas can handle socialist systems because the people involved are participating and aware. They understand what they sacrifice in terms of freedoms, and what they get in return. And it’s the same for a libertarian ideal like we have (had?) in the United States, whereby each person is trusted with an inordinate amount of freedom because it is assumed that he/she is a calm, intelligent, responsible citizen.

But when this is not the case–when you have giant masses of functionally illiterate, group-thinking people (who are doing all the reproducing, of course) you not only give up the American ideal for government, but you also give up the socialist ideal.

[ ** This is not where I was taking this post, by the way; the previous paragraph is new to me, as of just a second ago. ]

What this means, unfortunately, is that you are left with very few government options, and they all look like the Latin America, China, and Africa. In other words, few people with all the resources, corruption on a mass scale, and then a giant, uneducated underclass that makes up “the people”.

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America is heading this direction; there is no doubt of this. The question is how to stop it from arriving.

These seem to be our options:

  1. Implement Policies to Raise the UnderclassThe problem with this approach is that it also simultaneously helps the underclass magnify its numbers. Unless strict policies are put in place to keep this from happening (which is highly unlikely to happen given America’s PC culture), this approach will fail–not because it’s not the right thing to do, but because it’s just not how humans and nature works. The path of least resistance will take over, and that path is to do as little as possible while taking in as much as possible.

  2. Consider the Underclass a Lost CauseThis I find completely distasteful. I cannot see myself turning my back on millions of suffering people simply because I think the efforts to help them are likely to cause additional suffering. This is like not feeding a baby now because you think the baby might grow up and become an axe murderer. The axe murderer threat may be real, but it’s never as real as an immediate starving baby.

These seem to be the real options that all political conversations in terms of government assistance reduce to. Either separate the good from the bad, and keep the bad isolated from the good so as not to poison them (the conservative route), or you integrate the entire population and dump resources into the underclass to get them where they need to be.

I know which one sounds better; it’s the elevation option–option 1. But I’m having serious doubts about whether it’s possible given our unwillingness to condemn, as a society, behavior that will poison the whole. If we are unwilling to do this–to make uneducated teenagers try very hard to avoid reproducing, for example–then giving them additional resources to help them once they have reproduced is precisely the best way to become a third-world country within another one to two decades.

So, how does one support liberal, socialist policies aimed at helping the disadvantaged when you have a sinking suspicion that they will simply exacerbate the problem? And conversely, how do you support a more calloused, elitist model when you know that fundamentally it’s immoral?

This is were I sit now–on a philosophical precipice. ::

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