It’s been said that liberalism is more about liberals finding ways to feel good about themselves than it is about actually achieving good in a practical way in the real world. But I think that’s true of everyone regardless of ideology.
Ideology is about each of us, as individuals, satisfying or assuaging the instinctive feelings of good or bad, like or dislike, approach or avoid, encourage or discourage, and fight or flee, that we experience internally within ourselves in response to the things we see in the social world outside of our selves. Those feelings were pre-wired into each of our brains by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, as we became The Social Animal.
The goal of assuaging those urges is for us to feel good about ourselves, and to feel, at bottom, that we ARE good, and that we care for and about others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves, in real and practical ways.
We pursue that goal by embracing, supporting, and doing, that which we think will achieve the most good for the most people. This is true regardless of whether we are liberal, conservative, libertarian, Whig, Tory, Labour, Buddhist, Atheist, or anything else.
The outside the mind stuff like government structures, social mores, sacred values, etc., are merely the mechanisms either consciously created by, or subconsciously emergent from, groups of like-minded people – tribes, ideological groups, political parties – to help satisfy their inner urges.
But in the end ideology, aka morality, for each of us, is, always will be, and can only ever be, “all about me.” It’s an innate aspect of the evolved nature of our species.
The question becomes, therefore, “Which ideology actually does the most good for the most people?“
There is an empirical, factual, answer to the question.
And so the NEXT question, the more important one, is: Can you put your ideology where your mouth, or your good intention, is and get on board with whatever the answer turns out to be, or will you follow the easier path of least resistance, join the dark side, and stick with your tribe in spite of empirical reality?
The differences between ideologies, moralities, and religions lie in the sets, or clumps, or collections, of internal instinctive feelings their adherents have in common. There can be a lot of variation within the sets, but generally speaking, from a psychological or anthropological or empirical perspective, the number of sets is limited. When we look at the real world of Western Civilization we see that people general fall into three basic categories. We’ve named those categories liberalism, conservatism, and libertarianism.
Following from each clump of feelings is a way of understanding the world – a vision – of what it is, what it can be, and importantly what it should be.
Following from each vision – in a “since this is true therefore that is true” sort of way – are collections of values, virtues, principles, practices, and beliefs that guide our thoughts and actions.
Those values, virtues, principles, practices, and beliefs fall into two major moral, ideological, or political schemes.
The first scheme is characterized by outcome-based conceptions of positive liberty, equality, justice, and fairness.
The second scheme is characterized by process-based conceptions of negative liberty, equality, justice, and fairness.
In brief, these two schemes are illustrated by Walter Williams’ concept of Poker Justice:
Imagine that I play in a weekly poker game. I lose every week. Is the game fair?
Scheme one holds that my consistent losing is self-evident proof that some factor inherent either to the game itself or to the way the other players are playing it creates a bias, prejudice, or discrimination, against me, and so the game is, by definition, NOT fair. This scheme is outcome-based.
Scheme two holds that if everyone played by the rules then the game was, by definition, fair. This scheme is process-based.
The first scheme, in order to correct for the self-evident absence of fairness, seeks to adjust the rules so that I can have a more even or equal or “fair” expectation of a positive result in the “game” of life. The end product of this scheme is a collection of different rules for different people based on each person’s membership in a “historically disadvantaged” identity group.
The second scheme, on the other hand, seeks a single set of rules that applies, and is applied, the same to everyone.
These two schemes, it can be seen, are mutually exclusive. We can have one or the other, but not both.
Following from these two schemes are two very different philosophies or ideologies of government and economics.
Scheme one leads to leveling, collectivist, redistributive, economic and governmental ideologies like socialism, communism, and modern American progressivism. These ideologies seek to be the visible hand of human reason, applied through the coercive power of government, for the purpose of creating the “good society” and the “new man” in which outcome-based conception of fairness are the goal. Jean Jacques Rousseau dubbed this concept the “general will.” It is an idealized vision of human society, not unlike that of Plato’s “Light,” to which all right-thinking people subscribe.
Scheme two leads to individualist economic governmental philosophies like capitalism, the American Constitution, and American conservatism. These philosophies seek to allow the invisible hand of human nature to work its magic through just enough government power to protect the minority and the less fortunate from oppression by the majority or the more fortunate, by means of separation of powers, and prudent but minimal regulation.
The absolute, undeniable, WORST of these ideologies is scheme two. Except for all the others.
Given human nature, by any aspect of it that can be measured, if that aspect were to be depicted on a graph, the result would be a bell curve. Whether the measure is intelligence, ambition, perseverance, greed, graft, abuse, or plain old dumb luck, there will always be outliers at the top and bottom of the curve.
Any and all attempts in human history to use the power of government to flatten the curve in order to create more equal outcomes has ended badly, sometimes even in genocide. From Rousseau’s French Revolution, to Marx’s, Mao’s, Pol Pot’s, and Castro’s Communism, to Mussolini’s Fascism, and Hitler’s Nazism, each and every time humans have tried to create the “good society” the attempt has failed, usually horribly.
When instead we have tried scheme two, otherwise known as capitalism and British/American Constitutionalism, the result has been to move the entire bell curve in the positive direction. As it turns out, a rising tide really does lift all boats. Scheme two has created more prosperity, equality, fairness, diversity, inclusiveness, and generosity and care for the less fortunate, than any or all of the many different attempts at scheme one.
So, if you REALLY want to feel good about yourself by doing the most good for the most people, then you owe it to yourself and everyone else who may benefit, to put to rest – once and for all the utopian but in reality utterly destructive of the very ends it seeks – dream of scheme one, and embrace the reality of actually achieving those dreams through scheme two.
It’s up to you.
Do you have the courage and the will to put your ideology where your mouth is?
Or will continue along the road to hell paved by the good intentions of the Pathological Altruism of scheme one?
What’s it gonna be?