Monthly Archives: December 2006

Is The Enlightenment Alive?

I recently became acquainted with The Philosophy Podcast, and was going through their older stuff. One selection was Immanuel Kant’s What Is Enlightenment. I was reminded by Mike’s “Exhibit B” of just how damaging this is to humanity.

We have created an entire class of people who live in perpetual childhood. These are people who don’t understand freedom, have never felt freedom, and are frankly scared of freedom. We have another class of people who desire little more than to be the “guardians” of these dependent people, normally known simply as “Congress”. When you realize just how many people live in self-imposed shackles, it becomes depressing. Kant said it best (emphasis added):

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men, long after nature has released them from alien guidance (natura-liter maiorennes), nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult. Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone. Now this danger is not actually so great, for after falling a few times they would in the end certainly learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes men timid and usually frightens them out of all further attempts.

Thus, it is difficult for any individual man to work himself out of the immaturity that has all but become his nature. He has even become fond of this state and for the time being is actually incapable of using his own understanding, for no one has ever allowed him to attempt it. Rules and formulas, those mechanical aids to the rational use, or rather misuse, of his natural gifts, are the shackles of a permanent immaturity. Whoever threw them off would still make only an uncertain leap over the smallest ditch, since he is unaccustomed to this kind of free movement. Consequently, only a few have succeeded, by cultivating their own minds, in freeing themselves from immaturity and pursuing a secure course.

But that the public should enlighten itself is more likely; indeed, if it is only allowed freedom, enlightenment is almost inevitable. For even among the entrenched guardians of the great masses a few will always think for themselves, a few who, after having themselves thrown off the yoke of immaturity, will spread the spirit of a rational appreciation for both their own worth and for each person’s calling to think for himself. But it should be particularly noted that if a public that was first placed in this yoke by the guardians is suitably aroused by some of those who are altogether incapable of enlightenment, it may force the guardians themselves to remain under the yoke–so pernicious is it to instill prejudices, for they finally take revenge upon their originators, or on their descendants. Thus a public can only attain enlightenment slowly. Perhaps a revolution can overthrow autocratic despotism and profiteering or power-grabbing oppression, but it can never truly reform a manner of thinking; instead, new prejudices, just like the old ones they replace, will serve as a leash for the great unthinking mass.

We have built a society based upon subservience and obedience to government. Very few people even question the situation. When government decrees we change our behavior, how many people ask “by what right?” If anything we are worse off than in the days of Kant, and it has grown so bad that most Americans, when it is suggested that the government stop providing a service, assume that the service cannot and will not be provided without government’s help.

As an advocate of freedom, the hardest thing is to make people begin to see their shackles and desire freedom. Too many choose to remain “good citizens”, stuck in blindness to their situation. Freedom, though, is addicting, if you can convince someone to take their first hit.

The Power of the Minority

I know it is common, in this country, to believe that our government acts based upon the so-called will of the majority. This leads to another idea we refer to as the “tyranny of the majority”. Unfortunately this set of ideas is completely false in a representative government that is based on the idea of 50%+1. Our government is based on just such an idea, both in the way we elect our representatives and in the way that our representatives pass laws.

Let’s ignore, for a moment, the true complexity of Congressional law making, or the fact that Congress has delegated wide swaths of its power to bureaucrats that are not accountable to the voters. Consider this set of facts, instead:

  1. A member of Congress, whether Representative or Senator, is elected by achieving a plurality in their district or state, respectively. We’ll assume, for this argument, that they always receive 50%+1 votes to be elected and that there is 100% voter turn out.
  2. A law is passed in Congress by a vote of 50%+1 of the House and the Senate. Again, we’ll ignore the exceptions since they aren’t particularly important anyhow (impeachment, and such) and we will assume that all members of Congress vote on every law.
  3. Finally, we’ll assume absolutely honest Congressmen who represent as accurately as possible the wishes of the folks that voted for them.

What does that add up to? Well, if you followed along, 50% of Congress, representing only 50% of their districts, pass laws. That means the will of a mere 25% of the voters will decide how much you and I are taxed each and every day, what laws govern us, whether we have a ponzi scheme called Social Security, which judges will become Supreme Court Justices, and so on. In practice it is even worse than that, since legislation has to get through a committee before it can be voted on. That means that less than 10% of the population will indirectly decide whether a piece of legislation becomes law, or not, assuming that we only consider the Senate. In actuality, in the House, a mere 2% of the population is represented in deciding whether a bill leaves committee, or not.

I feel better about pure representative democracy now!

Our “Shadow Government”

I suspect these three items are related; I leave it to you to figure out how.

Exhibit A –

Most Americans Want Public Policies to Prevent Obesity.”

An excerpt: “In addition, 73 percent said they’d support government incentives for companies that reduced the cost of health insurance for employees who had healthy lifestyles and shed extra pounds. Seventy-two percent said they would support government policies requiring insurance companies to cover obesity treatment and prevention programs.”

So, our society’s solution to obesity is to have the government coerce and force companies to help their employees deal with the issue.

Exhibit B –

Scott Ott’s serious letter discussing dependence on the government in response to a misunderstanding about a Katrina satire he wrote. A taste: “Over the decades, we have ceded power, authority and responsibility to the federal government far beyond anything envisioned or desired by our founders. As a result, instead relying on our own intelligence, resources and ability to work with others in our communities to solve problems, we have turned to Washington D.C..

This is not a matter of ‘blaming the victim’, because the victim has become so immersed in this twisted view of human life that he cannot see what has happened. The federal government’s dehumanizing effect has torn up neighborhoods, torn apart families and turned brave, capable people into compliant recipients of redistributed wealth.

The problem is that the morsels of that wealth never provide enough to do anything other than keep folks in a perpetual state of dependence upon the State. Even if those morsels became chunks big enough to choke a horse, the dependency would remain. The federal government has become not only the safety net, it is everything from the crib blanket to the casket lining.”

Read the whole thing, it’s worth it.

Finally, Exhibit C –

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

-Lazarus Long, Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love.

Why Aren’t They Upset About Hollywood’s Obscene Wealth?

As always, I enjoy reading Thomas Sowell. Many times I don’t agree with him, he is much more socially conservative than I am. But, economically, I rarely disagree. And his most recent piece in the National Review is no exception. It’s on income inequality and he makes some good points in it. But the best one comes before the closer. In fact, I tend to think it should have been his closer.

It is also worth noting that the people who are said to be earning “obscene” amounts of money are usually corporate executives. There is no such outrage whipped up when Hollywood movie stars make some multiple of what most corporate executives make.

How come my progressive, left wing friends aren’t outraged by Oprah’s income? Inquiring minds want to know.

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