Punchinello’s Chronicles

July 21, 2010

What do we want out of Life?

Filed under: The Great Adventure! — Punchinello @ 2:26 am

There’s a great malaise these days, everywhere in the world. It’s not only in the United States that we’re stressed, nervous and uncertain. It’s everywhere. We argue about which God is better, which philosophy is better, which political system is better and which economic system is better. We’re pitted against each other, with reason standing against feelings and little chance of anyone being persuaded to change their mind about anything.

What do we mean by “better?” Better at what? What goal are we trying to reach that one thing is better or worse? What’s the scale of measure?

At the foundation of all this arguing and uncertainty stands the most basic vision each and every one of us has about what life should be, what life is all about and what we expect or wish for in life. This isn’t the same as the old philosophic question of the meaning of life. It’s rather our own personal desires, hopes and dreams. What is it that we want?

We might say that we want to survive, but I don’t think that’s really true. It’s true that somewhere below our conscious attention there may be some sort of motivator about survival, but that’s not what’s driving us on a regular basis. We can look at an infant, or better yet, a toddler and see that they’re not concerned about surviving. In fact, toddlers mostly just assume they’ll survive. They don’t know enough about danger and damage to question that survival, excepting in abnormal situations.

No, I think we want two things: certainty and comfort. Those are the basics. That’s what we carry around with us each day. We look at what we have and contrast that with what we imagine to be a comfortable life.

When you strip away all the complexities of economic or social theory; strip away all the difficulties of philosophy and so forth, they all begin with questions about how to live a comfortable, relatively certain life. Take economics, for example, and today’s failing Keynesian principles. The problem was that a nations economy goes up and down, causing pain and uncertainty in a large population. How could we change that, offering happiness and certainty instead? The resulting propositions become economic theory.

Think about religions, with their explanations of why things aren’t going well at any given time. If things are good, God is pleased. If things are uncertain and uncomfortable, it’s because God wants something else. But we first feel pain and uncertainty, then ask, “how come?” Many people answer the question with a religion of some type.

Throughout history, societies have tried every which way to provide an environment of comfort and certainty. Typically, most of those societies produced a tiered system. The “rulers” got the certainty and comfort, resting their peace of mind on the labor and toil of the peasants—the supporting “resources.” Only in America did we change all that.

The United States of America was the first experiment in modern history to claim that comfort and certainty were partly the result of individual labor, and partly the result of a government that protected those individual labors. We declare that all men (i.e., human beings) are equal in their natural right to be free to pursue their means of happiness. The unstated assumption is that such pursuits may not interfere with the lives of other ins our society.

But we ultimately had to face a core argument: Is it fair that some people are more capable of producing comfort and certainty than others? Life and history show us that many people cannot produce that happy life on their own. Should the society or the state be charged with providing comfort and certainty for those who can’t provide it for themselves?

Since the early 1900s, half the people in this society have argued that, yes, the state is responsible for and has the right to provide comfort and certainty to people. Because the state has nothing but what it’s given by the citizens, the state therefore has the responsibility and right to take the “extra” product from some people and redistribute it to those less fortunate. That’s the argument.

The real problem of logic and reason comes to the surface when we examine the level of certainty and comfort. That level applies both to the individual members of a society and to the aggregate as a whole.

Once again we see that natural selection and free competition will provide one level of comfort and certainty to some people, and a different level to others. Some people will have comfort and certainty, while others will be deeply uncertain and very uncomfortable. The argument is whether or not the state should step in to equalize those levels and make life more “fair.”

Today, here in America, we can assign labels to each side of the argument. The true nature of progressive liberalism and the true nature of conservative capitalists is defined by how each of us will become certain and comfortable. Liberals hold that the state has the right to equalize society for the sake of overall comfort and certainty to some level.

Conservatives hold that capitalism has been proven to be the only real method of providing comfort and certainty to the largest number of people in a society. Not profiteering, crony capitalism, and not the kind of false capitalism we see around us today; but true capitalism based on fair competition and merit rewards. As such, some people will have more than others because some people are simply more capable of providing certainty and comfort for themselves.

One of the arguments liberals make against conservatives is that conservatives are greedy. Conservatives want more than their “fair share” of certainty and comfort. It’s a false argument, but it helps sustain the “us against them” environment of manipulation and getting votes. But what do we mean about a “fair share?” A fair share of…what?

Think about what makes you uncertain and what makes you uncomfortable. Let’s say that you’re feeling sick and you go to a doctor. Are you certain you’ll be able to pay for the visit? Will you be able to pay for whatever medical services will result from a diagnosis? Wouldn’t you be more comfortable if you were certain that you’d get your fair share of good, quality health care?

What about a job, or a car or a house? The most basic level of survival comfort involves a roof over your head, food and water, clothing and nominal controls over heat and cold. But a big question is whether or not that’s what we actually want! Is that all we want out of life? Do all of us want only enough to eat and drink and some way to stay out of the rain? Of course not!

Can a state that produces nothing provide the always increasing amount of “things” to make everyone in an entire society more and more comfortable? What will the state use? Where will those things come from? Who will make the clothes, provide the food and water? Who will provide the shelters, heat and cooling?

One side of the argument holds that the state will take control of ALL labor by ALL members of the society—the citizens. The state will manage the production of all those efforts and distribute the results equally throughout the entire group. That’s the basic principle of communism, and we see around the world what are the results.

The other side of the argument holds that people are basically good natured, and that after a person has reached a certain level of comfort and certainty, that person will reach out of their own free will to help those around them who aren’t as secure. Charity has always been an important part of the American economy and social structure, but even so, many people have been very uncomfortable and uncertain.

We’re now seeing progressive liberalism on a global scale. The Democratic super-majority provides the means within the United States to proceed with state controlled equalization of not wealth, but of comfort and certainty. Oddly enough, we now have less and less comfort, and almost no certainty whatsoever. How come?

The hard fact is that some people are better at managing their lives than others. Some people are smarter, some people are faster, some are more intelligent, some are prettier. Not everyone has exactly the same skills and capabilities, and not everyone has the same definitions of certainty and comfort. Not everyone is equal in all ways, and no amount of force, threats or legal mandates will ever make that any different.

Liberals understand that people are actually different, and therefore “people” as a vague, undefined group must be managed. They must be organized. Society must be “led” by those lucky few who were born smart, born wealthy, and born “special.” It’s the burden and responsibility of those elite beings to “give back to the community.” That means managing the community so that everyone gets their fair share of comfort and certainty.

Everyone, in this case, means everyone except the managing elites. They’re not part of society. Whatever they do with their wealth and power has nothing to do with whatever everyone else is doing.

Ultimately, every argument you hear today and every debate in the political realm is about how much comfort and certainty everyone should have. It’s as if anyone can actually change reality to such an extent that it will force people to be comfortable and force people to be certain.

The absurdity of such a statement—forcing people to be comfortable and certain—is exactly the absurdity of the progressive liberal ideology. The simple act of forcing anyone to do anything immediately creates uncertainty and discomfort!

The tragic aspect of all this is that those members of society who are hurting; who are uncertain and uncomfortable will do whatever it takes to make their lives feel better. If that means holding a gun to someone else’s head and taking what appears to be causing that other person’s “better life,” then so be it. If it means voting for a state that will hold the gun for them, then that’s what they’ll do.

I suspect that the only real solution is a long-term change to how we educate our children. Teach each child to fish, as the allegory goes, and each child will have food for a lifetime. If the child chooses not to exercise his or her skills then they also choose the consequences and results. But nobody has the right, and no state as the right to respond to those choices with force.

We can neither force the one child to fish nor can we force the other children to give away their own fish. And that’s the basic fact of reality that’s being denied. Along with teaching children that they must use their skills and capabilities to better their own lives, we also can teach children that offering a helping hand is a decent way to live. But we can’t force people to be charitable any more than we can force people to share their wealth. At that point, it’s no longer charity, it’s robbery.


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