Thursday, July 19, 2012

Why Obama Gets It Wrong

Why does Obama get it wrong?  I don't mean at the political level, the level of not saying anything that riles up the opposition with stupid stuff that says that "You didn't do that."

Actually, the president made a bigger error, as Charles Murray pointed out.  Wrote Murray:
There’s a standard way for Americans to celebrate accomplishment. First, we call an individual onto the stage and say what great things that person has done. Then that person gives a thank-you speech that begins “I couldn’t have done this without…” and a list of people who helped along the way. That’s the way we’ve always done it.
That's the way we recognize success.  We tell the successful one: "you are awesome."  And the successful one replies: "Aw shucks; I couldn't have done it without the janitor."

The bigger error comes out in Barney Frank's little nugget, retailed by Ross Douthat.
In [the liberal] worldview, the government is just the natural expression of our national community, and the place where we all join hands to pursue the common good. Or to borrow a line attributed to Representative Barney Frank, “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”
Er, no, Barney.  That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of government.  Let us look at how Alan Page Fiske, author of the Relational Models theory of human sociality puts it.  He says that there are four ways in which humans express themselves as social animals.  There is Communal Sharing.  There is Authority Ranking.  There is Equality Matching.  There is Market Pricing.

If we put it as baldly as possible, we would say that government is Authority Ranking all dolled up as Communal Sharing.  And that is being charitable to government.  Here is what Fiske actually says (PDF) about Authority Ranking.
The Authority Ranking (AR) mod bases sociality on asymmetrical differences... which define how to rank people: by age, gender, caste, seniority, promotion system, achievement on a task or test, contest or combat, passage through a ritual, possession of symbolic paraphernalia, bestowal of fiefdom, position determined by divination or revelation, charismatic performance, religious devotion, election, delegation or appointment by higher authority.
Sounds like the liberal welfare state to me.

Now, of course the United States is a community in the sense of Communal Sharing based "on the perception that a set of persons have something in common--something that makes them socially equivalent in some respect."  Well.  the whole point of the liberal ruling class is that racists, sexists, homophobes, and bitter clingers are not "socially equivalent."  The whole idea is to write them out of polite society.

And we know how Communal Sharing works in practice.  That's because Elinor Ostrom won a Nobel prize for her work on the "commons."  For Communal Sharing to work you have to have a small community with face-to-face relations where people are socially controlled by their need to maintain their reputation in the community as good citizens.  Naming and shaming is the name of the game for defaulters and rewards "You did it!" for the exemplary citizens.

But liberals don't do this with their welfare state.  They divide society into "us" and "them."  "We" are the good guys and "They" are the bad guys.  You are not allowed to name and shame anyone in the liberal ruling class--that is what "civility" is all about.  No are you allowed to name and shame anyone that is a liberal client--that is what the race card, class warfare and "blaming the victim" are all about.

The fundamental truth about conservatism is that conservatives have argued since the days of Edmund Burke that a national government cannot be the same as a local council of elders.  You can say that, at its best, your local council of elders can do Communal Sharing and rule by persuasion.  In other words, you can have Communal Sharing in you "little platoon."  But big government is government.  It is not a council but the power base of a ruling class.  It is an armed minority ruling over the people in a defined territory.  Government is force, and force goes beyond humans as social animals to the realm of Newtonian mechanics.  That is what Burke meant by "economists, sophisters, and calculators."

The real problem with presidents who say "You didn't do that" and Barney Franks that say "Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together" is not that they are lying to us about government and community and the individual.

The problem is that they are lying to themselves.

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