Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

There Are Three Kinds of People…

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Well, it’s Saturday.  I just got a boatload of work done.  There’s a pot roast the size of Detroit in the slow cooker.  There’s Paganini in the background.  There’s tea right here beside me.

And I have just finished reading a book.

Unlike some of you, I am incapable of reading more than one book at a time. I can read a book and also read magazines, even magazines with long and detailed articles like The New York Review of Books, but for whatever the reason, I can’t read The Winter King and Southern Injustice at the same time.

I know that some of you consider this a grave handicap, and it probably is.  But here I am.

The book I just finished reading is the one I was talking about some days ago, Joshua Muravchik’s Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism.

It was one of those things somebody sent me on the assumptions that a) I probably hadn’t heard of it and b) I’d probably love it to pieces.

She was right on both counts.

For what it’s worth, I can heartily recommend it.  It’s clearly and forcifully written.  It takes up the lives, ideas and careers of a lot of people you may never have heard of or, if you haven’t don’t know much about.  It gives you the life of Engels instead of Marx, Deng instead of Mao.  It also gives you people like Clement Atlee, Samuel Gompers and Tony Blair.

So the book is worth it for the sake of the information you don’t have.

But I think it’s also worth it for its last chapter, which simultaneously concentrates on the life of Moses Hess–the man who first came up with “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” and one of the founding Zionists in the old sense of the term–and on the question of Socialism as a religion and why so many people have been drawn to it.

Before you start throwing Ayn Rand at my head, I’d like to suggest that there are three kinds of people who are drawn to Socialism as a faith.

And Socialism is a faith, because if it was science it would have jettisoned many of its tenets long ago.  When scientific experiments fail, scientiests are supposed to ditch the theory and look for something new. 

When history did not bear out Marx’s theories, and when experiments in socialism did not work out the way they were predicted–Socialists did what most religious people do.  They checked their Scriptures and found a new way of interpreting them.

But there is more going on here than that. 

I think it’s important to note that there is more than one kind of person attracted to Socialist ideas.

Surely there are the Nurse Ratcheds and Delores Umbrages of the world, the people Rand embodied in Ivy Starnes, whose primary driving focus is on getting as much power into their own hands as is possible. 

Those people come in petty versions–the social worker or school nurse or parole officer who wants to be kowtowed to–and world historical versions (like Hitler, Stalin and Mao) and everything in between.

But there are two other kinds of person, and those two kinds are important because without them, the first kind could never get itself into power.

The first kind are those driven mostly by resentment and envy.  They hate the idea that anybody, anywhere has more than they do, and they resent the fact that capitalist economies–to the extent that they actually ARE capitalist and not corporatist–reward people whose achievements and qualifications they despise. 

This is the basis for the continual calls for “comparable worth” in determing pay–the market must be sexist because it pays elementary school teachers (who have to have a college degree) less than carpenters or plumbers or garbage men, who do not.

It can’t be the case that the public has decided that these services are worth more to them than elementary school teaching–and if they have, they’re wrong.  No, the only possible explanation is that people are sexist.  They instinctively value work done by women less than work done by men. 

Therefore, the government should step in and fix this.

The fact is that capitalist societies are strictly democratic–that is, to the extent that they’re actually capitalist, and not corporatist–and they reward those whom most of their members value.  They value Stephen King over Paul Auster, Die Hard over Good Night and Good Luck, the Big Mac over whole grain bread with a tabouli salad.

They do because they do.

The issue of envy and resentment is important because it is always the case that capitalist societies end up valuing lots and lots and lots of things over the things that intellectuals do–or even that quasi-intellectuals do. 

And intellectuals and their downmarket wannabes are not disposable.  Intellectuals do things that are very powerful even if they aren’t paid well, like shaping the narrative by which a society lives and thereby establishing the terms by which that society will frame and answer the questions that arise in its conduct and history.

I’ve always thought that this explains why so many Western intellectuals are more interested in destroying Western civilization than they are in building something else–that, given the choice of  a heaven on earth with Western civilization surviving and a complete destructive hell if it does not, they would choose the second.

Think of it as the ideological equivalent of a woman scorned.  Think of Medea on the ramparts hurtling Jason’s children to their deaths.

But there is a third kind of person, and it’s that third kind of person I want to concern myself with here. 

Back during the campaigns, The Nation ran a series of what seemed to be ads in which various conservatives writers and politicians were featured with elongated noses accompanied by something they’d said, which was then declared a “lie.”

Most of these quotations were not lies.  They were mostly differences in interpretation. Sometimes they were ideas the readers of the magazine just wouldn’t like.  In one case, the quote was actually of a joke–not a very good joke, but a joke nonetheless.

But the one quotation that struck me was not only not a lie, it was actually the truth.

The speaker was Paul Ryan, and what he said was that people who believe they have a right to things like healthcare or education are actually in favor of slavery.

I say this is not a lie because it isn’t.  And I say this is the truth because it is.

There is no way to guarantee you a “right to education” or an “entitlement to health care” unless the government has the right to force teachers and doctors and nurses to provide you with it against their will.

If the government cannot do this, then it is possible that there will come a day when there is nobody willing to provide the service, and your “entitlement” to it would collapse.

Something very like this has already been happening in the provision of abortion services in the US. 

Not only do most doctors refuse to do abortions–even most gynecologists refuse to do abortions–but most medical students refuse to take training in how to do them. 

Abortion is unavailable in 80% of the counties in US states, and not because laws have been passed or the Army of God has been making death threats.  Doctors seem to find the entire thing–well, yucky.

The results have been predictable–there are periodic calls to make abortion training mandatory for medical students. 

These calls go nowhere, for lots of reasons, and when they go nowhere the people who want them complain that this is theocracy.  Religious doctors are “imposing” their religious views on their patients, and so are religious medical students.

The same cry goes up when Catholic hospitals refuse to provide abortions or abortion referrals or the “morning after pill,” and when pharmacists refuse to dispense the morning after pill or birth control or to carry either in independently owned stores.

(Pharmacists working for chains who refuse when their employers want the products stocked and the prescriptions fulfilled have no religious right to refuse if they want to go on being employed.  The right to set policy belongs to the owner of the store, not the employees.)

The obvious coerciveness of all this is not obvious to the third category of Socialist adherents–and the similarity to plain slavery is not obvious to them–for one very important reason.

This is what I think of as The Fuzz. 

A great many of these people seem to be driven almost entirely by emotion, and rather bathetic emotion at that.  They’re very proud of their ability to be “empathic,” by which they seem to mean feeling upset at the fact that other people suffer. 

This can be applied to real suffering–a family destroyed when one member gets a catastrophic illness or an expensive chronic one–or to any of a dozen or more less credible ones, like women being made to feel bad because somebody out there “judges” them for having had an abortion.

The  primary point here is that these people are not thinking through their positions.  They’re just “feeling.” 

And they feel by responded to a very narrow set of emotional cues. 

These are the people at whom those Sarah McLaughlin puppy and kitten rescue commercials are aimed, as well as the endless series of media stories focussing  on one woman here, one family there.

You can shout all you want about anecdote not being evidence, but they live by anecdote.  Both their moral and their political worlds are almost entirely narratively based.

They can’t see that forcing a doctor to perform an abortion he is morally opposed to, or forcing Catholic hospitals to provide an implicit endoresment of abortion and birth control against their religious convictions, or forcing a pharmicist to carry products in his own privately own store that are not what he approves is, in fact, coercion.

And they can’t see that their preferred answer to the problem–they should be forced, and they still won’t do it, then they don’t have to be doctors/teachers/pharmacists/whatever–is tantamount to the worst kind of employment discrimination.

If you point it out to do, they’ll ask you such questions as “What do you want?  Jehovah’s Witness hospitals that won’t provide blood transfusions?”

I’d say I didn’t want it, but I’d also say that it ought to be allowed.

And then they call me names.

What is going on here is similar to what goes on in criminal trials, and especially murder trials. 

The victim is somewhere else.  The accused is right here in front of you.  Every defense attorney in the world knows that the best way to get your guy acquited is to get the jury to relate to him and not to the victim.  That’s why we “put the victim on trial” in rape and murder cases.

People like this think Paul Ryan’s comment is “a lie” because they are unable to conceive of a situation in which acting on what they feel will result in an outcome even worse than the bad thing they’re trying to eradicate. 

It’s like Matt when I first quit smoking.  He was four, and he did indeed notice that I’d become an angry, irrational and less than happy person. He decided that this was the fault of the workout regime I’d taken up to keep myself from gaining the weight lots of people gain when they quit.

Since quitting smoking was a good thing, Matt was convinced it could not have any bad consequences.

But Matt was four, and these people are supposed to be all grown up.

And quitting smoking will, in the end, lead to good things, and the bad things will disappear.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to minimize the extent to which feeling instead of thinking drives all kinds of social issues–hate crimes legislation, welfare policy, antidiscrimination law.

Without the vast hordes of people who feel instead of think, the Nurse Ratcheds and the envious resenters would be dead at the starting gate.

Written by janeh

November 10th, 2012 at 10:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'There Are Three Kinds of People…'

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  1. I came across a response to one of the storm tragedies that exemplifies feeling not thinking. I tried to describe it to JOhn (having lost the URL) but didn’t do well. It was a response to that case you Americans may have heard of before, of the woman who was driving (to her mother’s? to a shelter? there are various versions of the details) with two very young children. For some reason, she took them out of the car – possibly to put the on the roof, possibly because the car had stalled or was being swept away. The children were swept out of her arms and drowned, and none of the three local residents she approached would let her in their home.

    This writer attacked one of the residents, who had apparently criticized this woman’s actions, but didn’t give a reason other than that the woman was suffering. But that doesn’t mean a thing about whether the resident was right or wrong to keep his door closed or in his view of the bereaved mother’s actions!!

    This could have been a no-brainer. The author could have argued that we have a duty to each other, and that anyone finding someone stranded in a terrible storm has a duty to offer them shelter and that this is an important duty because it forms connections that lead to a more peaceful and secure society. You could say ‘Love your neighbour’ (or similar admonitions from other religions). You could point out that in many horrendous tragedies, the only thing to do is to try to prevent future recurrences, and many bereaved people do so – although it’s cruel to tell them immediately what they should have done in a storm.

    But it doesn’t work the other way around. There is no rule that says that if I am suffering and need help, someone will be there to provide it. Maybe there will be no one. Maybe there will, but they will be unable or unwilling to help. Maybe they weren’t sufficiently indoctrinated into the idea that all humans are neighbours.

    All the writer did was go on at length about her shock that this woman had suffered terribly, as though it made sense that next time, someone will get help because people won’t want to shock the writer. All emotion, no thinking.


    10 Nov 12 at 12:21 pm

  2. There is a fourth category to keep socialism or some variant going–moochers or free riders. Not everyone is envious and believes no one has a right to more: Some are just greedy and take whatever they can get. If Joe says I have to work hard to earn something and Sam says he’ll take it from someone else and give it to me, who gets my vote? It’s the chink in deocracy’s armor, especially when combined with very short-term thinking.

    Intellectuals. Real intellectuals aren’t the problem. There aren’t many of them, for one thing, and they often aren’t badly paid. They’re subject to pride and the belief that everything would be better if they managed it–but that’s also true of generals and politicians, who are better able to make their wishes come true.

    Your “quasi-intellectuals” or “wannabees”–the term I more commonly see is “pseudo-intellectuals”–are another matter. There’s a bunch of them, convinced that a college diploma and a classroom or newspaper column means they know more about finance than businessmen, more about crime than police and courts and more about warfare than generals. And, of course, they know more about morality than anyone. After all, they took a course on ethics as undergraduates. It’s pride again, to go with greed and envy.

    But they only get to “shape the narrative” to the degree the rest of us let them. One of the lasting pleasures of my life has been watching a generation of tenured idiots waxing apoplectic over the conservative Christian Tolkien and the libertarian Heinlein. They’re still doing it over the conservative Heyer and the srict constitutionalist Clancy. The people who really care about the Booker and Pulitzer Prizes are deeply impressed with one another–but no one else seems much impressed by them.


    10 Nov 12 at 1:46 pm

  3. Cheryl’s story was interesting but not surprising. We spend years teaching children “stranger, danger”. Then we have news stories about people beaten and robbed by fake meter readers or couriers. Follow that with warnings about looters in the wake of a major disaster. Why should we be surprised when people won’t open the door to a complete stranger?

    I agree with Jane about the slavery business. Medical care and education are services not things. Why should there be a right to a service provided by people? For that matter, why should there be a right to food and housing? Both of them require a great deal of work by human beings.


    10 Nov 12 at 4:32 pm

  4. Brava!


    10 Nov 12 at 6:49 pm

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