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Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Audacity of Stupid

It may be argued that our biggest psychological divide is not due to academic or philosophical differences, but pocket book ones. That is, how are you going to spend that spare change in your pocket or bank account? It's a bigger and more pressing argument than the endless debates over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, which summarizes metaphorically most debate in academic psychology. The demands on our purse are of course infinite, from health care to housing, and if we don't make the right choices, its the poor house for sure. So, in the large, we have two general directions to take:

If you don't have time to make all those critical decisions or it if it just stresses you out to confront all those choices, you can elect the government to do it for you by electing a government which will tax you to do it.

On the other hand, if you would rather making those decisions for yourself, then you will elect a government who will eject the government, and leave you free to choose.

And that's the difference dear reader between a liberal and a conservative. namely the presumed capacity of folks to make intelligent and reasoned decisions. Now of course, some things the government can do better without our middling choices (e.g., national defense, road construction, etc), and some things we can do better than the government (e.g. choosing what food or housing to buy). And then there are those things in which we are not quite sure which way to go (medical care, education, etc.). But the tilt in the argument ultimately rests upon an implicit attitude about the quality of the very wits we bring to making decisions. If we believe that we are inherently smart folk whose selfish interests dovetail with the common good, then it's good to move off as many decisions to individual folks as we can. On the other hand, if we are inherently stupid and will make decisions that will eventually destroy human civilization, then it's important that the government step in to hold our hand and make our decisions for us.

A liberal view inherently believes in the audacity of stupid, which presumes that average folk will have the sheer audacity of making wrong decisions with their money, and waste it on big houses, conspicuous consumption, and end up like the grasshopper in the fable who didn't save up for the winter.

On the other hand, a conservative believes in the audacity of intelligence, which presumes that average folk will have the audacity to make the right decisions with their money, and invest it in areas where they can make even more money by serving the common wheal, such as business creation or investment, and thus end up like the ants in the same fable, but this time with a lot of seed corn in the bank.

And where does this lead to the current buzzword of 'the audacity of hope'. Well, Hitler and Gandhi certainly had audacious hopes, but hope implies only the likelihood of good things, it doesn't tell you what those good things are. But given the fact that we generally know what good things are, the real question is whether we are confident that we have the wits to survive an increasingly complicated world. Well, I for one believe that we have them in abundance, like the proverbial ants.

And the rest, well, that's just BO.

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