If one is going to go after sacred cows, one should really go after sacred cows. Most of the people in our society who get credit for "going after sacred cows" are just going after unfashionable ones. At least ones that are unfashionable in the circles they want to appeal to. We live in a world of iconodules posing as iconoclasts.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Social Future

Susan's Husband had a fair comment to the High Society post.

What about reproduction? Clearly it is not the duty of every member of society to reproduce, but if no one does, the society collapses, well before everyone dies (who takes care of a population where everyone is over age X for X > 50 or so)?

Do individuals have any obligation to act in a way that supports the continued existence of their society past their own death?

I agree that ultimately, the powers of a society (or the State that governs it) must be judged by how this supports the individuals it comprises (i.e., the "good" of a society is a sum over the "good" of the members) but -- how does one count future members? Are we obligated to them in anyway? Is there a future discount?
That's the Steynian argument and I'm very sympathetic to it. The flip side of course is the Progressive argument against "overpopulation", especially having children in the "resource-depleting, polluting West".

So in a sense ESR is still right, people use "society" as a means to project their own preferences.

I think our civilization is worth upholding, it's valuable to me and IMO a bunch of other people in it, precisely to the degree that it values the individual, by comparison to alternative cultures.

But the argument can be made on such grounds.

I do have to say I disagree with ESR with respect to the particular instance in which he made his point: IMO people should pay for the crimes they commit, even if the victim says that they would prefer it just be dropped. Because other identifiable individuals may then also be victimized, if the perpetrator is not sanctioned, and because there are a variety of examples of where a victim can be coerced/pressured into saying that (the beaten spouse being the most obvious example).

I do think we owe something to the future - and to the past - and one of the things we're not doing well is safeguarding that. Ironically one of the consequences of "social democracy" thinking, that is assertions based in "shouldn't society do X" is that it produces this effect. It's one of the perverse aspects of such thinking.

Steyn pointed it out when he said (and I forget the exact quote, so I'm paraphrasing) that there is nothing that makes people more selfish than egalitarian social democracy - which is the system that those who talk about "society this" and "don't you want a society where that" obviously aim for and prefer.

Note also that the "carrot-and-stick" approach to reproduction, favored by those who think in terms of "society", tends to produce perverse results: At best one gets the mostly failed "pronatalist" policies of European countries, producing or at any rate not reversing, declining birth rates, and at worst China, where sex-selection abortion and even infanticide becomes widespread.

There are good arguments and bad arguments for things; In my opinion, arguments based in "shouldn't society do X" are generally bad ones. This does not mean that every argument & policy that would have a wide or social impact is a bad one. ESR, for example, is not unconcerned with the survival of the civilization he lives in and its improvement. It's just that arguments that tend to be rooted in treating the abstraction of "Society" as a concrete individual entity/actor tend to be bad ones. In part because of the effects ESR identifies, and in part because it is a way of disguising the real actor, and the real acted-upon. Again, quite often those who invoke society really mean government, and are advocating state power. They don't mean the little platoons of social intermediary institutions operating in non-coercive ways, though my opinion is that these are generally the best way to address any problems that such people identify, when they are talking about real problems to begin with (which is not always the case).

P.S. here's the Styen quote I was thinking of:
It’s better to pay more in taxes and to share the burdens as a community. It’s kinder, gentler, more compassionate, more equitable. Unfortunately, as recent European election results demonstrate, nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism: Once a fellow’s enjoying the fruits of government health care and all the rest, he couldn’t give a hoot about the broader societal interest; he’s got his, and if it’s going to bankrupt the state a generation hence, well, as long as they can keep the checks coming till he’s dead, it’s fine by him. “Social democracy” is, in that sense, explicitly anti-social.

Somewhere along the way these countries redefined the relationship between government and citizen into something closer to pusher and junkie. And once you’ve done that, it’s very hard to persuade the junkie to cut back his habit.
"Societal" thinking tends to lead to Statist thinking and indeed rather inhuman thinking, as people become treated as cogs within the entity of "society" - as means, not ends in themselves. Several entire lengthy blog posts can and probably will be written around that theme, when I stop being lazy.



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