Ron Brown and Bill Clinton
All the benefits of virtue without the costs.
Remember when you had to do something virtuous to signal your virtue? Some of the virtuous way back when did virtuous acts and didn’t even tell anyone else about them. If you go into older museums and other civic monuments and look at donors’ names on plaques, you’ll find anonymous donors. They didn’t get a wing named after them, there were no press releases, they just gave to a good cause and that was its own reward. If they were alive today, they wouldn’t have Twitter feeds. Private virtue and public anonymity—incomprehensible!
At least plutocrats who plaster their names where they donate are donating their own money. Perhaps the most odious form of virtue signaling demands everyone’s taxes fund a chosen cause, then claims the same moral stature as the plutocrats. Strictly speaking this can’t be virtue signaling. There’s no virtue, only coercion and theft. The merit, if any, of the cause never justifies the immoral means used to fund it.
Gresham’s law of virtue: phony virtue drives out the real thing. It’s partly mathematical—what the government steals cannot be donated—but it goes much deeper.
There’s an intergenerational understanding rooted in biology: parents take care of children when they’re young; children take of parents when they’re old. Rearing children and caring for aging parents impose inconvenient burdens, but for most of history people had little choice, the only alternative was neglect and abandonment. Enter the state. In most Western countries responsibility for both child rearing and elder care has in whole or in part shifted to it.
Any respectable list of progressive “demands” includes access to day care, either funded or provided by the government. In truly advanced welfare states, day care is already an “entitlement,” like unemployment support or medical care. It’s a comforting sophistry that turning children over to third party caregivers in their formative years doesn’t attenuate the bond between parents and children. Two or three hours a day—always labelled quality time—is not ten or twelve hours a day. Day care personnel attending a group of children cannot devote the time and attention to one child as that child’s stay-at-home parent could.
The flip side of taking care of the young is taking care of the old. Social Security and Medicare are pay-as-you-go transfer schemes masquerading as funded pensions and medical plans. They have, judging by so many aging baby boomers’ lack of assets, nominally relieved individuals of the responsibility to provide for their own golden years. It’s fair to assume that such provision also attenuates for many boomers’ children any obligation they may feel regarding their parents’ support. In fact, the obligation often seems to run the other way, children demanding their boomer parents support them well into adulthood.
People outsource responsibility. but they want to feel virtuous. One way to do so is become an advocate. You may be dropping your own children off at day care, but you can advocate for children’s causes; children at the border is currently fashionable. You personally don’t have to do anything or spend a penny, just advocate that the government do something. You’ll acquire—among the circles you care about—the moral sheen that in days gone by required that you actually do something and spend your own pennies.
That moral sheen is worth less than nothing. Government Programs That Made the Problem Worse is a multi-volume set, each volume over a thousand pages. That’s not a problem for their promoters, what counts is their self-credited good intentions. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then hell fire itself is stoked by self-credited good intentions. The cynics—right about politics more often than anyone else—suggest good intentions often cloak a ruthless drive for votes, payola, and power.
Political funerals are revolting spectacles, the guilty living paying tribute to the guilty dead. It’s a toss-up which is more revolting. The “Humanitarian” epitaph for those who spent other people’s money “helping” the downtrodden of various stripes. Or the “Patriot” epitaph for those who blessed waging war on people and countries that pose no threat to the US. Surely the gates of hell open wide for hybrid Humanitarian Patriots. The Lyndon Johnsons, Bills and Hillarys, and John McCains of the world are alway loathsome creatures who unsurprisingly treat real life humans like shit.
Taken to its logical extreme, a government so big and powerful that it’s responsible for everything leaves everyone else responsible for nothing. If you aren’t responsible for anything, you can’t be virtuous or evil…or human. You can, however, signal your faux virtue: the government actions you advocate; the politicians and media figures you admire; the bumper stickers or lapel pins you sport.
Government has subsumed individual choice, responsibility, and thought at a historical juncture that will require individuals to make choices, take responsibility, and think as they’ve never thought before. Based as they are on coercion and their unsustainable ability to extract resources from their subject populations through force and fraud, governments are dominoes, and they’ve already begun to fall. Only ideologically induced analytical myopia accounts for the failure to recognize the fall of the most statist institution ever erected—the government of the USSR—as the beginning of the end of current statist arrangements, including welfare statism (it’s giving humanity too much credit to believe such arrangements will ever be wholly eradicated).
The energy required to maintain statist control is rising exponentially as information technology and weaponry become ever-cheaper and more widely diffused. Governments have plunged into an abyss of debt and welfare state promises. Soon they’ll lack the resources to keep either themselves or their recipients alive. Those that “contribute” recognize governments as their enemy, and most acknowledge no duty to the recipients. They’re on strike in myriad ways and economic growth rates continue their inexorable descent. Soon those rates will be less than zero. They may already be there, a reality obscured by rising debt and phony government statistics and accounting.
The world was caught by surprise when the USSR fell. It will be caught by surprise when the welfare states go, but in neither case is the surprise justified. Stupid is as stupid does: actions have consequences. The writing is on the wall.
The consequences will be especially severe for those who have outsourced their morality, brains, and very souls to politics and the state. If separated babies or kneeling football players can trigger “vitriolic outrage,” then there is no single phrase that describes the anger, frustration, desperation, hate, violence, lunacy, and outright insanity that will reign when politics and states fail. The resulting entropic atomization will force the atomized to fall back on precisely what many don’t have: their own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual resources.
Within a society, no matter how insane, there are pockets of rationality, true virtue, and wisdom. The wise see what’s coming and have prepared accordingly, to the best of their abilities. The rest will navigate the chaos to the best of their abilities, not an optimistic prospect.
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