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The Wrecking Ball

A metaphor for what is wrong with government and politics today

The recent trend of bloggers and others complaining about the results of the last election has helped me find the language to bring to light a very important concept. As with many of my best posts, this one actually started as a comment.

Here’s the concept I try to get people with whom I discuss the results of the election to understand:

The problem with the government as it is presently constituted is not that the wrong people are in control of it, or that it’s headed in the wrong direction. These things may be true, but they are really beside the point.

The problem with the government is that it presumes to have the rightful authority to control parts of our lives that do not affect other people.

The government that presumes to have the authority to tell me what kind of contractual relationship I can enter into with an insurance company (ie, all the regulations government puts on health insurance providers) is the same government that presumes to have the authority to stop consenting adults from having any sort of contractual relationship they wish (ie, same-sex marriage).

The government that presumes to have the power to restrict gun ownership to people who pose no threat to law-abiding citizens is the same government that presumes to have the power to restrict the use of medical marijuana and other drugs by people that pose no threat to anyone but themselves.

The government that presumes to have the right to take people’s property with threat of force (ie, confiscatory taxation) is the same government that presumes to have the right to give that money to corporations and special interests relabeled as defense contracts, faith-based initiatives, or industry bailouts.

The pendulum may swing one way or the other at any given time, but once swinging, it will destroy most anything it touches – a veritable societal wrecking ball. The reason you are now noticing how bad the wreckage can be is that you now see that wrecking ball destroying your “house” – the issues you hold more dear – legal protection of abortions, equal rights for homosexuals, and equitable wealth redistribution, among others.

But let me assure you, people on the other side of the political road are just as scared of that wrecking ball when its in their own house, trying to restrict constitutionally granted rights to self-armament, raising taxes to pay for welfare programs that do more harm than good, regulating a free economy that works much better on its own.

I think that it is wonderfully poetic justice that the imminent destruction of that wrecking ball now looms over your house. Maybe you will come to realize that this is the same ball you were using to destroy that house across the street a few years ago. And just maybe this will open your eyes to what you very much helped create – a government that presumes authority to control contractual relationships, decide what you can and cannot buy, even when it affects no one else negatively, and decide from whom and to whom to give money that they take with threat of force.

If you want that great wrecking ball of government to forever leave you and your house alone, then you also have to abandon your desires to take down that house across the street. Or, if you really want to continue trying to destroy that house, you could at least have enough foresight enough to use a smaller wrecking ball, on a single room.

In case I lost anyone in the metaphor, I will restate the above in more straightforward language. If you want people to leave the rights you hold dear intact, it is only fair to also leave the rights they hold dear intact. But, if you insist on trying to take away rights others hold dear, do so with caution, and do it only at the state level. This way, fewer people will get hurt when you screw up. And if your idea really is so good, the entire nation can follow suit if they wish – but leave it up to them. If you can learn fro this election, instead of just redoubling your efforts to shove that wrecking ball back across the street, then maybe the last 70-odd years of ever-worsening destruction won’t all have been in vain.

Bobby, Chris, Bernie, Larry… Here’s to not giving up on you.

8 Responses to “The Wrecking Ball”

  1. Chris Vincent Says:

    And if your idea really is so good, the entire nation can follow suit if they wish

    I utterly disagree with this. Depending on the distribution of people across the nation and their collective backgrounds, there are many very good ideas which will simply not be allowed to happen, and many terrible ideas that will be allowed just as well.

    Case in point: slavery. I don’t think I need to explain this, but I’ll be brief. There was a point in American history where slavery was supported by a very wide majority. Was it right? Hell no, and I certainly hope that you will not argue that I’m “destroying someone else’s house” by wanting the government to regulate the treatment of other human beings. You seem to work on the basis that smaller government is universally good. Slavery is one example in which the government had to increase its authority in order to guarantee something much more important than the vague ideal of a small government: human rights.

    And to tell you the truth, it did destroy some houses. Plantations were relying on free labor to churn out enormous profits. But when a house is held up by people forced against their will to do so, I think it’s more than justified that it be torn down.

    The fact is, you seem to operate on a different pair of competing ideologies that are not “liberal vs. conservative”, but “small government vs. big government”. But just as neither ultra-liberal nor ultra-conservative are ideal, neither small government nor big government are ideal. You must find a line in the middle that will provide the highest benefit to everyone.

    But there are those who do not want anyone but themselves to benefit, and that is the core of the problem as you explain. Unfortunately, you have taken that eloquent and well-thought-out analogy and turned to small government as the ideal win-all solution that it is not.

    This brings me back to the statement I started this comment with. I disagree with it, and so did the philosophers of democracy. It was agreed that while the majority is not always right, it will over time be right more times than wrong. That fact ruins the statement you made. Assuming that the majority will “rule” fairly is just as bad as assuming the government will.

    Allow me to explain why some of my ideas are not breaking down anyone’s house (as a more liberal person living in a very conservative state, I think I have a pretty good idea as to what knocks the “other side’s” house over and what does not).

    Restricting the right to own a gun. Well, let’s face it. Even the guys on the other side of your proverbial street will admit that owning certain guns is not a necessity as much as it is a vice, just like gambling or driving big-ass, all-consuming Hummers. There are certain weapons which nobody needs to have, such as assault rifles. If it is made to kill scores of people in as little time as possible, it’s just unnecessary. What’s wrong with having a rifle for hunting and a pistol for self-defense? Why go any further when the result is potentially very bad? Hell, it’s knocking down my house if I can’t go out into public without full knowledge that nobody around me is carrying a concealed automatic weapon. It doesn’t knock down their house if they aren’t allowed to have guns that have no use but killing other human beings in the masses. Many of my friends are severe gun enthusiasts, and even they can agree.

    Welfare and other social programs. They need reform. They need to help people get back on their feet (a position that I can infer you’ve never found yourself in, and thus are a terrible spokesperson to be shouting about it). But they need strict rules that allow this government-funded second chance to be spent on only the essentials: food, water, modest shelter, modest transportation to a good paying job. The last part is important. These programs need to work to *augment* existing income so that it can be used for education for a better job, rather than replace the income as many people lacking morals have chosen to abuse the program. There needs to be a strict and short time limit after which this extra help is cut off permanently. So yes, these social programs need huge reform measures, but should not be eliminated. I don’t think there’s a defensible argument that says helping people improve their lives will not make America a better place for everyone. Take a look at a chart of America’s wealth per percentage of America’s population, and you will understand that a little redistribution is not out of the question.

    I suppose you will strongly oppose to the above. I also suppose you’ve never yourself lived in a low-income family and attended a vastly sub-par school district. Denying people of a one-time chance to get out destroys our house. The people who have inherited vast wealth without having worked a day in their lives will not feel it at all, unless their money truly owns them that badly.

    Does a free economy work much better on its own? Look at the media. Well over 90% of it is owned by about five men. Is that a good thing? Surely not. But it is the result of deregulation of the media, allowing outlets to consolidate further and further until it is all controlled by a few guys. In America’s earlier years, when the rich actually earned their paychecks with real innovation and honest business, the free market worked wonderfully. But over time, businesses have learned to exploit the free market unfairly. That destroys my house.

    I could go into more detail on all of this, but I should honestly be in bed right now. I find the statement “Bobby, Chris, Bernie, Larry… Here’s to not giving up on you,” to be quite offensive and condescending, but I’ll let it slide. I’m sure you meant no harm. But don’t get pompous with me, because I assure you I’ve seen shit you’ve never seen and will never have to, much thanks from both of us to the terrible wrecking ball.

  2. Arcanius Says:

    The biggest problem I see in (1) is a confusing of positive rights and negative rights. Positive rights are guarantees to certain things (education, work, healthcare, housing), as opposed to negative rights which are the rights from certain things (usually freedom from abuse or coercion by others). The “houses” I talk about in the above examples were constructed of negative rights. Chris attempted to build positive rights as additions to those houses. This may be where the primary disconnect occured.

    However, after several attempts, I have found that the above statement may have too many of these misinterpretations of my points to write a response that is worth reading. I have saved my work so far, and may post bits of it later. Actually, I’ll post one bit now, because it illustrates the problems I ran into in my attempt to write a response.

    Keep in mind that this response is to just one of the paragraphs in (1):

    I utterly disagree with this. Depending on the distribution of people across the nation and their collective backgrounds, there are many very good ideas which will simply not be allowed to happen, and many terrible ideas that will be allowed just as well.

    I find it strange that you “utterly disagree” with a statement I make, and then you explain that disagreement by bringing up the very point I was trying to make in the original statement. Either there is a vast misunderstanding going on here, or we are saying the same things.

    Your point seems to be that not all good ideas will be accepted, and that instead many bad ideas may be accepted. This is clearly the case – just look around! I completely agree with you here. And because of this fact, it is important that we be able to tell which ideas are bad and which ideas are good. You offer no mechanism to do this – except perhaps, your word that one idea is good and another idea bad. Sorry, but I don’t trust you that much.

    However, by implementing good and bad ideas at the state level, both can be seen for what they are. To quote a famous man, “by their fruits ye shall know them” – the good ideas will have good results, and the bad ideas will have bad results. It’s very straightforward. Then other states can see the good or bad results, and modify their own systems accordingly. If, as you say, the majority of the people eventually choose the better part, then all the states will eventually progress, perhaps slowly, but generally in the “right” direction. They don’t have to, but that doesn’t have to affect you terribly – because you can move to a state that does, out of a state that does not, or work to implement better ideas in your state as well.

    So either we are saying the same thing and you completely disagree with my way of saying it, or what you actually object to is the idea of giving people the choice mroe locally to decide their own fates. I’m not sure which it is, but both seem pretty unreasonable to me.

    I was finding that my responses to each of the above “points” were growing to be at least this long (I had to force myself to not overexplain myself in the above response, in fact). And I decided that it wasn’t worth the effort at the moment. But don’t mistake this for giving up, even if my not giving in offends you.

  3. Chris Vincent Says:

    I’m not offended by your “not giving in”, and in fact I agree with you. What I disagreed with was your saying that the majority will automatically make it so if it is right (which you have clarified in your response, and so I see that we are not opposed on this point).

    Also, I responded to your response to me on Bobby’s old thread (as you can see, I’m not particularly prompt on blog comment threads). I agree with you that these things should be tried on state level. Actually, just go back to that thread and read my response, which carries a few rare exceptions and explains my position more fully. Again, I think we agree on this.

    I was finding that my responses to each of the above “points”…

    “Points”? Do you use quotes here to patronize my position (which, by the way, I still stand by even though it was written at 3 in the morning)? Not cool, especially when you’ve yet to come up with the response for them. It will be a little more acceptable to denigrate my response emotionally when you have refuted it logically. I understand that you don’t have the time to do that right now, so just please can the “pwned” style comments until you do have the time to respond fully.

  4. Arcanius Says:

    Meh, you’re too fast. I was still editing my comment when you replied to it :-).

    And on the “points” issue, you made your “point,” but I really think you are taking everything I say a little too personally. My “point” was that its hard to tell what is really your “point” when in fact we agree where we think we disagree. Ok, that “point” is kind of convoluted, but at this “point” I don’t know if I care.

  5. Chris Vincent Says:

    Ha. I read the quotes around the word “points” in your post as a notion of some kind of pity, as if they had no value whatsoever, which is fine after a thorough refute. Sorry, but you kind of put me on the defensive with you ever since a comment on Bobby’s blog which I found quite rude (directed as a response to one of my comments which I had not responded to because I was incredibly busy that night), especially when you were putting words in my mouth and criticizing me harshly for a point of view I was not even taking. And that would be why I have my hair standing on end and my claws out when I read your posts. Sorry about that.

    And yes, we fundamentally seem to agree on a lot of these things, which means both of us are either using our brains or drawing from some common ideology. I am not an ideologist, so I would think it is the former.

  6. Arcanius Says:

    Also, I think its an incredible stretch to turn “if your idea really is so good, the entire nation can follow suit if they wish – but leave it up to them.” into “the majority will automatically make it so if it is right.”

    Maybe my early dismissals of your “points” isn’t cool, but misstating my position to take issue with it is at least as bad – I would say worse. In the first case, no one will think that your idea has been refuted. Only someone who generally trusts me might assume that I have a good response. But in the case of distorting my positions and then refuting them is a rather devious trick known as the straw man fallacy. And I think its intellectually dishonest, because it is (generally, unless done accidentlly) aimed at presenting a false sense of disproving another’s “point,” when in fact nothing of the sort occured.

    Also, please note that Chris responded to my comment (2) before I added the whole negative/positive rights thing.

  7. Chris Vincent Says:

    Also, I think its an incredible stretch to turn “if your idea really is so good, the entire nation can follow suit if they wish – but leave it up to them.” into “the majority will automatically make it so if it is right.”

    The part there where you said “- but leave it up to them” was not there when I made that post, as far as I can remember. Either way, it was obviously a misunderstanding of what you were saying, and it’s really not that bad of a stretch to see how it could mean the same thing.

    And let’s not forget what I said above:
    …especially when you were putting words in my mouth and criticizing me harshly for a point of view I was not even taking.

    You were misrepresenting my views as well. Whether it was intentional or accidental, I do not know. Don’t accuse me of being dishonest when you don’t know whether it was a mistake (which I think I made clear in comment 3 that it was: What I disagreed with was your saying that the majority will automatically make it so if it is right (which you have clarified in your response, and so I see that we are not opposed on this point); now who is misrepresenting?).

  8. Arcanius Says:

    Guilty as charged. I think. I didn’t actually check, but usually Chris is right about these things.

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