Thursday, June 07, 2007


Are people such as Dick Cheney bad men, or good men doing a dirty job?

Upon Scooter Libby's sentencing, Cheney gave a statement in which he described Libby as a man of great integrity.

Let's face it, if your idea of a man of great integrity is a guy who has just been sent down for perjury and obstruction of justice, you have different standards from most of the rest of us.

I just don't think you can spin these people as great public servants, having reluctantly to get their hands dirty in jobs no one really wants to do.


But haven't they brought us prosperity? It's difficult to tease out the counterfactuals. Could we have been prosperous under other systems? Could we have managed without jostling for resources, by cooperating, sharing, helping each other upwards instead of holding each other down? I'm inclined to think we could, but do I know how? No. I have faith that cooperation works better than competition, and I can think of examples of how it does in practice, but whether I could design a system that worked, I don't know. It's an item of faith for me as much as anything else, that greed is not the only way to motivate people. Personally, I have never felt the lash of ambition. I like being respected, loved, cared for, much more than I like people feeling I'm a success. Could mutual respect work as a spur to productivity?

If you don't think so, why not? Isn't the accumulation of goods to do with pride? Are there no other ways to instil pride than by a simple counting-off of what you have and what others do not?

I think men like Cheney have been allowed to set the rules. Not necessarily bad men -- I don't think people such as Adam Smith and John Locke were bad in themselves, and of course not all of their ideas were harmful -- but no doubt some of the rulesetters have been bad. Often they have chosen "moral" structures that work to endorse their own privilege. Of course men are going to support the idea that increase in opportunity and reward of success are good things if they personally had many opportunities and a fairly easy road to success.

You will worship competition if you are a winner; and it will be easy for you to forget that you had a headstart, that we don't all start from scratch. (It's worthy of remark that rightists at the same time claim that the poor deserve their poverty because they are life's losers and that they should not be hit with inheritance taxes, whose repeal ossifies difference and makes it impossible to create an equitable society.)

But this is the difference between right and left exactly. The right consists of people who benefit from things the way they are, and have the notion -- usually correct -- that were things different, they would not benefit so greatly. They hate change because they know that change can only take away their advantages. The left consists of people who think they will be okay with change, that sharing benefit fairly will not hurt them enough to make it undesirable.

As for integrity, I don't think it's possible to have it and be on the right. Integrity is too close to decency, and being decent demands that you have a care for others. The right simply doesn't. Its philosophy is focused on the individual. Whenever rightists say they are doing something for someone else -- for instance, "bringing them democracy", the antennae twitch. We ask, what's in it for them? Because ultimately that's why they act: for themselves, never for anyone else. Cheney also said that Libby was a great public servant. But I don't think so. I think he was serving something but not the public. Why would he? There would be nothing in it for him if he did.


At 9:42 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's face it, if your idea of a man of great integrity is a guy who has just been sent down for perjury and obstruction of justice, you have different standards from most of the rest of us.

boots sez:

Your faith in the American "justice" system is laudable though to someone who has lived in America all his life it seems naive. Judges usually instruct the jury to decide whether the accused has infringed the letter of the law, not to decide whether the accused is guilty of wrongdoing; the two are not the same. Lawyers and black-bag organizations can perform great feats of legerdemain together, and trials in which both are involved are the most suspect. Integrity implies a willingness to suffer rather than depart from principles, and there are situations in which the actual facts may never be known. Some who are "sent down" are guilty of wrongdoing, and others may not be as guilty as they are made to appear. Libby? I cannot know, and I need not make it my problem.

Isn't the accumulation of goods to do with pride?

No, it's to do with fear, sometimes inspired by guilt, more often a simple fear of the unknown, or a certain knowledge that one's soul could not cope with the vise of poverty.

At 1:07 am, Blogger Don said...

Yes, fear is part of the matrix that drives ambition. I wonder how many of us, without fear of a beastly poverty, would sit on our ass and, attempts at "art" aside, accomplish almost nothing?

Rights care about others as much as lefts. It's people in power who care only for their own ambition. The charades of our recent Dem and Rep "debates" shows that.

You don't get the right because they are more concerned with liberty than with fairness. I don't get the left because they are more concerned with fairness than with liberty. (Obviously I am not speaking of people who pursue power.) That's our fundamental difference, the question remaining which outlook better aligns with how the real world full of real people really works to get to that place we both more or less agree is worth getting to.

At 9:04 am, Blogger Dr Zen said...

Rights do not care about others. How ridiculous. It's the definition of rightism not to. And the obsession with "liberty", which is a codeword for "fuck you, Jack, I'm all right"ness, is purely American. Rightists elsewhere don't even pretend that they don't love authoritarians.

And Don, pay attention to this sentence, because it's the core of what's wrong with your worldview, and why you should adjust it: There is no liberty without fairness.

At 5:13 pm, Blogger Don said...

There is no liberty without fairness.

I'm sorry but this is absolute balls. It provides the excuse for any flavor of populist to deny rights and delay justice until everything has been made fair for everyone -- a goal that's quite easy to strive for and be sure never to attain.

I don't call myself a rightist. If rightists elsewhere care little for liberty, that's their problem. Liberty is not about I got mine now fob off. It's more don't thieve from me I won't thieve from you. I do support a baseband of common thievery to provide a basic level of support for everyone. But that no one can move forward until everyone else has been carried or dragged until they catch up is insane.

At 6:35 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

"I'm sorry but this is absolute balls."

Keep telling yourself that. I have no idea why you think "rights" and "justice" are not components of "fairness" but 'ts not my business to educate the clueless, so I will leave you to wallow in your ignorance.

At 6:37 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

I will say this though. Kid yourself all you like that the world is split between people who want to make progress and malingerers and ne'erdowells that they should not be expected to "drag up to their level" or whatever smarmy fucking way you have of putting that, but every step those gogetters take is made over the prone bodies of those who simply are not in a position to do well.


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