IntegrityAre 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.