Utopia vs Freedom

More thoughts from The Secret Knowledge by David Mamet…

When I did my post on this book last week, I forgot that I’d written down some of my thoughts on it both during and after I’d finished reading it. The other night I found them, and today I’ve decided they might be of interest to at least some of my readers.

One of the things that has been impressing itself upon me with regard to Liberal (or should I say “Progressive”?) thought these days is the element in it of wanting to restore, through the efforts of flawed and sinful men, the Garden of Eden. Of course, they don’t call it that, they call it “Utopia,” a term coined by Sir Thomas More for his book of the same name regarding a fictional island where dwells the “ideal” or perfect society.

David Mamet maintains (from personal experience — remember he was a Liberal until he was 6o years old) that one of the primary differences between Conservative and Liberal thinking is that Liberals believe human beings have “good hearts” — and in particular, that they, themselves, have good hearts. Conservatives, not so much; in fact, not at all, if one considers the content of Liberals’ constant attacks on Conservative character: we only oppose their policies, they say, because they aren’t our policies, or because we just want them to fail so we can win, or because we want kids to go hungry, or old people to be neglected. I suppose the Liberal answer is that we do have good hearts, but are simply denying them for the sake of “partisan politics.” But then,  that wouldn’t be very good-hearted, and so, really — oh, never mind!

Where was I?  Oh, yes — that Liberals believe they have good hearts and thus “good-hearted” ideas and plans for the world.

One such “good-hearted” idea, says Mamet, is that If they “could just make sure everything is fair,” all would be well.  Fair, not before the law, but just, you know, “fair.” Everyone getting an equal amount of the pie, for example, whether they worked for it or not, because, you know, some people just can’t work, don’t know how to work, or can’t find the sorts of jobs that are appropriate for their expectations… It’s not their fault.

Mamet illustrated this with the notion that the street sweeper, who does a valuable job that serves the community, should be paid just as much as the surgeon, who also does a valuable job. Who’s to say which is more valuable? The idea that just about anyone could sweep a street, whereas not everyone could be a surgeon, to say nothing of the years of preparation that goes into becoming a surgeon, doesn’t seem to enter the equation.

Another notion of “fairness” is having an equal number of races and/or genders distributed across the populations of various institutions — colleges, businesses (particularly in the executive suites), grant and college recipients, scientific organizations, prisons… Anything else just wouldn’t be fair.

In order to bring all this fairness about — this wonderful, perfect society where “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is the order of the day — we’ll need someone to be in charge: a socialist dictator. But have no fear, since he (or she) will be one of “them” (i.e., Liberal) and thus, by definition, will be a “good” dictator.

Conservatives, on the other hand, see the human race as potentially noble and honorable, but flawed. Sinful. Stubborn. Blind. Arrogant. Lazy. Selfish. Greedy. Combative… The idea of flawed human beings trying to make a perfect world is ludicrous. Instead we hope only to devise a government that takes into account the flaws and tries to provide liberty and equality under the law. Iindividuals will be free to make their own decisions — the bad ones that lead to failure and want, or the good ones that lead to success and plenty. It will be the outcome that motivates, not some person in charge of “fairness.”

The law merely ensures the people under it don’t violate each others’ freedom to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” — for example, it’s against the law to steal your neighbor’s stuff, or worse, kill him first and then take his stuff.

If you do, and are caught, you pay the penalty, period. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what your gender or race is, who your parents are, whether you like cats or dogs, how much money you have, what your societal position is…

Laws, of course, will not be perfect, having been devised by imperfect men. Neither will they be perfectly enforced, since imperfect men will be in charge of enforcement. There will never be perfect fairness in all situations. But still, few can deny that the American system of government our Founding Fathers devised has over the last two hundred years or so resulted in more freedom and more prosperity for more people than at any other time in history.

It’s not Utopia, but I think it’s about the closest we’ll ever get to a perfect society this side of Heaven. And a far sight better than the good-hearted view that if every one could just have the same amount of the same things we’d all be forever happy. That one is a system which historically, in every attempt to implement it so far, has failed miserably… You’d think its proponents would see that. That they don’t is another of the subjects Mamet addresses: “magical thinking.”

But that’s a topic for another day.

 

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