Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Village vs. Responsibility

Hillary Clinton has apparently coined the term: "it takes a village to raise a child".

No, it takes good parents to raise a child. Presumably, you want parents to be responsible for themselves and their children. But if the entire village is now responsible for raising my kids, now that responsibility does not exist in me. The effect of this is that I now have a disincentive to be a good parent. Common sense should tell us that, it doesn't take my next door neighbor to raise my children, and I am the ultimate person who should raise my children. Someone half-way across the country isn't responsible for feeding my children for me, I am responsible for feeding my children. A fellow over in Austria doesn't have a responsibility to pay my insurance, I do. Bill Gates doesn't have a responsibility to give me a nice job, I have a responsibility to seek and aquire the job myself.

But as soon as you accept the collectivist claim that everyone, and thus (insert anonymous person here half-way across the country), has a responsibility to provide positivistic ends for everyone else, you take away independance, self-reliance and personal responsibility. You take away the incentive for the individual to do things for themselves when you convince them that everyone else is responsible for them. On the other hand, you are inventing burdens for others to do certainly positivistic things, in order to fulfil these imaginary collective responsibilities.

Someone cannot be "responsible" for bringing about a particular end for someone else who is perfectly capable of producing the same end themselves. If the person is capable of bringing about the desired end, then it is they who are truly responsible for its realization. If the person is not capable of bringing about the desired end (for example, a desired end of mine is to terraform mars and have human colonization there, a feat that I don't have the resources, money or knowledge to bring about), this still does not necessarily imply that someone else, let alone everyone else, is somehow "responsible" for bringing it about for that person.

It is imporant to stress that this does not mean that there are not circumstances where we have responsibilities to other people (such as paying off one's debts), but merely that such responsibilities are personal and on an individual, person to person level, not collective responsibilities. When one goes to the grocery store, the responsibility is two-fold: you have a responsibility to pay for the groceries with the incentive of the production of the goods, and the grocery store has a responsibility to provide them with the incentive of voluntary payment.

Further, these are situations where the responsibility has been justified on the basis of the incentive towards them produced by others. For example, the responsibility of a corporation or individual citezen to pay off their debts is justified on the grounds that they actually owe money to another party because they borrowed it. The responsibility of you to pay for the groceries is justified on the grounds that the grocery items actually have a "price" (and a "price" functions very much in the same way our debt example does, for in this sense, you are truly in "debt" to the grocery store in the form of payment once you have recieved the goods) and the common sense fact that they are not yours yet (I.E. property rights). The responsibility of the grocery store to allow you to have the items is justified on the grounds that your actual payment of money has been made (in this sense, the buisiness truly is in "debt" to you in the form of the good or service once it has recieved payment).

But the notion of "collective responsibility" as described by the likes of Hillary Cliton leads us to the absurd arguement that someone or a group of people who did not borrow any money (and therefore in reality do not have a "debt" to anyone) somehow have a "responsibility" to pay others, that people who have no connection to one's children have a responsibility to raise them for you, that you have a responsibility to buy someone else's groceries for them. Sorry, but the entire community cannot realistically, logically or justly be my children's babysitters or pay my bills, and I cannot realistically, logically or justly be responsible for raising your children or paying your bills. If the entire community or "the rich" are "responsible" for paying my bills, then you have taken away my personal responsibility over my own economic condition and made me dependant on others. Lastly, it should be noted that the kind of "responsibility" that results from this is entirely lacking in the incentive structure demonstrated in the previous paragraph, or at best it results in grossly misplaced incentives.

So, while you effectively erode the individual's responsibility over themselves by relying on the collectivist view of society, you create imaginary responsibilies that you impose on certain groups (especially the ones that you don't like). The reality is that the cumulative imaginary responsibilities imposed are impossible to be realized because they require more will, resources and capability then what may actually exist in the individual who is assumed to have such responsibility. This is because you have taken away their responsibility over themselves and are asking for something that requires post-scarcity and uniform willfulness or capability on the part of everyone; I.E. impossibities.

Hillary's village comment should be interpreted for what it is: it is communism. It is the idea that an established authority should be responsible for everyone's decisions on a collective level, instead of the individuals themselves. It is also the absurd idea that the collective, as in everyone on the planet or in the country, has a responsibility to provide for every need or want of everyone else, which is a demographic absurdity. I would like a stable slightly upper middle class income for myself as an individual. In fact, with a rising cost of living, I truly need this income level to fair well. Does this therefore mean that you, or everyone in America, or everyone in the world, has a responsibility to pitch in and give me this? Or can I, as an independant individual, take responsible actions and deliver this by the virtue of my own choices? The collective answer is absurd. The individual answer is realist and ethically sound.

Upon expressing this sentiment at a liberally-dominated message board, I was immediately assumed by some to be a starry-eyed Republican repeating old talking points. While Republicans certainly do abuse the term personal responsibility when they demagogue for campaigns, it is just that, demagoguing for campaigns. They do not actually consistantly support or oppose policies in a way that is consistant with such rhetoric of personal responsibility.

But it is absolutely mystifying to me that on the left, the term itself is often sniffed at, assumed to be some kind of "holier than thou" Republican musing, rather than accepted for what it is: a very basic value that most rational human beings can see the virtue of in some way or another. Advocacy of personal responsibility and individualism does not mean that people stop interacting and cooperating with one another, it just establishes where true responsibility ultimately lies within that framework of cooperation.

The village, as the likes of Mrs. Clinton envision it, is not one of cooperation. It is a village in which each individual is coerced to provide for the material needs and wants of others (or everyone else). Further, in this collectivist village, those who are most lucky and sucessful are precisely the very people who are given the largest burden of "responsibility". This immediately leads to an inevitable question: are you not now assigning responsibility to people in an uneven, unequal manner?

Further, since those who are less lucky or sucessful have much less responsibility then those who do, are you not now essentially exempting the least lucky and sucessful people from having to truly be responsible? From the silly ideal of everyone being directly responsible for eachother, we have a arrived at a scenario where particular groups have heavy responsibilities to provide for other groups that are allowed to linger around idly with little or no responsibilities.

In this process, the real individual responsibilities in society are crushed. Such an atmosphere creates a total lack of personal initiative for the people in the lower brackets (it also can have the same effect on the higher brackets, creating a caste of rich and sucessful people that are exempted from their responsibilities, which is made up for by a shift of those responsibilities to people in the lower brackets, the government or both). Most people who adhere to the collectivist view of society honestly believe that they are helping the people in the lower brackets of success, when in reality they are providing us with notions that tend to keep them precisely in that place.

A system in which the poor are entirely dependant on the middle class and rich is one in which both the poor and those functioning as their supply source are slaves. The poor are slaves in such a system because their supply source (the rich and middle class) and the government are effectively their "masters" in the matter (they are essentially given a "fixed caste" through payments in money or services by the government that came from others within society), and the people who have to make the payments are slaves of the government because they have to work to produce money that they will not recieve, that will be directed through government force away from how they likely otherwise would have spent it.

The collectivist view of society tells people who are poor, unsucessful and disadventaged that all they have to do is sit back and wait as their "superiors" take responsibility for them. It tells them that they are literally incapable of taking such responsibility for themselves. Such a notion is incredibly demeaning and paternalist, and it turns perfectly capable and talented people into unmotivated and discouraged ones, functioning as a blockade to upward mobility in society. Murray Rothbard was correct when he concluded that collectivist and egalitarian notions end up eroding what it means to be a human being, and thus they erode the value of humanity itself. I cannot help but conclude likewise here.

The idea that you are not capable of being responsible for your actions, and therefore the established authorities (such as government or religious institutions) will be responsible for you instead (because they are essentially assumed to be made up of "superior men") is not new to mankind. It is as old as the establishment of government itself, and it is perhaps among the most evil and exploited of ideas. The purpose of the idea is to get people to believe that their decisions as free individuals are inherently wrong and dangerous, and therefore they must sacrifice their freedom to the "higherups" and rely on the decree of a set of "superior, wise and divine men" before making choices.

The divine part of the myth has worn threadbare in recent times, but it has merely been replaced by a secular version of the exact same thing; they have ideologically imbued government itself with the divinity that was formerly used by governments to justify themselves with the union of throne and altar. Instead of the union of the government with the religious authorities, modern secular government attributes religious-like powers to itself. In either case, the underlying purpose is the same: to crush the individual's liberty and diversity by obscuring them with collectivist ideas. The fact of the matter is that "the village" would not exist or last without the free choices and subsequent personal (as opposed to collectivist) responsibilities of the individuals that make it up, and no propaganda in the world can change this natural law.

In conclusion, what Hillary Clinton really means by "the village" is the government, and what she really means by the "children" is it's subjects, the general populace. The proper translation of her phrase, "it takes a village to raise a child" is that she views the government as our parents and us as helpless children who must be guided by our parental government. It is the ultimate example of both paternalism and maternalism in government; it regaurds the established authority as made up of inherently superior people who magically fix the problems of the inherently inferior, child-like citezenry. This view of society is not liberal or conservative, it is simply statist and should be regaurded as such. It is the classic formula of the absolute state.

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