People who enjoy quantitative analysis of current events and social policy tend to get irritated by the fact that most people don’t know what “average” means. In fact, most people don’t know the difference between the words “some”, “all” and “many”, treating them as if they are synonyms. The easiest way to activate the nearest outrage machine is to say something like “Some women….” and you can be sure a local gal will clutch her pearls and tell you she is nothing like whatever you described. It’s madness.
Something similar happens to people when discussing social policy or describing a cultural phenomenon. What is good for society, may not always be good for each member of society. Similarly, what you like may not scale up very well. Open borders fanatics fall into this trap. They look at the quaint ethnic eateries around their college campus and think, “This is how it should be everywhere!” They never stop to think if it should be something we attempt and they never think about what actually will happen.
It’s not just liberals and libertarians that get confused by this. Lots of people say they want America to return to its constitutional founding, never stopping to think if we should actually try to do it. If we tried to roll back the 19th Amendment, there would be endless protests, even if every state promised women the franchise. Rolling back the Reconstruction Amendments would launch a civil war. You may like the idea of going back to the original, but we shouldn’t attempt it, which is why we will never try it.
This circles back to the topic of internet commerce. Lots of people like the convenience of ordering on-line and having their goods delivered to them. Some people like the fact they can buy on-line from cheaper foreign sources, thus saving some money. That’s perfectly understandable, but that does not mean we should, as a society, let Amazon monopolize the retail marketplace. There may be ugly trade-offs. Even if we can figure it out, that does not mean we will act accordingly. Instead, we will plow ahead and learn the hard way.
The easy thing to get right is what you like. The old maxim about being conservative about what you know best applies here. All the people screaming at me for questioning the wisdom of letting Amazon own the marketplace are doing so because they know how much they like shopping on-line. They don’t want any discussion of changing it. They know their tastes and habits better than anyone so they are the most conservative about those things. As a result, they instinctively recoil at any criticism of the internet economy.
To be clear, we all do this to some degree. I reject any and all efforts to impose regulations on gun ownership. I know the gun laws better than most and I know the gun statistics better than most. The only changes I favor are repeals of existing laws, but any mention of “gun laws” or “gun crimes” puts me in a defensive crouch. The most conservative position is to resists any discussion of changing gun laws so that is my default position. As a result, I probably have a few things wrong about the gun debate.
Where things always get squirrely is when the topic moves into what we should do as a society. Libertarians, of course, leave the room at this point because they think “should” means “must” and they are against coercion. This is one of the reasons I have so little patience with libertarians. Politics is about what will be done and that results from the debate over what should be done. The libertarian impulse to retreat into proselytizing about their principles makes them worse than useless in the war with the Left.
Liberals claim to hold the moral high ground so all of their proclamations about what should be done are invested with moral authority. It is why they frame every debate in moral terms. That way, they avoid the granular analysis of what they are doing, so the focus shifts to the morality of their intentions. It is often assumed that this is a deliberate tactic, but it is instinctual. Progressivism is a religion. The adherents naturally frame everything in terms of their faith, in the same way Muslims rely on the Koran for their authority.
Buckley conservatives abandoned public morality long ago, so they are reduced to turning everything into a math problem. This appeals to many libertarian-ish people which is why you see so many of them hanging around the Official Right™. It would be nice if public policy could be decided, at least to some degree, by mathematics, but there’s no history of that ever happening, which means it will most likely never happen. It’s why the Buckley Right has lost every fight over the last 25 years. You don’t beat morality with math.
Of course, no matter what your conception of what should happen is, the odds that it will happen are fairly low. Even the most modest plans have unintended consequences and most of us are easily deluded by our sense of righteousness. It is why Progressivism has devolved into a madhouse of lunacy. They stand on their soapboxes sermonizing about what should happen, only to see the opposite happen. The recent string of elections has them thinking the gods have abandoned them, which is why they are so distraught.
This is not a post with some great important point to make so I’ll wrap it up. The one take away here is that when I write about some public phenomenon, I’m usually looking at it from the various angles of the “should” position. Is this something we should embrace? Is this something we should tolerate? That sort of thing. You may like midget porn, for example, but we should not have it on television. On the other hand, you may hate paying your taxes, but we should enforce tax laws, even the terrible ones.