I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past few years trying to determine what is wrong, and what we should do about it.
Buddha and a Chipmunk
That statement is intentionally vague. I think all of us would agree that our current society is currently broken. Most people I speak to are sure they understand why and how it is broken, and what we should do about it. Given that most people disagree in implementation if not the problem itself, I just keep digging.
There’s a quote by Thomas Paine in Common Sense that has been meaningful to me, and that I’ve been struggling to fit into my previous liberal leanings.
SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.
Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him, out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.
Liberals have a tendency is to attack social problems with government solutions. We seem to prefer top-down solutions, which makes sense given that that is the type of structure you often see in established systems.
Centralized power, especially elected, is more easily corrupted and far easier to disassemble once a group that is hostile to its existence is able to take over. As an example, look at the current state of our Federal government.
Prior to being largely destroyed by the Trump administration, some government agencies had been corrupted for decades. Corporate greed has severely impacted many critical institutions like Education, Real Estate, and Health Care while our government attempted to stimulate growth rather than restraining greed.
Conservatives tend to blame the Government here. Overregulation raises the barrier to entry for new competition. For a great example, look at the ISP industry, where the competition was regularly stifled by exclusive regional government contracts.
Liberals tend to blame Industry here. There are a lot of greedy investors at the moment. A new company has a choice between investors who will drive to maximize profit, or finding alternative funding so they can compete against someone much larger. Government is the appropriate check against vices.
Those in power at the Federal level, on the other hand, tend to side with the greedy, generally for well-intentioned reasons.
Everyone should have access to colleges, so they make student loans easier to obtain. In order to achieve this goal, the loans were handled by private lenders but were guaranteed by the government, who also ensured that the debt could not go away in bankruptcy.
Guaranteed money is a great way to attract investors, and the cycle of greed starts. If your goal is profit, then your motivation will be to get more students. To apply consumer modeling rather than academic excellence. This leads to giant campuses, overcrowded classrooms, and much higher tuition in order to pay for the scale involved in the operation.
The housing market can be seen to have followed the same path. The more we try to make it easier for people to buy homes the more we trigger a cycle of greed. This culminated in the housing and banking crash a decade ago, which was again triggered by greed enabled by government.
The solutions for both parties were to bail out the greedy.
Homeowners got some support with their mortgages, but the handling of it often left them at the whim of oversized and uncaring corporate banks like Wells Fargo. We’ve seen since then the types of business practices were the norm within that organization.
My bias against Corporate greed is probably pretty clear, but that point about government is valid as well. I think the problem is larger than both of those institutions.
As I’ve started diving into Philosophy more and more, I believe the issue is a lack of living virtuous lives within our society.
I had been raised Catholic, but I have been an atheist for half of my life. I’ve kept some of those instilled values, so I’ve always done what I felt was right. As I read more about Stoic values, I’m starting to realize how much I had been missing.
The advantage of the state and that of the individual are yoked together; indeed it is as impossible to separate them as to separate the commendable from the desirable. Therefore, virtues are mutually equal; and so are the works of virtue, and all men who are so fortunate as to possess these virtues
Seneca — On Various Aspects of Virtue
A “Good” society is built by Good individuals. Our society values wealth far more than living a Good life. Wealth corrupts. A nation of individuals all attempting to reach the financial top crush those who are just attempting to get by.
In my opinion, a government which exists to represent the needs of the people against the desires of investors is important. That is a moot point if both institutions have been infiltrated by the same corruption.