Home > Clarifying social liberal positions

Clarifying social liberal positions

I ran into recently a collection of liberal argument, "The Long Faq on Liberalism":http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/LiberalFAQ.htm#Backmorrel, and was so impressed wrote a short criticism of it to do what I can to improve it. I’ll try to refine my criticism which turned into a criticism of various liberal position in general as well as conservative, into a more elaberate, self contained and organized dissertation, but for now would like to post it in it’s rudimentary form. So for those who can bear with me,

I greatly appreciate your FAQ bringing together of liberal arguments. I wish to add what I can to the FAQ. For expediency I will not support statements I surmise you agree with. If I make any assumptions you do not agree with please let me know and I will give my justification.

I would first like to refine the place of altruism in the FAQ. Though “favours†are often given since one knows it shall be returned in the future, you scratch my back I scratch yours mentality, and spontaneous favours can be given due to the observation that back scratch relationships can often be created at a cost, in failed back scratch attempts, that is far outweighed by future gain of the ones that succeed, this mentality is not the explanation of charity or redistribution of wealth (charity through taxed) on any non personal level. Welfare, subsidized education, universal health care, etc. are not forms of charity or altruistic in any but the extreme cases. That social programs are altruistic is a myth. These institutional redistributions of wealth, as I’m sure you are aware, are good for society. It is this latter principle, not charity, which should be generalized to from the philosophic justifications of social programs.

The proof is simple if one allows the following assumption: there is always useful work to be done in society. This is a very powerful axiom - the proof of which I will omit from this letter as I’m sure you agree - that précis’s many liberal arguments and policies.

In health care. The strength a person lends to society after recuperating swiftly from an illness or injury vastly compensates for the cost in paying for such recuperation. A group in which a member becomes more capable, is more capable. A more capable group can solve more problems that are liable to arise and has more opportunity to prosper.

In education. The cost in subsidizing a persons education is outweighed by the efficiency generated in everything that person does thereafter, and the increase in informed and clearer voting decisions that person makes. A group in which a member becomes more capable, is more capable.

Likewise for all social programs. Increasing the capabilities of a given individual, be it better health, better education, better means, should be done for all members of society until the resources necessary would render a greater increase in capabilities elsewhere.

Liberal socialism, or social liberalism, is best formulated as what decisions are best for society.

The next principle that can be derived is: all things that are bad for society should be prevented, unless doing so is worse for society (causes more problems than it solves: should be prevented).

The first clause is where the existence and enforcement of laws, civilian and industrial, are derived. If a given pollution is bad for society, then society should prevent said pollution. How can someone seriously advocate to society that society should do something other than what is good for society. The latter clause is where liberal laws are derived from. If the fundamental principle is what is good for society, an action that costs more resources or effort than it saves is inadmissible. Strictly regulating nuclear fuel and reactors is very good investment for society. Though by definition ‘saying things that are not true’ is bad for society, it would cost far more resource and effort for society to try force people to only say true things, even if the system somehow knew what was true. If such a thought police got truth wrong then society cannot be much worse off.

All liberal policies can be derived from what is best for society. Altruism is not needed these demonstrations (such as the many provided in the long FAQ). The mentioning of altruism in the immediate justification of policy is erroneous and propagates the myth that liberalism is for the faint at heart.

The liberal policies when derived solely from the principle of what is good for society become much clearer and simpler to prove. History gives us no example of sustained non social liberal societies; however, game theoretic models can also provide the fundamental theorems, collective wisdom précising the rest. The societies to prosper are the ones where sufficient members acted according to what was good for society. Where a sufficient amount of members of society acted in a way that was bad for society, society does not prosper.

The more prosperous and sustainable society is, the greater the chance one’s endeavors will be prosperous and sustainable. Even if one climbed to the top while society disintegrated all around, the top may not actually be better than what otherwise may have been a more easily attained position, and the top may not be sustainable but for a brief length of time. However, though all liberal policies can be derived from what is best for society, this last principle that it is in one’s best interest to do so is insufficient for all circumstances.

This principle of what is best for society other political theories will readily assent to. It is to this last principle that it is in one’s best interests to act in accordance with the best interests of society that is in dispute. Social liberalism holds that it is not necessarily true; that there are situations in which acting in one’s best interest, by any given definition, does not coincide with the best interests of society. What distinguishes, philosophically, social liberalism and other political theories is this principle with the principle that one should act in accordance with what is best for society even though one may no see the benefit this renders to oneself. (The non philosophical differences, analytical differences, have to do with what is in the best interest of the majority. Conservatism for instance, states that evidence and intuition conclude that a state with no universal health care is healthier than a state with universal health care and that it is in the best interest of the majority to not wish any sort of universal health care. Whereas social liberalism states that the evidence and reasoning suggests otherwise.)

The lack of distinction in most social liberal philosophy between the analytical arguments derived from what is best for society, that are not intrinsic (do not define) social liberalism; as in, if something else was concluded to be good for society that would be the social liberal policy (if health care is bad for society, prove it!), and the decision to act in the best interests of society even if it is against one’s own interests, altruism, leads to confusion in social liberal policy, discussion, political campaigns and indeed what social liberalism is and what differentiates it from other theories (as in, what reasons exactly does social liberalism posit for rejecting other theories).

For instance, as was mentioned, universal health care is an analytic difference between the conservatism and social liberalism. The differences (in theory) are purely analytical, as in each side accuses the other of improperly reasoning from sound principles (in this case what is good for the people).

Ann Rand style objectivism is also a purely analytical difference. Ann Rand makes the claim that it just so happens that what is in the best interest for the individual always coincides with the interests of society.

Social liberalism does not in fact have any fundamental, what I call fundamental, differences with any other political theory. All political theories claim to be what is best for society.

Conservatism says selfishness and ruthless competition are virtues. However, upon this principle alone conservative politics cannot exist. A candidate cannot make a platform that states “I will do if elected what is in my best interest, be it taking bribes, abusing power, stealing from the people, given favours to friends and so on†. Such a campaign will not get far. To exist as a political theory, conservatism must make the supplemental claim that selfishness and ruthless competition coincides with what is best for society.

It is the social liberalism that states the principle that one’s best interests always coincides with the best interests of society is absurd. Social liberalism then concludes that political office invariably presents the opportunity to gain at the expense of society, and if someone operates under the doctrine of ruthless competition this is what they will do if elected. The evidence is overwhelming that personal and social interests do not coincide at all times. They of course do coincide in many things; if they did not society could not exist (if it is in the best interest of the individual that the individual continue existing, and if the social interest never coincides with individual interest, then it is in the best interest for society that no individuals exist).

Conservatives answer this overwhelming evidence that unchecked competition is best for everyone by confusing and jumbling their political theory so any contradiction here can be resolved by creating contradiction else where, not to form any sophisticated rebuttal, but to continue to fool their constituents. As long as the contradiction is continuously removed to another part of the reasoning the conservative constituent is content through blind faith.

This is the first fundamental real difference between social conservatism and conservatism. Though a corrupt politician can pose as adhering to any political theory, to gain trust and hopefully office in order to exploit people, conservatism is the doctrine of choice. Social liberals are well aware that someone can be disingenuous and not truly acting in the best interests of society, and so they tend to scrutinize their would-be leaders. Conversely, a disingenuous person is a contradiction in the conservative doctrine. By acting in one’s best interest, one is acting in the best interests of society, and so politicians cannot willingly do something that is bad for society. Thus the conservative has no basis on which to scrutinize a politician. Only intelligence matters; only through lack of cunning in pursuing personal interest, and hence social interests, can a politician do something not in society’s best interest. Being able to win an election, in the party or electorate, is proof they were the most cunning and hence proof they are the most trustworthy.

Though the absurdities that result from this way of thinking are obvious, through carefully training to accept contradiction (through contradiction displacement) the conservative can come to embrace these absurdities. For instance, election fraud is in the best interest of the politician, and so it is in the best interest of society. The shear amount of effort the conservative party in America put into election fraud of all kinds, and the shear amount of people involved is a good indication that this conclusion is actually accepted by the Republican Party. According to conservatism election fraud is good for democracy. A fixed election therefore is a sign of a healthy democracy.

However, it should be noted that this is only a view the truly conservative come to. The conservative voting base on the other hand does not really understand what saying social and individual interest always coincides implicates. Since the conservative is by definition only concerned with personal gain, they need never to check that this coincides with public interest as they know that it does, whatever is in the interests of the politician is the right thing to do. Due to the inherent absurdity of the competition principle a conservative party is unable to bring a coherent set of policies to the table. And indeed social liberals suspect the “truly conservative†do not even believe the theories they propagate (conservative environmental think tanks purely funded by oil companies are genuine?). The conservative party exists not because many people are conservative (the people actually willing to believe people doing whatever they can to gain for themselves is good is a very slim minority that could not sustain any significant party), but as an aggregate of single issue voters. A single issue voter votes for a single issue or a set of issues to the dismissal of all other issues.

In the United States for instance, the conservative party champions fundamentalist Christian causes, the fundamentalist Christian will vote for the party that contains a policy representing the Christians rights cause of the day regardless of whether all the other policies are in fundamental contradiction with Christianity (such as helping the poor by not helping them). Thus as long as the Christian right cause of the day is championed, and not adequately championed by another party, the Christian right’s vote is secured. Likewise, Austrian school economists are concerned with the single issue of tax magnitude, specifically decreasing the taxes to zero, though no where in the Austrian school itself does it suggest single issue voting is a good idea, its converts nonetheless vote for any party willing to cut taxes anywhere any place regardless of how the rest of the taxes are spent (and so are willing to lose a 2, 5, 10, even a 100 percent tax value, in terms of incompetent management of the services provided by taxes that are paid in exchange for a 1 percent tax break, often not even in the tax bracket they are apart, thus contradicting their own principle that humans always seek to maximize the return on their money). Likewise the neocons are solely concerned with the expansion of military spending and will vote for any party willing to do so. Gun enthusiasts will vote for any party enthusiastic about guns regardless of whatever else they do (and of course in spite of the overwhelming evidence that loose regulation of guns decreases crime and increases safety). “Though on crime†fanatics will vote for any party that is “tough on crime†no matter what else that party intends to do and how to do it (and of course despite the overwhelming evidence that the United States approach to crime is costly and counter productive). “Support the troops†and “support the president†are other single minded groups, the list goes on.

Reconciling all these types of single voter “conservatives†in the same framework is impossible. However, that other parts of the conservative platform are at odds with other parts (Christianity and military adventurism/torture for instance) is a cause of angst for the all but the true conservative, who knows the actual platform is meaningless (as long as it gets one into power it is by definition good for society). So the tendency is to simply assume that all these different single issue philosophies are part of some greater philosophy. However, no such greater philosophy exists.

It is clear that political theories themselves cannot be based upon selfishness. If one does not even claim to intend to act in the best interest of society, but indeed readily assents and approves of corruption, few will vote for a such a person. The theory of selfishness cannot exist explicitly in politics and so is not a political theory.

The rejection of selfishness is not by definition selfish. If it could be proven that rejecting selfishness maximized gained, then rejecting selfishness would be selfish. There are evolutionary reasons for why people “tend†to be unselfish (a selfish society would destroy itself and be replaced by neighboring unselfish societies). However, it is an erroneous proposition with social liberalism that this is a reasonable basis for social liberalism. An organism that does not act in a way that ensures their genes pass on does is less likely to have genes survive in the short and or long term. This is true. However, saying that this is a reason to act in a way that ensures gene survival is an erroneous twisting of the principle. All evolution states is that if one doesn’t behave in a way that tends to gene multiplication that one’s genes won’t be multiplied on the one hand, and on the other that one probably has some tendencies to desire to do things that multiply one’s genes, otherwise one’s genes are less likely to exist. What evolution does not say is that multiplying one’s genes is good; should be striven for. But even if it did, it doesn’t go anywhere; being selected out of the gene pool is as much a part of evolution as increasing one’s share in it.

Furthermore, basing social liberalism, or anything, upon evolution can only be done at the expense of free will. Denying free will cannot form the basis of a political theory. If no one has a choice in the matter public debate doesn’t actually exist.

It is this junction that is the place of altruism and religion and other things. Some are purely altruistic for acting according to what is good for society, others have religious reasons, others because they simply think it is right.

At this point we can also explain the myth, mostly propagated by social liberalism, that social liberalism is founded on moral relativism. It is not so. Social liberals are simply willing to cooperate with anyone that wishes to act in the best interest of society. However, the social liberal states that those unwilling to do so are wrong. This is not a relativistic claim. Nor does the social liberal have to claim that anyone willing to act in the best interests of society is right. I can agree with your decision, but disagree with your reasoning. This is where toleration comes from in social liberalism, not from relativism. For instance, as long as a Christian and a Muslim agree to cooperate for the common good their slight differences in reasoning to do so should not affect the efficiency and amicableness of their cooperation. Likewise for an Atheist and deist, and these two with Christians and Muslims. Indeed essentially all religions or creeds allow, generally encourage or even demand, acting in the public good.

However, all these groups need not say every other group is correct. Indeed this would be absurd. If one says something is correct then one must agree with that position. Saying all positions are correct the confusion that this is the social liberal position has led to one of the most effective criticism of social liberalism. Relativism must be avoided at all cost. If one says multiple contradicting things are true, one is no longer able to discuss. Fundamentally, if a relativist must in the end claim that absolutists are as correct as relativist.

Social liberalism is an absolute philosophy! It states that acting in the social good is justice, is what someone should do, and is from what laws should be derived from and the actions of the government based on. The criticism of “absolutists†is not that they make absolute claims, but that their absolute claims are erroneous. Social liberalism has responded to criticism of pluralism (the idea that different people can cooperate, a principle of social liberalism) is relativism (all positions are correct, or different contradicting positions are equally true) by criticizing absolutism. This has caused untold problems. Social liberalism and pluralism are absolute philosophies. Pluralists are very clear on this: pluralism does not state different positions about the same thing can be both true. Pluralism accepts that every proposition is either true or false, and that if we disagree either one of us is correct and the other not or we’re both incorrect. Pluralism is not the justification of any position but the attempt to make a framework of discussion which maximizes cooperation from a minimum of agreement. We may disagree on essentially everything but still both conclude murdering each other serves not purpose, that discussing our differences is mutually beneficial and enjoyable, and that working together to make our society more sustainable and prosperous is mutually beneficial. However, despite our cooperation it is still perfectly acceptable, indeed logically necessary, that we view our disagreements as disagreements.

The place science plays in social liberalism is not in justifying acting in the public good, but to mediate discussion. If someone says something is in the public good then they should prove it, and it should make sense and coincide with observation both historical and statistical if they expect people to believe it.

However, it should be noted as well that there is pure and impure social liberalism. Many social liberal policies are still in the best interest of the majority.

For instance, it is in the best interest of the majority to vote for universal health care. Most people cannot say, I am wealthy enough to afford reasonable health care for myself and mine for the rest of my life. Furthermore, most people can say that privatized health care will end up costing them more in the end even if they could manage to afford it for the rest of their life. On top of this, the majority can say that it is not beneficial to them for any minority to go without health care. Improper health care costs the economy more than universal health care would cost. What the majority saves in not implementing universal health care the majority pays in higher health care costs directly and in a less prosperous and stable and capable economy. As health care goes down so does health, and the ability to make decisions and work efficiently proportionally. The only group to gain from private health care, are not the wealthy majority, but those who directly benefit from the inefficiency of a private health care system, who form a very small percent of people.

Most social liberal policies fall under this framework. Pollution, rehabilitation based justice system, education, and so on are all in the best interests of society. It is only people at the top that can actually gain from the decline of society. For the vast majority a decline in society coincides with a decline in their prosperity.

Pure liberal socialism is only needed to support social liberal policies that would not benefit this generation but future generations. It is only in the personal best interests of the majority to promote a ‘sustainable enough’ economy, if it disintegrates shortly thereafter their generation they personally have nothing to lose.

It is important to distinguish between pure social liberal policies, such as truly sustainable economy, and social liberal policies that are best for the majority regardless, such as health care. The former policies are a philosophic ethical dispute (have nothing to do with science); we are certainly capable of damaging the environment and suffering insufficient damage from this to say the trade of was unprofitable, but is it ethical to do so? The latter is a purely analytic debate, which should be entirely scientifically based: what health care system is indeed the best for our economy? It is also important to distinguish between analytic and philosophic criticisms of more philosophic positions. For instance, one can argue against the social liberal policies of environmental sustainability by arguing that we need not care what happens when we’re gone or by arguing that the policies in question are not actually sustainable. Most conservative think tanks try to confuse these positions: meld greed and social justice together, provide the motivation to support unsustainable and socially damaging policies, either by the context of greed, power or direct of indirect revenge against another group, and then try to provide the consolidation of these motivation by claiming they are in fact good for society, in fact good for the groups subjected to oppression.

I will stop here. If you think any of these ideas may contribute to the liberal faq, I would be happy to elaborate such a position for your consideration. Specifically prove the assumptions I made here for expediency (I did not bother proving things which I assumed you would agree with).


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