On Choking our Reflection

In 1899, Octave Mirbeau wrote a book called Torture Garden. I do not recommend the book, except perhaps to someone doing an in-depth study of French literary culture.

Mirbeau’s message is one that, today, seems little more than your typical liberal tripe, with its attempt to metaphorically skewer capitalism (and many other things) with overly graphic representations of violence and sexual fetish. Whether that critique had any merit during the late 19th and early 20th centuries does intr…

  1. Rachel Lu
    C

    And yet, in our interconnected world it’s so hard to break out of this. I see only two routes of escape. First, we can cut ourselves off from the world to a great enough extent that we feel we “own” our lives and can take responsibility for them.

    Second, we can work unfailingly for solutions. When you’re trying to fix a problem, assigning blame for its creation starts to seem irrelevant.

  2. Ryan M
    Rachel L.: And yet, in our interconnected world it’s so hard to break out of this. I see only two routes of escape. First, we can cut ourselves off from the world to a great enough extent that we feel we “own” our lives and can take responsibility for them.

    Second, we can work unfailingly for solutions. When you’re trying to fix a problem, assigning blame for its creation starts to seem irrelevant. · 0 minutes ago

    well, part of what I was saying is that our diagnosis of the problem is itself problematic.  Is inequality a problem?  A national problem?  I’m not sure that it is.  I think it is a natural result of freedom.  When we attempt to solve problems that we don’t have, we tend to cause real problems.

    But you are right about finding solutions to things we actually do see that are wrong.  Which is why I said that while human nature is to blame, what it needs to do is address it’s own decisions.  In the market, we choose what to value.

  3. The King Prawn

    I can’t even begin to fathom the strength you must have to not give in to despair, Ryan. What inspires you to exhaust yourself looking deeply into the eyes of humanity’s glaring faults made flesh to see the spark of the divine that inhabits each example?

  4. Ryan M
    The King Prawn: I can’t even begin to fathom the strength you must have to not give in to despair, Ryan. What inspires you to exhaust yourself looking deeply into the eyes of humanity’s glaring faults made flesh to see the spark of the divine that inhabits each example? · 0 minutes ago

    It’s only exhausting because I am not good at it!  My wife is a social worker who deals with the same people, but actually has to work at getting them to conform for the sake of their children.  I have a lot of respect for that, but not the capacity.

  5. Severely Ltd.
    Ryan M: Capitalism does not reward deceit and punish honesty, nor does it look favorably upon greed and scorn altruism.  If free markets are one thing, it should be said that they are free, in the sense that they allow for humanity to determine value according to its collective whims.  Perhaps this is why capitalism has often been viewed as accentuating the more negative aspects of human nature; it allows both virtue and vise leaving discrimination to those engaged in economic activity.

    I particularly liked the above. Telling people they’re free to make any choice as long as it’s the correct choice (you can have any size sugary drink you want as long as what you want is the small one) is what we are facing, I’m afraid.

  6. Donald Todd

    I read the article and was reminded of the 12 step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous.  The first step is to recognize the source of the problem: me.  

    No fix until blame is assigned, no matter how one sees the blame, but often it is addressed as a sickness in the 12 step program.

    The second step is to ask for help, beginning with higher power than one’s self.  Since the program is available to anyone who needs it, it does not use a theological definition of who that higher power might be, or how that higher power is described.  

    The purpose is to get through the next five minutes and see if one has outlasted the craving.

    The man described by Ryan M will engender the same disgust from normal people that Ryan M noted in his interview.  Liberals will agree that this man’s problems are external and sympathize with him, which is part of how he got there in the first place. 

    The old adage, a swat in time saves nine, wasn’t part of his patrimony.  Too bad.  My father loved me enough to correct issues before they became crises.

  7. Rachel Lu
    C

    I guess, Ryan, I just don’t share all your libertarian impulses. I care about the common good. I think we all should. And in that vein, yes, I think massive inequalities can be a national problem, but I also think that lack of personal responsibility and an overweening sense of entitlement is a national problem. We’re all interdependent to a large degree whether we like it or not. That’s why sometimes our problems *are* other people’s fault, and we have to find a way to cope without falling into a massive victim complex.

  8. Ryan M
    Rachel L.: I guess, Ryan, I just don’t share all your libertarian impulses. I care about the common good. I think we all should. And in that vein, yes, I think massive inequalities can be a national problem, but I also think that lack of personal responsibility and an overweening sense of entitlement is a national problem. We’re all interdependent to a large degree whether we like it or not. That’s why sometimes our problems *are* other people’s fault, and we have to find a way to cope without falling into a massive victim complex.

    When I say “national problem,” I mean a problem that ought to be addressed nationally.  I think that it is an individual problem, though it may be spread across the nation.  As a Christian, I believe that Churches and individuals should seek to address those problems where they can be addressed.

    Re: inequality, however, I think that the solution is worse than the problem.  Inequality will naturally result from freedom.  The government’s only role should be disinterested referee, so to speak.  If individuals see inequality as a problem, I do not have any problem with private, voluntary solutions.

  9. Ryan M
    Rachel L.: I care about the common good. I think we all should.

    I also care about the common good.  The misconception is that the only way to prove you care is to support government intervention.  I find this dishonest, as that intervention has been shown to exacerbate the problem – the man in my example is almost a metaphor (at least I saw him that way) for the ultimate result of government intervention.  Some way to show we care, by making the problem worse.  I find that liberals tend to be motivated far more by bring the rich down a peg or two than by uplifting the poor.  If we really care about them, we should advocate the greatest amount of freedom possible, and maybe work with them on an individual basis toward making good decisions.

    Also, I tend to think that in the long run, allowing for failure will ultimately result in the greatest success.  Systematically bailing people out doesn’t do anything except put them back on their feet so that they can run full speed toward the nearest cliff.

  10. Trace
    Rachel L.: I guess, Ryan, I just don’t share all your libertarian impulses. I care about the common good. I think we all should. 

    A gentle rebuke is in order here I think Rachel. Ryan is a public defender and his wife a social worker. I certainly think he does more than his fair share for the common good. 

  11. Trace

    Ryan — My reaction to your well wrought post is actually to sympathize more for the statists.

    In hearing your description of this man, I was struck by how hard life can be sometimes. I work hard, (I wash my hair,) but sometimes I myself feel overwhelmed and “buck up and live with your choices” advice, profoundly good as it is, can be damned hard sometimes. You mix a recession into that and a healthy dose of jihadi terrorism and a declining education system and I guess I can understand where the desire to vote away my problems might come from. 

    I just listened to John O’Sullivan on the podcast who spoke of doing a better job of understanding how ordinary yoeman feel even as we are lavishing praise on entrepreneurs and captains of industry. I think that’s good advice.

  12. Kermadec

    How refreshing to come across a Moldbuggian moment, however hedged, on Ricochet.

  13. The King Prawn

    I saw this video on facebook today. It’s slightly dated but still very relevant to this discussion.

  14. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    An elegant piece of writing and trenchant reflection.

  15. Rachel Lu
    C

    I’m with you 100% on the dangers of redistribution, but our choices are not always limited either to straightforward distribution, or else simply to leaving everything to private generosity. Sometimes there might be intermediate steps that we can take. So, for example, here’s something that’s true: the wealthiest 1% of Americans actually are dramatically more wealthy than the rest of us. I don’t automatically conclude that those people are crooks, but I do think the gap is probably suboptimally large when we have so many bright, eager young would-be workers who can’t even find jobs. The imbalance of wealth partly reflects an imbalance of opportunity; people who got into the market at one point got lots of opportunities, and people who tried to get in later had a lot less. It’s bad for the whole country. (Cont.)

  16. The Mugwump

    The common good is best served when goodness is common.  I despise miscreants of all types, but especially those who think society owes them a living – or anything else for that matter.  The truth is they owe us.  At the very least they are expected to obey the law.  They are expected to work and pay taxes according to their abilities and means.  When such people fail due to addiction, or mental illness, or other factors outside their control, it’s our duty to take remedial measures that will make them upstanding and contributing members to society.  And it’s up to them to accept personal responsibility.  

    This is a very well written post, but let us not intellectualize to the point where we lose our common sense.   

  17. The King Prawn
    Rachel L.: The imbalance of wealth partly reflects an imbalance of opportunity; people who got into the market at one point got lots of opportunities, and people who tried to get in later had a lot less. It’s bad for the whole country. (Cont.) · 2 minutes ago

    That’s called rent seeking and making bureaucratic navigation/control the single most important area of competition in the market.

  18. Richard Fulmer
    Ryan M

    Rachel L.: I care about the common good. I think we all should.

    I also care about the common good… I tend to think that in the long run, allowing for failure will ultimately result in the greatest success.  Systematically bailing people out doesn’t do anything except put them back on their feet so that they can run full speed toward the nearest cliff. 

    Feedback is everything.  It’s the way we gain knowledge of our world and ourselves.  We act, observe the results, formulate a response, and act again in an endless cycle of learning and progress.  Destroy the feedback loop and learning and progress end.

    Though no one wants pain, it’s a gift.  Imagine a world without it.  Imagine breaking your ankle and continuing to walk.  Imagine placing your hand on a hot stove and not realizing it until you smell the flesh burning.  Such pain free bliss can be yours, simply contract leprosy. 

    Our government has taken upon itself the business of ending failure – ending the tie between actions and consequences, destroying feedback loops, ending pain.  Government has become the carrier of a creeping moral leprosy.

  19. Rachel Lu
    C

    For all the reasons you mention, taking some from the rich and gifting it to the poor is an unhappy solution. But could we offer job training or career counseling that might help reduce at lead structural unemployment? Might regulation or deregulation of particular industries help? Do we need to alter our educational system or the tariffs we assess? I certainly agree with you that some inequality is normal and fine within a healthy society, but if there’s too much, of the wrong kind or for the wrong reasons, it can be a national problem warranting national attention.

  20. Ryan M
    Rachel L.: For all the reasons you mention, taking some from the rich and gifting it to the poor is an unhappy solution. But could we offer job training or career counseling that might help reduce at lead structural unemployment? Might regulation or deregulation of particular industries help? Do we need to alter our educational system or the tariffs we assess? I certainly agree with you that some inequality is normal and fine within a healthy society, but if there’s too much, of the wrong kind or for the wrong reasons, it can be a national problem warranting national attention. · 0 minutes ago

    I agree with the notion of providing programs that encourage personal responsibility.  But as I talk to clients, what I find is that many of these programs (rehab, etc…) are simply get-out-of-jail cards.  I literally (not 2 seconds ago) had a conversation with a client about rehab.  I told him that the prosecutor noted that he had been in rehab multiple times since 1989, and was not seeking further treatment, because he didn’t see why now should be any different.  He said “my outlook on life has changed,” and I said (cont…)

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