PostHeaderIcon The Moral Hazard of Social Conservatism

Before getting to the point of this article, please allow me to set up a bit of background:

First, Moral Hazard is a term I have borrowed from economics and whose definition I have modified slightly to mean “an unfortunate, unintended side effect of a well-meant action”.

Second, I need to pontificate about a truly dangerous trend in modern American life. That is that all of the games that currently seem to dominate our national attitude are based on the “win/lose” paradigm.

The games in question include politics, religion, sports and war.

What, you may well ask, is wrong with the “win/lose” paradigm? When it is used only in fun, there is nothing basically wrong with it. However, when we allow it to dominate our attitudes, it becomes ruinously divisive. And, as I write this, we are a nation more divided than at any time since our so-called “Civil War” (as if any war can be considered “civil”).

Games based on the “win/lose” paradigm are dangerous an several levels. At the simplest level, the paradigm requires that one person (or group) be labeled “winners” and another person (or group) be labeled “losers”. In our culture, nobody wants to be called or thought of as a “loser”. But, it gets worse. In the games we are speaking of here, “winning” and “losing” involves more than just a label. All too often, it makes a very real difference in the perception, the reality, or both of an individuals lot in life.

In the political game, rather that the body politic coming together to choose the most effective leaders, to address a generally common set of interests, we have a state of extreme polarization because we have allowed a system to develop where the “winners” get to use the force of law to impose their will on the “losers”, thus spiraling into ever-increasing animosity between contending groups.

In the religion game, “winning” is taken to mean gaining access to perpetual bliss while “losing” means being condemned to eternal agony. OK, fine – believe whatever you wish. The problem arises when, Social Conservatives attempt to combine the religion and political games” such that “winning” in the political game gives them the power to use the force of law to impose their personal version of the religion game on others who may not happen to agree.

In the sports game, things get even stranger because the “win/lose” paradigm often involves people becoming passionately invested in the antics of people they do not know who are representing cities they do not inhabit or schools they never attended and where nobody but the players and owners actually “win” or “lose” anything. Yet, these passionately-invested non-participants often become quite violent after certain contests – even if the team they supported happened to “win”.

Of course, in the war game “winning” and “losing” do count big time because often the “winners” get to control, enslave, and plunder the “losers”.

In summation, there is little rational basis to support the “win/lose” paradigm in any aspect of human life. Even in friendly board and card games, where it is least innocuous, “win/lose” often detracts from the simple pleasure of the camaraderie of the game and the admiration of a well-executed move, no matter the player.

So then, if not “win/lose”, what is there? How about “win/win”? Sadly, in a world of progressive indoctrination in our schools, with class envy promoted by our political system and the “we are the only ones who have it right” attitude promoted by most organized religions, particularly among fundamentalists, a growing number of Americans do not believe a “win/win” situation is even possible, much less a viable alternative. Yet, the “win/win” paradigm is what drove the enlightenment. It is what allowed the notion of liberty to expand all throughout the civilized world.

What is this “win/win” scenario to which I refer? Simple. It is the conjunction of the recognition of natural rights, the free marketplace and capitalist economics. And, we are discarding this combined force as fast as we can for reasons that defy any rational explanation.

By now, dear reader, you are no doubt asking what all this possibly has to do with The Moral Hazard of Social Conservatism?

Again, the answer is quite simple. The combined forces of the recognition of natural rights, the free marketplace and capitalist economics will operate successfully only in an atmosphere of self-imposed ethical and moral behavior by the vast majority of people.

For many centuries, ethics and morality have been seen by many people as primarily the province of religion. Indeed, I suspect a current majority of Americans feel that way. And, that same majority steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that there may be an even more powerful motivation toward ethics and morality. That more powerful motivation is rational thought because rational thought empowers rational self interest (aka “enlightened self interest”). With rational self interest, people come to understand that the best way to acquire -and keep- what they want and need is to help others do the same thing. In a word, get what you want from the fellow who has it by trading something that he wants in return. In a word, all parties to the transaction “win” what they wanted.

Remarkably, this notion is so simple as to be almost impossible for most people to comprehend. Yet, for many decades, it has proven to lower tensions between individuals, between groups, even between nations. And, in the process, it has all who embraced it better able to achieve the lofty goals set forth by John Locke and subsequently restated by Thomas Jefferson.

To be sure, in such a system, all “wins” are not equal. To a great extent, the amount that one “wins” is based on the combination of risk and effort one brings to the “game”. But, this “inequality” does not weaken the paradigm because it is based on individuals exercising their free will. Yes, many, especially progressives, will speak of “luck”, of the “more fortunate” versus the “less fortunate”, and use other expressions suggesting that life outcomes are only a game of chance. Yet, is it not plainly obvious that those who think, plan wisely and work hard are consistently more “lucky” than those who do not?

Yet, and despite the apparent resurgence of fundamentalist religions, ethics and morality are on a measurable decline in America. One need look no further than the “crony capitalism” that results from the unethical and immoral buying and selling of influence between business and government and the massive transfer of wealth from the vanishing middle class to the very wealthy and to the poor useful idiots they use to gain and retain power.

This then is the moral hazard of social conservatism.

In the first place, it simply is not working. The claims of the social conservative candidates for office, that the only solution is greater government involvement in social matters – matters that should remain strictly private — is nothing more that a grab for the power to impose one group’s will on others and, in that respect, it is really no different from the phoney “concern for the less fortunate” voiced by social liberals and progressives as a basis for their own power grabs.

In the second place, despite the recent apparent resurgence of fundamentalist religions, religious belief and practice are actually on the wane, especially in the industrialized nations. I know that my religious and socially conservative friends will try to deny this but neither denial nor wishful thinking has never once changed an established fact.

Therefore, without a new, widely-accepted basis for driving ethics and morality (such as rational thought), we run the collective risk that the religious movement will eventually lose all its power to drive ethics and morality, leaving a void where these absolutely necessary attributes of human behavior cease to exist. In my mind, even the (hopefully) short-term dictatorship we are embarking on will seem mild by comparison to a world devoid of these basic requirements of civilized behavior.

Think about it.

Troy L Robinson

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