Notes From Babel

Archive for the ‘Human Nature’ Category

Health Care Reform and Driving Away the Object of Our Covetousness

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Would if our present predicament were like what threatened democratic peoples in early industrial history, where folks tended towards political apathy in order to avail themselves of the flood of opportunities in the market:

There is, in fact, a very perilous passage in the life of democratic peoples.

When the taste for material enjoyments develops in one of these peoples more rapidly than enlightenment and the habits of freedom, there comes a moment when men are swept away and almost beside themselves at the sight of the new goods that they are ready to grasp.  Preoccupied with the sole care of making a fortune, they no longer perceive the tight bond that unites the particular fortune of each of them to the prosperity of all.  There is no need to tear from such citizens the rights they possess; they themselves willingly allow them to escape.  The exercise of their political duties appears to them a distressing contretemps that distracts them from their industry. If it is a question of choosing their representatives, of giving assistance to authority, of treating the common thing in common, they lack the time; they cannot waste their precious time in useless work.  These are games of the idle that do not suit grave men occupied with the serious interests of life.  These people believe they are following the doctrine of interest, but they have only a coarse idea of it, and to watch better over what they call their affairs, they neglect the principal one, which is to remain masters of themselves.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Univ. Chicago Press, 2002  (Mansfield and Winthrop, eds.) at 515 (emphasis added).

Instead, our situation is inversed.  Where early American life was characterized as a whirlwind of productive activity, and where an American’s political energies were threatened with all manners of distraction by the unending surge of economic opportunities presented to him, today we throw up our arms in despair at the idea that something so trivial as economic reality should deny us any of the fruits of free human industry.  Faced with this frustration, we cease to explore the opportunities our freedom provides, and instead explore what might be yielded through the force that democracy provides.   After all, one’s lot may be rendered the greater if, through his vote, he renders his fellow’s less.  And the yield of his labor likewise will increase if he can, again through his vote, force his vendors to accept less of his yields for more of theirs in return.

In this way, we find ourselves at the same evil in the relationship between industry and political will that Tocqueville described immediately before the passage quoted above:

The nature of absolute power in democratic centuries is neither cruel nor savage, but it is minute and vexatious.  Although despotism of this kind does not ride roughshod over humanity, it is directly opposed to the genius of commerce and the instincts of industry.

Thus men of democratic times need to be free in order to procure more easily for themselves the material enjoyments for which they constantly sight.

It sometimes happens, however, that the excessive taste they conceive for these same enjoyments delivers them to the first master who presents himself.  The passion for well-being is then turned against itself and, without perceiving it, drives away the object of its covetousness.


We are now closer than ever to making this philosophical shift away from the traditional American industrial model vis-a-vis health care, and to unwittingly “driv[ing] away the object of [our] covetousness.”  With the plan now passed by the House—with a cost estimated as high as $3 trillion to re-appropriated from one group of Americans to another—something like 15% of America’s economy is threatened with becoming the subject of political sentiment rather than industrial and productive realities.  We are prepared to take the products of a free industry by force—to presume to instruct a tree how high and in what seasons it may bear its fruit—to have our fill of the medical miracles produced as a result of decades of free innovation.  And we are prepared to paralyze the potential for future innovation in order to force down costs and redirect resources as politicians see fit.  Like so many other zombified countries before us, we are strapping on bibs as we prepare to feast on the health care industry’s lifeless corpse.

Here’s hoping the health care bill dies in the Senate.

Written by Tim Kowal

November 8, 2009 at 12:47 pm

"Mexican Flu" for me…I don’t eat pork

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The Religion Clause blog reports that Israeli Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman “is suggesting that the disease be called ‘Mexican flu’ because of Jewish and Muslim sensitivities over pork products.” The suggestion seems to be that Mexicans won’t mind, as they are quite used to connotations with disease and pestilence; better to associate the deadly virus with them than discomfort folks who’d rather not hear about icky pigs.

Written by Tim Kowal

April 29, 2009 at 2:24 pm

A Note from Underground

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Never has there been, nor never will there be, a truer, more forceful observation of the debauched nature of man’s cherished free will than this:

In short, anything can be said about world history, anything that might just enter the head of the most disturbed imagination. Only one thing cannot be said–that it is sensible. You’d choke on the first word. And one even comes upon this sort of thing all the time: there constantly appear in life people of such good behavior and good sense, such sages and lovers of mankind, as precisely make it their goal to spend their entire lives in the best-behaved and most sensible way possible, to become, so to speak, a light for their neighbors, essentially in order to prove to them that one can indeed live in the world as a person of good behavior and good sense. And what then? It is known that sooner or later, towards the end of their lives, many of these lovers have betrayed themselves, producing some anecdote, sometimes even of the most indecent sort. Now I ask you: what can be expected of man as a being endowed with such strange qualities? Shower him with all earthly blessings, drown him in happiness completely, over his head, so that only bubbles pop up on the surface of happiness, as on water; give him such economic satisfaction that he no longer has anything left to do at all except sleep, eat gingerbread, and worry about the noncessation of world history–and it is here, just here, that he, this man, out of sheer ingratitude, out of sheer lampoonery, will do something nasty. He will even risk his gingerbread, and wish on purpose for the most pernicious nonsense, the most noneconomical meaninglessness, solely in order to mix into all this positive good sense his own pernicious, fantastical element. It is precisely his fantastic dreams, his most banal stupidity, that he will wish to keep hold of, with the sole purpose of confirming to himself (as if it were so very necessary) that human beings are still human beings and not piano keys, which, though played upon with their own hands by the laws of nature themselves, are in danger of being played so much that outside the calendar it will be impossible to want anything. And more than that: even if it should indeed turn out that he is a piano key, if it were even proved to him mathematically and by natural science, he would still not come to reason, but would do something contrary on purpose, solely out of ingratitude alone; essentially to have his own way. And if he finds himself without means–he will invent destruction and chaos, he will invest all kinds of suffering, and still have his own way! He will launch a curse upon the world, and since man alone is able to curse (that being his privilege, which chiefly distinguishes him from other animals), he may achieve his end by the curse alone–that is, indeed satisfy himself that he is a man and not a piano key! If you say that all this, the chaos and darkness and cursing, can also be calculated according to a little table, so that the mere possibility of a prior calculation will put a stop to it all and reason will claim its own–then he will deliberately go mad for the occasion, so as to do without reason and still have his own way! I believe in this, I will answer for this, because the whole human enterprise seems indeed to consist in man’s proving to himself every moment that he is a man and not a sprig! With his own skin if need be, but proving it; by troglodytism if need be, but proving it.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground.

Written by Tim Kowal

November 20, 2008 at 5:37 am

Posted in Human Nature, Quotes

What Use Are Arguments Unless They Persuade?

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I enjoy this passage from Robert Nozick’s Philosophical Explanations:

Wouldn’t it be better if philosophical arguments left the person no possible answer at all, reducing him to impotent silence? Even then, he might sit there silently, smiling, Buddhalike. Perhaps philosophers need arguments so powerful they set up reverberations in the brain: if the person refuses to accept the conclusion, he dies. Hows that for a powerful argument? Yet, as with other physical threats (“your money or your life”), he can choose defiance. A “perfect” philosophical argument would leave no choice.

Written by Tim Kowal

November 18, 2008 at 4:20 am

Posted in Human Nature, Quotes

Maybe Christmas Will Be Celebrated on November 4 From Now On…

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I made it 54 seconds into this carol to the new Christ. How far can you get?

Thanks to Moonbattery.

Written by Tim Kowal

November 12, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Human Nature