Daily Archives: 09/11/2010
Interesting if awfully dreary post.
A Pessimist Manifesto
Friday ~ September 3rd, 2010 in Babble | by Karl Smith
One odd empirical regularity is that hard-nosed, pessimistic, realist, free-market guys like myself seem to spend more time agreeing with soggy Liberals than with the Conservatives who supposedly share our worldview.
Part of that has to do with the success of the general Libertarian project, as Scott Sumner outlines here. Many free market ideas have now simply become conventional wisdom among wonks of all stripes.
Partially , however, I think it is that many modern Conservatives intuitively base their analysis of the world on a philosophy is that anathema to my worldview. Their view is that if you take a responsible, measured, well-reasoned approach to the world things will work out. Failure is thus a sign that you have not done that.
My sense is that this is fundamentally crap.
First of all things are not going to work out. You are going to die. Your friends and family are going to die. Everything you care about and everything you ever worked for will be destroyed. This story, our story, only has one ending and it is death and destruction.
If you don’t recognize that, you are living in a fantasy world.
Second, even in the short term your plans almost certainly won’t work out. Most ideas are bad ideas and there are infinitely more ways to fuck something up than to get it right.
To wit, clean living is not some form of salvation. Nor, is prudence assurance that that you and your loved ones will be okay. Suffering is inevitable and the best one can say is that it hasn’t happened to me – yet.
Bad things happen because badness is the natural state of the world. If something good ever happens count yourself lucky and be aware that this too shall pass.
Thus, I see our proper mission as easing pain, where we can, to the extent we can, the best we can. This is best done up close and personal where you are mostly likely to quickly notice if your efforts to help are actually doing harm.
On the drearyness, I think that our existence and of our friends and family and everything we care a whit about is limited. But that we occupy a limited place in space and in time doesn’t seem to mandate being quite so gloomy. You need to make the most of what time you have. I am a Christian and as such believe in transcendence of death, but even if I didn’t I think I would feel the same.
I was very struck by this comment:
“‘Thus, I see our proper mission as easing pain, where we can, to the extent we can, the best we can.’
Why? What is the point of that? What right does one have to impose that responsibility on others?”
I think this is pure Ayn Rand, correct? I’m sure Apex has a very eloquent defense of this, but honestly my gut reaction is I don’t get this at all. I think life acquire most of its meaning from having connections with something larger than yourself, whether that is family, friends, your God, your country or other, and trying to add something good to something beyond yourself. Furthermore, the mission that Karl suggests doesn’t have to be mandated.
If life is just trying to pursuing your own wants and needs, then as best I can tell it really is very empty and meaningless in the end, unless you’re meglomanica as I think Ayn Rand was, in the end dying alone and largely alienated from anyone and everyone.
Finally, I thought pessimism was a the point of view of conservatives, especially of course about well intended government programs, especially with unintended consequences and the like.
People are very romantic about past presidents they like, or revile, especially once they are much over 25 years in the past, but less than 75 to 100 years in the past. Conservatives talk about Reagan like he was a demigod now, and yet he imposed significant increases in taxes, even while cutting marginal rates. Admittedly this may mean he understood marginal versus average rates and their implications quite well. Main point, he was more pragmatic than his more ideologically driven successors. Here’s the record:
Two bills passed in 1982 and 1984 together “constituted the biggest tax increase ever enacted during peacetime,” Thorndike said.
The bills didn’t raise more revenue by hiking individual income tax rates though. Instead they did it largely through making it tougher to evade taxes, and through “base broadening” — that is, reducing various federal tax breaks and closing tax loopholes…
“What people forget about Ronald Reagan was that he very much converted to base broadening as a means of reducing deficits and as a means of tax reform,” said Eugene Steuerle, an Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute who had helped lay the groundwork for tax reform in 1986 and served as a deputy assistant Treasury secretary during Reagan’s second term.
I don’t think you can write off Carter as anywhere near the worst president in history either. He did after all preside over the Camp David peace accords. He also returned the panama canal to panama, as far as I can tell no particular problem arose from that, and it hasn’t been thorn in side of central American neighbors either. The economy also fell into stagflation and the Iranian revolution happened. You can maintain Reagan would have avoided this, but that is at least unproven and likely unprovable.
Liberals need to remember that FDR didn’t slay the depression, and in fact it really did last through the 1930’s until the start of war.
Point being recent but not to recent allows you remember the only good or bad about a President you respectively liked or didn’t. So you sort them into villains and heroes. Liberals in 10 years I suspect won’t even remember Monica Lewinski, while that is all conservative will remember about Clinton.
Middling presidents from longer ago, are …. well they’re simply forgotten now. How many people can identify Rutherford B. Hays as a one time president of the United States. The only ones remembered from that long ago are generally the greats, such as Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln.
I find that demanding more and more complicated passwords is an enormous pain. Much of is I think more to avoid liability from claims that against a site that they did protect you from yourself.
“I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time these days resetting my password. I used to have a handful of passwords which I rotated between types of sites–one for email, one for financial, etc. But the number of sites that I use has grown, and so has the complexity that many of them demand. This eventually triggered a sort of a vicious cycle–as I got more passwords, it became harder to remember which one I’d used where, and the number of passwords I’d employed greatly exceeded the three-attempt limit after which many systems lock you out. That meant I needed to get my passwords reset, often by sites that do not allow you to recycle, so now I had even more passwords . . . Megan McArdle”
via Password Unprotected.