Monday, September 9, 2013

Sometimes it's best to do nothing.

Probably one of the hardest lessons for anyone to accept in a modern political climate is the idea that, sometimes, it's best to do nothing. There's this prevailing attitude that, whenever there's a problem, something must be done - that literally anything is better than inaction, or accepting the situation as it stands, if the situation is at all negative or imperfect in some ways. That inaction, at least political inaction, is tantamount to 'giving up'.

Americans are too fat? The government must do something! Ban sugary drinks!

Americans are too unhealthy? The government must do something! Smoking outlawed in additional areas!

Some Americans lack health insurance? Universal health care!

Single mothers? Government-sponsored health care! More welfare benefits!

And no matter how much hell is created by any of these things, no matter how many problems are made worse, no matter how many new problems are introduced, there's this attitude of 'Well, at least we did SOMEthing!' It probably stems from the idea that it doesn't really matter what the results of your actions were so long as your heart was in the right place and you just DID something. You cared and you tried. Therefore, no matter what, you were a good person.

I'm sympathetic to the idea that a given person's actions should be judged in context - that if an outcome is less than ideal, but given the information they had at the time and their intended goal, on the whole we may be able to judge them as having made a reasonable choice.

I'm also sympathetic to the idea that people who support a policy on the grounds that, no matter what risks are associated with it, 'doing something is better than doing nothing', are not just incorrect. They are literally rotten people, who make the world worse for doing what they do.


Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

This is of the essence of Burkean conservatism. Nature generally knows better than we do, and therefore should not be trifled with too radically or too rapidly. Local agents work better than giant collectives, not only because they know their local resources better but can also deploy them more efficiently. A maxim of ER doctors goes, "Don't just do something, stand there!" The worst thing a doctor can do in a crisis situation is leap into action without carefully triaging and preparing. Likewise, there's a Chinese proverb about this: "Yanking the grass up to help its growing up" (揠苗助長). Sometimes nature must run its course and the best policy is just to disincentivize the unjust conditions over the long run. But the usual "quick fix" is to divert one set of corrupt incentives to another one (e.g. how it literally pays better for many women to remain on welfare and keep having kids). The leftist-statist impulse for "change" and "forward" progress is actually just a saccharine mask for the Nietzschean will to power driving it. "¡Sí, se puede!", or in other words, "Power, yes; prudence, no." Respecting the intricate local conditions that have developed over a long span of time is repellent to the statist, since his Nietzschean "overman" impulse is to "overcome" all status-quo factors precisely because they are the status quo: precisely because they are a given that threatens to overshadow his overman-ego.

Crude said...

I like that chinese proverb - I'll have to remember it. The focus on local agents is one I consider important, but it's as if people don't even understand that it's possible at this point. It's frightening - they think the only person who can help the hungry guy on the street is in Washington DC, not someone in their own damn neighborhood.