Monday, August 16, 2004

Slouching Toward Nirvana

It often seems to me that the discourse on politics in this country has devolved down to what can easily be written on a bumper sticker. Not exactly a new thought, but sometimes its helpful or at least fun to turn the thoughts around to make a point or come up with a new insight. For example, I would like to find a bumper sticker done in the same style of "War in Not the Answer" and replace the word War with Government. Obviously tripling the length of the first word would throw off the typesetting, but you get the point.

I was having a discussion with a friend who holds that government has to have the power to intercede in private industry should that industry act in a manner damaging to the community. He believes that the government can mandate behavior in such a way that society reaches a utopia of mutual respect. I pointed out that even if government could deliver such a thing, which I don't believe that it can, it would only happen if those in government were coming from such a position of mutual respect. Given that politicians are seen as somewhat less respected than lawyers, it could hardly be true that our leaders can be counted on to lead us there. Put a number of ordinary people in those positions of power and you will find that the Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions.

Later, I was playing around with that old cliche in my mind. I wondered what would happen if you turned it around. Can the Road to Heaven be Paved with Bad Intentions? If one were to call Heaven a society based on mutual respect, then certainly not when the Bad Intentions would dictate actions in directly opposite direction.

Then I tried another formulation: the Road to Heaven is Paved with Base Intentions. This one hit more on a good concept. People very often look down on those who do things in order to achieve a benefit to themseves. We hold in higher esteem those who volunteer than work for a fee. While the net good to the person recieving the service is less when a cost has to be paid than not, it is a true disservice to reject the smaller good for not being the greater. To say that a drive for profit on one side completely sullies the act is to deny what good was done.

What I am realizing is that the alteration of the old cliche is a variation of Adam Smith's conclusions upon Free Enterprise. The greatest good is accomplished when one helps another achieve both best results. There will have to be compromise along the way, but with patience both sides can progress. So long as compromise is possible, both sides will find themselves slouching toward Nirvana. What makes this plan a tough sell is that on the order of a society, progress can only be measured in lifetimes. There will be stumbles, and some will be lost on the way, but anyone who tells you that government can deliver the results quickly is trying to sell you something.

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