Sunday, September 18, 2011

Gotchas And Cognitive Dissonance

The Ron Paul / Wolf Blitzer "Should they die?" exchange has been greatly remarked upon. I can picture one side of the political spectrum having jumped out of their easy chairs while watching the GOP debate, pointing their fingers at the TV, shaking with righteous indignation and yelling to those in the room (or to nobody at all), "See!"

Doug Masson weighed in on the exchange in more measured tones, and pointed out something that has been bubbling under the surface of my consciousness and made it rise forth.
There are very few actual monsters among us. But, there are plenty of people for whom strangers are little more than an abstraction. And that’s why no sense of empathy stirs them to be concerned about whether the unknown person lives or dies. When confronted with dissonance between their stated logic and the plight of someone they know and care about, there will be some justification about why the person they know is entitled to assistance. But, I suspect social proximity is the determining factor.
If one can be 'guilty' of what Doug brings up here, then we all are. There is this prevailing attack on libertarians as the kind of people who say, "I got mine, so fuck you". Yes, there are libertarians who take this approach. Guess what? Everybody actually lives that. Unless we have sold off all of our belongings and sent the proceeds to Africa, or West Virginia, or Knox County, or even the poor side of town... well, we've drawn the line, and said, "I've got mine, I ain't giving anymore, you're on your own, fuck you". We may draw the line closer to or further from home, but we all draw the line- unless we've sold off our belongings, and maybe joined a guerrilla army to fight against warlords in Somalia or ward off genocide in Darfur. At any rate, these political attacks are designed to inspire guilt. I was raised Catholic. I know a guilt trip when I see it.

I don't know why we can't acknowledge this about ourselves. We earn, we keep some, we give some away, we have some taken from us. We aren't in a national commune, pooling 100% of any income for the use of the whole, so it should be obvious to see. There's willful ignorance teamed with a smug moral relativism going on.

As for me, I don't feel guilty about having not sold my belongings, about having drawn the line, and prioritizing the well-being of my family first, as I define said well-being. I'll never feel the slightest twinge of guilt knowing that someone would have lived longer in Africa, in West Virginia, in Knox County, or in the poor parts of Indy if only I had put more into the public till. I don't see these others as my responsibility. I certainly don't see them as owing me anything. And, I have only begun on the kids' college fund after having been under-employed for 2+ years, and nearing the end of my contract- the only six weeks of actual employment I've had this year. The odd jobs were fun, but weren't even paying the bills. The bills and the kids' college fund, or, a small part of an operation for a person unknown to me? Yeah- the college fund, every time.

And, just like in so many other areas of life, I'll wait for others to lead by example. Any time one who believes in funding the health care of those they don't know wants to, they can. Just as I'm waiting for Al Gore to give up his mansion in the name of a better environment, and Warren Buffett to write a check for a billion dollars to the federal government as a self-tax on the wealthy, I'll look to the proponents of health care to write checks themselves. Otherwise, they're just bluffing. Or pandering. Or, full of shit.