Sunday, February 12, 2012

Degraded by wealth

The blogger Roissy has a very good piece in which he claims that prosperity is to blame for many of our current problems. He quotes a commentator, who goes by the name of Jason Malloy:

[S]ome people are oriented towards higher investment reproduction and this entails higher cognitive ability, long term goals about education and career, later first intercourse, fewer and more stable relationships, reproduction within secure pairbond, and mate selection biased towards reliability and parenting qualities. Other people are oriented towards lower investment reproduction and this entails lower cognitive ability, few long term goals, early first intercourse, more sex partners and less stable relationships, reproduction outside of pairbond, and mate selection biased towards “sexy” qualities (looks, charm, creativity, athleticism).

This is essentially the premise of the vastly underrated film Idiocracy. It's not really necessary to get into the whole nature versus nurture debate. Even if the genes Susie Joe Underclass passes on to his many children aren't entirely responsible for the many grand-children they sire her out of wedlock, it's not as if there's an environmental factor to counter-balance the lower investment reproduction mommy and daddies taught them. Whether it's nature or nurture, or a mix of both, the kids are not alright.

The reasons for these trends, in other words, are less important than the trend itself, namely, that there is an ever growing underclass that makes poor reproductive--and other--decisions. As Charles Murray has noted, this has portends ill for the republic. The elites are barely cognizant of this underclass, and thus possess no awareness of how to alleviate the many problems faced by this growing segment of the population.

Prosperity has ensured that the underclass can continue to make poor choices to a far greater extent than previous generations could. This is not to imply that the drop in the infant mortality rate, for instance, is to be regretted, only that prosperity has birthed attendant ills. It does no one any good to ignore these ills simply because they came about because of a positive development. Nor is it classist or racist or anything of the kind to comment on a readily apparent phenomenon. Ignoring the underclass, or calling them by a nicer sounding name, doesn't alter their predicament in the slightest.

Back to Roissy. His key sentence is probably this one:

Individualism and freedom of thought are the enemies of the very values and morality which gave birth to them and elevated them to primacy among advanced nations.

It's very tempting for a libertarian to try to disown this conclusion. But I think he's essentially correct. And yet, since individualism and freedom are the sin qua non of libertarianism, is my political philosophy not discredited?

I would say this is true only to an extent. Libertarianism is insufficient to instill virtue, but it does allow the furthest and freest expression thereof, as well as, it must be said, vice. If the people are good, they will use their freedom well. Individualism does not preclude working for the common good. If the people are not good, they will use their freedom for ill. This is why it's so important to focus on instilling virtue, rather than trying to devise a system of government without reforming the people.

Moreover, if libertarianism is discredited, so too are conservatism and liberalism. The former is only valuable if the institutions and traditions of the culture are worthy of conserving. Yet the entire problem stems from the fact that there are no institutions which have served to instill virtue in the underclass. If haphazard reproduction is an institution, it needs to be reformed, not conserved. Liberalism, too fails, because while its social safety net may have buttressed the position of the poor--and even this is debatable--they have done nothing to reform the habits of those same people.

The regrettable conclusion seems to be that most of us are unworthy of freedom; perhaps that is why we seek to give it away so easily. One may salvage things some with the well known quote from John Adams: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Which begs two important questions. First, what kind of government is best suited for a nation such as ours, burdened with a vast underclass that makes poor use of freedom? And second, what can be done to instill virtue in said underclass?

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