For The Lesser Good

He’s a character in a beloved series, but that doesn’t mean Spock’s quote has nothing worthwhile to offer:

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

If you’re a fan of Herzberg’s motivator-hygiene theory, you’ll more readily see where this is heading. There is a difference between the deprivation of rights to which everyone is entitled, under the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection, and the demand for special treatment, perhaps best reflected in Orwell’s Animal Farm, that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

A bastardization of Herzberg’s theory is that there are deprivations that take a person below the standard to which everyone is entitled. An example (and just an example, nothing more) would be a law that denied a black person the right to vote based on race, whether directly or through proxies. That would be an unconstitutional deprivation. But once that deprivation is removed, it becomes a neutral factor. The black person gets to vote like everybody else, but he’s not assured his candidate will win. He’s just one of the many people who vote.

The next step, that a black person’s vote counts more than another person’s, would go past neutrality into the realm of benefit. It’s no longer about suffering an unconstitutional detriment, but enjoying greater rights than others. There is an argument that because of historic detriment, there is a right, or at least good cause, to allow someone who suffered detriment to enjoy some special benefit to compensate.

The tenor of the nation has been guided by identity politics for a while now, and the nature of identity politics is that specific groups who claim past detriment are calling upon others to allow them to compensate by voting that group’s self-interest. The list of self-interested groups is long and varied. Some suffered historic discrimination. Some are just the hated group of the day. Some have manufactured claims of suffering when they’ve always had the means to do whatever they wanted to do, but failed to avail themselves of it. Some are mere opportunists, hopping on the speeding social justice train to take advantage of the mindlessness that’s seized control of people’s passions.

In order to achieve their identitarian goals, these special interest tribes use means to confuse, to blame and to shame others. Some claims hold up to scrutiny far better than others. For blacks, there is no dispute that slavery and blatant racial discrimination was part of American law and society. For women, it’s less clear.

They didn’t have the franchise until the 19th Amendment was passed, but then Francis Perkins became the United States Secretary of Labor in 1933. Women have had ample opportunity to achieve success outside the kitchen for a long time, and the hoopla around the “first woman to be” whatever tends to fade in the vapors the day after the accomplishment is achieved. Did you remember Perkins? Did you know about her? But she was the first woman cabinet member. It was a big deal. Huge. Yet it means little today, and the only concern after the fact is whether she was any good in the post (she was, if you’re pro-union worker).

When it comes to the deprivation of rights, the issues are identitarian. It matters that groups, individuals, are denied rights that are protected by the constitution for everyone. There is a place for identitarian politics to afford everyone the opportunity of being neutral.

When it comes to affording benefits beyond neutrality, the cries of identitarian groups, wrapped up in the rhetoric of entitlement, seek more than they are entitled to. When it comes to benefits, the Mr. Spock quote comes into play, that we put the greater good ahead of the individual good.

The nature of debate has gone from the elimination of deprivations to the provision of benefits. This involves a zero-sum game, where giving extra benefits to one group comes at the expense of another when benefits are in conflict. One’s right not to hear mean words comes at the expense of one’s right to speak one’s mind, whatever that may be. A choice has to be made whether to stifle one voice to protect another’s ears. In our society, that choice is made by the Constitution, which picks the side of free speech.

The Constitution could have chosen the other side, to censor speech that some cabinet secretary in charge of censorship deemed improper, but that’s not our system. That’s not the choice our forefathers made. And as it turns out, history strongly suggests they made the right choice.

In a 60 Minutes segment on the pervasive dissatisfaction that permeates this presidential campaign, the one message that comes through loud and clear is that Americans want neither candidate to be president. What Frank Luntz, who put together a group to represent our national demographic, was unable to determine was why we have lost the capacity to discuss our disagreements and arrive at a consensus. He blames social media for much of the problem, and he’s likely right about it being the format that enables this problem, but it’s not the cause.

What is missing from the dialogue (and I use the word “dialogue” loosely, as it doesn’t involve communication but rather people talking at others, demanding they shut up and “hear” what the person is saying, as if only that person is entitled to express a view and no one else’s view is worthy of consideration) is any thought of the greater good. We are sunk in a hole of tribal politics, identity groups fighting to be more equal, to get that last piece of pie before someone else grabs it and eats it up.

What we lack is a candidate who isn’t trying to be elected by pandering to the self-interest of certain groups at the expense of other groups. What we lack is a candidate who we believe sincerely wants to serve for the greater good. Whoever wins, it will be for the benefit of some identitarian groups at the expense of others. The rhetoric doesn’t conceal this basic truth, that this election has become about benefiting some at the expense of others. The few will gain the benefit while the many are left to suffer.

There will be winners and there will be losers in every election, but if it works out the way it’s intended, the winners will be the many, that most of America will be better off for having made the choice. The benefit will be for the greater good. Instead, this is an election for the lesser good.

13 comments on “For The Lesser Good

  1. jaf005

    For those of us who have ever tried to get something done (build something), there is a vast and unified group of people that i oppose. We have a local, state and federal regime; staffed by people who’s only pleasure in life is to create roadblocks, impose costs and make sure no one is too successful in any endeavor in which they have regulatory oversight and the requisite enforcement hammer to impose their will. The caustic nature and highhandedness of this group has driven me to be more than skeptical of anyone drawing a salary from the public teat ( in fact, I’m a complete douche-nozzle when interacting with these people on a professional or social level, this includes both teachers and LEOS).

    There are many Americans who understand that a rising tide lifts all boats, but too many people are worried that one boat may rise faster than the next, even though we will all be better off.

    Starting to ramble, I’ll wait patiently for my scolding.

    1. SHG Post author

      Starting to ramble?

      The “rising tide” metaphor is a great example of how we wrap up self-interest in pretty ribbons. When the economy as a whole it growing, the majority of people will benefit. But when we give special benefits to self-interested groups, it comes at the expense of others* and does nothing for the whole. Yet, the same rhetoric is used, and people buy it because they love flowery noise and hate thinking.

      As for your complaint as to the regulatory burdens imposed by the bureaucracy, there is a group that wants to build, and a group that wants to save the spotted salamander. Who wins? The group that wants to save the spotted salamander takes comfort in the fact that the group that wants to build is greedy and just wants to make money, a dirty motive in their eyes, particularly as compared to their pure altruistic motive. But if they want to have all the goods and services that they enjoy as well, then things need to get built as well. And unless one believes that communism will work this time, the denial of a profit motive is going to leave them with nothing to eat but their beloved spotted salamanders.

      1. Mike

        I thought it was Spotted Owls…which are very tasty with some KC’s spicy BBQ sauce. Spotted Salamanders tend to get stuck in your throat. Who knew they didn’t like to be eaten. ( True story)

  2. jaf005

    Not an anecdote: I once was required to fund a five year study of box and spotted turtles (have also run into salamanders, three toe variety). Every month a bunch of crunchy dudes would show up and spend four or five days in the woods hunting these turtles, once they found them they would then glue a small transmitter onto the back of the turtle. After tagging enough turtles they would then show up regularly to walk the forest carrying antennas that would pick up the position of each turtle and create a map with the polygons of travel for each turtle. After five years we were able to go back to the state and let them know that the turtles were exactly where we expected them to be (under power lines with sun exposure) and not in any area we planned to develop; total cost over half a million dollars.

    Funny fact about these turtles: they are indeed RARE in my geography, but they are not in any way endangered. We just happened to be in the Northern most area of their habitat; New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia has more than enough of them.

    1. SHG Post author

      And isn’t it a worthwhile expense of half a mil to validate one’s assumptions? The only thing that would have made it more worthwhile was if you used the reply button, but that’s just me.

      1. JAF

        One again.point taken on the reply button. Regarding the turtles it was not an assumption, all the biologists knew the turtles weren’t interested in a forest with a heavy canopy, sunlight is what they preferred, but we had to dutifully kiss the ring and comply

        1. SHG Post author

          Biologists are just a social construct. One can never know anything with certainty until public funds are expended. Empiricism is not free.

  3. Lex

    Cf. Arnold Kling’s “The Three Languages of Politics.” From a review:

    “One reason American political culture has become polarized and uncivil, Mr. Kling believes, is that each side puts its contentions almost exclusively in terms of its favored language, and fails to see that contrary opinions are manifestations of a different language rather than evidence of stupidity or duplicity. […] Mr. Kling does not claim that if we would only take proper note of one another’s political languages our differences would melt away. He does think, however, that closer attention to contrasting political languages can give us some level of respect for our opponents’ views, even if we continue to think those views completely wrong.”

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