“Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in’.” – Ronald Reagan
For some reason, the sort of public policy pontificator we see on television or who rants in the newspapers’ op-ed sections is frequently concerned with stability, or the maintenance of the status quo in various manifestations. Such a commentator seldom faces the question “Why is it right and necessary to maintain the status quo? And why is it America’s responsibility to see to it? Be specific.”
Now, the generic answer to such a “why” question would be that the status quo is preferable to the alternatives – at least, to the alternatives that would most probably result from disturbing it. But that, of course, raises other questions: “Preferable to whom? And why? And once more with feeling, is it really our problem?”
That’s why specificity is so important...and why the windy types mentioned above would gladly sacrifice a finger rather than be forced to provide it.
Granted that there are identifiable conditions, local, regional, and global, that seem worth preserving, at least prima facie. But even the most desirable of such are desirable to specific persons, for specific reasons, and not unanimously so. For example, there are several local businesses I patronize regularly and would hate to see go bankrupt. Regionally, were all of Long Island’s throughways to be closed, there’d be some dislocations. As for global conditions, I’d be greatly vexed if the planet were to stop rotating. (I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t be the only one.) However:
- Those businesses’ competitors might have a different opinion;
- Islamic terrorists would count it a “win;”
- There’s this marauding fleet of genocidal aliens from Antares that...oh, never mind.
Moreover, the responsibility for protecting those conditions from perturbation is not uniformly distributed over the affected populations. At least, were the Earth to threaten to stop rotating, I’d have a hard time blaming some illiterate starving aborigine in Papua New Guinea for not “doing his share.”
There is no moral or rational way to assign responsibility without assessing the distribution of the relevant authority -- and on that subject, a better known voice than mine has spoken:
“Both for practical reasons and for mathematically verifiable moral reasons, authority and responsibility must be equal - else a balancing takes place as surely as current flows between points of unequal potential. To permit irresponsible authority is to sow disaster; to hold a man responsible for anything he does not control is to behave with blind idiocy.” – Robert A. Heinlein
In the great majority of cases, the persons responsible for protecting some supposedly desirable condition – e.g., by correcting a problem that threatens it – are those who benefit from that condition, not some gaggle of outsiders. Yet this is seldom admitted by those aforementioned windy types.
The more you look, the more you see. -- Robert M. Pirsig
The collectivization of responsibility – most often in order to load the responsibility onto the shoulders of a government – is the reverse of the coin of the worship of stability. The Reagan quote at the top of this piece implies that, albeit indirectly.
“The mess we’re in.” As Tonto might have said to the Lone Ranger on many an occasion, “What do you mean we, paleface?” “We” did not create many of the conditions in the world, nor are “we” the beneficiaries thereof. Indeed, just as some well-meant American interventions have actually worsened matters, some conditions the U.S. has intervened to “stabilize” ought to have been left to topple.
Stop! Stop! Danger, Will Robinson! Return to the previous paragraph. Read the last sentence aloud. Analyze it carefully. What implicit collectivizations can you find in what I wrote? There are four; find and unpack them all for full credit. See how easy it is to “slip one over” on your audience?
Look at any nominally well-meant government intervention, in a matter that seemed to call for it. Ponder the collectivizing assumptions hidden in it and how they might fail under scrutiny. Here’s an example that will prove fruitful to the careful analyst: the intervention by the federal government in a coastal community’s recovery from a destructive hurricane. There’ve been several such these past sixteen years; any such will yield treasures of understanding to the determined student.
This is on my mind this morning because of Michael Snyder’s citation of this paper on “possible global catastrophes.” I’ll cite a single passage, the brief Foreword, which is magnificently exemplary of the syndrome discussed above:
Nearly four years ago when the Global Challenges Foundation was established, we decided on a direction with two parallel strategies. The first is increasing the knowledge about Global Catastrophic Risks (GCRs), which with our terminology means threats that can eliminate at least 10% of the global population. This knowledge is an important prerequisite for the Foundation’s second strategy: to encourage debates and proposals as to how we can effectively and fairly reduce – and preferably eliminate – these catastrophic risks.
This publication, the Foundation’s Annual Report for 2016, is the result of a collaboration between the Foundation and the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) and the Global Priorities Project at Oxford University in the U.K., which has now lasted for over two years. A big group of researchers at the FHI, commissioned by the Foundation, summarized where research, focused on charting some of the greatest global risks, currently stands.
In addition to describing the risks, their effects and their likelihood of occurring, this year’s Annual Report takes one step further and try’s to show how different risks relate to one another, what can be done to combat the risks and who can and should do this. In addition to the risks involved in the Annual Report for 2016, the Foundation actively works with environmental degradation, weapons of mass destruction, population growth (that exacerbates several risks), and political violence which is behind many of the world’s current problems.
Political violence comes in many forms. Various kinds of weapons of mass destruction represent potentially devastating weaponry. Further, political violence creates uncontrolled migration and we receive repeated reminders that there is also “digital violence” in the form of cyber-attacks. Together, this takes up a significant amount of space on the political agenda, thus stealing attention from other important risks. And above all, the defense against various forms of political violence requires a grotesquely large share of public resources. Each day, the world spends over SEK 40 billion on defence expenditure – money that would be needed to fight poverty and prevent catastrophic risks.
My personal opinion is that in order to drastically minimize GCRs we must develop a model where a majority of the world’s nations, with strong support from leading nations, can make binding decisions which can be enforced in an effective and fair way. This would imply that individual nations waive their sovereignty in favor of one or more organizations that have a mandate to decide on how to mitigate GCRs.
Would this be possible? My counter question is whether there are any alternatives? To continue relying on multilateral negotiations increases the probability that decisions and actions are insufficient and executed too late. This means that the likelihood of GCRs continues to escalate.
I hope that this publication can deepen the understanding of GCRs and that these insights provide a fertile ground for both debates and proposals on how we can develop a better way of managing and addressing these risks.
The above is an absolute masterpiece of implicit collectivization...and multi-level collectivization at that. Moreover, as you proceed into the document, it will become clear that several of the “risks” the authors cite are either illusory or are merely challenges to a status quo from which some benefit and others suffer.
The publication is an irritating, remorselessly self-righteous and tendentious document written mainly by Scandinavian socialists. You might not want to read it in its entirety. I could hardly blame you. But those who steel themselves to the task will learn many things about the Left’s tactics, to say nothing of the reasons for them.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Leftists’ manipulation of language as one of their principal tactics. To save you some wear and tear on your mouse, here’s the central thesis of that essay:
[I]f the perversion of language is directed toward rendering particular concepts immoral, it sanctifies the use of violence to suppress those who would dare to speak of them, much less act on them. And as we have seen in recent years, leftists are growing ever more ready to use violence to prevent the discussion of concepts unfriendly to their aims.
Exactly the same could be said about the manipulation of language to imply collective responsibility for various matters. When that collectivization is aimed at the protection of some status quo, sharp questions demand to be asked:
- Who benefits and who suffers from the “problem?”
- Who has authority over the conditions described and why has he not acted?
- Are there “passive victims” who ought to have taken a hand in redressing it?
- Concerning the proposed intervention, who would profit and who would be mulcted – and why should the latter group willingly assent?
These are questions the Left, and the great majority of those at the levers of power, would prefer not to face. Collectivization is the source of their power, prestige, and perquisites...and collectivization is the essence of any status quo.
Yes, the title of this piece is “a few words.” For this enormous subject, the above are very few words. Think about it, especially in the light of our current political cycle.