The Conversation

The strange morality of despair

In response to The Immoral Consequences of Amnesty:

I've always been struck by the inevitable lawlessness of the Big Government welfare state, which would seem to be predicated on a very strict set of laws and controls.  The ruling class claims the power to regulate us to Paradise, but they keep making exceptions to the regulations for themselves and their favorite constituencies.  The entire process is inherently corrupt.  The unseemly haste of the Left (and their cowed "partners" in the GOP) to throw amnesty at lawbreakers, and thus induct them into a nation of a million hair-splitting rules, is a good example.  

And contrary to the popular misconception, this won't just be amnesty for the initial offense of illegally crossing the border, which some of a libertarian bent are inclined to ignore as not really a "crime."  Many illegals go on to participate in identity theft, the use of fraudulent documents, and making false statements under oath, all of which are "crime-crimes" by anyone's definition.  The "comprehensive immigration reformers" are explicitly discussing forgiveness for these offenses, too.  And yet, the rest of us are constantly menaced with reams of paperwork we have to sign under penalty of perjury.

I took notice of the same controversial comment from one of Rubio's aides today.  The Senator is distancing himself from those remarks, and insisting that they should be understood in context.  Fair enough... and really, if you take them completely out of context and forget about immigration reform, there's really nothing objectionable about them.  Not every American worker is a star performer.  Not everyone can "cut it."  Some people don't really want to try.

What we need is a system that provides incentives, opportunities, rewards... and, yes, consequences... for the people who aren't star performers, and the people who don't want to perform at all.  You're perceptive to note the morality of work, and the deadly social peril of neutralizing that morality.  The evolution of the welfare state has been a long process of removing the last vestiges of charity and shame.  Now there is only talk of what people are "entitled" to, and we're not just talking about people who would be in mortal jeopardy without government assistance.  Food Stamp Nation reaches well into what was once considered the middle class.  ObamaCare will take it the rest of the way, as much of the middle class gets hooked on the subsidies they'll need to afford Obama's absurdly overpriced insurance.

How does the Left justify destroying the morality of work?  One important technique is to de-legitimize ability, hard work, deferred gratification, and risk-taking.  The successful become winners in a series of lotteries, from their lucky acquisition of biological advantages at birth, through the powerball jackpot winnings when their business ventures pay off.  Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke put it in exactly those terms when addressing Princeton University recently, serving up a remarkably undiluted dose of Marxist rhetoric: 

“A meritocracy,” Bernanke said, “is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate — these are the folks who reap the largest rewards.”

What’s the solution to that natural imbalance? Bernanke explained: “The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world and to share their luck with others.”

That is what replaces the morality of work you described: the morality of the Procrustean petard, upon which giants are cut down to size, because success is unfair.  The long days of working hard, putting off immediate desires, and anxiously waiting for risk to pay off are ignored; we meritocracy fans are just a pack of greedy lottery winners who don't want to hand over what the less fortunate, and their bloated government champion, are "entitled" to.  This is the strange morality of despair, in which those who aren't "star performers" are told they shouldn't even bother trying - just vote for the right people, and wait for your monthly subsidies to arrive.


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