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Saturday, August 22, 2009

What's it all about?

Related Link » A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles by Thomas Sowell
“In his later classic work, The Wealth of Nations, Smith went further. Economic benefits to society were largely unintended by individuals, but emerged systemically from the interactions of the marketplace, under the pressures of competition and the incentives of individual gain. Moral sentiments were necessary only for shaping the general framework of laws within which this systemic process could go on. This was yet another way in which man, with all the limitations conceived by Smith, could be induced to produce benefits for others, for reasons ultimately reducible to self-interest. It was not an atomistic theory that individual self-interests added up to the interest of society. On the contrary, the functioning of the economy and society required each individual to do things for other people; it was simply the motivation behind these acts — whether moral or economic — which was ultimately self-centered. In both his moral and his economic analyses, Smith relied on incentives rather than dispositions to get the job done.” [emphasis added]
— Thomas Sowell

Uncommon Knowledge: Thomas Sowell and Conflict of Visions

We've all heard some variant of the old quip, "There are two kinds of people in the world: the Irish; and those who wish they were." Well, in point of fact, there are really two principal dichotomies among humans, one anatomical, and the other ideological. The latter, between those who idealize human nature, and those who realize (wo)man's limitations, lies at the heart of every socio-political conflict, including the one currently raging over healthcare reform in the United States.

Despite the interminable claims, counterclaims, slogans, accusations, posturing, and every which manner of contemptible behavior, it all comes down to how each one of us views human nature and the optimum way to avoid utter chaos, though, to be sure, there are even those among us whose preference is to have utter chaos. Add to this mix a goodly amount of ignorance, prejudice, and malice, and you have what passes for socio-political dialog.

There are at least 6 billion opinions about how to begin to think about an approach to finding a possible solution to evolve some way for billions of people to co-exist without tearing each other to pieces. And as a wise man observed, a journey of such magnitude begins as any other — with the first step. But it must be a step of fundamental proportions, such that all subsequent steps contribute a procedural refinement for achieving the compromise goal of optimum utilization of Earth's limited resources.

In my humble opinion, that fundamental underlying concept, which distinguishes humanity from a colony of bees, is personal liberty, constrained only by a system of justice to preserve the greatest amount of personal liberty for the greatest number of individuals. Note that such a fundamental concept includes an accommodation for those who hold an idealized vision of human nature, albeit only to the extent that such a vision is not forcibly imposed on those who do not share it.

In my humble opinion, the apotheosis of Adam Smith's vision is the Sage Hillel's Silver Rule, which was championed by Gandhi and Martin Luther King alike:
"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow."
Post #898 What's it all about?

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