Saturday, May 29, 2010

Generational Problems

For ages, mankind has struggled to create a "perfect" society where all would be treated in a "just" and "fair" manner, leading to a high quality of life for everyone involved. As you can note by the quotation marks, the ideals we strive for tend to be vague, which makes identifying the means to those ends also vague. Though I do not believe in the perfectibility of human society, I do find such attempts fascinating. It is, in my mind, an equation without a solution, but that does not stop individuals from believing there is a solution and from coming up with intricate ways of solving the puzzle. To help those folks with their search, I will illuminate the problem of generations with two questions. I would not say this is the most difficult problem facing statist philosophies, nor that these two questions are the only ones requiring an answer for the generational problem, but I think it will help people who believe either in the possibility of a perfect utopian or those who believe government intervention can lead to more limited gains see the extreme difficulty they face. The first question is geared more towards socialists and while I would like to see the answers given for that question, I believe the second will be farther reaching in that anyone who supports the notion of a state will need to find an answer to the problem. The questions are by no means new (the first was contemplated by Plato, the second by Jefferson, among many, many others), but I hope people will be willing to examine their own ideologies in light of these questions.

1. In order to create a "just" society (by which justice means equality of conditions or equality of starting positions), inheritance beyond genetics cannot be allowed. Is it truly just to take away a parent's ability to leave their children well off? Are children in equal starting positions who have parents of different parental skills? In short, can the family exist in such a system and if not, what can replace it? What problems would exist?

Models for Utopian states tend to focus on single generations of people. Wealth and opportunity among those currently living will be redistributed as to create a "fair" balance. A great many problems have been levied against this idea, usually revolving around the idea that those who have more produced more, ergo they 1) deserve to be richer and 2) will have no incentive to work hard in a system that does not benefit them, leading to an overall decrease in the production and standard of living of society. I think it is worth pointing out that, even were this achieved, the children being born would not be born into equality with each other. For starters, children provide a great motivation to many parents to work even harder to leave their children well off; socialism destroys that motivation because all such wealth would be redistributed. Moreover, even if financial equality is achieved, parental skills, love, affection, etc., will not be equal. Genetic inheritance will also create inequalities, in particular among social and physical traits. Without the ability to become financially superior, children with social and physical weaknesses will not be as competitive in the social and romantic realms. Even with financial equality, the quality of life each child will receive will be unequal.

Can the family exist in such a "just" state? It is worth pointing out that Marx, More, and Plato all resorted to the obliteration of the family due precisely to this problem; parents will never be willing to sacrifice giving their children a better life for any ideological reason. What would replace the family, though? There is no evidence that children would be better educated, either in the intellectual or the social realm, in a state run communal setting rather than the nuclear family and a great deal of research indicating exactly the opposite.

Any theory proposing a result of equality of results will have to deal with the other forms of inequality as well, along with replacing the entire structure of the family, dealing with emotions of affection among its populace, figuring out a method of breeding future generations that does not lead to parental love leading to parents desiring better for their children, and a way of doing all of this so that those making the decisions cannot be excepted from the rules. Those arguing for equality of opportunity face an arduous road as well. These theories are particularly prone to the generational problem in that they allow for inequality so long as everyone starts equally, which is considered "fair" by those theorists. Problem is, those inequalities will lead to parents of different experiences and qualities that will lead to social inequalities for the next generation. It would also require limiting what a family could do for their own children, a law so contrary to human nature as to require extreme enforcement measures and constant surveillance to force people against their basic instincts. "Earned" inequalities by the 1st generation will lead to unequal starting positions among the 2nd unless the "earned" inequalities are taken away from those who did better to equalize the playing field for the second generation. This would certainly lead to a reduction of births among those who perform better and an increase among those who do worse, creating a system which favors breeding among the least talented and discourages it among the brightest.

Any theory proposing equality of conditions, whether as a starting position or as an end results, will need to explain how that equality will be maintained through subsequent generations, dealing in particular with the unequal division of genetics and parental love/skill and the natural tendency of parents to seek a better life for their children.

2. Laws created by one generation pass on to those born after their passage. Can we really say we had their consent to create laws over them? Is this not evidence that we ought to pass as few laws (in particular economic regulations and social spending) as possible in order to mitigate this problem?

Most of us live under hundreds or thousands of laws passed long before we were conceived. Simply put, are these laws made with our consent, and if not, are we bound to follow them? Unlike the former question I find I must attempt to answer this question, as I am one who still believes in the necessity of the state, whereas I am not a believer in the necessity of equality of starting positions or end results. This is how I deal with this problem; other thoughts are more than welcome.

It cannot be said we consented to the creation of such laws. Consent requires a conscious, sentient being, which by definition we were not prior to our own existence. To prevent the collapse of society or the need to renew every law each time a new person is born, we follow the concept of implied consent, whereby if we choose to remain in this nation we also consent to the laws passed prior to our participation in politics. This requires a free nation to allow citizens to leave who choose not to consent to the laws. While an important fix, implied consent is very, very broad in its scope. Either you accept all of the laws, or you leave. There is no getting around this problem; we cannot give a veto to each citizen upon reaching the age of majority for particular laws, for obvious logistical reasons.

Given that we cannot get rid of this problem, our only solution is to mitigate it. It is not just to impose rules, regulations, and in particular debt upon those who cannot consent, but at the same time we must have some rules and regulations. The best solution we have, then, is to reduce the number of injustices we commit to a bare minimum possible that will ensure the survival of our life, liberty, and property. By reducing the numbers of laws, regulations, and debt, future generations will need to give their implied consent to fewer laws they were not around to consent to in the first place. While the problem still exists, it will be smaller than it otherwise would have been.

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