For the closing days of summer, I am posting every chapter of the first edition of Everything You Believe Is Wrong. My enemies ravaged the first edition, inserting typos galore while I was distracted in the service of our people. I here leave their efforts untouched, so that the insidiousness of their behavior is plain. Meanwhile, I am completely revamping and expanding the book, and looking forward to incorporating your comments and criticisms (no need to point out typos and grammar errors). The second edition will be glorious.
This is the Chapter 8: Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!.
Don’t just do something. Stand there! This command is, as far as jokes go, not very good. But it contains a telling truth. This is the Don’t Just Stand There, Do Something Fallacy. We’ll call this the Do Something Fallacy for short. As will be clear, this Chapter is devoted to the late, great Australian philosopher David Stove.
Here is wisdom, and eternal wisdom at that, which we debased woke gag on. From David Stove’s On Enlightenment1
It does not follow, from something’s being morally wrong, that it ought to be removed. It does not follow that it would be morally preferable if that thing did not exist. It does not even follow that we have any moral obligations to try to remove it. X might be wrong, yet every alternative to X be as wrong as X is, or more wrong. It might be that even any attempt to remove X is as wrong as X is, or more so. It might be that every alternative to X, and any attempt to remove X, though not itself wrong, inevitably has effects which are as wrong as X, or worse. The inference fails yet again if (as most philosophers believe) “ought” implies “can.” For in that case there are at least some evils, namely the necessary evils, which no one can have any obligation to remove.
Few today believe in necessary evils, or believe in many of them, thinking that some kind of technological solution surely awaits all problems. Glubb Pasha, whom we met earlier, said, “Perhaps the most dangerous by-product of the Age of Intellect is the unconscious growth of the idea that the human brain can solve the problems of the world.”
Yet consider that if you would acquire a skill you must “pay the price” of pain and suffering. Nothing comes free. Perhaps, you think, a pill will somebody imbue the skill effortless. No. Pain is a necessary evil. If you want to learn to box, you’re going to have to endure getting beaten up until you can do the beating.
There does not seem to be a way to avoid this. Consider those pains suffered in learning boxing. Somebody else can, at some other purpose, cause you the same kind of physical or mental pain, but not directed towards the same goal as learning boxing. For instance, you can be beaten on the street by a gang of thugs. Same pain, two goals. The necessary evil of your pain in training differs from the unnecessary pain due to the mugging. One can be removed, one not.
More: You will die. You will never have your mind uploaded to a machine because (as I will not here prove) your mind is not made of material things, and is thus inscrutable.
Necessary evils are, therefore, inescapable. There is thus no obligation to try to remove necessary evils. Of course, with some necessary evils, the amount of evil can be lessened, as in securing better or more efficient training. It cannot be removed entirely. And for some evils, such as your death, dear reader, it cannot be removed at all.
[The comments against removing moral wrongs] are purely logical truths. But they are also truths which, at most periods of history, common experience of life has brought home to everyone of even moderate intelligence. That almost every decision is a choice among evils; that the best is the inveterate enemy of the good; that the road to hell is paved with good intentions; such proverbial dicta are among the most certain, as well as the most widely known, lessons of experience. But somehow or other, complete immunity to them is at once conferred upon anyone who attends a modern university.
Nearly all mutations are dysgenic. Consider “Change We Can Believe In”, to quote a once-popular slogan. When we embrace change for the sake of change, it will usually be harmful rather than helpful. Political innovation corrodes and weakens as much or more than it improves and strengthens. Tinkering with complex systems produces unforeseen events and effects, cures which are worse than the diseases. Even a passing glance at history is sufficient proof of these contentions. The Doctrine of Unexpected Consequences is unbreakable.
We don’t believe any of this, though. The future, if not bright now, can be made bright if only we hit the right buttons, take the right classes—or eliminate a sufficient number of troublemakers.
Here is a famous (in some quarters) GK Chesterton quotation, from his 1929 book The Thing:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
How many political arguments begin with “I don’t see why…”? This is the Big Muscles Fallacy in all its glory. Asking “I don’t see why…?”, answers it. We find it appalling to think that we should not remove a wrong, or what is claimed to be a wrong or injustice.
Once identified, and advertised by a concerned advocacy group, “raising awareness” for it, the putative wrong must be eliminated with dispatch; every effort must be bent to the evil’s destruction. If there are side effects from its removal, that’s no concern of ours. We didn’t cause them. The old wrong is responsible. These side effects would not have manifested themselves were we not forced to remove the wrong! Besides, we can always correct the side effects, too. History is progress.
All false. The truth is that, in most cases, it’s almost always better to leave traditional things as they are. Tradition, proven by prolonged custom, is, after all, the result of painful experiment and practice over very long times. The cumulative wisdom of our ancestors overwhelms, or should, the feeble contributions we make in a few short years.
Governance must exist, of course. So what is best? Why try to answer that everywhere, which is an impossible task but the now-common desire, when we can answer it in specific places. The truth that wholesale or large-scale change is dangerous is why some advocate subsidiarity, the keep-it-small, keep-it-simple principle that acknowledges that the small and humble is easier to control and predict than the large and hideously complex.
Collective top-down governance of any kind is the opposite of subsidiarity. It is thus no surprise that these systems are the ones advocated by universities, media, pretty much those who look to Leviathan to cure all ills.
The Doctrine of Unintended Consequences is one of the few hard-won, adamantine, indisputable moral truths known to us. It it not a new discovery.
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
We eagerly cast aside this wisdom in the pursuit of Beautiful Theories which hold that if only we pass enough laws or implement enough regulations or kill just the right people, human perfection, or something rather like it, will be ours at last. The very purpose of modern (Western) education is to seek an end-around Stove’s logical truths. Education has given itself an impossible goal, which is never admitted. It’s no wonder literature departments don’t want students reading classic poetry.
Here is a passage from T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party as quoted by Roger Kimball in the Foreword of What’s Wrong With Benevolence: Happiness, Private Property, and the Limits of Enlightenment by David Stove.
Half the harm that is done in the world
Is due to people who want to feel important.
They don’t mean to do harm—
but the harm does not interest them.
Or they do not see it, or they justify it
Because they are absorbed in the endless struggle
To think well of themselves.
Benevolence is a virtue, a beguiling tune that has been riding at the top of the progressive charts since the eighteenth century. The idea that all that matters is the “greatest happiness of the greatest number”, writes Stove, triumphed “partly by the elimination of rival candidates. It laughed or shamed almost every other virtue out of court. The `monkish virtues,’ as it called such things as humility, chastity, and obedience, were the principal victims. But the military virtues (such as courage), the feudal virtues (such as loyalty), the patriarchal virtues, the feminine virtues, and others all suffered the same fate.” As we slide ever closer to a effeminocracy, the rule over and by the effeminate, it can be no surprise that benevolence bests all rivals.
Benevolence is the attitude of deep caring and is the smug self-satisfaction that allows corporate HR policy to dictate the correct morality for all employees. For one example from a near infinite number, marketer Kenneth Cole one time plastered posters around New York City with the words “What’s wrong with shoeing the homeless?” The company must have thought they had won some crucial battle. As if there were a national debate which had taken the side of insisting the homeless go unshod. Lord, spare us from caring celebrities!
Still, let’s suppose Cole’s plaint is taken up by other celebrities, a move which would attract the media’s and politicians’ attentions. The cry would be, “Something must be done about shoeing the homeless!” Who could argue against that? Shouldn’t the homeless be provided shoes, preferably from the Federal Department of Cobblery?
What’s wrong with shoeing the homeless, on a national or large scale and not part of some local charity (which must always be admired), is that if you give “relief” to those that are poor, by programmatically and coercively taking shoes (or the funds to purchase them) from those that are not poor, you must at least create an administration to store and allocate the confiscations, which adds to the cost. You are buying more than just shoes in the end. You do one benevolent thing, but at the cost of at least several punitive things. This is the root of the Benevolence Fallacy.
The benevolent thing is easily seen. The poor person receives the shoes, bread, house, video games, car, shopping cart, “Obama phone”, clean needles, or whatever. He is obviously immediately better off, in some senses, than before he had these things (though clean needles will encourage more drug use, thus the issuance of them cooperates in evil).
It is that immediate and visible change of circumstance with which the benevolent credit themselves and which fills them with pride and self-congratulation. The love the idea that they are doing good more than they care about the consequences of their actions, consequences which they everywhere assume must be good because they are the result of benevolence.
The harm that is caused, which as Eliot says the benevolent do not see or in which they are not interested, can be and often is far greater. First, after it is noticed that some receive largess on such a wide scale and are asked nothing in return, it encourages those that are not poor to think that they needn’t work as hard as they otherwise would, because they have a “safety net” (a shoe tree?) waiting to catch them. Those that are receiving routine “relief” scarcely have the impetus to better themselves if they are not required to do so.
Stove says “Widespread poverty cannot be relieved from the outside and, therefore, can be relieved (if at all) only by industry, self-reliance, and prudence of the poor themselves….Of course, it is sickening to modern ears, in fact absolutely intolerable, to hear talk of `industry,’ `improvidence,’ `idleness,’ or the like. In 1989, not one person in fifty can hear such words without shame and indignation.” In 2020, make is one in a thousand.
It’s worse than it seems, because the money that is taken from those who earned it are worse off. The money that was theirs is now in the hands of the government and not allowed to circulate in the hands of citizens. This necessarily strengthens government, which in turns grows even more ambitious.
Not all the “rich” from whom the taxes to pay for the shoe program are rich. The taxes taken from those who are just above poor, but not officially poor, necessarily make these marginal people poorer by taking money from them and from reducing the amount that could have been given to them by the richer job creators. Thus they are more likely to become officially poor, which a good many of them do as taxes and bureaucracy rise.
Once they are officially poor, they will be eligible for free shoes! These new people added to the welfare rolls were caused to be put there by benevolence. And there many of them will stay.
The “gap” between the rich and poor necessarily increases under the national and large-scale welfare state. This is true in the corporate state, too, the system whereby the government offloads expenses (like health care) to corporations, which makes them, in effect and all but name, part of the government. This is why corporations now believe themselves empowered to order government around.
Every act required of corporations, such as providing “family” leave and health care, and on and on, strengthens the corporation and consolidates power into the hands of the rich. It creates the rich; or rather, it concentrates wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer people.
Who the eventual rich are is an open question, as some corporations will fold and others (those more closely aligned with government) will flourish. Those who come and go in the pool of the rich change, but the pool grows ever smaller. The national benevolent system is thus always toward tyranny and away from freedom (another reason to practice subsidiarity).
These are outcomes which, Stove says, “could easily have been predicted in advance by anyone who possessed elementary knowledge of human nature, and who was not blinded by benevolence.” Benevolence is such a blinding light, though, that few do see it.
Malthus insisted that the fraction of the populace on the poor roles must increase and that the taxes paid by those not yet there must also increase, just as described above. All this came to pass, too, exactly as predicted. The lesson was not learned, however. Instead of recognizing they were creating the very evil they hoped to alleviate, the benevolent proposed new ways of benevolence. Just as happens today.
Even though it was perfectly obvious that Malthus’s predictions were true, it mystified the benevolent, who sought (and still seek) to pin the blame everywhere but on themselves. For them, it is axiomatic to them that possessing a love for humanity (but rarely individual humans) could not cause harm. Any harm that does arise must have been caused by evil outside reactionary forces.
Which brings us to the third consequence of benevolence: an increase in government, coercion, control, mindless bureaucracy. Government when unchecked leads to death camps, broken families and loneliness, mass starvations, gulags, coercion, firing squads, and glowing reports in the press. Community or equality of property, and nowadays equality of opportunity or even equity of outcomes, circumstances which by definition must be administered by an all-powerful central government, is ever promised to lead a betterment of mankind, but which in fact always leads to a worsen-ment of actual people.
A shoe handed out by the family to another family member of a friend, strengthens the family and friendship and the local community. People taking care of their own avoids the Malthusian trap. Not the least because of the increased efficiency and decreased costs (no bureaucracy, used shoes re-purposed, the potential recipient told to suck it up, or is put to work in the family). “Gifts” by the government strengthens the government. Which is best?
Given that, in democracies, people tend to elect those who promise them the most, and given the experience of government growth in Europe and the United States, we can ask how likely is it that terror governments like those that arose in China and Russia will occur in the West. Francis Fukuyama famously predicted that we are at the “End of History”, in the sense that all Enlightened people agree that liberal democracy is the last word in governance, that no superior system exists or can exist.
But how can that belief be reconciled with the observation that the West is sliding towards “enforced” (a redundant term) woke insanity? Why are our intellectuals not frightened by this?
Stove says, “All of us Enlightened (or so near to all of us as to make no difference) still share the Enlightenment’s estimate of benevolence as the highest virtue. We are all enthusiasts for the relief of poverty and the equalization of wealth. We are all still, on balance, enemies of the bourgeois family. In addition, we all know that the communists, at bottom, are impelled by benevolence, and are even firmer friends to equality of wealth than we are, and firmer enemies of the bourgeois family. How, then, could communism not be an object of indestructible goodwill among us Enlightened?”
The Chinese willingly gave up a fraction of power when they allowed ordinary citizens to run their own businesses. All within narrowly proscribed limits, of course, and limits which are sometimes tightened and sometimes loosened in a whimsical fashion (they also have made a bet on technology, believing constant ubiquitous surveillance will constrain disobedience).
But it remains true that some power was ceded. The Soviet Union collapsed, Vietnam saw the light of freedom, and the feeling in Cuba is that “change we can believe in” will finally occur.
Stove sees these as “wobbles” in the inexorable course towards totalitarianism. The Soviet Union did collapse, but this was because it was exhausted in its battle with countries that were still free and not because the nomenklatura saw the folly of benevolence. So what happens when the enemies of totalitarianism cease to be enemies and embrace it? Stove says, “I do not think the welfare state will be dismantled, and still less that communism will be. Indeed, I think that both communism and the welfare state will continue to grow.”
Further, the welfare governments of the West “are elected by universal adult
franchise; but an electorally decisive proportion of the voters–in some countries, approaching a quarter–either is employed by government or is dependent to a significant extent on some welfare program. In these circumstances it is merely childish to expect the welfare state to be reduced, at least while there is universal suffrage. A government that did away with free education, for example, or socialized medicine simply could not be re-elected. Indeed, it would be lucky to see out its term of office.”
The only things holding up back from falling over the cliff immediately are two things: innovation, the pace of which must slow the more control government assumes, and birth control (abortion and contraceptives), which slows the growth of number of the poor. But only to a point: many of those unborn would have contributed to innovation and to the taxes which pay for the services to the elderly.
It can be carried too far. A demographic crunch point is coming to countries like Italy, Japan, Ireland, and others where there will be too many people to be taken care of and not enough people to do the caring. Many think immigration will solve this, but forgetting all the other problems this creates, there aren’t enough people to go around, and that Diversity is our weakness. Not every country can enlarge itself with immigration.
The tale in this book, and in Stove’s, is not happy. There does not appear to be a way of escaping the path we have chosen. So what should we, the non-benevolent, do? Stove recounts finally the story of a solitary Indian in a canoe fishing miles upstream from Niagara Falls.
Despite all his local knowledge, he makes some slight misjudgment of time, or wind, or water, and finds himself surprised by the current. For hours he puts forth all his strength in trying to reach the shore, but long before the fatal event itself, he passes a point at which his diminishing strength, and the increasing strength of the current, make further resistance vain. He then ships his paddle, lights his pipe, and folds his arms.
In the circumstances, those are the actions of a rational man. Similarly, in my opinion, the world-current of Enlightenment benevolence is now so strong, and we have been launched upon it for so many years, that we passed the point of no return a long time ago, and will, if we are rational, emulate the Indian in the story.
Smoke ’em if you got ’em.
Here is a short, and what I hope is intuitive, demonstration that excessive top-down government beneficence causes tyranny. It isn’t original, see for example Parkinson’s Law and Malthus’s idea above, but it puts to rest the qualms some readers might have about beneficence.
Government mandates, by which I mean forces by pain of stinging legal penalties, corporations of a certain size to provide money for health care, of most kinds, to its employees.
Health care is ridiculously expensive, because in part its costs are occult and because of “insurance”, but also because of mundane reasons like lawyers and the insane expectation of perfection. Anyway, once a company reaches a certain size, government tells the company it must part with the bucks and give more to its employees than it had been giving.
There is never any justification given for this burden. The company is expected to act in loco parentis because it is a company of a certain size. This is not a good reason, but it is given as if it is. There is no real justification for this mandate, a truth which now seems lost, a truth which nobody really wants restored. The only reason ever stated is benevolence.
The effects are these. First, to make the employee see the company as a sort of master or paternal figure. How else can I get my health taken care of if not by my Employer? Costs of health become hidden at this point, since costs are obscured by the “insurance” companies are forced to buy. This necessarily causes costs to rise. Incidentally, health care is not equivalent to health insurance, another point that can’t seem to be remembered. Never mind.
Next, some companies cannot afford the tax (as it were) and so fold, downsize, or merge with larger entities. Mergers are more common, though a better term might be absorptions. For consider it is not only health care that is mandated, but companies are increasingly forced to pay for vacations for employees (“family leave”), and for myriad other things, like Diversity quotas.
Also, a “minimum wage”, which pressures and forces the closure of smaller businesses. This happens time after time after time, but the benevolent do not care. What matters is they believe they did the right thing, even though it is positively demonstrated they did the wrong thing.
The consequence must be that the more requirements placed on companies, the greater the consolidation into fewer, more powerful corporations. The corporations become like the government at that point, and even, in a strange way, as alternatives to religion or social services.
Third, as corporations and government are seen as the founts of all that is necessary, families and communities must weaken. Smaller companies, those smaller than the size required to become an open wallet, lose the ability to compete with larger monoliths. They thus whither or disappear.
It’s a wonder companies have not yet been asked to pay for meals for all family members of employees. I predict this will come in the form of food subsidies or the like, after which the euphemism Employer for Master will be complete.
There is no reason to go to your family when you can petition government or your employer to take care of a need. As long as you are putting in your labor, you see it as your right to receive these “necessities.” Slaves, too, are never without rights. They must be clothed, housed, fed (soon with bugs), and cared for lest the work go undone. The amount of caring is in inverse proportion to amount of labor available.
Is there any proof of this theory? Yes. We have become “A country of monopolies” say some economists2. We have this sad situation (as of 2019):
* Three companies control about 80% of mobile telecoms. Three have 95% of credit cards. Four have 70% of airline flights within the U.S. Google handles 60% of search. The list goes on. (h/t The Economist)
* In agriculture, four companies control 66% of U.S. hogs slaughtered in 2015, 85% of the steer, and half the chickens, according to the Department of Agriculture. (h/t Open Markets Institute)
* Similarly, just four companies control 85% of U.S. corn seed sales, up from 60% in 2000, and 75% of soy bean seed, a jump from about half, the Agriculture Department says. Far larger than anyone – the American companies DowDuPont and Monsanto.
As we have reported, some economists say this concentration of market power is gumming up the economy, and is largely to blame for decades of flat wages and weak productivity growth.
All sectors are “consolidating”, as is well known, not only agriculture. The rich become richer, the poor grow in number. And every “solution” exacerbates the trend.
Given that it is lobbyists working for corporations that draft relevant corporate laws for Congress to sign, and that the larger corporations become the more they can afford top lobbyists, it must be the more laws and regulations they will have bent their way. Such as stifling competition. Corporations are naturally more dictatorial the more they are like a monopoly, since profit is their main motivation.
Thus the rise of the oligarchy.
The government requiring corporations treat their employees like slaves (as it were), the larger and fewer the corporations, the weaker the family, and the more the economy is dictated and overseen by government and the oligarchs.
There is no way to break free from this. Not unless we are willing everywhere to acknowledge an employer’s responsibility ends with providing fair wages for a job well done. This is not solely the fault of greedy corporate owners. The laborers demand their “benefits.” Few or no employees are willing to give up their perquisites at this point. That an employer should pay for health “insurance”, maternity leave, and on and on now seems as obvious as the sun rising in the east.
Not for the last time we conclude that it is our softness which will be our doom.
Like a good Bishop once said, and said well, “`If we ignore the poor, we will go to hell: literally”. I heard this in a speech a few years back from then Archbishop Charles Chaput. The poor figure in two of the four sins that cry to Heaven for vengeance. For those with check-sheets, these sins are: murder, sodomy, oppression of the poor, and defrauding workers of their just wages.
Screwing the poor is like one man screwing another. Serious business. This subject is so important that we must strive to understand what we mean when we say “The Poor”? Who are these unfortunates?
We’ve all heard the quip, unfortunately not apocryphal, of the politician who laments that, despite the best, intensive, and expensive efforts of the government, fifty-percent of all individuals still make less than the median income.
The problem of defining “The Poor” relatively, by some statistical measure, is that they will then always be with us. Nothing short of perfect and exact equality for all—each and every, no exceptions, all as in all, as in even you, my dear reader, and, yes, even leaders—which is impossible in practice, can eliminate “The Poor” when they are defined relatively.
If the poor are those than make less than, say, the 10th percentile, or any percential, then even God Himself cannot eliminate the poor, since there will always be people below this marker.
If being poor is relative, poverty cannot and will never be eliminated. The benefit of this definition, though, for there are many benefits, is that there will always be something for activists and the government to do, a permanent goal to progress towards with increasing vigor, but one which is ever receding and unattainable. Defining poverty relatively is thus a form of cultural insanity and a guarantee of misery.
Poor must be defined absolutely. So who are the real poor? Well, that’s difficult. The same person can be poor at one time and not-poor another, or vice versa (see any book by Thomas Sowell). Knowing who is an official member of The Poor is an imperfect science.
Maybe that’s why the same religion that insists one must care for the poor says to love your neighbor and not The People. You’re in a much better position to know what’s going on in your own family and with real neighbors—you know who really needs what—than you are with some amorphous mass of strangers on the far side of the world. Indeed, if the bulk of us took this commandment to heart, and looked after those closest to us, we could do most of the good required of us and never have to worry about The People.
One thing is clear: poor people have fewer resources at their command than the rich. It’s a gross simplification, but useful shorthand, and anyway true, to say that poor people have less money. Money is relative—the absolute amount of it is not fixed and there is no objective standard to say a dollar or a yen means this level of poverty—so the danger of lapsing into poor-as-relative is real. Stay alert.
We’re finally to the fallacy, which is in the class of informal fallacies. Headlines like this appear with depressing frequency: “Fuel Prices Rise: Poor Hurt Worst,” “World Ends: Women, Minorities Hardest Hit.” This first is logically equivalent to “Fuel Prices Rise: Everybody Who Buys Fuel Will Now Pay More”.
Since the poor have less money, and the poor like to be as warm as anybody else, they will of course pay a greater relative amount of their wealth than the rich for heat. But if heating does indeed cost more, than nothing can be done to prevent this. And when the world ends, we all go, black and white alike, as unfair as that is.
Raise the price on anything and it follows that the poor will pay relatively higher amounts of their wealth—unless the price is raised so that the rich by design pay a higher proportion of their wealth, which happens only with the government and taxes. Enforced equality.
The Falls Disproportionately On The Poor Fallacy is thus a variant on the Latin ad misericordiam, the Appeal To Pity. It is a fallacy if it is used to imply that something need be done (by, say, you) because the cost increase falls “disproportionately” on the poor. As said, unless the cost increase is gauged so that it increases more, not relatively but absolutely, for those with less, which is unheard of, the increase will not be disproportionately against the poor (though it is true as said any fixed increase, by definition, will cost the poor a greater percent of their wealth).
All uses of the fallacy are restating what amounts to the tautology “The Poor have less money than the rich.” Saying it never goes toward solving what it means to “be poor,” how being poor is defined absolutely, not relatively. Indeed, the fallacy is usually used to argue the poor should have a product or service the absence of which would not make somebody poor absolutely.
This fallacy is not especially egregious, but it is annoying and ubiquitous.
- … Enlightenment1
- Transactions Publishers, New York, p. 174.
- … economists2
Subscribe or donate to support this site and its wholly independent host using credit card click here. Or use the paid subscription at Substack. Cash App: $WilliamMBriggs. For Zelle, use my email: email@example.com, and please include yours so I know who to thank.