David Thompson
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May 17, 2007

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pwyll

Bauman remarks that "it is unlikely that a society will ever be achieved in which some groups or categories of people do not fall behind the rest, or below the average standards." Yeah, it is very unlikely.

It is a mathematical necessity that if no one is below the average, then no one can be above it. Everyone must be exactly the same with respect to whatever is being measured. Not even the most brutal tyranny can accomplish this for the reason that Orwell put into immortal words: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

David

“The quality of a society should be measured by the quality of life of its weakest members.”

My initial response to Bauman’s assumptions – and particularly the one above - was to think of a drunken woman I often see in the area. It’s a nice part of town, so she’s a slightly incongruous sight. She’s often at a nearby bus stop around mid-morning, fag in one hand, can of cheap beer in the other, chugging away merrily and looking a little unsteady. I’m guessing she’s not a brain surgeon and was never likely to be. It’s unlikely, I think, that this woman can hold down a job and I guess her morning beers are paid for with benefits. Now if Bauman wants us to judge the quality of society as a whole by the quality of this woman’s life, or the lives of others like her, problems arise.

It isn’t clear to me what exactly Bauman is proposing, or how it would work. He’s rather vague on practical detail. Is he suggesting that this woman should be steered away from her morning beers, which almost certainly affect her employment prospects, finances and health? Or that she should be employed despite being drunk, all in the name of “fairness”? Or that she should be compensated by the state for being an unemployable alcoholic and not terribly bright? How, I wonder, is her life to be brought closer into line with mine or yours? Does she have a say in the matter? Do those of us who would have to pick up the tab?

AntiCitizenOne

The left even denies itself the ability to define the "weakest".

Maybe that's why it relies on the contradictory, bizarre and frequently changing victimhood list.

David

AntiCitizenOne,

“The left even denies itself the ability to define the ‘weakest’. Maybe that's why it relies on the contradictory, bizarre and frequently changing victimhood list.”

Well, I can’t claim to be familiar with Bauman’s work, so there’s a limit to what I can deduce. But it’s certainly common for people who advance egalitarian ideas to be vague about the practical details (and thus certain moral details), not least regarding personal decisions and priorities and how they affect a person’s life. Broadly speaking, Socialists like to talk in generalities about society as a whole or categories of mankind – or approved victim groups - which are easy to make assumptions about, especially dubious ones. They’re not so keen on talking about individuals or the practical nuts and bolts of their assumptions, possibly because those assumptions can start to fail and look absurd in the light of individual agency. There are, I hasten to add, exceptions to this, but not enough. Normas Geras, for instance, is certainly a thoughtful leftist and, from what I can make out, an eminently decent man; but it seems to me that his position on Socialism is as much a matter of faith as anything else.

Jason

"just as the carrying capacity of a bridge is measured by the strength of its weakest support"

Er... I'm glad this fellow isn't a civil engineer, because his bridges would only ever have one support.

dicentra

In my religious tradition, Lucifer became Satan because he wanted to force everyone to be good so that all would be saved (and he'd get the glory for having saved us all). God wanted us to be free to choose good or evil, even at the risk that some of us would be lost.

That same Satanic urge seems to pop up awfully often, dontcha think? The problem with Lucifer's plan is that if you're forced to be "good," you don't experience any growth or learning, and when (if) the force is removed, you're not a better person for it.

Silly socialists. Can't deal with the fact that some people don't WANT to be good or just or equal or fair or compassionate or tolerant. And there's not a thing they can do about it.

Julien

It's a difficult issue. Children who grow up in poverty are too often unlikely to learn how to get themselves out of the patterns of passivity and helplessness they are initiated into. Generally, though, socialists try to correct these patterns by handicapping successful people rather than empowering (for lack of a better word) poor people to break out of their situations. The idea of affirmative action/positive discrimination appeals to me at the level of primary schools, but when it comes to college admissions and hiring, it's much iffier. I fear the left usually just uses government programs to buy votes, and thus focuses on people who are already old enough to be responsible for their own actions. The dilemma is how to make a social safety net that encourages people to become autonomous rather than dependent on government largesse.

David

Dicentra,

Heh. I like the comparison with Lucifer. I sometimes wish a few more leftists would entertain the possibility that what they want, and how they wish to bring it about, is unethical, even monstrous, at least in its practical implications. In my experience, Socialists often imagine they’re the good guys simply by virtue of being Socialists (hence my use of the word “devout”). Or by virtue of pretending to be Socialists, which I think is actually more common. The idea that “fairness” as they conceive it might involve authoritarian barbarity and profound injustice is, it seems, rarely considered.

Julien,

“I fear the left usually just uses government programs to buy votes…”

I touched on the left’s self-serving perpetuation of grievance in the posts linked below. Note the malign and unilateral redefinition of ‘racism.’ It is, I’m told, now a standard formulation in certain quarters:

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2007/04/the_right_kind_.html

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2007/04/prejudice_revis.html

Lucifer, indeed.

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