More on Mush-Filled Minds

The discussion continues. Australian blogger Kent from Where do the buses sleep responds to my post below.

Let me say up front that I’m no worshipper of Rush Limbaugh (whom neither Esme nor Kent would probably be familiar with, since one is in England and the other Australia), but in this case Rush’s witticisms are quite accurate. The first post title was a take-off on his “young minds full of mush” comments, but Kent’s response is stereotypical of Rush’s “Affluenza” descriptive. Let me quote:

I am indeed ashamed, and glad, that I have enough to eat, and own a computer. I have these things through luck, not hard work. And people in Ethiopia, or those living well under the poverty line in the US, Australia, or anywhere in the world, are lacking these things through bad luck.

It’s a guilt thing. Would you feel guilty showing off your new Mercedes (bought as soon as you were old enough to get your drivers licence, with your parents money) to somebody your own age, born an orphan, with no money at all, and through no fault of their own? I hope so. I would.

So, Kent equates having enough to eat to getting a brand-new Mercedes for one’s sixteenth birthday. Oookay. Trust me, Kent, if the overwhelming majority of people quit working (or their parents quit working) their “luck” will come to an abrupt halt.

But wait! There’s more! This time in the mush-brain vein:

(Y)es, investment into such research does bring benefits to the economy. But not to everyone. I live in Australia – the Mars mission has not done a single good thing for me, or my country’s economy. If I was living under the poverty line (as plenty of people living a few kilometres from me do – not just Ethiopians), then I would feel aggrieved by the money spent on space exploration.

Because you would feel that your society owed people a minimum standard of living, correct?

The argument that the money is being spent on the future of the human race does nothing for them. The money spent on an astronauts shoe could literally give them good food, clothing, and shelter for years.

(Emphasis mine.) Excuse me, but why should these people be given food, shelter, and clothing when the rest of us work for it?

Think this through: In order for the “unlucky” to receive “food, shelter, and clothing” from the government, that government must first take the necessary money from those of us who work and earn it. And they do so at the threat of imprisonment or worse if we don’t comply. That’s an unassailable fact. This is the position of another person I responded to long ago who called such redistribution “obligatory charity.” As I said back then, if it’s obligatory, it’s not charity. It’s extortion at gunpoint.

OK, the argument then is that the money is to be extorted from us anyway, only the distribution differs, but here’s the actual difference: One is investment in the future of the entire human race. The other is the continuation of the welfare state. And it can reasonably be argued that the result (at least in the U.S.) of the “War on Poverty” has been nothing less than the expansion of the welfare class and the destruction of the group it was supposed to save.

Kent argues:

(Y)es, investment into such research does bring benefits to the economy. But not to everyone. I live in Australia – the Mars mission has not done a single good thing for me, or my country’s economy.

Possibly not. We spent about $800 million on that particular project, which is a drop in the bucket. We’re probably still using radiotelescope stations in Australia, though, so his assertion isn’t quite accurate, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. However, Australia does benefit from the American space program. He benefits from the spin-offs that have created new technologies, products and services. Others more involved in that aspect than I can certainly provide a long list of the world-wide benefits of our investment in space exploration, but I think the problem is that Kent’s argument is more one of “what have you done for me lately?

Space exploration is something that capitalist systems have a hard time with. It’s a long-term investment. Instead of concentrating on the next-quarter return, it’s one that pays off slowly and long in the future. Francis Porretto wrote an interesting piece recently on just what kind of government would be best for a long-term space program. I highly recommend it. And he’s right, our system of government is far from ideal for such a long-term project, but all it will require from us is will. So long as we really understand the worth, we will have the will.

So I’m not optomistic.

Kent concludes:

It’s an argument of empathy, of compassion, in the end. People are dying, or leading miserable lives, due to nothing but lack of money, which there is plenty of going around, and everybody seems to dodge arguments as to why we shouldn’t help them. And these people aren’t just starving in far-away, Communist-or-otherwise dictatorships. They’re everywhere, tucked away in the anonymous suburbs of our Western democracies. They are not quite the beacons of equality and prosperity that we might like to believe.

There is a major schism between Kent’s worldview and my own. I recognize that there are some people who are poor, or dying, or “leading miserable lives” through no fault of their own. But I don’t believe that government redistribution of money to “save” them will correct the problem.

Governments are not empathic nor compassionate. They are bureacracies. Bureacracies are not interested in fixing problems. Bureacracies are not interested in helping people. Bureacracies are interested in getting bigger. In increasing budgets. In expanding influence. (See “War on Poverty” above.) People are empathic. People are compassionate. And people who look to government to handle the administration of “obligatory charity” have brains full of mush.

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