Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Count the cost of stamping out evil.

Neal Gabler has a fascinating column in the L.A. Times. He admits that regulation is not sure-fire protection from financial sector excesses:

"The (market) system malfunctioned because the human beings who ran it were greedy and saw a way to enrich themselves. That means the recession from which we still are reeling was primarily a result of human nature..."

That's a moral insight - maybe even metaphysical in that he goes after the intangibles of our existence.

Gabler still accepts the need for regulation. His central argument is that the law needs to be written shrewdly, to make the costs of accumulating "super-riches" outweigh the rewards. Simply making it more difficult to exploit a market is not enough, because the greedy will adapt "like a virus."

He's correct in attributing our harmful excesses to "human nature." His diagnosis is the same as the New Testament's. The human race lives according to "the flesh." We are animals, after all, concerned with our own pleasure and perpetuation.

I liked much of the article, but raised an eyebrow when Gabler went all partisan toward the end:

"It wasn't enough for the rich to be rich. Human nature being what it is, they had to be super-rich. Or put another way, tax cuts, including the Bush tax cuts, fed some of the worst aspects of human nature and led to some of the worst excesses. It was just a matter of time before Wall Street went wild."

It is fine to get moralistic and legalistic when we can aim our antipathy at a particular issue or group. But the New Testament says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Is Gabler - are we - willing to go all in, and suggest moral legalism for any and all demonstrably harmful human antics? For example,

Alcohol abuse is manifestly destructive, not only to the individual but to all of us in terms of family destruction, business losses, roadway accidents and the attendent public services to list the most obvious.

There is mounting evidence that Facebook can contribute to family breakdown. I'm not talking just anecdotal stuff - legal journals have statistics about the prevalence of Facebook comments as evidence in divorce proceedings.

KELO radio had a report this morning about how texting activates the brain in ways similar to addictive narcotics.

Feminists argue that the porn industry degrades women; many religious groups would add family and social degradation to that indictment.

I could go on and on listing industries, products and groups that make plenty of money while harming the rest of us.

What evils, if any, do we propose to stamp out for the greater good? Will they be just the things we dislike about people unlike ourselves?

And what will we say when people unlike us decide that we are the ones to be controlled by law?

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Yes, that's human nature. How shall a society of fallen humans respond?

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