Saturday, August 01, 2015

Values, Interests and the Middle

Ayn Rand stated that every issue has the right side and the wrong side, but the middle is always evil. The political debates are either based on a clash of values or on a clash of interests; and while her statement can be defended about the first, it is a complete disaster when dealing with the second.

On issues that are a clash of values – such as whether or not to have a death penalty or whether to have a monarchy or a democracy – the middle can in fact be construed as evil. That is because, in these situations, finding the middle ground involves compromise on values; which a moral absolutist, whether Christian or objectivist, would find to be evil. But most political issues are a clash, not of values, but of interests; and in these, this attitude leads to complete failure.

In debates such as between business and labor, men and women, environment and civilization, and private sector and public sector, neither side is either right or wrong, nor is either side good or bad. They reflect different interests which are all capable of both right and wrong and both good and evil. And the rational solution in these situations is not to side with one interests at the expense of the other, but look at both interests and support them in the benefit that they accomplish while confronting them in the wrong that they do.

Business can mean anything from computerizing the world to hooking millions people on fattening and disease-causing fast food items. Labor can mean anything from principled, motivated self-starters to the person who spends all his time at work chatting with his co-workers or bullying and harrassing other employees.

Men can mean anything from Thomas Jefferson to Adolf Hitler. Women can mean anything from Oprah Winfrey to Sarah Palin.

Environmentalism can mean anything from clean-energy enterprises and Nature Conservancy to the atavists who militate against business and technology. Civilization can mean anything from scientific and technological progress to burning the rainforest and flooding the atmosphere with CO2.

Private sector can mean anything from Apple Computers to Monsanto. Public sector can mean anything from the Interstate and the Internet systems to burdensome, petty, time-wasting and money-wasting bureucratic controls over private enterprise.

In all cases we see human endeavors that have the capacity for both the right and the wrong.

Siding with either side in these situations is disastrous. When this is done, wrongs get institutionalized on the side of the duality that is favored, while the other side of the duality is suppressed even in its possibility to produce beneficial results. When the men dominate the women, the result is support for wrongdoings on the part of the male and a brutal oppression against women; when women dominate men, the result is castration and devaluation of the male. When business dominates labor, the result is support for wrongful practices on the part of the business and disenfranchisement of the worker; when labor dominates business, the result is a soporiphic kakistocracy that manages enterprises in an incompetent manner and fails to allow innovation. When public sector dominates private sector the result is economic oppression under an overpowering bureaucracy; when private sector dominates public sector the result is short-sighted and unethical business practices gaining dominance of the market. When the worse elements in environmentalism dominate the result is a stranglehold over technological progress; when the worse elements in the economy dominate the result is blind and irreversible destruction of treasures that people have not created and cannot begin to recreate.

In all these interest-based dualities, we see interests that require one another for their existence yet are essentially pitted against one another. When one of these interests dominates the other, the results are disastrous. The result is that the dominant interests finds itself in a situation when it can do as much harm as it wants to harm, and the other side is powerless to do anything against it. The dominant interest abuses and oppresses the other interests as much as it wants to; and the other interest is powerless to do anything about it.

Business and labor, men and women, private sector and public sector, and environment and civilization, will always exist. The rational solution is not to side with either interest in these equations, but support each interest in where it is right and confront it where it is wrong. The issue in these cases is not clash of values, but clash of interest. And in the situation of clash of interests, the moral high ground consists, not of siding with one interest against the other, but of supporting each interest in its capacity to produce beneficial outcomes while confronting each interest where it chooses to go wrong.


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