The other day, Jason Kottke posted a thing attributed to Reddit titled ‘I am an American conservative shitheel’.
This is similar to a bunch of stuff that was particularly popular while the ‘health care’ bill was being rammed through Congress, and I meant to write something then. It’s still worth looking at the suppositions behind it.
The simplified version of it is something like this:
You conservatives are against ‘socialist’ health care, so it’s hypocritical of you to drive on ‘socialist’ roads, benefit from ‘socialist’ police and fire departments, send your kids to ‘socialist’ schools, and hold your little teabagger rallies in ‘socialist’ parks!!!1
Really. You can go read the original for a more nuanced version from someone who doesn’t think that this is utterly ridiculous, but that’s the real message there.
The argument is: roads, police, firemen, and parks are all provided by the government though coercive taxation, and if you do not think that that’s a big problem, you shouldn’t think that it’s a big problem to provide health care the same way.
This is such an absurd straw-man argument that it’s not worth addressing in detail. It is worth noting, however, that this kind of thing does not actually address the real argument against more government. It merely charges ‘conservatives’ with hypocrisy because they are opposed to more of something that they don’t like in the first place.
In Neal Stephenson’s novel The Diamond Age, which takes place about fifty to seventy-five years in the future, one of the older characters says:
“You know, when I was a young man, hypocrisy was deemed the worst of vices,” Finkle-McGraw said. “It was all because of moral relativism. You see, in that sort of a climate, you are not allowed to criticise others-after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism?” [...]
“Now, this led to a good deal of general frustration, for people are naturally censorious and love nothing better than to criticise others’ shortcomings. And so it was that they seized on hypocrisy and elevated it from a ubiquitous peccadillo into the monarch of all vices. For, you see, even if there is no right and wrong, you can find grounds to criticise another person by contrasting what he has espoused with what he has actually done. In this case, you are not making any judgment whatsoever as to the correctness of his views or the morality of his behaviour-you are merely pointing out that he has said one thing and done another. Virtually all political discourse in the days of my youth was devoted to the ferreting out of hypocrisy.”
So I am always a bit suspicious of charges of hypocrisy. In cases like this, I am doubly suspicious.
A lot of libertarians (these things complain about ‘conservatives’, but they’re really complaining about that part of conservatism that’s indistinguishable from libertarianism) actually are against public police forces to one degree or another, on the basis that, to judge from investigations of cops that hit people over the head, or zap them with Tasers, or shoot them dead, the members of the public police forces seem to be absolutely superhuman in the performance of their jobs in that they are almost never found to have done anything incorrectly. And what’s more, the ‘procedures’ — which are always found to have been followed — are not revised after it’s found that they lead to the police killing people wrongly. Amazing. And apparently the left-wingers think that’s great.
Because if you accept the left-wing complaint about non-statists being hypocritical because they drive on public roads and use government weather forecasts, the only conclusion that remains is that the real goal of the left wing is to have us all living in a totalitarian state, with everything provided by the government.
Which suspicion is part of the motivation behind opposition to things like government health care.