Mission Creep and Situational Ethics

A reply to this post, over on AnarchAngel.

 “It is perfectly clear and evident, Venerable Brothers, that the very notion of a civilization is a fiction of the brain if it rest not on the abiding principles of truth and the unchanging laws of virtue and justice, and if unfeigned love knit not together the wills of men, and gently control the interchange and the character of their mutual service.”

— Pope Leo XIII, Inscrutabili (1878)

With special thanks to  Anthony Esolen, for this post.

I suspect to some, I am weakening Melody’s argument by bringing religion into it. After all, you can’t believe anything those theists say, right? Well… just think of it this way. There is a reason why you spent a lot of time reading about us in history books for the past 2000 years. As ugly as civilization has been… it, at least, was clearly civilization, and actually recorded what they did, and not what they wished they did, what they thought they should do, but what they actually, and indisputably did.

While history is always written by the winners, at least they admitted that they were, in some sense, losers. They failed, they lost their way, they killed people who did not deserve it, yet always maintained that same standard that we claim to hold up today. They did not always act on it, because human beings are flawed.

They even admitted that there were reasons for people to die. At least they were honest about their intentions and motivations.  Less can be said about the people of today, where it seems that what people claim to believe and what they actually do seem motivated by different objects.

In those days, people valued civilization. They did this, because they had seen, had known deeply the cost of not having it. Tyranny goes unremarked, unobserved, and unpunished. People die horribly just because some king had a bad day. To make matters worse, the governed go crazy, accusing each other of ridiculous things then kill each other over it. The witch hunts can be described that way. Most of them happened where tyranny was a way of life, and taking from your neighbor seemed to be the only way to get ahead in the world.

Just keep in mind– in those days, they viewed the Germanies the same way that we today think of the Middle East: a bunch of people who seem determined to keep slaughtering each other until the end times are here.

Those mad times were a failure of civilization, not a failure of religion. Those who sanctioned it were certainly in the wrong, and more than a few were members of the Church.  Every pope since has apologized for it. The newsies don’t think it is especially newsworthy, so those apologies never happened.  And so it goes.

But weren’t we talking about babies being starved to death in hospitals in England? What does it have to do with witch hunts promulgated by wacky ‘religious’ people hundreds of years ago? Well, I mention it (at length) because I believe that these two things are more similar than they appear. In both cases, you learn a great deal about where the failures come about by thinking like a police detective: that is, by following the money.

So what does money have to do with Civilization and mission creep and situational ethics? Stay tuned. I promise I will get there eventually, and tie it all together with a neat little bow (I hope).

So, first we have the news that people were starving babies to death to keep up their “death quotas.” This is a hospital, where people are supposed to be healing, or at least resorting to palliative care to ease someone into death, if nothing can be done.  But here, babies who could be healed are instead deprived of food and water, then watched for ten days until they die.

That’s pretty hard core. Now why would a hospital do such a thing?  How could… people who went into medicine to heal and help people let people die?  Well, you see, it is a matter of a pay check. Worse, they don’t really have a choice about where they work.  How could this be?

You see, they have a single payer system run by the government. “Single Payer” means: The State pays for everything! All the hospitals (or at least this one) are run by the State, and the State has certain responsibilities to the people.  One of those responsibilities is to keep taxes manageable. Another of those responsibilities is to make sure that there is more money coming in than going out.  When the State provides all the benefits needed for modern civilized living, you have to cut corners somewhere. You have to make sure that what comes in pays for what goes out.    The government itself, cannot make money. That is, it cannot make value.

Value comes from the work that people do. That’s right, what you do every day, generates something good from nothing. Whether you work in a factory, or as a service person, or at a gas station, to cleaning house and doing your own laundry, you are creating a good, a value out of thin air.  That is what money is for, to record this labor, this work, and to make this value tangible so you can trade it for other things.

Now, the reason why you can’t normally pay yourself for the things you do for yourself, is that they are not valuable to other people. Unless you live at home, and you are young enough for your parents to give you an allowance, you really can’t go to your neighbor and say, “Hey! I did yard work today! Pay me!” Because, ultimately you did it for yourself.

For the same set of reasons, you can take a good and make it worthless– even less than worthless by giving it away.  IF the State offers up health care for free, that is, for no charge, you have taken this service and turned it into a drain. That is, the only tangible representation of that good is the money the State pumps into it. The State has no way to generate money– that is, there is no way for people to mark that they value it by giving money to it to support it’s function, well, then all it has is a drain.  So… THIS is what we signed up for when we said yes to Obamacare. “Let’s make healthcare worthless!” says Sibelius.

Now, I can imagine that some people are incensed because this, by extension seems to decry great charitable organizations as making giving to the poor valueless, in fact less than valueless. But that is not so.

Charity is run by private organizations. Say what you like about the Catholic Church, it is not a Kingdom on Earth. It has no boundaries, it charges no taxes, it makes no demands on the faithful except intangible things. Oh, yeah, come to church every Sunday, love your neighbor as thyself, and love God most of all, let us whine at you about the National Catholic Appeal, let us pass along the collection plate, waft incense at you and sing, give homilies,  serve God on a golden platter for the Faithful to eat, and make annoying blog posts about morals and the greater good.  It kind of pales in comparison to the IRS, the FBI, the TSA, the NTSB, the NSA, the CIA, the ATFE, the HSA, the EPA and… need I go on? Let’s not forget the thousands of millions of laws that we have never read, don’t know what they say, and regulate every aspect of our lives.

Also, the Church does what it can with what it gets. The government makes promises about what it will do, even before all the money is counted. And, even though it seems like an endless supply– neither organization has  an endless supply, or can even dream of it.

Nope, not even the Government. Sure, they can print all the money that they have paper for, but, they cannot generate value. In fact, ALL the government does is suck up value and pump out slips of paper that supposedly have value. But they only have value if they reflect the value that is out there. If they just keep coming, the value of the individual piece of paper will go down no matter what number is stamped on it.

Sure they provide services, but the value of those services is detached in the mind of the consumer with how much they cost, unlike a business which must provide it’s service for what other people believe it is worth.  The only reason why we have been so successful for so long is that we have been capitalists, that is, giving money to people for their services based on what people are willing to pay for them.

Ladies and gentlemen, THAT is capitalism. It is not a political position, it is a set of observed physical laws  that deal with managing scarcity.  It is the most fair system we have been able to come up with.

The only reason why we are still profitable, is that so much value has been created for so long, we can afford to waste a good deal, or even inflate the prices of things, and no one notices because it is so common and so much value abounds.  We live in such a wide ocean of inflation that the only time we will notice is when the side effects of our wasteful behavior brings the whole house of cards a tumbling down. This is happening much faster in Europe than here, because their system is much more regulated than ours.

If you build your society based on something else, it will not run smoothly and bad things will happen. We have not had a capitalist society for a long time now, because we keep coming up with funny tricks to ‘beat the system’. Then they bite us back, and we don’t know why because the laws and rules and so on have created such complexity it is impossible to predict what might happen next.  The first time we were bit hard (that people still remember) was 1929.

So fine. What does this have to do with witch-hunts and starving babies? Oh, and ethics and morals, and mission creep?

Unfortunately, you have to understand a lot of background before my argument makes sense. Because of the level of education in this society is shamelessly bad, I cannot guarantee that who reads this will know all of back ground for the argument to even make sense.

Economics used to be something that everyone knew the basics about, because you must to participate effectively in our society. Now days, people just accept the idea that we can’t know anything about it. Most people just shrug their shoulders and accept by rote the idea that it’s all so very complicated, requiring lots of math and things you shouldn’t worry your pretty little head about.  That is a lie, designed to keep the common people in the dark about what the Government is actually doing.

You see, our government is terrified of us, they loathe us, because we are the ones that keep them in check, and if we understand what they are doing, we just might get angry and put them out of a job, or start erecting guillotines (or firing lines) in the public square.

Yes, it’s that bad. And the only reason we haven’t called them on it is because we are either too nice to overthrow our current run of despots, or we are too ignorant to see just how badly they are screwing us.  They want to control the internet so we never find out. They want to use our own manifest fear of death against us so we stay pliant and respectful to our kind and gentle leaders, who can limit our population growth so they can pay for all of our needs.  All so they can keep a job. This is called feeding the paycheck.

Unfortunately, as the system gets less and less prosperous (as they have regulated away the means of prosperity), there will be less and less value. When you have less and less value, you can pay for fewer and fewer benefits for fewer and fewer people.

That means, you start killing your own citizenry when you start seeing your country going into the red.  If you push abortion really hard, and folks are fooled into thinking its’ a human right, why you can get away with not having to actually get your hands dirty for quite some time. That is why our President is so cosy with Planned Parenthood. So he doesn’t have to resort to killing babies himself to pay for all those people who need healthcare.

Charity is different because we have an independent value for charity that we do not have for paying taxes.  Taxes are taken whether we can afford them or not. We give what we can afford for our neighbor as an expression of the Love of God.

IT would be a terrible burden to tax us what charity begs from us on the street.  As it is now, we pay more taxes than the medieval serfs did. At twenty percent, they would be revolting.

As of now, the average is more like %40.  But we are still the most charitable nation in the world. It is because we choose to live less than we could, because money is worth more than it used to be, and almost all of it doesn’t have to go to feeding ourselves and putting clothes on our back.  We also remember that how we got to the level of prosperity is by working. A great deal of the world does not remember that, and you have places like Greece.

So, we give, because we know that the world is uncertain and that people often times need help to get to a place of living becomingly.  We only remember this because we still remember a system where work assigned value to money. And that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. Isn’t that mentioned in the Bible somewhere?

Because of this, we are more willing to pay for some stranger’s babies medical bills than we are to pay taxes.  We all know instinctively that taxes just go into a hole, they aren’t well allocated, and the experts living in the clouds simply cannot see what is going on in your average government agency 1000 miles away– or down the street for that matter.

The sad fact is, humans need to know that they are doing good. They have to see results. That goes for everyone, from the factory worker, to the medical professional, to the government bureaucrat  to the wall street financier  to the street sweeper.  With Charity, you see results. With Government, you see waste, ruin, and sloth.

The only reason why the Chatholic Church is still around (besides, God’s will) is because each part is a small as humanly possible, holds consistent values to keep it in check, and provides intangible value for which there is no monetary equivalent. Access to understanding what little we can about God is so much more than the thrill of good feeling you get for paying your taxes.  And God has placed value on charity to help our neighbor.

The people who work in charity, made the decision to work for charity, to help the stranger.  God or their conscience will be watching to make sure they do a good job. There are bad apples everywhere, but most people will go do this thankless job so that they can sleep at night.  That is more valuable than feeling good about paying your taxes.

The people who work in a hospital, who are paid to work in a hospital what the market will bear, know that what they do has a direct impact on what happens around them. Their paycheck will be affected by their performance  If they do badly, they will be paid less at best, sued or put in jail at worst.  Also, because you get this feedback of more or less money based on how good you are, you can have evidence you can hold that what you do well impacts your entire life.  That is more valuable than feeling good about paying your taxes.

After all, if you don’t pay your taxes, all that happens is that you go to jail for a while. There is no good feeling, or reward for doing right, simply a cost for doing wrong that the clever or well-connected can put off indefinitely– if they are lucky.

If however, you work in a State funded hospital, everyone is in it for themselves. They are there to feed the paycheck. To make it fair, the pay check will be the same for everybody. So no one has hurt feelings, no one will be told how good they actually are.  Also, they have no choice, if they want to help people, but to do it this way. Sure, you can say, “good job!” but that is not the same as having a tangible thing that makes your life better because you did good.

After all, they can’t work anywhere else, except for the government. They work their hours, and there are no rewards for doing well, there are no costs to doing poorly. This is the wage slave phenomenon, and the only way we got away from this in the field of medicine, is because the work was valued, and had tangible, undeniable results if done poorly.

But you can’t sue the government when things go wrong. You can try, but unless you are well-connected or very lucky, you simply won’t succeed.  After all, the State is doing this for free! Be grateful that it is done for you at all! You could be out there starving without the benevolent State! Go on, be tractable and benign, you People!  We are taking care  of you!

The State will try to solve the unaccountable problem by opening up the doctors to law suits from The People. The only problem with this, is that it will be the steadily shrinking pool of cash that will be making the decisions. The doctors were only following orders.

The people who say “we can only afford to take care of such and such a number of people” will never be in the law suit. People will blame each other for these terrible things, and the real culprit will be watching the fun while hoping the booze will take the sting off making those terrible decisions.   Remember what Stalin said?  “A single death is a tragedy– a million is a statistic”?

Remember that he too started out as a faceless  bureaucrat.  It’s easy, when it is your job to consign a certain percentage of the population to death, to ignore that during the day.  The better people will have trouble sleeping at night, but be uncertain as to why.  It is the people who  can deal with these consequences that will float to the top. And this is how despotism begins to go from merely benignly oppressive to genocidal.

Now scroll back all the way to the top to my quote from Pope Leo.  Ultimately, your system of governance doesn’t matter. You can be a democrat, a republican or a royalist, or some kind of communist, and all of these things I describe are still in effect. That is why we call them Natural Laws. They describe the way things work, that is–  the way things are, not how we’d like them to be.

Because we know this mission creep happens in all organizations, from churches to businesses to governments, and the bigger they are the more prone to these detachment from mission they are.  The goal of a Republican state is to create conditions that benefit and reward a small government. The goal of a capitalist economic system is to create conditions where as many people benefit, that is– to create as much opportunity to create value as possible.

But, it has nothing to do with what is considered valuable. You can have any values you want. This is just creating systems to work with the observed reality. You need a rule to guide people in making decisions that affect each other positively.  We can still agree that oppression, starvation, and privation are all bad things.  We can agree that murder is bad, we can agree that dying needlessly is bad.

Fine.  But, unfortunately, when you stop working from values, which are unalterable truths of right and wrong, you start being able to justify behavior to feed the paycheck, to feed the State, because under those conditions you will find any comfort to tolerate your circumstances.  Whatever we say about hope and change, human beings generally loathe change in their situations– even when it could be for the better.  Because– who knows if it will be good or not? Who can we trust? If we don’t have a consistent, unalterable set of values that we consistently hold dear– how can you generate trust at all?

And it is Trust that makes Civilization possible.  If you can’t trust your neighbor, who can you trust?  If you can’t trust your doctor, because he might be feeding the paycheck, who can you trust?  This is the situation where people truly start siding only for themselves, and start dealing false with their neighbor.

And that is the signal that despotism, tragedy and collapse are right around the corner.

So… why does this have to do with the witch hunts? IT was a symptom of a failure of trust. First, the church failed to hem in some serious superstition. That is, the idea of witches and hexes causing lasting harm to the population. Some clerics got involved, because they were tired of seeing their beliefs being shunned in favor of physical things, and hey, maybe they’ll get some action in the pews and in the collection plate if they stood against a known evil.

Then, the rulers realized that they could use this situation to their benefit! Anyway, there might be something to this witchcraft stuff, and fighting evil is good, right?  Besides, if that old widow (how did that old crone survive the Plague, anyhow? A pact with her black cat, maybe?) is sitting on a pile of cash, we can liberate that, put it in the coffers, and do more good for everyone!

The people joined in, because they all had pent up suspicion of each other, and everyone was in it for themselves. Besides, fighting evil is good, right?

Ultimately, the driving force behind who got accused and who did not had to do with how much money they had, and how much pent up resentment there was. These became region wide phenomenona, because the State needed more money, and the excitement generated a lot of revenue– not only from the goods liberated from the accused, but also the rewards for hunted persons, and the carnival like atmosphere that would surround a burning.

Also, there was a market for witch hunters, which was a fine and respectable hobby that people would pay lots of money for. And hey, you could just make it up as you went a long, and use some fine sophistry and religious sounding jargon to make it all sound legitimate.

This is rather like the argument that killing a child to prevent it’s suffering, and killing your excess population so the state can keep spreading itself only too thinly.  It generates a good deal of excitement, a monetary windfall, and good feeling for a short time.

In the long term it is terrible for humanity– for our sense of right and wrong, for our long-term financial viability for all the goods and potential value– in the form of persons and their contributions to society –destroyed in it’s name, and for the overall disastrous effects on our ability to stay civilized.

After all, if you will put some number of people to death for the sake of a pay check, can you be trusted?

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