Consistency is Overrated

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. 

Wikipedia:Emerson and Wilde on consistency

This quote from Emerson has been ringing in my head for a while now. I feel like I should print it out and hang it on a wall.

I’ve become increasingly bothered by the lack of pragmatism in the political discussions I’ve had, and I try to avoid them when I can manage to keep my mouth shut… though that can be hard to do.

I really do make an effort to stay away from politics with family and friends.

However, when I see otherwise good, smart, and well meaning people allow themselves to be dragged deep into the most ugly reaches of the human condition in an effort to stay consistent with one political view or another it makes my stomach turn and the next thing I know my mouth starts moving.

This is sort of one of those moments - after I’ve had some time to reflect.

Living in a human society is not a science. Some people think it is, and maybe if what you mean by that is something along the lines of “We don’t know how societies work and we are trying to figure it out”. Then I might be onboard.

But, if instead, you mean - we have managing human societies down to a science and all you need to do is follow this particular ideology, then I think you are well on your way to becoming a totalitarian ass hat.

The Basic Principle according to me

In general I think no matter which idiotic economic philosophy you jealously cling to, or which political ideology you find yourself clamoring after, essentially all of us can probably agree with this basic statement. To some extent at least.

“Don’t hurt me, and don’t take my stuff”.

And bonus points! As a gesture of good faith I’ll extend that to other people as well! You’re welcome other people.

This is probably in my naive mind where most of us agree, and it’s exactly at this place that we diverge.

No one knows what it means to not hurt people and not take their stuff.

There are probably a lot of Right Wing Libertarian’s nodding in agreement on that basic principle, and giving a knowing smirk ready to say “Exactly this! And the government is taking my stuff in the form of taxes, and using threats of violence to ensure I give it freely.”

To some people the mere existence of a State that demands any sort of obedience and can make claims on a person personal property. Whether that be monetary possessions, or real estate, or intellectual property, is tantamount to theft and thus violates the basic rule we all want to live by. Namely “Don’t take my stuff and don’t hurt me.”

Personally, (and speaking frankly) I find this to be a shallow and uncharitable understanding of our basic principle.

An obvious, first problem here comes from the ugly reality of the world we live in.

Not everyone has enough stuff to live on, and most people don’t have the physical, mental, or emotional strength to protect the stuff they do have, from people who will take it from them.

At this point you have two options - the alpha male survival of the fittest mentality, or what really amounts to the same thing but from a different angle. You find a group of people who can band together, combine resources and hold off the Alpha Male jack asses through combined effort.

As much as it pains the alpha males in the room, and not to spoil the story, but so far the later group has proven to be more fit for survival and as such we have a State that has not only the philosophic authority to restrain those who would take our stuff, but also the means to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Lets not get too consistent though

A State like the one we have, at least here in the United States and I would suspect many other parts of the world has an immense amount of power. Allowing the principle of protecting people and their stuff to go too far sends us to a place that we don’t want to go.

Throughout the history of America we have “waffled” over and over again between capitalistic idea’s on one hand, and socialist ideas on the other. For example: We have social security, but not universal healthcare. We have workplace protections and unions, but a minimum wage that is impossible to live on.

Rarely have we embraced this dichotomy but nonetheless it has existed since the founding of this country. From the days of private money, to The Fed, the New Deal, to trickle down economics, compassionate conservatism, isolationism, to interventionism, the list goes on and on.

All of these ideas when taken to their logical conclusions lead to ruin. Pragmatism is largely an American invention and it has served us well over the years, and we could benefit from a resurgence in it today.

Use idea’s but don’t worship them

Capitalism, Socialism, whatever(ism) - none of these ideas are more important than the people who are affected by them. Our loyalty should never be to a single (ism) we should remember that none of us knows what the hell we are doing. Everyone is making this shit up as we go, and the more certain you are of an idea the more likely you are to overlook evidence to the contrary.

Throughout American history we’ve been able to thread a thin needle - taking one idea from capitalism, another from socialism, one from christianity, another from secularism, and some from who knows where else. We’ve taken those ideas where they make sense and turned them into a beautiful though fragile and unwieldy amalgamation of all of the best ideas we could find.

It’s our greatest strength and probably our greatest weakness.

So moderate your ideas, if someone points out that you are being inconsistent just say “so what”. What does consistency have to do with it? You aren’t going to win prize for “most consistent” at the end of your life.

If you can produce a better outcome by holding inconsistent ideas then do that, and the rest of it can fuck off.