A Philosopher's Blog

Neutral Evil

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 23, 2013
English: Protester seen at Chicago Tax Day Tea...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wrote previously on the usefulness of Dungeons & Dragons alignments in discussing ethics in the real world. In that essay, I wrote about the lawful evil alignment. I now turn to the neutral evil alignment.

In the Pathfinder Role Playing Game version of the alignment, neutral evil is defined as follows:

A neutral evil villain does whatever she can get away with. She is out for herself, pure and simple. She sheds no tears for those she kills, whether for profit, sport, or convenience. She has no love of order and holds no illusions that following laws, traditions, or codes would make her any better or more noble. On the other hand, she doesn’t have the restless nature or love of conflict that a chaotic evil villain has.

Some neutral evil villains hold up evil as an ideal, committing evil for its own sake. Most often, such villains are devoted to evil deities or secret societies.

Neutral evil represents pure evil without honor and without variation.

This alignment, unfortunately enough, matches up quite well to some people in the real world. As the description above indicates, neutral evil people are completely selfish. It is important to note that this is different from having a sense of self-interest. The distinction is that self-interest means that a person takes into account his or her own interests when making decisions. A completely selfish person takes self-interest to an extreme, perhaps to the point where only her interests are regarded as having any value. Being self-interested is perfectly compatible with being good. In fact, a good creature would need a degree of self-interest or it would be engaged in wronging itself, which could be an evil action.

Interestingly enough, neutral evil actually has its own real-world moral theory, namely ethical egoism. This is the moral view that a person should do only what is in her interest. This is contrasted with altruism, which is the view that a person should at least sometimes consider the interests of others. There are, of course, degrees of altruism (and egoism). As might be imagined, the extremist form of altruism (always sacrificing all one’s interests for those of others) is an absurd position that could be seen as a form of evil given how the altruistic fanatic treats herself. More moderate altruism just requires at least not being totally selfish—which seems both reasonable and good.

Stupid neutral evil people are open about their selfishness and simply do as they wish. However, unless they are powerful or protected by powerful people, they would tend to come to a bad end. Neutral evil people who are not stupid and also lack the power to do whatever they wish with impunity tend to take one of two approaches.

The first is for the neutral evil person to conceal the fact that she is neutral evil. The classic example of this is the Ring of Gyges story in Plato’s Republic. Such neutral evil people are careful to maintain the appearance that they are not neutral evil and, provided that they have the skills and resources to do this, they can remain unexposed. Even if they are exposed, they sometimes have the ability to regain their mask and return to their evil actions in secret.

The advantage of this approach is that the neutral evil person is able to act in a selfish way in relative safety. The disadvantage is that maintaining the illusion of being not-evil can be costly and can impede the person’s ability to act on his selfishness. This is, however, a viable option for those who are evil and capable, yet lack absolute power.

The second is for the neutral evil person to present their selfishness as being virtuous rather than a vice. That is, rather than concealing their evil behind a mask of false ethics, they endeavor to convince people that their selfish behavior is actually ethically correct.

Ayn Rand is perhaps the best known philosopher who took this approach. She argued that selfishness is a virtue and that altruism is wrong. Of course, the altruism she attacked was the absurd extreme altruism presented above, rather than the sort of moderate altruism that is embraced by actual human beings. Unfortunately, the sort of extreme ethical egoism she endorsed has been embraced, most famously by certain folks in the American Tea Party as well as those who have manipulated this movement.

In the United States, there has been a concerted and brilliant effort to present supporting altruism as supporting vile socialism or communism and of wanting to rob the “job creators” of the wealth they have earned. That is, being altruistic and wanting to assist others is cast as vile villainy. There has also been an equally brilliant effort to cast anyone who benefits from public altruism as being lazy, thieving and parasitic. Naturally, racism has been cleverly exploited here as well.

This has been a rather successful campaign in that many Americans now regard those who support public altruism as exceeded only in wickedness by those who might receive it—especially if those who receive it are minorities.

In contrast, those who have great wealth that has been acquired from the labor of others are cast as having made it on their own, despite the massive government subsidies and state support that helped make their success possible. Ironically, those who are the most selfish are cast as the most virtuous and even those they shameless exploit rush to their defense.

While this alignment can be quite beneficial to the neutral evil person, it is a rather corrosive alignment. After all, neutral evil types are essentially damaging to society. Unlike the lawful evil types who believe they have a stake in the success of society, the neutral evil types are selfish to the degree that they only consider what they regard as their own self-interest.

While an enlightened neutral evil person might get that she has an interest in society, this sort of enlightenment is actually contrary to the alignment. After all, an evil person who sees value in society would be lawful evil rather than neutral evil. As such, while good people have a clear interest in combating neutral evil people, so too would the lawful evil people. In a sense, the neutral evil person is everyone’s enemy—even other neutral evils.

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56 Responses

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  1. magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 9:03 am

    “In the United States, there has been a concerted and brilliant effort to present supporting altruism as supporting vile socialism or communism and of wanting to rob the “job creators” of the wealth they have earned.”

    Mike, forcing others to give more money to third parties is not altruism. that’s called socialism. Altruism is giving help yourself, where you see fit. You’ve made a brilliant effort in presenting socialism as altruism. It is not. It’s not; socialism is trying to get others to do your own hard work.

    • magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 9:07 am

      By the way, for real altruism, instead of endorsing that government take more money from people, or giving more money to a wasteful and sloppy government, why not donate $250 to Smile Train. That money and 45 minute surgery will make a human being’s life for the rest of their time on earth. Much better than government cheese.

      http://www.smiletrain.org/

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 23, 2013 at 11:55 am

      Actually, using compulsive economic force to compel people is also a hallmark of our “capitalist” system. Worker productivity has increased steadily since the 1970s, yet wages have remained flat (adjusting for inflation). The extra productivity is benefiting those above the workers. Workers have little choice, as you yourself found-a person has to work in order to be able to get above mere subsistence.

      There is also collective altruism-that is, acting for the general welfare and the common defense. The idea that the poor are robbing the rich is a clever rhetorical device, but an examination of the very idea that the poor and powerless are coercing the rich and powerful shows the absurdity of the claim. That is rather like accusing the chess team of shaking down the football team for their lunch money.

      • magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 12:05 pm

        I’m for the government doing less, and individuals doing more. Anyone who cries about injustice and why they think the government should do something about it, but doesn’t do anything of material value themselves, is a hypocrite. You messages, as with many of those of intellectuals, starts at the wrong end of the horse: Instead of preachinig as to why society is creating criminals, for instance, how about telling people that being a criminal is bad. Or will we really go with what some of your fans believe: That if wages get lower we can expect more shooting sprees at malls. I’m for much less government and much more personal responsibility. I like biographies about individuals who overcame all of their obstacles, not the story of a guy that was down and out and was saved by government deus ex machina.

        I never thought it was “unjust” I didn’t get hired by the grocery store. I thought it was rather a bad business decision on the part of the grocers, since I’d be a better worker than the average FSU student.

        • magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 12:09 pm

          Socialism puts a whole society to sleep. Ours is currently nodding off.

      • WTP said, on September 23, 2013 at 1:27 pm

        , using compulsive economic force to compel people is also a hallmark of our “capitalist” system.
        Unfounded assertion. “Hallmark”?

        a : an official mark stamped on gold and silver articles in England to attest their purity
        b : a mark or device placed or stamped on an article of trade to indicate origin, purity, or genuineness
        2
        : a distinguishing characteristic, trait, or feature

        Simply stating it doesn’t make it so.

        a person has to work in order to be able to get above mere subsistence.
        That is LIFE not capitalism. Applies to birds, bees, cats, dogs, elephants, Eskimos, Outer Mongolian yak herdsmen, and yakkity and non-yakkity yaks. When exactly was this Garden of Eden time when man did not have to work for his sustenance? 4004 BC? Actually, what Mike pines for is more true today in America and other capitalist societies than any of those Mike champions. What are you, a child?

        The idea that the poor are robbing the rich is a clever rhetorical device, but an examination of the very idea that the poor and powerless are coercing the rich and powerful shows the absurdity of the claim.

        Not if the poor organize into sufficient number and accumulate political power to bleed the rich. But you’re too damned ignorant and intellectually non-curious to even try to understand things that defy your preconceived political perceptions. I give you again, your violation of item #2 of your own rules:

        Values the truth above personal ideology

        BTW, anyone catch the story of Venezuela running out of toilet paper? All hail the fruits of philosophy over the free market.

  2. WTP said, on September 23, 2013 at 9:41 am

    there has been a concerted and brilliant effort to present supporting altruism as supporting vile socialism or communism and of wanting to rob the “job creators” of the wealth they have earned.”

    This is simply unfounded, statement-accepted-as-fact bullshit. Show me where this wild conspiracy exists connecting ALL altruism as evil. Simply stating that some efforts that present themselves as altruism, like giving people money with no expectation that they change their behavior, are ultimately evil does not disparage altruism in other regards. Straw man and several other fallacies. Again I give you Mike’s own rules:

    1) Accepts the basic principles of logic and reason as the foundation of rational inquiry.
    2) Values the truth above personal ideology.
    3) Honesty.
    4) Willingness to admit error.
    5) Possesses a love of wisdom.

    1 through 4 this time? Oh hell, maybe 5 also. Why be niggardly.

    Connecting all this back to the fantasy world of D&D is really quite childish itself and gives some perspective on the authors maturity and understanding. There comes a time to put away childish things.

  3. T. J. Babson said, on September 23, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Borrowing money from future generations and giving it to Democratic voters is hardly altruism.

    • magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 9:51 am

      “Interestingly enough, neutral evil actually has its own real-world moral theory, namely ethical egoism.”

      And inerestingly enough, an ethical egoist could come to the conclusion that helping others and taking an interest in their needs is in the best interest of most people.

      “How to win friends and Influence people.”

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 23, 2013 at 12:02 pm

        An ethical egoist who has concern for the interests of others would be an altruist rather than an ethical egoist. This would be like a person claiming to be a consequentialist although she believes that what matters is following the correct rules rather than the consequences. That is, the person is using the term incorrectly.

        Now, if you mean that the egoist sees helping others and being interest in their needs as a means to the end of solely advancing his own interests, then he would still be an ethical egoist. The unjust man in the Ring of Gyges has friends who aid him and and excellent reputation despite his injustice. Your clever ethical egoist is essentially the unjust man.

        On consequentialist grounds it could be argued that an ethical egoist who advances the interests of others solely as a means of advancing his own is better than one who simply advances his own in ways that are harmful to others. However, this would (obviously) mean abandoning ethical egoism in favor of utilitarianism. Adam Smith had this sort of view: individuals acting from selfishness would result in a general good. That is old school consequentialist capitalism.

    • magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 9:57 am

      My comment with link is in the filter…

      And interestingly enough, an ethical egoist could come to the conclusion that helping others and taking an interest in their needs is in the best interest of most people.

      “How to win friends and Influence people.” by Carnegie is a perfect example. In fact this is how children learn to behave; when bad behavior makes other people upset with them. It’s not because good behavior is ethical.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 23, 2013 at 12:05 pm

      What about poor working mothers and fathers? What about the fellow who is putting in 60 hours a week at two part time jobs to try to get food on the table for his kids? Would helping them because they are in need be altruistic? Or is this just stealing to get votes for the Democrats?

      It impresses me how effective the PR machine has been in regards to caring for others-it is brilliantly cast as stealing to buy votes for Democrats. If I wore a hat, it would be off the the spinmaster who created that talking point.

      • magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 12:24 pm

        I’m not against helping people; I’m for it. Mike, what do you think the government would do with the $250 it costs a charity like smile train to help someone?

        But what have these things (government socialist policies, many of them) wrought? Did we not predict that Obama Care would reduce the poor’s employment opportunities? Blacks are worse off now than they were 30 years ago, this after the populism and panderign from the left that gave many blacks the excuse to go on a violent rampage, tearing their own cities apart. Why have SAT scores dropped? Why are kids fatter, dumber, and comitting suicide at rates three times that of prior to 1960? Nihilism+not allowed to fail=disaster.

        You don’t understand the value of letting people struggle and fail. I want to be able to fail. And you vastly underestimate the number of people who are trying to get over on the system.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm

          I am all for striving for success and recognize the value of failure. But, letting people fail at a game or sport is one thing. Letting people fall out of society is quite another.

          I hear people talking about the lazy fatties who just want the government to hand them money, but I do not see the evidence for this. The average duration of a person on food stamps is 9 months and the indication is that the vast majority of people who are capable of working make considerable efforts to get jobs.

          The talking point that most food stamp recipients are willfully lazy and just want to get fat on the taxpayer’s dime is yet another example of brilliant propaganda, unsupported by unbiased data. And I should not forget the racist angle, the talking point that it is blacks who are getting the goods from honest, hardworking whites.

          • WTP said, on September 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm

            I hear people talking about the lazy fatties who just want the government to hand them money, but I do not see the evidence for this.

            Come down to central Florida. Let me introduce you to my brother-in-law, and a few other worthless bastards. You don’t see the evidence because you don’t want to see it. It’s all our there. Just came from a doctor’s appointment. A Muslim man, no less. We got into discussion about such things and he was bemoaning an article in The Economist about what is wrong with America. It was about this SSDI crap. People keep coming into his office, wasting his time trying to get on disability. There’s nothing wrong with them. He chases them out, but he knows they’re just gonna bumble around until they find the sufficiently dishonest doctor who will pay them a kickback.

            The talking point that most food stamp recipients are willfully lazy and just want to get fat on the taxpayer’s dime is yet another example of brilliant propaganda, unsupported by unbiased data.

            Notice the “unbiased data” qualifier. Mike has ultimate faith in surveys and such, so long as they are done by people he considers “unbiased”. Mike is incredibly biased himself. How can he make such a judgment?

            And I should not forget the racist angle, the talking point that it is blacks who are getting the goods from honest, hardworking whites.

            Yes, raaaaaacist. I’ve worked a food bank program up in the hills of the Appalachia. Skin color has nothing to do with the problem. Every one I saw come down out of the hills to get free food was white. And damn near every one of them was dirty, their clothes were dirty, their car was dirty, a good number were smokers. Sucking off the teats of the system is not a race issue.

    • magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 12:42 pm

      Roman Bread and Circuses:

      This phrase originates from Rome in Satire X of the Roman satirist and poet Juvenal (circa A.D. 100). In context, the Latin metaphor panem et circenses (bread and circuses) identifies the only remaining cares of a new Roman populace which cares not for its historical birthright of political involvement. Here Juvenal displays his contempt for the declining heroism of his contemporary Romans.[5] Roman politicians devised a plan in 140 B.C. to win the votes of these new citizens: giving out cheap food and entertainment, “bread and circuses”, would be the most effective way to rise to power.

      … Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses[6]

      [...] iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli / uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim / imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se / continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, / panem et circenses. [...]
      (Juvenal, Satire 10.77–81)

      Juvenal here makes reference to the Roman practice of providing free wheat to Roman citizens as well as costly circus games and other forms of entertainment as a means of gaining political power. The Annona (grain dole) was begun under the instigation of the popularis politician Gaius Sempronius Gracchus in 123 B.C.; it remained an object of political contention until it was taken under the control of the autocratic Roman emperors.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_and_circuses

  4. T. J. Babson said, on September 23, 2013 at 11:27 am

    The message I took from Ayn Rand is that one contributes best to society by fully developing one’s talents. For example, a surgeon is contributing more by being in the operating room than by manning the soup kitchen line.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 23, 2013 at 12:08 pm

      You need to read her work on the virtue of selfishness. She bashes altruism in favor of a strict ethical egoism. She was quite consistent-she also hammered Christianity because of that “love thy neighbor” thing. As the Catholic folks pointed out about Paul Ryan, Christianity and Rand’s philosophy are fundamentally incompatible. This would be awkward for the Tea Party if consistency mattered to most of them.

      • magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 12:11 pm

        I’m a Christian, not a Randian. And just as Paul told people, I tell them: Toughen up and do what’s right.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 23, 2013 at 1:48 pm

          “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

          • WTP said, on September 23, 2013 at 2:29 pm

            What has what anything been said here have to do with “love”? If you love someone you don’t make them dependent upon others. You don’t undermine their self-respect. You don’t hold them to a lesser standard than any other man. My parents were poor, their whole families were poor. Poverty-stricken by today’s wussy standards. They didn’t steal and they didn’t rely on public assistance. They developed self-respect and an appreciation for hard work and the rewards that it brings. If you had any understanding of what it kind of attitude one needs to make one’s self successful I would encourage you to go out and actually work with the poor. Watch how many of them pass up opportunities with excuse after excuse. Others take advantage of opportunities and are not poor long.

      • WTP said, on September 23, 2013 at 1:30 pm

        Heh, Mike pointing out inconsistencies in other peoples’ philosophies.

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 23, 2013 at 1:45 pm

        The “virtue” part is that by focusing on one’s own development one actually contributes best to society.

        • T. J. Babson said, on September 23, 2013 at 1:46 pm

          Do you not see the relationship to the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith? The parallel is quite exact.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 23, 2013 at 1:57 pm

          She stole that part from Aristotle. I’m obviously fine with virtue. But, the ethical egoism she endorses is not something I am fine with-that is contrary to virtue. The notion of making a better world by selfishness is a lie that she tried to cloak in the old talk of virtue.

          • WTP said, on September 23, 2013 at 2:10 pm

            She stole that part from Aristotle.

            What a load of crap. Like there’s no case to be made that Mike, and virtually every other pontificator, hasn’t “stolen” most or what they have to say. Again, Mike stating as facts whatever petty self-satisfying excuse/out that passes through his pretty little head. “Stole”. Like you can actually steal from a man who’s been dead for 2300 years. But of course it’s the conservatives, tea party folks, and libertarians who “steal” and are “evil”. Yet Mike could not survive without the work and effort of these very people he mocks and insults subsidizing practically his entire income. This is just the same insulting, obnoxious crap one gets from the occupy movement and other campus radicals who don’t understand a damn thing well enough to build a cohesive argument, thus they resort to name calling and character assassination. Interesting reflection on the institutions that educated you and the one you work for.

            • magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 3:46 pm

              Mike actually thinks the Occupy Wall Street crowd were an honorable bunch. Thus I know he and I can observe the exact same group of people, hear their exact same speeches and come to two different conclusions about what they are really about. Me, I ask myself: Would my grandfather ever be caught laying on the sidewalk, tapping away on 2000 dollar laptops, sipping latte’s, banging on drums, with a pierced nose and his gay boyfriend to cheer him on? No. He say: Dang, I can’t get a job because I have no useful skills. I better learn how to weld, like *my* father did.

          • magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 3:43 pm

            She admits that much of her thought came from Aristotle.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 24, 2013 at 7:29 pm

              Much, but she missed the whole part about how humans are social beings, etc. She also missed the part about the mean in regards to self interest.

            • WTP said, on September 24, 2013 at 7:43 pm

              So now you’re arguing that she didn’t steal enough?

  5. ajmacdonaldjr said, on September 23, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    With the bookstore shelves filled with books written by Friedrich Nietzsche and Michael Foucault, and with the books written by the Marquis de Sade being taught as literature in universities across the land, why shouldn’t we have many such”neutrally evil” persons?

    The Nietzchean/Sadian anti-Christian (=antichrist) “ethic” is purported, by the professionals, to be “the way to go” these days, and most students of thought have adopted this “ethic” and have gone this way.

    In our postmodern society today, we are simply seeing the consequences of these ideas. And why shouldn’t we? Since ideas do have consequences.

    See: Re: Violence – Let’s be intellectually honest, for a change… shall we? – http://wp.me/pPnn7-24B

  6. magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    I see articles like this as merely an expression of the cognitive dissonance created from the fact that things did not get better when Obama became president, they in fact got worse.

    Definition of cognitive dissonance:

    “In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions. In a state of dissonance, people may sometimes feel “disequilibrium”: frustration, hunger, dread, guilt, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, etc”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

    The two differing ideas are that liberal policies are better than conservatives, and then, perceiving that things became worse. Thus those on the Left whom *must* like Obama, cannot fathom that he failed and that those policies failed. This conflict is rectified by accutely attacking “Big Business”, The Tea Party, and conservatives in general. This is accomplished by misrepresenting their views, goals, intentions, taking out of context their statements, and making over the top arguments, often implying that the activities of these groups is leading to the end of the world ie global warming, over-population etc.

  7. magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Mike does not see the root of the problem is not that people are poor, but the reason many got poor and stay poor. Start with divorce. Work backward from there. Should people stay together “for the kids”? Yeah, they should.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 24, 2013 at 7:31 pm

      I don’t see how divorce would result in such things as the fact that worker productivity steadily increases while wages stay flat. Or that 95% of the recovery in income was on the part of the 1% and so on.

      • WTP said, on September 24, 2013 at 7:47 pm

        Productivity can increase while wages stay flat when the value added comes from automation, amongst other reasons. If you made even the slightest effort to understand economics, you would not ask such stupid questions.

      • magus71 said, on September 25, 2013 at 4:56 am

        Mike, look at the statistics on children of divorced parents. They don’t fare very well.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 26, 2013 at 12:03 pm

          True, divorce can be hard on children. However, many children turn out just fine. As I and my sister did.

          • WTP said, on September 26, 2013 at 12:35 pm

            Aside from the denial, I’m sure.

  8. magus71 said, on September 23, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Duuuuuude…….

    • WTP said, on September 23, 2013 at 9:38 pm

      Once our philosophers finish their committee meeting, you’ll see…we’ll show you…

      How much money in eventually defaulted student loans do you suppose is in that crowd?

  9. T. J. Babson said, on September 24, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    “In the United States, there has been a concerted and brilliant effort to present supporting altruism as supporting vile socialism or communism and of wanting to rob the “job creators” of the wealth they have earned. That is, being altruistic and wanting to assist others is cast as vile villainy.”

    Sorry, Mike, I need to call bullshit here. The attitudes you are railing against are traditional American attitudes. If anything, there has been a “concerted and brilliant effort” by people like you to change America into just another, completely unexceptional, Euro-style welfare state.

    Robert Samuelson:

    If you examine opinion polls, you cannot miss the distinctiveness of some American attitudes. One standard question asks respondents to judge which is more important — “freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference” or “state guarantees [that] nobody is in need.” By a 58 percent to 35 percent margin, Americans favored freedom over security, reported a 2011 Pew survey. In Europe, opinion was the opposite. Germans valued protections over freedom 62 percent to 36 percent. The results were similar for France, Britain and Spain.

    Or take free will. Americans think they have it; many other nationalities dismiss it as a delusion. Another poll question asked respondents to agree or disagree that “success in life is determined by forces outside our control.” In the Pew survey, 72 percent agreed in Germany, 57 percent in France and 50 percent in Spain. By contrast, only 36 percent of Americans agreed in 2011, even though the country was still suffering from the Great Recession, which harmed millions and was beyond their control.

    Historically, the American experiment was exceptional, as historian and conservative commentator Charles Murray shows in an elegant essay published by the American Enterprise Institute. The United States, writes Murray, was the “first nation in the world [to] translate an ideology of individual liberty into a governing creed.” Democracies were thought to be “impracticable and unstable.” Only monarchies, often claiming divine authority, could impose social order. Even Britain, whose citizens enjoyed limited political rights, adhered to this central precept.

    By contrast, Americans believed that the power to govern derived from the governed. Lincoln’s celebration in the Gettysburg Address of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” strikes us as a rhetorical flourish. But for early Americans, the survival of such a government was an obsession. It made the United States special.

    What also made America special was its core beliefs, starting with “all men are created equal.” In other countries, rigid economic hierarchies reigned. Birth was often fate. Citizenship depended on ethnicity, heritage, religion. In the United States, success and citizenship were open-ended. The equality was not one of outcomes, writes Murray, but “of human dignity.” It rejected the notion that “meaningful happiness could be achieved only by the superior few.” Individuals — and individual effort — mattered.

    With good reason, most Americans have considered their beliefs superior. What rankles Putin (and many Americans, too) is that the United States has used this sense of moral superiority as a pretext to throw its weight around the world. The truth is more complicated. U.S. foreign interventions have also reflected perceived self-interest, while moral reservations have often justified isolationism: Don’t get entangled with crazy foreigners. The public’s hostile reaction to a proposed use of military power in Syria suggests isolationism may be on the rise.

    Murray thinks American exceptionalism is eroding. In part, American values — equality, democracy — have spread abroad. In part, foreign ideas have spread here. Americans distrust government, but the Founders’ preference for limited government is gone. For the nation’s first 140 years, federal spending never, except in wartime, exceeded 4 percent of the economy, says Murray. Now, it regularly tops 20 percent. The U.S. welfare state resembles the European.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/robert-j-samuelson-is-america-so-exceptional/2013/09/22/447fccde-220c-11e3-a358-1144dee636dd_story.html

    • WTP said, on September 24, 2013 at 7:42 pm

      Exactly. Do you notice how Mike puts irony quotes around the phrase ‘job creators’ every time? He mocks the very concept of such. Mike regularly mocks damn near everything that makes this country work economically…and in many other respects. If he did this on his own dime, if he did it at a privately funded institution, that would be his business and a tribute to the freedoms we enjoy. That he does do whilst enjoying the fruits of this system, doing so on the economic backs of those very people he mocks, is despicable. To some extent he is ignorant of what he does. But as a highly educated man, in a supposedly liberal discipline, his obstinance in refusing to defend the ignorance he spews he deserves to be held accountable. That he teaches hundreds of students on the economic margins of success and yet demonstrates so little intellectual curiosity in regard to his critics, is shameful. He has a responsibility to those students as an elder to give them the broadest perspective possible. A man who teaches ethics, no less.

      • magus71 said, on September 25, 2013 at 5:04 am

        “Mike regularly mocks damn near everything that makes this country work economically”

        You’re not giving him enough credit. He mocks everything that is classically American. I’m pretty sure Jesus has received more mocking from him than Mohammad.

        • WTP said, on September 25, 2013 at 6:23 am

          Nice how he doesn’t hold back from quoting Jesus when it suits his purpose, though. Especially when it comes to dishing out new commandments. Can’t you picture Mike throwing quotes from Mohammed back in the face of a mussulman? Neither can I.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 26, 2013 at 12:05 pm

          Mocking is an American tradition. Checkout the autobiography of Ben Franklin. Part of wisdom is not taking things too seriously.

          • WTP said, on September 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm

            Yes, clown nose on/clown nose off. Try it with the Muslim crowd, funny boy.

  10. T. J. Babson said, on September 25, 2013 at 8:05 am

    “Worker productivity has increased steadily since the 1970s, yet wages have remained flat (adjusting for inflation).”

    I need to call bullshit here, too. It is true that wages have remained flat, but what you can buy with the same wages has increased tremendously. Also, the percentage of household income spent on the basics like food, housing, energy, etc. has decreased sharply over the same time period.

    Increased productivity has led to an increase in the standard of living, as it should.

    • magus71 said, on September 25, 2013 at 8:59 am

      I’ll try to find the link, but if I remember the stat correctly, the poor of Mississippi have more buying power than the average person in Sweden.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 26, 2013 at 12:06 pm

      Inflation combined with flat wages means most workers have less buying power now.

      • WTP said, on September 26, 2013 at 12:39 pm

        “Worker productivity has increased steadily since the 1970s, yet wages have remained flat (adjusting for inflation).”
        “Inflation combined with flat wages means most workers have less buying power now.”

        Which is it? Wrong and Wrongerer. Should be a movie title. You ignore TJ’s point about standard of living because you do not understand what these things mean.

  11. T. J. Babson said, on September 26, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Is this Mike writing under a pseudonym?

    A cult of the selfish relentlessly assails the value of American community. And now, the cult’s cruel campaign of civic meanness is achieving tragic victories. Just last week, for example, it succeeded in getting a bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives that would slash funding for food stamps by $40 billion—taking milk from the mouths of millions of babes in the richest country in the world. Also, it secured passage of a bill in the House that would de-fund the Affordable Care Act, thus denying health care—and in some cases life itself—to millions of uninsured Americans.

    Denying food to the hungry, chemo to the cancer-stricken? That is not American. That is what ruthless dictators do. That is the stuff of Kim Jong-il. That is not how Americans treat each other.

    It is, however, exactly what the cult of the selfish is seeking. It wants an America without community, where everyone is out for himself. Alone. Self-seeking. Self-dealing. In that world, the CEO who succeeds did it all by himself—no credit should be given to dedicated workers or community tax breaks or federal copyright protections. Similarly, in that world, the worker who is laid off has no one to blame but himself, not a crash on Wall Street, not the failure of a CEO to properly market products, not a technological transformation.

    Decades ago, these scam artists tried to persuade Great Depression victims that their joblessness was their own, individual faults, not a result of the 1929 Black Friday market catastrophe. They’re resurgent now, trying to blame the 2008 Wall Street debacle on individual mortgage holders. They contend those working 40 hours a week for minimum wage deserve an income too paltry to pay for food and shelter. They insist that Social Security and Medicare be slashed, and if that means workers who paid into the programs their entire lives must live on cat food in retirement, well, that’s their individual fault.

    http://inthesetimes.com/article/15657/the_cult_of_the_selfish/

  12. T. J. Babson said, on September 30, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Robert Samuelson explains who the real selfish people are:


    There are two ways to become richer. One is to provide more goods and services; that’s economic growth. The other is to snatch someone else’s wealth or income; that’s the spoils society. In a spoils society, economic success increasingly depends on who wins countless distributional contests: not who creates wealth but who controls it. But this can be contentious. Winners celebrate; losers fume.

    Of course, the two systems have long coexisted — and always will. All modern societies chase growth; all redistribute income and wealth. Some shuffling is visible and popular. Until now, that’s been the case with America’s largest transfer, which is from workers to retirees through Social Security and Medicare. In 2012, this exceeded $1 trillion. Still, for the nation, the relevant question is whether productive behavior (generating economic growth) is losing ground to predatory behavior (grabbing existing wealth and income). There are good reasons to think it is.

    Since 1950, the U.S. economy has grown slightly more than 3 percent annually. But projections for the future are just above 2 percent. The slowdown mostly reflects an aging population, which translates into less expansion of the workforce. Indeed, overall growth of 2 percent may be unattainable if, as some economists argue, the pace of innovation is slackening. All this suggests diminishing economic gains in the productive sector.

    The fewer the gains, the more people will fight over existing income and wealth, because — as has been said — that’s where the money is. The United States’ annual income (gross domestic product) now exceeds $16 trillion; the value of all fixed assets owned by businesses and individuals is roughly $50 trillion. Diverting even a small sliver of these sums can be hugely enriching. Distributional battles involve attacking and defending bastions of wealth and income. Consider three examples:

    — The oil giant BP and plaintiff lawyers are fighting over how it provides compensation for damages from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The process has been so perverted, says BP, that it’s paying “hundreds of millions of dollars — soon likely to be billions — for fictitious and inflated losses.” Naturally, the plaintiffs’ lawyers disagree.

    — “Patent trolls” are firms that amass huge patent portfolios and then harass and sue high-tech companies for alleged infringements. Companies often pay up rather than face a threat to their products. Extortion, they say. A legitimate return, retort the patent companies.

    — CEOs are routinely accused of padding their pay by using friendly compensation consultants. Naturally, CEOs contend they’re being rewarded for performance, not plundering their own companies.

    Larger distributional contests loom. Growing income inequality has intensified pressures to raise taxes on the rich and near-rich, however defined, to support the middle class and poor. The massive transfers from workers to retirees are starting to sow a backlash among the young, who wonder whether all the elderly’s benefits are justified.

    Most Americans seem indifferent as to how they get ahead, whether by wealth creation or redistribution. The choice seems abstract. Fair enough. But for the country, the choice matters enormously. The appeal of the affluent society was that one group’s gains didn’t have to come at the expense of others’. The promise of economic growth was oversold, but it had the healthy effect of encouraging an expansive and inclusive vision of America.

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/09/30/here_comes_the_spoils_society_120145.html

    • WTP said, on September 30, 2013 at 9:04 am

      Good article. Would have been nice if one of his examples would have been the education scam and the billions it is costing us in both lost productivity and unpaid loans.


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