Thursday, August 9, 2012
If one attempts to define an ideal society, or if one sets out to establish an “ideal” government from scratch, it would seem that the first thing one would have to do would be to come to an agreement about “human nature.” That is, you would first have to know what it is people want their lives to be like. Once you know this, you can begin working on inventing a structure that would meet the requirements.
It seems to me that if a survey were taken from a random sampling of 1000 people in varying circumstances, asking them to write down 20 or so things they would definitely want to see in a new society or new government, most of the things on that list would be similar. Certainly the survey-taker would be able to come up with a “top ten” concensus that the new society or government would have to include in its structure. Beyond that top 10 or 15, though, we would start getting more things on the list that were specific to the individual’s dreams or wants, and the list would no longer be general enough to define a society or government that would be workable or be responsive to the vast majority of the people’s most important wants and needs. You would have to draw the line somewhere as to what a society or government can or can not logically include in it’s basic framework.
The word “Utilitarianism,” when used to describe a particular political system or society of people, refers to the doctrine that “actions are right if they are useful to or for the benefit of a majority.” Some might go further and assert that “an action is right insofar as it promotes happiness” and “the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people should be the guiding principle of conduct.” Those things which only benefited a minority of people would have to be paid for by those who wanted those things. [Quotes from a dictionary definition of Utilitarianism. Non-quotes are my own words.] Of course, this concept would not allow for a zillion empty handicapped parking spots or costly ramps to places nobody ever goes in a wheelchair. No more Affirmitive Action, either. So Utilitarianism wouldn’t work in our society today.
I’ve thought a lot about my own idea of a perfect society or government if I were setting one up from scratch. My conclusion is very likely different than yours, but I think my idea would be an individual living free on his own land, taking care of himself and his family if he had a family, getting along with his neighbors and helping them when they needed help, pooling resources when some community project was needed. Whatever an individual wanted beyond this would be provided by teaming up with like-minded people who wanted the same thing, and otherwise leaving other people alone to work on their own life desires. In my mind I would see a society or government facilitating these desires, providing protection, and minding its own business on a larger scale. I don’t see a government or society which feels its duty is to compile a list of things it thinks would be best for “Its” people, and then forcing them to work and pay for the things on that list.
Odd: it strikes me that is the kind of society that the settlers of this country wanted too, and why they fled Europe. I wonder if there is some way that original concept of personal freedom could be extrapolated over hundreds of millions of people? Probably not.
The original pre-white-invasion owners of my country worked out a system of living that served their own needs and strived to provide for their wants. Their society was a bit harsher for people who didn't want to work, I suppose. But, as any Native American will tell you, incoming numbers soon get hard to absorb. The individualistic kind of life I've yearned for above most likely is not going to work for 300 million plus people. At least not for the non-farming New Yorkers. I suppose that means we have no chance of starting over and doing it right this time, but perhaps we can make positive changes to what we have. The only way to accomplish that kind of massive change would be to, again, ask ourselves exactly what it is we want. Unfortunately, my own "survey list" includes things like taking care of the helpless and genuinely needy, so I am not one to preach. Call me an idealist. That's better than calling me bear snot.
I must admit that I do have daydreams of a government benefit office where all the folks seeking welfare assistance and fake disability checks were instead given access to a few acres of land, a bag of seeds, and a couple of hogs and told to work or starve. But that’s another story for another time.