The Great Transference

Socialism is a great monkey's paw. Like the powerful yet cursed object in the traditional story (which has appeared in many forms throughout human history, including in modern horror cinema (such as the The Haunt of Fear segment in the 1972 horror film Tales from the Crypt) socialism promises our heart's desires... but at a terrible and unforeseen price. That price (or, more accurately, an integrated, interconnected matrix of "prices"), however, is always said by the prophets of a "better world" to be either minimal or nonexistent; a figment of our fears, prejudices, ignorance, and lack of political or social will.

The present occupant of the White House, and the party of which he is an iconic if standard feature, was born into and suckled upon the milk of zero-sum economics, perennial class antagonism, class envy, and a neo-feudal status centered mentality of human relations. Like many of his generation and worldview, he is convinced there is a "better world" possible in which humankind can be redeemed and made whole through a moral regeneration imposed by sheer force of will by the state and by the cleansing influence of a purifying ideology. With the dawning of the Obama era, and a renewed animus toward free-market economic relations and the key importance of the individual to a free society, this mentality is in process of arriving at its apogee.

The real mortal world in which we live, however, is a world of constraints and tradeoffs, not one of ultimate answers and solutions that can be willed and applied as a series of "programs" that will reconstruct and reconstitute a social order along a predetermined theoretical course.

Human beings have a fundamental, underlying essence that channels human behavior and perception down certain corridors and through certain doors within the context of our earthly experience. We usually just call this "human nature," and both religion and historic philosophical reflection, most especially of a conservative temper, place it in a preeminent position above the grand theoretic abstractions of ideology.

One of the fundamental problems of the welfare state, and one that has long been understood as among the most morally and culturally deleterious of its social effects and costs, is the great transference of the consciousness of and responsibility for the care for the poor and needy among us from individuals and local communities to distant, impersonal bureaucratic institutions associated with the state, and especially with the central, federal government.

This has had a number of negative effects upon the culture and upon several generations of Americans who have grown up believing that it is not primarily the individual, out of his own heart and personal compassion who is to give alms, but Caesar and his vast concourses of bureaucrats, case workers, social workers, and experts in the nature of the human condition working tirelessly for "social justice."

The welfare state has transferred to the daycare center state -- whose welfare agencies owe their existence, funding, and political influence to the existence of the poor -- the responsibilities of good Samaritanship once centered in the individual and the local community, where poverty and the unique conditions surrounding it actually impact human lives. The psychological and moral consequences of this great transference have been profound.

Responsibility for and control of the kind and nature of welfare offered was long ago substantially removed from individuals and the communities in which welfare is needed. In so doing, it has also been politicized and bent to the political agendas of those controlling it. The incentives governing the very concept of "welfare" and its proper use have undergone severe alterations over the course of the 20th century, having moved from actual alleviation of poverty to the expansion and sustaining of the welfare state itself along with a "poverty industry" both within and umbilically attached to government that subsists upon the persistence and entrenchment of the very poverty it ostensibly exists to eliminate.

Into this maelstrom comes leftist ideology. Now, poor people become "the poor;" a separate, stable, and invariant class of ideological pawns useful in the unending polemical games of power politics while acting as durable icons of the cosmic quest for "social justice." Further, "the poor" haven't just fallen on hard times. None of them, due to factors and dynamics of lifestyle, attitude, or behavior, bear any responsibility for their poverty. Now, "the poor," as a lumpen mass, are also the oppressed. They are victims.

Who are they victims of? Usually of a personified "society," which is understood to be structurally unjust, inequitable, unfair, and fundamentally illegitimate as involves its core economic features. Often they are victims of another stable and invariant class known as "the rich," or "Wall Street," or "the fat cats." This is the class of overfed, pot-bellied moguls who walk the streets in top hats and black tie and tails, smoking thick, expensive cigars, and who throw pennies to the ragged waifs playing in the streets from the partially rolled down windows of their limousines. They are the little portly fellow on Monopoly game money. "The poor" are oppressed and exploited by them. In what way could individuals and local communities ever really make a difference, in the larger scheme of things, when the causes of poverty are not to be found in the nature of the human condition itself, and in the vicissitudes of individual mortality, but in purposefully entrenched, structural, institutional inequalities and injustices that must perpetuate poverty to perpetuate the affluence?

Obviously, only a powerful, centralized, vigorous, watchful, and morally transcendent government is equal to such a task, if poverty really is of this nature. Government must be understood, not only as competent to administer manna and change water into wine, but as being in a position of moral exclusiveness with relation to the private sector and sphere of American life. This implies that those within the welfare state -- the politicians, bureaucrats, administrators, social workers, academics, and theorists who support, maintain, and provide intellectual justification of the welfare state -- must also in some sense be, morally and intellectually, human beings apart from the common citizen within the private sphere. They become an anointed class of philosopher kings and philosopher nobility in possession of gnostic truths regarding the human condition unavailable to the common citizen, no matter how intelligent, educated, and tempered by experience and observation.

Such a priesthood -- the "best and the brightest" as they were once called -- have a mandate of conscience to "change the world" and "eradicate" this and that, from poverty to war to bigotry to obesity. They do not have to be wise or intelligent or smart, but they do have to have advanced degrees from prestigious institutions of higher learning and credentials. A masters, J.D., or Ph.D means, of course, that you are "smart" or perhaps even a "policy wonk," and separates you from the common run who don't have such formal credentials, and even from those who do, so long as they hail from the tawdry, self-interested world of the private, and not "public" sphere.

Generations of Americans have grown up with the distinct impression, if not overt belief, absorbed within the public schools and through the mainstream media and Hollywood, that without the federal welfare state and its "anti-poverty programs," millions of Americans would lie groaning in the streets, hungry, destitute, and homeless, as the rest of us, cold-hearted, insensitive, and uncaring, step over them on our way to McDonald's to gorge ourselves on capitalist fast food slathered in lethal trans fats.

If not for a tireless, compassionate, and morally-exclusive class of politicians, bureaucrats, and social workers, politically and intellectually supported by another morally exclusive intelligentsia within academia, the media, institutional politics, and the arts, what, it has been asked for generations, "would become of us?" The great transference of our responsibilities to and compassion for the weak and needy among us to those who are not, precisely, among us, and who have no obvious greater claim to compassion, conscience, caring, or human empathy than any other citizen from any other walk of life within the private sector, has had a devastating effect upon the underlying fabric of civil life. The very idea that, without federal government welfare (and hence, without the ministrations of the morally exclusive dispensers of welfare services), American society would fray and deteriorate into a Hobbesian state of dog eating dog in a race to the bottom, has removed the authentic concept of charity from the private sphere by moving poverty itself beyond the realm of individual action and effectiveness.

If American society and its economic system is itself, in a sense, rotten to the core, then nothing any individual or group of individuals at the local level could ever do could really address the problem. Only a great moral army, an organized, mobilized, and deployed moral force arrayed to fight a "war on poverty" and "structural inequality" could ever hope to achieve the goal of being our brother's keeper.

We are presently living under a presidential administration that sees free market economics as a zero-sum game, economic liberty as a sham perpetuated by a tiny class of capitalist exploiters, and the number of citizens directly dependent upon the state for their sustenance as indicative of the worth and legitimacy of that state. It's time to transfer (let's just say, "redistribute") both responsibility, and hence, power and control over how and under what conditions we help those in need among us, back from the morally exclusive anointed in the poverty industry to the morally authentic in the neighborhoods and communities of the American experiment.