Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Just Before The Fall

Adam and Eve, according to Genesis, enjoyed an idyllic, labor-free existence in the Garden of Eden. (Let's leave aside for the moment that the first six books of Genesis are necessarily allegorical, as before Abraham there were no Jews, no recordkeeping, and no "chain of evidence.") As the story runs, their sin in eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was what condemned them and all their descendants to live "by the sweat of your face:"

But to Adam he said, “Because you obeyed your wife, and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, but you will eat the grain of the field. By the sweat of your face you will eat food until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you will return.” [Genesis 3:17-19]

By implication, a life of labor was to be one of God's principal punishments for having defied His one explicit prohibition. Granted that the need to labor has often seemed a punishment to many -- hey, I'm looking forward to retirement myself -- the focus of the story is badly off, which is evidence for my conviction that much of the Old Testament has nothing to do with the true will of God.

Man, by his very nature, is what philosopher Loren Lomasky has called a project pursuer. To wit:

  • He perceives the passage of time;
  • He conceives of goals to be achieved and methods by which to achieve them;
  • Over time he implements those methods and adjusts them until he has either reached his goal or abandoned it.

If we omit physical torture, the very worst punishment one can inflict upon a project pursuer is enforced idleness. That's one of the principal reasons prisons are as they are, and prisoners generally regard the opportunity to work as a valuable privilege.

This seems so clear to me that I can't fathom how anyone could feel differently. Yet some persons clearly do. How many of those, should they achieve their dream of a labor-free existence, retain their opinion of its desirability for much longer, I cannot say.

Among the successes of the Giuliani and Bloomberg Administrations over New York City is the great reduction in the number of city dwellers on welfare. According to Heather Mac Donald:

Sixty-nine percent fewer residents are on cash benefits today than when Rudy Giuliani took office in 1994, and 24 percent fewer than when Mike Bloomberg took over in 2002, thanks to a deliberate attack on New York’s post-1960s dependency culture. As a result, more New Yorkers are employed today than at any time in the city’s history.

There has seldom been a more dramatic result from any attempt at welfare reform. Did it have a few rough edges? Yes, indubitably; such efforts always do. All the same, it produced an overall improvement in human well-being and earned self-respect -- the real thing, not the counterfeit the welfarists want to confer on you simply for being alive -- that surpasses any previous effort in American history, including the much-vaunted welfare reforms of the Nineties.

But here comes Bill de Blasio, the mayor-elect of New York. Again from the Mac Donald article:

[D]e Blasio has called Mayor Bloomberg’s belief that everyone should work for a living an “ideological hang-up.” He fought Bloomberg’s efforts to preserve the city’s requirement that able-bodied, childless adults at least look for work in exchange for food stamps. That requirement blocks a “path out of poverty,” he said in 2009 — in other words, working or looking for work keeps one in poverty, per de Blasio, while collecting benefits without working is a “path out of poverty.” He has promised to restore “education and training” as a core activity of welfare recipients and will ask the state to again allow four-year college students to collect welfare without any reciprocal obligations....

[D]e Blasio has vowed to “stop efforts to divert individuals from accessing cash assistance.” He wants to use ObamaCare outreach workers to put more New Yorkers on all government welfare programs and thinks that the city’s already high number of food-stamp recipients — nearly 1.9 million or 21 percent of the population — is at least a quarter-million too low....

De Blasio appears to believe that welfare applicants would never dream of ripping off taxpayers. He grandstanded against Bloomberg’s insistence that food-stamp applicants be finger-imaged, claiming it was “stigmatizing.” Somehow an identical finger-imaging requirement hasn’t stopped hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers from working for the city.

This can only be read one way: De Blasio is openly in favor of encouraging idleness and parasitism among able-bodied New Yorkers.

Does it come as a surprise that De Blasio is an ardent admirer of Barack Hussein Obama? Obama, after all, has placed more obstacles in front of productive work, while simultaneously weakening all the disincentives to going on welfare, than any other politician in American history. You'd almost get the idea that these two dislike work and hold people who value it in contempt.

What's their shibboleth again? The one they trumpet as their claim to moral superiority? "Compassion," isn't it? Oh yes, of course.

Labor itself, while sometimes arduous, is not a punishment but the fulfillment of Man's nature as a project pursuer -- if performed in pursuit of a freely chosen goal. In the usual case, the more one appreciates the pursuit itself, the less onerous it seems. The goal, attained or not, takes second place behind the fulfillments of work itself.

This is innate to Man's nature. We cannot become or remain happy by playing pointlessly. Indeed, even our recreations are goal-focused -- and it's a maxim of long-standing that "It isn't whether you win or lose; it's how you play the game." As Ursula Leguin put it in The Left Hand of Darkness, "It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, in the end."

But let's not downplay the "freely chosen" part of goal pursuit. If you're compelled to pursue someone else's choice of a goal, it's as unlikely to make you happy as enforced idleness. Indeed, removing free choice from the formula and adding coercion to it is what makes labor truly onerous. He who wishes to torment a victim most severely won't kill him -- the dead, after all, have reached the end of all temporal suffering -- but will make him a slave.

"He [Sauron] does not need you -- he has many more useful servants -- but he won't forget you again. And hobbits as miserable slaves would please him far more than hobbits happy and free. There is such a thing as malice and revenge." [J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring]

Let's spend a moment on that Tolkien citation. Sauron is an evil Maiar, an immortal and immensely powerful being comparable to a fallen angel from Christian theocosmogony. His whole motivation is to inflict suffering; he seeks to conquer and enslave. The servants to whom the passage above refers are the Orcs, which he, and Morgoth before him, fashioned from captured Elves and their offspring. They are his instruments for the extension of his evil dominion throughout Middle Earth.

But Sauron doesn't need anything. Indeed, it's unclear that he's capable of desiring anything other than the suffering of helpless victims. His slaves labor solely to make more slaves. They produce no other satisfaction of desire.

Tolkien's vision of ultimate evil was quite clear.

"Barack Obama will force you to work." -- Michelle Obama, 2008

The flip side of the promotion of idleness is the conscription of labor. The more idlers there are, the less work is done, the less is produced, and the poorer grows the nation. At some point political pressures, engendered by economic deterioration, will arise against the welfare culture. Even before that a form of conscription will exist, practiced through confiscatory taxation and redistribution. But when the next crisis point arrives, the political class will "reluctantly" agree that "something must be done," at which point labor-force conscription will begin:

    "Point One: All workers, wage earners, and employees of any kind whatsoever shall henceforth be attached to their jobs, and shall not leave, nor be dismissed, nor change employment, on penalty of a term in jail. The penalty shall be determined by the Unification Board, such Board to be appointed by the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources. All persons reaching the age of twenty-one shall report to the Unification Board, which shall assign them to where, in its opinion, their services shall best serve the interests of the nation.
    "Point Two: All industrial, commercial, manufacturing and business establishments of any nature whatsoever shall henceforth remain in operation, and the owners of such establishments shall not quit nor leave nor retire, nor close, sell, or transfer their business, under penalty of the nationalization of their establishment and of any and all of their property." [Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged]

Compulsory labor laws -- labor-force conscription -- were enacted in post-war Britain under Clement Attlee. There's no reason to think they couldn't happen here.

Our political masters seem hell-bent on legitimizing government-funded idleness as a way of life. (Remember "funemployment?") The more innocent among them might not realize to what ultimate end that would deliver these United States. However, I'm persuaded that some of them do realize it -- and yearn for it more ardently than any good man could possibly imagine.

Why would anyone wish such a consummation?
The answer lies in the identities and histories of those who do wish it.
The great majority of them have never worked toward anything but higher and higher office.
They have ample reason to know how valueless they are to others.
And it has filled them with malice toward the rest of us.

Is there any greater irony than that the capo di tutti capi of this malevolent gang, Barack Hussein Obama, should be the chief political beneficiary of the unearned guilt so many Americans feel about slavery?

Food for thought.


Pascal said...

"They have ample reason to know how valueless they are to others.
And it has filled them with malice toward the rest of us. "

You don't often insert film clips. However, I have in my mind's eye inserted two for you.

1. The scene in Amadeus when Salieri decides he is now God's enemy because he felt he deserved more the gifts He had given "the creature" Mozart.

2. The Opening scene where Salieri tries to kill himself because he realizes he gained nothing from his enviously driving the productive man to his death -- and then despised his own life all the more.

As I read you, this is the ultimate end for the souls of our valueless ├╝bermenschen and they don't want to know it. It would be a Godsend would you or someone else find a way to penetrate the callous of a few of those nimrods. My faith is great that were simply shifting a few shifted to His side could make quite a difference.

furball said...

Wow! Just wow, Fran.

I am continually surprised, pleased and awed by your ability to even consider such a wide range of issues. But you then discuss them clearly, rationally and link them into a coherent, integrated world-view.

It really is no wonder that yours is the first site I check every day after reading my mail. It's like starting the day over a cup of coffee with an erudite, witty and insightful friend.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Thank you, Fur, but really, all I do is connect the dots. Anyone who wants to, and is willing to read widely enough, could do it.