Saturday, August 7, 2010

Basic Principles

Politically speaking, I run my life by two basic principles, which can be expressed by the acronyms TANSTAAFL and MYODB.
There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch
Mind Your Own Damn Business
Those may seem like simple rules, but they cover a wide range of behavior and circumstances. Odds are that any new law proposed, any stump speech, any referendum - in short, anything that comes from or pertains to government - can be measured by at least one of these rules (being able to be measured by both is actually quite common) and, if a decision cannot be made based solely on that measurement, such a measurement will at least provide a better understanding, rendering the decision-making process much simpler.
There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Nothing is free. This cannot be stated more simply or more accurately. If some Talking Head is promising freebies, look at the other hand. Look up the sleeve. Look under the rabbit. Look anywhere and everywhere except where said Talking Head is directing your attention. The only thing you are really being offered is a Bait-and-Switch. There is a cost and if you can't see it, that just means it is more securely hidden than most.
The most common example of this Bait-and-Switch tactic is where the freebie really is free to you (financially speaking, at least - there are still too many other strings to count), but only because someone else is being forced to pick up the tab. You may think this is a great deal, right up until the time the cards are shuffled and it becomes your turn to pay the bill. It always works that way. Agreeing that someone has the authority to force someone else to buy something for you is the exact same thing as agreeing that someone has the authority to force you to buy something for someone else. There is no getting around this truth and your turn to pay will come around.
Any time someone starts talking about freebies, that is the time to start suspecting the worst. That person is either too stupid to know the real costs or is intentionally lying to you. Does either answer really describe someone you want to be in charge of anything?
Mind your own damn business. I cannot express clearly enough how disgusted I am that society as a whole has forgotten this rule even exists. There was a time when this was among the most basic and common education for children. That time was not even that long ago. Although it was already fading from popularity then, it was including in my upbringing, and I have not yet hit forty. Little more than a blink, in cultural terms.
Granted, even when this rule was commonly taught, most people did not live by it. This is one of the great hypocrisies ignored by those who want a return to "the good old days". There were no good old days. They have never existed. There were things that were done better then and there are things that are done better now. For the most part, the trade-off has been almost exactly even, with a net gain of zero.
Are you trying to get a law passed over something that has nothing to do with you and cannot impact your life? Shut up and mind your own damn business. Are you trying to force people to live your way when their way isn't affecting anything more than your precious sensitivities? Shut up and mind your own damn business. Are you offended because someone else took his or her life in a different direction than you took yours? Shut up and mind your own damn business.
Let me be absolutely clear. There is nothing in this rule that precludes civil discussion when we disagree, but there is a world of difference between civil discussion and legal action. You have every right to try to change someone's mind. You have no right to try to force that change when it is none of your damn business.
Whenever someone is proposing a law that you know does not pertain to him and you know does not pertain to you, stop and ask yourself: "What's the point?" Is there really a problem here that needs to be addressed or is there some unpopular group that someone wants to smash? Remember the corollary rule from TANSTAAFL: If you agree that someone has the authority to smash Unpopular Group X then you also agree that someone has the authority to smash Unpopular Group Y. Guess what. You are in Unpopular Group Y. I don't care who you are, I can promise you that there is something important to you that falls into an unpopular minority. Do you really want someone to have the authority to smash unpopular groups just because they are unpopular?
The backside of both of these rules boils down to people's tendency to forget that there is a backside to everything. Whatever you approve of in one direction will eventually be used against you in another direction. I have always said that the best way to protect my rights is to protect all rights. If I don't hand over that hammer, it can't be used against me.
Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in attempting to sum up the philosophy of Voltaire, said "I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it." (This quotation is commonly misattributed to Voltaire himself because of how Hall worded the paragraph in her book The Friends of Voltaire, where it first appeared.) While this quote deals specifically with speech, the basic principle is almost universal. Defend all that is not outright indefensible, or have no defense yourself.

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