The Nexus of Guilt and Intellectual Laziness

All of us experience guilt from time to time, we are guilty for our good fortune- we have so much and others have so little. For progressives their entire philosophy leads to tremendous guilt. Progressives and modern liberals tend to ascribe to a version of the zero sum fallacy- believing that the wealth of the prosperous comes at the expense of the poor. They fail to understand that wealth is created, they see a fixed pie being divided and the rich take more, they miss that the rich in fact make the pie bigger and the poor better off almost always. This guilt leads progressives to generally favor higher and higher taxation, especially on the wealthy to fund more and more programs that redistribute wealth. It doesn’t matter that these programs don’t work and make the poor worse of in many cases because it makes them feel less guilty about their own wealth. Guilt leads to irrational thinking.

Guilt wouldn’t be so bad if it lead to rational assessment of problems; however in practice guilt combines with intellectual laziness. Instead of taking the time to look at evidence and reach conclusions about complex issues we tend to support what sounds good. This is certainly true of all political philosophies but it is more pronounced on the left. Progressive love intentions more than they love results. If the intention of a program is good they will support it. This leads to many bad ideas persisting despite evidence that they do not work or might even make things worse. Intentions also become a way of stifling debate. If you want to point out the failings of a policy your intentions are attacked and you are considered uncaring. Want to reform or privatize social security? Then you will be accused of wanting to abandon old people, throwing Granny of a cliff as a famous commercial depicted. If you believe that affirmative action is soft bigotry you will be accused of being a bigot yourself. Progressive also see government as active, intervening in an unfair system to right wrongs- it doesn’t matter much the results of this action as long as they are doing it and have good intentions.

Movements have used this guilt and intellectual laziness to their advantage. The environmental movement is a great example. There is a war of Styrofoam despite the established fact that it is more friendly for the environment than paper cups because it takes much less resources to produce. The truth is we have ample space for landfills and can easily and responsibly dispose of Styrofoam- but it seems wrong to the public who are convinced we are drowning in garbage and should recycle as much as possible. It isn’t even true that paper is much more recyclable than the foam. Most people do not take the time to analyze recycling- if they did they’d find that with the exception of aluminum most recycling isn’t good environmental policy. Opportunists also take advantage of environmentalist guilt by selling them things like carbon offsets which tend to be traded in such a manner that very little carbon reduction actually occurs. Hybrid and electric cars have some promise but most people that buy them do not drive them enough to make up for the additional emissions in production of the car. Many of these people would be better of with an efficient gas car or perhaps a cleaner diesel car. Even better they can carpool and use transit when possible.

We need to assess problems fairly and rationally. Most problems do not have easy answers and most “solutions” come with their own set of tradeoffs and negatives. Guilt that leads to intellectual laziness is the enemy of truth and progress.

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