Compassion versus Freedom, Emotion versus Reason

Like Yin and Yang, the perpetual conflict between reason and emotion goes on in each of us. The conflict is complex because our minds are complex. It is also very hard in some cases to distinguish between the two. What is rational for me may be emotional for you. I can defend capitalism in purely rational terms, but like Karl Marx you can easily impugn my motives because I benefit from it, and I am passionate (read emotional) about spreading freedom. You say that my defnition of freedom (least government control) is either not complete or outright bogus. You think that poor people are not free because they can be controlled by the rich. I say your logic is flawed and in fact is very emotional because government coercion is very negative compared to the positive persuasion of money. Which would you rather deal with: a smiling man holding a gun aimed at your head, or a rich and ugly person offering you money to do something you’re not inclined to do? But, you say, I am cleary being emotional because government is nothing like somebody with a gun aimed at our heads. I say it is: government is the only entity in society that has dominion over its people. Freedom means that such dominion should be very well defined and delineated.
 
In politics and economics, most people are driven by compassion, which is a purely emotional reaction. That emotional reaction is not always conducive to freedom, which is an abstract, purely logical idea. Emotions cause people to act in a much more powerful way than logic alone can. This is why a good politician like Obama uses emotional appeal more than reason alone: politicians love to pit the poor against the rich. Words like "injustice" and "freedom" are twisted when coming from liberal politicians: these abstract ideas are redefined (unbeknownst to the audience) in the context of the imaginary battle of rich versus poor.
 
The fact is, each one of us is capable of deluding ourselves to think that we are being reasonable when in fact we are emotionally reacting to a particular situation. Take despots like Fidel Castro, for example, who would rather that millions of their people suffer starvation than accept the practicality of rewarding entrepreneurial energy to distribute rice (or any other produce) for profit. It is indeed very difficult to be rational and objective in any area of study, specially politics and economics. In order to be objective, we have to be able to apply the scientific method and open any idea, even established ones, to verification by experimentation and pure logic.
 
To illustrate how difficult it is to apply the scientific method to politics and economics, let’s take one area of physical study, thermodynamics. Air is composed of several types of gas, and air pressure is not constant when measured at varying heights. In order to prove the relationship among pressure, volume, and temperature, we first have to simplify some physical realities: instead of doing experiments on air itself, we can do experiments on one homogeneous gas, and we can isolate our experiment from the effects of the bigger, real environment. It took us several generations to draw conclusions; but with these simplifications, we are now able to predict with high accuracy what the pressure would be of a gas confined to a certain volume with a certain temperature. If we do this simplification similarly for politics and economics, our conclusions may hold true for the simplified cases, but may not be applicable in the real, more complex case. Why? Let me go one step deeper into thermodynamics before I explain why simplifications in political economics are very difficult.
 
Once we establish (by a series of isolated experiments) the mathematical relationship among pressure, volume, and temperature, someone comes along and looks at the same problem from a completely new standpoint. This new standpoint should also confirm the same mathematical relationship: if it does not, either the new view of gas is not valid, or the established mathematical relationship is now invalidated. In the case of thermodynamics, the new viewpoint consists of studying a gaseous substance as a large collection of gas particles or molecules. Armed with this new viewpoint, we can devise experiments and gain new insights into the problem that either correlate with the previously established relationship among pressure, volume, and temperature; or the new and the old viewpoints may be deemed to be in conflict and require more study. As it turns out, the new thermodynamics, based on particles does validate the old. In fact, the new particle thermodynamics (based on classical Newton’s laws or even modern particle physics) affords us the beautiful relationships among micro and macro measurements. We can now relate temperature to the kinetic energy (speed and mass) of each particle, for example, and each of the three macro measurements to average collision among the particles per unit time.
 
Particle thermodynamics can show us why it is very difficult to apply simplifications to the study of economics and politics. In particle thermodynamics, even if the subject gas is not homogeneous, each particle is very simple and predictable with regards to how it interacts with the other particles. Billiard-ball collisions are easy to deal with both mathematically and conceptually. Economics and politics, on the other hand, are the study of groups of people made of individuals with volition. It is difficult enough to predict how an individual would decide what to do in a particular situation, it is infinitely more difficult to predict aggregate decisions of people with complex interactions. Add to this our capacity for self-delusion and propensity to be emotional rather than rational, and the complexity would seem insurmountable.
 
Nevertheless, it is immensely interesting that certain laws of economics are now established. These are simple laws, and yet powerful. An example is the law of supply and demand. This simple law does make at least a couple of simplifying assumptions: that each individual in society is both free to demand and free to supply goods, and that each individual acts in self-interest. As in particle thermodynamics, wherein average temperature is "communicated" to each particle by way of collisions, so in economics demand is communicated to suppliers by way of prices by which demanders are willing to pay for supplies.
 
In the name of compassion and fairness, a government can try to circumvent the law of supply and demand by way of price controls. During the oil and gas shortage of the 1970s, then President Carter enforced price controls. The immediate effect was gas lines across the country. Demand was very strong, but because the price controls rendered the medium of communication (prices) inoperational, the demand signal was not fed back to the suppliers. Without the feedback there was no motivation for the suppliers to increase the supply of oil. The results were not beneficial for consumers and suppliers alike.
 
Now don’t get me wrong and conclude from this that compassion has no place in human affairs. Compassion has no place in government, but each individual should be free to be compassionate. The problem with most liberals is that they show their compassion by voting for a government that is compassionate, and thereby absolving themselves of guilty feelings. Conservatives realize that a compassionate government is necessarily a tyrannical government; therefore, they generally oppose a charitable government, even though they are themselves naturally more charitable than liberals (there are statistics that prove this).
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About ctapang

I am a Software Design Engineer. I have just abandoned the huge army organized to make .Net programming the one dominant programming system. I now program in Typescript which (surprise) is also from Microsoft. Aside from my day job as a programmer, I am also involved in a movement (http://correctphilippines.org) to correct the Philippine constitution. It's an ambitious undertaking in itself, and there's no guarantee that improving our constitution will improve things. However, one thing is certain: if we don't establish a rational constitution, we will continue on our path of self-destruction. What kind of government is best? For me the best government is that which governs the least. We need the government not because it can provide for us but because it keeps us from running into each other. The proper function of government is that of a traffic light: it prevents us from bumping each other, but it does not tell us where to go.
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