Friday, November 18, 2005

They deserved it

Just a quick one.

Broadly, one of the fundamental differences between Left and Right thinking is whether people are more self determined, or whether they're steered by the environment.

Conservatives often state that any individual can succeed in life through enough hard work and discipline. Left thinkers often lament the situation that the poor find themselves in, stressing that it's very hard to get out of poverty regardless of how much hard work or discipline you have.

I think a good way to characterise this distinction, as well as the danger of holding to it too strictly can be summarised with the following question:

Do you think the rich deserve it?

If you answer yes, it's probably because you believe they have earned their wealth. They are perhaps talented, and they've worked hard, and achieved a great deal. This is certainly the hard line conservative capitalist view - which is why taxes are considered to be immoral, because they are tantamount to 'stealing' someone's hard earned wealth and giving them to someone who obviously hasn't worked as hard, and will not be inclined to do so as long as they're given handouts.

In which case, this leads to another question:

Do those in poverty deserve it?

That's a harder one to agree with. Certainly, following conservative thinking mentioned above, most of those in poverty have gotten themselves into that situation, and if not, then giving them handouts will not encourage them to get off their arses and earn their own keep.

However, it's fairly clear that many people are born into poverty, and in that situation they clearly aren't responsible for their initial situation. If their prospects of success are in any way hindered by their being born into poverty, then they also don't have the same level of opportunity for success that conservatives assume they have. As such, they don't deserve to live in continued poverty.

From another point of view, many people (especially us Aussies) would answer the first question by saying that the rich don't deserve it. It's that classic old Australian sentiment that those rich buggers are no better people than us, they've just been more lucky. In some respect there may be an element of truth to this - and this sentiment also certainly doesn't discourage the less rich from working hard. In fact, the sentiment expresses that we all work hard, so those who are rich must have gained their advantage through some other (arbitrary?) means - and the assumptions are usually luck, wealthy family, privilege, knowing the right people etc.

The concept of desert is an important one, and these two questions start to reveal some of our assumptions about the world and human psychology. Ultimately these assumptions lead to the old nature versus nurture question - with the Left emphasising nurture and the Right leaning towards nature.

Like many issues, I'd suggest the answer lies somewhere in between.


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