Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The First Tenant of Conservatism

Leave it to the Germans and Greeks to have a word for everything. The Germans called it schadenfreude, while the Greeks called it epicaricacy (well, technically they called it epikhairekakia… but good luck getting that to catch on). What does it mean? “Pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.”

This idea is a central tenant of most conservative logic. Conservatives often speak of “lifestyles” when confronted with issues of social justice, and they believe one’s success in life is based largely upon the choices one makes. Without getting into a complex argument, I find “partial” truth in this statement. However, in order for a true meritocracy to exist, all players in the game must have comparable (though not necessarily identical) opportunities for success.

Conservatism bluntly ignores the fact that social class plays a major role in the opportunities available to an individual. Instead, they favor the myth that we are all masters of our own fate. The evidence for this line of logic is seen in the disgust they harbor for the less fortunate. “Get a job,” they tell people they see pan handling. After all, anyone who smells like piss and is likely mentally ill should be perfectly capable of holding down a job, especially in this competitive economy of college grads slinging coffee.

Republicans will even go so far as to dehumanize the poor, as South Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor, Andre Bauer, did in January. He said you have to stop feeding animals, otherwise they breed. He said this in reference to cutting school lunch funding. In his own words:

“You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”

You see… it’s not about capitalism, or taxes, or anything like that. Republicans just want to see people in pain, because it makes them feel better. If there’s poor people begging at interstate off ramps, it’s not so bad living in a trailer and being screwed over by the people you elect. It even makes middle-class assholes feel better, since they can either scoff at them or toss them a buck to make themselves feel like a good person.

It’s all about optimizing happiness in an economical way when it comes to conservatives, and the market demands pain and suffering to distract from the hedonistic extravagance flaunted by a few.

And who will rush in to help? “Private charities,” say Libertarians and Republicans. Never mind the fact that “private charities” exist with tax-free status already, yet still millions fall through the cracks. Who are these private charities, anyway? By and large, they are churches, seeking to capitalize on the downtrodden.

The cycle goes like this:

1. Fall through the cracks (medical bills from being uninsured or having insurance drop you, college loans piling up while unemployed, being the victim of identity theft because banks are only interested in charging fees while not protecting your money, etc.).
2. Church steps in at your time of need (sometimes... maybe... hopefully...).
3. You owe your second chance to God!
4. Church gains a tithing member for life.

It’s a nice system for selective socialism (and religious growth through guilt gifts), and it “worked” in Western culture for centuries. But the thing is… I don’t like charity being at the discretion of churches. I like charity and things like healthcare for everyone, whether they’re atheist, Christian, Muslim, Scientologist (if they even want any…), Buddhist, or whatever.

A nationalized system spreads risk over the largest possible pool, ensuring the highest rate of efficiency. Private insurance lets you slip through the cracks, especially if you don’t have the money to hire a lawyer. Even then, you may die as your case goes to trial. Conservatives blather about government death panels. Death panels exist, and they’re called insurance companies.

Personally, I lack any trace of schadenfreude or epicaricacy. I also lack what the Greeks called “nemesis,” and what normal English speakers call “envy.” My happiness (and unhappiness) is not predicated upon what others have. However, I am affected by what others do not have. I have empathy, which I imagine is what keeps me from being Republican.


  1. Random Commenter4/06/2010 2:57 PM

    I have a libertarian friend who does not care about screwing off others. He is the typical example of an a-hole who will do whatever he can to do the best for himself, but would let his mom fall off a cliff as long as he doesn't have to pay for the funeral.

  2. Very interesting Article. The only problem I have with the point you made is that often people don't realize how much they're screwing someone over, or how much a small act can affect someone else. So while they all definitely seem like callous uncaring assholes, I would say it's sometimes unintentional. On a side note I just noticed that your blog has a shit ton more articles than ours, keep up the good work.

  3. Ignorance is no doubt a huge part of the conservative ideology. What they don't know can't possibly bother them. I don't know which is worse: willfull ignorance or wanton cruelty. The outcome of each is essentially the same.


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