Friday, November 23, 2012

We Need a Little Fear

In a Times Op-Ed piece, “We Need a Little Fear,” (NYT, 11/7/12) published the day after the Election,  Jonathan Haidt, a professor of business ethics at the NYU Stern School of Business, quoted John Stuart Mill thusly “both sides were in the right in what they affirmed, though wrong in what they denied, and that if either could have been made to take the other’s views in addition to its own, little more would have been needed to make it’s doctrine correct.” The occasion of the quote is the subject of the partisanship which is riving American society apart. Americans do alright when they are defending against a common threat, according to Haidt, but then they have their sacred cows. The four that Haidt identifies are “rising temperatures,” “rising entitlements,” “rising inequality" and “rising births to unmarried women." The right believes in the sacredness of marriage and has stood fast against same sex marriage which is an attack on the biblical concept of man and wife, but marriage has its benefits. “So if you are a liberal who is worried about the inequality asteroid,” Haidt argues, “you might consider teaming up with a conservative group trying to promote marriage.”  Unfortunately these bipartisan coalitions are already occurring. Freedom of speech and expression is under attack by both right wingers and left wing feminists who both oppose pornography. On the subject of Obama care there is some degree of agreement been libertarians (who oppose the government’s right to force people to purchase health care) and free market conservatives who believe it’s a dog eat dog world in which society functions best when people take care of themselves—no matter what the costs. John Stuart Mill was a product of the Enlightenment and Haidt's article is an Enlightenment view based on the utilitarian idea that fear is the great motivator--that divisions will be healed if we realize that strife is counterproductive for everyone. The problem is that human history confutes this assumption. Man is not a rational animal. We can offer in evidence the deadly conflicts that destroyed the former Yugoslavia after the death of Tito and, of course, the seemingly unending strife in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Israel, that continues to continues to elude a solution by those who seek to create peace in the Middle East.

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