Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Williamson Rule

From an interview Kathryn Jean Lopez did with Kevin D. Williamson (emphasis mine):

LOPEZ: Why is it important to consider politics and government — Barack Obama and the NYPD officer — one and the same?

WILLIAMSON: All politics is force. It’s more obvious when you are dealing with the police and the military, because they carry guns. But those guns are used only to enforce policies mandated by people who do not carry guns themselves. My general rule is: If you are not willing to put a gun to your neighbor’s head over the issue, then you should not be willing to vote to have somebody else put a gun to your neighbor’s head over the issue. Which puts cowboy-poetry festivals, getting monkeys high on cocaine, and other government-sponsored shenanigans into a very different perspective.

I don’t have anything in particular to hang on this; I just think the Williamson Rule is a useful lens through which to view proposed policies. However much I may like a proposed government activity, is it important enough to me to put a gun to someone’s head to implement the activity? If not, then maybe I need to think again before asking the government to do just that.


E Hines said...

Related to that is a question to which I've never seen an answer, coherent or otherwise.

A thing is a good idea for an individual to do. How does that make it a good idea for government to force everyone to do--using OPG* or not?

Eric Hines

*OPG: Other People's Guns

Elise said...

Well, it doesn't make it a good idea in all or perhaps even most case. But if what you're asking is why some people think it's a good idea, I have some thoughts:

- Sometimes it is a good idea so it's easy not to think too much about when it is and when it isn't a good idea.
- Humans are a social animal, so conformity is valued.
- Humans are a hierarchical animal, so telling other people what to do feels good.
- A lot of things that are good for an individual to do used to be "enforced" by societal norms. The breakdown of agreement on what societal norms should be means laws are the only ways to enforce those things.
- The ease with which people can change residences, jobs, friends, etc., combined with the existence of nearby but not connected social milieu means that even to the extent there are social norms still in existence, disapproval and ostracism don't work well to enforce them. If I blot my copybook in Smallville, I just move to Metropolis.

One other idea, which is kind of related to my last two points and kind of contradictory to them and not really well-formed in my mind:

- I think a lot of things that used to be societal norms seemed intuitively to make sense. Current societal norms, not so much. So the non-intuitive or, if you prefer, non-sensical norms that do exist need stronger enforcement than just disapproval and ostracism.

E Hines said...

You're a generous Lady, Ma'am.

My take on that is narrower and much more cynical.

It makes it a good idea for government to do, in the mind of a politician, for two fundamental reasons: it's votes and personal political gain through his ability to keep handing out those dime bags, and it feeds his own addiction to the dependence of others on him.

Eric Hines

Elise said...

In the mind of a politician, yes - at least some politicians at least some of the time. But that's not what's interesting to me. What's interesting to me is why non-politicians - voters - want politicians to force people to do "good" things.

Let's say I run a bakery and I think gay marriage is the best thing since, well, sliced bread - made in my bakery of course. I would love to make a wedding cake for a gay couple; heck, I'd probably do it for free to express my support. I believe supporting gay marriage is a wonderful thing to do and further believe that everyone should do so.

Fair enough. But why would I want government to force the bakery in the next town over to support gay marriage? What's going on in my head that makes me willing to see a fellow citizen run out of business, possibly even hauled off to jail, in order to force him to do the thing I think is so good?

The word "self-righteous" comes to mind, of course, but what is that but the intersection of conformity and hierarchy?

E Hines said...

In the minds of voters (I'll broaden that, with your permission, to citizens generally), it's a lot of things, of which self-righteousness is one.

It's also an honest belief that it's a good so strong that it's not conceivable to think anyone would be opposed: our Judeo-Christian heritage/injunction to help those less fortunate, for instance. How could anyone oppose government requiring everyone to do that?

It's the psychic income from getting others to go along or from being right (that last, including the closely related of not wanting to be (seen to be) wrong being a major motivator for just going along with the crowd).

It's the addiction thing.

It also depends on the thing we want government to make everyone do. Stand to to defend the country, for instance. I have no problem with a (military) draft.

Eric Hines