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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Hear my word vomit: a diatribe on unsubstatiated statements

By Tom Poulos

When I hear people say that they know what decisions policymakers and politicians should make, I usually think they are dumb and/or ill-informed and I stop listening to them or I continue to listen to them with building frustration. Just to clarify, I’m not talking about expressions of values. People who say that same-sex marriage should be banned because God said homosexuality is a sin are intractrable. Sure, I could get into an etiological conversation about the existence of God and demonstrate that when approached logically, believing in the existence of God is beyond foolish. But then again, most people who believe in God would say that such a belief is based on faith, not logic. But I digress.

The people who I’m fulminating are those that attempt to make sweeping statements about changes policy should make or any statement lacking sufficient evidentiary support (Legally Blonde, anyone?).

So other than opinions on policy issues, what about when someone makes a broad philosophical statement like, “I hate big government.”

Thinking that you could live in a society without a government, or “state,” would be ignoring all of human history and would make you either an anarchist or someone who wants to return to nomadic or tribal forms of social organization.

Most people who say “I hate big government” are probably neither anarchists or nostalgic of nomads. So I have this to say to them: government regulation increases when there is a greater demand for it. Similarly, it decreases when there is demand for less regulation. These demands are articulated by various actors in various ways depending on the time and place (aka varying economic, political, social and cultural climates). Because the role and scope of government is variable, you cannot simply say “I hate big government” or “what role does the government have in telling me what to do?” without referring to the specificity of our economic, political, social and cultural climates and to the form of regulation that you are talking about.

Sorry, but the government always has been and always will be in your life whether you as an individual like it or not. You may not believe that big government is good for you, but it is often beneficent for many other people in various other positions (people of different races, different nationalities, different income levels, different levels of education, etc). Of course, this depends on the type of regulation we’re talking about and the specific time and place/sociohistorical climates.

Now that I’ve demonstrated the short-sightedness of the bigotous claim that “big government is bad” I will hypothesize as to why people hold these views. Everyone likes to think that they have control over their lives. The fact that there is an actor (the government, in this case) that limits their choices, either in the form of finance (i.e. taxation) or social life (i.e. criminalization of certain substances) makes many people upset because they believe that they are not regulated otherwise. However, we’re always being socially regulated in some way or another. Tacit and subtle regulation comes in forms such as gender roles and family values. Other forms of regulation include organizational rules and community norms. If people don’t like big government because they don’t like regulation, then they should be among the most radical individuals on the planet and renounce all ties to society and live in a cave where they are never regulated by anything social in any way.

Another reason I think people dislike “big government” to such a passionate, overarching, and illogical way is because they believe they are qualified to make their own choices. This may be true in some cases. Perhaps you are qualified to make your own decisions. That does not mean that other people are. People do not have the same capacity of choice that you have because they do not have the same opportunities. For example, a Latino woman who grew up in South LA does not have the same opporunities as a white man from Beverly Hills. The Latino woman from South LA is more likely to become addicted to drugs, less likely to go to college and less likely to have a job with a middle-class salary. Disparities in opportunity = disparity in capacity for choice. Government regulation often attempts to equalize opporunity. These attempts sometimes fail. Sometimes they succeed.

If you believe that “big government” is bad because you don’t like to be regulated, take a deeper look at how you’re regulated in what are often unrecognized, taken-for-granted ways. If you believe that “big government” is bad because you have the capacity to make your own choices, then you either don’t understand the roots of social inequality or you just don’t care. But this is just a hypothesis and I don’t want to generalize without sufficient evidence.

“Extraordinary Claims require extraordinary evidence.” -Marcello Truzzi

Thomas Poulos ’11 is a Managing Editor for The Mac Weekly and can be reached at [email protected].

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