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Political pragmatism

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No matter how wedded we may be to our ideology, there are times when it should yield to pragmatic concerns.

My own instincts run towards the libertarian point of view. Any new law intended to protect me from myself "for my own good" or bestowing unrequested public benefits on me, and then using them as an excuse to worm government control even deeper into my life, sends me stomping off to my soapbox. Trying to justify some new "nanny state" intrusion with the reasoning "if it saves even one life ... " will earn you a snort of derision in reply.

The fact that most of these laws are created and enforced by people who seem to enjoy ordering others on how to live does nothing to curb my annoyance. While society has always suffered meddling busybodies who "know what's best" for the rest of us, they have never previously had so much power to force obedience to their diktats. In my idealized libertarian world, all adults are free to live their lives as they choose, providing that it doesn't hurt others. In return, they all must endure the consequences of their foolish choices.

My dilemma arises when my libertarian ideals collide with reality. Most libertarians are also conservatives. We have a bias toward that which has been shown to actually "work." Having seen so many ideologically driven liberal brain farts crash and burn, we distrust lofty, utopian proposals delivered with soaring rhetoric, glowing optimism, and a total disregard for what we see are easily predictable problems.

After seeing where the well-intentioned dogma of the left usually leads, the more self-aware libertarians may then consider where the unfettered application of our own political philosophy might lead us if somehow we were put in control.

Consider drug use, for example. Under pure libertarian philosophy, people should be allowed to self-destruct with their drug of choice, and society would not rescue them. But in reality, most libertarians would probably reconsider if they witnessed their own children, family, or friends engaged in sanctioned self-destruction. Philosophy is likely to yield to personal feelings.

And so we would likely end up living in a "hybrid" world, in which everyone had the right to self-destruct, but society would then be there to bail them out of the consequences, usually at immense expense. We are a soft-hearted, humane people who will not stand to let others suffer and die, no matter how foolish and reckless their behavior. Can we really afford to house and care for a third of the population or to keep them in perpetual rehab?

I urge you liberals try this sort of self-examination as well, and consider how some of your cherished agenda would play out if it politically prevails. For example, if your current proposal to eliminate the police is implemented, do you honestly think that it will improve the lives of the residents in poor and minority communities? Will the gangs that are currently terrorizing their neighborhoods suddenly disappear and gang warfare stop? Will a social worker be able to stop a drunk and enraged husband from beating his wife? Will drunk drivers voluntarily dry out and reform or stay off the road? Will men who sexually assault women and children react to social condemnation and change their ways? Will those who steal from others suddenly choose the path of hard work and honest employment to support themselves?

In short, do you really think that those who prey on society can be dissuaded from doing so without police "muscle"?

Or, consider illegal immigration. Can't you see a problem with allowing effectively unrestricted entry into our country to anyone who shows up at our border? As a rich country offering generous, expensive benefits to all within our borders, with hundreds of millions of the desperately poor located nearby, the outcome of an "open border" policy seems pretty obvious. Will our health care costs and social benefits be affordable if we must also cover millions of new, impoverished residents? Will our already-congested state somehow become less crowded? Where will all the needed housing and infrastructure come from, especially in areas like SLO where housing is already scarce and unaffordable? What will all the new residents and their cars and homes do to our environment?

In our public schools, the liberal thinking has come to oppose the suspension of disruptive students, with new California legislation now prohibiting it because of its disproportionate racial effect. It is impossible to learn in a loud, chaotic classroom dominated by the disruptive. What will happen to the educations and futures of the majority of kids? Should they be sacrificed in order to try and save a few troubled students?

In horror films, a common dramatic device is to play spooky, ominous music as a character enters a dark basement, cave, etc., to warn that something awful is about to happen. The viewer wonders, "Why are they going in? Can't they hear the music?"

I'm hoping that you will "hear the music." Δ

John Donegan is a retired attorney in Pismo Beach, who has been known to shriek and scatter his popcorn when the monster pounces. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a response for publication and email it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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