Sunday, October 07, 2007

Leftist errors

Matthew Sinclair takes issue with a long post from Unity about Conservative family policy. I just commented on the latter. Here's a remark by Unity:

I’ve no problem with the principle of bunging low income families a bit of extra cash as long as it’s being done for the right reasons
My comment:

That’s a lovely expression of the fallacy most leftists have that intentions matter more than consequences; it follows from it that even if this is the right policy it should not be done if the intentions are wrong. In other words, if you judge the principles behind a policy wrong, it should not be put into effect even if the result would be beneficial.

More insidious is the idea that the success of gay parenting shows the unimportance of fatherhood. It would be just as valid to say it shows the unimportance of motherhood. Of course, it shows neither. It does show that the sorts of parents who bother to jump through the hoops of adoption or artificial conception have a motivation that weights the aggregate benefits of their parenting above that of a heterosexual group whose families include those that result from a bottle too many of brown ale.
Milton Friedman understood this about the left, that intentions matter more than consequences. It's a syndrome that underlies a lot of criticism of free market policy, that those advocating such policy aren't trying to help people, or are selfish - the latter itself a genuinely fatuous misunderstanding of the true role of selfishness in the eyes of free market advocates: it's a fact, not a recommendation. People are selfish, or motivated by self interest. They just are, under any system, including communism. That has to be taken into account. It serves a useful purpose, motivating people to innovate and work hard in pursuit of their self-interest. It also corrupts and subverts collectivist arrangements.

Unity's remark about the role of fatherhood is a good example of the damage partisanship in argument can do. The success of gay adoption is a great thing, but it has some, socially conservative and mainly Conservative, detractors. The way to get them on board is not to make fallacious claims about the needlessness of fatherhood. In this we see a wheel turn in the minds of some people, such that it seems to them reasonable in support of gay people to undermine heterosexual people. That's as bad as undervaluing gay people. A mirror bias - say anti-Arab instead of anti-Jew - is no better than the original bias. It's the bias that's at fault, folks.

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