GRAVER: The duty of intellectual cogency

Like many before her, Abigail Carney ’15, in her piece “The duty of the top 1 percent,” falls into an intellectual trap. The existence of poverty is not a conclusive defense for liberalism. But too often, be it in a classroom or on the pages of the Yale Daily News, it is seen as such.

Yale’s left responds to calls for fiscal responsibility and defenses of capitalism with scattered anecdotes to support a narrative of a broken system. If only we conservatives “saw the real New Haven” or “went to rural Mississippi” we would see the (seemingly) undeniable truths that are the welfare state and moderated capitalism.

The entire column, full of important reminders for us Yalies to “realize that the impact we have on the world is just as important as our profit margins” and not to just “worry about six figures,” boils down to a single idea: Don’t be Gordon Gecko.

Great. Good people should care about others. Ayn Rand does not lay forth an acceptable moral philosophy. I’m all with you. But, seeing this thesis in the whole context of her piece, we can see the dangerous underlying presuppositions that guide Carney and her likeminded “Occupy” individuals.

First and foremost, Carney isn’t right in stating, “Occupy Wall Street does not yet have set goals.” There is a very important difference between goals and ideas about how to achieve them.

Let’s be clear: these are angry leftists seeking leftist goals. You will not find any disciple of Milton Friedman or F.A. Hayek in that crowd. Rather, they are people guided by what Carney calls “disgust for a system where anyone is allowed as much wealth and influence as the top 1 percent of Americans.”

Right there, though, clear objectives and values are implicit. A free-market system must be fundamentally changed, either through incredible regulation or just eradication. Furthermore, there is an objective number (exactly what number is beyond me) at which people have earned too much money. The interests of the top 1 percent are intrinsically different than the rest of ours; any concentration of power is inherently contrary to the majority’s wellbeing.

Let’s not be so naïve — as Carney urges us to be — to see these movements as discontent, yet rational and responsible, Americans just hoping for better dialogue and cautious reform. Harrison Schultz, a protest organizer, would shudder at such a moderate assertion: “This is revolution, not reform.”

But despite lofty goals, there’s a horrific lack of specificity in the Occupy protests. But don’t take my word for it — take Schultz’s: “As far as the specifics, we don’t know yet.”

It’s important to note that this decision to avoid any concrete propositions is not the product of some careful Burkean temperance, a commitment to slow and mediated change. Instead, this is just the innate abstractness and obscurity intrinsic to the mandate of “social justice.” Change has no definitive merits for this movement besides the fact that it’s apparently a good in itself.

The gut impulses and obscure social metrics that guide Occupy Wall Street are symptomatic of a larger problematic intellectual movement. Amid these call for “fairness,” “justice” and “equality,” people forget the simple fact that words have meaning.

The illusory grounding for these terms becomes readily apparent when their advocates are pushed for specifics. Schultz is at least honest about his shortsightedness. Calls for “discussion” and “dialogue” by people like Carney and our president are specious forays back into a perpetuated cerebral arena.

But this move somewhat makes sense. Such a worldview can only exist exclusively in the realm of ideas, where human nature is a construct, not a constant, where social arrangements are as mutable as our desire to change them is and where good intentions are the sole requisite for “good” results. In this fanciful reality, passion trumps rationality.

We do not need to be reminded condescendingly that people are suffering in this country, as if we are not aware of stark realities, nor should their plight serve as the shoulders for the self-righteous to stand on.

The good intentions encapsulated in Carney’s tone (the same good intentions that have arguably institutionalized the poverty she bewails) are overshadowed by her imprudence. Success is nothing to be ashamed of. It comes with no inborn guilt.

The moral onus to love thy neighbor, country and fellow man is a universal one mandated by God, not “social justice.” Let’s not have it co-opted by unbathed, partially clothed 20-somethings in a park claiming to fight for the “99 percent” of us.

Harry Graver is a sophomore in Davenport College. Contact him at harry.graver@yale.edu.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    Success based on greed is indeed something to be ashamed of.

    • River_Tam

      Success based on greed (read: ambition) is nothing to be ashamed of.

      Success based on theft is.

      There is a difference.

  • ldffly

    Thanks for this. Not only do I agree with the substance of the piece, but finally the argumentation and learning indicate that all is not lost at Yale College. A piece typical of the writing in the YDN from the 70s and 80s, rather than the current trotting out of all the usual postmodern cliches.

  • uncommons

    “Success based on greed is indeed something to be ashamed of.”

    Reply button isn’t working, but whatever.

    Tell me, PK, what is success based on greed? Was I being greedy by working hard in high school to get into Yale? After all I took someone’s place. Sounds pretty greedy…

    Sincerely,
    The Top 7%

  • RexMottram08

    Success based on greed is indeed something to be ashamed of!

    But tell me: is political success any less greedy than market success?

    Is a lobbyist any less greedy than an equities trader?

    Is a politician less self-interested than GE’s CEO?

  • JohnnyE

    [They do in fact have goals.][1]

    In sum, “We want lots of things. We want someone else to pay for them.”

    Note: The link is not satire.

    [1]: http://occupywallst.org/forum/proposed-list-of-demands-for-occupy-wall-st-moveme/

  • The Anti-Yale

    Greed?

    A thirty-two million dollar golden parachute for 9 months as CEO? That’s greed.

    Believing Bernie Madoff could help you outwit the market by several percent a year? That’s greed.

    Hiring “the Plumbers” to burglarize the Democratic National Committee located in the Watergate Hotel so yopu could keep your presidency? That’s greed.

    Refusing to hear the accusations of child-molestation by priests so you could maintain the Holy See unscathed? That’s greed.

    Evicting white plantation owners from Zimbabwe and taking over their land to solidify your dictatorship? That’s greed.

    Invoking tax-free status in a city rife with poverty and crime while holding billions in endowment? That’s greed.

    • SY

      #1 and #2 are greed. The last 25 years were a time of miracles and excess. The miracles seemed to cover the excess. Now the excess and fast money are crashing, and a new order will clear away the dysfunctional parts of the old order.

      #3, #4 and #5 are human foolishness, not greed. Nixon beat McGovern in 49 states without Watergate, and then, the fool that he was, tried to keep the idiots out of prison.

      #6 is smart. Pay the city what its services are worth, not what its political class and unions demand.

  • RexMottram08

    Golden parachutes are not greed. Companies GLADLY pay them to quickly rid themselves of bad executives. Compensation at the C-suite level is contractually obligatory. When a CEO fails to perform, shareholders and stakeholders demand a quick, clean transition. Companies with dead-in-the-water CEOs see their stock plummet. CEO is a risky position. You can fail and fail publicly. To compensate for this risk, exit packages are negotiated between the employer and the potential executive before signing the contract.

    Greed is a constant in human history. It isn’t the special reason we are in a recession.

    • The Anti-Yale

      Semantic contortionism.

  • penny_lane

    “Yale’s left responds to calls for fiscal responsibility and defenses of capitalism with scattered anecdotes to support a narrative of a broken system.”

    Why hello, Mr. Straw Man. How are you today? I see it only took a couple sentences for you to rear your ugly head.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Foolishness”? Is that your euphemism for EVIL?

    Six may be smart—it’s also greed.

  • basho

    I am a simple man of moderate political disposition, but I think I can speak for everyone when I say that the number of sarcastic parenthetical jabs tolerable in one sitting is finite. B/B-.

  • annwoolliams

    You are the chosen of the best generation. When you go out there…do the right thing. It is simple…the advantaged look after the disadvantaged;it is possible in a capitalistic society. When a person has strength of character and a sense of moral responsibility, greed diminishes. I like this Oscar Wilde quote…which i will present here although it really doesn’t quite pertain to what I am saying. “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” . Signed Pollanna.

  • The Anti-Yale

    By all means, let’s keep this bland and cerebral. Heaven forbid that any animal juices flow.After all, as Thomas Carlyle reminds us, “Sarcasm is the language of the devil.”

  • ilovelovedontyou

    “Change has no definitive merits for this movement besides the fact that it’s apparently a good in itself.”

    What are you talking about? the movement is about reducing income inequality and moving the distribution of political power away from special interests and towards transparency. that’s the change people want. the reason there is no consensus on a “demand” yet? there are a bajillion methods of getting there and people want to be careful to choose the most appropriate one before starting to advocate for it.

    “Let’s not have [love] co-opted by unbathed, partially clothed 20-somethings in a park claiming to fight for the “99 percent” of us.”

    Don’t you love it when people write off others because they look different from them?

    • penny_lane

      Yes, another logical fallacy, the ad hominem attack! I’d count the number of fallacies and frequency of each that he uses, but I have better things to do.

  • DanRather

    I disagree with your hypothesis that there weren’t any Austrians in the crowd, or any Chicago School advocates. The people seemed to just be angry with corporatism and corruption, as well as federal assistance for various companies like Goldman Sachs. I could imagine many Ron Paul supporters attended.

    • penny_lane

      Ron Paul supporters did and do attend Occupy meetings. Tea Partiers as well, even.