Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ants and Grasshoppers

I've been watching a series on Moyers and Company that explores the issues of the day in a thoughtful way. A recent episode titled "The Roots of our Contentious Political Culture" featured author Jonathan Haidt who presented his thoughts on the foundations of the differences between the world views of the left and right.

One example that Haidt presented really resonated with me. He told the story of the ants and the grasshopper, where the ants work all summer while the grasshopper plays. When winter comes the grasshopper comes to the ants' door to ask for food. What should they do? Conservative philosophy tends to feel that the grasshopper should suffer for his actions,that this is his karma, while liberals are more inclined to feel compassion and offer to help.

I think that there's one more aspect of this debate that shapes my view, and that's my belief that just working hard doesn't guarantee success in the world. There's a lot of randomness in life. Good people who work hard can end up in trouble and need help.

Haidt's point is that the differences in support of social programs is due to the conservative value of fairness and karma versus the liberal value of compassion combined with the belief that failure is not always self inflicted. It's easy to provide examples that support either position and both sides tend to discount counter examples, an example of confirmation bias.

The point is that both sides have defensible arguments that could be explored without resorting to name calling, and in my opinion the answer is somewhere in between. My guess is that both sides would be comfortable with a safety net that doesn't reward bad behavior. What do you think? Do you have an example of government encouraging or rewarding bad behavior? How about an example of government creating winners and losers?

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