Laura Wilkerson

Laura Wilkerson
July 27


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MAY 4, 2012 2:46PM

Paul Krugman and Human Nature

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            My Husband J. and I were watching a rebroadcast of Tuesday’s The Colbert Report. Stephen’s guest was economist Paul Krugman who was on plugging his new book, End This Depression Now. Toward the end of the interview, Mr. Krugman gave an interesting response to the question of whether he had learned anything he found surprising about Conservatives and Mr. Krugman said yes, that he believes that Conservatives have a more realistic view of human nature that liberals do.
            “What do you think he means by that?” J. asked.
            “I don’t know,” I replied, “I would suppose he means, stereotypically, Conservatives supposedly believe that men are born of original sin and must be carefully molded into behaving while Liberals supposedly believe in the basic goodness of humanity.”
            “I don’t think that’s right,” J. said, clearly thinking of his parents who, though Conservative Christians, believes that anyone can rise to the occasion, given the inner spark of Godhood they believe resides within all of us.
            I was thinking more of myself. I would consider myself to be pretty Liberal but I believe in the value of State Execution, if the crime is particularly heinous and guilt can be proven beyond any doubt and the execution be carried out in public, at least as far as broadcast live on CSPAN. I am also a staunch supporter of a Citizen’s right to bear arms though I sometimes think this should be limited to only the types and models of arms available to Citizens at the time the Constitution was signed. I believe the crimes of rape and child molestation should receive far longer jail sentences than typically results from convictions for these sorts of crimes; perhaps even life without parole on some sort of Sex Offender Island.   
            The notion that man is a sinful vessel has gained a lot of traction throughout modern society. You see it practiced in Business Schools where the belief that in the powers of “game theory” and that the masses will work with predictable self-interest rules to government sponsored laws and campaigns against behavior targeted as undesirable.
            Man is certainly a vessel capable of sin. The proof of that is all around us. Man, in the most general sense, is also an astonishing creation, capable of great and astounding feats of bravery, altruism and generosity just as Man is capable of great and astounding feats of cowardice, cruelty and selfishness.   
            Yet the vast majority of us go about our daily lives doing the best we can, trying not to hurt others, trying to do the right thing. A small percentage among us will take advantage of that and then Society must come together to decide, collectively, how to deal with the anti-social elements among us.
            I really don’t know what Mr. Krugman meant about human nature and how it’s perceived differently by Conservatives and Liberals. The Library doesn’t have his book yet, it’s destined for May’s order, and a search within Amazon’s Search Inside This Book feature didn’t reveal anything linked to the phrase “human nature.”
            What I do know is that human beings, even the simplest of us, are complex, multifaceted individuals who manage to hold a lot of opinions, some contradictory leading another Colbert guest on a different night, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, on plugging his recent book The Righteous Mind, to conclude that humans have evolved to be lawyers.
            It seems like Mr. Krugman is relying on doctrinaire stereotypes. “Conservatives are” or “Liberals are” followed by feckless, greedy, delusional, amoral, socialists, fascists, sluts, homophobes, dirty hippies or words to that effect.
            Maybe it’s the hopeless Liberal faith in human nature but I like to think that if Liberals and Conservatives from all walks of life could be brought together in some big Convention they would find more commonalities than differences. Then it would just be a matter of finding the middle ground which I suspect is located farther to the left than currently mapped.
            “I don’t think we should use the terms ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ anymore.” J. stated, “I think those terms have outlived their meaning,” and I can’t say I disagree with him.

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I think he means that in the context of a longer running debate in the history of ideas, in which Liberal is a way broader term than used currently in the United States.
Liberal in that sense would include a lot of libertarians who because they so love the Market are perceived as Right Wing.
Conservatives in that sense would include people like Amitai Etzioni and "communitarians," who often advocate for more government, if on average that's not true.
They have somewhat lost their meaning because Liberal in the nineteenth century meaning of the word a la John Stuart Mill or really most of Jefferson started to alter with industrialism and the rise of people on the Left who wanted State action for equality, and people on the Right who wanted State action, like say Bismark, to preserve Order and Hierarchy from anarchy.