Thursday, May 9, 2013

Failure is the only option

“I haven’t failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” –Thomas Edison

In a puff piece on Maryland governor Martin O’Malley in the Washington Monthly, Haley Sweetland Edwards writes:

It is the liberal and progressive bloc that stakes its identity on a belief in government, and therefore has a higher stake in getting government management right.

In 2012 Barack Obama cobbled together a motley majority, unified by a shared belief that the federal government can and should play a larger role in solving the country’s common problems. The best way to ensure that voting bloc’s enthusiasm for the Democrats lasts—and the best hope to reduce some of the antigovernment anger on the other side—is for government to deliver results.

Au contraire, nothing—especially not failure—will stop a passionate man in pursuit of a dream. This is a noble trait in entrepreneurs, who deplete their own resources to bring a product or service to market. It is not such a noble trait in government.

The dream, in this case, is a government with unlimited powers to manage the mass of humanity towards an impossible harmony. Thomas Edison supposedly tested 10,000 variations of the light bulb before he found one that worked. I reckon there are more than that many tweaks to the complex formulas utopia’s planners intend to use to stifle the “offending” energies that motivate men.

To visualize what they are doing, draw a stick figure on a piece of paper. This is you. Now draw Xs around the stick figure. These are your goals. They could be raising good kids, keeping your church afloat financially, getting that promotion at work, hiking the Appalachian Trail, whatever. They’re the things you bust your ass years on end for, like Edison did. Draw arrows from the stick figure to the Xs. These arrows are the energy you spend to reach your goals.

Now draw one vertical line to the left of the stick figure and one vertical line to the right. These represent the boundaries set on your life by the technocratic state. Lest you interfere with the government’s designs for mankind, it is within this range that you are allowed to expend your energy. Maybe some of your goals are inside the lines. That’s good. Then again, maybe some of your goals are outside the lines. They will be sacrificed for the “greater good.”

The energy that you would have otherwise spent in pursuit of your now forbidden goals will be redirected along this path, set for everyone. Channeled on a different vector, that energy will be diminished. Net prosperity in a socialist system will never rival net prosperity in a free market system.

Our astronomical deficits are a de facto indictment of the current model, but that doesn’t deter the planners. Based on a presumed expertise in the affairs of 300 million people, they endlessly adjust the boundaries. This is what big government busts its ass years on end for: to control you. Depending on its biases, those lines may contract, expand, bend, curve, or tilt one way or another. But they’re there.

Furthermore, what “results” will satisfy us? We have a higher standard of living and more individual autonomy than we did during the FDR administration, when the project was begun in earnest. Why not declare victory and retire the regulatory pen?

Because the ostensible goals of socialism are not sufficient for the human psyche. Because, as I wrote here:

We want everything. We want the elusive, indefinable it, which makes life not a burden, but a pleasure.


Obama’s call to meet the ache in our souls with membership in the body politic can only lead to failure. The false messiah is human and limited by reality as much as we are. He always falls short of otherworldly expectations.

In other words, failure is built-in.

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