Thursday, December 30, 2004

No Principles, Just Preening Superiority

Thomas Sowell has a great column today.

The government will allow you to risk your life for the sake of recreation by sky-diving, mountain climbing or any number of other dangerous activities. But it will not allow you to risk your life for the sake of avoiding arthritis pain by taking Vioxx.

There is no principle behind such differences in government policy. No one has to show that some particular medication is more dangerous than some particular recreation in order to get the medication banned while the recreational activity is allowed to go on.

Businesses that conduct dangerous recreational activities are not being denounced for "corporate greed" by making money at the risk of other people's lives. But such charges are flung around regularly about pharmaceutical companies -- and are taken seriously in the media.

The sad fact is that many issues that are argued as if they were matters of principle are in fact only matters of attitude. We are used to hearing denunciations of "unsafe" drugs, cars, water, and various other things that crusaders and the media happen to have singled out.


One death in a boxing ring will set off loud demands to ban that sport but hundreds of deaths from boating accidents will elicit no such response. Nor are such gross double standards confined to safety issues.

Americans will be denounced for greed and materialism by people from countries where individuals do not donate nearly as high a percentage of their incomes as Americans do, nor volunteer a fraction as much time to philanthropic causes as Americans do. Moreover, there will be a chorus of Americans on the left echoing the foreign charges.

Politicians who give away the taxpayers' money to social programs will be lionized in the media for their "compassion." But many businessmen across the country, who each donate millions of dollars of their own money to help the less fortunate, get no such praise, if they are mentioned at all.

Facts don't matter to those for whom principles don't matter, however loudly those principles may be proclaimed. Many so-called "thinking people" do remarkably little thinking.


That vision casts them in the role of wiser and nobler people -- defenders of the downtrodden, protectors of the environment, advocates of peace and opponents of war. There is always some crusade that requires their superior wisdom and virtue to be imposed on others.

Particular attitudes towards particular things that happen to be in vogue among those who wrap themselves in the mantle of chic virtue serve as a badge of identity, showing who is one of the special Us rather than the more ordinary Them.

This is heady stuff and they are not going to give it up for anything so mundane as facts or logic or principles. The best that the rest of us can do is to stop calling their ego trips idealism.

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