Saturday, October 2, 2010

There but for the grace of God....

One important difference between  conservatives and liberals is the recognition (or lack thereof) of randomness.
Conservatives have a need to feel in control, and therefore they believe that everything good that happens to them is a result of their actions, their virtue, and strength of character. They also believe that bad things happen to other people because those other people are lazy, shiftless, and choose their misfortune.
Liberals tend to have the attitude that bad things happen to anyone and we all may suffer from events beyond our control. So liberals are OK with the idea of helping others, and sharing the fruits of their own good fortune.
The evidence is strong that randomness plays a huge factor in our lives. None of us can control the kind of home into which we are born, the kind of parents we have, or the genetics we inherited.
Sure some people, by virtue of random good luck, can overcome difficulties to become enormously successful. But for every Oprah, there are millions of people who are just as hard-working as she who didn't get the lucky breaks she did.
This article about why Neanderthals went extinct illustrates this idea.  We like to believe that modern humans outcompeted Neanderthal humans because we are naturally smarter and better suited to survive. Well, maybe so, but pure luck also played a huge role. It always does. Even Bill Gates acknowledges that he was fortunate in having rare access to computer technology when he was a young kid. The amazing success of Microsoft was due to his hard work, his intelligence, and quite a few lucky breaks.
We need to recognize that luck and randomness affect all of us. But one thing that can improve the odds for all of us is working together. Yes it means some people  have to give up a part of the vast fortunes they might earn or inherit. But ultimately, the progressive motto " A rising tide floats all boats" is true. When more people have the opportunity to develop their gifts and talents, we all benefit.

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