07
Feb
11

Change feels coercive

That’s the insight from Matt Yglesias (via Ryan Avent).  Their context is urban development — specifically efforts to allow people to build more densely in Virginia, and Tea Party opposition thereto — but the general principle highlights and rather neatly explains some of the mind-snapping cognitive dissonance I see as conservatism and libertarianism get confused.

Consider, by way of a for instance, marriage rights.  I have argued, and will cheerfully continue to argue, that the government has no business telling people who love each other that they can’t get married.  As long as government’s in the marriage business, it has no right to claim that some consenting adults are more equal than others.  But “marriage” is a loaded term, and people’s attitudes change dramatically when they see people as “married” versus “in love” or “shacking up”.  So when you remove the coercive law in, say, Iowa that says that the state can forbid same-sex couples from marrying, you make it harder for Iowan sociocons to write off same-sex couples as degenerate bathhouse perverts with a minimum of cognitive dissonance.  That sure feels coercive.

So you get these sociocons rallying against (largely mythical) Social Security cuts and marriage-rights expansion and the like under the banner of “stopping government coercion” because those things hurt.  Suppose you’re comfortable in a world-view in which gays are cartoonish villains, Social Security is a right you’ve earned by paying into the pot, and you have an inalienable right never to see a bus or a four-storey building from your house.  If some dude in a suit comes on television and says “gays are people too, Social Security is in the red and paying it out will murder our children’s economy, and high-rise condos are pretty damn nifty”, your first reaction probably won’t be a fearless moral inventory and ground-up reëxamination of your premises.  Like most people dragged out of their comfort zones, you’ll probably want to claw your way back in.

Unfortunately, out in the objective world, nothing has changed.  Gays never were subhuman stereotypes; Social Security never was going to survive the retirement of the Boomers; and a lot of people really do dig not having a lawn to mow or a sidewalk to shovel.  Nobody’s done anything more coercive than point out that the emperor really is swinging in the breeze.  Calling that coercion makes you look awfully whiny to those of us who started out with Smith and Jones trading fish and firewood on Murray Rothbard’s desert island.

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