The Flinchum File
Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions

Changing People, Changing Values ?

06/30/2012

Like many young boys who were raised in the mid-1950s, my initial values were “flag, motherhood, and apple pie” . . . and in that order.  (I was raised to be fiercely patriotic and suspect my military record supports that.)  However, I later learned my three primary values:  love of democracy, love of privacy, and the rule of law.

Readers know I have been struggling with the idea of democracy, as currently practiced in our country.  I am deeply concerned about the U.S. House of Representatives, which could more aptly be named the House of Representatives From Hyper-Partisan Electoral Districts.  They represent only the most partisan voters of their gerrymandered districts.  I wonder what the limits of democracy are, and how will we know it when we get there?  I wonder what comes after democracy, and whether it will be permanent?

Love of privacy has become a quaint notion as well.  We willingly surrendered it to Facebook, Google, and the like.  Did you know there is a company just north of Little Rock, Arkansas, called Acxiom that employs 23,000 computer servers to collect, collate, and analyze data about YOU?  It is the largest commercial database about individuals — 500 million of them, with about 1,500 pieces of information on each one.  It is nobody’s business what kind of toothpaste I prefer!  I do not live for the convenience of advertisers on Madison Avenue.

The famous existentialist, Paul Satre, described each individual as an island, isolated and protected by water, but still the sole master on that island.  Privacy protects the individual from being transformed or controlled by advertisers.

Maybe, the loss of privacy is a good thing.  The medical industry is rapidly moving toward Electronic Health Records (EHR), which enables a doctor to make sure you are taking your medicine properly and that no other doctor is prescribing reactive medicine for you.  It also enables sleaze-balls to know if your daughter had an abortion when she was 18 or your son got venereal disease when he was in the Army.  Of course, there will be even more laws to protect our privacy, so such breaches could never happen, as they have never happened before??  (Think about “form over substance.”)

This brings us the last point:  the rule of law vs. the rule of too many laws vs. the rule of too little punishment. Sure, it was the rule of law of that put Bernie Madoff in prison, but it was the rule of too many laws that made his crimes invisible to the “rule-bound” SEC for so long, who looked at his paperwork and not the substance of what he was doing.  And, it is the rule of too little punishment that provides him with free room & board for the rest of his life, as well as better medical care than many law-abiding Americans receive.  Would his situation today be different if his victims decided his punishment?

I always thought that, while people change, values don’t.  Maybe, I was wrong?  Maybe, values just need to be sharpened or nuanced.  Maybe, my three primary values should be:  love of political purity, love of advertisers, and the rule of appropriate punishment . . . maybe?

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