Monday, January 28, 2013

What You Need

 There is a question that has been popping up a lot recently in discussions of various issues, and it is a thorny problem for a society that is as affluent and fortunate as ours is. Again, I'm going to touch on some controversial issues here, but my hope is that the reader may see these issues in a new light. I have a lot of links in this one, which I hope will give clarification to the claims that I make.

Why do you need _____________?

  This is a question worth asking, of course. Why should I spend money or time on a particular thing, when it might be put to better use elsewhere. But that isn't what I'm writing about. The subject of this post is the way other people ask "why do you need ______" in a rhetorical fashion, as if the question itself is a way to win the argument. When people, especially people in a position of power, ask why you need to have something, it is often a prelude to them justifying why they should be allowed to take away what you don't need.

 For example, during election season a lot of people asked, "why do millionaires and billionaires need all that money?" "I'd be happy with just a fraction of that." "Can't they do with a little less?" When these questions were being asked, they weren't just thoughtful reflections on the nature of materialism in our society. They were actually attempts to justify taking wealth away from people. More than once, we heard calls for extremely wealthy people to "pay their fair share." The idea was implicit--no one needs that much money, so it is not right for them to have it. Given the evidence that the wealthiest people tend to pay more taxes, both in total amount and in percentage of taxes collected, it seems to me that this was a call to promote envy as much as fairness; in effect making the claim that "they have more than you do, so someone needs to even things up." It is worth noting that though the speeches tended to focus on "millionaires and billionaires," the bills proposed targeted households with $250,000 and up. The rhetoric focused on the extremely wealthy (which are extremely few in number) while the legislation targeted a significantly larger group of people, most of whom are not millionaires, especially in terms of annual income. The question of "how much money do you need?" draws our attention away from how money has been earned and how it is spent. Thus, we are encouraged to have the mindset that no matter how much money a person has, he must give more to US. Meanwhile, even wealthy celebrities who call for people like themselves to pay more seem to ignore that if they want to donate their extra millions to the IRS, they can. Let us remember the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17) and remember that greed is often defined by wanting to take things that do not belong to you.

"We've become a culture where earning money doesn't entitle you to it, but wanting it does."--Ken Blackwell

 But a lot of money is not the only thing that we don't need. With the widespread coverage of horrific mass shootings in the news, the availability of certain weapons and various paraphernalia associated with them has caused many to ask, "why do you need a military-style weapon?" "Why do you need high-capacity magazines?" and other such questions. While I have no doubt that many people who ask these questions have good intentions, the questions ignore the fact that most gun violence involves small handguns, not rifles. In addition, "assault rifle" is a term that describes a weapon's appearance, not its function. (Many confuse "assault" with "automatic," which means that the weapon fires continuously while the trigger is squeezed. Fully-automatic weapons are not available on the open market, and were not used in any of the recent high-profile shooting sprees.) There is an assumption that since Soldiers use a type of weapon, people who are not Soldiers have no practical use for them at all. Similarly, people commonly ask about the necessity for magazines (not to be confused with "clips," which are not the same thing) to hold more than, say, ten rounds. To me, this is like asking why a healthy person has medical insurance--while it is unlikely that multiple rounds would be needed against a single attacker, to assume that there will never be a need for them is a bit arrogant. While many proponents of magazine limitations believe that such laws will prevent the ability of shooters to perform mass killings, the truth is that a determined homicidal maniac can carry multiple magazines and reload quickly, just the same as people desperate for a whole lot of root beer will buy multiple cups if they can't get one Big Gulp.

 Good intentions, as I have said in previous blogs, do not excuse bad decisions. When other people make the determination that you don't need something, be it money, an AR-15, big soft-drink cups, a high-performance sport car, a big house, a flat-screen television, an iPad, or the freedom to not pay for things that contradict your beliefs, it does not logically follow that they may prevent you from having what you don't need. Otherwise, we would find ourselves reduced to a utilitarian society where we are only allowed the very minimum to survive, because someone might decide that art, music, and literature are luxuries beyond the things that sustain us. Whenever a person tells you that you don't really need something, I'd recommend checking your pockets immediately.

Edited 29 January 2013 for spelling and Ken Blackwell quote

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