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Should I debate this person about welfare?

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As long as there are folks using welfare to survive so that they can get an education and do productive work in the future, it cannot be morally opposed.  

 

That's the sense I get from certain welfare supporters.  

 

One particular individual tells the story of how his mother worked 3 jobs and STILL needed welfare to feed her kids.  The very mention of opposition to welfare disgusts him.  He claims he never could have gone to school if it wasn't for welfare.  To him it's personal and he will not take any s*** from anyone that criticizes the welfare system in any way.  He despises poor shaming (likely a fair point) and he raises the "fact" that the US govt spends 6 times as much money on the military as it does on welfare. Put simply, people need help and he thinks it is downright cruel and inhuman to deny people their needs.  

 

Is it worth my time to address him on the issue?  Is he too irrational?  

 
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Is it worth my time to address him on the issue?  Is he too irrational?  

 

First question: No. Second question: Yes.

 

The subject of the welfare-state requires an understanding of economic philosophy, which likely would consume many hours of study and/or lecturing. And if this acquaintance is a devout statist, it would be pointless.

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It might be worth it if you could keep your cool and had some people listening in who could be convinced. Otherwise, it's hard enough breaking down emotion opposition, much less to the level of "my life happened because of welfare."

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It is difficult to argue against welfare when political heroes like the Clintons become rich through crony capitalism, members of congress are immune from insider trading laws, and many who are rich became so through government contracts obtained through bribes."You didn't build that" is demonstrably true through numerous examples in the minds of those who say such things. When corruption is far greater than most people can conceive, welfare is very small by comparison. With so much wealth stolen by the ruling classes (from both political parties), perhaps some poor find themselves in their dire circumstances because of the economic system in which they find themselves and through no fault of their own. None of this is to justify the robbery of some for the sake of others. Only, corruption is a problem an order of magnitude larger than that of welfare and both issues involve unearned income. Under these circumstances you will likely never persuade this individual to oppose the modern Robin Hood.

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Welfare is a complex, many defining steps to the basics, derivative concept.  Most people only understand the direct effect it has on them as a recipient or as a taxpayer.  Politics, and its products, is far removed from basic ideas in ethics, which are somewhat removed from more basic ideas in epistemology and metaphysics.  Because the ultimate truth in reality exists thru knowledge your friend will probably never seek, you cannot gain the value of informing them and changing their mind by debating the surface film of more fundamental knowledge.

 

So the answer is no.  Don't waste your time arguing.  But I've been tempted in the past to plant an intellectual seed.  Say something like, "that's great for you and you can go far if you try - but where did the value come from to make it possible?"  "Who bought the food, shelter, or education you benefit from?"  If they are a good person, they may increase the value of the gift in their mind and use it wisely.

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Is it worth my time to address him on the issue?  Is he too irrational?  

There isn't enough in your description to make a decision one way or another. You cannot judge this person's overall rationality by the specific view he holds on this specific topic. Assuming you know more about him, you have to use all your info to decide.

 

For instance, you suggest he is obstinate and simply won't listen. Perhaps that settles it anyway; but, I've met people were willing to listen to all sorts and yet could never quite get anything about anything. Why are you trying to convince him in the first place? If he is a friend, and intelligent, and rational about most things, etc. ... then you cannot write him off as irrational based on this single topic. If you really don't have a motive to want to convince him, then that's different: let it be.

 

If you do try, then start by understanding his context. If you had been brought up poor, and your mom worked 3 jobs and still needed welfare to get you into college, and if you had not read Rand, then how would someone convince you differently?

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  • 2 weeks later...

If you engage you'll likely find that your fundamental disagreement isn't welfare (i.e., politics), it's somewhere in metaphysics and/or epistemology. Ask him his views on rights. Then maybe ask his views on man's mind and it's link to survival. Then maybe his view on the nature of man and how we come to know things.

If you just want to push back to make him a weaker defender of welfare ask him what gives his mom the right to receive expropriated funds, from productive citizens? When he answers with some form of "they needed it for such and such", then reply with "then so does any burgler, but at least the burglar isn't trying to convince his victims or pretend that his in the right."

Or if you really care what he thinks and want to provide the best opportunity for him to change his mind then just give him "In defense of Selfishness."

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If you just want to push back to make him a weaker defender of welfare ask him what gives his mom the right to receive expropriated funds, from productive citizens? When he answers with some form of "they needed it for such and such", then reply with "then so does any burgler, but at least the burglar isn't trying to convince his victims or pretend that his in the right."

 

In this instance, the mother was working three jobs, and therefore likely qualifies as a productive person. The defender of statism may not be persuaded by comparing his mother to a burglar. Granted, I don't know how productive she might qualify, nonetheless, by the description it seems she held employment.

 

It has been my experience that the most critical group opposed to welfare-statism are those who hold wage-earning jobs. The case against the welfare-state is a ceaseless list of the failing government programs intended to remedy or alleviate poverty, while expanding the role of the impoverished, and charging the very same working-class people for the cost of funding and operating the programs. Artificial manipulation of wages and prices leads to shortages, resulting in higher costs for everyone. Sorting out these fundamentals of classic economics is not so difficult; engaging someone with an emotional or passionate nature is usually challenging, if not impossible. People may be outstanding performers with a terrific work-ethic, and hold to the notion that "every man is his brother's keeper." I assert that such sentiments are wrong, and I could give my reasons for opposing this view. But, who would listen? Some people, whether they are naturally possessed with an altruistic personality or they have been raised to believe in altruism, simply defend the welfare system out of irrational loyalty. I'm of the opinion that such people should be left to their beliefs, and for my part, I try to connect with those that are disgusted with the governmental approach to curing the world of all misery. They are more likely to listen and not take offense.

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For instance, you suggest he is obstinate and simply won't listen. Perhaps that settles it anyway; but, I've met people were willing to listen to all sorts and yet could never quite get anything about anything. Why are you trying to convince him in the first place? If he is a friend, and intelligent, and rational about most things, etc. ... then you cannot write him off as irrational based on this single topic. If you really don't have a motive to want to convince him, then that's different: let it be.

 

I think I agree with this, as well as the rest of SoftwareNerd's post. If he's someone you're capable of having a healthy friendship with, then he is probably fundamentally a rational person. It sounds like this issue is an emotional trigger for him, and it might be best to just drop the subject instead of creating conflict in your relationship.

 

If you want to convert him to Rand's ideas, I'd suggest starting on a different topic where he might be more receptive. Crony "capitalist" corporate feudalism might be a good place to start. It's also the most likely avenue to seeing that the welfare system is immoral, since it shows that it would be unnecessary in a true free market.

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You cannot judge this person's overall rationality by the specific view he holds on this specific topic.

That's true, but is that really all we can know from the information presented? Please correct me if I'm wrong, but...

One particular individual tells the story of how his mother worked 3 jobs and STILL needed welfare to feed her kids. The very mention of opposition to welfare disgusts him. He claims he never could have gone to school if it wasn't for welfare.

So, yeah, the speaker grew up on handouts, but not only that. The way Craig24 phrased it may not be the exact way it was spoken but, if that was essentially it, I would draw a few conclusions from just that snippet.

Metaphysically, in particular, I'd take the statement that he "never could have" gone to school to signify his own estimate of his mother's efficacy and possibly his own (depending on the sense in which he'd meant "never", if he had used it that way).

Morally, to be disgusted by the very "mention of opposition to welfare"- which I'll take simply as disgust for the opposition itself, since this is all secondhand evidence- since charity is an extension of mercy which is the inversion of justice, that's disgust for justice, itself.

The estimate and the emotional response, taken together (and in light of his terminology - "poor shaming") strongly imply someone who doesn't believe that happiness is really possible to human beings, on earth; whose primary concern is avoiding pain and who, consequently, isn't likely to listen to any arguments about anything.

---

I'm not opposed to the gist of your post; I agree with most of it. And everything above, being based on such sparse data, is highly speculative.

But is it valid?

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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Is it worth my time to address him on the issue? Is he too irrational?

1- People who will become productive in the future don't need welfare; there are plenty of people who would be happy (selfishly happy) to lend them money now, for some profit in the future. Just to be clear.

2- I wouldn't hold your breath for the day he gets it. However, it never hurts to take the wind out of one more statist's sails.

Every argument I've heard for the welfare state boils down, at its root, to a few specific ideas; that we're all fundamentally weak, worthless and doomed, that life is suffering and that there's no such thing as a mind. You don't even have to refute those; just show him what he's really trying to assert.

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You need more to determine rationality but little to determine if it is of interest to you.  

 

As for the argument, I have had this and simply tell them it is moral to refuse to be robbed no mater what the outcome of the thief.  You would not support a thief breaking into your house and call it morally justified nor claim later it somehow helped him get a good job, which is absurd.  Although I supposed if he defends the thief then you have your answer on rationality.  

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