Joe Walsh is Full of Shit and I Can Prove It
I know, I know. Joe Walsh is a supreme dipshit and most intelligent people ignore him as a matter of course. But Joe speaks, in a lowest-common-denominator kind of way, to some of the core ideas of conservatism. Luckily he’s not as silver-tongued nor as slippery as some of his comrades, and it’s easy to pin down exactly where and why he’s wrong.
Let’s do this! It’ll be fun, I promise.
First, people arguing about politics—especially on social media—tend to bandy about buzzwords, without much thought towards the actual meanings of the words. Semantics are important: we’re going to spend a little time really getting into the nuts and bolts so there’s zero confusion.
Joe talks about rights, but it’s not obvious he’s spent much time really thinking about what rights are, where they came from, or why they exist.
What is a right? Where did we get this idea of rights?
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Rights dominate modern understandings of what actions are permissible and which institutions are just. Rights structure the form of governments, the content of laws, and the shape of morality as it is currently perceived. To accept a set of rights is to approve a distribution of freedom and authority, and so to endorse a certain view of what may, must, and must not be done.
This same idea is summarized quite effectively on Wikipedia.
Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory.
You might already see where I’m going with this.
Joe is Talking About the Laws of Nature
Joe is talking about the laws of nature; not the laws of human society. If Joe was a gazelle on the African savannah, his estimation of his entitlements would be correct. At any moment a lion could pierce his jugular, and there’s nothing he could do about it. You couldn’t really say the lion would be wrong for killing Joe. It’s just the way nature works.
But humans are more advanced than animals, and have used our larger, more complex brains to build something unique. Something that allows us to use our social tendencies to insulate ourselves from the harsh realities of nature. It’s called society.
The laws of society and the laws of nature couldn’t be more different. Nature has little concern for justice or fairness. Anything that deviates from the headlong rush to pass your genes on to the next generation is discarded.
Rights are Part of a Society
The laws of nature are harsh and unforgiving. But we as humans (highly intelligent, social animals) we have used our brains and our numbers to create a buffer zone from this breathless race by relying on and helping one another. It has been this way for millennia. That is what we call a society.
First we were tribes, hunting and foraging in the wilderness. Gradually, as our technology (and therefore our resources) grew, our societies grew as well to span countries, and continents. Our societies are now rubbing elbows with each other around the globe, and have been for several centuries.
As such, we have had quite a bit of time to sit back and think about things like justice and fairness. We’ve seen, over and over again, the logical benefit (and ethical, of course) of providing for our fellow humans when they are in need. If you let your fellow tribesman go hungry today, he may not be there to help you hunt tomorrow. Today you, tomorrow me.
Justice and freedom have been the goals of every modern society, though some have failed miserably to achieve them. The United States, while not perfect, has managed some success.
The Founding Fathers of the United States, having recently thrown off the yoke of tyrannical government, understood the importance of rights in the foundation of their new, free society.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
That’s from the Declaration of Independence, which ought to be obvious, but I thought I’d include the source in case Joe reads this and wants to look it up.
It says right there– one of the foundational roles of government is to secure the rights of its people.
Running with this sort of idea, some folks you might have heard of, called the United Nations, came up with an international version called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, with the horrors of Nazi Germany and other fascist regimes clear in their minds.
From that critical document:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Healthcare, Food, and Shelter
So how do these basic tenets of human rights relate to Joe’s glib comments about healthcare, meals and a roof over your head? Again, this might be a bit basic for most of you reading this, so I apologize in advance.
There is a thing called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Originally published in 1943, Maslow stated that “people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others”.
As you can clearly see, the needs attended to with healthcare, food and shelter are all considered basic needs, at the bottom of the pyramid. Security and safety are also in explicitly included.
You can extrapolate on the ideas of safety and security to include healthcare. If your health is at risk in any way, you do not possess safety or security and your right to life is in jeopardy.
So the idea is, if these basic needs are not met, there is little to no chance of any of the higher needs being addressed. Basically, if your basic needs are not taken care of, you’ll perpetually be in “Survival Mode” and won’t have the time or resources to care about anything else.
That doesn’t sound like much of a recipe for a successful society full of productive, contributing citizens.
Putting the Pieces Together
So let’s complete the puzzle, shall we? It’s a simple, linear progression.
- A government is created, at least partially, to secure the rights of its citizens. This is explicitly true for the United States.
- The rights of the citizens include the right to life, liberty and security of person. This extends to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the United States specifically.
- The rights to life, liberty and security of person (and the pursuit of happiness in the United States) cannot be secured without providing for the basic needs illustrated by Maslow’s Hierarchy.
- Therefore, any government which aspires to create a society of freedom and justice must provide for the basic needs of its citizens, if those needs are not being met.
A Religious Perspective
I am a religious person. I believe in God, Jesus, and in His teachings. I believe that the evidence we have of Jesus’ statements from The Bible strengthens this argument for basic human rights, and since many conservatives share similar beliefs, perhaps this section will be especially persuasive.
One of the most famous passages from the New Testament is that of the Good Samaritan. You’re probably familiar, but I’ll include it here as a refresher.
25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
There is a reason this passage is so famous: it’s incredibly important in informing how we as Christians should approach life alongside our fellow human beings.
The cultural references that Jesus makes are not simply window-dressing; they add important context to the message He imparts.
Samaritans in Jesus’ time were others, outcasts according to the Judeans. They were not true Israelites, and the two groups often came into conflict. Judeans would avoid keeping company with Samaritans, whenever possible.
He specifically calls out that “holy” people, a Judean priest and a Levite, saw the wounded man at the side of the road and did nothing to help him; They instead crossed to the other side of the road so they wouldn’t get too close.
Yet here comes a Samaritan, someone who is an outsider and someone who would most likely not be helped if the tables had been turned. He had compassion for the wounded man, and provided for him, though it provided him no direct benefit.
An “unholy person” who acts compassionately is lauded more highly by Jesus and God than a “holy person” who does nothing for his fellow humans.
In this way Jesus says to us, we must be neighbourly to those around us. It is absolutely critical to being Christian. Even if they are an other, someone not like us, and even if there is no benefit for us to do so. We must show compassion towards others.
Therefore, as Christians we need to look after our fellow citizens, and provide for those that are not able to provide for themselves.
It has hopefully become obvious that there are very clear reasons that Joe Walsh is incorrect in his “reasoning”. The rights afforded to us by the founding documents of the United States (if we be American citizens), or those by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, unequivocally state that we should provide for the basic needs of our fellow humans.
Further, even if those documents did not exist, a prior precedent has been set in the religious teachings of Jesus Christ. Christian morals dictate explicitly that we must love our neighbours as ourselves, and care for them when they are in need.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite have the same effect of riling up the ignorant as a thoughtless, incendiary tweet. But what can you do.