Thursday, August 21 2008

The Robin Hood Fallacy

At the moment I feel like I hate politics, and yet I am obsessed with it.   I can't stop reading political blogs and pouring over the back and forth in the comments.  Treasured are the blogs that generate real, serious discussion on both sides of the political spectrum, but those blogs are surprisingly rare.  Much more common is the blog with a handful of persistent and stupid trolls offering a sound byte driven opposition that accomplishes nothing but making the trolls look like idiots.

One of my favorite fallacious arguments from the progressive left generally takes the form of "Because true Christians are charitable towards the poor, they support massive government wealth redistribution programs", with the conclusion that "the Religious Right are therefore not true Christians".  If the argument is secular, you can substitute "Truly Compassionate Individuals" for "True Christians" and replace the conclusion with "Therefore Republicans are Evil."  It's a seductive argument, because people want to think that charity towards the poor is a good thing.

This argument has many flaws, but the biggest of these is what I call the Robin Hood fallacy, which is that "robbing from the rich and giving to the poor", which is what the progressives are arguing for, is not the same as just "giving to the poor".  Since it's the government involved, "robbing" is not an appropriate verb, but the same holds true if you replace "robbing" with "taking".  To put it more philosophically, there's no virtue in compulsory "charity".

Although I lean libertarian in terms of political philosophy, at least when it comes to domestic politics, I recognize that some form of government directed safety net is a fact for the foreseeable future, and probably not bad in and of itself.  That being said, arguing for increasing the size of said net does not make one 'good'.  If I take someone else's money and give it to charity, I have not sacrificed anything of my own, and am therefore saying that those ends are not worth anything of mine.  Likewise, the person from who the money is taken didn't choose to support whatever cause towards which the money was spent.

Robin Hood, the mythological figure, is specifically a bad example because, at least according to the stories, those he was stealing from were generally associated with the traditional form of the worst political philosophy in history, known as the Divine Right of Kings, the idea that a monarch or ruler was an absolute ruler behest to no terrestrial authority.  Despite the name, the basic idea of the absolute despot or despotic class has unfortunately been common in almost all cultures, and has been associated with secular and atheist rulers as well as ones that have cited religion as their excuse for their despotic reigns.

To sum up, charitable giving towards the poor is generally a good thing.  Taking from someone else to do so, however, is not.  Though I'm willing to give some credit to dead mythological swashbuckling British bandits...

Posted by: Civilis at 07: 55 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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