“Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
– Leonard Nimoy’s character Spock, Wrath of Khan, 1982
For anyone who has questioned whether or not the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes a severe enough threat to justify a soft version of martial law and a possible economic depression, Spock’s classic claim might be inverted. It would go more like this: “The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.”
There is plenty of logic and data supporting the argument that COVID-19 poses a threat sufficiently dire to justify everything that’s being done. It is a poorly understood, highly contagious disease that afflicts people in unpredictable ways, with possible recurrences even in people who have recovered, and so far there is no effective therapy and no vaccine. Fair enough.
But the response to COVID-19, should it be an overreaction, highlights a trend in American society that has grown over the past several decades into an overwhelming problem. Increasingly, we are paralyzing ourselves, losing individual freedoms, and squandering our prosperity as a nation in the pursuit of impossible perfection. Why? Because we have decided the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.
Before providing examples of this, and they are countless, one must acknowledge the moral arguments in favor of allowing the needs of the few to outweigh the needs of the many. Christian compassion would make the obvious case that the few matter as much as the many, and it is the obligation of the many to help them.
Contemporary leftist ideology would consider the many to be privileged, the few to be victims of “othering.” And regardless of ideology or religion, American culture, and most Americans, consider it their duty to help the less fortunate. In principle, they’re right.
But when it goes too far—and it has—what are the consequences?
One of the biggest problems with putting the needs of the few in front of the needs of the many is that it doesn’t just happen. Imagine how much of America’s wealth is transferred to private plaintiff attorneys, nonprofit pressure groups, corporate monopolies and public bureaucrats, in the fight to protect rights and guarantee the same opportunities to everyone? The costs add up.
A huge example comes in the realm of public education, where students are “mainstreamed” into classrooms without regard for their individual abilities or behaviors. On the one hand, it is laudable to mix K-12 students up so that disadvantaged, disabled, and disruptive students are in the same classroom with their more fortunate counterparts, but it is also the reason large class sizes are so problematic.
When an instructor has to spend the majority of their time engaged in remedial instruction or fruitless attempts at discipline, the learning process is compromised. The solution? A generation (or two) ago, before this doctrine became standard procedure, classes of 35 students were not problematic, because disabled and disruptive students went to special classes and schools.
That sounds pretty coldhearted, but how many hundreds of billions is it worth to keep things going the way they are today? “Inclusion” in all things is a worthy goal. But we can’t always afford it.
Another example concerns laws designed to ensure handicapped access. There’s nothing wrong with taking reasonable steps to make it easier for people in wheelchairs to continue to enjoy access to public venues, but opportunistic plaintiff attorneys and indifferent bureaucrats have taken these laws to extremes.
The people most harmed by these laws, invariably, are small business owners, who usually lack the resources to comply with every technicality. And even if, for all practical purposes, they have fulfilled the intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act, code inspectors will tie them up in knots. “Your incline is a 7 percent slope and the ADA clearly requires a 6 percent slope,” and an entire subfloor and foundation have to be modified. And once the code inspectors are done, along come the trial attorneys with extortionate lawsuits. “Your handicapped stall is half an inch too narrow, pay me a settlement, and I’ll go away.”
Proclaiming the urgent needs of the few is an endless frontier. In a growing number of states, schools and public venues now have to provide special bathroom designations for “transgender” individuals. Is this really necessary, when even transgender advocates acknowledge they number barely one-half of one percent of the population? Is that worth the cost of rebuilding all of our public spaces, rewriting our laws, and reeducating our children?
Speaking of a frontier that is now fully settled, has anyone seen any public announcement during this pandemic that did not feature a deaf translator, grimacing and gesticulating in a pantomime that ought to be performance art next to the politician speaking? Who, in 2020, doesn’t have a closed captioning option on their television set? Why is this necessary? Sometimes the gyrations of these deaf translators are so dramatic they become a distraction from whatever the actual messenger is saying. What does that cost?
It’s easy enough to see how this line of argument comes across as cruel, but it is nonetheless necessary at a time like this to step back and ask: how much does it cost when the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many? It’s ironic and hypocritical that members of the Left are endlessly harping about the virtues of collectivism, yet also have to highlight every individual case of “othering” and use it to push for more spending, more bureaucracy, and more rules and restraints on the sacred collective.
Imagine how much money in tuition could be saved, sparing the many from crushing post-graduation debt burdens, if colleges quit pandering to students who are academically unqualified and instead only admitted applicants based on their SAT scores? Entire vast bureaucracies could be discharged overnight, because their entire existence depends on coddling students who never should have been admitted. Entire departments, promulgating degrees in useless, unmarketable “studies,” could be eliminated, because the students who desire these degrees are typically those who are incapable or unwilling to study more rigorous and useful academic disciplines. But the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.
What Happens When the Few Become the Many?
In our quest to protect the disadvantaged few, Americans have enacted laws to ensure proportional representation in all facets of society. These laws are expansive and growing every year. At first, it was university admissions, then it quickly rolled into job hiring and promotions. First enforced in government agencies, it was extended to publicly traded large corporations, and increasingly is imposed on small businesses. The corruption and cynicism this engenders is tragic, and a profound drain on national productivity.
To get government contracts, there is now an entire industry of shell companies, with no assets but a principal who is a member of a “protected status group.” These shell companies form partnerships with established companies that cannot get government contracts without first creating the appearance of “minority ownership.” It isn’t fair, and it doesn’t always end well. The shell participants have no assets and no exposure. The participants of substance risk a lifetime’s worth of hard-earned assets, but they have no choice to cede a portion of their ownership and governance in order to win a contract. It is a farce, accomplishing nothing.
The fact that the “many” are no longer a majority ought to give one pause. In California, the cohort of white males under the age of 18 is now below 12 percent. Everyone else is the “few.” Think about this. In California, 78 percent of the younger generation is eligible for various forms of institutionalized preferences based on their status as female or a “person of color.” It is a preposterous conceit that can’t carry on much longer.
In the United States in 2019, nearly 20 percent of marriages in America were “interracial.” Twenty percent. We have the hilarious prospect, already happening, of people whose ancestry is mostly “white” invariably checking the box for some other race in order to get into school or get a job. What does it mean to have the few becoming the many, and the many becoming the few, at the same time as the few and the many are becoming increasingly indistinguishable?
In America today, we face the unlikely reality of Asian applicants with one “white” parent actually identifying as white. Asians perform so well on their SATs, a high-scoring Asian American might actually have a better chance of getting into, say, Harvard, if they’re competing to be part of the white quota. And of course, anyone with a parent with a Spanish surname will adopt that “Latinx” surname on any school or job application, and never mind if their skin is white as snow, speckled with freckles, with eyes so blue and hair so blond they could have been a poster child for the Aryan propagandists in 1930s Germany. Just never mind all that.
The Pursuit of Perfection Empowers Authoritarians and Crushes Everyone
The use of compassion, supposedly to create a Leftist utopia, extends into every facet of American life. Modern resistance to the injustice and ultimate futility of this overreach began around the time Rush Limbaugh debuted in the 1990s and recently acquired huge momentum with the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016.
But how do you resist the chorus that shouts, with every institution as its mouthpiece, that we must do whatever it takes to protect the disadvantaged? And so what if we have now defined 90 percent of the people in our nation as disadvantaged?
What was once a drive to protect the unfortunate few in our society is now a drive for more than just equal access and opportunity. It is even more than just a drive to create double standards that go beyond equal opportunity to quota-based admissions, hiring, and contracting. Because it is now moving beyond the world of academia and business into defining the makeup of towns and suburbs, with growing mandates to create both economic and ethnic diversity in neighborhoods via “inclusive” zoning.
Where will this end?
In all of this, government bureaucracies and monopolistic businesses win, as individual freedoms and property rights are lost and small businesses are wiped out. The current pandemic epitomizes the difficulties, the lose-lose conundrum, trying to balance the needs of the few against the needs of the many. While everything that’s been done so far may have been necessary, we face epic choices ahead in the aftermath.
Working against solutions that preserve our rights, our legacy, and our freedom is the momentum of recent history. Protecting the few, at the expense of the many.
This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.
* * *
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
To help support more content and policy analysis like this, please click here.