One may wonder how the algorithmic gods of the medias mutter and chirp and old clips of Tucker Carlson and Ben Shapiro emerge from the ancient shadows, but be assured that they do and when they do, they provide one with opportunities to pull your son aside, like Solomon in Proverbs and say, do you see that man? Yeah, not like that.
Now the particular clip that is currently making the rounds is from 2018, and a great deal of water has gone under the old proverbial bridge and has flowed many miles hence, even to the wild lands of Wuhan and beyond. And so one might hope that greater light has come into the great Tucker Carlson’s eyes. I mean, if they can lock us down, close our churches, foist useless perhaps even harmful masks on our faces, and demand injections or else you’re a hater, a bigot, and a scoundrel, perhaps he’s had a change of heart.
But the clip is from when a Ben Shapiro interview of Tucker Carlson, where Tucker argues that since family is the foundational building block of society and an unmitigated good, society ought to take steps to protect it and defend it. And certain technological advances that threaten that good ought to be curbed and perhaps even prohibited. Tucker says that if we don’t we may very soon end up with a situation where a reasonably well-adjusted college graduate (one who doesn’t even smoke pot!) may not have the means to provide for himself, much less take a wife, and raise a family with her. And when pressed by Ben Shapiro about the possibility of Artificial Intelligence driving trucks on American highways, Tucker says that if he was President he would absolutely order the Department of Transportation to ban all AI on federal highways because if they didn’t millions of jobs would be lost. And truck driving is one of the most common jobs for high school educated men in America.
Setting the Table
Now let’s set the table carefully here. First, it’s absolutely true that the natural family is the foundational building block of society. Second, let’s agree that society should do everything lawfully in its power to protect and encourage family formation and flourishing. But here is where the questions begin to array themselves. What actually is “lawfully in its power?” Can the state simply do anything that appears to contribute to some notion of the “common good?” How should society protect and encourage natural family formation? As I proposed in another recent post, as Protestant Christians we must begin with the clear instructions given in Scripture and then work our way out from those by good and necessary consequence, by the light of nature and Christian prudence. So I don’t think we need an explicit Bible verse about AI and truck drivers, but I do think we need clear-eyed biblical principles.
There are multiple problems with Tucker’s proposal, beginning with him acting like a socialist. The assumption of socialism/Marxism is that there is no God, and therefore the state must take His place. Since there is no God to do justice, rendering unto each man what he deserves, the State takes unto itself this responsibility. Fascism need not be dark and bloody at first. It simply claims the right to command commerce and markets for the “common good” society, for the “greater good” of families and family values. But it’s still fascism and socialism for all that, even if the state is commanding Bible reading and church attendance. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying that Tucker’s second presidential fiat would be compulsory Bible reading and church attendance. But why exactly not?
Furthermore, these soft-socialist/fascist policies claim a kind omniscience. Tucker claims that millions of jobs will be lost in a matter of years. But this sounds like the conservative equivalent of the environmental doomsdayers. If you don’t ban plastic bags today, the oceans will rise in five years and millions will die! Or sometimes they even notice real problems, like for example, air pollution. But as Alex Epstein has helpfully catalogued, over and over again, there’s a certain simplistic and narrow mindset that looks at one factor and multiplies it by a million without accounting for all the other possibilities and complexities and concludes that the apocalyptic outcome is INEVITABLE. But that’s trying to be god while sucking at it. So when environmentalists have projected air pollution from coal and oil and other fossil fuels, what they have consistently not accounted for is adaptation, creativity, ingenuity, and improvements in technology which mitigate, minimize, and sometimes completely undo the dangers and potential harms. People, made in the image of God, are like God, and despite our fallen natures, they are generally trying to improve things.
Tucker’s comments struck me as not only tapping into that false socialist omniscience, but they were demeaning and condescending to the very human beings he was claiming to want to protect and help, while apparently completely forgetting about other human beings in the equation. Now, it’s an entirely open question as to whether it would ever actually work to have AI drive trucks in this country. At the very least, we would want to have a chain of liability clearly articulated, and like the goring ox in Exodus 21, require restitution and harsh penalties for any harm or damage that occurs. But why does Tucker paint the drug free college graduate like a helpless victim? Why are working class high school graduates being described as completely dependent on truck driving jobs? Can they not do anything else? A few decades ago they worked in American factories, but after the government got involved in “helping” them, those jobs all got sent overseas. And here we are suggesting more Big Government involvement to help “fix” inequities. “We’re the government and we’re here to help,” are still the most terrifying words in the English language, even when they are in the mouth of so-called “common good” conservatives.
Now, the fact of the matter is that even if the tech and liabilities all got sufficiently sorted, and people started experimenting with AI truck drivers, the change wouldn’t happen overnight. But as it started to happen (if it ever did), you would immediately begin funding all the developers, troubleshooters, repairment, maintenance, and updates needed to grow and improve that new technology and industry. Far from merely “stealing jobs,” it would also simultaneously create new jobs. We simply don’t live in a zero-sum world.
The other part of the “inevitability-omniscience” complex is a failure to see that new technology only ever depends upon human beings creating it, maintaining, fixing it, improving, and so on. Read Life After Google by George Gilder and repent of your implicit Darwinism. Artificial intelligence will always be completely dependent upon human intelligence. So just as a new technology begins to break into markets, new human jobs come into being. And this is how it has always worked. As technology changes, some folks are laid off and find new creative outlets, but all of that new technology also always creates new jobs, new needs for human workers.
The Biblical Common Good
The Biblical vision of the common good is each sphere of government exercising the power delegated to it by Christ obediently. The Magisterial Reformers were working in a particular historical moment where church government had way overreached its bounds, and part of the way you begin to limit overweening powers is by reinvigorating the balance of powers. In the days of Luther and Calvin it was absolutely necessary to call the magistrates to take up the sword of justice and push back the encroachments of the Papal See. However, we now live in an era where the state has become the Infallible Mouth of God, and it’s high time ministers of the gospel declared the Lordship of Christ and commanded magistrates back into their own lane, while insisting that husbands and fathers, wives and mothers step up to the plate and take back their authority in the home and marketplace for the common good. Until a crime has been actually committed, it is an unjust use of violence to manipulate markets. I understand that when you live in a snake pit of market regulations the temptation is to simply join the mafia and release your own “good” snakes into the mix, but as we learn from one of those lesser known Mosaic principles, never bring more snakes to a snake pit unless your snake will swallow all of them and turn back into a walking stick when it’s done.
God has established three governments among men for the common good: the family, the church, and the state. These governments are not water-tight jurisdictions, but function more like a Venn diagram with clear differences and some overlap. God has assigned to the family the jurisdiction of health, welfare, and education for the common good. God has assigned to the church the ministry of worship and discipleship, the administration of Word and sacrament for the common good. God has assigned to the state the ministry of the sword of justice for the common good.
Closely related is the difference between sins and crimes. We see this distinction beginning in the differing ministries of Abraham and Melchizedek, Moses and Aaron, as well as the differing penalties provided in the Mosaic law. When the law says that someone will be “cut off from among his people,” this is the ordinary discipline of Old Testament family and “church.” When the penalty prescribed is restitution or stripes or death, this the ministry of the sword. Now granted these are not pristine, Euclidian categories. Many of the laws in the Mosaic code have moral, ceremonial, and civil elements to them. Nevertheless, ceremonial laws were under the jurisdiction of the priests and civil laws were under the jurisdiction of the judges and magistrates. But the fact that family law was also being established in the Mosaic law is profound. Laws surrounding marriage and divorce and remarriage within families, with instructions for what might be appealed to civil magistrates for civil penalties begin to establish these jurisdictional differences.
In other words, not all sins are or should be crimes. Covetousness is a sin but not a crime. Lying is always a sin, but not all lies should be adjudicated as crimes. Lust is a sin, even adultery in the heart, but until the lust is acted upon in fornication or adultery, there is no crime to adjudicate. A rebellious son ought to be disciplined by his own parents for many years before they determine to appeal to the civil magistrate for criminal penalties. But here is where the jurisdictions overlap: if a true biblical crime has been committed in a family or church, the civil magistrate is authorized by God to intervene. A civil magistrate my seek a warrant to arrest a father and pastor for sexual abuse. But by the same token, a father may resist or ignore tyrannical orders given a magistrate and a pastor may rebuke a magistrate and command him to repent of his sin, just as John did and lost his head for it. When a church excommunicates a professing Christian, barring them from the Lord’s Supper and fellowship in the local church, the church is exercising its power to protect truth and morality for the common good of a society. When a family disciplines its young children teaching them Christian virtues the family government is doing its part to cultivate families and work ethics and morality for the common good. The family has the power to ultimately disinherit a son or daughter for gross immorality or apostasy. And it is the job of the state to punish crimes as defined by Scripture, and this is how the magistrate promotes the common good. But no crime has been committed if a trucking company fires a driver in favor of an AI driver.
In the clip mentioned, Tucker Carlson says that even though he believes in free markets it’s not an absolute or religious commitment or requirement. He says there’s no “Nicene Creed of Capitalism” he has to subscribe to. Now he’s absolutely right if he means that free markets may not be used to justify committing crimes (e.g. theft, murder, etc.). But what Tucker is actually proposing is denying jobs and livelihoods to those working in AI, and by proposing to make it a law, he’s threatening the use of violence for those who try. In the name of doing good and protecting families, Tucker is proposing that he be the one who gets to choose the winners and the losers. Truckers are the winners; programmers and new tech are the losers. Sorry, the gods have spoken. We know what’s best for you. And actually, we’ve decided that cars have taken too many jobs away from horses and mules and farmers. So yeah, we’re going back to the Middle Ages, you greedy capitalist pigs. But seriously, where’s the line?
Ok, I’ll stop here. Tucker says there’s no Nicene Creed of capitalism, and that’s true enough, but there is a Nicene Creed that says that God is the “Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible…” Invisible things would include market forces, the creativity and ingenuity of men, as well as their created needs and desires. Until or unless God gives a government the authority to step in, it is a violation of the Nicene Creed to grasp power for yourself and violently or coercively prohibit the free actions and creativity of people made in the image of God. It must always be remembered that if the primary power of the state is the power of the sword, then whenever you call for a “ban,” you are simultaneously calling for the use of violent, coercive force to be used if someone disregards the ban. I’m sorry, but we just had a few years of a police state trial run in the West with law enforcement fining churches for being open, for mandating gags on peoples’ faces, and frog marching decent law-abiding citizens off to jail for singing songs in public.
I certainly do believe in the “common good,” but the common good is determined by God’s Word and not simplistic, short-sighted calculations: call it Theocratic Conservatism. It was those kinds of simplistic, short-sighted calculations that the Imperial College of London used to incite the COVID panic and lockdowns. So, no thanks. God’s world is more resilient, more complex, more glorious than that.
David M. Carson says
You’re probably right with respect to the particular issue of AI and truck driving, but I sometimes find perspectives like those laid out above a little frustrating in that whether or not certain societal affairs should be within the purview of government, the fact is that they are in the purview of government. In your own words, you noted that it was government that drove millions of good-paying factory jobs overseas, thereby undermining the foundations of family and civil society for tens of millions of people, while greatly enriching a few well-connected billionnaires. Should those who care about reinforcing the foundations of families and civil society just ignore all of the decisions being made that have the real potential of wreaking that kind of havoc on families and civil society? Just look the other way, saying, “that’s not the proper purview of government,” while billions are spent lobbying around those same decisions on the “other side”? That hasn’t seemed to have worked very well.