Standard American doublethink
Maxims and anti-maxims



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The American people suffer from an intellectual and moral schizophrenia that is most distressing. In particular, the same American people who insist on one set of principles for their children tolerate and even celebrate an opposed set of principles or anti-principles on the part of the state. Consider, for example, some of the lessons, the lessons of refined common sense, that American parents try — or at least used to try — to impart to their children:

1. Wealth, real wealth, is inseparably connected with productive and honest labor; money has to be earned; money does not grow on trees; there's no such thing as a free lunch.

2. Only a person who engages in productive labor can be expected to spend money wisely; only a person who earns a dollar knows the value of a dollar. As my father used to say, "You'll learn to turn the lights off when you have to pay the electric bill."

3. Far from being a sign of wealth and prosperity, permanent debt is an unmistakable sign of financial failure and profligacy; don't live beyond your means; learn to save for a rainy day.

4. The majority does not rule; the voice of the majority is not to be confused with the voice of God; if your friends jump off a bridge, that doesn't mean you should jump off a bridge, too.

5. You should learn to solve your own problems; being challenged in life is a good thing; it's the key to lasting character formation; don't count on other people to solve your problems; the only way to really learn something in life is to make mistakes, learn from them, and move forward; you can't learn to ride a bike without falling.

6. Don't worry too much about other people and their material possessions; the grass is not actually greener on the other side; it only looks greener; don't try to keep up with the Joneses.

7. Even in the service of a worthy cause you should never take someone's legitimately acquired private property against his will; you should never rob Peter to pay Paul; thou shalt not steal.

8. You should only use force or threaten the use of force in cases of manifest self-defense; even then, force should be used only as a last resort and should be proportioned to the offense; persuasion is preferable to coercion; don't hit someone until he tries to hit you.

9. Just because someone else does something, you don't have a license to do the same thing, especially if it's wrong; life is not a popularity contest, and two wrongs don't make a right.

Now consider the set of anti-principles Americans tolerate and even celebrate on the part of the state:

1. Money does grow on trees, in the forest of the Federal Reserve; there is such a thing as a free lunch. Free state-run health care for all!

2. The one institution that does not earn money, the government, is eminently capable of wisely spending the money that other people do earn; government programs and handouts really do work and should be expanded. Free state-run health care for all!

3. Debt — massive, permanent, and constantly expanding — is the key to economic health and prosperity; the national debt is an unmistakable sign of American greatness. Free state-run health care for all!

4. Whatever the majority can be manipulated into supporting is the law of the land, and the minority must submit; after all, America is the greatest democracy in history. Free state-run health care for all!

5. From cradle to grave, the government — that is to say, other people — will solve all of your problems; challenges in life are never good a thing, especially physical challenges. Free state-run health care for all!

6. Obsess over the material possessions of other people, especially if they have more things than you have; the grass is greener on the other side, and that's not fair. Free state-run health care for all!

7. The state's forcibly taking the private property of some people, against their express will, and giving it to other people, is essential to a good and compassionate society; the state should rob Peter to pay Paul; the state shall steal. Free state-run health care for all!

8. State-employed force and the threat of state-employed force are the keys to civilization; civilization is a direct function of state coercion; the more state-enforced rules and regulations, the better; the aggressive, promiscuous, gratuitous, and wildly disproportionate use of force by the state should be encouraged; Tasers for use against such hardened criminals as uncooperative motorists are a gift from God; persuasion is for naive dreamers. Free state-run health care for all!

9. Whatever other "progressive" countries do, such as Canada and France, America should do, too; you should do what other people do, especially "progressive" people; two wrongs do make a right.

So there you have it: the principles we try to teach our children, or at least used to try to teach them, and their negation: the anti-principles we tolerate and even celebrate on the part of the state. What is especially interesting and upsetting in all of this is that we, the American people, are holding our young children, children barely out of the womb, to a much higher and more stringent standard than we hold our adult, wealthy, and Ivy league-schooled politicians to — an egregious offense against nature and reason. Moreover, we are holding our children to a set of standards that are fundamentally, if somewhat imperfectly, true and good, while we tolerate and even celebrate a set of anti-standards on the part of the state that are manifestly false and evil. At the very minimum, why not bring our expectations for government into alignment with our expectations for our kids?

As a final exercise, consider a practical absurdity that seems to follow, given our two sets of competing principles. A young man of 17 and 11 months asks his father to buy his old car, his clunker, in exchange for some cash, so the boy can buy a new car; his father, mindful of the maxims of sound child-rearing, declines. The parents of America rejoice. One month later, that same identically situated boy, mindful of the anti-maxims of the state, votes for a tax-hungry politician who casts the deciding vote in the cash-for-clunkers program; the boy gets his new car, as the "rich" father is forced to surrender his cash, or rather his "fair share," through "progressive" taxation. The parents of America rejoice.

We live in an age of intellectual and moral schizophrenia, and this is what can happen when you hold the state to a lower set of standards than you do your children. And for anyone who, despite the anti-maxims of the state, remains impressed with the compassionate-sounding words and supposedly noble intentions of the political class, for anyone whose ears are easily tickled by the high-sounding promises, gut-wrenching anecdotes, and feigned indignation of the political sophist, I offer two final nuggets of ancient parental wisdom: actions speak louder than words, and the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Ω

April 7, 2010 

© 2010 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

A complementary article  by a guest writer, Tony Pivetta: "Agape's abattoir."

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