So, it’s been mostly all right around here lately, even a little on the warm side, if you keep in mind that I never turn the heat on until the house gets below 50 and I turn the air conditioning on really early in the season.
I’ve had something of a messed up sleep cycle, caused by the fact that a few days ago I didn’t just oversleep, but overslept until nearly 9 o’clock, and now my biological clock is completely haywire. One night I couldn’t get to sleep until nearly one, when I usually conk around nine. It’s been a mess.
In the middle of it, I’ve been trying to read a book, called The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civiliation by Arthur Herman.
I’m not going to do a big commentary on this thing now. Let me just say that not only is this a book I got for Christmas, it’s a book I specifically asked for for Christmas, and the person who got it for me has been reading it also.
There’s a lot to say, most of it unfortunate, but I haven’t finished the thing, and the time to say it isn’t now.
However that may be, the book did bring up something that I think is interesting, or reminded me of something I think is interesting, so let me get to that.
We talk a lot here about people who have a will to power, whose basic motivation is to control others in virtually every possible way.
These people are, at the moment, busy trying to redefine free adult citizens as anything but actual adults. They’re stupid and deluded, easily swayed by advertising, being manipulated by advertising and demagoguery, incapable of thinking rationally or controlling their worst instincts.
Given that people are such a mess, they really can’t be trusted with actual liberty. They’ll make all the wrong choices and end up doing damage to themselves as well as the rest of us. Therefore, their choices should either be made or manipulated by people who have been “trained” to think differently and who will therefore make the choices “untrained” people would have made if they weren’t such irrational children.
Arguments like this have always bothered me on lots of different levels, including the most obvious one–if our natural state is to be irrational children, how do we know that the “experts” are anything else, or that their “training” is anything but a different kind of irrational childishness?
Eras before ours had a kind of essentialist assumption to fill in here. They believed, with Aristotle, that some people were naturally born slaves, and that others were born to be free and rule.
Our present purveyors of all things expert driven believe the same thing, really, but nobody is going to say it out loud, and it remains a simple assumption without scrutiny.
We tend to talk about the people who set up this kind of thing, who are operating on a will to power–the Nurse Ratcheds, Delores Umbrages, Kathleen Sebiliuses of this world.
And that makes sense. Without such people, the totalitarian impulse can go nowhere.
But there’s something else going on here that we always ignore, but shouldn’t.
If all that existed were the Nurse Ratcheds, they couldn’t get anywhere.
For totalitarianism of any kind, soft or hard, to succeed, it requires a vastly larger number of people who crave security to the point that they are willing to put up with anything, anything at all, to avoid taking responsibility for their own lives.
Now, I want to make something clear here.
I am not talking about people who go on welfare or disability or who have Medicaid or food stamps or any of that.
Too often in this country, we discuss the issue of personal responsibility as if it’s code for getting along on your own without “sucking at the public teat.”
In the sense I’m talking about personal responsibility, though, I know, personally, plenty of people on public assistance who do take it and plenty of people (even more) surviving under their own steam who not only don’t, but reject the idea entirely.
The accept responsibility for ourselves means to accept that we are the authors of ourselves. Luck may have a lot to do with our exterior outcomes. Influences surround us and impact us daily.
In the end, however, who and what we are is determined by the choices we’ve made. You can be born disabled and into poverty and still be a person of great integrity all your life.
Or not. That part is up to you.
At about this point in these discussions, I am usually assailed with wailing and weeping and fury and righteousness. I am told that I’m “blaming the victim.” I am told that I’m heartless and arrogant. Lately, I’m also told that I’m “out of touch.”
But note–I am not saying that the poor are responsible for their poverty. Some of them are, and some of them aren’t, and we’ll have to take that up on a case by case basis, if we want to bother to try.
Nor am I saying that the unemployed are responsible for their unemployment–although, again, some of them are and some of them aren’t.
Issues of that kind are complex and vary from person to person.
Even the more obvious things aren’t what I’m talking about. If you’re a teen aged girl and you choose to have sex without any form of protection, you are almost certainly responsible for the fact that you got pregnant.
But you know what? We all get stupid from time to time. Everybody makes mistakes. What I want to know is how you approach the pregnancy and what you do about it and the rest of your life.
There is an awful lot of difference between the kind of person who says, “Okay, I caused that. That’s on me.” and the person who says, “I couldn’t help it! It was out of my control!”
It’s that second thing that fascinates me, and I had a hard time (and a long time) accepting that anybody approached life that way.
When I was growing up, my father had a thing he used to say over and over again: if something goes wrong, hope like hell that it was your fault. Because if it wasn’t, there’s nothing you can do about it.
There are some obvious caveats here–it is, in fact, sometimes possible to fix the problems other people have caused–but as a rough and ready guide to how to live my life, it’s always been pretty effective.
What’s more, from what I’ve seen of people doing it the other way, the other way has given evidence of not being effective at all. In fact, of being countereffective.
It has therefore always seemed to me to be completely obvious that people should, in the majority, opt for the first approach rather than the second.
But lots of them don’t. Lately, I’ve been wondering if the majority of people don’t.
That majority would include people who have jobs and houses and children, who get educations and make sure their children get them, who vote and pay taxes and put out the garbage at night.
And yet, they will tell you, any time you want to ask, that they have no control over who and what they are. They are at the mercy of forces beyond their control. They want restrictions on Big Gulp sodas and bans on cigarettes not because Those People can’t help themselves, but because they themselves can’t.
The take-responsibility people want a government to protect their liberty to make their own choices. The it’s-beyond-my-control people want a government to protect them, period.
I am aware, of course, that I am simplifying the hell out of all of this. I think that’s inevitable in a blog post.
I still think this is something that deserves our attention, and rarely gets it.
For one thing, I’d like to know what I’m looking at.
Are these people who simply feel so vulnerable, and so weak, that the very process of living scares the hell out of them?
Or do they feel so innately guilty that taking responsibility for who and what they are would condemn them forever as irredeemably evil?
Or is there a third possibility?
Remember–I’m not saying these people actually are weak or evil, only that maybe they think they are.
Whatever it is, it makes me a little nuts. And I’m more than a little aware that it takes both the totalitarians and the (essentially childish) vulnerables to make a restrictive society. Maybe they’re two halves on one psychological whole.
Whatever it is, I don’t think I’ll ever understand it.
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