Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Our day of reckoning may never come

Everyone likes to talk about our nation’s deficit, the national debt, unfunded liabilities. Politicians and pundits declare the situation unsustainable and predict dire consequences for inaction. Yet, inaction continues. I believe that in many cases, individuals in a position to fight for change decline to do so because they believe that eventually, things will come to a head and we’ll be forced, as a nation, to take drastic action. There will be a day of reckoning. A day when we wont be able to take another step, or draw another breath, without first fixing our financial problems. Unfortunately, it’s probably not going to go down that way.

The evidence is all around us. There has been no reckoning in North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Burma, Somalia. These and other chronically impoverished nations illustrate that things are never so bad that they can’t get worse. Even in countries where people resort to eating tree bark to try to avoid starvation or sell their own organs to pay back loan sharks, the powers that be remain the powers that be.

So how do you break the will of an entire nation’s population and keep it broken from generation to generation? There are many variations on the theme, but generally speaking, you convince people that self-interest is not only insignificant, but immoral. You sell them on the idea that they exist to serve others, which by definition is everyone except themselves. Then you become the interpreter, communicator and executor of exactly what “others” need them to do.

You can’t do it all at once. Especially if a country has had a taste of free market success. You start out small, with the simple idea that sharing is better than not sharing. Then you make sharing mandatory, through the tax code. Then you just continue to increase the amount of mandatory sharing, being careful to bestow the fruits of the sharing on people who are supportive of your agenda. By the time they realize that there’s very little left to share, you are in control of all the nation’s critical resources and much of the population is convinced that their own personal well being is not important anyway.

It’s also helpful to convince the population that the situation is much better than it really is, or that relatively speaking, they are doing alright. You do this with propaganda, misinformation and censorship. This worked pretty well for the Soviet Union for a long time. Then the fax machine came along and ruined everything. People behind the iron curtain started getting news about all the cool goodies in the west they didn’t have access to. However, if the developed world sinks into the muck of stagnation and mediocrity together, what are we going to compare our situation with? Future generations may just conclude that whatever they’ve got is as good as it gets.

Left to their own devices, individuals don’t operate exclusively in self-interest mode or common good mode. We switch from one to the other and back again as the situation changes from minute to minute, day to day, year to year. But the default mode has to be self-interest. We have real life case study after real life case study to show that making the common good paramount and imposing it from a central authority leads to nothing but misery. Yet we continue to pursue it because it’s what we’ve been taught in school, in church, at work, by just about everyone in a position of authority since the day we were born.

The collectivist movement is like carbon monoxide; sucking the life from the blissfully unaware. If we continue down this path there wont be a big climactic crash. There wont be an “I told you so.” moment. We will simply drift farther and farther down in quality of life as our sense of self and the will to fight for it gradually fade away. I guess the good news is that civilization wont last forever powered by a bunch of dull drones. It too will fade away, new alliances will be made and new societies will arise, but we’re talking centuries, not decades.

The alternative is to demand that the government take less and do less; a lot less. I don’t mean just not asking for more. I mean demanding less, because there will be resistance from those who actually want to promote that downward spiral. They honestly think it’s best for humankind to live as more of an orderly hive than a bunch of selfish individuals. Ironically, selfishness is the only thing that can save us from ourselves at this point.

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