After some encouragement (goading?) from a friend, I have finally found the motivation to write. Thanks, Julie.
When a child gets a nasty cut, he or she typically wants to avoid the stinging pain associated with washing the wound. Yet, a responsible parent knows that unless the wound is cleaned, it will get infected and the pain will be worse in the long run. Why then, do perfectly rational adults try so hard to avoid the painful choices that must be made for themselves?
I have recently been reading some materials from a Constitutional Law course I took years ago, along with passages in the constitution and the Declaration of Independence, from which I quote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Jefferson goes on to explain that the ends of government are to secure these Rights.
We are entitled then, to these three things - life, liberty and the opportunity to pursue our own vision of personal happiness. Our blessed country was then founded upon this notion that everyone deserved, at a bare minimum these ideals. Later, the Constitution of the United States of America provided for a system of government that would unify the States and make the country strong without taking upon itself so much power that it would some day impede on these sacred Rights. The Founders understood that government is brute force, so they sought the means to harness that force. The Constitution therefore, assigns a very specific role to the national government, and reserves all other rights to the states, and ultimately to the people where they really reside. While there are so many pertinent topics of discuss that could flow from this opening, the one that strikes me hardest is this notion of entitlement.
In today's society we hear the word entitlement everywhere. It seems that countless interests are entitled to government money. The poor are entitled to assistance that brings their standard of living to an "acceptable" norm. Corporations are entitled to government aide in order to compete or overcome hardship. CEOs and executives are entitled to obscene pay packages even as they dismantle companies and fire workers. We are all entitled to health care, to live in nice homes and to drive nice cars. We're entitled to have a life of ease, a better life than our parents. New Orleans is entitled to government money for reconstruction. Owners of North Carolina beachfront property are entitled to programs that rebuild beaches and homes and reduce insurance premiums. Like spoiled teenagers, we reach out our hands, asking for more. It has become especially noticable in these tougher economic times, as individuals, corporations and governments are required to reduce their spending, that we believe that we somehow deserve something more, something better. We are, after all, entitled to it.
Well, what we are entitled to is Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The first one is fairly obvious. The Right to Life means that no one can deny your existence, nor can they take that away from you without consent and reason. Life is sacred; we are bound to preserve it; we are free to protect it. Without life there can be no other rights. The second, Liberty, means that we are free, individually and collectively, to choose our own sort, to come and go as we will. We accept and assume responsibility for our own fate. Finally, the pursuit of Happiness is just that, a pursuit built upon the ideal that once a man or woman has Life and Liberty, then they are free to purse whatever course in life they wish in the pursuit of fulfillment as they alone can determine. The only restrictions that ought to be placed upon that quest is the prohibition of success at the expense of another's basic rights and a responsibility to fulfill a civic duty to uphold the framework which guarantees that these Rights persist. In other words, I have to help defend my neighbors' rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness against all threats, foreign and domestic, just as they must defend mine. These ideals are the basis of the social, or moral contract of citizenship.
What I have noticed is that on so many levels, people do not wish to take responsibility for their choices and actions. They want to avoid the unpleasant consequences. We are not entitled to avoid the consequences of poor choices, and attempts to avoid painful consequences typically result in even more pain. In practical terms, this means that we solve our own problems - first as individuals, as families and as communities. It isn't up to the government to fix every ill. When was the last time that we as individuals saw something amiss and said, "I can fix that" or at least, "I can be part of the solution." There are many issues that arise when the Federal Government seeks to be the solution to all of society's problems, not the least of which is that it causes citizens to disengage from being part of the solution. After all, what responsibility do I have as an individual if we've turned problem-solving over to the government. Moreover, once the government has taken more of my money to solve the problem, I have less time (since more is needed to make up the loss) and money to apply towards helping other. In addition, people learn to be assisted, are robbed of self-dignity and are no longer independent. They become entitled to assistance, therefore no longer responsible for themselves. Once they surrender this responsibility, they are no longer free. As Thomas Jefferson remarked, any government that can give you everything you want, can take everything you have.
The attitudes of entitlement are the antithesis of democracy and liberty. The Law of the Harvest is eternal and cannot be denied. I am not saying that as a people we shouldn't help those in need. We should all be actively engaged in good causes that improve the lives of others. My point is that more often than not, these efforts are most effective when conducted by private citizens, individually and in groups. Turning our civic duty over to the government fosters a sense of entitlement that poisons Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Eventually, the infection requires a solution that is much more painful than soap and water. That was a primary lesson from the birth of our Nation. We are entitled to live free. How much is it worth to you?