The human condition produces three types of individuals: the Givers, the Takers and the Fence Sitters.
The human condition also produces, with extremely rare exceptions, one over-riding motivation for all that people do: self-interest. Self-interest, despite our best intentions, is usually dominated by two emotions: greed and fear.
The best system for keeping a society healthy, wealthy and wise is one which pushes the Fence Sitters into the Givers camp, by promoting a sense of self-interest that greatly mitigates the emotions of greed and fear. By any reasonable measure, progressivism, in any of its various incarnations, isn’t that system.
The attractiveness of progressivism is easy to understand, especially if one resides in the Takers camp. These are the folks who believe somebody owes them something, for any number of reasons. They are people thoroughly convinced society is a “rigged game,” over which they have no control, and thus, they are entitled to some sort of compensation for their “helplessness.”
That does not mean there are no truly helpless people. There are, because, despite fantastic scientific advances, the almost infinite number of combinations produced by uniting a sperm and an egg will always yield a certain number of incredibly distressing results. No sane society would ever turn it back on the truly dependent.
On the other hand, that is a far cry from a society in which Leftist ideology encourages dependency. It is the ideology that posits “alternative family lifestyles” should be exempt from moral measurement. This is utter bankruptcy.
Nothing has ruined more lives in this nation than the ongoing Leftist assault on the nuclear family. When people can abandon their own children absent shame and/or remorse — facilitated by the same Leftist ideology which posits that such concepts are too “judgmental” — a society reaps exactly the whirlwind we have seen occurring in every inner city in America. It is the essence of “defining deviancy down” as it was characterized by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was thoroughly excoriated for having the temerity to say so.
Such vituperation of those who point out the obvious still exists. Those who refuse to countenance societal self-destruction are “uncaring,” “mean-spirited” or “heartless.” Yet those who would strip millions of human beings of dignity, ambition, and industriousness, even as they insist the state must be one’s ultimate benefactor, consider themselves paragons of virtue for underwriting that destruction. With taxpayer money, no less. It’s the worst-kept secret in the world that liberals contribute far less of their own money to charity than conservatives do. Such a reality is quite in keeping with those for whom symbolism invariably trumps substance.
Bottom line: In a genuinely moral society, progressivism would be dead in the water. This is why the “anything goes,” overwhelmingly secular model on which progressivism relies, must be kept alive at all costs. Religion codifies morality, which is why, especially in the case of Christianity, it is treated with contempt by so many on the Left.
Yet in perhaps one of the great ironies of modern society, there are no more judgmental people in the world than Leftists in full-throated roar, damning the Givers of our society for not giving enough. They do so for the exact same reason: Without the Givers, progressivism is terminal. Other Peoples’ Money is the lifeblood of the redistributionists, who depend on success to subsidize failure. Not helplessness. We’ve already established that any moral society must help the unfortunate.
What galls conservatives is the idea of helping those more than capable of helping themselves, but who refuse to do so. And even more galling is the idea that such people have been relieved of the guilt that ought to be part of the equation when one is both lazy and self-entitled. The catchphrase for such absolution is “social justice,” which in far too many cases, is neither social nor just. Again ironically, the only people who are supposed to feel guilty in the progressive universe are those who are successful. And the more successful one is, the more guilt one should feel.
There may be no greater disconnect in the world than biting the hand that feeds you, but that is progressivism’s stock in trade. Such animosity is truly amazing. That is not to say that progressive rely solely on guilt as a motivating force. But the well-worn phrase “angry Left” didn’t arise by accident. Nor does their overwhelmingly familiar fallback position of substituting name-calling for cogent debate, when anger and guilt turn out to be less than persuasive.
People are becoming less persuaded. Almost $14 trillion of debt has a way of clarifying the mind, whether it is sold as in-your- face tax-and-spend progressivism or phony baloney “compassionate conservatism,” neither of which took into consideration the largest group of Americans, the Fence Sitters.
The Fence Sitters are those who stick their collective fingers in the air and decide which way the moral wind is blowing. As I said earlier, good governance encourages the Fence Sitters to camp themselves on the productive side of society. No society can prosper if a majority of its people are not only willing to ride on the wagon instead of pulling it, but feel justified in doing so. That is the proverbial tipping point, the one illustrated by the historical wreckage of socialist societies that has already occurred, and is occurring right now in Europe.
Given the reality of history, why do progressives persist? For two reasons. One is arrogance. They truly believe progressivism fails only because the wrong people were in charge. Such arrogance, which views ordinary human beings as fundamentally incapable of taking care of themselves, is one of the principal pillars of the movement. The second reason dovetails quite nicely with the first. Those incapable of taking care of themselves must be overseen by a ruling elite which needs ever-expanding power to facilitate its “benevolence.” And even if one stands against such lunacy, the resisters must confront reality: There is no question whatsoever that human dysfunction is the mother’s milk of ever-expanding bureaucracy. Thus, what we hope for, a reduction in the size of government, is daunting. Imagine what kind of statesmanship it takes to do something that voluntarily reduces the scope of one’s power and influence.
That is the fundamental problem facing our democratic republic.
What will be the reaction of the American public if the new Congress rises to the occasion? How will Americans react when the theory of deficit reduction gives way to the reality of reduced government goods and services? The Takers and their progressive enablers are thoroughly predictable. They will scream that we are an uncaring society, even as that society heads toward national insolvency at breakneck speed. They will continue to insist that we make no distinction between helplessness and haplessness, lest some unfortunate individuals — all of whom will be paraded before a national TV audience and portrayed as victims — “slip through the cracks.” The Givers will do what they’ve always done: Bust their butts and take care of their family and their neighbors, with little or no complaint. They will do whatever they have to in order to survive.
The Fence Sitters? Anybody’s guess. It remains to be seen how many Americans have succumbed to the progressive mentality, even if they don’t consider themselves as having succumbed. To be blunt, when nearly 10 percent of America is officially out of work, seniors moaning about getting no cost-of-living increase in their Social Security checks is unseemly. So too public sector workers who consider themselves immune from the economic devastation which has wracked those who underwrite their budget-busting salaries and benefits.
Also unseemly are the record-breaking Wall Street bonuses generated by a particular breed of Takers for whom the accumulation of wealth has surpassed anything resembling need or want, and degenerated into a pissing contest illuminated by the cynical phrase, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” Most Americans would be thoroughly shocked to know that this group of high-fliers is far more aligned with progressive values than conservative ones. Why? Nothing succeeds in keeping the upwardly mobile “in their place” better than a progressivist ideology which scorns real incentive and competition, and allows the ruling class to pick “winners” and “losers.”
Where is America headed? I wish I knew. Even with the best of intentions, it is hard to stuff the progressivist genie back in the bottle. Far too many Americans in every class and part of the economic spectrum have gotten used to “consequence-free” living.
Yet I remain cautiously optimistic. Despite the human condition and our natural inclinations, we remain an amazingly dynamic society. Call it the “American Condition.” And maybe a good analogy for that condition is an old man who decides to ride a bicycle for the first time in years. It might take a little effort, but once you learn how to ride one, you never really forget how to do it. Maybe we haven’t made the best effort to be the greatest nation on Earth in recent years.
But I’m betting most Americans haven’t forgotten how to do it.
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter