Redhurt led beautifully into my next point from the last post. I began by saying that I think that money is the basic unit of liberty in our country today. Barnabas and Jackscolon convinced me that perhaps money does not equal liberty, but I still believe that taking away money equates to taking away liberty, since money is the means by which we can exercise the liberties granted to us. This leads us to the problem of welfare -- is the Robin Hood policy an ethical one? Is it right for the government to take away some of my liberty to give it to others? Is it good or right to force everyone to move towards a more level playing field (note I do not believe we're any where close to level, but things like welfare move us in that direction)? Redhurt made the comment, "it is our responsibility as members of a society that affirms the necessity of liberty for all people to help provide it for those who momentarily are in need." I agree completely with this sentiment. But it leads us into a further avenue of discussion about the government and society in general.
Should the government enforce ethics? I believe that it is morally wrong to have an excess and not share with others that have a need. But is it really the place of the government to force me to be ethical? Furthermore, is a society worth preserving if the majority of its members are immoral and have to forced into morality by a higher power?
I believe there have been societies in which the majority of the people were interested in being responsible for the success of the society. People willingly contributed to society because they cared. I think the US right after the Revolution is an example of such a country. I think Iraq now is another example. When 80-90% of eligible voters actually vote it shows that people are interested in the country. They want their society to flourish and function well. They are willing to work and make personal sacrifices to that end. I believe that if poverty and unemployment were pressing problems in these societies that individuals will take it upon themselves to solve them without massive government intervention. When people are willing to sacrifice to make their societies work the government doesn't have to force morality.
When, on the other hand, you have to coerce people with sayings like "vote or die" and hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising and you still only get 40-50% voter turnout, the majority of the people in your country don't care. They lack a personal interest or investment in the country's function. Is this a society that should be supported and perpetuated? Is it good for the government to pick up the slack when the people fail? I don't think so. My personal belief is that we should work against this type of society and either it should change from within, which I favor, or it will be crushed from the outside. Eventually the majority of people won't voluntarily be responsible for any of the things we should as members of this society. Either the minority who care about the country will end up forcing the people around them to be moral or the minority with power will take over, since the average citizen is too disinterested to stop them. Right now, I believe, we are living in the fat transition time between a healthy society and societal downfall. We are an example of why, in my opinion, great countries that collapse usually do so relatively soon after the height of their material prosperity. People get comfortable and then they stop caring. Once a majority of the country is living well enough that they don't strive to improve their condition and are far enough removed from those who are suffering, the country as a whole becomes apathetic. Then society rots from within until someone pushes it over. We still have time to work to make our society healthy again before that happens -- we can rebuild from within instead of waiting for someone from outside to topple us.
In order to solve this problem we have to identify some of its causes. I already mentioned above that comfort often causes people to become apathetic. However, I don't think a good or ethical solution is to deprive everyone of comfort. That will just cause a cycle of working towards comfort, becoming apathetic, and needing to have comfort taken away again. So that's not a good solution. Instead we should focus on the other half of my above statement -- allowing people to be removed from other's suffering. I contend that many of the government programs currently in place actually aggravate the current situation. Here is my rationale:
I believe that most Americans are generally good people. They don't want others to have to live in poverty and they are even willing to make some sacrifices to help others. But they don't want to give away everything they have, they want to contribute some percentage -- they're not socialists. So they are picky about what they give their time and money to. And when it comes to domestic issues I think that we often say, "I already pay for welfare and other government programs through my taxes. I'm going to give where there is more need, the government will take care of these issues." I don't know about you, but I do this. I give money to foreign relief often, but I almost never give to any domestic foundation. Because the government has programs like welfare we become removed from the situation. We don't understand what needs there are, or the extent of the need. But more importantly, we no longer take responsibility and ownership for these issues. We let the problem fall onto the "government," and eventually we do this so much that we no longer feel any sort of ownership over our own society. In fact, it leads to resentment and frustration. We no longer see the needy as people, but instead they are leeches sucking away our tax money. We feel bitter about the fact that we are forced to pay for certain programs and so we stop contributing at all. We draw in on ourselves and away from the society in general. If we gave voluntarily, on the other hand, then we would take interest in the situation, we would take ownership over the problem, and we would care about being a healthy part of our society. People take interest in what they invest in. I think the problem goes back to FDR and the Depression. Before that time the country had gotten by -- not necessarily as well as it should have -- with voluntary support for the poor. At least for the most part. But the Depression was an extraordinary historical circumstance in which the majority of the people didn't have the means to help anyone else. And in that case we needed the government to step in. I don't know if any of FDR's programs really helped the problem that much, I tend to think WWII had a lot more to do with breaking the recession, but that's irrelevant. The programs in question were necessary for a time but should have been dropped when the extraordinary circumstance was past. And supposedly that was FDR's plan, and I hope he would have stuck to it if he had lived. However, these programs continued and grew to the monsters they are today. Over 50 years our society has let the government separate us more and more from the needs in the country and we have given ownership for the society largely to the government, rather than the people. That's why we have so many people today wanting the government to regulate morality. And it is. And if people don't start taking responsibility for their own actions and taking ownership over our society, the government is going to keep growing until it bursts. And that will either be a complete dissolution of the US, like Rome after 410, or subjugation to an oppressive government. And either way its a bad thing.
So this leaves us with a great deal of questions to discuss. Maybe too many for one post, but here they are, in summary:
1. Is it ever right for the government to regulate ethics?
2. Is a society in which the majority is irresponsible worth maintaining? Is it right and/or good to have the government grow to fill the void of personal responsibility?
3. What causes this lack of responsibility? Can things ever really be different?
4. Is the current state of our society really a problem? If so, how serious of a problem is it?
5. What can we do to change things?
My final synopsis is this: Is it good for us to help out the needy? Yes. Should we be forced to do so by the government? No. If the average person doesn't want to help, what should we do? I don't know. Do people, in general want to help? I think so. Why don't they? Because the last 50 years have driven us so far inward that we have given responsibility to the government. If the government wasn't helping would people start? I hope so. Should the government just drop these programs right now? No, our society needs to heal over time. Dropping everything now would be disastrous. But we need to start working now towards a time when these government programs aren't needed. We need to start teaching people to take responsibility. And the government needs to gradually give our society back to us.