Five things Americans may be learning

Learning liberty again.

Christmas candle 2Are Americans learning anything from our protracted moment of twisting in the wind under the Obama administration?

That’s a good question for this Christmas season.  I’m not convinced we have reached the tipping point at which enough Americans understand that the unquestioned assumptions we live by – assumptions instituted in our culture decades ago – are what’s killing our way of life.  But we are blessed to be able to get our education in a long sunset, one in which we still have light to see what’s going on, and are not feeling the lash of force or servitude.

We are finding, rather, that when we try to control and direct the spontaneously complex human arrangements from which we naturally benefit, that effort creates leverage that will eventually be turned against us.  We’ve spent nearly 100 years allowing the leverage to be created.  Now it’s being turned.

Here are five things we’re having the opportunity to learn, with slow-motion lessons few if any cultures have ever had the advantage of.

1.  The limited arsenal of social shaming/ostracism is inherently an exercise in intolerance – no matter who does it.  Nothing noble ever comes of it.  If you want nobility, you have to do something positive.

Once you concede the “shaming” principle as a source of authority, meanwhile, there’s no place to draw the line.  It can be used against you – against your livelihood, against the peace of your home, your wife, your children – for any purpose whatsoever.

Institutionalizing fake tolerance has turned out to mean that you don’t get to be tolerant: you have to be intolerant, as people are when they proclaim that the price of doing business in America is servicing same-sex weddings.  The Duck Dynasty kerfuffle will be the least of our worries if we keep going down this path.  But maybe the difficult moment for this wildly popular TV show will be a teachable one.

We’ll see what happens with Duck Dynasty.  Whatever it is, a lot of people are going to learn the limits of tolerance in a culture in which chronological “adults” actually refer to each other – in the manner of six-year-olds – as “haters.” The essential intolerance – and moral irresponsibility – of that will be hard to miss.

2.  The power to tax does, in fact, involve the power to destroy.  The Obama administration, through its appointees in the IRS, is nakedly trying to make it impossible for right-wing groups to operate as non-profits in the United States.  The degree to which this is happening without any pretense of even-handedness is amazing.

Maybe Americans will learn from this teachable moment that taxing income – taxing it at all –creates a moral hazard of breathtaking potential.  The genie is out of the bottle on this one.  It’s not enough to elect a different president.  This will happen again, and it will happen worse, if Americans don’t rethink the income tax.

Just think about it.

3.  Government doesn’t “care” about us.  Government has no power to “care.”  That’s not government’s job.  The reason Obamacare is jackbooting so many of the American people in the shorts, right where it really hurts, is that it’s an operation of government, admitted to the inner sanctum of your life.  Government is about enforcing rules.  It’s not about caring that you, personally, are suffering from its actions.

What Americans can learn from this is the principle our Founders already believed in, and designed our republic around:  that there should be a very restrictive limit on what we hand over to government – especially the central government – to have done for us.  It’s not government’s fault that it isn’t a caring organization.  Don’t blame government.  But learn from this what its proper limits are.

4.  Opportunity, jobs, and income equality decline as government grows.  I may have been the only one laughing when Barack Obama gave his seminal speech on income inequality.  The more we tax, regulate, and try to control outcomes – everything Obama and the progressive left are about – the poorer we make the middle class, and the harder we make it to surge upward from the lower-income quintiles.  Want greater income inequality?  Increase the size of government.

For a long time, America shouldered the economic burdens of regulation and taxes by either outproducing them or taking on debt.  But we’ve entered a period in which the burdens are too great and immediate.  Obamacare, EPA restrictions, the network of employment laws that make it increasingly unattractive to hire employees: the main thing making economic activity a challenge today is the government – and regulation has surpassed taxes as the principal economy-killer.

The more the entry price is raised for economic activity, the fewer players will get in, and the bigger will be the gap between the most successful and the least successful player.  You can have government trying to control all your outcomes, or you can have prosperity.  You can’t have both.  Americans have a unique opportunity to learn this today.

5.  Excluding God means inviting in evil.  There is no such thing as a vacuum of moral authority: over our individual hearts, over our culture, over our civilization.  It is playing pretend, to claim that we can live as if moral authority is an unoccupied throne.  The throne of authority is always occupied; the question for each of us is what we acknowledge as occupying it.

I think more and more people are realizing that we have brought our society to a point of unsustainability, by trying to live as if the throne of authority is unoccupied.  When we try to establish the impossible condition – a neutral absence of moral authority – bad things rush to fill the vacuum: intolerance, impatience, envy, greed, cynicism, bias, fear, cruelty, anger, hatred, nihilism, despair.  All the laws and punishments in the universe can’t deter, or requite with “justice,” the societal sorrows that result.

The conundrum, as our Founders knew, is how to keep government respecting the people’s moral authority without being an enforcer of one religious organization over another.  They gave us a pretty good start, but we are living proof that the conundrum is not yet solved.

As an optimistic conservative, however, I see signs that Americans are groping toward a resolution that recognizes where the moral responsibility lies: not in “government” – not in a vague “they” that can somehow fix everything we don’t appreciate about the world – but in us.

And I don’t despair of the dawn that may be on the horizon.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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6 thoughts on “Five things Americans may be learning”

  1. As usual, really enjoyed the list, Ms. Dyer, and wanted to add to it from a specific angle… The afflictions you describe most certainly separate us. Two and three generations back, and less so with each passing decade, an average American would, in her DNA, be averse to all of the items you mentioned for the social tinkering and piling on of wishes for government to fulfill; averse to the impositions on others’ lives–being told what to do–, and to the potential for larceny by playing with men’s livelihoods–what the tax is on participating in society with only the clutter of imbibed culture to guide you.

    That DNA fragments as we make it less important to assimilate to American values. So while every American craves their privacy, that bond with each other that goes with accepting citizenship on traditional terms, suffers so that we are separate not in the privacy sense, but more in the lack of connectedness.

    This is now showing up in our foreign relationships too. As the slow-motion train wreck of this Administration proceeds, our allies who had counted on our adhering to our values, must shift to firmer ground, or to higher ground till we come back to our senses. And you can feel the lament articulated in numerous foreign policy blogs and from citizens of other nations.

    Here is an assortment of 3 really well-written articles regarding Israel:

    David Goldman decries the fact that American Jewry will not support Israel in taking on the Palestinians and rejecting outright a deal that does not include more rights for Jews in Israel and the ‘territories’, not less; Caroline Glick is expressing the absolute necessity of saying no to John Kerry about Iran and the Palestinians, and being sober to the consequences of that epic ‘No’; Eugene Kontorovich’s brilliant article speaks to the false choices Israel is being confronted with by her main ally and the world.

    When I read these, I felt a sorrow for the reaching past us, past America for a solution, since we could not be relied upon to support Israel’s cause,… or Japan’s and South Korea’s, or any country that had truck with us so recently for mutual security and trade. Our DNA no longer gives enough of a thump to our hearts to make us wistful enough to stop the decline of friendships, near and far. There is not enough push in our pushback yet.

    They say that foreign policy mistakes have long arcs. The person that makes them may not be around to field the blame when the fallout begins. Jimmy Carter was halfway along on his peripatetic spree to nowhere twenty years after his time in the Oval Office, by the time half the Iranian chickens came to roost. President Obama will be garnering lecture fees by the time we are fighting Islamism and all its variants for real, purging our government of scoundrels and Muslim Brotherhood operatives, and trying to regain our world reputation.

    Government certainly does not care about us. Moral authority does not exist without some grounding and all of these can be almost unrecoverable if we won’t even see the harm being caused.

    Being optimistic is a virtue then, when despite being aware of the details in the picture of decay we’re projecting now, a recrudescence hope nevertheless emerges.

    1. Thanks, KG. You may “enjoy” (if that’s the word) my latest post on the West Bank security proposal, and its exceptionally poor timing given the collapsing regional security situation.

      It is indeed deeply saddening that America’s current leadership is attacking our allies’ security with such a surreal combination of foolishness, passivity, and vigor. Some of our allies at times seem barely worth defending, but that does NOT include Israel or Japan.

      One thing America doesn’t have to “worry” about is being supplanted in our allies’ hopes (or affections). There’s no other nation that offers what we used to, before Obama took office, nor will there be one. There is only the United States, and the alternative of a very different, and much uglier and more cruel and dangerous world.

      If America can right her course, we will have a lot of work to do, from 2017 forward, to carve out a new peace. I very much hope it can be done without a major war, but no one can really predict that accurately today. We live, regrettably, in interesting times. But it truly is the case that everything hinges on whether we give up.

  2. The left is convinced that if you fill up a mudhole in your backyard, the world’s entire ecosystem could spiral into catastrophic collapse. But if society wants to remove God from its government, schools and media; if a nation wants to allow gay marriage; if a country wants to compel its citizens to violate deeply held and orthodox religious beliefs — Hey, what could go wrong?

  3. “1. The limited arsenal of social shaming/ostracism is inherently an exercise in intolerance – no matter who does it.”

    Ostracism has its place in society communicating its intolerance of behavior it considers morally unacceptable. Intolerance of thought , beliefs and speech is tyranny. “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire

    “2. The power to tax does, in fact, involve the power to destroy.

    From 1792 to 1913 the purchasing power of the US Dollar ‘inflated’ from $1.00 to $1.08. Meaning that in 1913 it took $1.08 to purchase goods and services that in 1792 cost a dollar. In 1913 the Federal Reserve was created and the 16th Amendment was passed ratifying the federal income tax. In 1971 President Nixon ended the direct convertibility of the United States dollar to gold. An arguably unconstitutional exercise of executive power. Since then, all reserve currencies have been fiat currencies, including the U.S. dollar and the Euro. Fiat money is money without intrinsic value, its only validity rests upon “the full faith and credit of the United States”. Since 1913 the purchasing power of the US dollar has declined to four cents. Meaning that today’s dollar can only purchase in goods and services what four cents could buy in 1792.

    “3. Government doesn’t “care” about us.

    People care about people. Government is a tool, just as a hammer is a tool. A ‘hammer’ as a tool, may be used to construct, repair or destroy.

    “4. Opportunity, jobs, and income equality decline as government grows. ..regulation has surpassed taxes as the principal economy-killer. “

    Apparently little things can sometimes reveal much larger issues. The Inexplicable War on Lemonade Stands

    The ‘regulatory mind-set’ of the left is about establishing and maintaining control as it is in all inherently totalitarian ideologies. The facade of purported health and hygiene concerns about lemonade stands and bake sales are a charade to conceal the real agenda which is conditioning of the populace to acquiescence to control.

    Truth is the first sacrifice upon ideology’s altar. The second sacrifice upon ideology’s altar is reason and what was once known as ‘common sense’. The third sacrifice upon ideology’s altar is the ideologue’s humanity.

    “5. Excluding God means inviting in evil.
    Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. George Washington

    “Human nature demands something larger than itself to believe in, thus when people reject traditional religious beliefs, they merely go on to create some other faith-based schema in which to invest themselves.

    Whether it be money or power or the various religions of the left; post modernism, socialism, communism, feminism, environmentalism or anthropogenicism (who believe that humans are the sole root of all evil and thus are the cause of all earthly problems; from weather and climate anomalies to earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and species extinction) is of less importance than that people will latch on to something to believe in…” unknown

    Nietzsche said, “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” Nietzsche was one of the earliest proponents of what would later be known as post modernism, arguably the foremost philosophical foundation of the left.

    Of course, if ultimately there is no ‘right’ way, thus no objective truth, then there can be no divine, beneficent creator.

    Dostoyevsky fully understood the moral implications of that premise for; “If God does not exist, everything is permitted”.

    The implications of that is that any and every moral code is reduced to mere opinion, thus there can be no right or wrong, only what can be imposed. Any subjective morality depends upon group consensus and the willingness to use force to impose it upon others. And, when force is ultimately the only justification, we are reduced to the law of the jungle and and the tyranny of might making right reigns supreme.

    In a technological world, abandonment of unalienable rights, (i.e. the premise that our rights are granted by a transcendent creator, thus transcending human law) leads inescapably to 1984…

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