10/8/13 Progressivism versus Conservatism

I am a conservative. There are lots of us.

There are also lots of progressives.

They are an oil and water mixture, not blending, but only appearing to when shaken. Give the mixture just a minute or two, and it will re-stratify, separating into the unblendable layers, just like an Italian dressing, tasty to some, but objectionable for a variety of reasons to others.

“What do you want to conserve?” I was once asked.

“What do you want to progress?” I curtly asked back.

It was a provocative question, though. One for which I had no ready answer. What DO I want to conserve? It is a fair question. It deserves an honest answer. I must be honest with myself in the process. It is unwise for me to try and fool me, for who, then, becomes the fool? It’s as wise and useful as cheating at solitaire.

There are honest people who look for government to be the answer to human need. They would do this by having government move wealth from one sector of the population to another. One sector is presumed to have more than it needs, the other, to be lacking. It seems right and fair to some to move this perceived excess to those segments of the population who are less well off. Government is perceived as the vehicle for doing this.

There are others who recognize the need for government, simply because a lack of government means anarchy. They honestly perceive the primary role of government as the establishment of law and order and the protection of private property.

If there is something I would like to conserve, it is my personal liberty and my private property that would be denied to me by an intrusive, progressive government. I am not the first person to feel this way, nor am I likely to be the last. I would like to conserve the idea that no one else has any right to or claim on what I have earned or acquired.

Without bothering to provide references, I recall that I work until late in March of every year for the government. Everything I make during the year’s first quarter goes to satisfy the fiscal obligations imposed on me by the law. Of course, I get some benefits in return for this taxation. I get roads to drive on and bridges to cross over. I also get the ability to dial 911, if I have a phone, but will have to obviously fend for myself the best way I can until the authorities arrive, whether those authorities are the police, fire department, or ambulance. It is possible that dialing 911 produces nothing, because the authorities guarantee me nothing since they can’t control anything until after they arrive, and sometimes can’t control them after they do. But I can dial the number and have someone answer. Hopefully that someone will be competent, but that is not always the case. There are no guarantees of protection of life or property.

I also get air traffic controllers to help ensure that airplanes do not proceed with chaos, but neither can they guarantee my safety. The laws of physics will prevail despite the best efforts of the air traffic controllers.

I also get the benefit of research funded by the government, though I daresay that much useful research is also funded by the private sector…perhaps as just as much, or more; I don’t know.

I get food inspections, but that does not guarantee me anything. I must still guard against foodborne illnesses.

I get a military that protects us from foreign invaders, but we haven’t had many foreign invaders since 1812, unless one counts the invasion from our southern border, which I admit is not quite the same thing. But, we don’t get the military just for taxes that we pay. We may be called on to serve and to pay a price far greater than our tax money. It is possible that we could pay it directly, or have it collected through the lives of our sons and daughters. Many Americans have before.

My employer and I have paid taxes which promises an old-age pension and health insurance. While this was controversial in the beginning stages, the only controversy that seems to be left now is that the government charged with its fiduciary management seems to have squandered the money. Others in such a position of fiduciary mismanagement would likely be charged with a crime, but the government is allowed to legally keep such obligations off-budget, which is a concept I wholly fail to understand. I wish I could keep a few off-budget projects going, but my budget will simply not tolerate it.

I wish I could say that I get good schools for my children in return for my taxes, but that is not the case. As a Mississippian, by default, I get poor schools. But I am not alone since there are failing schools and mismanaged school districts all over the country. In an effort to make the schools appear to be successful, we keep reducing the curriculum to the lowest common denominator. Common is the operative word. We now call the preferred educational curriculum Common Core. We no longer strive for the uncommon, we have settled for the common. I remember my grandmother warning me to stay away from “common” women.

“She is common,” Grandmother would whisper to me. There was hardly a word that could have had a worse meaning. Even a prostitute had more value in my Grandmother’s eyes than a common woman, since she knew that women could be forced by circumstances into situations they’d rather have not found themselves.

“But you don’t like progress?” I have been asked. I no longer bite on that too common question. Everyone likes progress, but it is the means by which it would be achieved that we find great differences.

“You didn’t build this,” a politician was recently quoted as saying. Many replied back that they did indeed build it. They built it without the help of government. In fact, many claim that they built it in spite of the government. They built it in spite of licenses, zoning restrictions, inspections, permits, fees, hiring and wage regulations, insurance regulations, and a host of other tick bites along the way, each one just sucking a little bit, and a little bit, and a little bit more, until they were a mass of itching bites and welts. Hardly any of them expected help from government . . . they just wanted government to not try and thwart them at every turn.

As far as this writer can see, modern government exists to primarily help its welfare recipients . . . and that consists of those who are unable to do for themselves for whatever reason, and those who are able to employ lobbyists to obtain government assistance on a massive scale. All of us first-quarter-work-for-free folks get very little from the government that is not common to all, such as the things mentioned earlier. We don’t get SNAP benefits. We don’t get free phones. We don’t get free medical care but rather underwrite the free things that others receive. We don’t get more back in income taxes than we paid in. It seems like the more progress we make, the less self-sufficient we become, and self-sufficiency is very likely the main thing I am interested in conserving.

The founders of our nation did not stake their lives on building a Christian nation. They staked their lives that our creator endowed us with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They staked their lives that these rights were not granted to us by the benevolence of government, but by our creator, that these rights were inherent to all humanity simply by reason of being alive. That a majority of them recognized a creator is beyond question. (some of them didn’t…Thomas Paine comes to mind, God Bless him!!) But the Declaration of Independence specifically mentions “nature” and “nature’s god” distinctly and separately, allowing all men to choose for themselves whatever it is that they reverence as higher than themselves. It declared that men already have that right; it did not deign to award men that right.

The Constitution is the document around which our GOVERNMENT was formed. It is not the principles upon which this nation was founded, though it contains those principles. Progressives have cried that it is was a flawed document from the start. I do not deny this, which is why we have a means to amend it from time to time, correcting those things which are found to be flawed. At least once it was amended, then unamended, the flaw being found to be the amendment. Perhaps it should be amended again so that our Senators are once again appointed by our state legislatures and not directly elected by the people, which seems to have set up a plutocratic/aristocratic “upper chamber” which has become the most dysfunctional segment of our government.

There is no end to progressivism. It goes from one step to the next, each one giving me a larger teat upon which to suck until I am no longer able to provide for myself. Then, progressivism has a nasty habit of turning itself into opressiveism…that is to say, I no longer have a voice since I no longer can do for myself, whether by having grown used to the taste of the milk, or by decree. The self-sufficient person threatens to upset the apple cart. This makes for bad form to those who would show us better how to live our lives, as if they knew. My Grandmother knew when I needed a dose of castor oil. I cannot allow the government the same familiarity as I endured at the hands of my grandmother. It is this freedom to choose for myself that I would conserve. I still don’t like castor oil. Who does? But I will decide for myself when I need a dose or not. If I am willing to suffer the results of not taking it, then so be it. If I am willing to suffer the taste of it for the benefit it will bring, then so be it.

Since I pay local taxes to support public education, I would like to get the benefit of being able to send my children and grandchildren there for their education. As it is, I get the taxes with none of the benefits. The schools in our county received a failing grade from the state and are always a single step away from being taken over. While the State dilly-dallies, whole generations of children are abandoned to a poor education. I do not want to send my children and grandchildren to failing schools, so I go to great expense to send them to private school. I went to public school. I got a good education there, but times have changed. While I went to public school and got a good education, others that went to the same school did not. Some of them had needs that the school was unable to meet. Some of them were just slackers and stoners. But we cannot afford to abandon a whole generation of children to failing schools here, or anywhere, and more money directed towards the schools does not seem to help the education of the children. It is far more complex than that. There is something missing, and that something is likely the same thing that makes our government now want to spend money sending 2 to 4 year olds to school when we have evidence that says that head-start programs offer no long-term measurable benefits to a child’s education. The evidence for this is beyond reproach, the long-term study having been funded by Head-Start itself who was much chagrined by the results.

What, then, would I conserve. Well, I would have conserved the core family unit, but I think it is too late to conserve that. We have moved beyond the family to a broader “It Takes A Village” approach, where we put our trust in government. The sanctity of the family, of the tribe, has been maligned by everyone but anthropologists who study tribal customs in isolated areas and label it “culture.” It is our own culture I would conserve. It is the very thing that makes me me that I would conserve.

“Everyone is special,” says the sociologist. That’s true and not true. Everyone is special by the fact that they are unique just like everyone else. But some are gifted one way, and others gifted in another. Some are just gifted with being lucky, which is a hard gift to beat. The trails blazed by the pioneers who yearned for the freedom of self-sufficiency of owning their own land is littered with the bones of the special and the not-so-special. Even some of the special ones had their slain or diseased bodies consumed by worms and fungus. The not-so-special ones succumbed in large numbers. Yet, they faced hardship, deprivation, and death, for something we seem to be trading for an adulterated, addictive milk offered to us in exchange for the freedom from the danger of being able to choose for ourselves. We no longer get to experience the great teacher of failure. We are reduced to the lowest common denominator.

If I could conserve something, something so sacred, so precious, so invigorating, it would be the right of men to fail and fail often, and dust themselves off and re-start under their own means and motivation, however meager, for this is what makes men great. I think we have progressed beyond that. I do not think it progress when we are furnished a gentle failure at great expense while being denied the chance to fail while doing greatly.

Yes, I was borrowing from the great progressive, Teddy Roosevelt. If we could all be like Teddy in our actions, and unlike him in his desire to inflict what he thought was best on common folks, then we, too, could be as successful. For if ever there was a man who perceived himself to be above common folk, it was Theodore Roosevelt. There was nothing common about him…not in his own life or in his own estimation of himself. That’s the trouble with progressives…they think too much of themselves.

Maybe, in that sense, I am a progressive, too. If so, then this is a tenet of progressivism unwelcomed by progressives, and one this conservative would like to conserve.

Think about that, if you will. That’s as honest as I know how to be.

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