23 May 2008

Thoughts on Individual Struggle and Election Cycles

A common theme in political speeches of the day is that Americans are struggling. The assumption, or implication, is that the struggle is economic. This is especially true in a time that has been labeled as a recession. And it’s not just some Americans who are struggling. Some would have the electorate believe that it is “the vast majority of Americans” who are struggling to reach some indefinable, yet somehow measurable, goal.

The implication of this supposed struggle in a presidential election year is that the federal government ought to do something to relieve individual economic suffering. This is without regard to the ubiquity of cell phones, flat panel televisions, and high-speed internet access among the “vast majority of Americans”.

Thus, the electorate is swayed to ignore individual circumstances and believe the political posture that most Americans are, in fact, struggling – or indeed suffering – economically. This is accomplished through sound bite-ridden speeches, editorialized headlines, and a 24-hour news cycle. Economic terms like recession and depression are bandied about without any firm recognition of what they mean, or what they would mean to the average person. The effect is that, without regard to actuality or individually self-created circumstance, the economic struggles of the electorate are the cause of bad governance (under President Bush) and can be cured – oddly – by a new administration in the federal executive branch.

The underlying assumption passed off is that individual struggle, economic or otherwise, are undesirable (or largely undesirable) and are to be avoided if at all possible. This is a false assumption which, if accepted as true, is damaging to individual will and liberty.

To a great extent, each one of us is defined by our individual struggles, by the circumstances and happenings within our own lives. Failure – falling down – is inevitable in life. How each of us deals with adversity and failure (as well as success) plays a huge role in how well we develop self-reliance.

Attempts to remove the circumstances of struggle from an individual do not, in the long run, make a person’s life easier or better. While certain portions of a life without struggle may feel more comfortable, the individual’s personal development is retarded – or even regressed – if struggles are simply removed for them. Thus, if a child always has failure removed from his path by his parent, the child will always remain dependant, at least to some extent, on the parent.

I’m always more than a little leery of extending examples from the micro to the macro…more than a few very poor, truly erroneous analogies are a result of trying to make that leap. But if a government removes as much economic struggling as possible from its populace, then the populace becomes economically dependent on that government. (I know. There’s nothing new in that statement.) The trick is to figure out what the government expects in return.

The obvious answer is a lifetime of employment as a “public servant”.

So remember that when some politician tells us that we are struggling – or indeed, suffering – in a way that they promise to be able to remedy, there is a price for that remedy. Two, actually. First, we must provide them with a job, for their entire working life, if possible, in return for their largesse. Second, in signing up for the deal, we lose important opportunities to develop individually. We become, more and more, wards of the state – a state which provides for life, but will not foster individual liberty or the pursuit of happiness.

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