Posted by: JDM..... | November 2, 2013

Good intentions…

…trumped by gravity

The struggle to put some sort of form to what so many of us find objectionable about the direction in which our country is heading may very well be due to the possibility that “it” has no form to begin with. Yet, definitions and descriptions require “form”, reference points, presenting a weird paradox akin to the “ends of infinity” conundrum of Null Physics.

The sense of differing social-economic-political opinions is quite palpable, yet when challenged to explain them, their apologists more often than not retreat into polarities and absolutes that are self defeating, or at best not clarifying.

I was thinking about the emotional responses people have to the phenomenon of “Obamacare”. Some are ecstatic about it and support the entire idea wholeheartedly with a blind eye to any faults real, imagined, or contrived. Others dislike it to the point of being angry, sometime projecting their uncertainties into complex conspiracy theories. I don’t know if anyone knows the true state of affairs, if there even is one. As with definitions and form, perhaps in this case, a true state of affairs doesn’t exist. What does exist, however, is high level of energy as we individually, and collectively, try to sort it all out and arrive at positions we can believe in without dragging remnants of Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny into the mix.

From my perspective, Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny remain a significant presence, along with the influential weight of my own pet polarities and biases.

Rather than try to explain – a potential impossibility due to the factors offered earlier– perhaps a series of vignettes will at least provide a thumbnail sketch of what rumblings take place between my ears.

***

Opportunists versus conspirators

First of all, I’m not a big believer in conspiracy theories on the political scene. I won’t deny that small, disconnected, and random mini-plots of evil-doing occur. They obviously do happen, much to the relief of investigative reporters and back-fence know it alls. These are byproducts of opportunity, though, rather than of design. People who are innately possessed of selected pathologies certainly plot, and execute, evil deeds, but those innately possessed of more positive traits tend to be opportunists more than plotters or conspirators.

The angst we feel in response to what may be viewed as shortcomings or excesses today, then, is more likely to be triggered by the ways in which those broad fields of opportunities that have been created are capitalized upon and exploited, and our frustration that we don’t know how to dismantle them.

Another thought I have about conspiracy theories applied to the tides of government, in a “Cliff’s Notes” version clearly influenced by some of the pet polarities and biases mentioned earlier, is that government conspiracy is an oxymoron. Restated, I don’t believe it is possible for government, at least our form of government, to carry out a conspiracy. Human nature itself dictates that, while a handful of individuals may build and execute a conspiracy, the very numbers involved in a government such as ours that is not one of unyielding autocracy, presents far too many “opportunities” for those who might endeavor to plot a screwing of the public to instead seek ways to screw each other. Disobedience, disagreement, and discord in an autocracy are easily handled with executions and the fear thereof. The same dissonance in America simply results in a conference or study group, which isn’t particularly threatening.

***

Good intentions derailed by human nature

While our government structure and its Constitution are certainly not perfect, I believe those who managed to put the whole idea together two and a quarter centuries ago were very aware of the need for harmony between the guarantee of opportunity and the need for an equally iron-clad system of checks and balances. I believe they were also quite aware of the human compulsion to discover ways around, under, over, or through any and all barriers. We have certainly lived up to expectations, and every stone taken out of the foundation has carefully and intentionally been removed with good intentions and a denial of potential negative outcomes.

The welfare presence we have today was not put together with the goal of messing up the economy or of having negative social or cultural consequences. Early programs to aid the underprivileged were surely started with a mindset of aiding the underprivileged. Nature is funny, however. When a farmer carries a bale of hay to a small gathering of livestock in the middle of the pasture, those that are not included, but that observe the delivery, will mosey on over to join in the feast rather than continue grazing or wait for a delivery of their own. People are no different.

We are, by nature, opportunists as well as innovators. When opportunities are not provided, we tend to create them. The old saw “Necessity is the mother of invention” was an observation of fact, not just some clever pap. Thus, this country was created and built into an icon of productivity, liberty, and self-won success by a people who had only the opportunities they created on their own or simply took for themselves without waiting for permission.

One of my concerns is that, in the effort to remove barriers and provide opportunities for those who, for several reasons, were physically, mentally, or culturally barred from enjoying life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to their full potentials, our society has fallen victim to some of the basic assets of human nature. Our human history is rife with wise sayings, parables, and allegory describing the consequences of removing “need”, which is the wellspring of “drive”, and an important component of daily living.

  • “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

  • “A good thing is all the sweeter when won with pain.”

  • “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.”

This derailing of good intentions occurs not because of evil intent but due to the natural forces of psychological/social/cultural “gravity” as illustrated by the livestock with the bale of hay scenario.

***

Control of the money system

Mary and I were talking earlier today about such things during our daily coffee and newspaper time. I remember the post World War II forties and the fifties, and then the notorious sixties which escorted me into adulthood. I had no Social Security Number until I got my first job at the age of fourteen. I also opened a bank account at that time, and I needed only my name, address, phone number, and ten dollars to do so. Today, children are assigned a Social Security Number when they are born, and without one, access to the economic opportunities of our country such as banking, credit, and so forth are closed to a person. This rule was put into place before the age of 911 and our obsession with terrorism developed, ostensibly to prevent money laundering.

Understandably, the government saw justifiable reasons to improve control over the money supply and its movement. Unfortunately, locks keep everyone out, not just selected “bad guys”. Thus, while money laundering and the economic impact of the world drug trade may or may not have been affected, the rest of us have been. How? First of all, the Social Security Number issue just cited. Additionally, the SSN has left the restricted province of government and been transformed into a universal component of ID required by anyone and everyone who can come up with a reason. Consequently, what started out as an emergency post-Depression construct to ensure that funds were set aside for the elderly, has become a universal identifier of virtually everybody residing legally within the United States, whether old or young, employed, unemployed, or retired. It’s like we are required to have a license plate now.

I remember the fad of “dropping out”, living off the land, and so forth from the seventies. As a matter of fact, with an agreement to pay the owner $100 per month, I bought 11 acres of woods around 1983 a half mile from the nearest paved road and built an 8 X 12 cabin out of salvaged materials to try my hand at the “Grizzly Adams” lifestyle. That was interesting, and I gathered some great memories, but I sold it all a few years later in favor of electricity, indoor plumbing, and so forth. The IRS had taken an interest in “let’s go raise goats” culture as well, and had fiddled with ways to tax the non-monetary exchange of goods and labor. The door to invisibility and self-sufficiency was fast disappearing. And of course, the more functions the government was given, or simply assumed to serve, the more people it took to operate things and the more necessary it became for government to control all factors contributory to the task at hand.

I remember back when I started working, coins were still made with silver. I remember when they stopped using silver. Finally, our money supply was no longer based upon any tangible value such as gold or silver, and the “worth” of the metal slugs and pieces of printed paper provided to facilitate the exchange of goods and labor ebbed and flowed entirely according to the decisions of a political entity rather than being tied to the people creating the conditions of supply and demand.

Other ways government has tightened the restraints on the people in the name of freedom and liberty for all include the perennial game of blackmail that has been used many times over before our own solons and bureaucrats thought it would be a swell idea.

In the civilian world, blackmail works like this: John tells Pete he’ll tattle on him for something bad he did unless Pete pays John “hush money”.

In the government version, Senator Putzwadd and Company enact laws that establish a policy or procedure that must be followed, ordinarily a perfectly reasonable set of standards designed to address some issue of concern such as environmental problems, transportation concerns, or something that almost always warms the cockles of the national heart, educational reforms. The problem with such centralized thinking partnered with the compulsion to control is that what makes sense in one location may not in another. Though the Founders had no vision about the way the world would be 200 years hence, they were aware of the advantages of decentralized power and made their point by insisting on the principle of “States’ Rights”.

My late cousin attended a rural, one room schoolhouse. That’s the truth. I went with him one day when my family traveled back to New England to visit and school was not out for the summer yet in that area. A brilliant man, he breezed through MIT and only stopped short of his PhD in chemical engineering because he was too busy working and raising a family.

Schools today are a far cry from the ones we attended fifty and sixty years ago, or the ones that educated our parents and grandparents. Education in America is micromanaged by the federal Department of Education, and it seems to me there is more emphasis on creating the appearance of providing a superior education that of actually doing it. Things have to be done in the nationally prescribed way, funds are provided to enable communities to comply with the law, and any time somebody flinches and threatens to bolt, the Big Guns threaten to withhold the money that keeps the local schoolmarm from being designated a Criminal.

Education is designed around statistics rather than the students and their needs. If the teachers have enough wall hangers and gold stars on their refrigerators, the kids by extension are presumed to be properly educated. And the schools I attended would most likely be illegal today for a boatload of reasons. Nevertheless, I went on to earn a college degree and a military commission. I’m not sure the grand edifices they construct today are doing as well. Again, success is measured by level of compliance with federal standards and statistics, rather than on the realities of performance and achievement.

The same process played out with Transportation. I remember when they started building the Interstate Highway system when I was a boy. Over the subsequent years, as the population and number of vehicles on the road doubled, the federal highway system, originally created to facilitate the movement of the military and supplies around the country during the Cold War, became a necessary part of civilian life. Consequently, when government interests wished to create and enforce some new federal regulation, the incentive to play along quietly was the bag of money dangling from the stick, a stick that could also serve as a crop if need be.

The bottom line is that the people no longer have control of economic aspect of their lives, which by extension connects to most other aspects of their lives. Government taxes what they create, what they do, what they own, and what they exchange among themselves. Additionally, government has rationalized exercising authority and varying levels of control over what the people are allowed to create and how they do that, where they do that, what they own and how they own it, and what they exchange among themselves and how they go about that. In addition to control over our economic lives, government has also assumed authority over just about everything else as well.

***

The subjectivity of “too little” or “too much”

Whether the government does more than it should for the people or not enough is a matter of opinion. At least one generation has grown up in a time of increasing government involvement in the activities of daily living and sees that state of affairs as the exemplar of “normalcy.” Again, it is by evolution, rather than by long term intent, that government has acquired excessive “control” over the individual. The lack of an adequate force of opposition to influence a change of course is probably due to the fact that the “intrusions” came with the packages of good intentions. Political influence has been ever present, of course, and sops have been dealt out prolifically where and when needed.

It has been observed that people who are well fed and comfortable present little interference to the engine of state as long as that entity continues to see that they are well fed and comfortable.

Those who think as I do, hold that the government has provided enough to ensure the implosion of our society and economy if the elements of necessity and control are not returned to the province of the people themselves.

Our ancestors succeeded because their government kept them safe while they pursued their goals. My grandson was born into a society where the government will keep him dependent and obedient to its demands. That frightens me and makes me angry.

***

Obamacare, a fraud in good intentions’ clothing

And now, the parade and balloons are all about the next package of good intentions, the so-called “Affordable Care Act”, more commonly known as “Obamacare”.

The economy in a nosedive, President Barack Obama didn’t have his sock drawer organized at the White House yet when he bulldozed the largely unread plan through Congress. When I see a politician hit the ground running with a pet project like that, instead of focusing on the issues at hand, red flags go off all over the place.

The times were right for Pres. Obama to accomplish a number of important milestones for our country. He had become the first person of African heritage to win the office of President of the United States. As such, he had an unprecedented and unique opportunity to mend fences and unify the people after more than fifty years of struggle, strife, and bitterness that had marked the transition of African Americans from second class, back-of-the-bus residents to fully enfranchised citizens of this country. Instead, he was obsessed with his nationalized healthcare plan and what he intended to be his eventual Legacy from the very start.

As we all know, it was passed into law, and the country is now engaged in the process of mashing square pegs into round holes so that the appearance of success and functionality may be created.

Cutting to the chase, in my opinion, The Affordable Care Act is anything but “affordable”. It is not “Care”. Any scope or nature of “Act-tivity” remains to be seen. Obamacare is about Obama first, and if there is anything left over, some “Care” might happen as well. In the meantime, the insurance and healthcare industries are in a flux, caught between the Law and the Reality, with the Law winning by virtue of force. Those who don’t comply will have their money and permissions confiscated.

As I said in the beginning, this has not come to pass as the culmination of any conspiracy. I defy the government to cooperate internally and stay on task long enough for any conspiracy to take root. Can’t do it. Impossible. On the other hand, by incrementally removing control and choice from key aspects of everyday life on the street, we have come to the precipice of a singularly skewed political and social philosophy with crucial checks and balances either removed or manipulated to serve a relatively unchallenged purpose.

***

Gun control controversy

While it may not seem related, the matter of the Second Amendment is very much a part of the changing landscape of the relationship between government and the people, if perhaps for no other fundamental reason than it provides one more area where control could be shifted or removed. The selling points and leading arguments of the opposing viewpoints on this issue do not vary, but an underlying characteristic of the issue itself is rarely addressed. Those who raise the subject are usually dismissed as extremists or nutballs, which I’m sure some of them are. Their mirror images enjoy a similar status in the opposing camp. The point I wish to raise is very strongly tied to my statement that our state of affairs is a function of societal evolution rather than a result of any focused conspiracy or intent.

It has been observed that in the process of a system of government becoming oppressive or totalitarian, history has demonstrated that three constants exist: (1) the people are rendered dependent upon government, (2) the government wrests away control over the exchange of goods and services by manipulating the monetary system, and (3) the government disarms the people.

The driver sliding sideways down the icy highway at 70 MPH did not have that as his goal or purpose when he began his day, but his decisions and actions created the environment of circumstances under which his predicament was inevitable. All of that is irrelevant, however. The only questions remaining would be how and where will he end up?

The only question remaining in our own situation, from my point of view, is can we make the choices and take the actions in the near future that can bring about the necessary course correction to put our society and our nation back on track? Whether the People succeed or fail in this crucial task will be demonstrated by whether or not Congress abandons its extreme polarity and reapproaches open discourse and compromise to be visibly engaged in serving the best interests of the People.

~-~* * *~-~

 

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Responses

  1. Thank you for your input, and I have to say you grossly underestimate your skill at putting an idea into words! Well said.

  2. As usual, you have shared your views clear and to the point. I am not as eloquent with words as you, but this is my view. And I’m long winded when I get on my soap box.

    I, myself, am a bit of a conspiracy theorist. And as you have stated, with the sheer number of representatives in the multi-level government we have it would be difficult for the government, as a whole, to conspire against their constituency to gain ultimate power. However, by adding little changes here and there to bills that are trying to be passed and which are ultimately enacted into law, a few conspirators can certainly chip away at our governmental infrastructure. We have seen it happen again and again over the decades. They write up something they are trying to pass and slip one or two other items in with it and sell it as a package deal. Some of it may be good, but the items they are “sneaking” in may not be something the public would necessarily agree with. And changes are made without benefit of the majority (we, the constituents) ever being informed until after the fact. And now, we have as the supreme leader of our country, who upon being sworn into office swore to uphold and protect our beloved Constitution, has trod on, defiled and all but shat upon said document. Changes have been made to the Constitution throughout the past 200 plus years, but I do not believe it has ever been under such a blatant attack as it is with the current administration.

    Then there is the topic of Odumbacare. Buy health insurance or be fined. That is totally fair to those who don’t have insurance pre-Odumbacare because they cannot afford it. So, lets make them purchase something they couldn’t afford in the first place or slap them with a hefty fine that will take more of what they do not have in the first place and possibly land them in jail for not paying the fines. Brilliant! My husband and I have been fortunate enough to have insurance through his union. He will be going on Medicare next year, leaving me in the lurches (and clutches) of Odumbacare because the union insurance will cease for me, as well. I have looked into the cost of insurance for myself at the time of the union insurance ending. It will now cost 325% more than I am currently paying for less coverage and $7500 more annual out-of-pocket insurance. A fat lot of good that is. Had Odumbacare not been passed I would be paying around $10 to 20 dollars a month more than my current rates for the same coverage, lower deductibles and much lower out-of-pocket expenses. If I wanted socialized medicine I’d have immigrated to Canada decades ago! Odumbacare a fraud?!? Understatement of the millennium.

    Gun control. Hmph! I’ll say little about this subject, myself. I’ll let one who came before us speak for me.
    “Both oligarch and tyrant mistrust the people, and therefore deprive them of their arms.” -Aristotle 384 BC – 322 BC
    It is no less true now than it was over 2000 years ago. Think Hitler.

    Gun control, in my humble opinion, goes hand in hand with controlling the economy. What’s next? Controlling food supplies? The water we drink? With Odumbacare health care and medication are being controlled, all other things are a short step (not even a leap).

    However, on the subject of economics, I’m going to strike a glancing blow on welfare/food stamps. I’m not against it. I think lots of people need a hand on occasion. Lots of folks have hit a rough patch in their life. Some folks aren’t fortunate enough to have family that can help them out, so that’s when welfare, food stamps and other charitable organizations can help bridge the gap in the interim. On the other hand, it should not be a lifestyle. President Clinton placed a reasonable two-year limit on the ‘hand up’. That limit has since been overturned and the teat has been left open to suckle dry. Our illustrious leaders really need to reconsider that when they are acting like they are balancing the federal budget. Along with all the worldwide handouts, as well. But that’s another tirade altogether.

    Our schools. Even though school systems are operated by state, county, township or municipalities, depending on your particular state, it still boils down to what the Feds mandate and are willing to shell out for education. With teachers being forced to spend so much time during the school year preparing students for ferderally mandated proficiency tests it causes one to wonder how the students are even taught the three R’s! I would say go back to letting the teachers teach, stop grading students on such a skewed curve and let the students own report cards tell how ‘proficient’ they are. Ours certainly did, didn’t they? If they are having problems there are always tutors. And this is where so-called political correctness has no place in our school system, either. Students are not “entitled” and do not require kid glove treatment just because they are not getting it. If a child is falling behind said child needs to get off the electrical devices and STUDY! If the addiction to electrical devices is such that the child cannot function without them then study online! But STUDY!!! Quit whining about being singled out because you aren’t getting it! Do something about it! You aren’t ‘entitled’ to being given a grade you did not EARN! Kids have been asking for help since the dawn of a school system. Ultimately, I believe that all the attention being spent on prepping for proficiency tests is just another step in the dumbing down of America, because it has absolutely nothing to do with helping them actually work on the curriculum and learn.

    Anyway, I agree with your comments. These are just my spin on things. Convoluted? Who knows? Maybe they are. But, like you, I grew up during wars that the soldiers knew who the enemy was and looked them in the eye and it was either kill said enemy or be killed. No smart bombs, no drones, no computers telling them how many people or where they were in a building before they ran in shooting. I grew up watching the President of the United States be assassinated on television in front of our whole classroom of fourth graders. I grew up going to school and actually learning something. I grew up dreaming that the American dream was a reality, not a maybe. I grew up being taught to believe that you can do anything, not that you can do anything if the government approves. That was my America! And by GOD I want it back for my grandchildren.


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