There's a lyric in Oklahoma's The Farmer & The Cowman Should Be Friends that captures the old American ethos:
I don't say I'm no better than anybody elseThe song goes on to say that for the good of the incipient state of Oklahoma -- that is, for the common good of both the farmer and the rancher, and in spite of their competing needs--
But I'll be damned if I ain't jist as good.
Territory folks should stick together,This is a folksy way of expressing the concept of citizenship at the heart of the American experiment: all men are created equal, with inalienable rights and equal dignity before the law; and while protecting of my own dignity, I am able to exercise such self-restraint as is necessary for the common good and for peace and good will to prevail.
Territory folks should all be pals.
Cowboys dance with farmer's daughters,
Farmers dance with the ranchers' gals.
An ugly feature of contemporary discourse to which I've become increasingly sensitive is the attitude that everyone else is an imbecile or immoral jerk except me, I'm enlightened. We're contemptuous of one another. I first started noticing this when I had kids and was initiated into the fraught conversations on parenting styles in which even the most contingent choices are elevated into high moral questions from which no dissent shall be brooked without acknowledgment one is a bad person. (Here's a blogger documenting the condescending things people say about parents teaching sexuality to their kids, but I say the attitude is more generalized.) Have you noticed that you just never hear anyone say, "It's a free country," anymore? I heard it all the time as a kid and I think it's telling it's all but disappeared. I don't think that's because we have noticed we aren't free; I think it's because we don't think others have the right to do things differently.
Whenever something ugly and far outside the norm occurs, we have to have a national conversation about how horrible Americans are. Other Americans, naturally, of whom we're quick to believe the worst.
When there's a school shooting (and such incidents are on the decline, not the rise), we're sure everyone else is just about to blow and must be kept down and controlled. But the truth is there's no one you want on your side in a crisis more than your neighbors in the United States. Those incidents, ugly and tragic as they are, are not primarily about one mentally ill person inflicting harm, but about the nobility and courage and generosity of the ordinary people who rise up to help. (Here's an example from the Boston massacre, for example. Do we really not remember the extraordinary outpouring of volunteers in the aftermath of 9/11? The literal million of citizens who left their own homes and livelihoods to help rebuild New Orleans after Katrina? The $300 billion dollars of aid to charities Americans give annually on top of their taxes and foreign aid?)
Or: A couple of times a year it happens that some ugly incident of racism or homophobia occurs. It will be minor -- graffiti on a dorm room door or a nasty note left for a waitress in a cafeteria-- but it becomes national news and everyone takes to their social media pages to tut-tut -- but really, I would say, to publicly announce that THEY would never do such a thing, enlightened as they are, unlike some others we could name....(except, we never do name them, do we? Ever think why?). It never seems to occur to anyone to note that they're spreading the ugliness by publicizing it, which is exactly what the perp hopes for. And what REALLY never occurs to anyone is that some things are too bad to be believed. Almost always in my observation, such incidents later turn out to be false: publicity stunts created by the "victims" themselves (see here for example or here or here. There's even a website dedicated to documenting staged hate crimes.). But we fall for such stunts repeatedly because we're all quick to believe that America is a steaming cauldron of haters.
You don't even have to have much on the ball yourself to think other people are unworthy of self-government. Check out the comment the kid makes at about :48 in this video for example.
I don't want to say some people have reached the point where maybe they shouldn't make their own decisions, but...I think that's what it's becoming.That's the opposite of "I ain't no better than anyone else," and the antithesis of Lincoln's succinct pronouncement:
As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.The utterly preposterous and chilling thing about the kid's attitude, which seems more and more widespread, is that he's not even talking about some major life decision. He's talking about regulating how people snack, which he thinks he knows better than you --and is perfectly happy to have government regulate-- with nary a thought about the implications for his own ability to make free decisions.
That, my friends, is the intellectual impact of Progressivism, which is Hegel & Darwin applied to the social order. Hegel denied there were any timeless (or self-evident) truths. He believed in only a progression of history, with rights "evolving" with historical consciousness. As History changes or progresses, certain antiquated concepts are left behind. All the old ideas, myths and customs disappear and become more "rationalized," and the business of politics becomes less and less a dialogue of Reason and exercise of Prudence and more and more simply Administration according to experts, to whom we all must yield.
Hence the rise of the Administrative state. Where once a free people elected representatives to debate the best course of action, now the Congress simply states a goal: say, healthcare for all, and then prescinds from any responsibility for the policy that results, delegating all the real work to expert regulators -- experts only in the "science" of administration. There is no longer room for debate about the meaning of government and the rights of man, there are only enlightened rules to follow. And if you don't follow them, you're not enlightened and shouldn't maybe make your own decisions.
That is a sick way to think about human beings --and if I may jump tracks for a moment, precisely what Pope Francis is on about when he says inequality is our biggest social problem. He's not addressing literal income inequality. He's talking about the elites who increasingly make all the West's decisions without a single concern for genuine human flourishing: who treat the poor not as human persons entitled to be the protagonists of their own lives, but as problems for the state to manage, such that we think we've done right by the poor if everyone's perpetually on welfare, but don't create the conditions in which they can work and rise and don't even SEE them (just as a thought experiment: would Obama still be in office if we still had government run bread lines and soup kitchens instead of food stamps mailed in private to people's homes? Not suggesting a policy change, just suggesting that the expansion of the number of Americans jobless and on foodstamps is acceptable to us only because we don't see it).
If you think of others as unable to make their own decisions but yourself as enlightened and free, you are part of the problem -- and unfortunately, even among those who are champions of traditional morality, there's this progressivist corruption present which simply wants to stamp down others with our superior knowledge rather than do the step by step grunt work of political persuasion and cultural change. In fact, it seems to me that step by step grunt work is mostly today derided as insufficient purity and suspect motives. Let anyone take a slightly different tack on a matter than we do, and we're swift to denounce our allies as RINOS, CINOs, UNCLEAN. On the Right as well as the Left we prefer self-indulgent rage to the slow hard slog of liberty and respect for our fellow men.