The philosophy of liberalism, which attempted to lift up the down trodden by offering them "entitlements" as a means to bring the poor out of poverty, has permeated political thinking for the last 50-70 years. It did some things exceptionally well, but its limitations have become increasingly obvious. People have noticed that entitlements given without responsibilities and duties expected from the receivers of largess lead to a slow slippage in the sense of responsibility; eventually that slippage passes a threshold to become an avalanche. Some societies are beginning the difficult process of redressing the imbalance. The United States is further along in this than many other nations, but there is hope that our neighbors to the north are ready to join us as responsible members of the Global Community. This redress is reverberating at all levels of our social structure.
First, why does the liberal impulse, as admirable as it is, necessarily lead to the kinds of societal distress we see all around us?
A child enters the world completely dependent upon its parents for survival. During its first few years of life, every milestone is treated by its loving parents as a delightful achievement, to be praised and applauded. Somewhere between 2 and 3, for most children, the idyllic paradise of entitlements without responsibility comes to an end. Now the font of all nurturance begins to exact a price. The child, in order to stay in its parent's loving embrace, must learn to inhibit its own free expression of instinctual life; in other words, it is time for toilet training. Here, for the first time, a contingency is introduced.
Childhood is a time when the struggle between dependence and independence is worked out by each of us. Those who make a successful transition into adulthood have been able to resolve the struggle in favor of independence. This includes a reasonably realistic assessment of one's attributes and abilities, the ability to work toward a distant goal, and the ability to take responsibility for one's own behavior. When a child is not able to give up their dependency needs, as when a society offers entitlements to those who remain dependent, the unresolved tension between dependence and independence remains and creates ongoing problems. We see this in adolescents as they struggle with their need to be independent and against the regressive pull back into a position of dependency with their parents. Such teenagers tend to act out their hostile-dependent conflicts; dependency feels like infantilization and evokes humiliation and rage. I have described these psycho-dynamic developments in more detail in many posts, especially Self Esteem and Homeostasis, Self Esteem in Education, and Narcissism, Malignant Narcissism, and Paranoia: Part I.
In the same way that treating an adolescent as a dependent, or maintaining an adult in a dependent relationship, (via entitlements, lack of expectations, and lack of responsibility) leads to humiliation and rage, societies can also become caught up in the same set of conflicts.
The Anchoress describes the problem of children receiving unearned praise for unexceptional work and the distorting effect this has on their sense of accomplishment:
I think we’ve gone too far the other way, now. I know when I had kids, the “experts” were telling us how important it was to “validate” and “praise” our offspring, and I watched myself (and the moms around me) really overdo it, until our kids became praise junkies. These days children are praised for every belch they blurt. At every school event they all get “certificates” that somehow denote their “specialness.” Every kid on every team gets a trophy, no matter how crummy the season - they get rewarded for the “effort.” Nevermind that such a mindset has nothing to do with real life. In real life, a bus driver who runs a red light and creates a traffic disaster is not rewarded for his “effort.” A doctor who makes a serious error is not feted for his “good try…”
Many schools have discontinued Honor Rolls and Science Fairs because the distinction of “excellence” for a few kids is deemed “hurtful” to the vast majority of kids.
We hear, “it’s not fair to distinguish a few, because EVERYONE is special.” Which means, of course, that no one is.
She describes the problem for parents:
Parenting involves balancing, trying to find the right way to encourage a child without filling his head with false notions of superiority or dashing her dreams by treating them with disrespect. Are we failing at this, are we out of balance? If so, the whole world, the great majority of us average folk, will pay for it.
Woody takes this to the next level; Unions, once the protectors of the rights of workers, have devolved into protectionist schemes that harm the average worker:
Unions have forced wages and benefits from U.S. manufacturers that far exceed the productivity of workers, and the unions have forced the closings of major industries and companies in our country. The labor dilemma is described in this article and discusses problems such as having to pay 12,000 workers to do nothing and grass cutters getting $65 an hour--not to mention that the Democrats want to use this problem in which they are culpable to call for commissions and more government "entitlements." (I can't stand that term.) Such waste doesn't help workers...it kills companies and results in unemployment.
Take it up a level. What becomes of people who have been treated as if they were infants who needed to be fed, with no demands on them to behave themselves properly? They remain infantile societies, who soil themselves and blame those they envy. Time magazine thinks it is marvelous that Hamas has provided services that Fatah and the PA have neglected. Kobayashi Maru explains why the attainment of Palestinian "toilet training" does not warrant great applause:
We're happy that the Palestinians seem to be waking up to the basics of self government now that Mr. Arafat is dead. It's only been what, 58 years since the founding of Israel? No analogy is exact of course, but one looks at places like Singapore, Thailand, South Korea or even Tibet and wonders why the Palestinians are somehow excused by the world for two generations from producing little more than a bunch of thugs with expertise in taking hostages, hijacking airplanes and killing innocent civilians in ever more spectacular fashion while getting awards for making movies about them ...when they're not getting other awards for making promises they never intend to keep.
Just to pick one example, the South Koreans were decimated (and then some) by the Japanese in WWII, systematically raped, deported and pillaged. A few years later they were nearly pushed to the sea by their ruthless fellow countrymen, egged on by Communist China. They had their infrastructure utterly destroyed, their population again decimated by war, and endured decades of abject poverty with little complaint while their northern neighbor made nuisance raids, constantly threatening to invade with massive force. Singapore has virtually no natural resources at its disposal on an eentsy weentsy dot of land nearby to practically nothing. Less than 25 years ago its people were making cheap goods in dirt floored factories for pennies a day. Yet both have become gems of economic progress and peace.
Each beleaguered nation has had to endure unbelievable hardship in the last 65 years, all the while making far far less trouble for the world in several decades than the Palestinians make in a week or two of routine operations. Each has done rather well for itself in far less time than it's taken the Palestinians to start cleaning their own streets and picking up their own garbage. And we're supposed to applaud? To say: Good for you. Good boys and girls. Next we're going to learn how to use a pencil and flush the toilet.
Give me a break. To do so would be to descend into the worst kind of racism and expectation lowering imaginable and I'm not going there. As they say about excuses and certain parts of one's posterior anatomy: everyone has one... and they all stink.
[My only, mild, criticism would be that KM doesn't take this far enough. Oil has allowed the Arab/Muslim world to imagine that they are entitled to behave badly without repercussions. It is instructive that the states that have gone farthest in the world toward building modern, sophisticated societies, are those that have been blessed with minimal oil. Singapore, South Korea, Israel, Turkey, and the Kurdish areas of Iraq all lack oil but have people who take responsibility for themselves.]
In all these situations, the lack of any requirement that people behave like adults and take responsibility for themselves has been missing. All we have, then, is a collection of people with a false sense of their own self-worth, helpless rage at constantly felt humiliations, and inchoate lashing out at those they envy.
But "The Times They Are A' Changin'". MacRanger sees hope in the Canadian election, which he neatly summarizes:
You are seeing the beginning of the death of liberalism world-wide. Not a minute or century too soon.
There is so much that was good about liberalism, but they never seemed to realize that their greatest successes took place many years ago and that all they have left are poses and the need to maintain their dependents as just that, dependents.