Sunday, August 30, 2009

Seeking to Understand 'Progressives': Service

From this point on I'll call what were formerly known as 'liberals,' 'progressives,' since it seems to be the currently preferred term. Over the past few years the word 'liberal' has taken on a decidedly negative slant, but in terms of political beliefs, it seems plain that 'progressive' is interchangeable with 'liberal.'

So what do Progressives seem to believe about service?

We can certainly stand on some common ground here. Service is doing and giving to help someone else, particularly someone in need. Right?

We can, I hope, also agree that service is good, though progressives might say that conservatives are heartless, despite the fact that recent studies show conservatives are far more charitable than progressives. Like 30% more, despite bringing home 6% less income.

The difference between conservatives and progressives lie mainly in beliefs on the role of government in service.

Progressives believe that government should step in and tax the populace to provide goods and services for the less fortunate.

Conservatives believe that doing so is not within the bounds for the federal government established by the Constitution, and that service is far better given on an individual, family, and community level. This is what I believe.

If you hadn't guessed my position on the issue by now, it might be a good idea for you to look through some of my recent blogs. But in case you're coming into my string of essays late, I'm a conservative. Probably more conservative than most.

But I'd like to state my reasons why I believe this way about service (You may freely interchange the word 'give' with 'serve' throughout this essay):
1. More than a conservative, I am a constitutionalist. I believe that among the many aspects of life in which there are absolutes (take mathematics, for example, and that normal healthy babies will cry when they're hungry, and that the sun will rise in the east), the Constitution carefully recognizes that the human family possesses certain absolute rights, and was carefully designed to protect those rights. In my essays on "Liberty and the Constitution," and "Equality," I talk about these rights. Read those essays if you need to. I'm not going to repeat all that here. Suffice it to say that I do not believe the Constitution at all qualifies the federal government to provide what are collectively called entitlements. The states on the other hand--that's arguable. And there are reasons for that, the most important one being that the state governments are far closer and more beholden to the people, with whom the ultimate power over government should lie.
2. By its very definition, service is a) voluntary and b) unpaid. Which leads to:
3. Service by compulsion is NOT service, and paid service is otherwise known as 'employment.' While both might be used to accomplish much good, neither can, by any definition of common sense, be called 'service.'
4. When we compel someone to serve, we rob that person of the privilege of service, whether they are willing or not.
5. When we compel someone who is UNWILLING to serve, we very egregiously rob that person of personal liberties, of the right to choose for himself how he will live his life, who and how (or even IF) he will choose to serve. Should we not be free to choose for ourselves whether we will be good men or, well, not so good?
6. Exchanging service for college credit or extra credit or makeup for missed classes is not service. Such actions constitute payment--and in some cases in which high schoolers must log service hours to avoid failing a class, compulsion.
7. It should be the right and privilege of every human being to render service anonymously, and by his or her own choosing.
8. The founders designed the Constitution with the intent that the ladder of service would work this way:
The first rung of service would be service to self--in other words, self-reliance, solve your own problems if at all possible.
The second rung of service is family--seek help from immediate and extended family if the problem cannot be solved on your own.
The third rung of service is church--if you and your family are unable to solve the problem appeal to your church for help, but only after you have exhausted the resources of the first two rungs.
The fourth rung of service is the community, town, city.
The fifth rung of service is the state.
There IS not higher rung of service. The federal government should NEVER become involved in the service ladder.


I've hinted at it before. Because the federal government is SO far up the ladder from the individual in need at the bottom of the ladder, a two-fold dilemma is created.

First, the individual at the bottom of the ladder appeals to an overly impersonal source for help, without properly realizing that the help really doesn't come from the federal government but from his neighbors who pay taxes. We see this over and over. We can see the damaging results of this sort of thing in the nation's slums. The only real good being done in our slums is being done by local efforts--local ministers and churches who minister in homeless shelters, school principles who go against the grain and implement policies that create a healthy and encouraging learning environment for needy children instead of simply housing them until they drop out, parents who strictly enforce curfews and behavior standards in their children, neighbors who mentor the children of single mothers. That's where the real successes are coming from. Think about it. If you had to go to your pastor for help, every time you sat in the congregation, every time the collection plate passed over your hands, you would be reminded exactly who was providing you with service. You would be sitting next to them, in front of them, behind them. You would necessarily have to look some of them in they eye. You would be unable to help feeling a sense of responsibility to those from whom your help cometh--to be Biblical.

Second, the government bureaucracies at the top of the ladder are so far removed from the individual at the bottom of the ladder, they have lost any capability of acting with a) compassion and b) enforcement of responsibility for those who are receiving the aid. In stark contrast, church provided service is almost sticky with compassion. It's personal. It's face to face. It changes lives for the better and encourages gratitude. With very few exceptions, you don't see that sort of thing at the government office welfare lines. What you see is demand, a feeling of entitlement, at best a feeling of resignment as even the most desperate and hopeful lose their naivete in the impersonal paperwork, and loss of respect and service they face at the doctor's office and the grocery store.

The top of the ladder is also FAR too distant from the people who must necessarily FUND these programs, causing resentment every time the tax bill comes, every time a paycheck shows a huge federal bite taken out of it for no apparent good reason. It doesn't matter if you're one of those people who are glad to hand over your money to the federal government. If you have even ONE neighbor who is not happy to do so, you are perpetuating his loss of liberty, his loss of self-determination. It's simple common sense. When I can take my money in my hand, feed those numbers into a budget, pass that money on to the grocer or the gas company, there is a feeling of empowerment and self-reliance. When I can see my money feeding my family, helping a neighbor in need, putting clothes on my children's backs, I feel considerably more secure and helpful than if I were to drop my money into a dark, bottomless well with the hope it will do some good. Because that's what the federal government is--a dark, bottomless well that takes all control, security, self-reliance, and confidence (not to mention the personal touch) away from the person who actually earns and, more importantly, gives the money. As it should, this dark well breeds resentment BECAUSE it results in insecurity.

As it should.

Because that's another area in which conservatives and progressives differ.

Conservatives believe (at least I believe) that it is the duty of every citizen to distrust our leaders enough that we will keep a sharp eye on their actions and remove them from office if they betray our trust.

My resources are taken by compulsion to give to 'charities' that I would not otherwise choose to support.

My trust is gone.

I'm watching.

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