Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mere Responsibility

We who are privileged to be United Statesians will soon be exposed once more to the grotesqueries which accompany a presidential election, and already there is forming a rogues gallery of pretenders to what we continue to insist is not a throne.  As we have a Democratic president who intends to run for reelection, we are being spared a procession of the ridiculously ambitious of that party, but we must tolerate those of the Republican variety.  There may be one or two others not affiliated with the ruling oligarchy who will participate in the farce, but either a Democrat or a Republican will be chosen, of course, if that is indeed the word.

Sanctimony is particularly prevalent in our politics (an alliteration, forsooth) these days, though it has of course always been a factor.  Now, though, it appears to be expected, and is even anticipated.  As the powerful among us are still largely white and Protestant (not for long, I think) there is a vague feeling among some that we have been profligate and are now suffering, justly, for our depravities; suffering being almost always just.  WASPS tend to get excited when they feel this way, and are likely to do things like legislate morality.  Catholics are so used to being told what to do by authority figures that such an idea seems to them entirely natural.  As I think morality can never be effectively imposed by law, I feel a certain concern.

We are also being told we are in financial trouble so often that we have even come to believe it, and feel that there is something that needs to be done, but disagree regarding just what that might be.  But, most feel that we spend too much, and this is likely correct.  So, most feel we must spend less.  The questions then become--what should what money we have be spent on, and where do we get more money?

I tend to agree that we have handled our financial affairs stupidly.  For my part, I think that the current crisis primarily results from the fact that we spend far too much of our money in efforts to impose our military power throughout the world, and generally seem to do so unwisely.  We do other silly things with our money as well, of course, and as we have come to consider government to be the means by which virtually everything must be done it follows that government will spend and spend whatever money there may be.  Combine these tendencies with our inexplicable urge to glorify and cosset the assorted gluttons and hoarders we call the very wealthy, and we have a real problem.  So, I welcome any effort to require the government and the citizens of this great land to be more responsible.

 But there is a danger present, I think, and that danger is that those who purport to lead us and we sometimes foolishly allow to do so will conclude that something more than responsible conduct is required.  They may conclude that we must actively seek the assistance of the God they worship, or at least be compelled to act in such a fashion that the God they worship will find acceptable, which generally means what they find acceptable, which generally means an attempt to legislate morality.

There are too many at large in this country who seem unaware of the fact that great and admirable ethical systems and codes of conduct were developed and actually adhered to long before the traditional religions which prevail today ever sought to impose themselves on the world.  Some of these systems had their basis in the idea of a divine force immanent in the universe, or divinities of some kind, and some did not.  In fact, the institutional religions of our time to the extent they advocate particular kinds of conduct which may be called moral "borrowed" liberally from those systems though they generally don't care to acknowledge their debt to them.  Those systems differ from these religions, though, in that they don't involve the need to engage in various religious rites nor do they impose constraints on conduct which have nothing to do with living responsibly, but which happen to be sanctioned by certain holy books or words said to have been spoken by someone claimed to be holy, somewhere, sometime, usually long ago.

There are ways to be responsible, and moral, without requiring that others behave in accordance with our sense of what is appropriate.  Indeed, requiring that others behave in a particular manner, unless it is in a manner which does not cause harm to others, would seem clearly irresponsible. 

Responsible government may be limited government, and a responsible citizenry may be one which seeks limited government.  The problem with those who currently claim to seek limited government, however, is that it is not at all clear that is what they truly seek.  They seem to desire social and cultural change as much as those they claim to oppose.  They seem to have the same confidence in the righteousness of their desires as do those they oppose.  I think it is inevitable that they will use the power of government to impose their desires if they obtain the power to do so.

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