Monday, January 26, 2009

Our New Era of Responsibility

Our New Era of Responsibility

Our new president has proclaimed a "new era of responsibility" in his inaugural address. As Orwell defined Newspeak, the import of the words are exactly the opposite of what the words mean. Not to blame Barry for everything, since the situation predates Obama by decades.

Our nation's attempt to create an idiot proof society has cast us adrift from our moorings. We used to be a nation with a "can do" attitude. It was We the People who got things done, each of us, as well as all of us. Everyone believed they could make a difference, at the very least in our own lives. That valuable but not enough treasured ethic is dying, and almost dead. Our new president is going to accelerate the demise of the best of the American spirit.

This thesis is explored in today's Wall Street Journal by Philip K. Howard. A few quotes:

America achieved greatness as the can-do society. This is, after all, the country of Thomas Paine and barn raisings, of Grange halls and Google. Other countries shared, at least in part, our political freedoms, but America had something different -- a belief in the power of each individual. President Obama's clarion call of self-determination -- "Yes We Can" -- hearkens back to the core of our culture.

Americans don't feel free to reach inside themselves and make a difference. The growth of litigation and regulation has injected a paralyzing uncertainty into everyday choices. All around us are warnings and legal risks. The modern credo is not "Yes We Can" but "No You Can't." Our sense of powerlessness is pervasive. Those who deal with the public are the most discouraged. Most doctors say they wouldn't advise their children to go into medicine. Government service is seen as a bureaucratic morass, not a noble calling. Make a difference? You can't even show basic human kindness for fear of legal action. Teachers across America are instructed never to put an arm around a crying child.

The idea of freedom as personal power got pushed aside in recent decades by a new idea of freedom -- where the focus is on the rights of whoever might disagree. Daily life in America has been transformed. Ordinary choices -- by teachers, doctors, officials, managers, even volunteers -- are paralyzed by legal self-consciousness. Did you check the rules? Who will be responsible if there's an accident? A pediatrician in North Carolina noted that "I don't deal with patients the same way any more. You wouldn't want to say something off the cuff that might be used against you."

And so today we witness a high school coach being indicted for homicide for denying a player water for fifteen minutes.

All this law, we're told, is just the price of making sure society is in working order. But society is not working. Disorder disrupts learning all day long in many public schools -- the result in part, studies by NYU Professor Richard Arum found, of the rise of student rights. Health care is like a nervous breakdown in slow motion. Costs are out of control, yet the incentive for doctors is to order whatever tests the insurance will pay for. Taking risks is no longer the badge of courage, but reason enough to get sued. There's an epidemic of child obesity, but kids aren't allowed to take the normal risks of childhood. Broward County, Fla., has even banned running at recess.

So no little babies get hurted, all the others must stand around and become wimps. There is the other, related problem with the feminization of the American boys and men, but that is another, related problem. The radicals who want manly men to disappear use the courts to get their way in the schools.

The new legal order doesn't honor the individuality of human accomplishment. People accomplish things by focusing on the goal, and letting their instincts, mainly subconscious, try to get them there. "Amazingly few people," management guru Peter Drucker observed, "know how they get things done." Most things happen, the philosopher Michael Polanyi wrote, through "the usual process of trial and error by which we feel our way to success." Thomas Edison put it this way: "Nothing that's any good works by itself. You got to make the damn thing work."

Modern law pulls the rug out from under all those human powers and substitutes instead a debilitating self-consciousness. Teachers lose their authority, Prof. Arum found, because the overhang of law causes "hesitation, doubt and weakening of conviction." Skyrocketing health-care costs are impossible to contain as long as doctors go through the day thinking about how they will defend themselves if a sick person sues.

The overlay of law on daily choices destroys the human instinct needed to get things done. Bureaucracy can't teach. Rules don't make things happen. Accomplishment is personal. Anyone who has felt the pride of a job well done knows this.

But the "Hope and Change Express" promises us more rules, more bureaucracy, more destruction of personal responsibility and accomplishment. Less pride, more debt, more taxes.

When advancing the cause of freedom, law today is all proscription and no protection. There are no boundaries, just a moving mudbank comprised of accumulating bureaucracy and whatever claims people unilaterally choose to assert. People wade through law all day long. Any disagreement in the workplace, any accident, any incidental touching of a child, any sick person who gets sicker, any bad grade in school -- you name it. Law has poured into daily life.

That gets the flavor of the problem. I am not sure that I agree with Phil Howard's prescription for getting us out of this mess, but I know that we are under a desperate assault by rules and laws, and ultimately lawyers. Now that the Leftists, beholden, nay, in thrall to the lawyers, are in charge of at least two of our three branches of government, no matter that you believe we should to roll back the tide, we are certain to see the tide oncoming for quite a while.

But never be despondent! History shows that, in retrospect, everything works out for the best. The problem is, we may not live long enough to see things work out. So I have come around to the proposition that I hope for Obama's presidency to fail - to fail big, and to fail fast. Only by complete failure, and I am talking failure on the scale of a Carter, total, abject, undeniable failure, will the electorate come to understand that we need to throw all the bums out, and elect a new majority. Not an ideological majority, that would not be a zero base approach. What we need is to throw out the incumbents, whose minds and souls are poisoned from their well worn habits of taking from us and feeding their own.

Only a huge failure of our government can save us from that government. Think about it, discuss it. This is not going away by itself.