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“Please, may I…?” – Part II

In The Permission Society, Timothy Sandefur wrote that there are two ways for government to regulate the actions of people. The first is the nuisance system which states that people have a right to freely act however they choose unless it will harm someone else. This includes one’s free choice as what to do with their property unless it harms his neighbor. The drawback of this system is that it is reactive. On occasion the danger of harm may be of great magnitude, either immediately or cumulative over time. Under these circumstances, the nuisance system does not preemptively protect a neighbor. On these occasions it may not be possible for the harmed neighbor to be adequately and/or timely compensated for his loss.[1] Where the potential for this type of harm is present, the deficiency in a reactive nuisance system can be mitigated through prudent but infrequent intervention and prior restraint.

The second system to regulate actions of people is the permit system which forbids people from doing anything with his property unless approved by the appropriate authorities. The permit or “prior restraint” system is proactive and does not allow a person to act until he meets the requirements dictated by the governing authorities.[2] Sandefur lists six destructive consequences of the permit system.

1. “Rent-seeking” – Even under a permit system, the laws of supply and demand continue to operate. Permits become valuable because everyone cannot have one, and in a business environment time and money are spent to acquire and preserve the coveted permit. Since the 1930s, the power of government to redistribute wealth or opportunities has grown exponentially “either by transferring money from some people to others or by granting licenses to do profitable things that are otherwise illegal.” Payments to government in whatever form they take (fees, concessions, etc.) are a form of rent charged for the privileges dispensed by government, i.e., rent-seeking. The government uses these rents for purposes that may or may not be worthwhile, but it is the government that decides what those purposes will be, right or wrong, without consultation with the electorate. And the rent received by the government will ultimately be paid by the citizens themselves.[3]

2. Knowledge problem – The permit system is based on the faulty assumption that government officials and bureaucrats in charge of granting permits have the knowledge and information necessary to make the right choices when deciding what should and should not be permitted. If the regulators/permit issuers make wrong choices, they are seldom held accountable.[4]

3. Enforcement by unelected bureaucrats – Once issued, the privileges granted by permits must be monitored and their limitations enforced. Permit issuance decisions based on vague or confusing laws or criteria effectively delegate power to administrators and judges to enforce the terms of the permits even though their decisions may be arbitrary, irrational, unfair, and pose a conflict of interest. It is difficult and extremely expensive to challenge the decisions of unelected bureaucrats and their self-created fiefdoms which have become a hostile fourth branch of government unaccountable to the electorate and certainly not envisioned by the Constitution.[5]

4. Corruption and forced concessions – Officials with power to issue permits and regulate the execution of the services granted by those permits are in the position to demand something in return. The first amounts to blatant corruption when government officials solicit and receive innumerable forms of personal gain or favor in exchange for permits or regulatory approvals. The second type is the demand by government for concessions to the government to advance or accomplish some governmentally-determined general social need, e.g., the surrender of a portion of one’s property in exchange for permission to sell or develop the rest.[6]

5. Violation of illegal requirements – Some permit requirements may be illegal in themselves. When a permit holder violates the terms of the permit, he is considered to have violated the law. Yet, the terms violated may themselves be a violation of the law. Effectively, it is difficult for the permit holder to defend himself against violating the terms of the permit by challenging the illegality of those requirements.[7] In other words, the permit holder cannot get beyond being judged guilty of violating the illegal conditions of the permit.

6. Innovation is stifled – Sandefur believes that the most troubling aspect of the permit system is that it stifles innovation. He calls innovation a fragile and elusive quality, a potential, a chance for the future. It can’t be quantified, measured, qualified, or justified. Innovation is vital to a growing and robust society. But the permit system often wants people who want to “start a new business to prove to the satisfaction of the government regulators that there is a ‘public need’ for the business before the person may set up shop.”[8]

If the citizens of a society value their freedom above all else, then the drawbacks of a pervasive permit system are fatal to freedom and the survival of a society. Article V of the Bill of Rights states that men should not “…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

This concern for the inalienable right of property is not just an academic exercise. The loss of this inalienable right impacts virtually every individual citizen in ways that are often lost in the daily information overload amidst the fast-paced buzz of life. The following example is just one of many well-intended actions of social engineers that erode the fundamental freedoms associated with one’s property and possessions.

Tulsa’s governmental fix for food deserts

A Tulsa City Counselor proposed that the City of Tulsa impose a moratorium on new grocery stores in council districts with food deserts, an area deemed to be deficient in full-service grocery stores. Counselor Vanessa Hall-Harper believes that a moratorium would solve what is believed to a problem of too many small grocery stores which prevent developers and larger full-service grocery stores from building in areas of the city considered to be food deserts. She claims that a lack of full-service stores is contributing to the decline of general health conditions in these areas.[9]

Hall-Harper cites one example in which a few of her constituents protested the issuance of a permit for a new Dollar General store in North Tulsa which they feel is inadequate. She believes this type of store discourages the building of full-service stores in so-called food deserts.[10] It would appear that for Hall-Harper and the protesters, investment of private funds in the City of Tulsa are to be dictated by political concerns and agendas as opposed to free-market forces.

But this is not government over-reach according to Hall-Harper. She says that the moratorium would be temporary and that it wouldn’t target any specific store or chains. “In my opinion, developers should work with communities.”[11]

The larger concern is that proposals of this nature have become typical of the thinking of elected government officials and especially bureaucrats who have become virtually independent and unanswerable to the electorate. Instead of a free society, we have become a “Please, may I…?” society. In a free society, a mom-and-pop grocer or a Dollar General are free to survey an area, determine if there is a need, and find an economically viable way to meet that need. These entrepreneurs must still consult local authorities about zoning matters, building permits, and the like. But, in a “Please, may I…?” society, they must also consult the local social engineers to determine if the individual or business owners’ plans fit in with the social agenda for the betterment of the community (as determined by the permission givers), even if the supposed betterment infringes on the rights and bank accounts of certain classes of citizens.

Who will be hurt by the City of Tulsa social planners’ scheme to address the lack of supermarkets in certain parts of Tulsa? The real victims will be the mom-and-pop grocers who have dreams of owning their own business, a grocery store that may one day grow into supermarket. Another victim will be the Dollar Generals of the world who research an area and determine that there are sufficient potential customers who desire what they have to offer. The local community will suffer because it will be deprived of another business to supply them with what they want and need and who will also benefit from jobs created for the area’s residents. The land owner who wants to sell his property to Dollar General will suffer because he will lose the proceeds from the sale of his land, and the contractor who would have built or remodeled the building for Dollar General will suffer of a loss of revenue because the project is prohibited.

Such arbitrary actions of government (city, state, and federal) stand in opposition to the inalienable right of property which transcends even the Constitution’s documentation of those rights. These actions have a chilling effect on developers who may be disinclined to begin future projects for fear of payments that will be extracted by government officials in the form of concessions and fees to meet some unrelated social need identified by social planners in exchange for permission to do business. This is little more than a legalized form of extortion, i.e., protection money paid to government. But the greatest damage among both the populace and government officials is the loss of the simple concept of freedom upon which the nation was founded.
______

This article has very briefly dealt with matters pertaining to the loss of freedom to do what one wishes with one’s property and possessions. This loss of freedom has occurred because the emergent permission society is dominated by a government and its bureaucracies that have intruded into the private and business affairs of the citizenry.

As discussed in Part I, the permission society began with the massive intrusion of government into the lives of its citizens during the 1930s under new, liberalized interpretations of the general welfare clause of the Constitution. Concurrently, government expansion began in Roosevelt’s New Deal years and accelerated with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s. However, the exponential growth of government intrusion into the minutest details of the daily lives of American citizens has become suffocating over the last two decades.

Perhaps the best summation of the outcome of massive governmental intrusion comes from Alexis De Tocqueville in his 1835 Democracy in America. He had a prophet’s foresight into the reasons for America’s loss of freedom as it slides into the permission society whose destination is socialism and inevitably totalitarianism.

We forget that it is, above all, in the details that we run the risk of enslaving men…Subjection in the minor things of life is obvious every day and is experienced indiscriminately by all citizens. It does not cause them to lose hope but it constantly irks them until they give up the exercise of their will. It gradually blots out their mind and enfeebles their spirit …

I may add that they will soon lose the capacity to exercise the great and only privilege open to them. The democratic nations which introduced freedom into politics at the same time that they were increasing despotism in the administrative sphere have been led into the strangest paradoxes. Faced with the need to manage small affairs where common sense can be enough, they reckon citizens are incompetent. When it comes to governing the whole state, they give these citizens immense prerogatives. They turn them by degrees into playthings of the ruler or his masters, higher than kings or lower than men. Having exhausted all the various electoral systems without finding one which suited them, they look surprised and continue to search, as if the effects they see had far more to do with the country’s constitution than with that of the electorate.[12] [emphasis added]

As noted in Part I, the intent of the Founders in proposing the addition of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution was to foster greater trust in government by adding language to limit or restrict the ability of government to abuse its powers by infringing on the inalienable rights of its citizens. But the leaders of American government over the last century have so eroded the meaning of the Constitution and the intent of the Founders that trust in government is at an all time low. Once we trusted in God from whom those inalienable rights flow. We are now told that we must trust in the leaders of the permission society from whom all privileges are dispensed to the greatest number for the greatest good.

Larry G. Johnson

Sources:

[1] Timothy Sandefur, The Permission Society, (New York, London: Encounter Books, 2016), pp. 28-29.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., p. 29.
[4[ Ibid., p. 30-31.
[5] Ibid., p. 32-34.
[6] Ibid., pp. 34-35.
[7] Ibid., p. 35.
[8] Ibid., p 36.
[9] Jarrel Wade, “Grocery store proposal on tap,” Tulsa World, May 9, 2017, A-1
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Gerald E. Bevan, Trans., (London, England: Penguin Books, 2003), pp. 807-808.

“Please, may I…?” – Part I

The word inalienable (a.k.a. unalienable) has numerous synonyms: unchallengeable, absolute, immutable, unassailable, incontrovertible, indisputable, and undeniable are just a few. This is the word Thomas Jefferson chose to describe the rights of all mankind in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Because this phrase has become so familiar to many of us who have read and revered these truths for a lifetime, they tend to become somewhat of a cliché devoid of the rich meaning and implications that are still applicable in measuring the degree to which modern government accomplishes its purpose. First, men have certain rights which are absolute. Second, these absolute rights are not bestowed by government but endowed by their Creator. Third, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are just three among other inalienable rights. And fourth, these inalienable rights are incapable of being alienated, surrendered, transferred, or altered.

In 1789, the first ten Amendments to the Constitution of the new republic memorialized several of these inalienable rights. The purpose of the Bill of Rights (the Amendments) is found in its Preamble. Congress wished to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers by proposing a Bill of Rights that would add “further declaratory and restrictive clauses” to the Constitution to improve public confidence in government. In other words, the Congress was asking the various states to ratify these Amendments to further restrict governmental abuse and thereby increase confidence in government. The Amendments described several of these rights and their associated freedoms.

Freedom or privilege?

Timothy Sandefur’s book The Permission Society describes how the ruling class has turned America’s constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms into privileges. Sandefur says that to be free means that one is able to make his own decisions, but Sandefur emphasized that such freedom did not mean that one had a right to do whatever he pleases regardless of the harm caused others. Rather, freedom meant that a person was able to follow his own will and choices with regard to his person, actions, possessions, and property without having to obey the arbitrary and rapacious will of others.[1]

To the degree that we must ask someone else to let us act, we do not have rights but privileges – licenses that are granted, on limited term, from someone who stands above us.[2] [emphasis added]

When the citizens of a free society reach a point (or a degree) that their right to act according to their own will and choices is outweighed by the privileges granted by their government and its complicit bureaucracies, then it is no longer a free society but a permission society. In such a society the citizen no longer boldly proclaims “I will…” but with hat in hand and eyes downcast, he shuffles up to his betters and mumbles “Please, may I…?”

This change of condition does not happen all at once in a free society. Rather, it occurs much the same way as a cancer attacks the body. The symptoms are minor at first but grow to the point of consciousness that something is not right in the body. In the early stages of moving from a free society to a permission society, the social planners provide soothing promises and placebos to soften the minor discomforts and inconveniences of life in a permission society. But in time as a society surrenders ever greater amounts of its freedom, the will to act by citizens holding the cherished but distant memory of freedom becomes too weak to resist their ever growing bondage to the rulers of the permission society. A free society can be saved only by radical surgery to remove the spreading cancer of the social planners and their bag of privileges to be bestowed to the inmates of the permission society.

Government fails when it does not accomplish the purpose for which it was instituted—to secure the inalienable rights of its citizens. In this two part series, we shall look at how the American government over the last century has eroded this confidence in government by not only failing to secure these inalienable rights but which has aggressively abused those rights for its own purposes. Specifically, we shall look at those inalienable rights associated with property which have been greatly abused by a heavy-handed, oppressive government and its supporting bureaucracy.

The inalienable right of property

We begin with a quote from an address by Abraham Lincoln to the New York Workingmen’s Democratic Republican Association.

Property is the fruit of labor. Property is desirable, is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence…I take it that it is best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as fast as he can. Some will get wealthy. I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good.[3]

Lincoln’s short homily on the value of property as a positive good and an encourager to industry and enterprise is important. Lincoln’s words regarding property are admirable but utilitarian by nature. Those words do not rise to the status of an inalienable right as defined by the Constitution. The inalienable right to have and use one’s property as he desires is more than something with a calculable valuable that can be weighed in the balances against some competing thing.

Richard M. Weaver wrote that, “Almost every trend of the day points to an identification of right with the purpose of the state and that, in turn, with the utilitarian greatest material happiness for the greatest number.” Weaver argues that private property is the last metaphysical right remaining because it does not depend on some measure of social usefulness that can be bent to the greatest good for the greatest number. State control of the material elements of a society positions it to allow the denial of freedom, but private property and personal income stand as a bulwark and provides a “…sanctuary against pagan statism.”[4] The biblical worldview which was the foundation of Western civilization led to boundaries on the power of the state. As a result the power of government to dictate or interfere with private transactions was limited which supported and encouraged economic freedom.[5]

Beginning of the permission society

Prior to 1936, the U.S. Supreme Court held that:

The preservation of property…is a primary object of the social compact…The legislature, therefore, had no authority to make an act divesting one citizen of his freehold, and vesting it in another, without a just compensation. It is inconsistent with the principles of reason, justice and moral rectitude; it is incompatible with the comfort, peace and happiness of mankind; it is contrary to the principles of social alliance in every free government; and lastly, it is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution.[6]

Beginning in 1936, the Supreme Court’s liberal interpretations of the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution have dramatically enlarged the powers of the federal government and encroached on fundamental property rights through its welfare programs.[7] This liberal interpretation significantly expanded what the legislature could do with regard to providing for the “general welfare” of the United States.

The debate as to the meaning of the “general welfare” clause began with Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and continues until the present day. Rather than continue the argument, let us evaluate the outcome of the distortion of the meaning of the “general welfare” clause which began in the 1930s. The results of this new liberal interpretation have caused an unprecedented assault on right of private property through:

• Eminent domain laws
• Diminution of the right of contract and obligations thereunder
• Oppressive income and property tax systems
• Onerous limitations on the possession and use of property through regulation[8]

It is in this last area of limitations on the possession and use of private property that the “Please, may I…?” society has evolved and replaced freedom with privileges. This assault on private property occurs through excessive governmental regulation which is fostered by a pervasive humanistic worldview. Humanism is intrinsically socialistic. A socialistic government allows its humanist elite to level society by their attempts to parcel out the greatest material happiness for the greatest number. This is accomplished through an onerous regulatory process which is the skeletal structure of all socialistic governments.[9] One example of this monolithic regulatory umbrella is found in Humanist Manifesto II as it proposes to create an international authority to control the environment and population growth.

…the door is open to alternative economic systems…The world community must engage in cooperative planning concerning the use of rapidly depleting resources. The planet earth must be considered a single ecosystem. Ecological damage, resource depletion, and excessive population growth must be checked by international concord.[10] [emphasis in original]

Yet, at the same time, the Manifesto self-righteously states that, “…bureaucratic structures should be held to a minimum. People are more important than…regulations.” In spite of these platitudes, calls for minimal regulations are disingenuous for humanists know that cooperative planning is code for regulation, and socialistically-oriented societies require massive amounts of regulation.[11]

In both Part I and II of these articles, our discussion is limited to loss of the inalienable right of private property through regulation in which one’s ownership and use of his or her property is no longer an inalienable right but a privilege to be dispensed by government. Such regulation has allowed unjust confiscation of private property without due compensation, limitations on the use of one’s property (which is in effect a taking of private property), and devaluation of private property through regulatory excesses. In Part II, we shall look at the two principal means by which government may regulate the actions of people and the consequences of each. One supports freedom and the other champions privilege.

Larry G. Johnson

Sources:

[1]Timothy Sandefur, The Permission Society, (New York, London: Encounter Books, 2016), p. ix.
[2] Ibid.
[3] W. Cleon Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap, (www.nccs.net: National Center for Constitutional Studies, 1981), p. 173.
[4] Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1948), pp. 131, 134-135.
[5] M. Stanton Evans, The Theme Is Freedom, (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1994), pp. 299-300.
[6] Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap, pp. 173-176.
[7] Ibid., p. 173.
[8] Larry G. Johnson, Ye shall be as gods – Humanism & Christianity – The Battle for Supremacy in the American Cultural Vision, (Owasso, Oklahoma: Anvil House Publishers, 2011), p. 249.
[9] Ibid., p. 254.
[10] Paul Kurtz, ed., Humanist Manifestos I & II, (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1973), p. 21.
[11] Johnson, Ye shall be as gods, p. 255.

Helicopter government – Part V – Overprogramming

This series of articles describes helicopter parenting and helicopter governing, the pathologies associated with each, and the impact on American culture. A helicopter government is one that exhibits characteristics similar to those of helicopter parenting which are expressed in four types of behavior: overprotection, overpraising, overindulging, and overprogramming. In Part V we shall examine our helicopter government’s overprogramming of the lives of its citizens through excessive and burdensome rules and regulations on individuals and culture at large and the pathologies and consequences thereof.

Overprogramming

One of the great tragedies of modern life over the last several decades is the loss of childhood in America. Perhaps a better word is “condensation” of childhood. Dr. David Elkind described this phenomenon in his 1981 book The Hurried Child.

…it is important to see childhood as a stage of life, not just as the anteroom to life. Hurrying children into adulthood violates the sanctity of life by giving one period priority over another. But if we really value human life, we will value each period equally and give unto each stage of life what is appropriate to that stage…In the end, a childhood is the most basic human right of children.[1]

Helicopter parents overprogram the lives of their children through obsessive scheduling, micromanaging, and monitoring. In such a regimented world the child becomes a pawn of the clock and calendar rather than a child of the moment or season. We see well-meaning parents over schedule their children’s lives with play-dates, organized sports, extra-curricular school activities, and the like with virtually no down time for just being a kid. The cell phone has become a child’s wireless umbilical cord by which parents micromanage and monitor the minutest actions and decisions of their children. One of the signs of an overprogrammed child is a frequent complaint of boredom (which means they have found themselves with an unfilled gap in their schedule). But whatever happened to good old-fashioned play? By “old-fashioned” play is meant unstructured, voluntary, no goals, curiosity unplugged, and fun. In other words, when does a child have his own personal and private downtime?

For many serious psychologists, sociologists, and education professionals, old-fashioned unstructured, purposeless play is as outmoded as yesterday’s bell-bottoms, a waste of time and energy, and non-productive. Yet, researchers have discovered the enormous benefits of unstructured play. It stimulates the brain; thrives on complexity, uncertainty, and possibility; makes us mentally quick; teaches social and survival skills; and stretches us as we grow toward adulthood. Effectively, play is practice for adulthood.[2] But in our children’s overprogrammed lives, play is now work and its activities (sports, music, camp, and other such activities) are now competitive and professionalized.[3] Children are now treated as miniature adults.

The governmental equivalent to parental overprogramming is a pervasive governmental interference in the lives of its citizens. Socialism is the practical application of the tenets of humanism which are being infused into society. The essence of a life overprogrammed by a humanistic helicopter government is a loss of freedom, a freedom by which is meant the absence of coercion as opposed to humanism’s new freedom which is not freedom at all. The new freedom is merely another name for leveling society through an equal distribution of wealth and circumstance. Rather than expanding the range of choice, leveling results in greater limitations on choice, and those limitations, which by definition is a loss of freedom, are the ultimate outcome of all socialistic systems.[4]

Leveling society requires omnipresent rules—petty, complicated, convoluted, uniform, voluminous, tedious, wearisome rules which dulls the mind, weakens the spirit, saps energy, crushes creativity, and opposes initiative. To give an inkling of the size of the overprogrammization of American life, Title 27 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations is the U.S. Tax Code which contains 16,845 pages including the part written by Congress. It is available for purchase from the U.S. Government Printing office for $1,153. However, the U.S. Tax Code is just one of 50 titles found in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, each of which contains one or more individual volumes, which are updated once each calendar year, on a staggered basis.[5] To these we add a multitude of state, county, city, and other regulatory entities’ rules and regulations. These have become the official handbook for living life. Who needs freedom when the government has all the answers?

Overprogramming life, whether the catalyst is a helicopter parent or a helicopter government, robs child and adult alike of perspective as to the important things in life. As we travel through various seasons of life, perspectives change but the things of importance never do. As we enter adulthood, the appointment book fills and the “to do” list lengthens. That is a normal part of life, but such things are temporal and appear much less important in life’s rear view mirror. It is the moments and seasons we savor, store in our memory banks, and protect for they cannot be recreated or rescheduled.

Who hasn’t smiled at the joy and wonder of a four-year-old boy focusing on the fascinating complexities of a dandelion or gazing at the playful wanderings of a butterfly on a sunny spring afternoon all the while oblivious to yells from parents and coaches as the soccer ball rolls past him?

How many of us adults are secret Walter Mitty types who have on occasion snatched a moment from our childhood to ride with the Commander as he pilots the Navy hydroplane through the worst storm in twenty years of Navy flying…or stand beside Captain Mitty as we strap on our Webley-Vickers 50.80 automatics and prepare to fly forty miles through hell while the cannonading shells from the box barrage crash around the dugout…[6] We all deserve a childhood, and if we are fortunate, a little bit of our childhood’s innocence, wonder, and adventure will survive in us and act as a respite if not a reprieve from our helicopter government’s overprogrammed world.

Larry G. Johnson

Sources:

[1] David Elkind, Ph.D., The hurried child – growing up too fast too soon, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, 2007), p. 221.
[2] Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps, (New York: Broadway Books, 2009), pp. 86-87.
[3] Elkind, p. 214.
[4] Larry G. Johnson, Ye shall be as gods – Humanism and Christianity – The Battle for Supremacy in the American Cultural Vision, (Owasso, Oklahoma: Anvil House Publishers, 2011), p. 243.
[5] “What is the Real Size of the U.S. Federal Tax Code,” Isaac Brock Society, February 12, 2012.
http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2012/02/12/what-is-the-real-size-of-the-u-s-federal-tax-code/ (accessed April 9, 2014).
[6] James Thurber, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Introduction to Literature, 4th Edition, (eds., Louis G. Locke, William M. Gibson, and George Arms, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962), p. 418-421.

Helicopter government – Part IV – Overindulging

This series of articles describes helicopter parenting and helicopter governing, the pathologies associated with each, and the impact on American culture. A helicopter government is one that exhibits characteristics similar to those of helicopter parenting which are expressed in four types of behavior: overprotection, overpraising, overindulging, and overprogramming. In Part IV we shall examine our helicopter government’s ruinous overindulgence and the pathologies and consequences thereof to individuals and culture at large.

Overindulging

Life is one of limitations. In every facet of life we face restrictions, either natural (e.g., gravity) or man-made (e.g., laws, codes of conduct, regulations, rules). Children must learn at an early age that those limitations include both actions and material things. A child who is always given whatever they want or allowed to do anything they want will have difficulty relating actions with consequences, developing a work ethic, understanding the relationship between effort and reward, and appreciating the concept of delayed gratification. Many parents have ignored these lessons when training their children, and their overindulged children have grown up to be overindulged adults with a sense of entitlement. Richard Weaver compared those with an entitlement mentality to a spoiled child. He wrote, “The spoiled child has not been made to see the relationship between effort and reward. He wants things, but regards payment as an imposition or as an expression of malice by those who withhold for it. His solution…is to abuse those who do not gratify him.”[1]

The Boomer generation (born between the end of World War II and the end of 1964) was the first to wear the badge of entitlement. Boomers grew up in an era of unbridled economic optimism, abundance, and prosperity which they assumed would last forever. In 1965, the first year after the Boomer generation officially ended, Charles Reich wrote, “Society today is built around entitlement.” In other words, there was a firm popular expectation that some specific or general outcome will occur, whether or not it is formally embodied in law. These expectations include professional licenses, executive contracts, stock options, social security pensions, and education, and most of the more important entitlements flow in some form or fashion from government. But, whether private or from government, “…to the recipients they (entitlements) are essentials, fully deserved, and in no sense a form of charity.”[2]

The growth of the Boomers’ embryonic entitlement mentality would be dramatically boosted during the last birth year of their generational cohort. In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Johnson proposed a massive legislative assault that would move an already “…rich society…upward to the Great Society.” This was the beginning of the war on poverty built on a massive array of new federal programs designed to aid the poor. However, over the next two decades, federal legislation and social policy engineers and architects would “…re-enslave many poor and minorities into a web of government dependency.” One of the most damaging programs was the Aid for Dependent Children whose qualifying requirements were changed to include any household with no male family head present, that is, it became more lucrative to not be married than to be married. The effects of these policies were devastating to the family and traditional marriage. In 1950, families comprising a husband and wife in a traditional marriage were represented by 88 percent of white families and 78 percent of black families. With the modification of AFDC guidelines by Johnson and Congress, the black family structure began a rapid decline in 1967. By the late 1970s, intact black families had declined to 59 percent compared to 85 percent for white families.[3]

The entitlement society is a derivative of humanism as can be seen in the Humanist Manifesto. If an individual cannot contribute to their own betterment, “…then society should provide means to satisfy their basic economic, health, and cultural needs, including whatever resources make possible, a minimum guaranteed annual income.”[4]

As the humanistic worldview has ascended in America, the nation has moved toward economic bondage in both government and private sectors as socialism and its entitlement mentality have become ingrained in the American consciousness.[5] An entitlement society ultimately fails because it is based on a false understanding of human nature. The fatal flaw of an entitlement society is utopianism, “…its presumption that we are inexorably on our way toward a perfect society.”[6] This is humanism’s faith in the utopian concept of human perfectibility known as progressivism which denies the fallen, corruptible nature of man.

It is right and proper to distinguish between what is government’s responsibility and what is private (individual or institution) responsibility. However in this division of responsibility, Americans have forgotten that they are the government and that the government has and always will have limited resources. The political system now dances to the music of the entitled who have the loudest and/or largest band. With an entitlement mentality, we attempt to fix unlimited numbers of problems with limited resources rather than reasonably allocate available resources to the most pressing problems while providing a safety net for the poor but not a chaise lounge.

In 2006 Leonard Steinhorn published The Greater Generation-In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy. He makes an exceptionally revealing statement about the general mindset and attitude of the Boomers—that of entitlement—which had become pervasive by the end of the twentieth century. He wrote, “The problem is that the reality of Greatest Generation America fell far short of the ideal—the America that Boomers beheld wasn’t even close to the America they were promised.”[7] (emphasis added) What generation was ever promised anything? Each generation receives the cultural heritage of all that have gone before. Each generation is given the opportunity to do great and good things, and they should do better for they stand on the shoulders of their ancestors. Each generation is given an opportunity, not a promise nor an entitlement.[8]

America has become the land of entitlements whose national anthem is now “We deserve”, and for three generations there has been little memory of the historical relationship between actions and consequences, effort and reward, a work ethic, and delayed gratification. Americans’ concept of the role of government has changed dramatically in the last eighty-five years. To illustrate the transition from an independent, self-reliant people to an overindulged entitlement generation, I retell the story of an incident my long-deceased grandmother told to me many years ago and about which I’ve written before.

My father’s family was considered poor even by the standards of the Great Depression. During that time, my father’s mother, my grandmother, cared for a sick husband and five children, cleaned people’s houses, and did laundry and sewing for others. When she was in her eighties, she told me of an incident that she experienced during the Depression. There was no food to feed her family. So she went to the back door of a little restaurant at closing time in the small rural town of Collinsville, Oklahoma, where they lived. She asked for any leftover soup. It was some fifty years later, but she still called it the worst day of her life. Her attitude may seem strange to a twenty-first century citizen with a typical entitlement mentality prevalent in United States today, but such were the people of the Greatest Generation and their ancestors.[9]

Larry G. Johnson

Sources:

[1] Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1948), p. 113.
[2] Larry G. Johnson, Ye shall be as gods – Humanism and Christianity – The Battle for Supremacy in the American Cultural Vision, (Owasso, Oklahoma: Anvil House Publishers, 2011), p. 3. Quoted material from: Robert J. Samuelson, The Good Life and Its Discontents, (New York: Vintage Books, 1995, 1997), pp. 46-47.
[3] Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States,” (New York: Sentinel, 2004), pp. 687-688.
[4] Paul Kurtz, ed., Humanist Manifestos I and II, (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1973), p. 20.
[5] Johnson, p. 406.
[6] Samuelson, p. 218.
[7] Leonard Steinhorn, The Greater Generation – In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy, (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2006), p. 69.
[8] Johnson, p. 41.
[9] Ibid., p. 3.

Helicopter government – Part II – Overprotecting

This series of articles describes helicopter governing and its similarities with helicopter parenting, the pathologies associated with each, and the impact on American culture. A helicopter government is one that exhibits characteristics similar to those of helicopter parenting which are expressed in four types of behavior: overprotection, overpraising, overindulging, and overprogramming. In Part I we observed that a helicopter government is rooted in socialism which is the required and eventual end of government under a humanistic worldview. A humanistic worldview is flawed because if fails to reflect truth as to the purpose and nature of man and therefore cannot give answers to the basic questions of life for which man continually seeks in developing his worldview. In Part II we shall examine the origins of our helicopter government’s propensity to overprotect and the pathologies and consequences thereof to individuals and culture at large.

Overprotecting

First we must ask why helicopter parents are overprotective of their children. A short, vague, and somewhat unsatisfying answer is that parents are a product of their overprotective culture. And much of that culture has been shaped and defined by the radical element (about 25%) of the Boomer generation (born between the end of World War II and the end of 1964) which has ascended to positions of leadership in the institutions of American life. That leadership has embraced the humanistic worldview and imposed and implemented laws, regulations, policies, and practices consistent with the tenets of humanism. In essence, we can say that over time the rise of helicopter parents are a derivative of an overprotective government. And from the overprotectiveness of parents and government arose both individual and cultural pathologies. In support of this view we again contrast the perceptions of the two worldviews regarding the purpose and nature of man.

Purpose of Man

For the Christian, the ultimate purpose of man is to know God and dwell with Him as His child for eternity. Therefore, relationship is the focus and end purpose of man and implies a right relationship not only with God but one’s fellowman. According to renowned humanist Paul Kurtz, the ultimate purpose of man is happiness and is further refined as “…the greatest-happiness-for-the-greatest-number…”[1] In other words, the focus is on the individual but only in the larger context of the common good. Under the humanistic worldview, government has become the judge and guarantor of happiness for the individual. However, humanism judges economic systems by whether or not they “…increase economic well-being for all individuals and groups, minimize poverty and hardship, increase the sum of human satisfaction, and enhance the quality of life…and judge it by its responsiveness to human needs, testing results in terms of the common good .”[2]

In his influential book The Philosophy of Humanism, Corliss Lamont agrees with Kurtz.

On the whole, however, a society in which most individuals, regardless of the personal sacrifices that may be entailed, are devoted to the collective well-being, will attain greater happiness and make more progress than one in which private self-interest and advancement are the prime motivators.[3]

Again, we see the humanists’ supremacy of the common good over the individual. But how is the humanist’s “common good” different from the Christian’s emphasis on relationship? It is different because the Christian’s concern for his fellow man is based on the eternal and unchangeable laws of God through an act of his or her freewill as opposed to the humanist’s required group adherence to state-defined interpretations of an ephemeral “common good” which is susceptible to revision with each change of leadership.

And it is here we see humanism’s overprotective government collide with man’s freewill and consequent desire for freedom. The tenets and assumptions of the humanistic worldview are inherently collectivist and are a direct contradiction to the independence, self-reliance, and pioneer spirit demonstrated by Americans in the colonial era and first 150 years of the nation’s history. And with this brief understanding of the humanist worldview with regard to the purpose of man, we begin to see the rise of a helicopter government that breeds dependency of the populace on a government that will be the provider and guarantor of happiness as opposed to merely making possible the pursuit thereof.

It is not that the Christian worldview is opposed to the happiness of the individual. Rather, it is the source of a Christian’s happiness that is different. A recent op-ed piece by Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, made some very shrewd observations which hit at the heart of what it means to be happy. He pointed out that personal moral transformation was the most important factor in social justice. Using information from the 2010 General Social Survey, the nation’s best sociological database, he made the following observations as to what makes people happy.

Take the example of two men, identical in age, education, race, and income. The first is religious. He’s married with two kids. He also works more and participates in his community more than 90 percent of the rest of the country. The other man meets none of these qualifications. The first man is nearly 400 percent more likely to be happy…real social justice must encourage people to participate in faith, family, and community. Their chances of happiness—and success—are inextricably linked with these moral institutions.[4]

In other words the true happiness is a collateral result of focusing on right relationships with God, spouse, family, and community.

Nature of Man

Contrary to humanist belief that man is basically good, the Founders held a biblical understanding of the corruptible nature of man and a belief that government was untrustworthy due to man’s corruptibility and therefore should be limited. Traditional ideas of limited government prevailed until the Great Depression and World War II in the first half of the twentieth century. Americans still distrusted government, but as a result of the growing influence of the humanistic worldview, they saw government as a mechanism for dealing with a multitude of societal problems. Politicians happily acquiesced and more and more “problems” were discovered that required governmental answers or intervention. Because man was basically good according to the humanists, social problems arose not because man was fallen but because of corrupt social systems. Thus, a growing number of social and political solutions by government social engineers in the name of the general welfare of its citizenry became the catalyst for a monolithic and overprotective government.[5]

However, funding government and the growing list of wants, wishes, and synthetic rights of the populous has become difficult if not impossible because government cannot do everything for everybody. Samuelson calls this “the politics of overpromise…the systematic and routine tendency of government to make more commitments than can reasonably be fulfilled. First, government resources are not adequate and never can be. People (and institutions) must do some things for themselves. A second problem arises when a helicopter government can’t fix the problems of the day; it is perceived as a failure and leads to less trust in government and growing disunity.[6]

The falseness and failures of the humanistic worldview become evident when one examines the pathologies of an overprotective helicopter government that is based on a wrong understanding of the purpose and nature of man. These pathologies are evident in much of America’s citizenry and include self-centeredness, disunity, petulance, lack of discipline, inability to function well in organized endeavors, aimlessness or lack of purpose, inability to cope (addictions), codependency, poor problem-solving skills, and a false sense of entitlement. These labels apply in varying degrees to both children who have experienced helicopter parenting and adults conditioned by a helicopter government.

The application of the overprotective policies and practices of the humanistic worldview in all institutions of American life (particularly in government and education) has resulted in a pervasive victim mentality. The consequences of this mindset have led to cultural carnage including institutionalization of poverty through multiple generations of welfare recipients; broken families without the presence of a father to be the role model of a responsible provider in lieu of various welfare agencies and social workers; and an obsession with “rights” as opposed to fulfilling one’s responsibilities, duties, and obligations to family, clan, community, and country.

Larry G. Johnson

Sources:

[1] Paul Kurtz, In Defense of Secular Humanism, (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1983), p. 68.
[2] Paul Kurtz, ed., Humanist Manifestos I and II, (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1973), p. 20.
[3] Corliss Lamont, The Philosophy of Humanism, 8th Edition, Revised, (Amherst, New York: Humanist Press, 1997), p. 272.
[4] Arthur Brooks, “The right must reclaim social justice,” Tulsa World, April 1, 2014, A-14.
[5] Larry G. Johnson, Ye shall be as gods – Humanism and Christianity – The Battle for Supremacy in the American Cultural Vision, (Owasso, Oklahoma: Anvil House Publishers, 2011), pp. 252-253.
[6] Robert J. Samuelson, The Good Life and Its Discontents, (New York: Vintage Books, 1995, 1997), p. 141-142.