Posts tagged one-size-fits-all

My Fathers’ Day Column

My Fathers’ Day Reflections

Tibor R. Machan

On my drive to work the other day I was listening to the local all news radio station and suddenly I am hearing President Obama chiming in with one of those “public service” messages on how fathers should comport themselves toward their children. Maybe this was supposed to be in honor of fathers’ day.

Gee, I had no idea that this is a presidential task, nor that anyone from Washington, DC, could possibly be familiar enough with my family situation to take up the task of advising me on these matters. I figured that Mr. Obama has a full enough plate with, say, being commander in chief guiding the military to do its proper duty, to protect our rights, being the presiding officer for the federal government, raising the funds needed by government to take care of the enormous debt that’s been accumulated by its profligacy over the last several decades, not to mention all the diplomatic problems and challenges he faces around the globe so he could leave the task of acquiring the skills of parenting to us, the citizenry.

But no. Here he is again, deploying his one-size-fits-all social philosophy, kind of like a totalitarian statesman is supposed to do. I recall when I was growing up under the Soviet socialist regime that was tried out in Hungary during the early 1950s, Comrade Stalin himself was supposed to be called by us all “our dear father” (edesapank). And sure enough that befits the head of an aspiring totalitarian regime since it’s political program is to subsume the full management of the life of the citizenry.

Under that kind of system there is no private realm. Everything is of public concern. One is supposed to be part of a collective, kind of like termites are parts of the colonies to which they belong. Individual differences are simply denied. Everyone is a specie-being, an entity of the group, a cell in the organism of society or even humanity. So with such an overall social philosophy it makes sense that those who deem themselves the leaders would presume to know it all about how to live life, everyone’s life that is.

I was actually surprised that nearly all the instructions about how one ought to carry on as a father happened to fit my case. I did in fact go out to throw pitches to my son; taught him and my daughters to bike; read them books, sang them songs, took them on long walks and drives and trips around the globe and on and on. (I even co-authored a little book with my younger daughter, a kind of reminder that “cute is not enough” in her life, which became the title of the small volume!)

OK, so Obama listed some of the activities I managed, lo and behold, to figure out as my own parental tasks. But other parents, more musical or athletic or culinary or nature loving than I probably choose different undertakings in which to involved their children–indeed, thousands and thousands of different ones, reflecting as it should their and their children’s individuality and opportunities and interests. But no, Mr. Obama had this list which he decided he should promote for all fathers to follow, as if he had been hired by them all to given them blow by blow guidelines and as if they couldn’t take up parenting without his regal guidance.

Maybe there are some parents so unprepared for what they have chosen to embark upon when they decided to have children that a little help from their friends is welcome–a bit of personal, private nudging or encouragement from people who know them well enough so it wouldn’t be an affront to butt in with such advice. But that is just it–to do any successful, valuable butting in one needs to know those parents intimately, as a psychotherapist would who has been called upon to lend a hand to those who are a bit clueless. Without such involvement in the life of parents, issuing the advice can only be insulting and quite likely misleading. Children are not produced by cookie cutters, all the same with need for identical parenting to help them grow up.

Of course, this is one of the main problems with Mr. Obama’s social philosophy, namely, that it fails to pay attention to our individuality, or specialness. Doesn’t he realized that just as our fingerprints or DNA fit us personally, with close attention to who we are (not merely some vague notion that we are all people), so must our upbringing. No one from the White House is equipped to give advice except in the most general way, like “Pay attention to what your children need from you!”

Essay on Education: Philosophical versus Political COrrectness

Education: Philosophical versus Political Correctness

Tibor R. Machan

You will know what I am after here when I tell you how much I dislike it when people talk of “her majesty” or “his highness” as they talk of various pretenders to heads of countries around the globe and throughout human history. For me such terms are like ones out of fairy tales because, well, there are no kings or queens or any such thing except in myths and fabricated political regimes. In other words kings are really not what they pretend to be, namely, God’s chosen leaders here on earth. As with all in-born status that places some above others not in height or even talent but in political authority–some may rule and others will be ruled–the whole monarchical idea is a lie. Yet even now one can encounter references to these pretenders, right here in the United States of America, as if these were the real McCoy! Poppycock. Was it not the American Founders who participated in the revolution that demoted, demythologized these pretenders and declared that no one is by nature the ruler of someone else?

Of course in all of history, wherever there have been human inhabitants, such pretentious ruses and the accompanying distortions of language have been ubiquitous. It is not so much that the thought of it ought to be banned by law. No ideas should be regarded as subject to censorship, which is the ultimate objective of construing certain ideas as politically incorrect. The Pope, the Reverend Moon, Father this and Sister that–all these are titles dependent on a dubious narrative. Most of them are phony offices with no rational reason for them. But the idea of them all, however debatable, has to be tolerated in a free country, even if those ideas are a threat to the freedom that’s so central to such a country. Yes, then, folks ought to give them all up, just as they have given up superstitions of any sort. However, this has to happen through enlightenment, education, reflection, conversation and other peaceful means, not through government intervention. A free country defers to the market place of ideas when it comes to what ideas will be deemed worthy of embrace even if the market place doesn’t always produce sterling results. So, for example, it should not be government that chooses between creationism and Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, any more than it should be government that chooses between one or another religion or ethics.

It is another thing, however, for citizens themselves, independently of government, to consider some ideas philosophically incorrect. Just what is and what is not will, most probably, be subject to eternal disputation, especially in societies where ideas of any kind have the protection of the legal system. Even racist ideas, or anti-Semitic ones—indeed any kind of bigotry—must be given legal protection and their criticism needs to be confined to argumentation, ostracism, disputation, debate and such.

There is just one big problem with this in our time. When a country tries to combine freedom of thought and speech with government-administered education, there will be irresolvable conflict. In a system of private education competition among schools would take care of philosophical correctness. In some schools certain books will be featured in the library, in others they will not, and students and their parents will be able to select which they want to be exposed to. Biology will be taught as creationists wish or as Darwinians do. No official doctrine will be imposed, period.

But when government delivers a coercive system of “education”–actually mostly indoctrination, since no alternative is available to the bulk of us who have to pay for and use such a system–any selection of books, magazines, films shown in classes and so forth will amount to censorship of the materials not chosen. They will be deemed as having been banned–whereas in a private system selection by the administrators of some schools, library officials, or teachers will not preclude exclusion by others. It is government’s nearly one-size-fits-all approach to education that stands in the way of free inquiry.

Unfortunately, in many societies people want to mix elements of liberty with elements of coercion, as if that were something trouble free—health food with some poison! It isn’t–the courts will struggle forever with trying to square that circle and politicians will engage in varieties of demagoguery to gain the power over the “educational” turf.

Only by getting government out of education can that matter be made consistent with the principles of a free society and fit for human beings whose minds must forever be free to think.

Column on Egalitarian Straitjackets

Egalitarian Straitjackets

Tibor R. Machan

In numerous areas of human life treating people in nearly exactly the same way may make sense. Thus, for example, when you go to your dentist, you are probably implored to floss–and so is everyone else who visits dentists. Other doctors, too, will prescribe practices one should adopt, such as eating nutritiously, exercising, getting regular sleep and so forth, which virtually all other patients are also told they will benefit from. Although at this point diversity starts kicking in quite evidently. We don’t all need the same number of hours of sleep; our age difference will invite different diets, forms of exercise, and so forth. Men and women require different diets, too. The dosage of medication we need to take in cases of illness also varies widely. And all this is in an area one might think needs to be approached uniformly. But no, variations begin to emerge in our lives at nearly every point. Even at the level of our similar DNA, individuals differ sufficiently that each of us has a totally unique measure which today serves to differentiate us as finger printing used to in the past.

But once we got to such areas of human life as what kind of career suits us, what kind of significant other will promise greater happiness, where we will enjoy our vacations most, what sort of apparel is most attractive for us to wear, what it the kind of weather that suits us best–in these and innumerable other areas variety is the rule. No wonder they say it is the spice of life!

So when one runs across those who have enormous faith in centralized planning and economic regulation, one is facing people who are, to borrow a term from the late Austrian economist and libertarian Murray N. Rothbard, in revolt against nature. And this holds for nearly all aspect of one’s economic life, including the sort of financial instruments we should utilize as we prepare for our future. Yet, when the great variety of such instruments is confronted by enthusiast of government regulation, based in large measure on their explicit or more likely implicit embrace of egalitarianism, what they want to do is cut out the variety and implement, by force of law and regulation, a wholly unnatural uniformity.

In financial aspects of one’s life, as in many others, there are innumerable ways to go. Some people are adventurous for a while, then more conservative, based on not only such facts about them as the size of their family, the circumstances of their career, their hopes and plans for the future, etc., but also on personality and style. Some folks I know are fabulous speculators who also realize the hazards of going about their financial affairs that way; others do some speculation and some conservative investing; others give very little thought to all this, may even find it too bourgeois to fret about such things and proceed to live on the edge and would not have it any other way. Not unlike it is with other aspects of their lives!

Are some of the variations in all these approaches people take to different aspects of their lives unwise? You bet they are. But very few can tell–one would have to be an intimate for that kind of knowledge about a person. And even if one knew how a friend or pal or neighbor ought to carry on about his or her finances, all that is available among civilized people is to offer advice, suggestions, maybe a bit of nudging. But for adults it is up to them how they ought proceed about such matters, with a little help from their friends.

Sadly when the likes of Goldman Sachs executives are drilled by a bunch of self-important petty tyrants in our government, these folks are not really prepared to answer the bullies unleashed at them. Most of us know about all of the above implicitly, without writing it down, without articulating it, even when we are smack middle of the businesses which address it. That behind all the government regulation hysteria lies an old fashioned political and social philosophy the implication of which is, well, the kind of society they are trying to impose in North Korea–where even the public symbols wreak of equality for all (what with all those blue pajamas on display during mass parades)–does not seem to make such difference to the enthusiasts. They just follow their sentimental desire for all of us to be placed under the same rules, for all of us to submit to a one-size-fits-all policy in every sphere of our lives, with them at the helm implementing it all.

Maybe this is what the Tea Party folks sense better than all the intellectuals at our universities and prominent newspapers and magazines and just don’t want to accept as the norm. I am with them on this, all the way.

Column on Uniting the Country

On Uniting the Country

Tibor R. Machan

On January 3rd, just after Meet the Press, NBC-TV broadcast a radio address by President Obama and while I have become nearly completely pessimistic, even cynical, about expecting anything uplifting from politicians these days–I think there could be some and have been a very few–I listened to the whole message. I never quite foreclose the possibility that people will change course, improve, gain new insights, and otherwise depart from their bad habits. Yes, the governmental habit is so pervasive that this expectations does appear pollyannaish to many of my friends, still I never quite give up hope in human beings. And there were a few elements in the president’s talk that I found somewhat agreeable. It was probably accidental, I admit, but even that is better than nothing.

In particular Mr. Obama called for unity among Americans in their commitment to fight terrorism and to weather hard economic times. Moreover, the call sounded like he meant for us to stand up against the bad guys of our own accord, to volunteer to do so, to come together as free men and women. Yes, it sounded like he meant for us to take care to thwart terrorist efforts with courage, tenacity, and attentiveness of our own. And to come up with ways to meet the current economic challenges as a matter of our own initiative, to figure out ways to cope and overcome.

This kind of call makes room for both, individual and special efforts, the kind that cannot easily be generalized except for one thing–all are efforts in the right direction but using possibly quite different approaches. That is quite fitting in a free country. Trust people to figure out what they need to do to get ahead instead of regimenting them to follow a one-size-fits-all method. For some this may mean saving for others spending more, as an example. For some it may mean staying around the house, for others getting out. And so forth and so on, as many ways as there are people, perhaps, just to so long as they do make the effort to solve their problems. Urging Americans this way amounts to the sort of leadership that’s fitting for free men and women.

Unfortunately so many of Mr. Obama’s policies are quite different in both spirit and substance from such appreciation of human diversity. In this country perhaps more than in any other, acknowledging the enormous differences among us is absolutely indispensable to forging proper public policy. The American Founders showed this by their example when they identified the public good in America as the principled adherence to and protection of every individual’s basic rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Beyond this very general idea of the public good there is very little that is really good for everyone the same way, in the same measure, at the same time.

But instead of carrying on this revolutionary tradition in pursuing the public good, the country’s politicians have reverted to the ways of early European monarchs who set out to determine what all their subjects must do and forced them to do it–be this in matters of religion, science, the arts, commerce or whatnot. So when it comes to health insurance, for example, Mr. Obama and his team insist that what they cook up must be followed by everyone–so much so as to make it a matter of law for everyone to purchase insurance, never mind their individual circumstances, their age, health, goals, etc. No, instead we all have to follow one vision. And this is so with other projects as well–education, environmental policy, scientific research and the rest.

It did, however, give me, at least, a bit of satisfaction to hear Mr. Obama sound as if for once he recognized that any sort of unity in this country, one that once aspired to be genuinely free, has to be voluntary, just as the beautiful music produced by a choir or orchestra or jazz band, while a result of the cooperation of many, many individuals, must come from free choice an not from orders above.

Maybe Mr. Obama will heed this part of his message, although I doubt it.