Why Is The Nanny State Descending On Us Like A Sack Of Bean Curd?

Random Reflections On The New America

Date

(1) Easy. We are getting the Nanny State because we want it. Most people want to be taken care of. If asked, they might genuflect to residual self-respect, to the largely imaginary American virtues embodied by Davy Crockett, and say they favored self-reliance, initiative, and independence. They don't. They want nurturing, want to shed the burden of personal responsibility. The mothering can be accomplished through welfare, social security, nationalized medicine, maids, union contracts, immigrant grounds-keepers, police, or workman's comp, but they want it. Most people who don't want to be taken care of by the state are rich enough not to need it.

The increase in wealth occasioned by technology makes the Nanny State affordable. Since we want it, and we can pay for it, we will have it.

(2) The upcoming election is of little importance. Either candidate will move the country in the same direction, toward the Nanny State, toward extension of entitlements, and with it increased governmental intrusion into the lives of the citizenry, and the dissolution of conventional morality, which gives people fun things to do while being taken care of. Al Gore would promote these things a bit faster than George W. Gore.

(3) We do not have candidates, neither Al nor George. They are illusions. Each is in reality the aggregate of two speechwriters, a gestures coach, three pollsters, an ad agency, a make-up man, a holder of focus-groups, and several political technicians. They test one position -- Al is going to be a centrist -- and take a poll. If the polls drop, they take a new position -- now Al will be a left-liberal and compassionate, or conservative and manly. In fact, Al doesn't exist.

(4) People do not want the things they say they want. Most, for example, do not want freedom. They want security, prosperity, bowling, television, and vacations. Having these things, they will accept without demur, without really noticing, the tightening control over the press, the narrowing of political choice, the diminution of influence over schools, the reduction in independence. The trick is to bring these about gradually, by imperceptible steps, in the name of compassion or some similarly marketable virtue. It's working.

(5) People care no more about education than they do about freedom. The deepest human drives other than sex are, first, to obtain prosperity; second, to avoid work; and, third, to escape their sense of inferiority. Schooling both requires work and produces invidious distinctions between those who have it and those who don't. Consequently, most people are happy with schools that provide the forms of education without requiring the substance. Thus the resentment of standardized tests, and the inflation everywhere of grades. Soon everybody will go to college, nobody will have to learn anything, and everybody will get a diploma.

(6) People are not opposed to welfare, but to welfare for others. Whites object to welfare for blacks, imagining that they themselves embody the ideals of hard work and self-support. Actually most whites don't like work any more than blacks do. A chief aim of civilization has been the avoidance thereof. If whites could continue to receive their salaries without again going to the office, they would spend their lives fishing. Which would be sensible.

(7) There will be no election in November. To elect is to choose, but we barely have a choice. We do not have two political parties, but rather one party with two divisions. The principle of American politics is to allow the electorate to decide between Candidate A and Candidate A, which encourages them to believe that they have determined who is to be President. It is a system that keeps the incumbents in power, though they take turns being in the minority. Your choices are to vote for either of two largely identical candidates, to throw your vote to a fringe candidate in a gesture of romantic futility, or to preserve your dignity by staying home.

(8) The genius of our system lies in maintaining the appearance of representative government without actually having it. One technique for doing this is the election-without-a-choice. Another is the concentration of power in distant bureaucracies that in principle are subject to democratic influence, but in practice are not. If, for example, fundamental educational decisions were made at the local level, parents would wield influence. But if policy is made far away, in the state capital and in Washington, parents will have no influence at all. The effect is to keep power in the hands of unions and the ruling elites. They understand this perfectly.

(9) We do not have a free press. We maintain the illusion, because the government does not control the press. The trick is that the press and the government are in the hands of the same people -- or, if you will, the press is an informal branch of government. They allow the expression only of approved views. We all know what they are. The more important the subject, and the more sensitive, the less we can say. Is this not so?

(10) The chief function of the Supreme Court is to allow the ruling elite to thwart the public will. Having absolute power, and being in addition beyond recall, the Court acts as a Ministry of Culture while pretending to fulfill judicial functions. The justices make by fiat the decisions that truly transform the country, decisions that could never be passed legislatively -- abortion, integration, pornography, the gradual abolition of religion, the upcoming elimination of self-defense by firearms. Its decisions issue in Constitutional garb, but in fact represent the views of the elite.

The court has the power to impose its will, and does. The people passively obey.

(11) Presidential elections are not about policy, but about the division of power. Electoral victory determines the apportioning of various spoils. Neither party, however, will address crucial matters of policy. For example, neither will do anything about the abysmal state of education, the precipitous decline of the military, the unchanging morass of racial relations, unchecked immigration, crime, or the perfusion of drugs through the schools. Eight years hence, things will be as they are now, except that various freedoms will have been marginally reduced.

(12) In sum, we have democracy that circumvents the will of the people; a free press in which only certain things may be said; education divorced from learning; and we have very nearly demonstrated that if people have comfortable lives, they will care about nothing else. Again, America is succeeding where the Soviet Union failed.