Thursday, June 03, 2010

The hand that empties the cradle rules the world

Mark Steyn rocks hard, again:

Europe’s economic crisis is a mere symptom of its existential crisis: what is life for? What gives it meaning? Post-Christian, post-national, post-modern Europe has no answer to that question, and so it has 30-year-old students and 50-year-old retirees, and wonders why the small band of workers in between them can’t make the math add up. 
America and its famed "Puritan work ethic" has been, up until now, somewhat insulated from this phenomenon.  The current Administration's attempt to impose a Euro-style cradle-to-grave state from above has met with a huge wave of opposition.  However, how long can it last?  The culture has already abandoned most of everything else associated with actual Puritans, for good or ill; the work ethic isn't just going to prop itself up once everything else has gone.  And in the end, the next generation always has to carry on the struggle of civilization against entropy; if there isn't a next generation, then the struggle is by definition lost.  It's little sense worrying about a healthy society if there's nobody left to socialize with.
When Barack Obama started redistributing American wealth, a lot of readers dusted off Mrs. Thatcher’s bon mot: “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” But European social democracy has taken it to the next level: they’ve run out of other people, period.

However, the Puritans may have been on to something.  Laugh all you like, they helped build from nothing the incredible country we live in.  Tossing out all of the ideas that inspired them is not going to help us keep up.  Has discarding their alleged prudery helped us enjoy more fulfilling sex lives?  We console ourselves by saying "They thought sex was dirty and we don't," and that may have more than a bit of truth about it - but we're the ones who've suddenly stopped having kids.  (Whatever we say they thought, they must have been enjoying themselves.)  The few that we do have are in many ways worse-cared-for, despite our obsession over shielding them from every-increasing bits of the unfairness and routine difficulties of life.  We legislate winning and losing out of their games, and find that they can't handle setbacks, nor succeed with grace.  We put their feelings in front of their education or their discipline, and are amazed that they are uninquisitive, self-absorbed, entitled, and lazy.  Good luck forming lasting and healhty relationships that way.

Those who are going to solve the first trouble are the ones who are toting four and six and more children along in a minivan while their enlightened neighbors snicker in an empty house.  I suspect the way they raise those kids is going to start to solve the other problems as well - on a practical level, you need to have good working rules in place to have a successful family society, and the larger it gets the more opportunities for learning those lessons that also serve in the larger human family.  On a cultural level, the smart money is on the culture that values virtue, hard work, friendship, healthy competition, winning with class, and losing with dignity; the one that treasures life and all its pleasures and thinks about how they ought to work together in the best order - not trampling each other and themselves selfishly.  Giving up that advantage is a disaster.

I'm hopeful despite it all, but we have to start to at least appreciate the good lessons our ancestors taught us, even if some points are disupted.

1 comment:

pwlsax said...

"On a cultural level, the smart money is on the culture that values virtue, hard work, friendship, healthy competition, winning with class, and losing with dignity..."

Then we've got some major handicaps that you don't seem to address.

We don't value healthy competition; we pay lip service to it. What we honor, by deed and example, is cutthroat, soul-destroying competition, winner take all.

Neither do we value losing with dignity. The no-losers twaddle in schools - which is exaggerated to begin with - is mostly a reaction to how we treat losers, and have [i]always[/i] treated losers: we deny them their dignity.

We [i]are[/i] pretty good winners. In any arena of competition, when we win, it's all hugs, high-fives and love. It's when we lose that we discover that we don't matter: all that matters is the result not achieved.

I hesitate to hear anyone recommending putting the next generation's discipline and education before their feelings. We, and they, need real commitment to teach things like healthy, ethical competition, and yes, that the person themselves has value even when they lose the toss. Feelings will come up, and if we're serious about teaching these values, we have to engage those feelings.