One cannot read the papers or listen to social conversations without being struck by the level of frustration with society’s seeming inability to address and correct current social problems. Those problems are very real: disintegrating family structure, crime and violence,…
One cannot read the papers or listen to social conversations without being struck by the level of frustration with society’s seeming inability to address and correct current social problems. Those problems are very real: disintegrating family structure, crime and violence, the state of public education, to name just a few.
American society has historically rested on the notion of individual moral and financial responsibility. We expect parents to support and instruct their children; we expect homeowners to be responsible for their property; we expect employers and employees to discharge their respective duties. We expect to hold criminals responsible for their crimes. In a system that accords people rights, we necessarily depend upon those people to act responsibly. What do we do, then, when people don’t meet our expectations?
The lazy person’s answer is the totalitarian approach. Parents won’t monitor what their kids are watching on TV? Have government ban inappropriate material – after government decides what material that is. Are children not getting proper religious instruction? Make the public schools require them to pray. Too much crime and violence? Have government confiscate all the guns and frisk anyone who looks suspicious. Too much bigotry? Pass a law against hate speech.
What is really attractive about these solutions is that they are so easy. As we piously attribute the need for government control to other people’s deplorable lack of responsibility, we are the ones who are refusing to accept the responsibilities of citizenship in a free society.
Instead of sitting in front of a television set complaining that "there ought to be a law" and "someone should do something," we each need to ask ourselves what we are doing. What responsibilities have we assumed?
When someone said something bigoted in your presence, did you express your disapproval? When something on television offended you, did you write the sponsor? television station? When you saw a neighbor child neglected, did you call the appropriate agency? Have you joined crime watch in your neighborhood? Have you volunteered to work with youth at your church? At your neighborhood school? Have you contributed to a non-profit lately?
If free people do not take personal responsibility, pretty soon they are no longer free. There are no shortcuts. When we hand over to government the power to impose politically correct behavior, we have effectively surrendered both liberty and moral autonomy.
But perhaps that is what people really want. It’s a lot easier to be a moral couch potato.