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Life Without Consequences
I had a good friend in college (we’ll call him “Trey”) who was one of the best natural athletes I’ve ever seen, and he was absolutely brilliant. He didn’t do sports, and he was a fifth year senior with a ‘C’ average. His Dad owned some type of factory in New York State, and Trey knew exactly where he was going when he graduated. He knew his Dad would hire him regardless of his grades, so why study? And he liked college (mainly, he liked girls), so every time he got close to graduating, he’d change his major so he could stay longer. He was an alcoholic, drinking heavily several times per week. Trey invited me to a party one night, and I said I couldn’t go. He said, “C’mon, man! It’s Friday night!” I told him I had to study. He asked why I had to study on Friday night, and I informed him that I didn’t have a guaranteed management job lined up for me, and I knew that I had one chance at a better life by going to college, and I was not about to screw it up, thank you very much. He said he didn’t understand. And he probably didn’t.
I saw a news story this morning about a group of protestors who were blocking traffic on an interstate in some city. A commuter drove his pickup through the crowd and hit one of the protestors. I watched the video. The other protestors were horrified that one of them had been seriously hurt. So here we have a group of people who stand around on the interstate and are genuinely surprised when they get hit by a car. These are people who are not accustomed to experiencing the consequences of their actions. They have a lot in common with Trey, come to think of it. They have little hope for a better tomorrow, they sense a lack of control over their future, they sink into nihilism and despair and begin to see the world as a strange, depressing place. People in this situation sometimes do things that look stupid to the rest of us. Like drinking themselves into oblivion six nights a week. Or standing around on interstates.
I was fascinated by the video, because most of the “protesters” on the interstate were wearing surgical masks, to protect against Coronavirus. They were being very conscientious of safety precautions against a virus which poses little to no threat to young people like them, while they stand around on an interstate, which most certainly DOES pose a threat to young people like them. When they carried the young lady off the interstate, after she’d been hit by the pickup truck, I saw someone pull her mask back up over her bloody nose.
Safety first, right?
And then many of them returned to standing around on the interstate. Remember that these people are not clinically insane. These are just people.
People are strange. I love them, but they’re strange. Of course, so am I. I cast no stones here.
But my point is that people get much more strange when they start to lose the connection between their actions and the consequences of those actions. Once someone loses that connection, it’s just hard to say what crazy stuff that person might do.
My Uncle Fred often spoke of the seen vs the unseen. Some consequences of government actions are seen (like a new bridge being built), and some are unseen (like a new business not opening, because too much money was taken out of the local economy).
People losing the connection between their actions and their consequences is an unseen consequence of too much government. A safety net that is too robust leads to erratic, self-destructive behavior. Like not studying hard in school. Or standing around on interstates.
And like Trey and the protestors, as we lose the connection between increasing the influence of government, and the many unseen consequences thereof, then we start to do stupid things with that government.
One reason to spend less money on, say, The War on Poverty, is that it doesn’t work. But I would argue that a better reason is that as we further insulate poor people from the consequences of their actions, then their actions will predictably become more erratic and self-destructive. Like Trey, who for all I know is still drunk today. Although if he’s running a factory now, as I suspect he is, then he might be sober now, which I suspect he is. The chains of responsibility that he spent his life fleeing may end up saving him.
Life is funny that way.
It’s not just the government that causes such problems. Suppose you train someone from kindergarten that the biggest threat to the world is global warming, and that they should recycle their cans. Ok, suppose one day, that person just tosses a can in the regular trash somewhere. What is the impact of that? Nothing, really.
But suppose you take a kid who just lost their farm, like me, and you give them a scholarship to college. You don’t have to tell that kid to study. Believe me, he will achieve whatever he is capable of. Because the connection between his actions and their consequences is a lot less abstract to him.
Life is not a game, to kids like that.
Trey’s Dad had protected him from the consequences of his actions for his entire life. And did Trey love him for that? No, he resented his father. I never understood why, but he hated his father. That made no sense to me at the time.
But now, watching these people with surgical masks protest against the government of the country that has given them such security that they don’t understand the danger of standing around on an interstate, I think I’m starting to understand Trey.
I hope he found his way. I really do.
Maybe all the wealthy kids that were sent to study with him taught Aristotle about the importance of virtue and responsibility. Aristotle felt that happiness was impossible without fulfilling one’s responsibility to others.
So Marx was half right. But the half that he missed is really important. Marx never supported himself. Never. So rather than making his world a better place, he stood around on interstates. And thus, it became impossible for his fertile mind to make the world a better place. It’s tragic, really.
By compassionately sheltering Americans from the consequences of their actions, we are making it impossible for them to make the world a better place. Quite the contrary, in fact.
It’s tragic.Published in General
Imagine how dangerous the world would be for a person who had lost the ability to feel pain, as happens with certain forms of leprosy. Such a person could do serious damage to herself by continuing to walk on a badly sprained ankle or putting her hand on a hot stove without knowing it.
Parents and governments can create a sort of moral leprosy by weakening or even destroying the feedback loops that make it possible for people to know when their actions are destructive or self-destructive. Placing the consequences of people’s actions on the backs of others is a sure formula for disaster.
The folks on the Commentary Podcast aren’t the only ones to exhibit crushing morosity.
Ah, but there will be consequences. The pickup truck driver will be charged with assault, need a lawyer, and have to go to court to defend himself. The so-called “protesters” who choose to walk on the freeway will not be charged with anything. There will be no consequences for most of them. Around here, the State Patrol closes the freeway to all traffic so they can take it over. Whose use of the freeway is deemed most important? The drivers trying to get home from work, or to work, or trying to take their truckload where it needs to go? Or the “protesters” who are trying to make some kind of point by snarling up legal traffic? Obviously, the protesters are more important.
I would reform education if I could. I would insist that we teach as much about the exciting future as we teach about the tragic past.
To some extent, the situation we are in today with young people has been true for a long time. I was interested to learn a few years ago that the Horatio Alger (1832 to 1899) stories were written during the Gilded Age for the express purpose of inspiring young men to achieve. Northeastern University started out in 1898 as the Evening Institute for Young Men at the Huntington Avenue YMCA.
James McPherson wrote in his textbook on the Civil War that Karl Marx and Horace Mann were both seeing the same thing in London and Boston–thousands of untended children running through the city streets while their parents worked in the cities’ factories. Marx proposed communism; Mann proposed good education.
We need better schools than we have today. We need teachers who are optimistic and excited about the future.
You can’t shield them forever.
They’ll learn eventually. I hope it doesn’t hurt much.
Percival, I never understood The Gods of the Copybook Headings until I looked into the educational purpose that Kipling was referencing. For young Brits in the early 20th century, a copybook was a book with familiar maxims (“Obey your parents,” etc.) printed every so often at the top of the pages of the book. The student was required to copy that maxim, word for word, down the page. That was supposed to improve the student’s handwriting and reinforce his moral education.
Kipling is playing the contrarian conservative in the poem. He is saying that those old saws that people make fun of are actually pearls of wisdom grounded in reality.
I understood the poem without knowing that, but I’m glad to know it anyway. Thanks, Kent.
I never could understand what “copybook headings” were, even though I looked them up more than once. Thanks.
We get at least 12 of this kind of thing a year, from few different authors…new ones all the time, now, it seems!…and they’re worth way more than the 5 bucks each that we cheapskates pay for them. Don’t tell Marketing.
I knew a guy in college exactly like that. While he was officially majoring in history, he was actually majoring in gin and tonics. But you see, he was different from Trey. He was from Boston and from that family who, in the little verse known as the Boston Toast, spoke only to God. So now he continues to be a multimillionaire Brahmin.
There is a video around of a foul-mouthed woman who kicked a Federal agennt in Portland and is taken down toute suite. As she has her arm bent into a contorted angle as the zip ties are readied she (perhaps drunkenly) yells, “I’m a nice young woman from Wisconsin and you’re a (expletive) piece of (expletive).” I believe that she is about to understand the consequences of her actions.
George Washington’s Rules of Civility is popular with homeschoolers for practicing handwriting.
Brilliant insight, marvelous construction. Thanks, Doc.
Leftists don’t care about consequences. They just want to “do something” to address their feelings.
To each their own but I’m all about the terror and slaughter.
They’ll squeal like it’s terror and slaughter no matter how benign it is.
Wasn’t it the Weather Underground in the 1960’s who thought it was fun to bomb federal buildings until the bombers blew themselves up making the bomb?
Unfortunately, with the large numbers of terrorists doing damage to cities, and obviously money is no object, any casualties would be just a sacrifice for the cause and not a cause to rethink the process. With the few terrorists that are being arrested and almost immediately let out of jail, where is the consequence? It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. I wonder when/if they can truly be hurt. I suspect that some Fed is following the money, but that may take some time.
Excellent post, Doc. And well said.
This was posted on Twitchy Monday, from a similar incident in Georgetown. The poster here wants life without consequences for blocking the street in Washington’s toniest neighborhood … but she also wants massive consequences for the driver for daring to move her vehicle while protestors were pounding on it:
Consequences are a one-way street, where the cause is so noble and just that their violations of the law should be not simply allowed, but celebrated, while the poster is irate at D.C. police for not arresting the driver for daring to try to get out of trouble she did nothing to earn other than simply driving down the street. To reach that level of hypocrisy, Trey would have had to disdain both his future job and his father, and then get irate that other people wouldn’t help fund the lifestyle he had grown accustomed to via his parents’ money.
What other conclusion can be drawn after 60 years of War on Poverty? It brings to mind something George Gilder is purported to have said. “If you build a welfare state for the women and children, you will end up needing a police state for the men.”
What is that recent quote from Thomas Sowell about people assuming/assigning guilt for things that happened before they were born but refusing responsibility for things they do themselves?
The hissy fit because the mean fascists won’t let them destroy a federal courthouse, the idiocy of characterizing misfits gathering to await/provoke a violent confrontation as a “peaceful protest” and the right to block roads, loot or injure cops all because one is ever so cross About Things is just so dumb.
The moral, cognitive and character stuntedness of this crowd is an indictment of or educational and social environments. Refusing accountability of all kinds is truly childish.
Yeah. Three of them smeared themselves all over the walls of a basement bomb workshop.
And the police probably arrested the driver, when the event wouldn’t have happened in the first place if the cops did their job and cleared people off the road.
This, to me, is the primary attraction of leftism: “Join us! And lead a life with no consequences!”
Nothing is ever your fault, after that. The beauty of victimhood.
But it leads to misery. Every time.
And then there was the highway incident on I-225 in Aurora east of Denver this past weekend where a jeep sped through the “peaceful protest” hitting no one, but causing people to scatter and one woman to jump off the highway to avoid being hit. She fell 20 feet and broke her leg. Of course, the jeep driver and passenger were “detained.” I haven’t heard if they’ve been charged yet.
Thing is, this is along the route we use to take Little Miss Anthrope to her appointments at Children’s Hospital, and we have an appointment coming up next month. Am I to subject my child to this? To these terrorists? On the way to her neuro-oncologist and other specialists treating her for a freakin’ brain tumor??
I have sympathy for people trying to get to and from work, but more sympathy for people trying to make it to Children’s Hospital with their sometimes critically ill children. Get these jack— terrorists off the streets and in jail! They’re terrorizing people, they should be treated as terrorists!
I’m tempted to call the Aurora PD and ask for a police escort. Really fellas. Do your damn job. Or call in the feds.
Marx’s tragedy was the suffering and death he caused. The tragedy of our current group of Antifa/BLM fools is the suffering and death they will cause if allowed to continue evading the consequences of their behavior. This was a really excellent post Doc. It’s awesome when we can take an experience in our past and make it so relevant our circumstances today. You have done that brilliantly @drbastiat.
Regarding the war on poverty, why does Medicaid cover pregnancies?
48% of pregnancies are covered by Medicaid in the US.
Nearly half — is it just me or is this number insane?
This video shows what I think is the modern white
fascist Marxist totalitarianspoiled and privileged anti-fa protester. My wife and I must have played it thirty times last night. And each time we saw more going on. The PoC girls getting shoved by the biggest cop. The boyfriend who tries to stand between the cops and the girl and who gets absorbed into the police line. The way the cops in just a few seconds take the girl into custody like a time-lapse video of an amoeba engulfing a paramecium. But mostly, it’s the way the girl steps forward, into the face of a cop and shouts at the cop:
“You tell me to back up! On what f*cking grounds do you get to tell me to f*cking back up?!”
(cop says mildly) “Back up.”
(with two stamping hops, jumps up into cops face) “Or! F*cking! What!”
That is beautiful!
I am amazed at the entitlement mentality that one can be as abusive as possible and violate directives meant to preserve the peace And then be surprised and resentful that there are consequences of any kind.