August 22, 2010
Dreams From My Father: Conservative Truths to Live ByBy Jason McNew
I grew up in coal country Pennsylvania during the 1980s. Life wasn't perfect, but my family was solidly middle class, and I was blessed with morally sound and hardworking parents whose primary focus was the proper rearing of their four children. My mother was a homemaker, and my father was an accountant.
As a kid, I thought listening to my father was like being lectured by a See n' Say -- pull Dad's string and get some predictable, pre-recorded message. If I was lucky, sometimes I might even get two messages compounded together -- "Life isn't fair. Whatever happens to you is your own fault." This was not what I wanted to hear when I had just run over a bag of roofing nails with my Schwinn. Naturally, everything my father said to me back then went in one ear and out the other.
"Hate is a terrible word."
My father was big on this one, and he repeated it often. Only a few years ago, my uncle (Dad's older brother) similarly corrected me at dinner one evening: "Don't say 'hate,' Jason...it's a terrible word." To Dad, actual hate had a meaning -- dragging a black man behind a truck and to his death because of the color of his skin or sawing somebody's head off because of his creed. Hate is frog-marching emaciated Jews onto cattle cars bound for extermination camps, or running over Christians with a steamroller. One does not hate mayonnaise or hate his boss -- to my father, it just doesn't work that way.
It is sad how often the word "hate" is thrown carelessly about in articles and the comments section of progressive websites like Think Progress or The Huffington Post -- it's a sort of mind control device to be used whenever debate is unwanted (because progressive positions are always "settled science"). You disagree with the policy positions of person X or group Y? It can only be because you hate them. End of discussion. "Hate" is a terrible word, and its use should be avoided except when absolutely necessary.
"Don't cross the line. You can walk up to it and even step on it on occasion, but don't ever cross it."
Before success may be had at anything, whether it is selling Girl Scout cookies or running a country, risk management must be learned. When Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947, he had two broken ribs and used a sawed-off broom handle to close the canopy of his supersonic X-1 aircraft. Chris Gardner, subject of the inspiring 2006 movie The Pursuit of Happyness, refused to give up on an unpaid internship with Dean Witter despite being homeless and a single father. Mr. Gardner is now an author, multimillionaire, and philanthropist. While safety and security are of course important, American society has become far too risk-averse -- so risk-averse that many grade schools no longer have seesaws or allow games like dodgeball on the playground (because someone might get hurt). Many parents I know will not let their children climb trees. There is no reward without risk, and we imperil our children's future by denying them opportunities to learn risk management on their own.
"Life isn't fair."
As pointed out by J. R. Dunn in a recent AT piece, "Conservatism is distinguished by its recognition that some problems cannot be solved, only endured." Conservatives do not accept the very dangerous notion that the human condition can be perfected, or that a strong central government should (or more importantly, can) save everyone from everything. Conversely, progressives reject the bell curve as applied to human ableness and instead prefer the strictly linear belief that if only equal inputs can be afforded to everyone, the individual outcomes will be the same. This is insane.
Man's biggest flaw lies in his natural inclination to increase his own power, which invariably leads to abuse. Our Founding Fathers sought to mitigate this flaw through the erection of rigorous checks and balances, but when the goal becomes for government to ostensibly solve every human woe, these checks and balances become a serious impediment and must be torn down. No matter how pure the motive, attempts which have been made in the past by other societies to impose "fairness" (social justice) have resulted in only scorched earth and piles of corpses.
"Whatever happens to you is your own fault."
This was my father's response when I brought home a bad grade, telling him that "the teacher gave me a D." I was punished by being confined to the house and having my favorite things taken away. When I did well, Dad gave me money to go bowling. More than anything else, American conservatism is predicated upon emphasis of the individual and personal responsibility. Individualism and personal responsibility do not simply mean "everyone is on his own," as is so often claimed by progressives. Human beings must be incentivized to do (or not do) something; this is in our nature. Remove either incentive or disincentive, and given enough time, all order manifestly breaks down. In the end, everyone will suffer, especially those who believed they were getting away with something.
"Treat others as you want them to treat you."
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ instructed his followers to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Dr. Benjamin Franklin, in one of his very last written letters, expressed this same notion thusly: "... That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children ..." This lesson is called The Golden Rule, and there are many ways to say it, but more than anything, this idea forms the rational basis for Christianity (and American conservatism). It is plainly and nakedly humane to want other people to not suffer.
From kindergarten to sixteenth grade, America's educational landscape is strewn with advocacy for never-ending groups of oppressed peoples who can be saved only by self-aggrandizing progressive messiahs. When all is said and done, the results of this are not to unite, but to divide. At my home, we receive a never-ending, forest-emptying barrage of flyers for social causes when the kids get off the bus every day. I put these aside and remind my kids that we are all God's children. Then out comes the See n' Say: "Treat others as you want them to treat you."
Like Mark Twain's father, mine seems to have gotten a lot smarter as I have grown older.
Jason McNew is a 36-year-old IT professional. He can be reached at email@example.com.