I write about ancient history for several reasons: its fascinating, helps us understand ourselves, and it gives us a possible window into the path of human society. Generally, I feel like I’m defending the ancients because this modern world is not interested in old dusty characters who weren’t “savvy” like we are today (they didn’t have cell phones).
But there are cases in the modern world where the human race goes backward, and this is one of those times. To see the reality of this retrograde one only needs to look at the recent digital TV conversion in America. For years we were told this was coming: on TV, on radio, and in print, warning after warning. Then, when the date for the conversion drew near, it was moved back because the public was perceived as “not ready”. Ads blanketed the airwaves with warnings about the loss of one's TV signal. Coupons were sent out so people could get low cost converter boxes, which ultimately were given away. Now, finally, the day of conversion is past and armies of federal workers man phone banks to answer questions from people who’s TVs don’t work or don’t know how to use their new converter box. The same people who pushed through the warnings are now surprised the problem is not as big as they anticipated.
My question is, “When will Americans take back responsibility for their own lives?” Isn’t it the individual’s responsibility to make sure his TV works, like it’s his responsibility to make sure his electricity works by paying his bill? For those old or poor people who don’t know what to do, where is their family and why aren’t they taking care of them?
Unfortunately, we have two forces in our society who want to take responsibility for us because they’ve made a decision we’re incompetent. These forces are liberal politicians and trial lawyers. Liberal politicians feel guilty about the world for reasons I can’t explain. I think its because they have money and don’t want to give it up, so they push government to give away money so they can feel better about themselves. One problem with that idea is that the government is very bad at doing anything, so the “help” is ineffective.
The second group, the trial lawyers, is much more sinister. They make no bones about robbing others (mostly companies) to enrich themselves, under the guise of caring for people. We are now in a time where an enormous amounts of money is wasted avoiding lawsuits: swing sets have to have rubber carpets in case a kid falls off, lawnmowers need to shut off automatically, and packing materials have to display the label “don’t eat.” Why is the mower manufacturer responsible for some idiot who sticks his hand into a spinning blade. Duh, shut it off first. Trial lawyers research new ways to sue and for those which show promise, they push the envelope. How about suing McDonalds because its customers ate cheeseburgers and got fat? Sounds like a good way to make money!
The Greeks and Romans would have had a simple solution to our legal mess -- eliminate the lawyers. If I were a philosopher king for one day, my first act would be to disbar half the lawyers. The remainder would then be forced to do real law.
As far as liberal politics goes, there are two truisms in the history of government. One -- when a political system is efficient it raises the quality of people’s lives. Two – people do best when they have the opportunity to succeed on their own without the help of government. Liberal politics is the negation of these two concepts. In the latter period of the Roman Republic, a battle went on for thirty years between liberal and conservative politicians. The liberals won and they got a dictator.
In the ancient world people knew they had to be responsible for themselves or life would be nasty, brutish, and short, as Hobbs said. Government had only a limited role, including the maintenance of an army to repel foreign invasions and enforcing the laws written to protect the people.
What we're doing in America is psychological slavery – equivalent to the physical slavery of ancient times. We are subtly getting people to adopt attitudes that negatively influence their self-esteem and, in the end, their behavior. You can’t be expect to do A, that’s not your job. You got hurt? It must be someone else’s fault. You killed someone? Oh, you must have been abused as a child. It’s your parents fault. You’re a drunk? You couldn’t help it, there was just too much pressure at work. Why try? The system is against me.
Maybe after a few decades of this we’ll progress to the barbarian stage.