I attended a birthday party recently for a wonderful 6-year-old son of friends. Lots of people, both family and friends, lots of merrymaking, seemingly endless amounts of both good food and conversation, and things went well into the night.
He’s a great kid – talented, imaginative, and fun. Maybe sometimes I get him a bit overwound but his parents love to see him enjoying himself and no harm gets done. He even brought me up short that day, when I told him I thought he was a cool little guy. He looked at me, grinned, said “Cool big guy!” and laughed. So did I, and I had to agree with him. He’s 6, after all. He gets to be a big guy now if he wants.
They’re wonderful people themselves, his parents. Kind, generous, always determined to feed everyone within an inch of being unable to breathe and then send them home with leftovers, and that great, fun, lively 6-year-old is their unending joy.
He’s also a living, breathing gesture, no, a stand, a stand of defiance. Something of them will outlive them, and go forward into a whole new world.
Why a stand of defiance, you might ask?
They’re Cambodian. Both of them survived Pol Pot.
Dessert’s done. Time for the spinach.
When people must bend in the service of an ideology, Pol Pot happens. As do Pinochet, Stalin, Mao, bin Laden, the Crusades, Hitler, and more.
The particular ideology, in fact, doesn’t mean nearly as much as the belief that it must be implemented no matter the price.
No less a historical figure than Joshua bar-Joseph opined in his wisdom that “The law was made for man, not man for the law!” and that remains a universal truth ignored only at the cost of untold lives. Sadly, many of his adherents – who cannot among themselves agree on a correct understanding of that wisdom, at the cost of many more lives – seek to implement various laws they believe man made for. (See “Crusades, the” as mentioned above.)
It’s far more important to see that people’s needs are met than to be “pure” in any particular idealism. And that requires understanding some things.
First, let’s look at the concept that we all do better when we all do better. I would turn here to the late, wonderful Chicago Daily News/Sun-Times op-ed columnist, Sydney J. Harris, who opined in an essay that most people fail miserably when asked to define their own best interest, feeling that it was purely their immediate benefit, when in reality it was that which extended the farthest around them, because it did not set them apart, rather, it integrated them more thoroughly into the social fabric.
Societies benefits, as observers going back to de Tocqueville have noted, from the stabilizing influence of the middle class – those who have a stake in, and participate in, society and thus stand to benefit when those around them do well, and feel the adverse impact when they do not.
Self-interest is a noted shibboleth among the Libertarians. It’s the very core of Ayn Rand’s (barely readable) “literature” and perhaps the most poorly understood notion among that cohort. Their perception of self-interest extends only to themselves, or if they’re particularly – and uncharacteristically – generous, their families. This ignores the very real damage done to society by resentments borne of inequities of opportunity, to say nothing of the potential wasted thereby.
More will follow in time. I am not a rapid writer when it comes to such things.