The Spirit of Building Anew

Americans have grown up under the ideology that we all take responsibility for our own actions - but do we?

Responsibility is perceived to be this looming hulk of a beast by many, and indeed I’ve ran into people who blatantly say “I don’t like or want responsibility”. The thought of you being responsible for something generates stress. And we’re all human - we all succumb to a bit of stress now and then. But where are all of the people saying “Bring it on!”? (and no, I’m not talking about cheerleaders)

A friend of mine led to me start watching debates ran by Intelligence Squared. I’ve watched a couple recently and two have stood out: “Is Big Government Stifling The American Spirit?” and “Does China Do Capitalism Better Than America?” These debates were fantastic and display both sides of the story. I highly recommend watching them.

So what did these two debates get at exactly? How did they overlap? They both talked about how this nation was founded and the principles that guided its success. There is no single solution to anything, so I took most opinions with a grain of salt, but there was one glaring point that kept being repeated: “The US isn’t what it used to be!”

No… really? Of course it’s not what it used to be. Things change. I’m an entrepreneur and an engineer, so I love the way technology has pushed this country and the world in my lifetime. It’s clear that morals, standards, and etiquette has changed over the years. A stark difference I don’t necessarily enjoy to observe has to do with social responsibility.

I’m young and didn’t live in the 19th century or the roaring 20’s, and indeed there are few centenarians (old people) even alive today who can fact check, but history books do make it seem like this “can do” attitude was more prevalent back in the day. The US was the vibrant nation filled with eager and excited people out to fix the world. We still have this trait lingering around, but even in Silicon Valley, it’s common to find those who just don’t care.

So what caused all of this? I have a theory, but it goes against most of my own economic and political beliefs. What I’m about to discuss isn’t an end-all be-all. It is a theory based on both macro-economic and individualistic observations, take it as such.

The Theory

I think the Government’s prevalence in our day-to-day lives has shifted the average burden of all responsibility off of the individual.

Do I think we have a huge government in the US? I don’t.

Do I think big government is even a necessarily bad thing? Not always.

Do I think the thought of larger government decreases social responsibility off of individuals? Yes.

Let’s also define big government. I want to define it in an emotional sense, rather than a number-crunch. There are metrics that can argue nearly any side of any debate if you look hard enough… data overload. Even if the government isn’t big right now, does it feel big? Lots of people are talking about big government, so maybe that even contributes to our feelings.

When most see something wrong, whether it be discrimination, regulation, crime rates, corruption, etc, the initial reaction is the blame the government. We no longer, as in the 1800’s, carry around pistols and protect our own neighborhoods. We no longer gather in droves like those who did for Martin Luther King. We no longer act as individuals for causes greater than ourselves - we just blame our politicians who are doing it poorly for us. It’s become our natural tendency to blame someone else and to push responsibility off of ourselves. We’ve become docile.

Now I’m not saying to go buy a pistol and go wild, wild, west on your jerk-face neighbor (Seriously don’t… by the way). If you think education needs help, go out and tutor kids, donate to schools, support local teachers, and get others to help.

Is it Bad Parenting?

As others take care of issues for us, we ultimately just go with the flow. It’s like children who have parents who clean their room. If they stop cleaning the room, it gets messy. Then the kid complains that it isn’t clean. Clean it up yourself, kiddo!

But, that is ideological. It just won’t work. Since the kid is used to having his room cleaned, he now demands his room be cleaned or he’ll vote in new parents! You can’t starve the beast - er, starve the parents - as making them weak will also ruin their ability to take their kid to school. It’s an evil cycle, and the problem is not fundamentally with the parents; it’s with the kid. The kid who wants the new shiny toy but doesn’t want to do the chores. The kid who cries when he scrapes his face, but refuses to wear a helmet.

The kid needs to grow up, solve his own problems, and be willing to help the other kid across the street. He’s a smart kid… luckily. He’s a free kid… luckily. And this kid has the potential to fix the world if he chooses to do so. So is big government stifling the American Spirit? No. It’s likely just us.

Digression / Cop-out

I’ll digress with an excerpt from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech:

"In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again - not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are - but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation” - a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shank from this responsibility - I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it - and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”