29 January 2008

The Rise of the Individual

Bad governments come in at least two forms: they put up bureaucratic obstacles to those who are pushing beyond the current norms and / or they ignore the plight of those who are failing. Good governments don’t ignore one of these goals at the expense of another.

And this is a trick of the hardest kind: creating a system that makes allowance for the individuals for whom the system does not work. This is the paradox of progress. Systems don’t easily transform for the individual. Too much of what passes for self improvement is actually the act of conforming the individual to the system, to society, to the institution - improvement that makes us better congregants, citizens, or employees. We have not yet lived in a time when social systems were considered disposable and individuals essential to preserve; to date, our experience has been the reverse. Flipping this order would be transformative. Dopeless hope fiend that I am, I think it can be done.

“He didn’t think in human dimensions. Humanity was never of any importance to him. It was always the concept of the superman … the nation, always this abstract image of a vast German Reich, powerful and strong. But the individual never mattered to him. Though he always said he wanted to make people happy – he started a variety of welfare and recreational organizations in the Third Reich – personal happiness was never of the slightest importance to him. “
- Traudle Junge, in Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary


Lifehiker said...

At the risk of being unusually politically-incorrect, perhaps this dilemma is caused by the myth of "equality" that we love to espouse. All men and women may be created equal, but they become unequal within moments of birth.

Soon, those with advantages chafe to push beyond current norms and hunger for freedom to pursue their dreams unencumbered by "one size fits all" governmental restraints.

Then, of course, those who are failing get less governmental "help", or restraint, than they need, simply because it would be discriminatory to impose on them more than "one size fits all" laws.

For example, self motivated high-achieving students have little choice but to attend standard schools and learn in accordance with the program. They chafe, but they submit. Are their talents fully challenged? Hardly.

On the other hand, unmotivated students are encouraged to attend standard schools, but their attendance is half-hearted and their teachers are disheartened by the drudgery of their classes.

Fortunately, a goodly number of students do just fine in "one size fits all" schools. But our culture (government) is failing students on both ends of the learning spectrum.

Perhaps we'll get a leader, some day, who will admit that individuals need to be treated in accordance with what they bring to the party. The better a person is able to manage their life, the less that government should impose on them.

As a closing thought, I use this same logic to argue that educated criminals (usually white-collar crime) should get very harsh sentences. Those that really "know better" deserve to rot. Now that would be a deterrent!

Ron Davison said...

“The idea that men are created free and equal is both true and misleading: men are created different; they lose their social freedom and their individual autonomy in seeking to become like each other.”
- David Riesman,

David said...

"Inside Bureaucracy" by Anthony Downs explains why there are no "good governments."

Ron Davison said...

Thanks for the tip.