Every man has his devilish moments.
There are those principles and practices which promote freedom and there are ideas and actions which impair it. A letter in my morning mail well illustrates the latter:
I can tell you that unless I can see a real change in the direction of our government, I will probably abandon these endeavors I have supported and join in the race toward collectivism and regulation. For many years I have fought for individual freedom and responsibility. I am tired of struggling against the tide of welfarism. I have supported FEE . . . because I agree with it. Now, though, I have come to suspect that most people don’t care about anything other than “How do I get mine without working?” I am considering joining this group, rather than worrying about the correctness of that philosophy. I see no point in being “the last old Roman.”
“If you can’t lick ’em, jine ’em” was described by Quentin Reynolds in 1941 as “an old political adage.” And it’s truer today than ever. Take note of the politicians who readily switch from their own convictions to the line of the opposition if the latter appears to be more seductive to voters. Chickenhearted! They stand for nothing but the power of office.
Time after time over the years I have noted leading businessmen as board members of chambers of commerce and other organizations adhering not to conscience but to the line of least resistance, for instance, voting “Aye” on committee reports regardless of principle. The same intellectual sloppiness is observed in ever so many religious, educational, and other organizations. Standing ramrod straight for what one believes to be true and righteous is the admirable exception rather than the rule.
Many years ago I was a guest at a Chamber of Commerce board meeting. They voted “Aye” on three committee reports advocating socialistic measures. When invited to comment at the close of the meeting, I offered this allegory:
Joe Doakes passed away and his spirit floated to the Pearly Gates. Joe knocked and Saint Peter appeared, asking, “What do you want?”
“I would like admittance, Sir.”
Saint Peter looked at his list and replied, “Your name isn’t here.”
“You stole money from widows and orphans.”
“Why, Mr. Saint Peter, I had the reputation of being an honest man. What do you mean I stole money from widows and orphans.”
“You were on the Board of that Chamber of Commerce which voted for a government golf course, and that would take money from widows and orphans to subsidize you golfers.”
“Mr. Saint Peter, that wasn’t your humble servant who took that action; it was the Chamber of Commerce.”
Saint Peter took another look at his list and said, “We don’t have chambers of commerce here, only individuals.” Whereupon, Saint Peter pressed a button, a trap door opened, and Joe Doakes went to hell!
This brought a hearty chuckle from the 40 directors, and I believe they got the point, at least momentarily.
The man who wrote the letter quoted above has decided to “jine ’em” since he can’t “lick ’em.” This, in my view, is a wrong assessment of self-interest.
Playing host to parasites is indeed a thankless and discouraging role. It requires thought and effort to be a productive, self-reliant individual; and a part of the cost is to understand and explain and otherwise help to maintain a climate of freedom—an open market economy—in which to operate.
The parasites, in a sense, are a burden—possibly, an enemy—to be overcome. But does one look to the parasites for a solution to this problem? Or is it among the remaining productive members of society that the solution is to be sought?
To enter the ranks of the parasites is to renounce one’s self-respect, to abandon all hope, to cast one’s fate before the mercy of those who remain to serve in an ever-diminishing market. There is little future in such a shift.
Neither you nor I nor anyone else has been commissioned to save the world, the nation, the community, or neighborhood. What, then? Work on that one individual over whom each of us has some command: one’s self. As Socrates said, “Let him who would save the world, first move himself.” Attend to the improvement of self, and that’s as much of a contribution as anyone can make to the salvation of the human race or any part thereof.
Here are a few thoughts for those who are distraught and inclined to “jine ’em”:
And I hold it is not treason
To advance a simple reason
For the sorry lack of progress we decry.
It is this: Instead of working
On himself, each man is shirking
And trying to reform some other guy.
May your Lordship not torment yourself: there is a remedy for this deluge of crimes. Let us be, you and me, that which we should be. There will be two less souls to convert. Let each person behave thus: it is the most efficacious of reforms. The trouble is, that no one wants to correct himself and everyone meddles at correcting others: thus everything stays as is.
—San Pedro of Alcantara
God save us from the man who wants to save us. Reform only yourself; for in doing that you can do everything.
So, I am not here to “lick ’em” but rather to “lick” my own shortcomings. And, regardless of “the sorry lack of progress we decry,” I shall not “jine ’em.” Instead, I shall join only such truth and righteousness as I can perceive in self and others, remembering always that the right is rare. Hail to the rare! Finding it is life’s highest goal.