Some dependence is necessary; too much can lead to the
deaths of freedom and civilization.
In our civilization, society provides many public resources unlikely to be provided by individuals except through taxation. Some public roads have been built by private individuals or groups of individuals without government financing; few have. There are both private and public schools and hospitals, although many private schools and hospitals are assisted financially by governmental entities which tax their citizens for the necessary funds.
However, excessive dependency has unfortunate consequences particularly, but not only, for humans who desire to be free. It also has unfortunate consequences for those who increasingly desire free stuff more than they desire freedom. An imperfect analogy can be drawn to my favorite animals, dogs. Not long after humanity began to evolve, humans domesticated dogs (or maybe it was the other way around). Over time, dogs became dependent on humans and they on us. We provide food, water, veterinary care and affection. They return these in abundance and in the only way they can, with their unconditional love and devotion. We now have three dogs, Sunshine, Princess and Ruff, each about six years old. During our frequent thunderstorms, they cluster around us seeking comfort and perhaps protection. Such protection seems unnecessary to us but they seem to believe otherwise. Were we in danger, they would yield their own lives to save ours. They do not condition their contributions to our lives on demands for an ever increasing abundance of what we give them. Now, few domestic dogs would survive for long were the benefits of dependency withdrawn.
Humans seem to be different in many ways. The gratitude exhibited by dogs is less abundant in humans and seems often to be regarded with disdain when they are provided even the necessities of life by society. Unlike dogs, humans surviving on the “Dependency Plantation” constantly demand more and if they are to be kept in bondage more has to be provided continuously.
Assume a “perfect” society in which all human needs (as determined by society) were to be provided gratis. All would be freed from the necessity to provide for themselves. The numbers trying to “follow their bliss” would likely increase, at least temporarily.
An analogy can be drawn to cattle raised to become meat for our tables. Theirs is probably a good life until shortly before it ends abruptly at a slaughter house. Until then, they can pretty much eat their fill; water and veterinary care are provided at no charge. However, as it becomes increasingly expensive and decreasingly profitable to raise cattle, their numbers decline.
H.G. Wells, in The Time Machine, pursues this analogy into the year 802,701 A.D. Still in what was once England, the Time Traveler first encounters the Eloi, a human like race of
small, elegant, childlike adults. They live in small communities within large and futuristic yet slowly deteriorating buildings, doing no work and having a frugivorous diet. His efforts to communicate with them are hampered by their lack of curiosity or discipline, and he speculates that they are a peaceful communist society, the result of humanity conquering nature with technology, and subsequently evolving to adapt to an environment in which strength and intellect are no longer advantageous to survival.
The Time Traveler’s initial speculations turned out to have been wrong. Generally happy and content with their lives during the day, the Eloi are maintained as cattle by the Morlocks, ape-like troglodytes who live underground because they fear the light of day and emerge only at night. Some Eloi vanish during the nights, never to be seen again. The Morlocks dine on them.
Within their dwellings he discovers the machinery and industry that makes the above-ground paradise possible. He alters his theory, speculating that the human race has evolved into two species: the leisured classes have become the ineffectual Eloi, and the downtrodden working classes have become the brutish light-fearing Morlocks. Deducing that the Morlocks have taken his time machine, he explores the Morlock tunnels, learning that they feed on the Eloi. His revised analysis is that their relationship is not one of lords and servants but of livestock and ranchers. The Time Traveller theorizes that intelligence is the result of and response to danger; with no real challenges facing either species, they have both lost the spirit, intelligence, and physical fitness of Man at its peak.
The Eloi instinctively fear, but are uncertain of and try to ignore, their potential fates at the hands of the Morlocks.
We are not Eloi and of course there are no ape-like Morlocks waiting to eat us. H.G. Wells was writing of a time now 800,689 years in the future. Although we are by no stretch of the imagination at that point, the Eloi and Morlocks unfortunately provide a useful albeit strained metaphor. Our dependent and governing classes exhibit a few similarities to Eloi and Morlocks, respectively.
Why is our culture of growing dependence highly praised by some and sought to be expanded? Demands for ever increasing quantities and varieties of “free stuff” are only a partial answer. Perhaps one of the principal political motivators, love of power noted in Bertrand Russel’s 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, is involved. Russell identifies three politically important motivators: acquisitiveness, vanity and love of power. Of the three, love of power is the most potent.
[G]reat as is the influence of the motives we have been considering, there is one which outweighs them all. I mean the love of power. Love of power is closely akin to vanity, but it is not by any means the same thing. What vanity needs for its satisfaction is glory, and it is easy to have glory without power. The people who enjoy the greatest glory in the United States are film stars, but they can be put in their place by the Committee for Un-American Activities, which enjoys no glory whatever. In England, the King has more glory than the Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister has more power than the King. Many people prefer glory to power, but on the whole these people have less effect upon the course of events than those who prefer power to glory. When Blücher, in 1814, saw Napoleon’s palaces, he said, «Wasn’t he a fool to have all this and to go running after Moscow.» Napoleon, who certainly was not destitute of vanity, preferred power when he had to choose. To Blücher, this choice seemed foolish. Power, like vanity, is insatiable. Nothing short of omnipotence could satisfy it completely. And as it is especially the vice of energetic men, the causal efficacy of love of power is out of all proportion to its frequency. It is, indeed, by far the strongest motive in the lives of important men.
Love of power is greatly increased by the experience of power, and this applies to petty power as well as to that of potentates. In the happy days before 1914, when well-to-do ladies could acquire a host of servants, their pleasure in exercising power over the domestics steadily increased with age. Similarly, in any autocratic regime, the holders of power become increasingly tyrannical with experience of the delights that power can afford. Since power over human beings is shown in making them do what they would rather not do, the man who is actuated by love of power is more apt to inflict pain than to permit pleasure. If you ask your boss for leave of absence from the office on some legitimate occasion, his love of power will derive more satisfaction from a refusal than from a consent. If you require a building permit, the petty official concerned will obviously get more pleasure from saying «No» than from saying «Yes». It is this sort of thing which makes the love of power such a dangerous motive. (Emphasis added.)
It is often good to help the unfortunate. However, we need to be suspicious of those who thereby augment their own powers. Enslaving people, whether unintentionally, willingly or willfully, is not good. Increasing dependence on those in power supports and exacerbates their desires for power. It also diminishes resistance to their increases in power. With increasing power, those already in power can also feed their own vanities and desires to acquire riches for themselves, often without incurring jealousy. They need do little more than satisfy and encourage continuing and increasing demands for more free stuff and for the ephemeral security the free stuff provides. They dare not reject those demands; failure to encourage them would diminish their own powers and freedoms.
Many dependent upon the bounties provided by society resist any limitations on them. We will very likely hear resistance to limitations, and promises of more free stuff, at the Democrat National Convention this week. Should President Obama be reelected, will he lead us from behind further down the dependency toilet into which much of Europe (unexpectedly, or course) has fallen?
Some in power or desiring to be in power may believe that they are doing good as they demand that others do things they do not want to do and refrain from doing things they do want to do. Some things that people like to do can cause harm. Excessive (as distinguished from moderate) alcohol consumption is frequently harmful, and as the consequences were beginning to be borne by society America took an abolitionist tack to prohibit the consumption of alcohol. The abolitionist movement become unpopular and failed. Today, society assumes far more responsibility for the consequences of the mistakes of individuals than during the abolitionist heyday and various restrictions not quite amounting to abolition are imposed as we increase the supplies of free “good” stuff.
I do not expect a Republican victory this November to produce an abrupt U-turn on our road to dependency and the concomitantly increasing control over our lives, but do hope at least for an incremental change of course ultimately leading our nation away from her current path. That is necessary and will have to come eventually. Until it does, the numbers and abilities of those who produce the resources necessary for the Government to support, in ways increasingly demanded, those who neither create nor produce such resources will diminish. At some point, the laws of supply and demand will have effects. What happens then?
I don’t know and don’t want to find out. However, the resources of the United States do not approach infinity nor are they free. Coal will not dig itself out of the ground, neither automobiles nor solar panels will produce themselves and grain needs to be sown, harvested and converted into bread. As supplies of “free stuff” decrease while dependency increases, will those dependent on them riot and destroy their own neighborhoods? Surrounding neighborhoods? Factories and farms? Will they increasingly form bigger flash mobs to steal whatever they want but have not worked for? Rather than planting seeds will they eat them? These are not pleasant matters to ponder at any time, but the unpleasantness of doing so soon, before it becomes too late, should be less than after it has.
We are sliding down a still tolerably comfortable slippery slope but its steepness and slipperiness are increasing. I hope that, before our still comfortable slide is halted by rocks and then by boulders at the bottom we may see them, turn aside and clamber back to the safety of a viable, perhaps even responsible and free, existence.