Dean Swift, the early 18th Century British satirist, illustrated perspectives on human folly through the eyes of a Lemuel Gulliver, who in several voyages found himself alternately in lands of the very small, the very large, the quite bizarre, including an Academy full of caricatures of the most ludicrous pseudo-intellectual crack-pots (rivaling even what we see in contemporary America); and, finally in relief, a land where dignified horses ruled over a population of human low lives, whose behavior suggested (or anticipated) antics of the very worst of today's entitled. But what would a reincarnated Gulliver find worthy of comment in contemporary America? Might he begin by observing our permitted choices & those now denied; the free choices of our educated classes & those forced on others? There are patterns, here, as strange as anything Gulliver found in an Academy in Lagado.
Imagine, then, an observant traveler, coming unexpectedly upon 21st Century America--a land with a proud past, but far from certain future--to consider "freedom of choice," as popularly used with reference to personal decisions, in respect to abortion, private property, education & freedom of association; and other matters.
On coming to America, I was immediately struck by the curious use of the word "freedom." While Americans spoke a form of the language of my native England, they employed that word in a paradoxical manner. "Freedom" could indicate anything the user favored, rather than for any sense to which I was familiar. Thus "freedom" meant treating men & women as competing interest groups, not complements in life's continuum. A particularly startling example of this was in a popular description of the "right" of any woman to sentence her unborn child to death, even without her husband's consent. This "freedom" was described by members of the governing party, as "a woman's right to choose."
This contrasted, strikingly, with a form of legislation that forbad an employer from hiring persons based upon traits in common! Forbidden preferences were common ancestry, common religion, even origin in the same country, or actual behavior, if such behavior involved rejection of conduct considered to be an abomination in the Faith of the employer. The governing party described this as "freedom from discrimination"; but it seemed never to occur to them that what they were actually doing was to abolish freedom of association, as well as an ancient freedom, not to be forced to use private property in ways deemed morally offensive.
Thus a situation, where a woman could decide, on merest whim, to have her baby killed; but no one could consider the usual attributes of social continuity, or religious teaching, in deciding to whom to entrust private property or pay wages. Yet, those who embraced this seeming paradox, referred to both policies under the umbrella of "freedom." Suggesting a further paradox, was the now legally enforced attitude towards organized religion.
I knew from a study of the history of American settlement, that some of the original British colonies had been founded by groups seeking a safe refuge for particular denominational perceptions; yet local communities, originally founded by religious denominations as refuges for those wishing to practice their perceptions of true Faith without hindrance, are forbidden to even allow any open prayers in their public schools; while groups advocating perverse substitutes for so basic a traditional institution as marriage, are openly encouraged to recruit adherents. And while all of the Founders' denominations had, at least, shared a common reverence for the Ten Commandments as fundamental to a working legal system; in present day America, almost any display of those Commandments on public property is forbidden.
While the political leaders regularly speak about a need to improve public education & public health care, as essential to both prosperity & human freedom; policy directives, over the decades, have increasingly interfered with an individual's freedom of choice. The cost of such services has become increasingly dear, as the quality--especially of the former--has continued to decline. Nor can a morally responsible individual easily extricate his family from the problem, as much of the increased expenditure has gone to expanding a multi-level educational bureaucracy, which stultifies the ability of an individual teacher to ever act innovatively with child or parent, to deal with any particular personality.
This trend coincides with an over 70 year policy, by which the Federal Government has paid women at the bottom of society to have children out of wedlock, thus tending to increase the percentage of children with low academic aptitudes. Yet unwilling to even acknowledge the factor, politicians bemoan the declining quality of student performance & call for even more Governmental interference. Few note that in an era when Americans were outdoing the rest of the world in innovation & material achievement, educational matters were locally directed, and functioned well with only a tiny fraction of the material resources presently employed.
As to medical services, political intervention has not only greatly increased the proportion of all revenue, public or private, that goes to providers; it seems to have distorted attitudes of both providers & patients--and among patients between those who must pay their way, and those whose care has become a vote buying entitlement. Physicians, who once deemed practice a calling, are now immersed in billing various agencies, their offices increasingly run by clerks rather than medical technicians; and while spokesmen for the governing party continue to talk of personal "freedom," they pursue reforms that only tend to restrict an individual's actual freedom of choice.
Manifestly there is less & less freedom of choice in contemporary America. What choices are allowed seem seldom based on reason. Parallel to this strange devolution of traditional values among a once very independent minded people, the immigration policy since 1965 has been to deliberately encourage, even subsidize, migration from lands, which contributed little or nothing to the original development. As many of these peoples had achieved far less in their lands of origin than had the earlier settlers of America; there was little reason to think that they would benefit the existing American population--to whom, one would imagine, that would be a major consideration. Thus, another obvious paradox.
Yet, while the political leadership was subsidizing this inward flow from much poorer nations, the same voices were bemoaning unemployment, discussing how to conserve resources and enacting chaotic regulations; seeking to preserve the quality of a clean environment, but further reducing the freedom of the long settled population. It seems never to have occurred to that leadership, that bringing in tens of millions of incongruous peoples, could only compound existing problems in that environment--as well as in education & health care. But why ignore the obvious?
The domains of the Americans, while large, are still finite; finite in space, finite in resources. Moreover, there are clear differences in what each nation has to offer. A disproportionate share of the migrants, since 1965, have come from nations that have demonstrated less of the complex skills required in a more technology driven society; while an increasing availability of machines, that replace manual labor, have made the skills they do display increasingly less needed. Many come from lands where the exceptional degree of confident individual responsibility, which once permeated American society & public institutions, are more noteworthy in their absence than in their presence.
From the standpoint of continuity, of preserving the human social, economic & political bases of their society, the contemporary American seems to have embraced a perverse humor--the only parallel, in the natural order, the behavior of the Scandinavian lemming. I have even heard of an incident, where almost a thousand American ex-patriots, living in their own community in northern South America & apparently driven by the same humor, drank a poisoned beverage, to rush the process on which their ex-compatriots seem to have embarked. Is it possible to understand why people, who were once the most prosperous on earth, should have devolved into what I describe?
Inquire of the natives, as I might, few Americans appeared even aware of any paradox affecting their continued existence. None would admit that they saw a parallel in the mass suicide, or in Lemmings throwing themselves over a cliff into the ocean, and the behavior of those who supported the present Government. But if not deliberate self-destruction, what other driving force could possibly have brought about so strange a confluence of contradictory & irrational behavior?
In an effort to better understand Americans, I perused some of their formative documents and the original commentaries on their Declaration of Independence & debates over the ratification of a Federal Constitution. These showed an incisive intelligence: Profound treatises on Society & Government; reasoned analyses of the dynamics of human behavior, based not on airborne theory but on the experience of many generations. Yet, here, far from explaining the bizarre paradoxes I had observed, was one still greater. How could a people with so profound an understanding have degenerated in the present era to one governed by politicians, campaigning for office by repeating sloganized--but never demonstrated--assertions, that appealed to all that was base in any audience?
Mulling over this enigma against a background of all that I had experienced in my early 18th Century travels & all that I had observed since coming to America, I developed a working hypothesis. As a small lad, my loving grandmother had read me the Genesis account of the serpent leading Eve to ruin. She had sternly admonished me, never to heed serpentine appeals to the baser side of my nature--whether insinuated by whisper or shouted from a rostrum. Reviewing all that I had learned of American history, of the rise & fall of the Americans; all that I remembered from my duties as a ship's surgeon, dealing with a great variety of types; finally conversations with many contemporary Americans, to be discussed in another Chapter; I reached a conclusion.
The major changes in American politics, social policies & culture--even adverse interactions between her diverse peoples--over an eighty year period, had been initiated by serpentine voices; by political demagogues, social activists, journalists & educators, appealing to what was, in fact, base & unworthy among those to whom they appealed. It was never in an understanding of what actually worked, but in a serpentine seduction to all that was base, that the key to American degeneration had lain.
Those serpentine voices had distracted Americans from the pursuit of truth to the pursuit of folly; substituting airborne wish lists for the achieved knowledge of the centuries; the principal serpentine method, appeals to envy, resentment, jealousy & sloth; the sowing of a belief in unearned entitlements to stultify both better judgment & personal responsibility, reducing an ever greater proportion of the population to dependency upon those manipulating a common will: Fantasy to a purpose;--an ongoing continuum of methodology that had worked with Eve, worked with others through the worst of times, with effect no more benign than the original in Genesis, so well described by Milton in a classic of my father's day.
A poignant example of the paradox between the real & only apparent, was evident in the multi-year effort by which Whites with serpentine voices, mouthing Jacobin# slogans, beguiled descendants of America's Negro slaves away from the proven path to social progress. What transpired? A true man of the people, a self-taught former slave, educator & natural leader, Booker T. Washington, had made great steps towards reversing the corruption wrought by an earlier generation of serpentine voices, who had sought to exploit the newly freed for political advantage. Nurturing a goal of self-improvement among his many followers, winning the respect of well intentioned Whites & appealing to a common history, Washington had become the recognized voice of the American Negro by the early days of the 20th Century.
Under Washington's guidance, social conditions began to improve; family structures stabilized, the crime rate fell. But in 1909, Jacobin oriented pseudo-intellectual Whites formed a seductively named organization, the "National Association For The Advancement Of Colored People," which substituted a serpentine demand for Government enforced "Equality" for Washington's pursuit of earned respect & personal responsibility for advancement. Years later, the organization was finally turned over to control by men of color; but that transfer came only after the mischief had been accomplished. The supposed beneficiaries had been induced to turn away from what was working; from what had worked for others, to what had never worked for anyone; the result, a soaring crime rate, with 70% of American Negro children born outside of wedlock, against a 14% rate, when the influence of Washington began to erode after 1930.*
Yet, how had those serpentine voices stifled the reaction that one would have expected from the affluent & successful, still capable of independent thought & personal responsibility; those who still achieved & planned a family future? The same serpentine voices that had recruited the susceptible by envy, resentment & jealousy, to blame rather than emulate those who thrived, for every frustration & inadequacy, employed an endless iteration of that blame to instill apologetic attitudes, even a sense of fear & social guilt, among achieving Americans; gradually making it seem less & less appropriate, even dangerous, for the affluent to challenge the absurd new dispensation.
Finally recognized, for what it was, the game was obvious. It was as old as the Fall in Genesis, perhaps as irreversible. As a path to progress, it made no more sense than one of the projects, I had observed at the Academy in Lagado.
Apologies to Dean Swift, for borrowing his hero. But his truth can hardly be denied. Later, we may relate some of his conversations with contemporary Americans.