Monday, January 31, 2011

Post No. 155: What the U.S. Deserves


© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

It‘s been said, “Each country gets the leader that it deserves.”

Although we had some difficulty tracking down the original source of this saying, we suspect that the author intended to include any geographical region and leaders in general.

We thought about this over the past few weeks, first in connection with Tunisia, and most recently Egypt.

While observing the Egyptian people express their dissatisfaction, we wondered whether it was really so much about their leader’s rule, as opposed to their disillusionment regarding where they find themselves today.

The notion that a country gets the leader that it deserves suggests responsibility on the part of its citizens, each and every one of them.

A single leader may set the tone, inspire the people, or even oppress and instill fear. However, it is ultimately the masses of people who decide, and who define their nation.

There was a popular saying in the 1970s, that those radical anti-establishment types like the Laughingman used to shout - If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been thinking about how the citizens of so many countries “pass the buck” and abdicate their responsibility for their current state of affairs.

Take the United States for example. We have all sorts of problems here: economic, political, military, immigration, health care, business, education, technology, and simply finding a presidential candidate who was clearly not born in Africa. Despite these, we profess that we are still The Greatest Show on Earth.

In one of our very first posts in 2008, The Triangular Box in Which America Finds Itself Circumscribed, we suggested that we Americans really do not like any of the political candidates who we ultimately elect.

The problem is – quite simply – that we expect far too much of our leaders, and far too little of ourselves as citizens. Our unreasonable expectations of what our elected leaders are supposed to do stem from the fact that we pay folks who simultaneously stick their hands in our hip pockets and feed at the corporate trough.

But a society (or a people) can’t blame opportunists for being opportunistic. (We don’t elect fools. There’s a reason so many of them were snakes in their prior lives.)

While the problems and issues of the average Tunisian or Egyptian can in no way be fully appreciated by the average American, we find ourselves cheering them on to achieve what we think we have – freedom.

But freedom is nothing but having options, a right to choose, and with such rights come responsibilities.

Perhaps “responsibilities” is not the right concept. Perhaps the more appropriate word is consequences.

There are consequences associated with not putting enough of our earnings into savings. There are consequences which flow from leading unhealthy lifestyles. There are consequences which stem from not having enough inventors or scientists amongst our neighbors, and too many entertainers.

And there are consequences associated with trying to work a 40 hour week, or even less, so that we have time to play with all of our recreational toys and gadgets piled in that McMansion large enough to house 4 families.

And a failure to accept or face the consequences essentially amounts to irresponsibility, on a national level.

Quite frankly, the health, vitality, and future of our nation should not depend on the acts of socialist, government types nor should it depend on private enterprise, as the free market folks argue.

It should depend on each individual citizen.

Back during the reign of King Jimmy Carter some 30 years ago, he made a speech which many derisively referred to as his “malaise speech.” In it, he suggested that America was experiencing a crisis in confidence. He suggested that we needed to get back to some basics, and renew our enthusiasm.

What he was really saying, in a political way, was that we were not living up to our responsibilities as citizens, which translated to our responsibilities as a nation.

As we approach this Super Bowl weekend, any member of either team will tell you that, there is no more effective and efficient way for a team to get its ass kicked, than for individual players to abdicate responsibility for their individual jobs.

The criticism heaped on President Carter when he told us the truth suggests a fundamental problem with our political system. Perhaps, as Col. Jessup said, “[We] can’t handle the truth.” Instead of embracing what our President had to say, we effectively told him that he couldn’t hack it as our leader.

Here’s hoping that the Tunisians, and the Egyptians, and the Sudanese, and the ________ can handle the truth, and learn from our example.

P.S. Who woudda thunk that this “revolution” would take place in Africa?

24 comments:

  1. Yes, well said, however....
    The tangle of the political/economic/legal system (look at corporations in E.U. not paying taxes because they created such fancy loopholes even the govs can't untangle it!(Pfizer, etc.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/jan/30/pfizer-tax-avoidance-germany

    Great civilizations fell the same way. Over indulgence, and an unmanageable political/economic/legal system. Add the information explosion and then ask someone how they can be responsible political citizens. Not easy, not simple....

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  3. Interesting point of view (as always). I had a professor (well, I would rather refer to them as instructors... junior college) of political science who sided with the idea that a country gets the system that suits their historical culture. I pointed out that the British evolved from a rigid monarchy into a democratic system. And that the U.S. dumped a monarchy in favor of a republic. As did the French (though they wandered off the path for a bit) and a number of others. I also pointed out that Germany went from a republic to a dictatorship in the 30's. None of this phased him in the least, he just dismissed it.

    The problem with Carter's "malaise" speech was that he didn't inspire anyone with it. He admitted failure as an administration but blamed the nation for that failure. This is not how you get people to do more, to strive, to work harder.

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  4. Anonymous:

    Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

    Who are the offending "they?" Are you suggesting that they are non-citizens of the affected countries? Are you suggesting that the other citizens were duped or misled, or were not sophisticated enough to recognize the creation of the loophole?

    We agree with you regarding the fall of other great civilizations. Perhaps part of the problem is that they thought that they were great, and would always be great, resulting in putting less effort into continuing to be great.

    The best work that we know about fallen empires is Paul Kennedy's, "The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: 1500 - 2000." It's a great read.

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  5. Douglas:

    As you are aware, we have a copyright on the word, "interesting." However, we will permit the infringement this one time without pursuing redress.

    One question: Should there be a requirement of all of our Presidents that they inspire us?

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  6. Good question, Inspector. I am sure there's a political survey which answers that question without actually answering that question.
    Personally, I think that is the very reason we elect presidents. What other purpose does a leader really have?

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  7. Douglas:

    The purpose of a leader depends on lots of things. However, one thing instantly stands out in the US: the management of the executive branch of the government.

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  8. Inspector, I never before thought of you as naive. I still don't. There are duties of a leader (described in documents, often) and then there is the purpose of a leader. If you pay attention to political advertising (and I am sure you do) you will see that it is something called "leadership" which is at the core. Someone to rally around, someone to give us not only direction but the will to accomplish the things needed. And that "will"? That "leadership"? Another word it is given is "inspiration."

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  9. Douglas:

    In our view, the ability to inspire the country is like icing on the cake, in terms of qualifications for a president. It is obviously more important during difficult times.

    However, we feel that getting the things done that the citizens value is the top qualification. Of course, different citizens will have different priorities for the country, and the president can not do everything by him or her self. We view his job as akin to a CEO minding a large corporation.

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  10. I agree with you that the success of a country is largely in the hands of its citizens.

    But I really don't understand what you are expecting Egyptians etc to learn from the US?

    Living in a free country where your duties as a citizen are to vote responsibly and be involved in your child's school and some local organisations, to shovel snow in your road when need be and keep your dog on a leash...

    That is really a dramatic difference from living in a semi-military autocratic state. To quote from an Egyptian on twitter: "I'm fighting for freedom, for my right to express myself. For an end to oppression. For an end to injustice."

    These past few days a significant number of people in Egypt have lost their lives to "define their nation".

    Looks to me like we should be learning from them... ?

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  11. Thanks Laura for paying us a visit. We appreciate it.

    You noted that although you agreed with us that the success of a country is largely in the hands of its citizens, you did not understand what we we expected Egyptians to learn from the US.

    There are several things:

    1. Democracy is messy; and
    2. Since they will at some point, be starting from scratch, they have the opportunity to benefit from the mistakes of other democracies, such as the US, and establish systems and processes to avoid our mistakes.

    We believe that the responsibilities of the citizenry are far more than those you listed. For example, how about citizens being responsible for inventing something; keeping abreast of technological issues to increase the prospect of innovation and invention; creating venture capital to start new businesses; coming up with cures to diseases; creating jobs by being entrepreneurs; reducing the healthcare costs by leading healthier lives; etc.?

    Why do we just place these tasks in the hands of a few and expect them to carry the load?

    There are many things that we can do as citizens to improve our nation, and we suspect we will discuss them in an upcoming post.

    But here's the real deal. If individual citizens do not want to engage in the "responsible activities" to which we alluded, then arguably they should accept the consequences of not pro-actively contributing to their nation's health and success.

    Don't put the effort in on the front end; shouldn't be able to complain on the back end.

    Some might suggest that this is realistic. However, if you hold people to a low standard, and they develop expectations accordingly, you'll have less than optimal results.

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  12. Yes, I agree with you - it's important that citizens are active and that we take responsibility for our countries.

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  13. Inspector, no one man or woman can do the things you speak of. A leader, whether as a president, a mayor, a general, or a CEO, inspires others. If he/she can inspire, then things will be accomplished. If he/she cannot inspire, nothing much will be accomplished. To bring this back to Egypt, they need a George Washington or a Simon Bolivar or a Zapata. The problem is that this uprising is an ad hoc one. It has no leader. What I fear is that an radical Islamist group will seize it and subvert it.

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  14. We just don't think that leadership is that black and white Douglas.

    Additionally, inspiration is an intangible, dependent on numerous factors. Someone who inspires you, may not inspire others.

    Additionally, what percentage of the population needs to be inspired? 30%, 55%, or 79%?

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  15. I do not see it as "black and white" since inspiration is much more complex. Your second sentence is quite correct, in my view, which is why leaders are rare. They inspire more than the average person would.

    Your question makes little sense. One could inspire only 30% and do as much, or more, than one who inspired 79%. Theoretically.

    I have a theory that a revolution requires only about 10% of a population to start, 20% to sustain, and 30% to succeed. All percentages are made up, of course.

    What percentage of the colonists supported the American Revolution, approximately?

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  16. According to Janis Joplin, "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose."

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  17. Actually, that was Kris Kristofferson who said/wrote that. Janis just sang (in that hauntingly beautiful, raspy, way).

    [and the answer to the question was "33%"]

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  18. Douglas: Thanks for the clarification on the Janis Joplin attribution. You are correct. We took a little "license" and left off Kris' name.

    As for the 33%, that would not surprise us. We have often argued that the vast majority of people are just trying to make ends meet on a daily basis, and do not have the "luxury" of disposable mental energy to contemplate the loftier issues in the universe.

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  19. Do you think the US government deserves a bailout from the Peoples Republic of China?

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  20. Silver MLM, thanks for paying us a visit and posing this question: "Do you think the US government deserves a bailout from the Peoples Republic of China?"

    We are reasonably certain that whether the US "deserves" a bailout will not be a factor in China's decision. China will most likely do what is in the short term to the joint or mutual benefit of China and the US, and in the long term, China's interests alone if the interests somehow diverge.

    However, in terms of responsibility, the citizens of America have been complicit in this gradual transfer of control and economic power to the Chinese, primarily through our continued purchase of Chinese goods. Consumers always have choices.

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  21. Do you think the US government deserves a bailout from the Peoples Republic of China?

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  22. Yes, I agree with you - it's important that citizens are active and that we take responsibility for our countries.

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  23. I agree with you that the success of a country is largely in the hands of its citizens.

    But I really don't understand what you are expecting Egyptians etc to learn from the US?

    Living in a free country where your duties as a citizen are to vote responsibly and be involved in your child's school and some local organisations, to shovel snow in your road when need be and keep your dog on a leash...

    That is really a dramatic difference from living in a semi-military autocratic state. To quote from an Egyptian on twitter: "I'm fighting for freedom, for my right to express myself. For an end to oppression. For an end to injustice."

    These past few days a significant number of people in Egypt have lost their lives to "define their nation".

    Looks to me like we should be learning from them... ?

    ReplyDelete

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