March 24, 2010

America as the Prodigal Son

History is replete with examples of what to do and what not to do.  As George Santayana said, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  And as conservatives understand, history provides our guideposts for building the future. Isaac Newton once wrote "What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways...If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." History is important.  Every day there are lessons to be learned from it.

There is a specific example facing America today, that it seems so many have overlooked in an effort driven by vanity, or ideology or to curry favor with voters.  America is spending itself to death.  The same government that condemns the excesses of consumerism and commercialism, is driving the nation into insolvency by spending money it does not even have.  It's borrowing from others, it's borrowing from the future.  Meanwhile the egocentricity of what it is doing, as if this generation is the be-all-and-end-all of spending and recipients of government perceived largess, reminds me of a Biblical parable.

If you are not familiar with the Biblical parable of the prodigal son, here's an excerpt from the New Testament (Luke 15:11-17 );
And he said, `A certain man had two sons,
and the younger of them said to the father, Father, give me the portion of the substance falling to [me], and he divided to them the living.
`And not many days after, having gathered all together, the younger son went abroad to a far country, and there he scattered his substance, living riotously;
and he having spent all, there came a mighty famine on that country, and himself began to be in want;
and having gone on, he joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him to the fields to feed swine,
and he was desirous to fill his belly from the husks that the swine were eating, and no one was giving to him.
`And having come to himself, he said, How many hirelings of my father have a superabundance of bread, and I here with hunger am perishing!
The verses (and those following) provide a number morals, including forgiveness and love.  But I focused on the verses above in relation to the United States of America because where the country is at resembles the beginning of the story.  With runaway deficits that would put every predecessor to shame and a seemingly gluttonous desire to do more of the same equate to the prodigal son.  Firstly, the sense of entitlement is clearly there;

"give me the portion of the substance falling to [me]"

I deserve what I want.  It is painful to see the current leadership acting with a childlike sense of selfishness and immediacy.  The fierce urgency of now, really is the fierce urgency of "I want".  I have no will to lecture anyone about this, but it does need to be stated. Gluttony is a sin, and a sense of entitlement is not only gluttony but there is a matter of pride too.  "I want" is accompanied by "I deserve".  Sloth. "I want" and "I deserve" aren't accompanied by "I will work to get". Why not?  People don't want to earn their fortunes, they want it hand delivered.  They look to the government to do that for them, and politicians seeking votes have a ready-made customer base. And we haven't even touched on envy. Spreading the wealth harbors and encourages envy and class warfare.  Need I mention the paternalism associated with the re-distributors?  Politicians bewilderingly feel best suited to the job of the transfer of wealth.  They probably feel best suited to every job.  It's not a big stretch from paternalism to decision primacy.  That's dangerous.

And not many days after, having gathered all together, the younger son went abroad to a far country, and there he scattered his substance, living riotously;

Frittering away his prosperity, that part of the parable speaks for itself.  America is no longer a country of wealth, it is a country of debt.  In the parable the Prodigal Son goes back to his father begging forgiveness.  He learned his lesson.  This is where we diverge from the past.  The trillions in debt to be swallowed will come from China, and others, and from future generations. America is the Prodigal Son that has not yet seen the error of its ways.  Perhaps because it has not yet reached the level of being envious of what the swine are eating. 

But is that where America really wants to get before it smartens up?  There's pride and then there's having no sense of shame.  The United States does not have a forgiving wealthy father to fall back upon either.  This is it.  If you destroy your wealth it may not return for generations of trying to fix it.  It may never return.  Rome never returned.  The British Empire halted it's ultimate collapse but it is not the superpower it was of centuries past either.  Greece is on the verge bankruptcy.  Greece.  Remember Sparta and Athens?  This was the center of the world of knowledge thousands of years ago.  America deserves better to end up on the ash heap of history.  There are so many examples of what NOT to do. All that needs to be done is to get more people to pay attention.

*end rant*

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