The Childish American

Posted on 2011 April 24


Part one of the film series “Atlas Shrugged”, based on the bestselling novel by Ayn Rand, premiered recently in theatres. It delves into one of Rand’s pet peeves, “altruism”, an ethic of share-and-share-alike which degrades into a free-for-all fight over other people’s resources. Strangely prescient, Rand’s 1957 novel anticipates today’s political squabbling over entitlements and the effort to increase taxes on producers.

Why would a society steeped in the traditions of individualism veer so far from its ideals as to find itself bogged down in political mud fights over who is entitled to which goodies? Perhaps it’s because, in public discourse, we’re no longer adults but have become juvenilized.

Children depend on parents for support while they whine about withheld privileges and treats. At the same time, adults depend increasingly on the government for support while they whine about insufficient entitlements. The more they rely on handouts, the more childishly voters behave.

There is very little conversation in this country about what it means to be an adult. Most people think it amounts to “Finish school, get a job, get a house, find a spouse, have kids.” But this is a child’s view of the subject; apparently our experiences while growing up must serve as our sole training for adult life. The result is that we find it easy to regard Big Government as a substitute parent — wiser and more capable than we are — and that, just like a parent, government becomes the repository of our bounty and happiness. No wonder, in the political sphere, we whine and complain like babies.

Were we to revive the values of personal independence and judgment, of private initiative and responsibility, we might reverse this trend toward complete dependence on a Nanny State. As it stands, America’s initial belief in personal liberty has become a bromide that we salute and then ignore as we fight at the political dinner table over who gets extra servings. And the Mommy and Daddy of Big Government are as confused and unhappy as their “children”, since they’re no more mature than we are.

One solution would involve reinvigorating States’ Rights, and then grown-ups could migrate to those regions that reward initiative while juvenilized citizens could stay in collectivist areas and either fight among themselves over who gets a bigger allowance or find ways to emulate the adult states. The problem is that there would likely be more of the childish than of grown-ups among the electorate, so that, before long, overgrown kids might find ways to use federal power to invade adult preserves and confiscate their resources. But I wax cynical.

Individuals, pursuing their own inspirations, create the resources that form the basis of our society’s prosperity. On the other hand, the more we wait for someone else to pass the peas, the smaller our serving becomes. Whining is for children; doing and creating and producing is for adults. Free states or no, your bounty depends on your creative efforts, and inasmuch as you provide for your family will your people thrive — and not whine and finagle over leftovers. When we focus on creating and producing rather than mere taking, we become the adults we were meant to be, and we “put away childish things.”