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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “Progressive – not!”

My column for the August 8th, 2007, edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was inspired by a game that my son, Thomas – then ten-years old – sometimes played. You can read my column beneath the fold.

Progressive – not!

My son, Thomas, 10, sometimes amuses himself with a game he calls “Opposite.” Whenever he is struck by the fancy to play this game, he announces to my wife and me that all that he says during the next several minutes will be the opposite of what he really means.

“Mommy is ugly” really means “Mommy is beautiful.” “I’m stuffed!” means “I’m hungry.” To indicate that he’d prefer to play rather than do his homework, Thomas declares that, by all means, he wants to do his homework immediately.

Too often when I read newspapers or encounter government in action I feel as though pundits and politicians are playing “Opposite” with me. Except, unlike with my son, these people genuinely hope to dupe me with their verbal stratagems.

An especially galling “Opposite” in the political sphere is the use of the term “Progressive.” Enemies of individual freedom and responsibility, and of the economic dynamism characteristic only of capitalism, routinely call themselves “Progressives.”

These “Progressives” want America to “progress” back to a state of mind that holds that we ordinary men and women are so naturally weak in mind, body and willpower that we must be protected by heroic white knights from nefarious forces intent on destroying us.

Just as feudal lords protected their serfs from being raped and pillaged by invading hordes, so, too, will the modern state protect us helpless and ignorant ordinary folk from unsafe foods, immoral drugs, blackhearted corporations, naughty words and inexpensive foreign products.

Of course, would-be protectors demand the unquestioned cooperation of the protected. Serfs of old who insisted on freedom to make their own choices — ordinary persons who struggled to break free of the thicket of superstitions and dictates that bound them to the land and to obedience to their lords — could not be easily protected. Not only did such uppity peasants fail to contribute their “fair share” to the maintenance of the lords and knights who so selflessly protected them but serfs who disobeyed their lords and masters arrogantly behaved as if they could run their own lives without the benevolent oversight of their betters.

And if the peasants succeeded in breaking the bonds of their servitude, society would disintegrate into a terrible free-for-all in which no one knew his place and every man and woman would run about making individual choices based on nothing more than their own petty, narrow and base preferences. Orderly society would be replaced by unpredictable, disorderly chaos.

“Progressives” today believe the same.

“Let me decide for myself if the promise of a particular medication is worth its risk,” asks the uppity modern citizen. “How foolish!” scolds the modern lord and his courtiers. “You are but a weak and uninformed individual who is too prone to rash judgments. We will protect your health with the Food and Drug Administration.”

Another peasant, feeling full of himself, asserts his right to provide for his own retirement. “Thank you, m’lord,” says this humble commoner, “but I’d prefer that you stop taking a sizeable chunk of my annual income and (allegedly) setting it aside for my retirement. I am sufficiently responsible and intelligent to determine for myself how much I should save for my retirement and how those savings should be invested.”

“You haughty, misguided child-peasant you!” intones the lord surrounded by his armored legions. “Only I am trustworthy enough to provide for your retirement. My foresight and self-control are necessary to protect you from your own likely myopia and weakness of will. Of course, the only way for me to have sufficient funds on hand to provide for your retirement is if you give me today, for my safe-keeping, some of your earnings. But precisely because you, serf, cannot be trusted to care for yourself, I must forcibly confiscate from you today the funds that I determine are necessary to provide for your retirement tomorrow.”

Of course, when medieval superstitions, stasis and status eventually gave way to individualism, society did not collapse. It thrived as never before. Great cities were built. The profit motive led entrepreneurs to invent lifesaving medicines, more abundant food supplies, vibrant cultural products available to anyone who wished to partake in them and creature comforts undreamed of by even the wealthiest medieval monarchs.

In short, individualism — and the freedom and free markets that it entails — sparked and sustained progress as never before.

Today’s “Progressives” seek a return to the status and static society in which the few direct and “protect” the many. That, of course, is the opposite of genuine progress.


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