Monday, August 12, 2013

What Matters More – Personalities or Ideas?

We humans tend to think mostly about people. About their personalities. What they are like, what they do and what they have done. Are they 'this' or are they 'that?'  Ideas? These we think about less often.

I suppose this is entirely natural.  After all, from our very earliest days our lot in life -- even our very survival -- depends on other people and whether or not they seem to "care."

Does our mother respond to our cries with food and comfort? Is our father there for us with support in times of youthful crisis? Is our first grade teacher nice or is he or she a meany? Does our little-league coach care about how we feel after we strike out in the bottom of the ninth with bases loaded and the score tied two to two?

The media encourages us to keep thinking about the world in just such a childish fashion all the way up through adulthood into old age. “Does President so and so ‘care’ about the middle class?” “Which senatorial candidate will ‘care’ more about us now that we are getting old?”

From the above we might come to think -- indeed, as many have come to think -- that ideas are not very important. That what our future depends upon more is the personalities of our leaders.

During our present national crisis -- a time when our dreams for ourselves and our children seem to be slipping away -- such youthful thinking is not serving us well at all.  Are the failures of the Obama Administration's programs, for example, more a reflection of shortcoming in the man himself and his appointees as people? Or are they actually a reflection of the application of bad ideas that would be doomed to failure no matter who stood behind them?

The above questions matter. Indeed they matter greatly. After all, changing people is relatively easy -- we get the chance to do that via elections every 2, 4 or 6 years depending on the office. But ideas -- especially when ignored or when they've been just thoughtlessly accepted -- hang on and on and on. Sometimes for generations.

Does it really matter whether President Obama (or for that matter 2012 presidential candidate Romney) likes dogs? Or plays golf?

Does our nation's future hinge in any way on whether First Lady Michelle Obama wears her hair in bangs? Or whether she prefers her family to eat freshly picked greens rather than fried potatos? 

If one listens to the press coverage -- or for that matter the conversation around the office water cooler -- one might actually think so.

Why is our nation's economy frozen and on hold? Does our economy coming back to life depend on President Obama "caring" more about the middle class? 

The answer to the latter is "no" and to the former on a change in our thinking -- on something that Americans have allowed themselves to forget: That the wealth of our nation has always been created by, and depended upon, free individuals striving to fulfill their own dreams.

In its place -- and now hanging on with increasingly petrifying results -- has come the idea that our nation's wealth depends primarily upon the government's actions and a citizen's prosperity upon government largess. False ideas. Ones repeatedly proved false in all of modern history.
And note: Ideas that are equally false no matter what the personality of the person in high office.

Why is the world seemingly an increasingly insecure place? Why must American diplomats go into virtual hiding, entire embassies close down, and American citizens limit their travel simply because a number of malcontents in other lands offer threats?

Is the prime cause the weakness of a single person -- his dislike (and possibly fear) of conflict?  Or is it the replacement of one historically proven set of ideas about the just use of force by a nation with another set of ideas that condemn and limit the same?

Is the increasing division between various groups of Americans -- the sad reversal of a trend towards increasing unity that has accompanied all our nation's storied history -- primarily the result of one man's personal biases, narrow thinking and prejudice? Or is it more due to the fact that our nation as a whole has largely forgotten one of the founding ideas of our republic -- one expressed in the very motto of our nation and placed on our Seal -- "E pluribus unum" -- "Out of many, one"?

One of the things that has historically separated Americans from other peoples is this:  Our historical preference for thinking -- for being guided, and seeing our nation guided, by ideas. -Ideas that have been tested and that have proven their worth over the centuries.

Our nation, more than any other, came into existence because of an idea, or rather, a group of ideas. Ideas centered on freedom and upon the individual’s right to chart their own course.

For America to again work and prosper ideas must once again start to matter -- to dominate the national discourse.  They must again matter more than ease. More than convenience. More than safety. More than personalities. Yes, they must matter more even than you and me.

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