Tim Dunkin: Self-Reliance: So Easy That Even a Baby Can Do It

As a new parent – our first son was born just six months ago – I am finding that there are a lot of responsibilities that I never had before. One of these, even at his young age, is to begin teaching our little man right from wrong, proper ways to behave, and the right attitudes and expectations he should have, both for himself and from other people. About two weeks ago, I had an opportunity to begin training him in the last of these areas.

Now, any leftists reading this will be horribly, absolutely horrified, at what a terrible parent I am after reading this. Why? Well, two weeks ago, I was watching my son in the nursery before our evening church service started. I had him in the crib, he was rolling around gurgling, cooing, eating his toys and doing all the other things that babies his age do. Well, he was holding one of his favorite toys, and rolled over onto his back, and his arms flew out from his body. He lost his grip on the toy, which went flying over to the other side of the crib and became lodged between the mattress and the railing. My son, with a bewildered look on his face, began looking all around and then saw the toy out of reach. He looks at the toy, sort of whines, looks at me, looks at the toy, looks at me again, goes “uh uh uh” and looks at the toy again. It was at this point that I became a brute – I decided that I was going to see if he could figure out for himself how to get the toy (keep in mind that at this point he had not yet learned to crawl). So I sat down in a chair by the crib and just watched him. After a minute or so, he figured out that I wasn’t going to get the toy for him, so he starts worming himself around, and rolling in various directions, and stretching, going after the toy. Lo and behold, he was soon close enough that it was in reach. He grabbed it, gurgled with glee, and then jammed the toy back into his mouth. He had figured it out for himself. He had faced a problem, and solved it without somebody doing it for him. I was very proud of him that evening. He was even then beginning to learn that we can’t just expect everything to be handed to us on a silver platter.

Then the question struck me – why it is that a six-month-old baby can exhibit the time-honored trait of self-reliance, whereas thousands of ostensible adults in New Orleans, Louisiana, apparently could not?

The reason is that the government of our nation has spent the last several decades working hard to infantilize increasingly large segments of our population. At the same time that I am starting to train my son to be an adult in slightly less than two decades from now, our governing class, largely (but not exclusively) made up of Democrats, is feverishly trying to retrain adults to become children.

Obviously, we all know that our government, at all levels, has any number of programs and other incentives that seem designed to sap the ability of the individual to fend for themselves in this big, scary world. The government will pay for your housing. It will pay you to have kids, and pay for their child care. It will protect you from bumping your head when you do stupid things on a motorcycle. It will cut you a check so you can buy cigarettes, flashy rims, and high-top basketball shoes. Now, it’ll even pay for your health care. After a few years of that, most anybody who gets drawn into the cycle will become addicted to it. Human nature being what it is, most people, if given a choice, would rather do nothing than something, would rather play than work. It takes discipline and wisdom to resist the ever-increasing intrusion of the nanny-state into our lives, and many in our society simply don’t have those traits anymore.

And we need to understand that once the nanny state gets started, it tends to perpetuate itself. Once government starts getting the notion that it knows better how to order your life than you do, that habit tends to become more and more pronounced. We’re going to see this accelerate even more than it has now that ObamaCare is the law of the land, and as further and further control over the health care apparatus in this country is established. After all, think about this – since health care is now in the process of being completely federalized, our personal lifestyles are going to become everybody else’s business. Do you drink too much soda pop? Well, that can cause kidney stones, which the state will have to pay to remove. Do you eat fatty fast food? Sorry, you could give yourself a heart attack, which will eat up the increasingly-rationed resources of Government Health. Hence, things even as simple as what you eat and drink will come under the government’s purview. Tax the stuff, then ban it and find other stuff to tax that people shouldn’t eat, drink, etc. That will be the watchword of the new health nannies who are “just looking out for your best interests.”

Now, however, we come to the moral aspect of the problem that many so-called “conservatives” would like to ignore, which is that the lack of self-reliance that leads to ever-increasing numbers of Americans wanting the government to nanny them comes from a lack of self-government. The two go hand in hand – without self-government, you cannot really have self-reliance.

Self-government, though, is one of those things that a lot of folks don’t really understand. For instance, libertarians and related groups talk a lot about “self-government,” but do not really understand what it entails. They tend to think of it in the simplistic sense of “doing whatever I want.” That’s not self-government, however. Self-government, true and clear, involves restraining yourself from certain behaviors and lifestyles as much as it does doing what you want to do. It involves considering the consequences of your actions, not just in the immediate short-term of the pleasure/pain synaptic complex, but it involves understanding the moral and social ramifications of our actions as they apply to the longer-term future.

I would argue that the socially libertarian attitude of “whatever floats your boat” is, in part, what has brought us to the point we are at, and which is why people don’t have the self-reliance they used to have.

See, there is a moral aspect to self-government, no matter how much the amoralists and misotheists and Objectivists in our society want to deny it. A man’s behaviors, when repeated over time, build up character – good or bad – that infuses every area of his life. When a man refuses to take responsibility for his own actions, when he refuses to withhold from himself certain things that harm himself and those around him, when he gives himself over to whatever whim, fancy, or desire he might have, he destroys his own ability to operate beyond the moment-by-moment perspective on life. A failure on the part of a large portion of our population to self-govern is why we see the rampant abuse of drugs which “requires” intervention through the massively intrusive “Federal War on (Some) Drugs.” It’s why we see our prisons full of violent criminals, and why the police powers of the state have been vastly expanded to deal with them. It’s why we see ever-increasing regulation in every area of life as a few “bad eggs” did this, that, or the other and the government felt that it “needed” to clamp down on everybody to deal with it. Just think – laws exist, in most cases, because people do bad things which affect other people negatively, because they aren’t governing their own behavior. Theoretically, we wouldn’t need laws against murder if we could be reasonably certain that nobody would ever kill somebody else. If we don’t self-govern, then we will be other-governed. The tossing aside of moral standards, and the self-government that came with them, has handed the government a virtual license to push its nose into whatever area of our lives it wants. Ironically, the push to “liberalize” the social structure of this country has resulted in the very intrusions that conservatives and libertarians hate so much.

Further, the failure to self-govern also undermines the individual’s ability to exercise true self-reliance. As more and more people become enamored with the idea of no moral restraints, no self-government, and live for the moment, their ability to pursue true long-term good for themselves and their families is vitiated. The essence of self-reliance, again, does not and cannot rest on dwelling on the immediate. It involves planning, willingness to sacrifice, persistent effort that doesn’t give up when the felt need is not immediately satisfied. That, however, is what we see among our non-self-reliant populace. They don’t want to sacrifice for the long haul. They don’t save for the future so that they will have the resources to provide for future needs. They just want to gratify their immediate desire for some bauble or trinket. It is not coincidental that this failure to have self-reliance on the part of so much of our population arose at the same time that our society was rejecting traditional moral standards and marching towards hedonism, that it was adopting more socially libertarian standards of behavior and mores.

Which leads, then, to the ironic inversion that many, many Americans who pride themselves on being adults who do whatever adult things they feel like doing (and don’t you dare start preachin’ at ‘em about it!) are really becoming children with no self-control, no self-reliance for the long haul, and who are increasingly wanting the government to take over all the burdens and all the risks involved with participating in adult society as full members. It’s always easier to play with your big boy toys and to let the government keep you cleaned up and out of trouble. You get to the point where you have whole cities full of people who simply won’t take it upon themselves to get in a car and drive away from a hurricane for which they’ve had three days warning, unless the government drives a bus up to their house, packs their suitcase, walks them onto the bus, and drives them to Houston.

If we want a truly self-reliant population that doesn’t need the government to nanny it, then we need to get back to having a population that self-governs. Our people need to wake up to the fact that we either accept that our behaviors have moral ramifications that pertain to eternal, objective principles of right and wrong and that self-government brings with it self-responsibility, or else we will continue to slide down the path of intrusive government “necessitated” by a lack of self-control. A lot of this will come by conservatives taking the time now to train up our children, the future generations of this country. That, itself, is an act of self-government and self-reliance, and one which we must do.