There is nothing worse than to fear for the safety of your children. In the early 1970s, my former husband and I lived with our two small children in a poor section of San Francisco. I remember looking out of the window at the pimps, drug dealers and prostitutes hanging out on the street. I would picture in my mind two years from then when one of our children would be going to school and have no place to play but out in that treacherous neighborhood. Because of those dangerous times in San Francisco, we had one goal-to move to a safe place. Within the year, we had moved to a small town near Eureka, California and felt relieved that we were able to protect our family.
At this time, many parents feel the same way, but there seems to be no place that is safe in the United States. School massacres have happened in the suburban and rural communities, and the cities continue to have their problems with violence as well.
What has caused this invasion of violence into every part of America? Since the killings at Columbine High School, many programs have been developed to identify and counsel the children who bully and tease other children. These programs are putting the blame for mass murders at schools on those children who fail to be sensitive to or who directly bully the children who feel like outsiders.
Of course you always want children to learn to be kind and respectful to all people, but these programs are sending the wrong message. They place the responsibility for the killings upon those who are the victims, the ones who are being killed, rather than upon the victimizers. Without meaning to, these sensitivity programs are implying that Klebold and Harris at Columbine and Williams at Santee would not have killed fellow students if they had not been teased or felt like outsiders. This message could increase violence rather than diminish it. Outsider students are being told that other students "owe" them kindness and understanding; therefore, it could make them feel even more justified in seeking revenge.
The truth is that these young men were jealous and envious of others more popular than themselves. Their wicked desire for revenge was the consequence of their morally wrong feelings of self-pity, hatred and jealousy.
The way to stop these killings and create a safe society is rather simple. We need to educate the consciences of our children by teaching them the traditions of civility of our earlier culture. During the 1960s, some members of our society decided there were no moral absolutes; there were no universal, transcendent standards of right and wrong. Therefore, we stopped training the consciences of our children. People are no longer taught that jealousy, envy, hatred, self-pity and revenge are morally wrong. Society has failed to condemn those emotions, so people no longer try to keep from having those feelings or acting upon them.
Without the instruction of our consciences, American society is producing an increasing number of sociopaths-people with uniformed, unresponsive consciences. We have put too much time into developing self-esteem and too little time developing good character. Self-esteem is important, but it must be balanced by character development in order to prevent children from becoming filled with self-importance and narcissism.
If human nature were good, we would not need to inform our consciences of right and wrong, but since human nature is a mixture of good and evil, we need to restore conscience training and character development to our culture. Only by restoring the teaching of civility and ethics to children and adults will we achieve the balance we have lost.
Linda Rae Hermann
Author: The Kennedy Legacy: It's Time to Fulfill It
Recently we have been hearing about demands for reparations from some of the members of our African-American community for the years their ancestors spent in slavery. It is a very sensitive topic, especially because everyone who might express his or her disagreement with that idea fears being called a racist. It is very difficult to exercise free speech in our country on any issue that involves minorities or women. In spite of that dilemma, I will venture to address the reparation issue.
I guess I should welcome such an idea since my children are mixed, being that their father is black and I am white, but something just does not feel right. I question by what moral principle can such reparations be justified? There has to be a moral justification for receiving money for the suffering of one's ancestors. What would be that justification?
I think all decisions having to do with lawsuits for money or government reimbursements have to be evaluated by the moral affect on those who will benefit and society as a whole. We know that the previous welfare system undermined the independence, ambition, and self-determination of those families who came to depend on it for many generations. We do not want to repeat the corruption of character that resulted from that faulty program.
As a society, we need to analyze the possible consequences reparations will have based upon knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of human nature. The psychologist, Eric Fromm, observed that people often desire to escape from the responsibilities accompanying freedom. Many times humans want to be free to do whatever they want while, at the same time, trying to avoid the responsibilities that come with freedom. If a government program encourages people to avoid responsibility through enabling dependence, that government is encouraging a slave mentality.
In the nineties, I spent two years as a foster mother to two black teenagers from East Palo Alto who had been dealing drugs since they were eleven. Their parents and grandparents had often depended upon the welfare system. They believed society owed them a living, and when it was not sufficient, these young men turned to selling drugs rather than working. They had become slaves to the welfare system. They avoided the responsibility required in a free society.
I do not believe that African Americans as a whole want to perpetuate a new kind of slavery by encouraging further caretaking by a patronizing government. If an insurance company, out of a desire to absolve their conscience, wishes to contribute to an African-American college fund, that is a decision based upon their responsible behavior, but it should not be a requirement demanded by those who have never experienced personal slavery. Such demands will corrupt the character of those who receive it. They will be drawn into a slavery of dependence.
There are many kinds of slavery in this world and different degrees of enslavement. As we have seen, dependence is a form of slavery. Those who receive reparations will sacrifice personal freedom and self-sufficiency in order to receive special treatment. These reparations will postpone the movement towards independence and self-sufficiency that a portion of the black population has resisted since being cared for by Welfare.
In addition, government reimbursements will make those who receive the benefits beholden to the politicians who promote those benefits. When adults look to others to take care of them, it leaves them open to the manipulation of their minds by politicians who want to continue to have their votes. Roman democracy was partly crushed because politicians began to provide bread and entertainment to keep the masses happy and submissive.
The minds of people can be enslaved more readily than their bodies. In fact, those in slavery kept their self-respect by retaining control over their minds. Most slaves never accepted the rightness of their enslavement. To be free, all citizens must keep control of their own minds. A free mind is the responsibility and requirement for true freedom.
In conclusion, I would say that any program that perpetuates a victim mentality, self-pity, and dependence is destructive to the character of its recipients and to our democratic republic that depends upon responsible citizens participating in self-government. If African Americans concentrate upon adapting to the mainstream culture, as have centuries of immigrants, they will achieve sufficient economic success to make it unnecessary to seek reparations for an injustice which they have never personally suffered.
When I was in the hippie movement and lived in the Haight-Ashbury in 1967, teenagers from all over the nation ran away from home and came to San Francisco to become hippies. Most of them were very young and very naďve. They did not have any real understanding of the principles that initiated the movement; they had just heard that it was a place to get free drugs and free love.
At the time, I was in my twenties and not as easily swayed by a desire for short-term gratification, but these young teenagers were very vulnerable and needy. They lost no time in entering into all of the vices available.
As I mentioned in an earlier column, the hippie movement was anti-civilization. Hippies relished being primitive and tribal, thinking that that lifestyle was more natural and productive than following the norms and values of western civilization. They followed impulses, instincts and emotions, throwing off the many of the inhibitions that distinguish humans from animals.
I am reflecting on the hippie movement because so many of the examples of incivility in our present society are the consequence of the uncivilized value system adopted at that time and carried on by the baby-boomer generation. Most Americans under forty-five years old have never known the other world, pre-1960s. They have very little experience by which to make a comparison between what was and what is.
At the moment, we are hearing more about civility. President Bush and the Congress are making efforts to become more civil. Through the years, politicians have become less able to work together. Many U.S. Senators and Representatives have retired early because they were tired of the gridlock and the closed-minded disrespect from their colleagues. Special interests have added to the pool of dissension, and many people who have lived during a more civilized era decry daily acts of incivility.
Having lived through both periods and presently being involved in politics, I see a number of reasons why our society is less civil. First, political and social issues have become religious by nature. Many politicians and special interest activists have become like religious fanatics. They feel self-righteous about their causes and judge opponents as evil and wicked. They form a prejudice against those whom they see as having a different political faith, and therefore refuse to respect any differing opinions.
Second, there is a strange malady of unrestrained self-importance that has corroded how people see each other and themselves. It is gut-wrenching to try to express a differing opinion at certain gatherings or in political meetings. Feelings of resentment are sent out when a person refuses to agree with those who hold the power. Politicians have lost the skill of respectfully listening to others, even fellow politicians, and trying to understand another's point of view.
Third, we lack the manners of the past that restrained the disrespectful expression of strong emotions. I remember as a hippie thinking that manners were a superficial cover-up of people's true feelings, which made the people using them hypocrites. (I no longer agree with that interpretation).
I think we could overcome incivility if we were to institute a few changes. We should become less zealous and religious about our own issues and beliefs. That spirit of self-righteousness breeds contempt, mockery, and close-mindedness. Moreover, it would be refreshing if we all began to think that other people were more important than ourselves. Up until the 1960s, that is what middle class Americans were taught. Every American did not think of himself or herself as "number one" but was taught to honor others. And, finally, the restoration of the teaching of etiquette and manners would curb our primitive tendencies.
Western civilization may have its weaknesses, but by throwing out many aspects of it, we have lost certain qualities that distinguish us from animals. We do have the power of reason and the tool of a conscience to make us moral agents. We can live on a higher level of humanity or we can be ruled by our lower nature. I think we should choose to change our hearts and minds and replace our present distrust and self-importance with respect and civility.
I find the most challenging aspect of life is maintaining balance or moderation on a daily basis. Life is never peaceful for any length of time, being filled with successes and failures, raptures and regrets, and passion and pain. Balance is difficult to find as we journey through life's bountiful cycles.
It takes a delicate balancing act to keep growing and challenging oneself without burning out from extremes. The rise and fall of the dot-coms is a perfect example of how humans can be sucked into excessive idealism, greed, and sacrifice. Even while being warned that the financial value of their companies was overrated, the over-exuberance of most dot-commers required a crash to bring them back to reality. Their experience was only one example of the constant human tendency to become imbalanced by being drawn into excesses.
Presently, the environmental movement has the same signs of immoderation as the dot-coms. It is spiraling out of balance because many of its proponents have gained too much social and political power. For example, twelve hundred farm families living near Klamath Lake in Oregon have lost their livelihood because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency has forbidden them to use water from the lake for irrigation. The Endangered Species Act was used to shut out these farmers from any water from the lake, giving the suckerfish all rights to the water. The farmers asked to share the water with the suckerfish, but their rights to the water were denied.
Of course, we are all very aware of the energy crisis that exists in California and looms in the future for the rest of the country. Why are we in this energy crisis? For eight years the Clinton administration gave the green light to the Greens. Many Greens have used legislation, executive regulations and lawsuits to restrict the development of energy resources.
Hydroelectric power is a clean and cheap form of energy, but in order to protect salmon, environmentalists have initiated the destruction of hundreds of dams across the country and prevented construction of new ones. Many Greens have favored the use of natural gas but have prevented the drilling of the wells and the laying of pipelines that are required to supply it. Of course, their campaign against nuclear energy has depended upon lies, exaggeration, and fear to make politicians afraid to even suggest researching the idea. Also, they are against oil drilling on public lands. Moreover, the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club have even blocked the use of wind farms (windmills) in Oregon, a form of renewable energy, out of concern for the endangered condor.
Obviously, we can see from this list of opposed projects that many environmentalists have lost common sense by putting the rights of the earth and animals before the rights of humans. Their immoderate view of nature is based upon a false premise. They think humans are animals and no more or less important than other animals on the earth. Humans are not seen as superior to animals, fishes, or nature; they are an equal part of nature. In addition, humans in the industrial age are seen as destroyers and abusers of the earth, ruining it by the inventions of modern civilization. Greens' faulty ideas have influenced politicians, judges, and government bureaucrats to deny liberty and justice to miners, ranchers, farmers, lumber mills, utilities, generating plants, oil producers, and Americans that depend on their products. Forcing us to look outside our country for these products increases their cost and our dependence on global sources.
A premise is the basis or foundation of an idea. If the premise is wrong, then all ideas that proceed from that premise are wrong as well. The premise historically accepted by western thought has been that humans are the highest form of life (not equal to other forms of life), having moral, intellectual, and spiritual capacities unknown to plants, fishes, or animals. The earth was created for their enjoyment and was a means for their survival-providing food and shelter. In addition, humans were supposed to be good stewards of the earth.
From this premise, policies can be formulated to favor humans-providing the highest quality of life and assuring liberty, private property rights, and survival. At the same time, as good stewards, humans should respect and take care of the land, animals, and air. This premise has historically not always guaranteed sufficient protection for nature and the environment, but with environmentalists who agree with the realistic premise that human rights exceed the rights of animals and nature we can develop a balanced and healthy approach to the environment.
Have you ever wondered what happened to our educational system to bring it to a place of such low academic performance? I asked that question some years ago when trying to help black teenagers escape from poverty. I realized that those teenagers only hope for a successful life in the mainstream society was to receive a good education. They needed to learn reading, writing, math, history, government, and science. They were trapped in a sub-culture that was destroying them, and the public schools were not helping them escape it.
In reality, public education across our country has been failing to prepare the majority of our youth to be good citizens, to obtain knowledge-based occupations, and to be able to think critically. When I first broached the question about why public education was failing, I turned to books and articles to trace the history of our educational dilemma.
After reading many books and articles, becoming a teacher myself, and now serving on a school board for three years, this is what I have learned. Education, since the 1930s, has been used to push social changes instead of educate our children. John Dewey, the father of progressive education, introduced new methods that were based upon using experience and practical activities to teach students. He said, “…the true center of correlation of the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child’s own social activities.” He worked to eliminate academic subjects because they were not useful.
His ideas were advanced and supplemented by other progressives to change the “social order” of the United States. During the 1930s and the Great Depression, many educators and educational thinkers looked for a solution for the terrible poverty engulfing millions of Americans. Many self-seeking capitalists had denied equal opportunity and fair pay to large numbers of workers. Capitalism was under the gun, and many thinkers in America resented capitalism and capitalists. They thought capitalism would continue to prosper only the rich, and that the common man would never share in the wealth of a free market, laissez-faire society. They decided to use education to rid the nation of capitalism and replace it with a collectivist social order.
Consequently, progressive educational leaders, such as Harold Rugg, concentrated on teaching teachers to believe that “A new public mind is to be created. How? Only by creating tens of millions of new individual minds and welding them into a new social mind.” Progressives worked to undermine laissez-faire individualism by replacing it with a group mentality. The individual was sacrificed to build group identity and commitment. For example, children were given social promotions, so no child would be left behind and therefore hurt the group; competition and rivalry was frowned upon because it led to some children rising above the group (this is very common today); and grades were replaced with satisfactory and unsatisfactory marks. John Dewey confirmed this thinking when he said, “Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming, where everyone is interdependent.”
Progressives naively initiated changes in the schools in order to change the social order. As a result of these ineffectual solutions to some difficult problems, our educational system has deteriorated. Academics have been ignored and de-emphasized for most of the last sixty years. At the same time, the so-called culprit that needed to be eliminated—capitalism—has with some modification been of greater benefit to the majority than any other economic system in history.
Surprisingly, with all of its failures, progressive beliefs still dominate education. Professors of education and teacher’s associations continue to defend this failed system. In fact, the group mentality has increased with politically correct demands made on the teachers and students. In addition, schools have increasingly become indoctrination factories for every special interest: diversity, sexual liberation, sexual orientation, environmentalism, vegetarianism, and school to work.
I think removing indoctrination of every kind from our schools is long overdue. Let’s return education to its most sensible purpose: teaching our children academic subjects, the ability to think and excel, and the history of our government. Then they will be able to prosper and at the same time possess the knowledge required to preserve freedom and our democratic republic for future generations.
Lately, I have been thinking about the difference between family and government. Family is the basic institution for the creation of society. It provides nourishment, nurturing, discipline, love, and values to its members. A family cannot allow for excessive competition, ambition and possessiveness among its member, or it will become an unsafe place. In families, parental oversight and a safe, caring environment makes children feel safe. In addition, the parents have to provide for their children.
Is the role of government the same as the role of family? Is the best government supposed to be like a parent, providing and caring for its citizens? Should competition, ambition and a desire for ownership be limited in society the same as it has to be in a family?
Our Founding Fathers would not agree with the family or parental image as the best form of government. They saw government as the protector of justice and freedom, not the caretaker of the people. The image of a referee is a closer fit to their ideas than the one of a parent. They feared the parental form because it would necessitate central planning and an enlarged government, which would undermine the democratic republic they set up through the Constitution.
We have a good example of invasive, parental government locally. There are forty sites in the non-blighted area around St. James Park that the Redevelopment Agency has its eye on for high-density housing. This is an unparalleled move by the RDA because according to the fifth amendment of the Bill of Rights, the use of eminent domain is limited to taking land for “public use” (libraries, roads, public buildings), not for private use and profit. This constitutional limitation was already expanded by state law to allow redevelopment agencies replace blighted areas in cities with shopping malls, like the failed Town Center in downtown San Jose (so much for central planning).
The Redevelopment Agency has been given expanded powers by the City Council to fulfill the Mayors plan for a Manhattan style downtown. The RDA is appointed by the City Council and can sell bonds and incur public indebtedness without going to voters. They can use eminent domain to condemn property they want to sell to developers for public and now even private use. Moreover, any increased property tax revenues that come from redevelopment improvements do not go to the schools or for county or city services but to the RDA. According to the report, Redevelopment: The Unknown Government, published in 1997 by Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform, San Jose at that time had the highest, total redevelopment indebtedness of California cities--$2,205,140,180.
Central planning and invasive government can also be seen in the recent move by the City Council to condemn the very popular Tropicana Center on King and Story Road and to sell the site to shopping mall developers to put in a Wall Mart. I expect that the same method will be used to force property owners on Capitol Avenue and other transit corridors to sell their land so that high-density housing can be built on all light rail, transit corridors.
The weaknesses in the central planning methods of San Jose are the same weaknesses that brought down the Soviet Union. No one group or person can plan how many houses and shopping malls to build, how many televisions to produce, or how many carrots to grow. Supply and demand built on competition and ambition provides the best system to decide how much of anything is made. So also, our Founding Fathers knew that competition, ambition, and a desire for ownership work best in the free-market of political ideas and citizen demands. Social factions competing with their various agendas and checks in balances in government safeguard property rights, public services, and political freedom.
Central planning by a parental style government results in higher taxes, foolish decisions, and the loss of property and other rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. If the San Jose City Council and the RDA continue to take private property to be sold to developers for high-density housing, they are violating the Constitution. Those affected should go to court to stop them. When government partners with developers and other stakeholders (corporate welfare), competition and checks and balances are squelched. As our Founding Fathers understood, human nature in general and elected official in particular are not good enough to build government on the principles of a parental rule that gives them unchecked power to do what they want. In the end, since power corrupts, politicians will use the power for their self-enrichment not the common good.