Sunday, June 9, 2013

Lowest Common Denominator

"God must hate common people, because He made them so common."--Philip Wylie

So the saying goes.  Whether it's a lament against the unfairness of a distant, unfeeling God, or as a comment on the current state of society depends on the speaker, but it's almost universally a statement of (self)pity:  "Woe is me".  "I'll never amount to anything or have anything because (the rich, fates, God, etc.) has it out for me".  "Look at the (low)class of people I have to deal with".  "I'll never be special".  "Success is only for the few, not for me".  And on, and on, and on, and on........

Well, is it true?  Sure seems to be, sometimes.  Especially once you compare and contrast the "common man" of today with that of just a few generations ago.  Look at the titans of industry and invention in the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries and the mark they left on, not just the world, but individuals.  The great discoveries and inventions of Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Eli Whitney;  the great industrialists Carnegie, Mellon, Ford, and Rockefeller.  Each one of these men, as well as many others, transformed the world they lived in with the greatness of their minds but their greatest impact may well have been in something unmeasurable. 

Those great men all served, first and foremost, as examples.  Examples to the so-called "commons" of what was within the scope of mans' abilities.  Whether they were aware of it or not, they were beacons lighting the way for others to follow along behind, enabling them to attain their own greatness.  For each U.S. Steel and Standard Oil, there was a solitary farmer who conceived of the idea of a hay rake that could be towed behind motive power (either horse or tractor) to reduce the effort and time needed to bring in the harvest of winter stores.  For every Lewis & Clark, Jim Bowie, and Daniel Boone, there was a frontier man with his family pursuing their future across the trackless expanse, often with nothing more than a desire to live life on their own terms, and a certitude that they were both capable of achieving their ends and worthy of the goal, once achieved.

In those long ago days it was not considered at all unusual for a young man of 14 or 15 to strike out on his own, inspired perhaps by stories of the early explorers and adventurers.  Perhaps he would join up with a rancher as a hand on a cattle drive, spending weeks battling the elements (and hostile raiders) moving immense herds of animals to and from winter and summer grazing, and to the great cattle fairs in Kansas City and Oklahoma City.  Or, maybe he would decide that he was more suited to the trades, and his parents would apprentice him to a master blacksmith, cobbler, or furniture maker, where he would often spend the next 5-7 years of his life living away from his family, learning the trade under the tutelage of a master craftsman with the eventual goal of setting himself up with a business of his own.  Doing so would also necessitate that he move away to a neighboring community he determined had a need for his craft and could provide enough custom for him to support a wife and family.  In each of these cases, tens of thousands of young men over the years pursued their lives and futures.  Every one of them confident that they had what it would take to succeed, boldly stepping up to claim their due from life.

Unfortunately, that all began to change around the turn of the 20th century.  With greater immigration from Europe came greater influence by the dogmas and popular thinking of the day with it's emphasis on "altruism" and the "right" of the downtrodden to be taken care of at the expense of others.  It was promoted as the kind, compassionate, "Christian" thing to do.  Along with the immigrant farmers and potential businessmen were a great number of clergy who had decided that this new "America" needed them as critical safeguards against the many "sins" that came with the acquisition of wealth, as well as to provide comfort to those less able than others.  If the immediate comfort of those unfortunates had been all they concerned themselves with the damage might not have been so severe.  Instead, they began preaching that it wasn't their fault they didn't succeed.  It was the greed of the industrialists' taking advantage of them that was the cause of their lack and their misfortune.   The great industrialists, business leaders and bankers began to be seen not as inspiring examples of what was possible, but as icons of oppression.  Symbols of the "evils of money and greed".  These clergy (of all faiths and doctrines) preached the obligation of everyone else to fulfill the "holy duty" to take care of "the least of these", alternating their sermons with screeds against "greedy capitalists", while they, themselves, never answered the question of "how much is enough?"  The only answer ever given was:  "More."

Obviously, this found great favor with the "common people".  Not necessarily because they were intrinsically evil or greedy, but who wouldn't look longingly at the promise of relief from the drudgery of their daily labors?  Who wouldn't be attracted, at least a little, to the idea that they could attain riches and comfort, perhaps even a bit of luxury and ease?  As it always is, such evil is seductive and deceptively innocent in it's appeal.  After all, isn't it only right to help those struggling?  Isn't it simple human kindness to feed and clothe the poor?  After all, how much do you need?

The evil is in the reduced expectation that people see to themselves and provide for their own families.  Eventually the ability, even the desire, to provide for themselves atrophies away.  What do you think the reaction was in the 1700-1800's when people met with misfortune or lost a job?  They assessed, they decided on a course of action, and they did what was necessary to survive and provide.  Now?  We've got 99 weeks of unemployment "insurance" and some 84 different government programs designed to transfer wealth from producers to dependents.  The evil is that "common people" have been conditioned to see this as no more than their due.  Their mantra isn't "Pick yourself up and dust yourself off" any longer; now it's "It's not my fault!  You owe me!"

It's even become irredeemably embedded in our so-called schools.  They never used to "grade on a curve".  If you couldn't pass the class, you stayed until you could.  If you weren't capable of rising as high as some of the others, you were helped to reach your potential,  but not at the cost of holding the other students back.  Now?  Not only do we grade on a curve, most public schools have abandoned the idea of excellence altogether, opting instead to teach to the lowest common denominator;  holding all of the minds in the class to the pace of the slowest among them so as not to harm his/her "self-esteem".  Some schools have even ceased any mention, much less celebration, of excellence as a goal to strive for and have eliminated the titles of Valedictorian and Salutatorian from the graduating class because it might make the rest of he students feel "less accomplished".  Here's a newsflash fer ya, sparky.  They are "less accomplished".  Can any of you even imagine the 15-16yr old school children of today living and breathing the lifestyle of their ancestors?  Do you believe any of the "young adult" protesters that proliferate like fleas on a mongrel dog at any international conference of business leaders could even conceive of the reality of apprenticing (for little or no pay) for a number of years to learn a marketable skill and then having to go out and find a marketplace and compete?

America has spent the last 120 or so years in a real "race to the bottom".  In so doing she has come close to crippling the singular attribute of the American citizen:  the proud, independent spirit of man than says, "I can.  I will."  Our only hope is that it hasn't been bred out of us altogether.


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