The President’s infamous Roanoke speech was in fact standard socialist rhetoric devoid of spontaneity and soaked in a diseased collectivist vision.
I’ve been waiting for someone to attribute fully and correctly President Obama’s recent remarks in Roanoke about the dependency of all individual success upon collective endeavor. I knew instantly, when I heard his infamous utterances for the first of twenty times (and counting), that this same rhetorical jujitsu had been practiced on me a great many years ago. In fact, the occasion is so far in my past that I can’t pinpoint it any more. My best guess is that I was sweating out an undergraduate class in Economics (the first and last such class I would ever take) at UT Austin. Our professor was a wizened, plangent, sarcastic chap that I might briefly describe as an LBJ socialist. I can still hear that refrain, somewhere between a threat and a whine, directed at me numerous times during the semester: “Will you please get the idea out of your head that you have to have money in order to spend it!” I realize that this manner of prayer should invoke Keynes more than LBJ—but the fellow looked like Johnson and had Johnson’s accent, so to me he remains LBJ’s little brother. He gave me an A, and for that, at least, should be treated a degree of respect. Others of his ilk were far less professional. (At about the same time, I had to drop a course in the American Revolution used by its instructor as a pretext to rail against Nixon; I had discreetly slipped out of the large lecture hall during one of these tirades—but not discreetly enough, for I began to fail everything after that moment.)
At any rate, the “you didn’t do that on your own” speech has an ancient provenance. And, no, in the many days that have elapsed since its delivery, no one has pointed this out within my hearing… so I might as well do so here, even though the speech’s bloodline runs so very deep that I can’t even remember clearly where I first happened upon one of its scions. Its shaky syllogism is a commonplace of socialist propaganda. Obama knows this, though he is younger than I. Given the intellectual orientation of his influences and mentors, he must have heard it much earlier and much more often than I did. He most definitely knows that he was not talking about road-builders, bridge-raisers, and teachers as agents of the public sector. He has retreated to a defense of this position because the Right (with obliging dullness) has so interpreted his words: i.e., as lofty praise of a centralized, paternalistic government. The Right is wrong. As LBJ Junior made clear to me many decades ago (and I cannot even remember the man’s name, for the life of me), the essential help comes from other WORKERS. Now, the workers may represent the State insofar as all work in a socialist republic belongs to the public sector. The emphasis, however, is supposed to be on the guy with the wrench or the jackhammer, not the bespectacled hack behind a desk. Obama said what he meant—and he regurgitated the party line in so doing (which equates to his saying what his handlers meant, of course). We all pitch in and work together when we produce something: ergo, we should all divide the profits equally.
I believe Little LBJ actually used boards in this context. Somebody had to cut the trees. Somebody had to mill the tree trunks. Somebody had to haul the lumber to the building site. Somebody had to assemble the structure that would become my shop. Why should these virtuous laborers, then (and socialism loves the romantic association of physical sweat with virtue—it never valorizes a class of thinking producers), make a minimal wage and grind themselves into an early grave while my piddling shop turns nice profits year after year? All I do is operate the cash register (probably charging far too much money) and keep the books (probably concealing my true profit margin). Why should a verminous clerical class, represented by people like me, be allowed to thrive thus parasitically off of honest, hard-working proletarians?
The argument left me speechless when I first heard it (whether this was in the class of LBJ Fils or in some other academic setting). No doubt, that’s why my encounter with it has rooted among my distant memories of a very forgettable time in my life. What do you say in response to such obfuscation? It’s a classic example of what ancient rhetoricians referred to as sorites, drawing upon the image of what we call a “hill of beans”. You say you’re cold. If the temperature were raised fifty degrees, you would no longer be so… right? No (you say), I would be hot. Very well: what about twenty-five degrees: are you still cold? Probably not (you say). So would ten degrees of heat suffice to relieve you, or not? Well… it might. Would it, or wouldn’t it? Or eleven degrees? Or nine degrees? You’re flustered. You can’t answer. This is because heat and coldness are mere subjective feelings and do not really exist.
No wonder the sophists acquired such a bad reputation in Athens!
The “you didn’t do that on your own” argument gains whatever traction it has by piling up the number of “helpers” in similar fashion. No doubt, the clever sophist could keep going practically to infinity. The flaw in the argument is that product value is determined by the product’s publicly perceived quality and usefulness—not by how much work went into it. I recall that my wife and I spent long hours helping my son fashion an Eiffel Tower out of chicken wire for one of his sixth-grade projects. The thing should have been worth thousands, considering how much effort we expended… yet I don’t think one of us would get a free lemonade for it if curbside lemonade stands were still legal.
The lumberjack or ditch-digger contracts to do a certain job for a certain wage. It may be very hard work for a very limited reward—but others are lining up to do the job if the man in front of them turns it down. If no line forms, then the wage goes up. You take what the market offers. And if, at the end of your road, my shop is selling knick-knacks for dollars of profit on pennies of investment, then it can only be because a lot of foolish consumers want my knick-knacks. Rather than divide my profit with the ditch-digger, why not fix the price of frivolous knick-knacks or pass laws forbidding their purchase? Then my income would be much closer to the manual laborer’s. Indeed, the manual laborer, whose species has a tendency to blow its week’s wages on booze and lottery tickets, would receive a substantial raise if only paternalistic legislation would forbid its obtuse man-child members from buying unwholesome toxins and silly playthings. Naturally, micro-management of private lives is also part of the socialist game plan. Consider Prohibition (or Obamacare, which—as we now know, thanks to Chief Justice Roberts—is a tax on irresponsible behavior).
But if my business goes really, really bad—if, in fact, I plunge into bankruptcy—then it seems only fair, by the same reasoning, that my many “helpers” should absorb some of my loss. After all, if they had not cut the wood and poured the concrete for my shop, I would never have blundered into a disastrous enterprise. So their pay should obviously be docked proportionally in an act of solidarity. We’re all in this together, you know.
The collectivist image of several mountaineers proceeding up the cliff with a lifeline uniting them simply flips over the obnoxious Clintonian image of “interdependency” in foreign affairs, where one hiker who slips over the cliff drags everyone else with him. Honestly, I cannot think of anything more repugnant to my nature than this steady flood of hive-like notions that pours from “progressive” thinking. I am no longer a young man, I have been wading through the nauseating miasma of “insect-human” philosophy throughout my life in academe, and I truly respond to it (and have always done) with a visceral kind of loathing that probably justifies the Left’s characterization as a phobia. I passionately hate the hive. I admire the ancients (and deplore my own age) enough to take no pride in admitting to surges of passion. In this instance, though, I am helpless: I cannot resist. I hate the hive, and I always have and always will.
When students or rank-and-file employees were dragooned into attending “sensitivity sessions” back in the seventies, I would not go, despite the frequent result of damaged prospects. When my peers would pass around a joint at some graduate-student soiree, I declined to partake; and when they made communal property of their own bodies on semesterly (or perhaps weekend) installments, I abstained. I was unsociable—even anti-social, as some believed. And perhaps they were right; for whatever moral principles guided my decisions, I was never unaware that underneath them (or at least at an equally fundamental level) sat my “gut” aversion to being an insect, a number, a cog, a corpuscle, an atom. I am passionately attached to individualism, and I do indeed feel something like the claustrophobic’s panic when the progressive seeks with Satanic benignity to make me a well-functioning member of a successful anthill. Obama’s police will have to kill me one day if they wish to fulfill their collectivist dream; or if they do not, then I shall have failed to fulfill my own moral duty. The backward churls of whom their crowd speaks with such condescension and contempt… I am one of those.
Why, exactly, is it that human progress is associated in so many minds with the hive? Is the hive not rather a regression to the primal days when Lucy the Woman-Ape was eating the marrow out of antelope bones on an African savanna? In what sense has a human-turned-insect progressed? More properly (for the answer to the preceding question is obviously “in no sense”), how can people who espouse such views possibly suppose themselves to be progressive? What brings them to make such an illogical and repellent association?
Over my many years of examining this question, I have arrived at only two answers. Self-styled progressives require us all to become little cogs in a great machine because a) our masses are more easily manipulated in that state by “visionary” leaders, and b) the visionaries themselves can excuse unconscionable behavior—can amputate their higher nature—by consigning gross lapses to deterministic, “human animal” causes. Charles Manson was able to dominate his girls by pressuring them into acts of group sex, thus annihilating their personal will and transforming them into robots; but I should imagine that his own participation in such rituals also helped him to strangle whatever trace of a conscience he possessed—to convince him that he was just “an ape being an ape”. The individual’s total meltdown into the mass can thus lead both to a maniacal explosion of egocentricism and to a more or less permanent narcosis of responsibility—of guilt.
If I am correct, then progressivism is a variety of personality disorder or mental illness. The progressive craves power without practical boundaries… but he also and equally craves a priori absolution from all of the many atrocities he may commit in this dream-state. Whatever the condition of his mind in the opinion of modern science, he is clearly a sick soul to me.
I hate dependency except when I bestow it as a special gift upon those whom I trust and love. I hate depending upon my enemies, or even upon those whom I do not know. And I hate those Charles Mansons of the political world whose souls are so sick—whose delusion goes so far beyond a mere hoodwinking by a college Economics professor—that they actively seek to reduce us all to drones in their hive. I would wager that enough Americans share my passionate loathing of insecthood that we may still, as a body of individuals, pull our society back from the brink over which our “interdependent” brethren are trying to haul us. We’ll soon find out.