In an article entitled “We The Problem,” Evan Thomas, editor at Newsweek, is trying to establish what’s wrong with his country. The problem isn’t the political system, he writes. “It’s us.”
For decades now, Americans have lived “as if there is no tomorrow,” according to Thomas. “They have racked up personal debt, spending more than they save and borrowing heavily.” People have grown fatter; their sexual morals have loosened; “self-restraint and self-denial are antiquated values.”
Thomas traces the problem back to the 1960s. “The triumph of individual and civil rights,” he claims, “was too often perverted into an ‘I got my rights’ sense of victimhood.” This “got mine” culture of entitlement has paralyzed politicians who won’t dare “asking their constituents to make short-term sacrifices for long-term rewards.”
Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on March 1, Thomas added that the United States is now a “selfish country.” People are only thinking of themselves, lack any sense of personal responsibility while their leaders are afraid to demand the sacrifices that are necessary.
To an extent, Thomas is right. Americans — indeed, Westerners in general — are much infested with an entitlement mentality, believing that government (which means, other people) is responsible for their wellbeing. Unfortunately, he confuses the causes of the phenomena and therefore prescribes the wrong treatment.
Not the rise of individualism but the growing pervasiveness of collectivism is to blame. Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, employer-based insurance, unemployment benefits; they all stem from a collectivist ethos that frees people of personal worry but denies them personal choice in the name of society.
Thomas misinterprets a misguided, and immoral, notion of righteousness for selfishness. He longs for the times when people “realized that they had to sacrifice a little bit for” — what? Thomas doesn’t say, but it doesn’t matter. Whether it is “society”, “the common good”, “their fellow men”, the rationale is the same: that people must not think of themselves but surrender in substance and in virtue in favor of others. Left to their own devices, these selfish souls will only attempt to satisfy their most primal of instincts; get themselves fat, in the red and sleep around with similarly unenlightened creatures. No, best to give more of your money to the politicians who, as Thomas puts it, “have always been cowards.”
The contradictions in Thomas’ argument are rampant. His very premise is flawed. No matter his disapproval of consumerism, the pursuit of rational self-interest is moral and individual liberties exist because it is. Man is no sacrificial animal with unchosen obligations toward others. “The casting off of conformity and explosion of free expression” did not contribute to peoples’ impetuous claims to the charity of others; it did give rise, in smaller circles, to the sort of paternalistic disdain as expressed by Thomas who tut-tuts as he sees people living to the fullest.
The entitlement mentality is the real problem. Raising taxes and making people pay all the more for the mistakes of their leaders is no justifiable option. Cutting social security programs is the only way to restore peoples’ sense of personal responsibility.