questionable content

I tried to respond to comments on “just what the world needs, part 2,” but my blog wouldn’t let me. Something about questionable content. This is unreasonably long, but questionable? Let me know if you find anything especially risque in the following, and I’ll try to tone it down next time.

Thanks for the comments and questions! They made me think…and here is the result of some of that thinking.
First, I think I used the wrong term when I talked about “hedonism,” because I don’t really think having too much fun is the problem. I think the issue is more respect/self-respect, which has a couple of different aspects. First, if people aren’t treated with respect, they are more likely not to respect themselves, and thus make decisions that are only going to hurt them in the long run. Also, people tend to act they way they are treated; if one treats, for example, a teenager from the inner city like a potential criminal, they are more likely to fulfill those expectations than if they are treated respectfully.
The other side of it is, I’m afraid that we too often treat what is really very risky and self-destructive behavior as normal and healthy. Like everybody else I blame the media, but I’m also thinking of things like college and late adolescence generally, which is now generally accepted as a time of “experimentation”–unfortunately these experiments can have some pretty serious consequences, including addiction and illness. Wealthy liberal-arts types can to a greater extent afford to mess around with this stuff, because their families will bail them out if need be, but some people have a lot more to lose and might feel more pressure to go along with these things in order to fit in–or just to be “normal and healthy” like everyone else. But I don’t think it’s responsible to promote such risky activities as normal and healthy. This doesn’t mean everyone has to subscribe to my particular set of values, but should at least think about the potential consequences of what they’re doing, and also feel somewhat responsible for impacting or influencing other people.
In saying all this, I’d like to note that I’m not trying to judge other people. What I have most in mind is that I now realize that some of my irresponsible behavior in the past could have had a negative influence on or negative consequences for people I care about. Now I’m probably a little too nervious about the impact of what I do on other people, and this is what prompts my concern about other potential poor advice we’re all getting from our culture.
On the slave ownership issue: In some ways the “leveling” interpretation is an appropriate way to view it, in other ways I think it kind of imposes modern ways of thinking onto it. My personal view is that it says more about who God is and what he wants for his people–putting the focus on the nature of God seems to get at the meaning more for me.
On fixing society through social programs–I may not be an expert, but I do have an awful lot of opinions. I think that social programs in other countries have done a lot toward alleviating some social problems, and I think the government should/will have a role in helping with such problems in the U.S. too. I tend to think that the solutions will have to look different here for a variety of reasons. Some of these are practical: the European “welfare states” (that’s intended to be descriptive not pejorative) exist in much smaller countries with, I believe, more homogenous societies. The U.S. is simply much larger and would require a gargantuan bureaucracy to handle a similar welfare state–which would not be particularly efficient. Also, there might be a wider variety of different root causes for poverty in the U.S.: in the inner cities, decades of entrenched racism and segregation which still exists practically if not formally in so many areas; rural poverty which results from a simple lack of job opportunities; problems related to illegal immigration, not knowing the language, etc.
Finally, there are more ideological objections, which are my interpretations of some objections which might or might not match my own opinions. In the U.S. we have what I sort of see as a tradition of a high level of responsibility for oneself and one’s family as a kind of exchange for the governments keeping its nose out of our business. I see this as the root of some of American’s resistance to government welfare programs: first, the average taxpayer figures s/he’s is working hard to pay for his or her own existence, and in return the government leaves him or her as free as possible to make his or her own way in life in the way s/he sees fit. Expecting him or her to help out a total stranger through welfare programs seems in a way to endanger this social contract. This ideal, of course, assumes a level playing field, and we know the field isn’t really as level as we’d like it to be; the question is, how should we level the field without interfering with this basic ideal–which has in many ways worked out quite well for us?
Second, there’s the “social net” theory. Many people are nervous about using government funds for religion-based social programs because they feel this implies government endorsement of the religion and values involved, and fear that those values might somehow be pushed on people who would use those programs. But the government is not an ideology-free zone, in fact no one wants it to take positions on many moral questions, but by not taking a stance it is actually taking the stance that such matters are either morally neutral or that the only genuine concerns in life are those that can be empirically proven–morals are all relative and thus of little concern to anyone but the fanatical.
Many people don’t want those “values” to be pushed on people any more than they want Christian values to be pushed on everyone through government fiat–but how can we engineer government programs so they don’t? Even with such things as abortion and birth control: these are completely legal, but by funding them to government programs, taxpayers with moral opposition to such things are forced to pay for them for other people. But by not allowing users of public programs access to such medical procedures, the government would be imposing moral values and setting a separate standard of health care for the poor versus the rich.
To me, the best way to approach government welfare programs is by trying to build on our areas of consensus, rather than fight each other for what we want that the other side doesn’t–if for no other reason than that once the other side gets in power, any progress our side might have made is all for nought. We all want a level playing field–so what is preventing us, keeping in mind there might not be one simple answer? One area of consensus which is by now taken for granted is that free education through grade 12 is necessary to make people ready to participate in society. Of course, some schools are better than others and this seems to be a difficult problem to solve. On this particular issue, I think the best way to improve schools is to take them on a case-by-case basis which might mean finding a way to empower local governments rather than looking for a federal solution. The “no child left behind” testing solution is incredibly broad-brush, but the federal gov’t might not actually be capable of a more subtle approach.
I think we are beginning to develop a consensus that universal health care is also necessary to a level playing field, and will need to find an approach that works for us without becoming too snarled with bureaucracy–and I don’t have any brilliant ideas on that one.
I kind of took this question as an excuse for an entirely new blog post. I have some more responses, but this seems quite long enough for now. I appreciate the comments and would appreciate any further comments or responses!

One Response to “questionable content”

  1. kim says:

    It would make sense that you, the author, rather than your blog should be the final arbiter on what’s questionable content, don’t you think? 🙂 Good points!

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