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Double Speak

Jim Lindgren on compulsory volunteerism. This is the kind of thing that we're in for in an Obama administration. It's the new New Deal. As some commenters note, I wonder if we get to wear arm bands.

[Mid-morning update]

Princess Obama?


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Sam Dinkin wrote:

Hmmm. 100% tax on young people. It will the nation together--bring us all together to burn our draft cards.

People are doing service for each other every day. Otherwise they wouldn't be getting paid. I would say we have a $13 trillion service economy that seems to be functioning great. Our only problems seems to be a few extra houses and our cars are too big.

Drooling Illiterate Cretin wrote:

Melanie Pillips!!

Shitmberg, get real.

Rand Simberg wrote:

Do you have an intelligent (or even unintelligent) critique, or just a misspelled ad hominem attack?

Apparently only the latter.

Drooling Illiterate Cretin wrote:


Just amazement at how utterly moronic you've become. I can't wait until McCain wins in November so you can level your piss-hate gun at him. Unfortunately for that thought of great entertainment, his chances are vanishingly small. So your vapid hallucinatory fixation on Obama will likely continue.

Jonathan Goff wrote:

Alas, if McCain's statements in the past are any indicator, he'd be just as bad or worse in this area. McCain's comments about wanting to see young people in uniforms doing calisthenics in the city park before going off to a day of public service definitely weirded me out.

I just wish that if enough people voted "c) None of the Above" the parties would have to go back and find candidates who weren't total schmucks.


Steve wrote:

As crazed as I may sound, I've been beating this drum for years.

Maybe, if people had something invested in the country as a whole, they'd give up their me, me, me attitude. Did you ever, even once, hear people who were adults during the Depression or who fought in WWII say me, me, me?

There are thousands of jobs that could be done by a civilian work corps that get done now by no one. Everyone isn't cut out for the military. But almost anyone can plant trees, paint schools, clean highways or read to the blind.

ken anthony wrote:

Words fail.

kurt9 wrote:

It looks like the boomers want to parasitize their own kids as slave labor.

Carl Pham wrote:

Steve, are you under the impression that vast areas of the country are stump-filled open fields crying out for new forests to be planted, or that 30% of elementary schools are in dire need of a coat of paint, or that miles of highway are ankle-deep in Burger King wrappers, or that millions of blind Americans languish in the dark, unable to get books on tape, or get a grandkid to install Dragon Naturally Speaking on their laptop to read their e-mail out loud?

You sound rather like you're e-mailing from the depth of the 1930s. How's the weather? Be sure to sell your overseas stock before December 1941.

Steve wrote:

I was using those as broad examples. But the only one I can see that's off the table is reading to the blind. You are right, there are electronic systems for that. But a Meals on Wheels, food bank, Second Harvest type system exists in many places. Most of them are short handed.

The other examples I stand by, or stand near anyway.

There may not be stump filled open fields, but there are areas of burned out National Forest that need replanting.

How many old houses still need repair or demolition in New Orleans?

If the ongoing news from the 5 states I've lived in, and the 35 more I've worked in over the last 20 years is an indication, there are indeed many schools and colleges that need paint, landscaping, grounds cleaning, or cables pulled for computer networks.

The school system here in Raleigh has repeatedly said they can pay for the labor or the materials for some projects, but not both. I absolutely believe that it's because of a lack of foresight on the administrators parts and they should be ousted. But we have smaller, poorer school systems all over the country that could use help in some way. If doing grunt work sounds like piling on the poor darlings, how about teachers aids, librarians, network administrators, cooks, etc. ?

As to the highways and byways, they are pretty much ankle deep in burger wrappers, old cans and general trashy shit in the 46 states I've driven in. When you're driving around your town tomorrow, look at the sides of the road.

Many high schools and universities are DEMANDING their students do some sort of community service to graduate. How is this any different? Because it's mandated for everyone? What is more fair and equalitarian than everyone who's able, doing something for everyone's benefit?

More than anything, I'm sick to death of Americans who think that it's their own personal right to rely on some other poor slob to protect them, paint the tennis courts at the park, and God knows what all. I'm sick of selfish a-holes who think that someone elses kid should be a fireman or cop, because it's dangerous. I'm tired of hearing that "they" should do something about [fill in a complaint here]. We need, as a nation, to stop thinking in terms of me, me, me. I personally believe that mandatory service would give people pride and ownership in our country.

I come from a long line of men who served in the military. If my genealogy work is right, and I trust that it is, that ideal of military service in my family goes back to the Civil War. Given that, being given the choice in doing civilian work corp stints, or military service just seems like the thing to do to me.

Carl, ultimately, it's just MY opinion. Which, on examination, smacks of listen to me, me, me. But what I propose isn't going to help just me, me, me.

I'm an old hippie Carl. We had a system of taking care of each other in our extended group of friends, that has continued for many of us for 40 plus years. Many of us strived to make a difference in the world around us. For many of us, that type thinking continues to this day. I see doing some kind of service to the country in that same light.

Carl Pham wrote:

Hmm, Steve. I believe I agree with you wholeheartedly on the sentiment and the goal, but disagree violently on the means.

Yes, absolutely, the sense of entitlement and narcissism among modern Americans is nauseating. Our forefathers would be ashamed of us.

No, that does not mean erecting a giant fascist state that will direct from the center the labor of millions is a good idea. Quite the contrary.

Let me put it this way. If I want my teenage son to stop dropping his laundry randomly around the house and kvetching self-righteously when nobody picks it up and launders it for him, does it make sense that I'll teach him responsibility and awareness of others by turning his life into boot camp, regimenting his time, telling him exactly what to do and when -- at 3:20 you get home from school, from 3:20 to 3:25 you WILL change your clothes and put the dirty clothes in the hamper, at 3:25 you will offer to help pick up the living room, at 3:26 (if your offer is declined) you will...

I submit the answer is no. If I want to teach him responsibility, probably my best effort is to stop subsidizing irresponsibility, e.g. stop doing the laundry for him. Let him discover the "facts of life," as we might say, the connection between labor and responsibility (and concern for the welfare of others) and reward.

So if we think the younger generation is rising amid an undeserved sense of privilege and narcissism, the correct answer is not uniforms, buzzcuts and reveille trumpets, but rather a reduction in how we subsidize youthful extravagance. Maybe more people should have to work through college, or save up for it. Maybe the voting age should be put back to 21, or made conditional on paying a certain amount of income taxes. Maybe Social Security, that great highway robbery of the young to pay the old, should be scaled back, so Mom 'n' Pop develop a much stronger interest in making sure Junior becomes a productive member of society (since they can no longer rely on government-assisted theft from the vast sea of Junior's peer group).

As for the general decline of infrastructure: I'm going to have to disagree. I don't see much trash at all on the roads, and I live in Los Angeles, and while I don't doubt that there are a few jobs around the nation where unwilling, underpaid and nonskilled labor -- think chain gang -- can be useful, I can't think of any such job that wouldn't probably be better and more economically done by a few professionals and a smidge of modern machinery.

The schools around here may occasionally need a lick of paint, but that's largely because schools devote all of their resources, when possible, to teacher salaries, and as little as possible to physical plant, textbooks, and the like. Teachers at my neighborhood high school -- folks with mere BAs in education -- earn $70,000 to $90,000 per year, but the school uses textbooks that are a decade out of date and falling apart. There's a good reason for this: they know very well that as long as the physical plant and textbooks are falling apart, the voters will shovel more money their way out of a sense of guilt. So why not keep salaries princely, and short-shrift the physical plant? In a private business, the answer would be because that's inefficient and a competitor will eat your lunch. Throws some light on why teacher unions fight violently against the idea of allowing competition ("vouchers") or even against the idea of trying to objectively measure the quality of their product ("standardized tests"), doesn't it?

Carl Pham wrote:

Let me go further in my attempt to seduce you into my quasi-libertarian cult, Steve. Let's take the position that more people should experience the team-building, good of the many outweighs the good of the few, yadda yadda experience of serving in the military.

Let's further agree what we want is not just for them to have the experience, but to draw the right lessons from it, that is, to internalize and "make their own" the values of teamwork, being reliable, watching out for your buddy, et cetera that are illustrated by the service.

How do we best achieve this? Not by drafting them. That just gives them the experience; it does nothing to get them to learn the right lessons from it. We need to use what the psychologists call "cognitive dissonance" or what we plebes call people's generic difficulty admitting they're wrong.

Like so. A guy is in the Army, and it's pissing down rain on him as he tries to dig a foxhole, and he bashes his knuckles with the shovel, so there's blood and pain and mud and miserable cold wet everywhere. What the fuck am I doing here?! he wails at the sky.

Now, if he was drafted, the answer to that question is: I was drafted. Clear enough. But what if he volunteered? Then the answer is: I signed up. But wait a minute -- why would I sign up for something that is monumentally stupid, like standing in the mud digging holes? People are very reluctant to admit error. No one is going to say well I was just stupid. No, that's when they're going to say, oh, well, see, it made sense to sign up, because, really, while the mud is awful, what I'm doing here is helping out the team, and that's important to me. I'm here, stuck in the mud, because I want to be, damn it. Boo-rah!

So if we want to maximize the chance that someone will internalize, "make his own," the values that drive the idea of military service, then we must make sure his service is, or at least appears to be, voluntary. We can encourage him to go by rewarding him afterward or making it hard on him if he doesn't. (But we don't want to apply too much pressure, lest we once again enable him to answer the question why am I doing this? with something other than because I chose to.)

Karl Hallowell wrote:

For me the big problem is what are we going to do with all this labor? My guess is that the apropriate agency will come up with some sort of makework. So forcing people to engage in meaningless activity because someone thinks compulsory volunteerism is a good idea. At least now, those young adults work, that is, they get paid to provide something of value.

Steve wrote:

Carl, we'll just have to agree to disagree.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on July 24, 2008 5:53 AM.

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