Government Knows Best

At times, one can read or view multiple news stories about seemingly unrelated topics, given independently, and can draw a connection between them and see a common element to the difficulties looked at individually.  So it was for me earlier this week when I viewed a Prager University video on the struggles of contemporary indigenous Americans and then read a lengthy article on the removal of children into foster care in New York City.  One might not readily see an obvious connection between these two stories, but in both cases there were complaints that the government was treating people like children, and at that point the concerns of the two articles connected, as the news stories were wrestling with some of the effects of the paternalism of government.  As this subject has more than the usual layers and amounts of irony–which for me tends to be a somewhat consistent facet of my own writing, I will like to spend the majority of this piece exploring these ironies before discussing briefly how paternalism relates to the problem of America’s first peoples as well as the issue of which children are removed by the state from which parents.

I would like to state at the outset that I do not consider myself particularly objective or unbiased when it comes to the issue of paternalism, even by the standard of ordinary human bias and subjectivity.  Given the combination of my nationality–I am a relatively bumptious American when it comes to expressing my opinions, as well as my own harrowing childhood, the thought of being treated like a child by those I viewed of inferior intellect, moral capacity, and general competence has always been viewed by me with a sense of immense horror.  Being more than usually prickly about such matters, then, my sympathies in such situations are generally not with the government.  I feel it necessary to state this bias at the outset.  Among the central issues of paternalism are questions of trust [1], and when it comes to matters of trust authorities start with me with a considerable trust deficit.  It is likely only my characteristic restraint, my temperamental conservatism, and my general dislike for open conflict that keep my relations with authority to be even more unpleasant than it is.  My own native suspicion of authority is at the level of fairly extreme libertarianism as it is, and I feel it necessary to be honest about it in light of what I am about to say.

How does the government treat children?  In many ways, the government does not treat children well.  Public school is considered to be prison for many people, and is a place for many acts of violence.  These acts range from pervasive bullying, government hostility to godly morality and people of faith, to the fact that schedules are so regimented and children are often drugged into stupidity in order to deal with their native energies.  Nor do these exhaust the problems of schooling, with the active efforts of authorities to reduce the legitimacy and authority of parents and the fact that success in learning often requires either extensive self-education or a great deal of parental involvement that may simultaneously alienate them from teachers whose knowledge and competence with the material that they are the putative authorities of being often of a shaky and incomplete nature.  When one adds to this the fact that students are routinely denied their full civil rights even after they come of age–something that is especially troublesome in higher education–one can see that education is an area where children are treated particularly poorly.  To be treated as the government treats children, therefore, is something to be avoided at any cost.

The video I watched from Prager Univeristy on who is to blame for the problems of contemporary indigenous peoples in the United States was remarkably pointed in its criticism of the policies of government.  In calling the Bureau of Indian Affairs “Bossing Indians Around” and in pointing to the fact that the government holds tribal land in trust–rather than it being the possession of the tribes and their people themselves and the burdensome regulations that any efforts at development and improvement founder over, the video points to the negative effects of paternalism.  The fact that nearly everything of value on tribal property involves exploitation of some kind only makes the situation of our first peoples worse.  As a child I watched cultural shows from our local Seminole population that may have been felt as exploitative, and the casinos that have replaced such shows is no less exploitative, although of a different population, through the lure of gambling, gluttony, and alcohol, as well as the opportunity to watch musical acts out of their prime, lures to which few of us are entirely immune.  Surely the various tribal nations within the borders of the United States would like to be seen as fully competent adults and not as wards of the government made dependent to a dole that is in reality the partial payment of a great deal that has been stolen in the past as well as a great deal of opportunities that are lost in the present.

Earlier this week I was sent a lengthy and complex article about the removal of children from parents and my reply to it was somewhat cynical, for which I apologized to my CASA supervisor.  He did not think my cynicism to be excessive.  In reading the article, the operations of family court and of various child protective services reeks of paternalism.  There are blatant double standards where the children of poor families (who are often simultaneously minority populations) are removed while children in wealthier families are not.  Judges and bureaucrats feel encouraged to engage in social engineering–and in bogus efforts at education–in order to feel that they are lifting up poor families who often live at least somewhat through public largess.  The authority of parents is threatened because they are surrounded by a web of mandatory reporters (of which I am one, at least a couple times over) who are legally obligated to snitch if something goes wrong.  And when parents do not comply with the malevolent forces that have the power to take away their children, families can be entirely destroyed, and sometimes are.

What is the commonality between these situations?  Whether we look at children in public schools (or public universities), tribes of first peoples, or impoverished parents, we are dealing with people who have some sort of perceived dependency on the government, for which the government demands a certain loss of freedom in response.  This demand is often couched as viewing the dependent person as a ward of the state in some fashion, often by requiring burdensome regulations, and the removal of freedoms is seldom openly admitted.  When we see that money is at the basis of all of these problems, then the problem becomes more clear.  Government itself does not create the money it distributes to various parties.  Rather it serves as the agent of the taxpayers at large whose money the government holds in trust.  Yet while the government is leery of proving itself a trustworthy agent for the people at large, it is an immensely demanding source of revenue for those who receive the resources it stores.  Here we see an immense hypocrisy, in that government acts like the owner and creator of wealth when it is in reality only a steward of the wealth and resources of others for what the people as a whole deem as socially worthwhile purposes.  How are the agents of government to be reminded that they are in the same position with regards to the people as children, recipients of various public welfare, and America’s first peoples on the dole are to the government.  How then is government to be induced to act with due humility as a supplicant of taxpayers rather than acting in a domineering and tyrannical position as a lord and false savior, and a terrible parent to boot?

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Government Knows Best

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