The president’s message is much more fundamental, important, and dangerous. Politics is a final consequence of the dominant basic beliefs held in a culture…particularly moral beliefs. True to his modus operandi, Obama aims his speech straight at the heart of America’s fundamental individualistic "sense of life”.
The president’s talk contains a lot of good, standard practical advice. “Being successful is hard”, he tells the students. “No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work.” “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.” “But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude … That’s no excuse for not trying.”
It’s good advice on what you, as a student, should do. But why should you do it? What should be your focus, your orientation? Buried in the platitudes is the real message:
“And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.
“You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
“We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.”
There isn’t a dictator that ever walked the face of the earth that wouldn’t laud those words. The collectivist overtones are unmistakable. He speaks of “the country” and “the economy” as though they are mystical entities separate and distinct from the individual human beings that make it up. They are to be the purpose and the focus to which the president urges the young “to set your own goals for your education”. But what are the “country” or the “economy” except the sum of the individual interests and efforts of its individual members? When you focus on your own life as the purpose and end of your own actions – to make your own life the best and most fulfilling it can be by your own efforts – it is the betterment of the country and the economy that you accomplish. That is because you are the country. You are the economy, just as is every other individual that comprises it.
The president’s purpose is not to advance his political agenda. It is to establish the necessary prerequisite ideas for his (and any future socialist’s) agenda. It is not the good of the “country” or the “economy” that he seeks. When anyone speaks of the “country”, the “economy”, “society”, the “public”, the “proletariat”, the “race”, or what have you, apart from its individual members, the collective group term of choice always comes down to – the state.
So when the state makes a pitch for its next power grab; its next infringement on our rights; its next tax increase; its next social program to “fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination … protect the environment, cure cancer and AIDS, and develop new energy technologies”, a compliant population trained at a young age to subordinate their lives to whatever the latest state purpose is will be ready to submit because “We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems.”
It is a grave mistake to believe that dictatorships spring on a nation at the drop of the whim of some violent “revolutionary gang”. Rather, the establishment of a dictatorship is the end result of a long evolutionary chain of legal, intellectual, and, especially, philosophical steps. To establish a socialist dictatorship in America, the ideal of individualism must be replaced with the principle of the subordination of the individual to the group – collectivism. The main battleground is the classroom, where the minds of the young are in the process of solidifying around the fundamental premises that will guide them throughout their lives, and where the future direction of the country will be determined. We are well along that transformational road, but there is still a ways to go … and time to change direction.
Obama’s message is fundamentally anti-American. It runs diametrically opposed to the idea of each individual as the master of his own life, with the achievement of his own happiness as the purpose of his own efforts. It runs completely contrary to the idea, implicit in our founding documents, that each person is an end in himself, not the means to the fulfillment of the wishes or whims of others or of the state. It runs contrary to the American “can-do” spirit that our individual problems are our own to overcome, rather than the automatic responsibility of others to solve. It runs completely contrary to the factual causes of this nation’s greatness.
It is the reason-driven, entrepreneurial, individualist energy unleashed by free people pursuing their own goals for the sake of their own happiness and their own lives as an end in themselves that leads to “cures for diseases like cancer and AIDS, and new energy technologies” … i.e., a general rise in the standard and quality of living – a better country and economy. A nation full of serfs living for the “nation” or “community” or the “state” or simply “others” is by definition a nation of people waiting to be taken care of … or taken over.
Individualism leads to the United States of America. Collectivism leads to Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia or any number of stagnant, poverty-ridden tribal societies –or to a socialist America.
Any leader attempting to inculcate in the young the sense of duty and service and a sense of smallness next to a cause larger than oneself is a leader who wants and intends to rule their lives.
Should parents who disagree with Obama refuse to allow their children to listen to this speech? Based upon the text, I wouldn’t. I think that bad ideas must be confronted openly. I would use it as a “teaching moment” (assuming the appropriate intellectual level of the child). I would tell my child where the president is wrong. I would tell him that America was founded on the opposite premise that each individual’s life is his highest value, and that the pursuit of his own happiness is his unalienable moral and political right.
I would tell him that there is no conflict between the good of the individual and the good of the country or of the economy. I would tell him that to flourish, he must make his own life, not the lives of others, his standard of value. He must set and pursue goals based upon his own interests, values, and loves. He must learn to stand on his own judgement based upon his own observation of the facts of reality, not seek the approval of others as a guide to living. I would tell him that the answer to such problems as “poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination” is embedded in the words of the Declaration of Independence, which leaves all of us as individuals free to make our own lives the best that it can be.
[It looks like some conservatives have been snookered by this philosophically astute president. To view a Time article and my comments, click here]