Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Two vignettes

Rather than one lengthy blog, today I'll venture two shorter ones, concerning issues very much on my mind.

1. The idea of free health care may make some of us feel warm and fuzzy inside, but we need to be mindful of its ripple effects. Along with this health care privision comes the hiring of three hundred new Internal Revenue Service agents -- in the area of enforcement. Better things for better auditing. Clearly the government is interested in squeezing every available penny from American taxpayers in order to fund this health care initiative. The idea of supplying every citizen with health care may sound lovely in the abstract, since after all, poor health is hardly a privilege. But would any non-politician favor bestowing more power on the IRS?

When politicians poke and prod the embers of tax warfare, the rich aren't the only ones who suffer. (Even if they were, however, do we really want to suck away the resources of those who, if they could afford it, might furnish us with employment?) In fact, tax warfare has no winners, except politicians themselves, who know they might ride to victory on a wave of dissatisfaction and wealth envy. I'm hard-pressed to imagine anyone outside of Washington, D.C. who rejoices at the prospect of an already painfully complicated system becoming even more complicated. Yet this is the price we pay when we trust the government to supply us with services -- and should the private sector become more depleted, we'll end up looking to the government to provide even more services. The vicious cycle won't stop.

Ideas that can make us feel really good in theory might well wreak havoc in practice. We voters would do well to remember that.

2. A lovely Massachusetts high school student named Phoebe Prince is dead by her own hand. She'd been subject to relentless bullying for months, until at last she found her life no longer worth living. Suicide is both tragic and terrifying; what must it take for someone to reach a point where life itself becomes more burden than blessing? Yet the motive behind Phoebe's act makes it all the more infuriating. She just wanted the bullying to stop, and she saw no other way.

Now nine teenagers are up on charges for driving this young lady to take her own life. As someone who suffered from a little bullying during her own high school years (though nothing nearly as severe as what Phoebe went through), I can't help wishing for those heartless, sociopathic little scumbags to be put under the jail. The trouble: I can't convince myself that jail time will give them the lessons in common decency they so desperately need. At the root of the problem here lies something that the government can't step in and control: poor parenting.

Poor parenting has always been with us, but in this Age of Entitlement it seems more prevalent than ever. I recall an incident at a junior college library, where a girl took a cell phone call and, completely ignoring the "quiet-please" policy, began a loud and distracting conversation. She was creating such a disturbance that one of the librarians approached her and asked her to step outside to finish her conversation. Rather than accepting this reasonable rebuke, the girl got angry and threatened the librarian, telling him that she would call "her daddy" and let him know how she was treated, and "daddy" would then let the librarian have it. Two people in this story should be ashamed of themselves: one, the girl herself, a poster-child for the principle of Entitlement, and two, "daddy" -- because if she really thought he would take her side in this case, he obviously hasn't been guiding her in the right direction.

Too many parents are letting their children grow into adolescence with the idea that the rules of courtesy and decency do not apply to them, and that they can behave as they like without caring who else might be hurt. These parents are so anxious to pump their children full of self-esteem that they forget to teach them a little basic consideration for the feelings of others. I doubt any of the bullies who tormented Phoebe Prince to her death has a self-esteem problem; most likely the nine teenagers in question have a little too much of that quality -- for, word is they think their actions were perfectly justified, or else they think their victim should have been "tough enough" to withstand their assaults. Do young people get this way on their own? Perhaps a small handful of them do, and learn to take satisfaction in others' pain in spite of all their parents' best efforts to teach them right from wrong. But I can't help thinking that 80% of the time, in back of bullies you'll find parents who aren't paying enough attention, and may even be feeding their children's sense of entitlement.

The responsibility for curbing bullies should not rest with district attorneys. It should rest with Mom and Dad. Sadly, the moms and dads who failed to stop their children from tormenting Phoebe Prince will now be so busy protecting those kids from the consequences of their actions that they won't realize their own guilt.

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