Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Government and the Cradle

The rallying cry goes forth from the kitchen: "Brownies!"

Like a swarm of ants returning to their nest, little ones scurry to the table and find their place among the other wide eyes and salivating tongues. One is particularly energetic; he has been making regular journey's to worship at the brownie pan since the night before. His hopes finally realized, he intensely tracks knife to plate waiting for the turn to be his. At last, one chocolaty-brown-fudge-filled rectangle of pleasure is delivered to the round altar before him,

"Hey! She got more than me!"

Knife returns. Sliver of brownie transfers from his plate to "hers". Tears well up in light of the horror before him,

"You're right. She does. "

The protest storm gathers strength as accusations of unfairness threaten to cool the warm motherly winds. I reason my way through his complaints, as best as I can reason with a six year-old brownie worshiper.

"I try my best to be equal. Life is not entirely fair. Would you rather have less brownie or no brownie?"

"Less."

It took brownie worshiper ten minutes to eat his brownie. He must have been considering if he would rather rule in hell...He doesn't know how close he came to losing it all together.

I have determined a long time ago that I cannot be the arbiter of fairness in our house. I really do my best, but sometimes fairness is in the eye of the beholder. Different cup sizes, different plate sizes, different circumstances give the appearance of unfairness when in actuality what the child got was more fair than what they were asking for.

All of these issues regarding fairness, equality, social justice, individuality, the common good: I have been asking myself how all of these issues are dealt with in the realm of society and government.

A new U.S President was inaugurated January 2oth. In the course of the election the debate over what kind of country we had/have/want reached near fever pitch as accusations abounded as to what kind of principles each nominee had lived by, in an effort to foreshadow what kind of leader each would become. Taking a cue from the axiom, "World peace begins with my neighbor." it occurs to me that many societal rules practiced in the home might also be applicable on a larger scale. How much can I learn about society and government by raising a large family?

There is a running commentary in our family as to what type of "Government" runs our household. Are we democratic, socialist, or benevolent dictator? The election and inauguration has caused me to revisit this question. It has been said the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. What are we teaching our children? Why do we lead the way we do? What has the cradle to say about ruling the world?

The question of fairness comes up frequently in our house. With two teenagers, then six very close in age, I find myself in the constant state of balancing fairness with function, and individuality with the common good. While the analogy breaks down, because I don't see government as playing the same role as parents, I do think there are some lessons that can be learned about the nature of people and the need for boundaries in society that enable us to maintain our freedoms and to enhance the common good.

In the case of the brownie, the brownie worshiper was free to desire whatever sized brownie he wished, but I was the dictator in that I determined when, how, how much and so forth. He did not earn the brownie. He did not deserve a bigger or smaller piece. He is not a free agent in that regard. He was free to protest, but not without consequence. Had I rewarded his protest with a bigger piece another, and then another, would have protested that he got two and they got one, and we would have found ourselves in the direct path of Hurricane Mommy.

In this democracy we live in we are relatively free agents. But those freedoms seem to be slowly eroding as more and more people look to government to play the role of parent in their lives (socialism). What we already see happening is that Government, mostly via the courts, then becomes an arbiter of fairness between parties, which is next to impossible to do while maintaining our individuality. This is the claim I make as a mother; the Government is too big, too distant, and too imperfect to accomplish such a task. They must even the playing field, give us all a number, look at us blindly, to treat us all "fairly" which inherently leads to unfairness. This is the beauty of our democratic republic. We are given the freedom to live as individuals and the responsibility to live for the common good; we work in conjunction with the Government, through voting, to balance the two.


If everyone does as he sees fit (anarchy) it is only a matter of time before a conflict will arise. The freedoms of an individual can only be realized as long as there is no interaction with any other individual. The minute another is introduced the art of politics begins: how can we live together in harmony? What rules of engagement can we set up so that we both may live together?

This is so much easier to see as a parent looking into the child-world than in dealing with the adult world...

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