- December 21, 2011
For those of you who still may not have made up your minds about which candidates you ultimately will vote for in November, what follows is a perspective of thought that can help you weigh which candidates would be best.
We’ll call it the snowstorm versus snowflake decision.
Here’s the question to ask about the candidates running for office: Do they see humanity — you, the voters, taxpayers, citizens — as individual snowflakes or as a collective snowstorm?
Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, one of the oldest not-for-profit think tanks in America and a teacher and promoter of liberty and free enterprise, wrote an essay earlier this year that makes you look through that “prism” in the context of public policy.
As Reed put it:
“There are two basic prisms through which we can see, study and prescribe for human society: individualism versus collectivism.”
Snowflakes or snowstorm?
In the following excerpts, Reed shows through his metaphor how it translates into policy making — and by extension, into the choices you make in the voting booth. Consider:
No two snowstorms are alike, but a far more amazing fact is that no two snowflakes are identical either—at least as far as painstaking research has indicated. Wilson Alwyn Bentley of Jericho, Vermont, one of the first known snowflake photographers, developed a process in 1885 for capturing them on black velvet before they melted. He snapped pictures of about 5,000 of them and never found two that were the same—nor has anyone else ever since. Scientists believe changes in humidity, temperature and other conditions prevalent as flakes form and fall make it highly unlikely that any one flake has ever been precisely duplicated. (Ironically, Bentley died of pneumonia in 1931 after walking six miles in a blizzard.
Lesson: One flake may be harmless, but a lot of them can be deadly).
Contemplate this long enough and you may never see a snowstorm (or humanity) the same way again.
Anne Bradley is vice president of economic initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics. At a recent FEE seminar in Naples, she explained matters this way:
When we look at a snowstorm from a distance, it looks like indistinguishable white dots peppering the sky. When we get an up-close glimpse, we see how intricate, beautiful and dissimilar each and every snowflake is.
This is helpful when thinking about humans. From a distance, a large crowd of people might look the same, and it’s true that we possess many similar characteristics. But we know that a more focused inspection brings us nearer to the true nature of what we’re looking at. It reveals that each of us bears a unique set of skills, talents, ambitions, traits and propensities unmatched anywhere on the planet.
This uniqueness is critical when we make policy decisions and offer prescriptions for society as a whole; for even though we each look the same in certain respects, we are actually so different, one to the next, that our sameness can only be a secondary consideration …
Proceeding one step further, we must recognize that only individuals plan. When collectives are said to “plan” (e.g. “The nation plans to go to war”), it always reduces to certain, specific, identifiable individuals making plans for other individuals.
The only good answer to the collectivist question, “What does America eat for breakfast?” is this: “Nothing. However, about 315 million individual Americans often eat breakfast. Many of them sometimes skip it, and on any given day, there are 315 million distinct answers to this question.”
Collectivist thinking is simply not very deep or thorough. Collectivists see the world the way Mr. Magoo did — as one big blur. But unlike Mr. Magoo, they’re not funny. They homogenize people in a communal blender, sacrificing the discreet features that make us who we are.
The collectivist “it-takes-a-village” mentality assigns thoughts and opinions to amorphous groups, when, in fact, only particular people hold thoughts and opinions.
Collectivists devise one-size-fits-all schemes and care little for how those schemes may affect the varied plans of real people. Any one flake means little or nothing to the collectivist because he rarely looks at them; and in any event, he implicitly dismisses the flakes because there are so many to play with.
Collectivists are usually reluctant to celebrate the achievements of individuals per se because they really believe that, to quote President Obama, “you didn’t build that.”
Take individuals out of the equation and you take the humanity out of whatever you’re promoting. What you’d never personally inflict on your neighbor, one on one, you might happily sanction if you think it’ll be carried out by some faceless, collective entity to some amorphous blob on behalf of some nebulous “collective good.”
So what does humanity look like to you: a snowstorm or snowflakes?
If your answer is the latter, then you understand what the philosopher and historian Isaiah Berlin meant when he wrote in 1958, “But to manipulate men, to propel them toward goals which you — the social reformers — see, but they may not, is to deny their human essence, to treat them as objects without wills of their own, and therefore to degrade them.”
Snowstorm or snowflakes. It’s an effective litmus test for how you see yourself and how the candidates in the November election see you.
Let’s put it another way: Will the candidate you’re thinking of supporting vote for initiatives that will increase your freedom and your ability to be an individual snowflake, or will that candidate support initiatives that favor the collective group at the expense of your freedom?
+ Reap what you sow
It may have been eye-opening for Longboat Key taxpayers to see the town property-tax rate will be rising 4.8% to 2.1763 mills from 2.076 mills.
And it may have been even more surprising, as well as confusing, to see the town will be collecting $954,397 more in tax revenues in the new fiscal year than it did in 2013-2014, and yet the town’s total general fund budget of $14.8 million is expected to increase only $51,130.
Huh? How can that be — rising tax collections of nearly $1 million and a budget that is staying flat?
Call it making up for past practices.
First, almost half of that increase in tax collections can be attributed to a 5.5% increase in the town’s total property values — a nice bonus for town coffers.
The other half of the $954,397 will come from the boost in the tax rate.
All that new money is being funneled to help pay down the town’s $27 million in unfunded pension liabilities and rebuild the town’s rainy-day savings account after the recession to a 90-day operating level.
If you’ve followed the Town Commission, you knew this was coming. Don’t fault the town administration.
In fact, kudos to Town Manager David Bullock for holding general fund spending flat.
STAR SPANGLED BANNER
As we commemorate the 200th anniversary of lawyer-patriot Francis Scott Key’s composition of the National Anthem, there’s a moving patriotic video being forwarded all over to email inboxes. It’s a great story of the story of the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Go to: www.youtube.com/embed/YaxGNQE5ZLA
YES: ARMED GUARDS
Given the number of shooting massacres and tragedies in U.S. schools in recent years, you can applaud the Manatee County School Board for voting to station armed security personnel at 32 of the county’s 33 elementary schools.
The school board has committed $1 million a year for three years to the private firm, Sarasota Security Patrol, whose personnel consist of retired police officers and military veterans.
Overreacting? No. It’s insurance and reassurance to district parents that the school board places security of life at the top of the priority list. And it should.
To be sure, one armed guard per school will not prevent a horrific event from ever occurring. But as law-enforcement and military leaders will tell you, the guards’ presence — and the public’s knowledge of them — is nonetheless an effective deterrence.
The Manatee board and district administrators are moving quickly to station the guards amid many questions still to be answered. They’ll figure it out. Perhaps one of the bigger questions is:
When will the Sarasota County School District follow suit?