Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Our View


  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
  • Share

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 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?

+ Squandered opportunity
This was such a great opportunity. Alas, Sarasota’s three remaining city commissioners are on the verge of squandering it.

We’re referring to their replacing outgoing Commissioners Shannon Snyder and Paul Caragiulo, who decided to abandon their elected positions to seek county commission seats.

To be sure, it was certainly the politically correct thing to do to ask any and everyone who is interested in serving to apply to fill Snyder and Caragiulo’s seats.

But was that really in the best interest of the city’s taxpayers and the needs of the commission? Was that the best way to find the best people to fill those two seats?

This is not to denigrate those who applied. They are all earnest in their desires to serve.

But look at it this way: When a college or professional basketball coach is building his team, he looks for players to fill specific roles and satisfy the needs of the team. In the end, if all goes as planned, every starter fills a special role, which, presumably, will result in a great winning record.

Sarasota’s remaining three commissioners — Mayor Willie Shaw and Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Susan Chapman — had the opportunity to do just that. They had to the opportunity to hand-pick two commissioners who could bring to the commission skills that could compliment theirs and make the commission far stronger than it is. For instance, consider who is there now:

• Mayor Willie Shaw, a retired postal service employee from Newtown.

• Susan Chapman, a longtime Sarasota family-law attorney and neighborhood activist.

• Suzanne Atwell, a psychologist and longtime community activist.

What’s missing?

The obvious holes: financial and business expertise.

This is not to say the 14 candidates still under consideration lack these skills. But if you peruse the experience of the candidates being considered, it’s obvious there are more candidates on the District Two list with those needed skills than there are among the District Three candidates.

We hope we’re totally off base. We hope that after the sitting commissioners select in October two of the applicants to serve on the commission that these new commissioners rise to the occasion, and during the five months until the next city election, they demonstrate the leadership and wisdom that is needed.

We understand how commissioners wanted to make this an open process, but it was also an opportunity to find and recruit the best two people for the job.

 

 

Related Articles

  • March 10, 2010
Our View
  • July 12, 2017
Convenient, but ...