Saturday, April 19, 2008

Political rhetoric - who does it serve

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In the 1960s John F. Kennedy made the now famous quote "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country". I saw in a newspaper in the Philippines an appeal to the same thinking. I guess some Filipinos think following in the footsteps of the USA would be a pretty good step since its the world superpower.
But I reflect on these words and dont think anyone really understands the implications of them. Firstly I dont think this quote implies you should serve or be loyal to your country. I think it was intended to suggest that you should not wait for your country to step up and serve you, that people should take responsibility for their lives.
But if I was to read this quote literally, it suggests that our relationship to our country is one of sacrifice, and that sacrifice is in our favour ('what your country can do for you') or the country's ('ask what you can do for your country'). Since 'our country' is really other citizens, its really compelling us to serve others instead of them serving us. Since they are similarly compelled to serve us, it strikes me as socialism. But no one draws that conclusion about this famous quote. More importantly no one does it - so why do we accept this rhetoric. Well maybe because its voluntary, and we perhaps the only difference that can be made of ethics of Christianity (which is popular in the Philippines and USA) is that Christianity is voluntary, whereas communism is coerced. Some people think ideally that capitalists should renounce their wealth. Most collectivists just think it should be taken 'for the good of society' - whatever that is.
But is altruism really the noble ideal that everyone thinks it is? I care to differ. I think it establishes a culture of entitlement where people assume the role of perpetrator or victim. Its not a basis for respect for between people. So is there any basis for giving. I think so, but not as an act of virtue, rather as an act of pride. I think you give to people only after you have brought joy to your own life. I think you give to people from a surplus to those whom you think worthy, which means people who are serving themselves. I think to do anything else is a betrayal of what is good or right about the world. On a psychological level people that do it are engaging in manipulation. And they do it. Politicians, employers, parents - they all do it. Behaviour well modelled in society, supported by ethical concepts reinforced far back before the 1960s....more like 1960BC.
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Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com
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