“The Gods above should give, / They have enough and we do poorly live” (HenryDavid Thoreau).
My Uncle Don, a staunch conservative, used to rail against what he called the “gimme” culture. He’s long dead now, but I think I know what he would have thought about the above Thoreau quote: not much. I doubt he was a pantheist, and I’m sure he wouldn’t ascribe to multiple gods, like the Greeks or Romans. However, if you translate “the Gods” to “Government”, then he would go on a tear. Lazy people sit back and expect the government to take care of them, thus the “gimme” culture. The nanny state undermines individual initiative. It keeps people from standing on their own two feet, pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, etc. His favorite criticism of another man (yes, always a man): “he thinks the world owes him a living.” If he were alive today, he’d be in Trump’s base. If you are poor, it’s your own damn fault.
Those on the other end of the political spectrum see it differently. Poverty is the result, not of lack of individual initiative, but a result of systemic racism, and unchecked capitalism. You are poor because of external circumstances, and the bosses are standing on your neck. You look to government for relief, but good luck with that. The government has been bought and sold to the rich and powerful. The odds are stacked. The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer, and you haven’t seen your trickle down.
In between these two contrasting poles is the great middle. They appreciate the government providing, as the preamble to the Constitution decrees: to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare. They adhere to the “goldilocks rule” of government: not too much, not too little, just right. Attempting to find that balance point is a perpetual challenge. They don’t mind paying taxes, as long as it is “fair”, and does not promote waste, fraud and abuse.
So much for the three camps. Now on to the core question: how much is enough? Conservatives fear that the liberals will impose confiscatory tax schemes that will stifle the economy. Liberals think we’re out of balance; there is an income inequality gap that needs correction. Moderates are tired of the noise and just want to shop. Rarely does anyone sit back and say: I have enough. As Alan Watts once said:
“The desire for security and the fear of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.”
We all desire security. We all fear insecurity. We all fear not having enough. So let’s get personal: How many pens do you have stashed in your drawer? How many dishes do you have in your collection you never use? How many books do you have that you’ll never read again, or haven’t read at all? How many clothes in your closet you’ll never wear? I could go on, but you get the point. Would culling and purging make you happier? Maybe.
I could go on, but enough is enough. Or is it? Cue the sound of one hand clapping.