By Chic Hollis – Philosophical Musings
Although a few Americans reluctantly accept that they are “common,” ordinary human beings, many of them identify themselves with the image of the over-worked, under-paid, universally abused, frequently forgotten, and constantly exploited average citizen. Yes, the poor soul who will never pull himself out of the credit hole he dug trying to reach a mediocre level of respectability. As portrayed in the media, this innocent yokel is over-taxed and under-benefitted, yet he is led to believe every so often – when there is an election campaign – that he never will be ignored by those who are elected to government office.
The first citizens that our aspiring candidates are going to help when they have the chance are the worthy “commoners.” Because these harassed voters are so deserving, their “needs” will be hastily taken care of by brand new, simpler, and more just legislation! (Of course, those compassionate legislators won’t take up the cost to expand our bloated bureaucracy right now.) We are, indeed, loved by our government servants, but often over-looked by them as some of you bitter cynics might suspect when they pass laws to govern our unacceptable wayward behavior.
In North America our idealistic forefathers formed a democratic nation of the common people, whose government is to be run by the common people, so that the common people can enjoy their simple lives and pursue whatever activity makes common people happy. We grateful descendants have been endowed with the freedom to think as we choose, say what we want, and to do as we please. Just as long as we don’t interfere with 300 million other mostly happy humans who are exercising their freedoms along with us. To make this endowment of entitlements (or basic rights) equally available to everyone born in this country or who comes here legally is the never ending challenge for our statesmen and women who occupy positions of power and trust.
Clearly, the primary civil role bequeathed to all Americans is to fit ourselves uncomplainingly into some local society as law-abiding citizens. And there’s the rub! When you initiate a legal system to insure freedom for everyone mixing the Biblical Ten Commandments, the Hammurabi Code, the English Common Law, the Golden Rule, and the voluminous Federal Income Tax Code, a common citizen can become confused quickly.
And it gets worse when each community, county, and state establish local governments that pass laws to rule our personal lives: many of these laws can be conflictive with federal directives. Later, when our elected legislators introduce codified statutes and implementing regulations like our tax and building codes, we find ourselves constantly violating some regulation ignorantly and unintentionally. (None of us would intentionally violate any law that we were aware of, right?)
We’ve been taught that we can’t be allowed to enjoy freedom without taking responsibility for our daily actions. That means in simple terms that we must respond to all the challenges we face in ways that are acceptable to the unwritten, as well as the written, rules that govern the details of our personal lives. The unwritten rules are seldom mentioned and never codified. They are part of the social mores that others use to try to shame us when they criticize our behavior.
Because we frequently defy the teachings of our elders and ignore unwanted advice from strangers, we often find ourselves at odds with the more prominent members of our various communities. These inharmonious relationships could be remedied if we truly knew what was expected of us and seriously tried to follow the simple guidelines for fulfilling our sacred obligation of fitting neatly into society. However it seems that many individuals deliberately avoid trying to squeeze their square peg into the round hole available for it.
Social guidelines establish the fundamental relationship all citizens have with the rest of the local community that forms the base of the complicated hierarchy we call a nation. I have isolated ten of the more important unwritten guidelines. Some of them overlap each other, but individually each of them focuses on a profound, external expectation we must accept as citizens before we take advantage of the right to pursue our illusive dream of happiness. None of these expectations is difficult to understand, but many are beyond our capabilities and intentions to follow and obey. Civil disobedience is prevalent and causes the consternation of our community leaders who desire harmony among, and cooperation from, all of their constituents.
Scofflaws are a menace to any form of government. They must be apprehended promptly and dealt with appropriately – punishment for their misbehavior should befit the crime. Primitive Sharia Law that Muslims prefer is considered too harsh in the Western World, and capital punishment is rarely acceptable in the most liberal communities. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth aren’t popular trade-offs today according to the compassionate reformers who want the worst criminals imprisoned so that they can be castigated by prison sodomists and sadistic guards.
The first and foremost unwritten law of our modern society is: “Do as we say.” Parents, teachers, employers, civic, religious, and union leaders all require that we automatically accept this simple instruction. When we consciously or unconsciously accept a subordinate role in any group of human beings, we immediately determine who is in charge of dictating the informal rules and enforcing them. Established authority, formal or informal, demands compliance to their way of thinking.
Authority figures rarely tolerate any significant deviations. Stipulating the limits of the word “significant” leads to all kinds of fanciful interpretations from the analytical jurisprudent. Consequently, the majority of us are convinced that if we act as our noble leaders genially request, we will be allowed a degree of freedom to start the search for the source of our eventual happiness.
The next guideline we learn is: “Take care of yourself.” Granted many of us cannot manage this, but when we can’t, God is supposed to help us. (There aren’t many others around to help because they are all busy trying to take care of themselves.) If you are patient and longsuffering, and can’t earn the money to take care of yourself, you might find some governmental entity to lend you a hand. But if the assistance is like the student loan program, forget it, because those debts can never be forgiven! Anything given you by the government usually has strings attached which may make the gift very onerous if you are responsible. In our society the object of all these guidelines is to teach us responsibility. So, be alert. If you somehow manage to “take care of yourself,” then you are ready for the next guideline.
“Pay your taxes first” is the guideline that lets you render your gratitude for being allowed to live and play in this wonderful paradise. It is a small token we are asked to pay for all the benefits that we receive from the democratic infrastructure that is second to none in the world. For the good fortune of being a wage-earning member of this nation, we cannot be generous enough! Remunerations to the various governmental entities are the first contributions our employers make for us when they deduct the mandatory amounts from our salaries before giving us our paychecks. Then we have the sales taxes, the excise taxes, the property taxes, the building permit fees, the garbage collection fees, etc. Even a tax has been proposed on the Internet mail we send to friends like you! (We have to support our local post office that uneconomically sends thousands of pieces of useless mail to our homes daily to be properly recycled.)
Once your taxes are provided for with all the money you earn through May, the next guideline is: “Live within your means.” This is not easy for many of us to do, but we can manage if we follow the simple corollary to this guideline: “If you can’t live off your current income, live off your future income.” Or in other words: “Get some credit established pronto!” With a credit facility in place like a first mortgage on your home, you can borrow more from the future to pay today’s expenses and living costs. As inflation bolsters your income over the years, you can pay down the debt with cheaper dollars from your subsequent raises or sell the house at a higher price than you paid for it. If you need help to acquire other things you can’t afford right now, there are credit cards, car loans, and for the really economically stressed, a small bridge loan from your credit union. There are many ways to comply with this guideline, but curtailing spending is usually the very last one considered.
To be continued…