RESTRUCTURING OUR SOCIETY By Ralph Lynn If we are animals at birth, how do we become civilized? It seems we must agree that we are, indeed, animals at birth but a most decisive but every one of us can be nurtured into at least partial abandonment of that incurable, unadulterated selfishness which marks off the most nearly human of the animals from human beings. If this is valid, then nurturing is of crucial significance, especially in a democracy. A rigidly classstructu red society can keep the lower classes in relatively orderly subjection as in the Old South. But our society, so proudly founded on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, hds no choice: we must provide nurturing in the form of adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education not just for the elite but for all our people. That our society is failing to provide adequate nurturing even for the elite is evident not just in the spectacular ways recorded on police records but in the overwhelming popularity of sex, violence, and vulgarity on commercial TV. We are failing so clearly across the board that it seems the more democracy we have the more barbarous we are becoming. How do we explain the fact that the United States leads the world in violent crimes ranging from mere burglary to mass murders? The endless violence and vulgarity of commercial TV may be somewhat to blame but it is more likely a result of more profound failures. Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries have long since managed to provide health care, effective education, and decent living conditions for all their people. Their crime rate is only a fraction of ours. Perhaps a listing of their possible advantages over us may help us overcome any peculiar problems we have. One advantage is that they have escaped almost entirely both World Wars of our time. Another is that they have no heritage of slavery for millions of their people. Yet another is that they do not have large segments of their populations marked off by differences in skin tone. Still another is that they do not have on their borders millions of poverty-stricken people who are invading their countries in search of a better life. But perhaps their greatest advantage is that they have escaped indoctrination in a radical version of laissez-faire economics. Our economic gospel is based on a frank appeal to selfishness; any fallout of goods for the general welfare is an unintended byproduct. But life is not simple: there is not enough unselfishness about to sustain a fully cooperative economy. Among these advantages is the fact that Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries have not been subjected to a Protestant movement coopted by the champions of this radical version of laissez-faire. This listing of advantages of “them over us” could go on. But, finally, these lands have a tradition which calls for the privileged to render service to their dependents. This is called noblesse oblige; it is not original with me to say that we have a kind of nobility without noblesse. Obviously, an effective nurturing program would have to deal with these handicaps. Beyond this, an adequate nurturing program would have to begin with the first days of pregnancy. Adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care must be provided especially during the first months and years when both body and brain are developing. Beyond programs of this sort, our public schools are the primary means of nurturing. In our frontier period, nurturing was unavoidably left to parents and local authorities. In our world, however, adequate nurturing of all kinds and at all levels is a professional responsibility in which every agency of society must participate. Our schools’ responsibilities do not end even with a respectable high school education for all our children; endless training and retraining are necessary to prepare people for that productive competitive employment which alone clothes the individual with dignity. Unfortunately, the peripheral tinkering our national leadership is now suggesting is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Since any and all schools can only reflect the society which maintains them, we have no choice save the restructuring of our society if we wish to retain a place among the leading nations of the world. Ralph Lynn is professor emeritus of history at Baylor University. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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