Thursday, November 13, 2008

Would Someone Please Tell Michelle Catalano That She is an Idiot?

Writing at PJM, Michele Catalano struggles valiantly against her horrible straw-foe, the idea that community service is the same as slavery, or variously, Marxism.

Another name for slavery is "involuntary servitude". Is "compulsory service" the same thing?

"Involuntary" is clearly a synonym for "compulsory".

Do I need to explain the link between "service" and "servitude"? I think I do, because while the root word is the same, the meaning is different, and it has confused you.

"Service" in this context means two things: performing duties at the behest of the government and for the benefit of someone who (it is hoped) will be helped by those duties. A connotation of service is one of learning by humility the positive blessing of helping others.

But learning by humility implies that a person lowers himself to perform some action or to be receptive to a teaching moment. That is not possible, or at least is contraindicated, when an outside force such as the government is mandating the action. Context in this case is indeed king.

Compelling service is also making the same mistake as when we take the personal virtue of liberality and apply it to government. Liberality is seeing the best in others and giving to them regardless of their worthiness, in the hopes that our selflessness will improve them, or at least show our own goodness and lack of greed. When government does it, the virtue is lost, if only because giving requires the government first to take.

So even if we grant as totally positive the nature of the actual services to be performed, and ignore any possible negative consequences or side effects of this massive undertaking, being forced to give service to others is involuntary servitude, slavery by another name.

But here is some really sloppy thinking from Michelle Catalano:

It’s interesting how many right-leaning blogs are frowning upon the community service idea, though some are being thoughtful about it. Generally, people on the political right tend to belong to churches, and churches are big proponents of community service. So why the negativity? Many blogs are also equating Obama’s community service pitch with Rahm Emanuel’s:

When you choose to serve — whether it’s your nation, your community, or simply your neighborhood — you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. That’s why it’s called the American dream.

This is not socialism. This is not Marxism. This is the mark of a country that knows it needs to rely on those who can to help those who can’t. It’s the mark of a country that knows it needs to depend on its citizens to make their communities flourish. It’s taking the “ask not what your country can do for you” attitude and transforming it into smaller clusters, where we ask what we can do for those we live with and around, instead of waiting for people to do for us. It’s how communities become stronger, how they grow, and how a strong, giving community makes for a strong, giving nation.

So because we want churches to do it, we should be okay when the government does it? That is exactly the problem! We want churches and individuals to do community service, on their own, without the government being involved. If the government starts funding community service, no one else will do it. And individuals, of their own sense of charity and liberality, are the best judges of who should get the help -- and who should not.

Repeating: we like community service. We don't like the government to fund it.

As for the equivalence of paid community service and Marxism, let's first establish one thing: under Marxist/socialist regimes, there is universal paid community service. Under some hypothetical minimalist, libertarian anti-Marxist government, there would be no paid community service.

Rahm Emanuel pitches community service as the way to ensure the American Dream, but it's a total non sequitur. The American Dream is the any of us can start with nothing and succeed by our own merits, without the government's help. We don't need the government.

Needing the government is what Marxists do.

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