A cup of coffee can slow America’s decay

By Andrew

We live in a somewhat free state. Somewhat. There was a time when I seriously considered devoting my life to the freedom of this country, to the principles of life, liberty, property and privacy.
Yes, I considered becoming a politician. After a while, I realized that I couldn’t be happy as a politician, and so I decided to at least do my part and write numerous columns, filled with cogent political arguments and opinions. I would be an eloquent beacon to the souls of my community for the ideals of my conservative/libertarian paradigm. I would change the world with my fiery words. Every good-minded intellectual wants to change the world for his own idea of better, to stand up for what he believes. What better motivation for getting into politics? No, that is exactly why I have begun withdrawing from politics.
It doesn’t seem to make much sense to a good many of my friends. They say, “If you want to change the world, why are you leaving off discussing politics?” It is precisely because I want to change the world that I am stepping back from political involvement. Yes, the prime purpose of honest politics is to change the world. I no longer believe that politics is the best means to that end, however.
Yes, I have become disillusioned, if disillusionment means having one’s illusions removed. Politics has become an impotent ally to the cause of true change. I once read a quote in a newspaper by a favorite political author of mine, William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education. In the passage, Bennett states that he would never run for office, precisely because he believes he can do more for the betterment of our country in organizations such as the Heritage Foundation or in writing books such as “The Book of Virtues,” outside of elected office. I am taking it a step further, and backing away from politics almost entirely. It will now mostly be a hobby to me, if anything. No, the way to change the world is one person at a time.
That sounds rather trite, doesn’t it? Consider this, though: Who is more likely to convince you of a moral idea, your mayor or your mother? While your mayor has a good deal of legal influence and can effect sweeping changes in law in your city, your mother can work to change the way you think profoundly. What if all the mothers across the city began talking to their daughters and sons about a certain issue? Eventually, the theory goes that the mayor would have a city on his hands passionately concerned about a particular subject, and he’d have to do what they said. That’s how it’s supposed to work in a representative democracy, anyhow.
Even that doesn’t particularly interest me, though, because that’s merely the equivalent of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Sure, I believe that MADD does good things, but they’re still dealing with only the symptom of a much deeper problem. Yes, we ought to vote to improve the laws that treat the symptoms of our various societal diseases. Yet, that is all government or any variety of political activism ever can do, treat symptoms. No, our underlying problem isn’t that we have bad laws or corrupt legislators. It is that we have lost our own virtue.
A free society requires a virtuous populace if it is to be created and maintained. History teaches us this. What is freedom, if it is abused? Can a society truly be free under such conditions? Freedom for a corrupt populace is like a pardon for a serial killer. He has been granted the precious gift of freedom, but he will kill again, and so will we continue to kill each other with the moral destruction and watering down we’ve created, allowed to persist and nurtured in our culture. There was a time when the duty of a police officer was to watch out for crime and assist in its punishment.
Now, in some parts of the country a police officer can turn his lights on, pull you over to the side of the road and give you a “good driving citation.” We have turned aside from fostering goodness, discipline and excellence, and begun boosting “self-esteem.” (Who would want to be late to work to get a good driving citation, anyhow?) We have it quite backward. The latter is always a result of the former, not the other way round. If you are not virtuous, you have no business having high self-esteem, for that is a lie, both to yourself and to those around you. If you have virtue, it does not matter how you “esteem” yourself. You will see the truth of what you are, because virtue lends vision. It is not often in this world that a man is called upon to have an opinion of himself, you know.
There was a time when we called upon our God to lend us the aid we needed in our spiritual, cultural and personal crises. Now, we open our wallets to psychologists, whose profession is to materialize with chemicals and charts the immaterial soul, and politicians, whose profession it is now to play upon the craven wants and urges of a callous and nonchalant citizenry. Our collective apathy, which has led to the abdication of such trusts to shrinks and lawyer-congressmen has delivered our fate into their less-than-able hands. Indeed, our national motto might be summed up with one word: “Whatever.”
I have friends who tell me that we are more civilized now than we ever were, that we are making progress. How foolish. Does no one read history any more? We continually experience revolution after revolution — that is correct. Yet, what is a revolution? It is merely a turning of the wheel, revolving to new variations on the same erroneous philosophies, to new masks on old forms of tyranny. History shows us that banding together and working toward political solutions will not make a better world. Haven’t you ever noticed that most of the greatest moral gains in societies have been under religious leadership? It is the soul of man that should be our concern, far more so than his place in the political hierarchy.
Thus, I have resolved to take to the true trenches of the war against a falling society: the long talks over coffee, the late night e-mail discussions, the pursuit of a life that unwaveringly follows the path of Good. No, my character is not perfect. I will never succeed in living a flawless life, and I am sure that my philosophy and theology are mistaken about more than their fair share of issues. Yet, as I look into the eyes of my friends, I know that I change the world by speaking with them, and they change me.
Idealism? Yes, it is. We cannot have the ideal of a free society without uncompromisingly placing it before us and walking toward it without straying from the path. Idealism is required for potent advances. If we settle for a continual lowering of our standards, we will continue to decay, following the shockingly similar path of our ancient counterpart, the Roman Empire.
It is an essential paradox of our existence, that, because we are flawed human beings, we can never truly achieve any ideal, yet our mission on this planet is to achieve that ideal. We won’t do it without some serious moral and spiritual reform, something that ultimately must come from a renewal of our faith.
How would you change the world? Would you go out to the polling location and cast a mere vote, or would you walk over to your next-door neighbor, buy him a cup of coffee, and tell him what’s been troubling your soul?
Andrew Damick’s column originally appeared in the June 4th issue of The Technician, North Carolina State University’s student newspaper.