One of the greatest things about our society is that we can get ahead by helping others. Until recent human history, to get ahead you had to help yourself and only yourself. A job which helped others would only keep you down. Bill Gates is the richest person in the world. He gained his wealth through making all our lives better. Blacksmiths were not blacksmiths because they were the kind of people that enjoyed working in hot forges, but rather because they had to toil in this labor to earn a living. Now we can serve others by being who we want to be. Someone who likes math can be a mathematician while someone who likes acting can perform in Hamilton. We live in the best time in history to be alive. Our dreams are achievable and our well-being depends on serving others to their satisfaction. To paraphrase economist Walter E. Williams, before today the way great wealth was amassed was by looting but today great wealth is amassed through serving your fellow man.
Civic knowledge and American values are the two qualities that have made The United States great. As Alexis de Tocqueville said in Democracy in America, “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” One reason America is good is because of the values she holds. I think those values are on the decline, especially among the nation’s youth. I think every community in America needs to have its civic knowledge and belief in American values revitalized. As we forget what makes us American we cease to be American. As we forget what makes us exceptional we will stop being exceptional. We are not great because of where we are, any physical quality or luck but because of what we believe and the values we share. America is great because of ideas like individualism and liberty. We are forgetting that.
I believe that Americans need to have a better understanding of the current choice they face I think they also need a better understanding of how our government works. A quote falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson but correct regardless says, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Less than 40% of Americans can correctly name all three branches of government. 25% know that a Senator serves a six-year term and only 20% know there are 100 Senators. Less than 30% can point to the pacific oceans and name the Vice President while 20% believe the sun revolves around the earth. Our education system is failing us but this problem can be solved. The country faces serious problems in its future and an ignorant public will only exacerbate them.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and a society is only as strong as its weakest links. We need people to come together and go on the streets and into schools and distribute basic information on how our country works and on the issues which face all of us. We also need people with different views to listen to each other. Take Ben Shapiro’s speech at California State Los Angeles. Before his speech was given the University canceled it to appease members of the student body who wanted to censor him. Ben Shapiro planned to give the speech anyway in protest against the University but the administration caved and allowed him to speak. Ben Shapiro required a police escort on and off campus and students who wanted to listen needed to be snuck in through the back to avoid a near riot-like environment outside the room.
This was not just an isolated incident. Forty percent of millennials say that the government should limit offensive speech. Americans should value liberty and as George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” While different sides of the political spectrum may disagree, finding common ground in the idea of liberty is on the decline. As Leo McKern said, “It is easy to believe in freedom of speech for those with whom we agree.” An American society that does not believe in the right to speak is one that is not great. We cease to be good when we allow voices to be silenced. We cease to be great.
PJ O’Rourke once said, “Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.” Problems do not arise when something is not known but when that ignorance is not known. It is not dangerous to not know something, no one knows everything. What is really dangerous is what we think we know but we do not know. That is the fatal conceit. Ignorance may be bliss but it is also fatal. An ignorant nation is destined for mediocrity and I want more for America. I think we still are great but to think we are entitled to greatness is foolish. We are on the wrong path and any change has to happen first in our communities. We are still good but when stop being good… we will stop being great.