We all know where babies come from: the stork, right? Ha ha. That, of course, is a tale told to young children by uncomfortable parents. How ridiculous would it be if millions of people in America actually thought that this were so?
But the reality is that with regard to other facts of life, we are not very far from this; we have become a society where too many people don't know where things come from.
This disconnection from the basic ground of life poses a danger to us in two ways: 1) we are vulnerable to left wing idealistic propaganda; and 2) we can fail to appreciate the daily work of all varieties that provides us with what we have taken for granted.
Where does food come from? Farmers grow grains, fruits and vegetables. This takes a lot of water, it takes a lot of land with good soil, it takes fertilizers and pesticides and it takes a lot of people a tremendous amount of work.
When people buy meat at the grocery store, are they aware that ranchers have raised the animals, slaughtered them and butchered them in order that they can display a nice looking steak in the refrigerator case? Or clean, ready to cook chicken parts?
When people with "No blood for oil" bumper stickers on their car go to the gas station so they can get to their next Sierra Club meeting, where do they think that gasoline has come from? Do they have any idea of the tremendous amount of work and risk that goes into producing those several gallons of gas?
When we hear politicians talk about spreading the wealth around, the truth is what they really are able to do is to spread money around – nobody talks about what that money represents, or where it actually comes from.
And this is our problem. Money has become so far removed from its actual source that enough people can believe that the value it represents is just present in the atmosphere somehow, like oxygen. The focus is on the money, and not on what that money represents.
It's easy to see the value that a new invention, like the light bulb, or a new application of technology, like the personal computer, can bring. The difference in lifestyle that electric lighting has ushered in is tangible. Compared to earlier times, nighttime is optional. Anyone can stay up while it's pitch black outside and work or play or read or do whatever they would like to do, just as easily as if it were daytime.
The difference in lifestyle that personal computing has brought is also tangible. I can write this column on my computer, attach it to an e-mail, and that same day you get to read it on your computer, wherever you happen to be.
My daughter asked me a question about something the other day, and I said, (tongue in cheek), "Hmm, let me just check my memory…" while I searched the Internet for the answer. About a minute later I had found it. Our computers and the Internet have functionally expanded our brain power beyond anything that the most learned person on earth could have accessed quickly just a couple of decades ago.
But now we are used to these things. Excepting for the occasions when the power goes down for a time, I doubt if most people ever consider how much wealth has been added to their lives by the existence of these two common items.
What about the incredible number of things that we don't directly experience, but that affect our lives on a daily basis?
Who thinks about where the steel comes from to build the structure of their car? Who thinks about where the machines come from that form the tools to shape that steel? Where are the mines from which the iron ore is produced?
From where does the cotton for our clothing come? Who caught the fish we're having for dinner, and how did they do it?
I can remember as a kid being told about these things. It was, frankly, a little boring for me. But I remember that the grownups who were telling me about them had more enthusiasm for the telling. Because they could still feel the difference. They knew what it was like before we began to take all of these things for granted.
Taking things for granted is very natural. It's part of what enables us to adapt, to grow, to move on to new possibilities and creations. We have to be able to assume certain things in order to build upon them.
But if we lose track of the fact that these things are all human inventions, brought to our everyday habitual use through the efforts of real people, then we put ourselves in danger of believing that these things exist as a baseline – like a ratchet that never allows for reversal.
This may be a fundamental difference between the conservative/libertarian/founding principles mindset, and the progressive/liberal mindset, the blank slate idealism of the left. I think that we have much more of an appreciation for where things come from, for the work that it takes to create and maintain them, and therefore we also know that they can just as easily go away.
I like being able to take these things for granted. We get used to whatever our circumstances are, and I would much rather be used to the great wealth that we enjoy today – and I'd much prefer to grow accustomed to much greater wealth in the future. But what we cannot afford to do is to forget that all of these things – every single item that we use that did not exist ready-made before mankind existed – are the product of someone's ingenuity and work.
This is what wealth is. It isn't money. Money is only what we use to represent it, exchange it and accumulate it. Wealth is the product of thinking, acting human beings who are willing to risk what it takes to bring their vision into being.
"Progressive" politicians and intellectuals can think that they can somehow spread the wealth around; they can believe that their great powers can allow them to move people to equalize the differences between them and create a society of "social justice." In this fantasy, they feel that they are doing great things, "making a difference" in the world.
I see this in a lot of my colleagues, who focus on happiness as defined by positive emotions in contrast to life satisfaction. They see in this a great leverage of their power to change the world for the better, using public policy – the force of government – to make people "happier."
But in doing this, they ignore the source of most people's greatest satisfaction in life: Their work and their ability to personally provide for their families and to be an active and effective player in their circle of friends, family and acquaintances. In their great abstraction of "humanity," they ignore and minimize the role of the individual to create the incredible good that we enjoy today.
The good that we are able to take for granted because of the hard work of millions of people.
When progressives crow about moving the wealth around, what they are moving are only the results of literally billions of individual actions throughout society – purposeful, sometimes very gutsy choices and actions undertaken by creative, productive people. They are taking the symphony of human action and trying to divide it up so that everybody ends up with the same number of notes. And when they do that, they destroy the symphony.
That symphony is created by a human mind, choosing to study, to practice, and to be so immersed and absorbed in work that they create real value in the world. Government zealots can use force to move around the visible representation of value, but the value itself, and the heart and soul that brings it into being, that is something that nobody can spread around.
There's more to it than they have any conception of.