Dan rants: On "Ask not..."

In my rant about JFK Jr I mentioned that JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" made me have to clean my underwear.

I got some questions about that. Here's a response.

One of reasons that people band together, be it in marriages, as corporations, or governments, is that they feel that within some sort of formalization of their relationships they can hope to accomplish more together than separately.

But it's amazingly easy in those institutions to lose sight of the original goals of the relationship and instead glorify the structure for its own sake. Marriages deteriorating into bickering and lost opportunities, workers providing more value to a corporation than they're getting in exchange for some mythical feeling of "security", people blindly supporting a nation's injustices and squandering of resources, all because the participants have forgotten that all of these structures have no meaning if not for the people who participate in them and create them.

As one of the small minority that pays for the majority of the burden of running the country, my aversion to service and sacrifice for "the nation" could be a simple "conservative"/"liberal" split, but I see that axis as orthogonal to the one that counts. Both sides which ally themselves with those labels think we have a some sort of budget surplus which needs to be spent in some way, they differ slightly in the demographics they'd like to give it to, although neither wants to return it to those from whom it came, and the mechanisms they'd distribute it by, but both sides have forgotten that it wasn't theirs to begin with, that the government is "of the people, by the people".

It is this amnesia that gave us the culture my grandfather waxes on about, before "Miranda" when when the cops had free reign to keep his town safe from those who'd question the status quo. It was this amnesia that built a society in which "separate but equal" was accepted.

So when I hear "ask not what your country can do for you", I'm hearing the echoes of my grandparents' era, when they forgot that the social structures existed to serve the people and instead marched like cogs in the machine to serve a society that had forgotten that it was made up of individuals, one that valued conformity over achievement.

Thursday, July 22nd, 1999 danlyke@flutterby.com