“If you want to test a man’s character, give him adversity. If you want to test his integrity, give him power.” Gerry Ashley
Tenet #5: You cannot build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative and independence.
I know it might seem presumptuous to quote myself at the top of this piece, but that has been a long-standing tenet of my own and one I feel fits perfectly here. I coined that expression in 1978, after having spent some time in what was then the Soviet Union. I had been teaching computer technology classes to Russian scientists at The Institute for High Energy Physics (outside of Moscow). Ironically, it was a quote from an interview I gave (upon my return) in praise of the Russian people I had met during my time spent there… and as an indictment of their political leaders.
I’m dumbfounded to find its level of applicability in America some 32 years later.
For those too young to remember, let me clarify that “Soviet Union” actually referred to a combination of countries known collectively as the “United Soviet Socialist Republic” (USSR). Please note the third word in that title. Although communist in nature, the countries operated under a socialist structure. The socialist structure stripped away any incentive for the individual to strive for excellence.
Case in point: I had dinner with an architect while there. He explained to me that he had made the exact same salary for 20 years, regardless of the quality of his work. Not long before our meeting, a young man who had just graduated from university and gone to work with my friend, sitting at the next desk. He had a starting salary which was the same as that of my friend with 20 years’ experience.
Imagine the feeling my friend had, knowing that this young man straight from University was starting at the same level he was at after 20 years of service. Now imagine how much initiative the young man might have, sitting next to my friend and knowing that, no matter how good a job he does, in 20 years, he would be making no more money than he’s already making.
That’s how it goes in a socialist state: The government defines the value of the position, no matter the level of experience… or the quality of the job performed. By the way: The quality of their goods reflected the lack of incentive to strive for excellence. The only time the Soviet government strove for (and demanded) excellence was when the product was one which would be viewed by the West and would bring shame upon the Soviet system if it were substandard. Hence the amount of effort that went in to export products like vodka and caviar; hence the intense attention to (and support of) athletes who would be competing against other countries (such as the Olympic Games).
Get ready for that, America. That’s what Barack Obama’s vision is for us: The same level of quality of life the Soviets had 30 years go. And back then, the Soviet standard was about 40 years behind America’s. Do the math and it’s easy to see that the standard of living Obama wants to take America to is where we were 70 years ago. Is that a goal we should have for our children? Our grandchildren? Ourselves?
One wonders if Obama will place a similar level of importance on the quality of workmanship applied to our exports and international athletes. Perhaps the answer will be based on whether or not he feels he’s apologized enough for America’s past greatness.
One thing is certain: If what I refer to as Obamunism takes hold in America, he won’t have to worry about apologizing for America’s greatness any longer.
Sadder still, that may be his goal.