No worries on Compulsory Civil Service, folks: “ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Call for Community Service Is Not Marxism”
Michelle Catalano, writing for Pajamas Media, explains:
Is community service synonymous with slavery? Whether that service is mandated or suggested, could it in any way be construed as enslaving citizens? This week, an acquaintance noted the Ã¢â‚¬Å“ironyÃ¢â‚¬Â that college students would be required by a black president to do community service. She then pointed out the 13th Amendment.
There were two things wrong with this statement. First, by the time she wrote it, it was already old news that Obama had backtracked on his mandatory community service requirement for students. The newer wording on the change.gov website:
The Obama administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s challenges. President-elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free. Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.
The other thing wrong with the womanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s quote Ã¢â‚¬â€ and the contention of some bloggers Ã¢â‚¬â€ is the equivalence of community service to slavery. One of these things is not like the other.
True. Jumping jacks would take the place of whips; and the barracks would be nicely appointed.
Apples and oranges!
There are thousands upon thousands of high school and college students, as well as adults, doing some form of community service right now. Service to your community is an altruistic thing; it is a way of perhaps giving back to a community that has given to you. It is a way to reach out to a community, to help others who may not be as fortunate as you, to teach young adults about sharing, caring, and helping others, to do something out of the goodness of your heart that will benefit your community. This is not slavery. This is not forced labor. This is outreach. It represents values. Slavery is an act that benefits no one but the person who owns the slave; community service benefits both the giver and receiver and helps make the world a better place and leaves a general good feeling for everyone involved. It is not comparable to slavery.
Question: if, as Catalano points out, there are already ” thousands upon thousands of high school and college students, as well as adults, doing some form of community service right now,” why the need to organize it into a state bureaucracy?
Why the need to enforce, either by making it compulsory or by making those less fortunate who cannot afford college tuition take up the mantle of mandated charity that the more fortunate can eschew, “altruism”? And, if it is coerced, how does it come to count as altruism in the first place?
More, by what scientific measure, other than a steady diet of Oprah and new age bargain books from Borders, can Catalano prove that “community service benefits both the giver and receiver and helps make the world a better place and leaves a general good feeling for everyone involved”? Are those who it doesn’t benefit, or whom it makes miserable, somehow defectives? Should something be done to “fix” them — until they get the “proper” fillip of joy from cleaning up the garbage at parks that, once it becomes clear that we have a civilian force to do such things, will make it more likely that people just dump shit wherever they please?
Catalano’s entire argument, in fact, is built on a foundation of the most low-grade straw: the question here is not whether community service is admirable or useful (it can be, but it need not necessarily be so, from the perspective of motive); the question is, why should someone be compelled to engage in tasks that people like Catalano and Obama have determined are admirable or useful — and does not that compulsion remove the the charitable impulse that makes those kinds of sacrifices to the community admirable and useful, from a “values” standpoint, in the first place?
I said it earlier and I’ll repeat it here: confiscating liberty in the name of teaching people “what it means to be an American” is Orwellian in spirit, in that it essentially argues that in order to celebrate liberty and freedom, we must be willing to surrender liberty and freedom.
There are already many high schools in the United States which require community service credit for graduation. Some schools require seniors to complete a project that includes some form of community outreach
— she says that as if it’s a good thing —
Obama would encourage a goal of 50 hours of community service for high school students. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 50 hours over the course of a year, hours that could be spent cleaning up a park, reading to the elderly, working in a soup kitchen, assisting developmentally disabled children, delivering meals, collecting clothing for shelters, or working with local community programs like Kiwanis. There are myriad ways in which the youth of America can get involved with their surrounding communities, providing a give and take that benefits both the student and the community at large.
Or, more likely, it will create a vast new bureaucracy whose job it is to watch over these 25 million or so new community “volunteers” — and 20 million or so rebels who will do whatever they can to undermine what they will rightly see as an infringement on their liberties, and a way to force someone else’s value system on them at the expense of their time and choices.
The upshot will of course be revolt, and so the end result will that those who embrace the program will spend time cleaning up after those who try to undermine it from within.
The great irony here is that the very same people who have for years mocked the religious community — those who provide the bulk of real charitable work — for their supposed desire to force their morals on us, see nothing at all similar in their plan to engineer a society in which everyone (well, except for the sons and daughters of the rich, who’ll get a deferment, should they so desire — or, more likely, assume a “leadership role” in the Obama Youth Corp) is compelled by circumstance to be “altruistic.”
Or rather, to perform the function of altruism — even if their hearts are filled with resentment at their own dreams deferred.
On the college level, ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s plan would ensure a $4,000 tuition credit to students who complete 100 hours of community service a year. With the cost of college education soaring, that $4,000 is like a windfall to a college student. The student would be rewarded monetarily, but the reward of completing service toward the community is something that will stay with them, as well as the community, forever. Service to others is a lasting gift.
Says Obama. And Michele Catalano.
And perhaps it will “stay with them.” But in what capacity? And at what expense?
No, the real question that needs answering here is who died and made Obama or Michele Catalano arbiter of what constitutes a “lasting gift”? Why does Michele Catalano presume to speak for those who have every right to run their lives as they see fit — not in the way some preening secular moralists dictate they must?
And what of all those students who already engage in charitable work, through churches, or other organizations? Are they to surrender that time in order to oblige the state? And if so, is not the state by force adopting charity as its own function?
Further, why is cleaning a park, or teaching someone to read, eg., more “valuable” than, say, entrepreneurship that leads to the creation of jobs? Or the pursuit of art? Or the desire to begin a family?
And why on earth would Michele Catalano presume to make that determination?
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interesting how many right-leaning blogs are frowning upon the community service idea, though some are being thoughtful about it. Generally, people on the political right tend to belong to churches, and churches are big proponents of community service. So why the negativity? Many blogs are also equating ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s community service pitch with Rahm EmanuelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s:
When you choose to serve Ã¢â‚¬â€ whether itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s your nation, your community, or simply your neighborhood Ã¢â‚¬â€ you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s called the American dream.
This is not socialism. This is not Marxism. This is the mark of a country that knows it needs to rely on those who can to help those who canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the mark of a country that knows it needs to depend on its citizens to make their communities flourish. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s taking the Ã¢â‚¬Å“ask not what your country can do for youÃ¢â‚¬Â attitude and transforming it into smaller clusters, where we ask what we can do for those we live with and around, instead of waiting for people to do for us. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s how communities become stronger, how they grow, and how a strong, giving community makes for a strong, giving nation.
And if you don’t happen to agree with such sentiments — or believe you have your own ways of expressing them and “giving back” — why, then you are a bad person, I guess. Or at the very least, someone who stands opposed to the “American Dream” as it has been resignified by an Alinsky disciple and one-time member of the New Left.
Similarly, if the kind of community service being alluded to were met with a commensurate and aggressive pruning of federal programs already designed to meet such needs — programs already funded by our tax money, and so our labor — and what we’re talking about was an actual return to tight-knit communities who could engage in their own kinds of consensual self-determination, the points Catalano makes might ring less hollow.
As it stands, though, what is on offer here is a lot of lofty rhetoric in the service of a rather baldfaced attempt to shame (note who gets labeled “thoughtful” by Catalano) — which is fine, so long as the power of the state doesn’t stand behind such a campaign to bully people into buying into its idea of what is “proper” for members of a given community.
Some people want to retire alone and tend their gardens. That is their right. Or at least, it is supposed to be.
Instead, the new moral majority has come along to tell us how we need to serve our communities, and will even provide the bureaucracy to ensure that it is done.
For our own good.
That’s not how a country built around the idea of individual freedom and choice is built to operate. In fact, the old line, “the only thing I have to do is live, die, and pay taxes,” should be recycled as the new outlaw motto — with the bit about taxes amended to include something about those taxes being both fair and not punitive.
Community service is not a dirty word; nor is it an idea to be tossed aside because you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like who is delivering the message about it. Encouraging our youth to take part in something selfless is encouraging them to be better human beings. What could be better for this country?
Howsabout choice. Freedom. Self-determination. The ability to resist what the government thinks is in our “best interests” in terms of shaping our “values.”
And a vast public uprising that lets Obama, and Rahm, Catalano, and those like her know that, as Americans, we can decide for ourselves when and how it is appropriate — if ever — to “give back to the community.”
Because frankly, it ain’t their call, and it never should be.