November 13, 2008

I respectfully disagree

Michele has a PJM article up. As usual, it's thoughtful and well written. However, I could not disagree more with her conclusions. So I will reply to each point she makes with which I disagree. Don't call it a fisking, because I like and respect Michele. And you will be hard pressed to find anything rude or insulting in the following post.

Yeah, I know: I just saw a pig fly past my window, too.

Anyway, on with my rebuttal.

Is community service synonymous with slavery? Whether that service is mandated or suggested, could it in any way be construed as enslaving citizens?

You have two questions which, on the surface, appear related. I would suggest, however, that you're performing a rhetorical slight of hand with the first to prevent one from actually looking at the second. Community service is quite obviously not slavery. Just this past weekend, I and 100+ members of my church worked all around Virginia, performing many community service tasks, the details of which are unimportant for purposes of this discussion. We did all such service voluntarily, and quite happily I might add. Now make that service mandatory. Although the work is still the same, you've completely removed any and all semblance of altruism. Instead of feeling joy doing the task at hand, you've added a undercurrent of resentment, which will lead to poorer quality work being done. There's a reason that our military is all voluntary right now, and another reason that members of the military prefer it that way.

Let me be clear: compulsory service and voluntary service are not in any way, shape, or form, the same thing. Is compulsory service therefore servitude? Look up compulsory in the dictionary. See if you don't find the word coercion in one of the definitions. Then tell me again why forced "volunteerism" is not servitude.

This week, an acquaintance noted the “irony” 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.

Interesting thing about this news: the compulsory requirement had been part of Obama's campaign platform since he started running for president 2 years ago. The only reason, I believe, that this requirement has been changed from mandatory is because of the political fallout right now, post-election. While I could be wrong, I fully believe that this requirement will be changed back to a mandatory requirement. After all, Charles Rangel and others in his party have been pushing for reinstatement of the draft. For some reason, compulsory service seems to be something that that party believes in. And since all such bills would start in the House or Senate, and not on the desk of the President, I do not doubt that the mandatory language will be inserted at that point. I also do not doubt that President Obama would sign such a bill.

Sure, I could be wrong in my opinion. If so, I would cheerfully eat me words. However, I'm a pretty politically aware kind of a guy, and I don't make such pronouncements lightly, or without thought.

On to my next reply. Here is the next part of Michele's post:

The other thing wrong with the woman’s quote — and the contention of some bloggers — is the equivalence of community service to slavery. One of these things is not like the other.

Again, the rhetorical slight of hand. No one is equating community service to slavery. However, calling forced, compulsory service anything other than involuntary servitude, or slavery, is comparing two things that are, in my opinion, more than a little alike.

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.

Why yes, giving back to the community is a wonderful, fulfilling exercise, one which people enjoy doing voluntarily. Once you REQUIRE such an activity, it becomes forced labor. I remind you once again of the coercive element of compulsory service, which I cannot rightly call volunteerism without smoke coming out of my ears like the robots in I, Mudd. The logic does not compute.

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.

Whinnyyy! Well okay, the horse is quite dead yet. Voluntary community service is a wonderful thing. Not to pay myself on the back, but I've done more than a fair amount in my lifetime. But I cannot make this any clearer: required service is by definition servitude. Touchy-feely platitudes about the good feelings generated do not apply when the coercive power of the state is involved in forcing said labor. And it is, in fact, a form of slavery. The government is telling you that you do not, in effect, belong to yourself, but rather, at least in part, to the government. As a liberty loving citizen of this country, I cannot find any statement with which I disagree more thoroughly.

Onward and downward, I guess.

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.

Yeah, and most of those high schools should have their officials publicly flogged. Why? Because they, in their actions as surrogates for the government (local, state, federal) get to pick and choose which projects and/or actions constitute actual credit. For example, there was a case in Maryland a few years back, in which an Eagle Scout's numerous activities of community service were disallowed. They weren't on the approved list, apparently, although if I remember correctly, this wasn't exactly known beforehand. I would hazard a guess that the many hours which I, and other members of my church, have cheerfully given to many needy people in the community would also not be allowed, because it originates from a place of worship, rather than a government office. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm calling shenanigans on such a viewpoint.

Obama would encourage a goal of 50 hours of community service for high school students. That’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.

That's 50 hours a year that the students could use to work a part-time job, to visit their grandparents, to spend with their friends, or to read some good books. However, now they lose that 50 hours because that time no longer belongs to them. Instead, it belongs to the government.

It’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?

Because the service that we do in/from my church is voluntary. No one is forced to participate. Those of us who do feel good about it. Suffice it to say that were the church to require such activities of us, the membership in our church would rapidly decline to zero. Unfortunately, there is no such relief from similar demands from our elected officials.

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 can’t. It’s the mark of a country that knows it needs to depend on its citizens to make their communities flourish. It’s taking the “ask not what your country can do for you” 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. It’s how communities become stronger, how they grow, and how a strong, giving community makes for a strong, giving nation.

Community service is not a dirty word; nor is it an idea to be tossed aside because you don’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?

I believe that I've responded at length as to why I think VOLUNTARY community service is a great thing, a belief that I'm sure most people share with me. When that service becomes mandatory, it becomes servitude. There simply is no other word for it. Michele responds to that point thusly:

Right-leaning blogs are jumping on the Obama staff for so quickly going back on the wording of the community service statement — and some are still maintaining the “forced service” part. It’s interesting to see that instead of remarking on how the staff reacted quickly to negativity toward the requirement part of the service, people are claiming that he went back on a promise or broke his word. Not really. He heard criticism and responded to it. He would still like to see students entering into community service voluntarily but he rightfully took back the idea of service being mandatory.

Since that mandatory requirement of service was in Obama's campaign plank, I would say that, based on the current makeup in Congress, any such backtracking is temporary at best. Obama's track record as a legislator has been to go along with what the leaders of his party want. And enough of a public record exists for the current members of his party to make me believe that the compulsory requirement will be reinserted. Don't get me wrong, it might be done so stealthily, like reducing the funding to public schools that do not "voluntarily" change their graduation requirements to force students to take part. Much like the federal drinking age of 21 was instituted by withholding highway funds to states which refused to kowtow to the feds. And should such language be inserted into a bill, I'm convinced, based on his track record, that a President Obama would gladly sign it.

One final point to rebut:

On the college level, Obama’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.

Giving "free" money to colleges only exacerbates the rise of the cost of college. Cost containment is not even an afterthought. Pouring more money from the federal coffers into universities will not in any way reduce the the cost to students. Rather, it will make the cost of an education even more expensive. I used to work for a state-funded university, so I know something of which I speak.

So what do I think? I think that people in this country belong to themselves, and not to the government or the community. I think that the compulsory component of the proposed "volunteerism" will become a fact, whether overtly, or by stealth. The mandatory requirement was a part of Obama's platform for the last couple of years and I see no reason to think that it will not become part of the final law that's implemented; any current backtracking is, I believe, temporary. And I think that, if implemented, you will see massive resistance to such a law. Our elected officials in DC are not our leaders, but rather our servants. They need to be reminded of that on occasion.

I've read Michele's stuff for a long time. She's a great writer and decent person. I'm certain that she believes every word of her article. However, and I cannot stress this enough, I disagree strenuously with her conclusions. There's no question in my mind that she'll read this and think that I'm misguided, much like I believe that she is on this issue. But hey, my sister thinks I'm nuts sometimes too, so why should Michele be any different?

Update: Jeff Goldstein weighs in:

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 don’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.

Update: From this comment:

We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name - liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names - liberty and tyranny.
Posted by Physics Geek at November 13, 2008 09:16 AM | TrackBack StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Many high schools and colleges already require community service as part of their curriculum, and withhold diplomas until the requisite amount has been fulfilled.

I do not see this as being much different than that. Are America's schools already Marxist then?

Posted by: Smith at November 13, 2008 03:16 PM

I have to disagree with you on this one. I wrote a short commentary and attached a comment thread of a discussion about this with a liberal. Below are the link and a few of my thoughts.

Remember Democrat Scares of a Republican Draft?

Imagine a kid who goes to college, comes home to watch his little brother, goes to his night job, and then comes back home early in the morning to do his homework before he gets a few hours sleep and has to go back to school. I know such a person.

When does he have time to fulfill your liberal programs? Isn’t it good that he’s making an effort to improve himself and take care of his family first? Shouldn’t families be first priority?


Isn’t it enough that liberals like to feel good with other people’s money without them feeling great by stealing other people’s time? It violates the Constitution, it would lead to forced service with radical left-wing “non-profits” like ACORN, others would be forced into social programs for the elderly and children although (ahem) “volunteers” could object to being forced and might mistreat those they’re supposed to help by taking out their anger on them, and, naturally like similar programs, the system would be fraught with waste and abuse.

Oh, but it “feels good” to those pushing the program. I wish liberals would feel good on their own time and money and let the rest of us give our time and money to churches and charities that we like, as we can and on our own timing.

Posted by: Woody at November 14, 2008 11:54 AM

As part of being in the honors program in college, I had to perform a certain number of hours of community service each semester and I never felt anything resembling slavery.

One, I got to choose what I did. I choose to spend my time at the animal shelter.

Two, I was treated well and thanked for my help.

I think we were only asked for 2 hours a semester so it really wasn't an imposition, and maybe that's the difference.

There are certainly life lessons to be learned doing community service, so adding that to the curriculum doesn't seem a bad idea to me.

Maybe take shop class to the streets so some elder care building benefits while the students learn skills. Take the home ec class to the soup kitchen so others benefit from their cooking.

Posted by: Andrea at November 15, 2008 12:00 PM

What if your job, family duties, and college took twenty hours a day and you had no other time? Would you feel differently? It's naive' to think that everyone has a perfect life and has the time to do what others tell them to do for free. To impose blanket requirements on everyone when there are special circumstances for many is idealistic and unreasonable.

Posted by: Woody at November 17, 2008 06:03 PM