All Commentary
Saturday, December 1, 1973

Am I Responsible for What Others Think?


Mrs. Hammersmark is an Oregon housewife and free-lance writer.

I remember a line in a famous Western movie, where the hero confronts the villain: “I am not responsible for what you think.” Somehow, those words made an indelible impression;” I am not responsible for what others think,” became ingrained as part of my philosophy. I was convinced that others’ misconceptions were none of my business, none of my doing or responsibility.

As an American housewife, I cook, clean, tend children, prepare my family’s meals. But I am more than a machine. As I go about my work, I think, formulate opinions about everyday and national and world affairs. Often, I think my reasoning is superior to that of men elected to Congress, those who are selected to be leaders. Common sense tells me when they are in error. Should I call attention to it?

Many of my friends and neighbors (even members of my family) who are benefiters of free enterprise have little understanding or appreciation of our system. Many bitterly condemn free enterprise. “Socialism,” they say, “is inevitable, the wave of the future.”

Is it? Is it actually superior to our way? Why then, I wonder, must we forever bail out the victims of socialism, as most recently in Russia and Red China when our country “sold” them millions of bushels of grains. Socialistic countries find it difficult to even feed their own.

Because of modern technology (the offspring of free enterprise) I am able to accomplish things a woman in a communist country would never dream of. Her spare moments are in the service of the state, reading only those books approved by her government, daring never to voice opinions contrary to those upheld by her “leaders.” Freed by my conveniences, my dishwasher, my fully automatic washer and dryer, I am writing this. My spare time is spent in pursuit of my own happiness: reading, writing, marketing and selling the product of my leisure. This makes me an entrepreneur. I have a vital concern, therefore, in preserving free enterprise, which honors my creativity, my happiness. It becomes my concern when neighbors (through misunderstanding) vote against freedom. And since the majority rules, it becomes a duty to persuade others to act upon the principles of freedom.

Self-Defense

Is not self-preservation one of man’s valid instincts? Have I not an obligation as well as a right to try to persuade friends and family to accept my way of thinking?

It is extremely difficult for me, an ordinary housewife, to convince others, to present my ideas logically and persuasively.

 “Who does she think she is?” is a common reaction.

For example, my father-in-law is a carpenter of the old school. Born and reared in Norway, he learned his trade from highly skilled craftsmen. His talent is much in demand, and he is fit and capable of continuing work. But at age 65, he became eligible for social security. Now, he is limited in the number of hours he can work, the amount of income he can make, without endangering his government allotment. Consequently, he spends many idle hours, rejecting the generous bids of those who would like to buy his services.

Exposing fallacies and socialistic error is difficult, especially to members of my own family. Yet, if I would proclaim the merits of free enterprise, I must demonstrate to my father-in-law the myth of social security.

 “Yes, but without social security, millions would starve.” Would they? Many Americans recall the days before the passage of the Social Security Act, and it was indeed an era different from today. Families were closer knit, and neighbors cared about one another. Men and women remained productive as long as they were able to work. They kept busy and happy, and they saved for their retirement. I would guess that more old people now go hungry, with social security, than went hungry then without it. Many oldsters have developed the attitude, “Ah, I’ll let Uncle Sam take care of me. No sense trying to save.” And many youngsters conclude, “To heck with grandpa — he’s got plenty to live on. Social security, you know!” Consequently, many of our aged are forgotten, alone, living off inadequate government funds.

Another fallacy came to my attention in conversation with a teacher friend. “Children,” she stated, “are mostly unteachable.” Instead of laying blame on mandatory government schooling she offered this solution: All parents ought to enroll their children in state day care centers by the age of two. Children would then be handled by competent experts, freed from bumbling, often inexpert parents, eliminating all behavior problems, thereby making this teacher’s job easier.

What’s Right With America?

My last 4th of July was a spiritless affair with friends and relatives who spent the day declaiming our American ways and building up the opposition. Misconceptions abounded. “Russia,” one noted, “seldom has any crime. Not like we do in the United States.”

 “And they don’t have problems with young people, not like we do,” another joined in.

 “You never hear of a Russian teenager smoking pot or taking L.S.D.,” someone added. “And they don’t have the unwed-mother problem or the venereal disease that we do.”

My home town has given up the tradition of a parade and fireworks. Not one firecracker interrupted the humdrum conversation. Everyone seemed to have forgotten that the 4th of July had a meaning, and that it was Independence Day.

My family on this day was a prime example of complacency, fat and satisfied — eager for the luxuries afforded by a free economy, but just as eager to accept the guaranteed life. I remembered the 4th of Julys of my childhood. They were something! Patriotic speeches, watermelon, fireworks, flags everywhere. But not anymore.

 “Would it be too corny,” I thought, “to mention that our Founding Fathers believed that people might govern themselves?”  They made only one guarantee —and that was freedom. And along with that went something called individual responsibility — the right to pick and choose, good or evil, the right to try and to succeed if one should. In those days, you built your own house (there was no government housing), you planted your own crops (or you didn’t eat). Welfare? Social security? Those things were not promised in the Constitution. Those who refused to work might starve; but those who could not work were cared for by loving friends, the type of charity that came from the heart. It was an age of spiritedness.

I am their “little girl,” a granddaughter, a wife, a mother, a washer of dishes, a changer of diapers. But more important, I am an American. Although my voice is weak, often faltering, I stand up. All eyes are turned to me. And I am shaking.

 “Now just a minute,” I begin…

 

***

The Sense of Duty Done

I honor any man who in the conscious discharge of his duty dares to stand alone; the world, with ignorant, intolerable judgment, may condemn; the countenances of relatives may be averted, and the hearts of friends grow cold; but the sense of duty done shall be sweeter than the applause of the world, the countenances of relatives or the heart of friends.

CHARLES SUMNER

Laws Follow Beliefs

The government of the United States (or of France or Russia or any other nation over a significant period of time) will be and do whatever most of the voters want or will tolerate. No mechanistic scheme or written document can ever for long prevent the effective minority (usually called the majority) of the people from doing whatever it is they want to do.

Thus, whenever the majority (that is, the effective minority) of the American people accept again the general philosophy that inspired the Constitution, we will return to the Constitution; not before. For while laws may reflect what people believe, it is the beliefs, not the laws as such, that generally determine their actions.

DEAN RUSSELL