The Weekly Owl

Home » 2009 » January

Monthly Archives: January 2009


The Nanny State and the Superego

Driving around the other day, I heard some “conservative” complaining about the “Nanny State” as if that is what the Democrats stand for and want to institute.  Its a bit of political rhetoric for Socialism.  Of course, the Democratic Party is hardly Socialist, so the “conservative” rhetoric is nothing but the erection of a straw-man argument.  But I was taken by the phrase “nanny state” and said to myself, What is wrong with having a nanny?

In the use of the phrase there is an implicit criticism of nannies, of which I cannot approve.  Frankly, I wish I had had a nanny.  I wish I had a nanny now.  The only logical criticism one can make against nannies as a class is that they are not mothers — that is they substitute for the loving care of the parents.  Parents who hire nannies are sort of hiring someone to do their child-care for them because they are too busy with careers.  I have a few in-laws with nannies, and I envy them, but only people with careers that earn them lots of dough can afford to farm out the childcare.  Still, I do not mean to criticise and think that nannies are quite a good thing on the whole.

So, why is the “nanny state” supposed to strike fear into our hearts?  Do so-called conservatives in America resent the fact that they didn’t have a nanny?  Or did they feel their childhood was too constrained by having a nanny to tell them when they were doing something bad or dangerous?  Are nannies all tyrants?  No.  Hardly any of them, I should think.  They aren’t all Mary Poppins, of course, either, but what is the problem with having someone older and wiser to tell us when we are doing the wrong thing?

In fact, as human beings, we require this.

Growing up, we don’t know right from wrong.  We would grow up to be selfish and destructive apes if we did not have parents, or the teachers and nannies that act in loco parentis. Freud postulated that the internalized voice of our parents and nannies (he had one) saying “No!  Bad!” created in our subconscious minds the super-ego.  The superego is, as the name suggests, an ego above the ego.  The word “ego” is simply the Latin word for “I” the first person pronoun.  So, in Freudian psychology the ego is defined as that conscious part of our mind that speaks and identifies itself in speaking as “I.”  Ego-formation is the business of childhood and a very serious business it is for the stability of our ego is what makes us a stable and functional adult.  If our ego is haunted by negative voices and complexes, it can makes us neurotic. When the ego is split into many personalities (many “I’s”), that is psychosis.  Nobody’s ego is perfectly adjusted, and one of the reasons is that nobody’s parents (or nannies) are perfect.  The voice that tells us what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false accumulates in our unconscious super-ego as a sort of watching personality that follows us around for the rest of our days commenting and criticizing our behavior.  A nice super ego will praise us when we are good.  But child-rearing in our culture has for many generations focussed on “correction” — the voice that says “No!” and is often enforced by physical and emotional violence.  The parental voice may threaten to abandon the child, to go away, to reject it as “bad.”

When I was out driving I observed the behavior of the other drivers on the road.  Some of them were playing by the rules.  Some seemed not to even know there were rules.  Some were flagrantly disregarding the rules, and the worst were behaving in such an anti-social way that they were positively endangering their fellow citizens and themselves.  Now, “conservatives” and “libertarians” seem to believe that government agencies should not interfere when citizens are acting wrongly  or foolishly.  No, we shouldn’t require motorcyclists to wear helmets.  No, we shouldn’t make it a violation of law to not wear a seat belt.  In Britain, of course, where the “nanny state” metaphor originated, they have now traffic cameras that constantly monitor people’s driving speed — what we call photo-cops.  One can certainly see the point that making so many rules spoils the fun of life.

But it is we who make the rules.  Those people who fulfil their civic duty and get involved in the legislative process.  Those who just freeoad off the rest do not have any right to complain.  If they don’t like the laws, they should work to change them.  Simply refusing to obey the nanny is nothing more than childish.  Especially when one is endangering oneself.  I can only wonder at the motives of those who think that refusing to wear a seat belt is an expression of their liberty.  Do they really think that such a gesture has any substance?  Do they think that Liberty is only about doing whatever they want?  That is an extremely childish and selfish attitude.

So, in essence, those who complain about the “nanny state” are the adults in our society who (it seems) had so little support and help in growing up that they learned to play games by the rules.  They are disobedient, selfish, and there is something wrong with their superego.  Did they not have parents to admonish them on values and principles of good behavior?  Or were their parents too strict and abusive?  Were they hypocrites?  Who knows?  But from my vantage point it does seem to me that they lack that little voice in one’s head, that “still small voice” of conscience.  They have confused liberty with mere license – with the abuse of freedom at the expense of others.  They are anti-social, not merely anti-Socialist.

Of course, I do understand that “government surveillance” can go to far.  I’m not an extremist.  It is only extremists on either the left or the right who believe that government surveillance and legislating morality is a good idea.  But there is a middle ground that is complex and requires not childish foot-stamping but reasoned discourse among citizens.  Take the smoking bans that have become so fashionable.   As a smoker of pipes and cigars, I do not exactly approve of the bans.  But I am also a person who doesn’t even like to go to a bar because of the stench of cigarette smoke on my clothes and the burning eyes that any American bar used to produce.  I can certainly sympathize with the waiters adn bartenders who do not want to work in such unhealthy air.  The freedom to smoke if we want to clashes with our neighbors unalienable right to fresh air.  I tend to side with those who want fresh air, but it would still be nice to have a few smoking rooms around where one can light up one’s pipe without breaking the law.  In a Minnesota climate, where I live, the Winter is tough on the tobacco addict.

But clearly we as a people must get together and decide where we draw such lines on the basis of balance between individual choice and how our choices affect our neighbors.  Urban society has made people a bit to self-absorbed.  The smoking ban has a logic, but the same logic might be applied to people who talk on their cell phone in public (I have a right to quiet air too), or who refuse to bathe (the right not to breathe your stink.).

The last example may seem like mere reductio ad absurdum, but consider the pig farmer.  The vast pig factories that exist in today’s agri-industry, generate a monstrous stink and indeed, I do believe that the neighbors have an inalienable right not to be forced to smell their neighbors.  You can get petty about it, certainly, but it is a right of private property.  We do not want to be disturbed by our neighbors and ought to be guided by the Golden Rule.

If everyone was in fact guided by a superego that whispered the Golden Rule in our unconscious ear all day, then we would have no need of the nanny state.  Perhaps the ultimate fictional satire of the nanny state is Aldous Huxley’s great novel Brave New World.  In it parents are eliminated, citizens made in vitro and in test tubes, and conditioned as infants and children with a mechanical voice that repeats the rules and beliefs sanctioned by the state in their shell-like ears until they become adults who are perfectly adjusted to fill their social role.

Nobody wants that.  I don’t think even Lenin wanted that.  Okay, maybe Lenin.  But really, the Golden Rule mitigates against such ideas.  It is all well and good to tell other people what to do  and what to believe, but nobody likes being told themselves.  Well, maybe fundamentalists do.  But nobody else.

So, the issue, it seems to me is that we want our nanny to be a good nanny.  We want the Mary Poppins State, or even the Nanny McPhee State, but not the mechanized bureaucratic soullessness of Brave New World.



Modern Whigs

I recently was researching the Whig Party when I discovered that there is a new Modern Whig Party (MWP) has been founded and that it looks like a really fine party.   I have jokingly said I was a Whig for years and now I can be one.  Besides a moderate, rational, and wise platform that avoids the extremism of the radical ends of the GOP and the Democratic Party, the Whig’s have taken as their emblem and Owl.  Now, how could I resist the obvious?


I tend towards the Liberal in most things — which I attribute to college. But as I have aged, I have come to realize that there is more to a political party than ideology and its platform and that an old party, no matter how much it professes to be “the party of  the people” becomes intrenched and attracts corruption.  I am excited about the new Obama administration, but I also know that it will run into snags and that an alternative party, especially on the local level, would be healthy for our nation.

The fact that Iraq and Afghan war veterans founded the Modern Whig Party attracts me even though I am not a soldier and am by nature a pacifist.  Oddly, I embrace peace as the desired state of things, but am also fascinated by military science and history.  I have the greatest admiration for many military leaders and the common foot-soldier (or specialist as we say these days).  I myself almost pursued a career as a naval officer, but at age 18, it turned out that my emotional state was not very well suited for it.  Nor is it now that I am too old to join up!

It has always been true that it is the soldiers and sailors and airmen who actually fight (especially the soldiers who face their opponents on the ground) are the best advocates for a common sense and rational attitude towards warcraft.  War is a mess.  It is not a good way to solve problems.  And the soldier’s craft is to carry on the task when it comes in the least messy way possible, efficiently, and effectively.

So, I admire the soldiers who return to civilian life and engage in politics in a positive way.  Like George Washington, for example.  Or Dwight Eisenhower.  We don’t want military dictators in America, but the fact is that real military men of good character and common sense, who understand what this country is all about are the least likely to become dictators.  It is the non-soldiers who have led coddled lives and have romantic notions about accomplishing political or economic goals quickly by using warfare — they are the ones we don’t want in government, especially at the Federal level.

The Modern Whigs are basically for state’s power rather than loading all our money and power into a distant federal government disconnected from the citizens of any of the 50 states.  The old Whig Party of the Revolutionary era and the party in which Abraham Lincoln was a leader, was pro-development, pro-infrastructure, and advocated a diversified economy.  While the old Democrats stood for a agrarian elite and tended to support slavery as an institution, the Whigs did not take a dogmatic stance on that hot potato issue.  That is what brought about the demise of the old Whigs: the party split over the issue of extending slavery into the territories.  We can hardly fault them for that considering that the whole country split apart into Civil War on the same issue.

But when it comes to the right of citizens to see their taxes spent in their own home state, not in pork barrel projects in other states, I tend to agree.  One cannot make simplistic blanket statements.  Some projects that benefit particular states also benefit the whole country.  it is a fine balance.  The Democrats are often criticized for having a kind of blind faith in the power of the federal government to do good.  The Republicans are criticized for wanting to dismantle the federal government, or else turn it into a feeding trough for wealthy capitalists. Clearly, we need to address the health and wellfare of both workers and capitalists in our nation. President Obama seems to be someone who appreciates that fact and wishes to pursue a balanced approach.  But even the Democratic Party has to admit that Mr. Obama is unique.  He is not the typical Democrat and that is a good thing.

Indeed, the Modern Whig Party strikes me as a party the approach of which is similar to that of President Obama — so far as we can tell so far.  Military men understand why torturing prisoners is a bad idea.  They also understand that using military forces to fight terrorists is not practical.  It is like using a hammer when you need a scalpel.

Several of the brothers of my Masonic lodge are members or veterans of the armed services and I consider them the most admirable brothers I have had the pleasure of meeting.  Not that I approve of blind adulation of soldiers.  Every profession has some bad apples or people who are simply flawed.  We are all flawed more or less.  But there is much to be said for the self-discipline military training teaches and the spirit of self-sacrifice.

The Whigs promote freedom of religion and speech, and want the government to keep out ofthe business of siding with one particular religious viewpoint, or legislating private moral matters of conscience.  They view the abortion issue as a matter of public health.  How refreshing!  They view gun control from a pragmatic point of view, not taking one side or the other of the disfunctional polarized debate we have now.  And finally, the Whigs don’t believe that a person should be forced to join a party because of a single divisive issue, such as has been used by the GOP for many years.  Well, that problem goes back to slavery again, doesn’t it?

The old Whig Party had some anti-masonic tendencies, which the Modern Whigs do not address one way or the other.  The way I see it, the anti-masons were opportunists, but the old Freemasons of John Quincy Adams’ time were turning the fraternity into too much of an old boy’s network.  Masons today bend over backwards to discourage favoritism among brothers, or subversive activities.  So, anti-masons looking back on the French Revolution, for example, had a certain point.  But at the same time, I wonder if the American Revolution would have happened were it not for the philosophy of Freemasonry and its influence on the thoughts of George Washington, Tom Paine, and Ben Franklin (to name just three of many).

Take a look.  I’ve been whigging out for years, and now I know why.


Posts and Pages

New Year, calendrically speaking.  Full moon at present and I have been absorbed in wand making again and unable to tend to my writing.  Ihave two more wands to make and then I can focus on writing and only carve things when I feel like it.  I’m looking forward to that.

I just wrote a very long thingy on the idea of a druid college.  With the demise of Avalon College, I realize that a lot of the thoughts I wrote in forums there have gone to the aether.  So, my homage to the past four years of experiences and thoughts (mine and those of many others who joined me in the quest for a druid college).

“Pages” are listed across the top of the screen here and appear in the right margin column too, but are distinct from “posts” to the web log.  I was a bit chagrinned to find that the “About Alferian” page has only been visited four times, according to the Great Machine. Teach me some humility!

I shall here encourage you, dear reader, to go look at the Druid College page for the latest ruminations (can Owls be ruminants? Hmmm. Well, they do spit up those owl pellets…  Alright, let’s say the latest owl pellet then.)

More anon,


%d bloggers like this: