Littleton, Colo., and NATO’s undeclared war in what used to be
Yugoslavia are but symptoms of a deeper illness within America’s
political leadership and among both major parties. Sometimes it helps to
be reminded that this condition is not new, and that the solutions to
our problems will be neither easy nor quick. This column was written
just prior to the historic 1994 congressional
elections that swept Republicans to victory in the House and Senate. It
appeared in the Sept. 6, 1994 issue of Conservative Consensus.
Virtual Reality is the latest and busiest buzzword in the business
and computer press these days. It describes using specially designed
glasses, stereo sound, and even touch sensations to
manufacture “reality” in the mind — when in fact, no such reality
The term has far wider applications than just computers. Humankind
relishes substituting its own “reality” for the reality in which it
lives. Early civilizations developed fire to warm them on
cold nights. Later we built ships to carry us over the water. With
aircraft we realized the dream of flight. Yet who today, upon walking
into a darkened room and flipping on the light switch,
instantly changing night into day, considers that he or she is
Our “reality,” many would tell us, is what we make of it. Children
can do poorly in school, but still be made to feel good about
themselves. Women can be inferior in physical strength to men, but still
fight successfully in the next war — if we will but lower the military
standards for strength and inhibit men. The poor can live a middle-class
life, if we will but give them the money they need.
Virtual Reality in the social realm is nothing new; the first
incident occurred in the Garden of Eden. “Take, eat; ye shall be as
gods,” the Serpent told Eve. “Pass the fruit,” said Adam. “What
hast thou done?” the Lord asked, as He kicked them both out of the
Garden. Virtual Reality meets Hard Fact.
It is perhaps fitting that the concept of “virtual reality” should be
all the rage in America. After all, America has been engaged in “virtual
political reality” since at least the days of FDR and the
New Deal; certainly since LBJ and the “great society.”
In 1934, the first year after the New Deal, there were as many as
7,646 murders, 7,310 rapes, and 92,820 robberies in an America with
roughly 126 million citizens.[*] In 1964, the year LBJ
launched the “great society,” those numbers had grown to 9,360; 21,420;
and 130,390. Population had increased to 191 million. By 1992, the
figures were 23,760; 109,060; and 672,480. There were 256 million
Americans. Five trillion dollars in transfer payments
and fifty years later, FDR and LBJ’s promises have finally born fruit.
It has now been passed to us. Schools that once graduated thinking,
civilized adults today produce dropouts and teenage
mothers. The condom has replaced the graduation cap and gown.
A generation of juvenile delinquents has overrun society. No longer
content with tipping over outhouses, they now kill one another — and
innocents caught in between — for entertainment. Bars still appear on
the prisoners’ window, but those housed within have committed no crime.
Instead, bars cover the windows on the modest homes of honest citizens,
the working-class cook and shop attendant, the retired policeman and
schoolteacher, the widow on Social Security, and the subsidized single
mother. Bars to keep out the teenage gangs that roam the night, raping,
pillaging, and murdering the terrified inmates of what passes for
Those individuals once dependent on the generosity of their
neighbors, church, and community because of age, illness or infirmity
have grown to include all who are incapacitated through
their own choices: drug-abuse, promiscuity, ignorance, sloth, laziness,
and crime. Yet today these same individuals are no longer satisfied with
the generosity of others, they have
developed a culture of dependence, a deeply-held belief that a share of
what comes to those who “work hard and play by the rules” somehow
belongs to them. And, perhaps most damning, they have created a
political class in their own image; one that sees the “needs of the
underachieving” as their own ticket to a life of wealth and power,
devoid of responsibility, and assured by the
manipulative magic of the modern media.
Through the fiction of “virtual political reality,” this political
class caters to the ever-expanding whims of their “needy constituents.”
Better housing, “free” medical care, midnight basketball, high
self-esteem, free sex, free condoms, all free of responsibility.
But at what point does the underlying reality assert itself? And what
will be the consequences? What is the difference between the fire that
warms the night, the ship that cruises the ocean, the
aircraft that flies above it, the electric light that extends our days,
and the “virtual political reality” in which we live today?
One can start by asking a designer of ships, airplanes, or power
plants. These are tools; they extend our mastery of the physical world.
They do so by building upon physical laws. The
ship floats because it is lighter than the water; the aircraft rises
because at a certain speed the air pressure is less on the top of the
wing than the bottom. And the power plant relies on the
properties of electrons transmitted through wire.
Similarly, long-standing social policies are built upon social laws.
“Thou shalt not steal” was not only God’s commandment; it turns out to
make good sense. Successful societies all punish theft, because rampant
theft ultimately destroys the incentive for honest producers to produce,
and the society collapses under the weight of its own malcontents. If
you can’t keep what you produce, then why bother?
Punishing those who take the easy way out (theft) not only protects
producers, it also directs the energies of those who might have turned
to theft into more productive paths. Thus, the
entire society benefits from their efforts as well.
Governments, of course, have always practiced theft on a greater or
lesser scale. Civilization, recognizing that some tasks, such as defense
against invasion are better organized at the
governmental level, has winked at this approach under the guise of
taxation. Taxation, therefore, is really nothing more than legalized
theft for the benefit of all.
It took “political virtual reality” to create the notion of transfer
payments — taxation that benefits the few, at the expense of the many.
How are taxation transfer payments different than tribal raiding
parties, organized by one local community to plunder another, for the
benefit not of society, but of one’s own clan? Is theft any less theft
when the man sticking a gun in your
ribs and taking your wallet or purse wears a government uniform? Would a
bank robber be excused because he gave the proceeds of his activities to
the needy? Are the recipients of
such theft well-served, even if the deed is carried out by someone else?
“Virtual political reality” operates upon the false notion that if we
all want something to be true, then it is true. Yet the world tells us
otherwise. Ships do not float because we want them to,
airplanes do not suddenly leap into the air at the end of the runway
because the pilot and passengers all fervently hope that they will.
Electrons do not excite wire filaments because people living in cities
want their lights and refrigerators to work. The real world operates the
way it does because of physical laws. These laws continue to exist and
do their work whether or not we know about them, and irrespective of
what we think and hope.
So too it is with social laws. Theft ultimately discourages
producers. The signs are everywhere around us: financial speculation,
political and business corruption, lottery-sized malpractice and
product-liability lawsuits, widespread popularity of gambling, and a
general feeling of despair that drives people to alcohol, drugs, and
Virtual political reality. Our generation is on the airplane. The
pilot has the throttle full-open. We are gathering more speed as we
rumble down the “great society” runway. You glance nervously
out the window. Your glimpse of the tarmac speeding by, which ends just
up ahead, is unobstructed by a wing. Yet the pilot and crew seemed so
confident, extolling the virtues of the sleek, new craft when they
greeted you upon boarding. Clusters of trees and electric transmission
lines loom just ahead. Across the highway stand the aging concrete
towers of decaying public housing. You feel an uncharacteristically
harsh thump as the aging infrastructure delivers its final insult. You
wish and hope that it is so. …
Take off the funny little glasses. Turn off the television. If you
are exceptionally brave or well-armed, take a walk around your community
tonight. Tomorrow, visit a downtown school. See the
world that $5 trillion of transfer payments and two generations of
virtual political unreality has bought you. Think about the homes that
could have been built, the struggling young
families taxed into despair; the world created both for those who
forfeited the money and for those who received it. Ask yourself if
believing has made it so? Then act as you must, to save not only
yourself, but future generations as well.
[*Footnote: Actual figures: 3,282 murders, 3,655 rapes, and 46,414
robberies reported in the 1,285 largest cities (pop. 56,874,132).
Assuming the worst, rural crime almost equals city crime, the above
figures were simply doubled, to cover a population of 113,748,264. All
figures from the Criminal Justice Information Service of the FBI.]