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Just desserts and Accidents of Birth: The Insidious Lie about Personal Responsibility

accidents of birth cutI wouldn’t normally write a blog in response to a Disney movie, but stranger things have happened to me… I can’t think of one right now, but I’m sure there was one.

I recently watched the 2006 movie Cow Belles, where two spoiled rich girls learn the importance of the old adage, noblesse oblige, or, for you non-Latin Scholars out there… [which pretty much includes most of you… and me… actually, I only know one person who reads Latin with facility…] anyway… noblesse oblige means nobility obligates.

These girls’ father runs a successful dairy and makes lots of money and spoils them rotten in the wake of their mother’s untimely death.

How his business is supposed to be successful is beyond me since he shows his compassion for humanity by refusing to automate like all the other dairies in the area with whom he has to compete… but he is noble and refuses to use a machine that will do for 10 cents an hour what he can pay a person to do for 20 dollars an hour. In Disney reality, however, he is still a booming success (Not that Disney runs their business that way… they just promote those kinds of idiotic principles for others.)

…and his girls are irresponsible.

So through a comedy of errors they are forced to work in the dairy plant for the summer while their father takes a much needed vacation in the jungles of South America looking for that elusive last butterfly for his collection. [I guess Disney didn’t hire the folks from Fern Gully or Once Upon a Forest to make this one, since that butterfly is destined for a pin board display in a glass case.]

Fortunately, these girls learn wonderful lessons about life and overcome their blind selfishness.

To my dismay, one of the lessons they learn and try to teach is that people aren’t responsible for anything that happens to them; everything is an accident of birth.

That idiot who has no better prospects in life than to get paid $20 an hour to put lids on yogurt pints by hand is a victim of many ACCIDENTS OF BIRTH. If the father automated the dairy, what would become of him.

Several times in the movie they keep emphasizing that the father’s success is an accident of birth, that the financial struggles of the workers is an accident of birth, that everyone’s lot in life is just an accident of birth. Mister I-can-only-put-on-yogurt-lids is not responsible for the fact that he has learned nothing in life, has developed no skills, has no ambition, and can’t even imagine what he could possibly do in life if this business owner were to deprive him of his one chance to make a living.

Granted, it’s just a stupid movie… (I am easily entertained, of course, so I enjoyed it) but it’s the point of the thing. I hate psychological dishonesty more than anything else in movies. You can create any fantastic alternate reality you like in a movie, but when a person paints a fictitious picture about how OUR world is supposed to work, about how people actually work, I draw the line.

People work a certain way… thus certain types of societies are impossible. Economics works a certain way, so certain “good ideas” never succeed.

The denigration of success with the fallacy “accident of birth” is a nightmare for society. The sanctifying of failure, ignorance and indolence with “accident of birth” is a horror. These betray everything that leads to the general well-being of a community. You don’t help anyone by enabling their poor life choices with “accident of birth” or by tearing down those who produce in society by chuffing contemptuously at their success… “You didn’t build that!”

Truly, people cannot help where they are born, to whom they are born, nor the genetic advantages and disadvantages with which they are born. Some situations are harder than others, no doubt, in terms of making choices for success… but the very suggestion that people are not responsible for all the choices that they make thereafter is counter-productive at best.

Pity in the heart is one thing… pity in procedure, pity in law, pity in societal standards won’t help anyone overcome the many accidents of birth that confront them… won’t lift anyone out of poverty… won’t empower anyone to earn their way in this world, wont save anyone from the consequences of ignorance, indolence and destructive life style choices.

Thomas Sowell wrote of the insidious pity shown by liberals to African Americans:

“No matter what the origin of counterproductive behavior, such behavior must be changed if progress is the goal. On the other hand, if the real agenda is to score points against American society then blacks can be used as a means to that end. More generally, a pro-black stance by white intellectuals enhances the latter’s moral standing and self-esteem, whether or not the particular manifestation of that stance helps or harms blacks on net balance.”[1]

Just so, degrading a person’s gifts and achievements because they were born with certain advantages in life, whether domestic or genetic, tears at the very fabric of a society that is dependent on the most efficient use of available resources, including the labor, intelligence, education, experience, ingenuity, ambition and talents of every citizen. It does not matter why anyone is good at something, the fact that they are good, and the maximizing of their potential is essential for the sustained prosperity of the whole. Don’t envy and hate, champion and celebrate skill… especially the skill of creating wealth.

The problem in the world is not poverty… poverty is easy to obtain. It’s the natural flow of the world. It is the general description of the history of humanity in every part of the world at some point in its development.

The problem is wealth and prosperity… how to produce it, how to sustain it, how to perpetually raise general access to it.

Here’s a clue. The path to prosperity and advancement is not found in excusing unproductive behavior simply because a person is born with certain disadvantages.

The path to prosperity and advancement is not found by demeaning productive behavior simply because a person was born with certain advantages.

The sum of our lives is not where we started, but what we did with the opportunities that life presented and what opportunities we carved out for ourselves when accidents of birth handed us lemons.

[1] Thomas Sowell, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, pg 56.

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