We've all met the spoiled child at the grocery store. He's the cute toddler who spies the red sucker at the check-out counter and wants it. Now. Pointing to it with his chubby finger, he announces his desire to his mother. "No," she says, and tries to distract him. The child's demand becomes louder, more insistent. The tired-looking mother beseeches his help in unloading the cart, but to no avail. She becomes more and more embarrassed as the drama increases: the child reddens, throws himself weeping on the ground, and kicks his feet. With an exasperated sigh, his harried Mother capitulates. The child gets up and takes his reward. His stormy demeanor has been transformed to a sunny smile. The crisis has been averted--temporarily.
Why is the grocery store the typical setting for such a scene? Because it it the place where needs/wishes can be instantly gratified. The spoiled child receives a tangible reward without expending himself to work for it.
Richard Weaver observes that city life breeds and reinforces the spoiled-child mindset in a myriad of ways. The artificial atmosphere of city life breaks the link between effort and reward. There is no hunting, gardening, or chopping of wood needed because goods can be obtained through a complicated and little understood means of exchange. As the child becomes accustomed to comfort without discipline, he naturally assumes that he deserves to be gratified. He is a consumer rather than a contributor. When he grows up, his inflated sense of self worth causes him to feel that the world owes him a living. In Weaver's words:
"The city renders sterile."
The benefit of hard work can hardly be disputed. When a man has a sense of mission, he willingly bends his back to difficult tasks in order to carry them out. His work is a joy. It is therapeutic, too, providing him with a vision bigger than self and giving a reason for self-discipline. Reward becomes sweet because it doesn't come easy and it doesn't come cheap.
What happens when a whole society shifts from a rural to an urban culture? There is a decrease in self discipline, a decline in the work ethic and hardness of individuals. That society ceases to produce true heroes, because there is no longer an arena in which they must struggle for survival. Heroes cannot be made in a place of comfort and softness.
Perhaps the greatest challenge confronting Western culture, in Weaver's words, will be to
"overcome the spoiled-child psychology sufficiently to discipline for struggle."
He points his finger at science, the tool of "progress" that has made life easy and the "stereopticon" (media) that has actively brainwashed people into being mere consumers.
The fact is that a society cannot survive without a workforce. If the workforce becomes complacent, soft, and solely consumeristic-- the members of that workforce begin to resent those in managerial roles who are needing their productivity. Society is set on a course of decline.
The final words of this chapter are almost chilling in the light of the recent economic actions of our government to shore up private companies. Listen to Weaver's thoughts:
"So long as private enterprise survives, there remain certain pressures not related to mass aspiration, but when industrial democracy insistently batters at private control, this means of organization and direction diminishes. Society eventually pauses before a fateful question: Where can it find a source of discipline?"
I have to ask myself some questions, too, after reading this chapter.
- How can I, as a city dweller, maintain the link between work and reward?
- Am I only a consumer, or do I actively contribute toward the benefit of others?
- Do I shrink from struggles, or do I have the larger outlook that struggles are the very forces that discipline me and make me a fit, contributing member of society?
- How can I teach my children the discipline and reward of hard work?
- Who are my heroes?