You reap what you sow: and
maybe a bit more
Almost every year, my wife plants a vegetable garden in our backyard.
This year, however, Donna’s time was taken up with our new baby, and, if
there was going to be a garden at all, it was up to me.
Inexperienced though I was, I got off to a pretty good start.
I dug up the ground, divided my little plot into sections, and planted
all sorts of things: squash, pumpkins, melons, corn, carrots, turnips,
peppers, and tomatoes. At first, I tended the garden pretty well, but then
I got busy and let things go.
A month later, it was time to see how things were coming along.
It was amazing how things had grown! Unfortunately, what grew was mostly
stuff I didn’t want: dandelions, kocia, thistles, cockleburs, and creeping
As I was pulling up the weeds, trying to salvage what I could
of the garden, my constant thought was that I would have been a lot better
off if I had taken care of the weeds when they were small.
Social problems can be like weeds too. They’re often fairly easy
to deal with if you catch them quickly: but once they take root, the job
is much harder.
It would have been fairly easy, for instance, to eliminate slavery
in the earliest days of our nation’s history, and slavery almost was eliminated.
The original draft of the Declaration of Independence recognized
the reprehensible nature of the institution, calling it a “cruel war against
human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty,”
and, while this passage was not included in the final draft of the Declaration,
there was consensus among American leaders (including slaveholders like
Jefferson and Madison) that slavery was incompatible with the free and
democratic society they were trying to set up.
The religious revival historians call the Second Great Awakening
added to the sentiment against slavery, and made sure that, in the North
at least, slavery would come to a complete end.
The South, too, might have eliminated slavery—and yet it didn’t.
The typical textbook blames the invention of the cotton gin or
suggests that the topography and climate of the South made slavery the
only feasible way of developing Southern agriculture.
This is only a part of the answer.
What really kept slavery going was the attitude of Southern leaders,
the planter aristocracy that created and maintained this more-than-peculiar
The average white Southerner had little or no direct interest
in slavery. More than 75% owned no slaves.
For Southern business and political leaders, however, things
were different. They put more and more money into slavery, and ultimately
they had so much capital tied up in slaves that they were unwilling to
consider emancipation even for an instant.
As their slave-holdings increased, Southern leaders became desensitized
to the cruelty of slavery. They began to rationalize away its injustices.
Slavery, they argued, was less exploitive than the factory system. Blacks
were particularly suited to servitude. And besides, return on investment
It’s easy enough for us, too, to become desensitized to the institutional
evils around us. It’s easy enough for us and for our business and political
leaders to rationalize away the terrible human costs of things like the
video lottery. We don’t want to lose our property tax rebate. We need the
money for education and health care. People who gamble are going to gamble
anyway. And besides, return on investment is good.
Fortunately, video lottery is still a relatively small weed,
and, if we act now, it won’t be all that difficult to pull it up (no matter
what you’re hearing on some commercials).
But the time to pull it up is now, while our leaders still recognize
that video lottery is a lousy way to finance government programs and before
they have so much capital invested in the institution that they become
unwilling even to consider its elimination.