Do not confuse “duty” with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.
– Robert A. Heinlein
I found this Heinlein quote yesterday, while working on the article for PJmedia (I know most of my Heinlein quotes at a remove, because I first read them in Portuguese, so I need to check every time to make sure I don’t mangle them.) At first sight this resounds a lot with Mister Obama’s statement that “Sin is being unfaithful to my principles” — which given the changeable nature of the left’s principles means that “sin is what I feel like it should be today.”
Of course, that is not it, and if you look at it, it’s quite a different sort of thing. I’d never, at least consciously, come across that quote, but I’ve been living by it for years, partly because I absorbed its ethos from Heinlein’s books. Stuff like, if you save someone’s life you’ve assumed a Chinese obligation for that life. It was that principle that would not allow us, when we moved across the country, to do the common thing of giving away our cats, and just getting kittens after moving. Instead, we orchestrated a three part move to a new city, with cats shipped in two batches after us (and Pete, the difficult case, moving with us, in the car.)
It causes us to pay on contracts, even when it’s not convenient. It causes me to feel an obligation towards Baen, even in these days when Indie would pay me more. It causes us to drive through the night to go help a friend, even when it’s the LAST thing we want to do.
This is because we’ve assumed those obligations voluntarily, as we did the obligations for our children, the obligations for our own upkeep, the obligations to employers and friends, to neighbors and places where we shop and the obligations to this country, like my freely sworn oath to defend the constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic.
What doesn’t it cover? Well, it’s not my duty to make the TSA’s job simpler. I might choose to do it, because the alternative is jail, but I don’t feel a DUTY to do it. It’s not my duty to pay the maximum tax I can owe. I can use deductions and loopholes (we don’t use loopholes, because we’re too poor to afford the lawyers, but you get my point.) It is not my duty to “provide for those who make less.” It might be my duty to exert Christian Charity, again freely assumed, but that’s QUITE something else from giving someone a portion of my paycheck simply because on paper I have more money.
We run into these situations all the time. The public schools where my kids went tried to convince everyone it was their duty to volunteer. No, it’s in fact not. The schools get funding from our paychecks, and they should make do with what they have and not conscript parents to come copy papers or whatever. It is my duty to see my kids educated to the best of their ability (and mine) but it is not my duty to do it the way the school wants me to, or to help the school fill their heads with mush.
It is not my duty to bear the burden of a society where other people who work less or make less effort want part of my earnings. It might be the government’s bright idea that’s my duty, but it’s not. I have not agreed to be conscripted to pay for others’ easy ride through life.
But if I still have to do things, even though they’re not my duty, because otherwise they’ll put me in jail, what is the point of saying that.
It’s a very great point.
At various times in history, humans choose to comply with force, because they don’t have the means to fight it. But unless they internalize force as “right” they remain free to disagree with it, and free to overturn force in the future.
If the founders had thought that England had the right to impose taxation without representation and, as good British subjects, they’d thought it was their duty to comply with his majesty’s whim, we wouldn’t be here. Sure, some people paid because they had to, and the road to the revolution was long and complicated, but the seed was there, as not internalizing as your duty things you did not and would never agree too.
Fulfill those duties you freely assumed, yes, even unto death, because that’s the price of your honor and your adulthood. But those obligations imposed on you by force majeure? Accept the need to do it, if there is no other alternative, but do NOT under any circumstances internalize it as your duty or feel guilty for not fulfilling it. Down that path lie socialized medicine and your obligation to die when the government wants to guarantee your “death with dignity.”
Living and dying free demand a lot of sacrifice, and for those of us of an honorable disposition, taking care of the weaker people in our sphere influence.
But they prevent your being a sheep for your betters’ shearing. And they allow you self-respect.