Wisdom from Neal Maxwell

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

19 thoughts on “Wisdom from Neal Maxwell

  1. The swimming and lifeboat metaphors really don’t work. Those currently, and in the future, who rely on the government for their livelihood know all too well how to swim and survive in the environment in which they find themselves. They are experts at gaming the system to maximize their current benefits and influencing the system to provide more and greater benefits in the future.

    I’m also curious about when, in the entire history of the world, the pendulum had ever been “pushed” back (without complete societal collapse). To my mind governance begins with Hamirabi’s code and every government since then has been larger and more invasive. Even US history represents a continuous march toward geater government intervention. There is no pendulum to swing– just the unstoppable inertia of authoritative self-interest. The real issue is that self-interests often conflict creating winners and losers. Right now Mormon self interests are taking it on the chin and it sucks but the idea that if Mormons somehow turn things around the government will shrink is absolutely ludicrous (see Prohibition for the most obvious answer).

    Utah, and the entire inter-mountain west for that matter, would not be what it is today without government largesse which began with the westward expansion of the railroad. Had the US government waited on private investment for that endeavor it is a real possibility that connecting The East Coast with the West Coast with multiple lines and routs would not have occurred for another half century or more. Would the late 19th century Saints have been better off if someone had shoved the pendulum “back” around 1850? I truly can’t imagine Brigham Young railing against government investing in a railroad making travel to SLC cheaper and easier.

  2. Paul M, interesting comment.

    “The swimming and lifeboat metaphors really don’t work. Those currently, and in the future, who rely on the government for their livelihood know all too well how to swim and survive in the environment in which they find themselves. They are experts at gaming the system to maximize their current benefits and influencing the system to provide more and greater benefits in the future.”

    Yes, I agree for the most part. I think the point is that for people like me and apparently Elder Maxwell government should take care of the absolute neediest cases. I think a legitimate use of government is to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. This could all be done on a local level, and we would not need a massive federal government. So Elder Maxwell’s point seems (to me) to be that by creating massive government programs we are making people less self-sufficient. If we returned charity to the local and state level, this would happen less often. But you are correct that there would still be individual people and corporations that would game the system.

    “’m also curious about when, in the entire history of the world, the pendulum had ever been “pushed” back (without complete societal collapse). To my mind governance begins with Hamirabi’s code and every government since then has been larger and more invasive. Even US history represents a continuous march toward geater government intervention. There is no pendulum to swing– just the unstoppable inertia of authoritative self-interest. The real issue is that self-interests often conflict creating winners and losers. Right now Mormon self interests are taking it on the chin and it sucks but the idea that if Mormons somehow turn things around the government will shrink is absolutely ludicrous (see Prohibition for the most obvious answer).”

    There have been a few times when the pendulum has swung back. In the 1830s, Jackson got rid of the national bank and paid off the national debt. In the 1870s, the federal government got rid of the income tax and paid off the national debt and returned us to the gold standard. I think you could make a pretty strong argument that the total size of government was smaller in 1900 than it was in 1865 and that the total size of government was smaller in 1840 than it was in 1830. More recently, there are a few interesting examples: the total size of government was significantly smaller in 1928 than it was in 1920. The same thing applied to 1949 compared to 1945. And we have the example of 1999, when the government was smaller than it was in 1992. So, it is possible to make small changes and move the pendulum back a bit. Will we ever see government returning to its proper Constitutional role again? Probably not, but we could, in theory, see a situation five years from now where we get close to balancing the budget and decrease the size of government, just as we did in the 1990s.

    Your mention of the railroads brings up some interesting things to consider. Yes, the transcontinental railroads were all a government corporatist scam, with the railroad lawyer Abraham Lincoln (and many others) benefitting from the crony capitalism involved. The government railroads lost millions. But interestingly at the same time there were completely private railroads that were profitable. The problem is that the crony capitalists tried and succeeded in keeping the private railroads from competing. James J. Hill built a completely private railroad without government money, and service was better and of course it was done much less expensively. More on the true history of 19th century railroads here:

    https://mises.org/daily/2317

    In short, government may have helped Utah in the 1850 and 1860s, but it didn’t need to be that way. If government had allowed private railroad companies to flourish, private enterprise would have helped Utah, just as it has done throughout history. And the U.S. government was not very helpful to Utah when it declared war against polygamy.

  3. Random ADD thoughts on this:

    -Geoff, thanks for the mini history lesson. I want to look into railroad history now. All we ever hear about is the Transcontinental RR and how awesome it was. The details– especially in regards to cost and private vs government operations– seem to have fallen by the wayside.

    -I really wish Tweets linking to posts didn’t show up as comments. I read M* for the comments more than the posts, and it’s a let-down to click on comments only to discover that most of them are links to tweets. Stupid.

    -PaulM, the reason I so vehemently oppose the swinging of pendulums is because once they swing left, they never quite return. It’s almost a clockwise turning– a perpetual leftward swing– that slows here and there but only stops when the clock finally breaks.

  4. Tossman, there is a lot of interesting history out there that is simply not taught these days. When you consider who controls the textbooks and the ideological bent of the majority of the Academy, it is easy to see that a lot of true history gets lost.

  5. I had this strange thought while considering Les miserables that the only way we’ll see even a chance to initiate change is if enough people to do a modern day barricade in Washington DC.

    But can such a thing be moral in a modern democracy n republic where the people can vote for change if they had wisdom in their hearts?

  6. I find the swimming metaphor apt. Consider responses to disaster and crisis where government has grown the most with overwhelming support in recent years. The people are in a sympathetic position perhaps of little initial failure of their own and we demand government dosomething to rescue them. it applies to post hurricanes to even healthcare. People can’t help themselves, they can’t adequately prepare for lifechallenges so we vote sympathetically as a society to “do something” and “have aheart” to send more lifeboats to the.distressed at sea.s

  7. I very much admire the quote from Elder Maxwell. His skill with crafting metaphors is laudable. Elder Maxwell was an accomplished speaker. As is often the case, the rest of the talk this meme was derived from legitimizes and justifies Maxwell’s metaphoric allusions.

    It is unfortunate that the individuals who identify themselves as “LDS Liberty” chose this particular quote to encapsulate as a “meme”. The group is poorly named and misguided in their efforts. In particular, they tend to cite brief pithy out-of-context quotes as substantiating their spurious claims. Most casual Internet perusers seem to take notice of the clever quotes, but seldem bother to dig any deeper. If they did, they would understand that the group represents radical ideas not in harmony with the Gospel or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  8. Jim, is this quotation out of context and used to substantiate spurious claims? The first part of your comment says it is not. The rest of your comment is not really relevant to this discussion. You can object to LDS Liberty on a thread where they actually are doing something out of context.

    I am not a big fan of the game “the source is bad therefore I don’t like the message.” This game is usually played by liberals and progressives to remain in their liberal/progressive bubble and refuse to see other information that contradicts their worldview. Therefore you read (turn on whiney liberal voice) “Oh, I bet you heard that on Fox News.” This is apparently what counts on as an actual argument by liberals these days. So, I am not really interested in seeing conservatives or libertarians play the same game. If this quotation is out of context, then make the case that it is. If it is not, then wait to go after LDS Liberty on a quotation that actually is out of context.

  9. It may not be taken out of context, but its certainly vague in the way its presented. And it may be that Elder Maxwell did not intend for this one quote to be taken in isolation – because, of course, he decided to use it in the middle of a book. With that in mind, I’ll reserve judgement concerning the substance of his comment until I can get around to reading his words in completion. I think that is the way he would want it.

    But, regarding the intended message that this snippet is trying to convey, that the ultra generic “too much government” is stunting our individualism and self reliance in America, I find it mostly meaningless. Not that I don’t agree with it necessarily. I just find it high on rhetoric and low on anything that I can actually grab onto. Are we talking about relying too much on our military to solve all of our homeland security problems? Are we talking about relying too much on social security for retirement planning? It can basically mean whatever you want it to mean, but most often it means: keep the government that like, cut the government that I don’t like.

  10. Christian J, the quotation is taken from this talk at BYU in 1976:

    http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1153

    When you read the quotation in context, it is clear he is talking about the dangers of too much government in creating bureaucracy and decreasing self-reliance. If this is meaningless to you, I am not really sure what to say. Are we a relying on the military too much? Yes. Are we relying on too much government aid for entitlements? Yes. In short, we are relying on too much government in general.

    Here it is in context:

    “I do believe the gospel gives us some insights which are not easy to transmit, such as how vitally appropriate early life experiences are and their impact on society’s institutions later on. We know that it is the family wherein all those virtues on which society depends are first and best developed: for instance, self-restraint, the commitment to work, doing one’s share, compassion for others. Like it or not, society and the state will mirror our homes. Adolf Hitler’s early life experiences may have impacted more on Germany than the Weimar Republic’s constitution.

    In any event, possessed of such insights, we Latter-day Saints are often responded to a little like John the Baptist. Minus such fundamental insights, I fear that, as conditions worsen, many will react to the failures of too much government by calling for even more government. Then there will be more and more lifeboats launched because fewer and fewer citizens know how to swim. Unlike some pendulums, political pendulums do not swing back automatically; they must be pushed. History is full of instances when people have waited in vain for pendulums to swing back.

    A little experience with federal and state bureaucracies has taught me that such bureaucracies are inhabited by basically good civil servants, onto whom voters have pushed too much power for their good or ours. What we unwittingly court in such circumstances is learning again, painfully, that “almost all” men can’t handle authority without abusing it. Whether or not the American people, regardless of party, can tame their governments is yet to be determined, but sunset laws alone will not do it. If citizen appetites, once aroused, merely look to a new agency to do what a disestablished agency once did, it won’t be enough. Addicts can always find new pushers.

    In one of those illuminating but sad stories that would be funny if it had not involved something terribly important, Peter Druecker tells us that the czar of Russia in 1914 had ordered a general mobilization to fight the Germans, but then he had second thoughts about it. The czar called in his chief of staff and asked him to halt the mobilization. The general answered, “Your Majesty, this is impossible. There is no plan for calling off the mobilization once it is started.” Perhaps World War I might not have been any different regardless of what the Russians did, but the sweeping events flowing out of the collapse on the Russian front, paving the way for the rise of Bolshevism, deserve to be pondered in the context of that stupid, bureaucratic rigidity. I remember all too well a brief experience in one federal department when it reached a point in our little shop that the methodology of filing came out by directive and assumed a preeminence over our primary task. This trend was symbolically accompanied by the domesticating appearance of sweet potato foliage on the desk (which was accompanied by my disappearance from that department in search of better tasks).”

  11. Geoff, the LDS Liberty site posts memes that appeal to the sensibilities of many LDS. Thier own understated objective is to undermine the government, promote intransigence and noncompliance, and the eventual anarchy that will ensue if people follow their admonitions. Then they will be poised to swoop in and save the day. Not certain how they plan to go about that, but that seems to be the substance of their plan. They claim that quotes from Church authorities justify their illegal and seditious actions and teachings. I have no problem realizing that this is taking things as far out of context as they could possibly go. It seems as foreign an idea to ascribe to General Authorities of the Church as refusing to obtain a Social Security number, salute the US flag, or pay taxes- all of which LDS Liberty seems to advocate.

    I was attracted to LDS Liberty because one of the outspoken leaders of the group, JC Bollers, used to be in my Boy Scout troop, many years ago. Notwithstanding such familiarities, we are obligated to stand as watchmen on the tower, to guard against the promugation of such false ideas.

    I have more personal observations and documentation about the mistaken ideas of the LDS Liberty group on my blog.

  12. Jim, all of your points may be valid, but they are not relevant to this discussion. Thanks for understanding.

  13. Geoff, the context of the quote makes it much more meaningful. I was only disappointed with the way Elder Maxwell’s words were being (ab)used in vague isolation – where any number of unrelated conclusions could be drawn.

  14. Four of Geoff’s five cases of the U.S. government reducing in size were aftermaths of wars: Civil, WWI, WWII, and Cold. War obviously bulks up the military portion of government, which is a large portion to begin with, but it also contributes to government playing a bigger role in the non-military life of the nation as well. Now, if we can just get past the War on Terror, which has more than any past conflict been a war against ourselves . . .

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