Reflections on my birth

On the evening of July 27, 1946, the NTF (the Natural Talent Fairy, sometimes known as God) made a fateful mistake. The NTF’s job is to distribute various natural talents to newborns, just as the tooth fairy puts dimes under the pillows of kids when they lose their baby teeth. Of course, the NTF’s job is much more important than that of the tooth fairy; that’s why he is often referred to as the Supreme Being.

Anyway, the NTF is not as omniscient and infallible as sometimes alleged. He thought that Paul Schumaker was due to be born on August 10, and was unaware that Paul had popped out of his mother Ruth’s womb two weeks early. He learned of Paul’s early arrival only when he stopped by Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital (in Appleton Wisconsin) a few hours later to bestow his planned endowments on Charles McKee. However, before he saw Chuck, who was emerging into this world from the womb of a joyful Betty, he noticed Paul being suckled by the exhausted Ruth. He was aghast by his mistake, as he knew it was already too late to provide Paul with his allotment of natural talents. Since Paul had already been part of the social world for six hours, any talents that he might acquire would not be gifts from God, but rather would have to be earned. The NTF thus made two decisions. First, he decided to compensate Paul for his lack of natural talent by giving him generous amounts of determination, discipline, and spunk. Second, when Chuck gave out his first cry of life, the NTF gave him the talents intended for Paul, as well as those that he had planned to give Chuck. Chuck got a double-dose of talents, so to speak.

These events explain much about Paul and Chuck, especially their political views. Both became bleeding-heart liberals. Both adopted the belief that those having undeserved natural disadvantages (e.g., those born with mental or physical handicaps) or being raised in adverse social conditions (e.g., those subject to social prejudices or living in poverty) should be compensated for their limitations. They came to believe that the broader political communities to which they belonged had moral and political obligations to provide public assistance to the disadvantaged.

Realizing that he had been gypped in the natural talent lottery, Paul thought that the only way he could live a good life was for the beliefs of bleeding-heart liberalism to be widely embraced in the broader community. Only then would the public accept their responsibilities to help him survive with his limited talents and, more importantly, to assist all those who unluckily had been born with undeserved genetic limitations or raised in undeserved difficult conditions. Paul used his discipline and determination to become a professor of political theory who taught his students the importance of empathy for the disadvantaged, whether that be expressed in the public philosophies of liberalism, socialism, or (compassionate) conservatism. In his mind, he was able to live a decent life as a public servant educating youth about moral and political theory – even if some right-wingers criticized such work as corrupting the minds of our gullible youth. More libertarian students thought Paul was too partisan because the theories he emphasized assumed it was legitimate to tax and otherwise regulate the behavior of the well-off to provide public assistance to the poorly endowed. Paul thus had to monitor many classroom debates over whether acquired riches were primarily a function of efforts, ambitions, and good choices that merited great wealth for some or whether they were a result of unmerited luck in the distribution of natural and social inheritances.

Chuck came to realize that he had received far more than his fair share of natural talents. Among the talents bestowed on him on that fateful July 28 morning were the perceptiveness and intelligence to realize that his talents were unearned and undeserved; they were simply gifts that God had luckily bestowed upon him. He thus put his talents to work in the service of the public good (earning the gratitude of thousands of ailing patients) and social justice (becoming an outspoken adherent to bleeding-heart liberalism).

As a footnote, it can be observed that Chuck was always a bit pissed that Paul arrived two weeks early, besting him in the “race to life.” He thus decided to use some of his talents thereafter to best Paul in the “races of life.” Being kind-hearted, however, Chuck used his superior talents in ways that benefitted Paul.

Upon beating out Paul for the position of point guard on the Appleton High School Terrors, Chuck decided to always play basketball with reckless abandon, knowing that if and when he got into foul trouble, Paul would be given the opportunity to bring his limited talent but extensive spunk to his role as 6th man on the team, and make some modest contributions to the many victories enjoyed by the team. This role had the subsequent importance of instilling in Paul an appreciation of communitarian moral and political philosophy as an important compliment to liberalism. Paul realized that he was not just liberalism’s atomistic individual or “unencumbered self,” a free agent in pursuit of his personal autonomy and well-being. He came to realize that a good life could be had only when people identify with the communities to which they belong, accept their roles in these communities, and discharge to the best of their abilities their responsibilities to the common good and to their fellow citizens.

Chuck convinced Chip, Rick, and I to ride our bikes across Iowa during the 2013 Ragbrai

In subsequent years, Chuck made it a habit to prod Paul into joining him in various new sporting endeavors that Chuck had already mastered, ensuring his emerging victorious in subsequent competitions in roller-blading, cross-country skiing, sail-boarding, biking, pickelball and other games whose names can’t even be remembered. But, Paul accepted such subordination because political theory had taught him that there were no injustices in unequal outcomes that derived from activities undertaken under rules to which he had fully and genuinely consented and that benefitted the least advantaged. Despite the many losses he suffered and his hopes for more equal results, he was being given access to new activities that contributed to his happiness, health, and having a good life.