"The first people totalitarians destroy or silence are men of ideas and free minds." ~ Isaiah Berlin
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
The history books proclaim that Lincoln had to "bend the rules" of the Constitution in order to "save the Union." Apparently having a relatively free nation is merely a luxury to be enjoyed during peacetime, but this system is inherently weak and if stressed, must transform itself into a temporary tyranny in order to survive. In other words, freedom is a great thing until it is threatened, then it must be thrown out the window until the trouble blows over. And so tyranny is ever the guardian of freedom. Stuff that into your logic-parser and smoke it.
It seems that the whole “tyranny as the exception only when necessary” is a bit inside-out. If the tyrannical volume knob can simply be turned up, then the tyrannical power is always there even if it can barely be heard and can be mostly tuned out. When things are rolling along relatively smoothly, the intelligent tyrant-on-the-go can loosen everyone’s leashes a bit and the people can brag about how free they are. That faint buzz of background static can be ignored. Hey—No system's perfect! Besides, it’s just like living next to the airport—after a while you won’t even hear the planes. So fuggeddabodit!
It is more accurate to recognize that government is a tyrannical organization that allows (in some instances) as much freedom as it can while the weather’s nice, and does so simply for its own benefit. Contented cows give more milk and are not interested in trampling down the fences that surround their field. They love their farmer because he treats them better than do all the other farmers around the world. The greenest grass is right in front of you. Eat! Enjoy! Shut up already!
The United States is not a fundamentally free country that occasionally descends into tyranny when under duress. It is a fundamentally tyrannical enterprise that doles out privileges during peacetime for its own financial benefit and to increase popular support. But the hammer is always there—always ready to be brought down if things get a bit uncomfortable for the elite group that has been granted such extraordinary powers by its naive supporters. This one goes to 11.
But we took that into account and made sure they can’t abuse their power! It’s against the roolz of the Constitution! Which can only be bent or broken by benevolent, far-sighted, and wise leaders like Lincoln who only have the greater good in mind. It’s all eggs and omelets. You want an omelet or not? Alrighty, then.
Justifications for government and its actions all boil down to such vacuous politi-speak drivel that burns many syllables and delivers zero calories. All this is song and dance designed to keep the people willingly on their leashes, happily running around within the area of a circle that has a diameter less than the length of their tether. If you never feel the unpleasant tug against your throat, then does it really matter if it is actually there or not?
But a leash is a leash is a leash, and all political discussion centers around how long the leashes should be, and everyone—in a fit of leash-envy—insists his leash be at least as long as his neighbor's. If I have to suffer at a certain level, then I will be happy only if everyone around me suffers to the same (or greater) extent. This is only fair, right? Everyone has equal rights. That's what makes this country great!
Meanwhile, the guys holding the reins chuckle at all the snapping and snarling that goes on amongst the masses who are tripping all over themselves, their restraints knotted up together in a hopeless tangle. Watch as the great leaders occasionally toss some scraps into the melee, triggering waves of infighting as the minions all scramble to get a piece. Observe as the masters further restrict some group in some arbitrary manner, and then see how that group wails, gnashes teeth, and insists that the same type of restrictions be levied upon all the rest. High comedy!
Now some of us have slipped our leashes and gaze a bit sadly upon the garish spectacle. Yes, we suffer many of the same restrictions as those who insist on remaining tethered, but we announce to everyone that we are not voluntarily submitting to play our parts in the glittering extravaganza. What we have reclaimed is a measure of dignity, for whatever that may be worth. I for one happen to believe that in the end, it may be worth everything.
And so, the point: Freedom, dignity, honor, and all such attributes means having to push against the current, which is more tiring than going with the flow. What, I should work my butt off to fight my way upstream simply to die for the effort? What am I, a friggin’ salmon?
But I would not ask anyone to sacrifice his life for liberty. Patrick Henry bravely asked the question and then answered it: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”
Well, life and peace are, in fact, quite dear and sweet. And living to fight another day is a tactic that shouldn’t be underestimated. But of course, some effort and progress must be invested toward the goal, and so I say just start out simple and take up a credo that is a bit more measured:
“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me dignity, or give me citizenship.” ‘Cuz you can’t have both.
It’s a modest start, but it’s a move in the right direction. Give it a shot. When dignity becomes a thing to be valued, it will be nurtured and it will grow in everyone who embraces it, and a population of people who have and value their individual dignity will simply not allow themselves to be humiliated, and their numbers and their inner strength and their mutual support will not be stood up to by a few who insist that not having dignity and submitting to magical authority is what all the cool kids are doing.
Such appeals to conformity work when the target audience has little sense of individual self-worth and instead correlates his inherent value to the groups to which he belongs. I trot out here for your inspection and consideration Exhibit A, the proud, tax-paying citizen.
But you are a dignified human individual being, and you are worth everything because of who you are, not due to the groups to which you may belong. You know this. Acknowledge it. Slip off the leash and stand with us. And not because it’s cool . . . .
But because you
want need to.