Taking the Bull by the Tail

Column by Duane Colyar.

Exclusive to STR

While reading news reports in a local daily that is now so small it would barely cover the bottom of a birdcage, my mind wandered over the dark scenes of modern-day America: endless wars of dubious constitutionality and military occupations spawning future wars; hit squads flying uninvited into a sovereign nation; the spectacle of police dressed in paramilitary gear, looking for all the world like an occupying army, while mistakenly bursting into the homes of innocent Americans; national debt and unfunded social welfare liabilities totaling over $100 trillion; coercive government health-care mandates; proposals for government Internet kill-switches; government cameras dotting the landscape; TSA gropers and porno-scanners; the farmer who got arrested for shining a flashlight on the dark, black helicopter hovering 500 feet above his home on the Canadian border; my bank account and emails subject to secret review by shadowy figures; and even my library book selection made available to the government upon demand.
I began to wonder when, exactly, Orwell’s 1984 became an instruction manual.
Then, from the dusty cobwebs that haunt the back of my mind, I remembered a quote from President Truman when he warned the American people that we cannot let fear, alarm and hysteria stampede us into becoming the very thing we say we’re fighting against. Too many politicians of every stripe have been more than willing to encourage and promote fear to enhance their power, prestige and political agenda; in effect whispering into our inner ear, “You must be very, very afraid, but not to worry, we’ll protect you. All you have to do is give up some of your liberty and then you’ll be safe and secure.”
It seems the rancorous struggle between the political parties acts as mere camouflage, a thin veil obscuring a more profound power struggle that exists between a strong, centralized federal Empire and us, the people; a struggle between a government run amok and those who are forced to support it.
This distinction between a government and a people was hammered home by Woody Guthrie, the legendary folk singer, writer and radical left-winger. He was living in Los Angeles during the late ‘40s when the FBI made one of their unannounced visits to interview him. One of the questions they asked was, “Would you carry a gun for your country?” Woody reached for his guitar and answered with a memorable couplet he composed on the spot using the melody from an old folk tune.
                        “Would you carry a gun for your country?
                        I told the FBI, ‘Yea!’
                        I’ll point a gun for my country,
                        But I won’t guarantee you which way.”
He put down the guitar and, of course, stayed on the government watch list.
While I’m not sympathetic with Guthrie’s left-wing agenda, I am in awe of his ability to express an oft-neglected truth spontaneously in a few simple words: a country and its government are not one and the same, they are two separate entities. I can support my country, i.e., my civil society at all times while choosing to support the government only on those rare occasions when it deserves it. We are taught, starting in grade school, the myth that you support your country through supporting the government, but when it comes to war, we are told we are fighting for “our country,” not the government, the actions of which usually caused the war or manipulated us into one. After all, how many of us could be expected to die for something called “our government”? This convenient myth is perpetuated by those who would live off our labor and sacrifice our blood for national power, glory and the foreign resources with which they can line their own pockets and the pockets of their corporate and special interest friends.
“You must be very, very afraid….” 
Sorry, I’m not afraid, so don’t go starting an Orwellian police state for my benefit. Indeed, it seems that a nonsensical gag line from the 1930s comedian, W.C. Fields, could now serve as a clarion call for citizen action, “We must take the bull by the tail and face the situation!”

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Duane Colyar's picture
Columns on STR: 11

Duane Colyar has published papers in professional journals regarding the residential treatment of children; is a retired state internal audit manager; a retired CEO of a not-for-profit charity; and current on-line instructor.


A Liberal in Lakeview's picture

"a country and its government are not one and the same, they are two separate entities"

We can assign the word, government, to an entity provided that the entity is a set. The set would have as its members numerous people such as legislators, prime ministers, judges, cops, taxgatherers, etc., but the set would not be an entity that exists in the physical world. Instead it would be a mental object. Furthermore, if more than one person conceives of this set, then there is more than one government.

On the other hand, if we assign the term, government, to the behavior of the members of the aforementioned set(s), then we have a way to place government in the physical world. But when dealing with government in this sense of the term, it's important to recall that in spite of all the symbolism and pomp and circumstance, all we really have are a bunch of individuals acting in concert with one another and pushing around other individuals. If we want to eradicate government, there is no physical entity to eradicate, but only a relatively few individuals to disperse such that they can no longer act in concert with one another. (Granted, millions of benighted nationalists might clamor for their replacement with people who can act in concert for the purpose of governing.)

The term, country, has its own idiosyncrasies. It could refer to some patch of land, which in any case existed long before anyone projected onto it terms such as England or USA. Or it could refer to a group of people, i.e. to a set people. But as with the set of governors, this set doesn't exist in the physical world. Unfortunately, the blood and soil man commingles the two different concepts, and mostly in accordance with borders drawn arbitrarily by his masters and stringpullers. He is the loudmouthed patriot, the warmonger, the boor who can be found driving around with an image of the American flag and bald eagle painted on the rear window of his pickup truck. Sometimes an FBI agent, too.

There's serious problem with the word country when its used in the latter sense, to refer to a set of people. What, exactly, are the criteria by which we include members in this set? Is it based upon borders proclaimed long ago by a few members of a set called government? Let's take the case of someone who grows up in Detroit, as did I. It so happens that numerous Canadians live a little to the south and south east of Detroit, in Windsor and nearby areas. Why should any intelligent person in Detroit ever have counted as members of his country all the people in, say, Queens, San Francisco, or Dallas but not the Canadian? It's quite likely that the Detroiter and Canadian have more in common than the Detroiter does with many people on the west coast, east coast, or Texas. A similar argument holds for the Canadian in southwest Ontario with respect to people in Vancouver, Quebec, etc. So the Detroiter may include in his country someone in Windsor, but not the San Franciscan or other person who is supposed to be his fellow countryman and to whom he is yoked by a few knaves in places like Lansing and the DC.

As you suggested yourself, your country is your civil society, but, given the limitations that come with being human, one isn't likely to have social relations on a personal basis with more than a few hundred or few thousand people at the very most. All the rest are mere strangers, and while that's no excuse whatsoever for deprecating their rights, as flagwavers and warmongers are wont to do with those they regard as foreigners, it remains true that those strangers have little claim to be counted as part of one's country.

Suverans2's picture

Well said, Liberal in Lakeview, well said.

P.S. Been wondering, are you what is called a Classical Liberal?