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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"Them" Is Us

Divide and conquer. This is how it's done.

One popular canard which is, sadly, easily accepted by the average person is the notion that "the government" is some sort of "other." As in, "they" are after your freedoms and your salary. Taxes, laws, regulations and other interferences are very unpalatable, indeed, and it is easy to nudge any stool-warmer at the local pub to commiserate with vigor over the injustice of it all.

It's so darned intuitive, it's like falling off a log. Indeed, for most of my life I have, in varying degrees of intensity, not questioned this easy cynicism. I'd like to explore this more thoughtfully here.
"I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." - Grover Norquist

While the above sentiment has lost some of its sheen due to events of late, it is a clarion depiction of government-as-pain-in-the-ass. And it is indeed a pain in the ass, as well as the locus of a lot of horror and injustice (see Iraq.) But is the proper response to the problem of government to drown it?

I would like to make clear right here that I consider the very need for government, insofar as is conferred upon it the arbitration of justice, an unkind assessment of the maturity of the human race in general. I might even take that further and say that those things which currently require community assent and cooperation - the only part of "government" which I find defensible - could easily be served by more organic and ad hoc means by an enlightened populace, one that has reached a sort of tipping point. With that utopian caveat aside, I will proceed.

The gut-check syllogism of "gummint is bad" has been exhaustively used to great effect by the right wing. (I say "exhaustively" with some optimism.) I've only been on the planet for fifty years, and my memory only reaches back to the John Birch Society, for me an archetype of Luddite-esque anti-government sentiment. (Ironically, other aspects of wingism are marked by the unfortunate acrobatics of Joe McCarthy - who died four months after I was born - which illustrate a contradictory posture taken by the right wing by personifying exactly what is wrong with overweening government interference.) This has lent great weight to popular acceptance of the virtues of the "free market" as a prescription for all that ills Man.

While most of us have only a layman's comprehension of the notion of the free market, it of course has a weighty and impressive history of philosophical exploration. One sterling exposition of its merits is documented in Murray N. Rothbard's book, Man, Economy and State. It is a pillar of logic, and I forced myself to read this extremely long and torturous (for me) work a few years ago. I am by nature a credulous reader, and I internalized much of the "purity" of the perspective espoused by the Austrian school of economic philosophy.

I credit that lengthy tome (and it is lengthy - nearly 1,000 pages) for my enlightenment nearly as much as I would credit the works of Krishnamurti. It is so intellectually unassailable that it immediately provoked an epic battle between my head and my heart, as it were, and something had to give. Thankfully, it was my head. Therefore, I boldly say here - no doubt to the possible objection of the credentialed academics - that it is, in the end, a tautology. As all logic is, however sophisticated, in the end.

I turn to this, from a fine post from Nitpicker:
The problem is this: Tattooed around the heart of every true Republican moneyman are the words of Adam Smith, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest." And, for many of those on the right, those words are sacrosanct. They believe that nothing should get in the way of one's self-interest: Neither laws nor the well-being of one's fellow man. This kind of mindset, oddly enough, seems incompatible with an organization like, say, the entire United States government, which is dedicated not to self-interest, but to the desire to "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..."

This is correct. Rothbard's - and other economists' - attempts to intellectualize the deus ex machina, or the animator of human relations, is the root of the problem. The key error here is the unquestioning acceptance of the self, the existence of which I have unerringly debunked here :).

(I want to posit this "selflessness" with a notable point. I have always been inflicted with a shameless - shameful? - individualism which has led to strong iconoclastic tendencies. This has, I submit, paradoxically contributed to a maturation of the intellect. It is this sort of intellectual clash, the holding of two true but irreconcilable notions which paralyze the mind, that creates the delight of the koan (or "aporetic oscillation") which leads to this maturation.)

Getting back to the theme of this post - it is the positioning of the government as an "other," endlessly fettering the otherwise flawless clockwork of a free market Utopia, which has given the corporate world the purchase, in the popular imagination, to criticize and cripple collective efforts to keep them in the human community. And that is what government actually is (sans corruption) - a collective effort. A government is us. It is the public voice. Those who rail against it simply want an arena where accountability is somehow quaint. The market takes care of everything.

Just as Timothy McVeigh broke the back of an ascendent anti-government militia movement with his unconscionable attack on government workers and their children, and a shooting in Ayn Rand's epic "Atlas Shrugged" undermines the ostensible non-violence of Objectivism, then perhaps the current administration has served a useful purpose after all.

Nitpicker says, he gave the free-marketeers unprecedented power and access, and:
There is a lot of talk about how Bush's reign has damaged the long-term political viability of the Republican party. I can't say whether or not that's true. I will say this, though: Americans who are truly interested in the long-term viability of our republic should make it clear to their friends and neighbors that the Bush administration has fully tested whether contractors and corporate lackeys can run government better than the mythically cold, unfeeling government bureaucrat. What we got were hundreds of small-scale government versions of Enron, Tyco and Worldcom; self-interest running rampant with no oversight from the former Republican-led Congress.

So - I hope that this is sufficient demonstration for the wider public to give more pause and deliberation when it comes to the worship of free market capitalism.

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