Thomas Paine’s Warning

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.

— Thomas Paine (one of America’s founders, author of “Common Sense”)

I love this quote. It applies to all forms of human association. A bad business partner; a bad spouse; a bad government.

Someone I know once commented, after ending and then (temporarily) resuming a bad relationship: “It’s like entering a room with an odor. When you get used to smelling it, it’s like it’s no longer there.”

This is much of the problem in America today, with respect to our government.

We’re so used to politicians being involved in things they have no business being involved in, that most of us take it as normal. Probably a majority of people think, or feel, “What are you going to do about it?”

Some decide to take sides, and utilize Democratic talking points to dispute Republican ones, or vice-versa. These attempts at “debate” have even less impact than fighting over the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic. They’re worse than meaningless, because they imply that the actions of our present day politicians enjoy legitimacy. By the explicit standards of our own Constitution, they do not.

The only legitimate activity of a rational government is to protect the right of individuals to be free from force. Using some people’s money to buy health care for another? Forcing businesses with integrity to bail out or otherwise subsidize competing companies (as in the mortgage industry) for bad judgment? Generally robbing Peter to pay Paul, always rationalized by the invalid notion of “the public good”? What public good is there, other than the rights of individuals to be left alone being upheld and enforced?

Paine understood that once you’re in a room with a foul odor long enough, you stop smelling it. Why? Because you get used to it. But just because you’re used to something doesn’t make it benign. Toxic is still toxic.

That’s where Americans are today in relation to their government, just as people suffering from bad marriages or other kinds of personal relationships are suffering.

Americans must be prepared to tell their government to get off their backs, to get out of their way, and to let the most capable brains in the world help us flourish…not the kind of people attracted to careers micromanaging (and even assaulting) the lives of others.

Thomas Paine and thinkers like himself understood this. More than two centuries later, it should not be rocket science for the rest of us.

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