One of the expressions people use that concerns me is “do something.”
It’s not that I’m against doing something. Quite the contrary: Following up rational, constructive thought with constructive action is crucial. Most people who feel stuck or depressed end up that way because they underemphasize action at the expense of thinking, wishing and desiring.
At the same time, if you fail to put sufficient — or even any — rational, constructive thought into your action, that can land you into real trouble.
We see this at the social and political level all the time. People don’t have health insurance? Do something. Do what? It almost doesn’t matter. Just so it’s something. And you see how that’s turning out.
I’ve recently been reading a novel called “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis. It’s a fictional description of 1930s America turning to a fascist dictatorship, complete with concentration camps and everything. It’s not the most profound or prophetic book I’ve ever read on the subject, but it’s interesting to see a good writer explore that topic from the perspective of an earlier era.
What’s particularly interesting is the motivation which led Americans of the 1930s (as described by the novelist) to willingly vote for a fascist dictatorship. The people who voted for the fictional dictator knew full well “President Windrip” was an ass. But they rationalized it by saying, “At least he’s doing something.”
The problem with such an error is that — left unidentified — it’s self-reinforcing. That’s where America seems to be now: very much at the point described in Sinclair Lewis’ novel. His novel was set in the Great Depression, a time of high unemployment, millions “on the dole” and low economic productivity, even worse than now (though present-day America remains very bad, the worst since the Depression even if not yet equal to it.)
In such a context people understandably became frustrated, worried and upset. People have gone through four terms (ultimately 16 years) of failed presidencies — two terms of George W. Bush, and two terms of Obama. (Not to imply that previous presidencies were successful; but these two have been decisive, miserable failures). Nothing has improved and in many respects it’s worse or merely the same. Obamacare is a self-evident disaster, and higher taxes and more regulations have not generated more economic growth.
So what now?
Nobody who supports Obama and his policies can rationally defend them. Still others become preoccupied with nonessential matters, such as the sexual practices or reproductive habits of some people disapproved of by others. All of these are distractions from the only questions that matter: How did we get into this mess, and how do we get out of it?
In such a context of uncertainty and mental/emotional distraction, the concept of “doing something” becomes more and more appealing to many people. Yet it’s dangerous. Why? Because the way out of this mess is not to do “something.” The concept of “something” is vague, even indiscriminate. “Something” could mean a slave state, a dictatorship, or simply a more grandiose version of what Obama and nearly all of his predecessors have provided — more government bureaucrats, often contradicting one another, trying to run the entire society for us.
The ugly truth? Government already regulates, runs or taxes nearly everything. There’s precious little left to nationalize or socialize. Except for … freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of thought. That’s why Obama’s most recent initiatives have consisted of using the FCC to monitor media newsrooms. Fox News had better watch itself, when it comes time to renew its license. It’s the beginning of Sinclair Lewis’ President Windrip.
My argument (the minority view today, unlike 1776) is for freedom, i.e. for getting government the hell out of the way, other than the obvious area of protecting people from violent or fraudulent criminals. Beyond that, management of the economy should be left to private entities in the marketplace.
The reason most people reject this view is that it flies in the face of “doing something.” In other words, “If you start defunding and closing down most government agencies, then we’re doing even less. How can we fix the problems if we do less?”
Many people still claim, “We don’t need smaller government. We need a more competent one.” But what does competent mean? Maybe a government that did less, and left people alone and self-responsible, would be a much more competent government. Blank stare. “No, a good government must keep doing something, only do it better.” How? Somehow. If Obama can’t do it, then maybe Hillary will get it done. Specifics are never provided, other than the specific rule that you’re never to suggest downsizing. Keep raising that debt limit and stop dissenting. Disputing Obama’s policies is … why, it’s unAmerican … that is, “racist.”
And so on and on we go. From the disaster of the George W. Bush Administration to the even bigger debacle of the Obama Administration. Yes, things could be worse. And it will get progressively worse, until or unless more people challenge and correct this mistaken assumption (along with numerous others).
It can’t happen here, you say? It absolutely can.
Not wanting a dictatorship is not enough to prevent it.
Why not? Because as we keep gradually moving toward the things that all dictatorships do, more and more people will feel frustrated, hopeless and lost. This breeds only more government controls, more economic stagnation and downturns, and less freedom all the time.
But it need not happen here — nor anywhere. America has less excuse for letting it happen here. America has more to lose than any civilization in history. That’s why millions still clamor to get into our country.
We human beings have free will. We always did. Today, in the twenty-first century, this fact is more obvious than it used to be. The liberty enabled by the advancements of science, technology and semi-capitalism have been awe-inspiring, and have raised the bar on what human beings have come to expect for themselves, and their lives.
This is all bad news for the “President Obamas” and “President Windrips” of the world. And it’s why I’m fundamentally and metaphysically optimistic, even though the sorry intellectual state of our times is hard to sugarcoat.
Course reversals remain possible so long as people remain willing to think and act — to act on the right principles, the principles of individual rights and freedom. The choice is our own, no matter what our torpid and petty dictators tell us.
It always was.
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