"It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expence, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries. They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expence, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will." ~ Adam Smith
Authority: God vs. Man
Column by new Root Striker Doug Carkuff.
Exclusive to STR
One of my guilty pleasures in life was watching the Showtime series “The Tudors.” It is great fun watching King Henry petulantly subjecting his subjects to his whims and hacking off heads and torturing people as it suits him. I have no idea with respect to historical accuracy of any of it except in the broadest sense, but it was pretty darn entertaining. Aside from the entertainment value of Henry’s escapades, what I was most struck by is that so many people were willing to subordinate themselves and to sacrifice and throw away their lives for a complete artifice. Here is a clue for those who do not know. There are really no such things as kings and emperors.
Likewise, there are no such things as senators and presidents or Supreme Court justices or any of the rest. These offices and titles are contrivances that people invented in their desire for order and control and a world that they could make sense of, having, apparently, a deep fear of anarchy such as they understand it and the supposed chaos it would create.
One of my heroes and the first person to begin to open my eyes to something like free thought was Henry David Thoreau. Walden opened my eyes to reality like no other book had done before. In one part, Thoreau comments on the pyramids of Egypt. He wrote: “As for the Pyramids, there is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the dogs.” Rather than symbols of man’s greatness, they are symbols of man’s degradation and should be a source of shame rather than wonder.
Civilization and society, as we know them, are artificial constructs. This is not a particularly fresh or original observation, but just as in the movie “The Matrix,” we live in an illusion. We exalt certain of those among us to positions of power and authority and we grant them the power of life and death over us. We pretend that this is the natural order of things — that certain of us should have power and privilege and authority over the rest of us—when the truth is that these people are just other people like you and me.
Of course, Obama will tell you that the people in the USA are the government. I doubt many people still take that view seriously and are still able to kid themselves that their votes matter or that their elected representatives represent the interests of the people who voted for them.
Sure, this charade is convenient and simple and gives some order of a sort to our existence, but the price is astronomically high—our lives, ultimately, and the lives our sons and daughters—all for the barely comforting notion that our lives make some sort of simplistic sense in the scheme of things. We are dependent on the matrix, because the matrix itself tells us who we need to be.
In my view, respect for authority (as opposed to respect for character or accomplishment) is a kind of poison. It is respect for authority that allows people to throw away their lives building gargantuan monuments to their masters or on the battlefield at the whim of a King Henry or a Dubya or even for Hopey McChange. It is respect for authority (or, at least, fear of it) that allows people to willingly subjugate themselves to the will of a cruel master like Henry. It is respect for authority that allows us to kowtow to the whims of the bureaucrats who spend their existence creating this maze of hoops we must jump through on a daily basis in order just to participate in this world, in this society. But this authority is a complete illusion.
We have erected this monumental artifice we call civilization or society and we accept it as real because we have been convinced, brick by brick, that we cannot survive, let alone thrive, without it. But we are not thriving. We are having the life blood sucked out of us and our birthright as sovereign individuals stolen from us, one piece at a time. You can have all the big screen TVs you want and all the nice cars and all the iPads and all the McMansions in the world, but that doesn’t change what we know in our hearts—that we are living in our own “matrix” of illusion, a “through the looking glass” land of Drug Wars and real wars and homeland security where the way to peace is more war and where telling the truth is an act of treason.
I’m not a man of faith, at least as I have come to understand the term, but I do believe there is a natural and a moral order of things. I do believe that we have certain unalienable rights granted by our creator (whatever that may mean to you) and that these rights can neither be granted nor withdrawn by a government. Governments certainly can infringe on and deny you your rights and certainly our own government does this on a routine basis. Sadly, we let this happen and even endorse it when it isn’t inconveniencing us personally.
One of the fundamental tenets of libertarianism is self-ownership, and if you ask any typical American if they believe in self-ownership, they will most certainly say yes. But if you also ask them if the government has the right to tell us what we can put into our own bodies and to put us in jail for putting certain things in our bodies, they will also say “yes.” If you ask your average American if the government has the right to compel you to go halfway around the world to kill and be killed by people you don’t even know and for reasons you can’t understand, they would say yes. How this jibes with the notion of self-ownership is completely beyond me.
I, like most libertarians, believe the individuals who comprise the government at all levels, from your local beat cop to the President, should be held to at least the same standards we are all held to as individuals. In fact, they should be held to a higher standard in as much as they are “public servants” who live off the industry of others.
The only legitimate reason to kill another person is in self-defense, yet our government is responsible for the deaths of many millions of people, and virtually none of those deaths could legitimately be called acts of self-defense. As an individual, I don’t have the right to take my neighbor’s property, but the government does this routinely by eminent domain, justifying it by claiming it is for the greater good.
While I am not a Christian, I do admire what Christ represents in my view. What he represents to me is an idea that the only legitimate authority comes from God and not from man. Now, I want to be careful here. I don’t want to offend anyone or to disparage anyone’s faith. That is not my intention. Some may argue that you have to believe there is a sentient God person to accept this premise. I disagree. What God represents to me is the idea that there is a natural order of things and in that natural order each and every one of us has, as the Founders stated, certain inalienable rights.
Now, this does not mean that I accept as “God’s law” everything that is written in any of religious texts that some people hold as sacred. These texts, after all, were written and edited by men, and there is little doubt in my mind that much that is claimed to be edicts from God are actually edicts from the men who wrote and assembled the texts. And it is well remembered that much suffering has been perpetrated in the name of God. King Henry occupied his throne by “divine right” and exercised his brutal reign in the name of God. So God often means what it suits people for him to mean, and what is often justified as the will of God is actually the will of men. Plenty of evil people have wrapped themselves in God as well as in the flag of patriotism. “God” is often used to serve the ends of tyrants. And isn’t the Christian right only too eager to send their sons and daughters off to kill and die in foreign lands for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with defending the nation?
I think God’s true law is written in our hearts and we know these things intuitively just as we know the justness of the rights described in The Bill of Rights. To the Founders, these rights were self-evident and ordained by our creator (again, whatever “creator” means to you). These rights flow from the notion of self-ownership, which is also self-evident. Not to believe in self-ownership is to accept the idea that other people own you and/or that you own other people. This is an absurdity on its face, yet many hold that view — that we are owned by society.
I have heard that view openly expressed by some while others claim to believe in self-ownership and yet accept that the state has the right to proscribe against personal behaviors which they find personally offensive, but which in no way interfere with the life and liberty and happiness of others. How can anyone who supports the idea of government conscription possibly accept the notion of self- ownership?
In as much as any document is sacred to me, it would be The Declaration of Independence. “All men are created equal and endowed by their creator....” and so on. It doesn’t say that Presidents or Senators are special people endowed by God with special attributes that require us to treat them like royalty. But you just try making an appointment to visit with Barack and talk to him about your concerns. Or just try taking a stroll up to the White House and see what happens. Last time I was in D.C., I made the mistake of stepping off the sidewalk and onto the street to get a better view of the White House—the “people’s house.” Man, the cops were all over me. Mind you, I was still a thousand yards away, but step out of line and you are in trouble.
Our leaders are now royalty and our job, the mere citizens, is to worship them. Our leaders are now our rulers. The President has all the power over us that Henry exercised over his subjects, only now our rulers have technology which makes Henry seem impotent by comparison.
One of the more popular attractions in D.C. is the Vietnam memorial. I have mixed feelings about it. Certainly those people who gave up their lives doing what the country asked them to do deserve recognition. On the other hand, all of these people lost their lives for a lie and doing the bidding of evil men. For the most part, this monument represents to me the same thing as do the pyramids — the tragedy and perversion that so many could be so degraded as to throw away their lives fighting and killing other people simply because those mere humans in authority instructed them to do so. It’s time that humans valued their own lives and their own existences more than they value the will of those human beings who accidentally occupy positions of power.