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Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ... -- Thomas Jefferson, "Declaration of Independence"
Right, left, and center, activists and ideologues of various stripes often complain that Americans are asleep, even comatose, and in any case, blissfully unaware of the real world around them, where (depending on one's outlook) all manner of terrible things are going on.
A police officer once informed me loftily that civilization has to be maintained by authoritarian managers because individuals in general are selfishly uninterested in doing the hard work of maintaining it themselves.
Unsurprisingly, after I pointed out that when individuals become interested in maintaining civilization -- by voting down bond issues, treating teachers and administrators like the hired hands they are, or carrying self-defense weapons that demonstrably make society safer -- they're either told, not so very politely, to go away, or they get arrested, he didn't have a whole lot to say, because he knew that it's true.
It didn't help at all that he was my brother.
Even libertarians are sometimes guilty of this pathetic sort of psychopolitical elitism, and can be caught referring to their fellow human beings -- whose freedom they're supposed to be advocating -- as "sheeple".
I know for a fact that none of these assertions is true, and I can prove it -- to your satisfaction -- in a just couple of sentences. To begin with, there's snow on the ground outside this morning, and it's horribly cold, but I'm sitting here in my warm, dry house under the pleasant glow of my desk lamp, writing these words on my trusty laptop computer. After a while, I'll send them via Internet, to my editor at JPFO.
Breakfast foods have never thrilled me, so I'm having a great big steaming bowl of beef stew that my wife made last night, with nice potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions, in a rich, tasty broth. Later on today, she'll make Bisquik dumplings and we'll have stew again for lunch.
This is not a complaint, mind you, it's anticipation.
None of this could be happening if Americans were actually asleep, comatose, or unaware of the real world around them. There would be no dumplings, no broth, no onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, or beef. All the shelves in the stores would be empty, and there would be no electricity to run the stove, light the kitchen, or power my lamp and computer.
If Americans were asleep.
There would be no Internet if Americans were actually asleep. Most people we see all around us work long, hard hours (in many instances, they work longer and harder than their parents' generation) simply to get food on their families' tables, by making sure that it gets to our tables. Oh, yes, and to shell out at least a third of everything they earn to a government that brings them nothing but deceit and treachery.
The shocking and abysmal fact is that the American Productive Class are forced, through the process of taxation, to spend more of their own money destroying their own rights -- by involuntarily supporting anti-constitutional government agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Homeland Security -- than saving their rights through voluntary donations to, or volunteer participation in, civil liberties organizations like Gun Owners of America, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, or even the "progressive" American Civil Liberties Union, and Amnesty International.
Americans are not asleep. Like other people, everywhere around the world, they simply have priorities in life that are different from those of activists and ideologues. The painful truth is that the best among our species are not particularly interested in politics, they're interested in life. This was an excruciatingly difficult lesson for me to learn, because I've been interested in politics for as long as I remember. It never occurred to me that there are some to whom it means nothing.
What most individuals are interested in is themselves -- and their families -- and that's entirely as it ought to be. A wise old woman (wise in some things, anyway) once observed that your life is an end, in and of itself. You don't have to go anywhere searching for external causes in order to justify your existence. Your life is its own justification.
Understand that most activists and ideologues are collectivists -- meaning socialists of one variety or another, whether they're the left wing socialists who call themselves "liberals" or "progressives" or the right wing socialists who call themselves "conservatives". They uniformly hate, loathe, and despise the idea that your life is yours to command and its own justification. It drives them insane with fury and frustration, because they want to believe, and they want you to believe, that your life belongs to some cause "greater than yourself" -- namely, to them -- to be disposed of in any manner they desire, in pursuit of whatever they feel is important at the moment, be it war or welfare.
Those among our number who believe otherwise have a harder row to hoe. The overwhelming majority of people are only interested in three things: improving their lot in life; assuring that their children will have better lives than they, themselves, have had; and, in a rather surprising number of instances, fulfilling what they conceive of as their sacred obligations, to themselves and to their fellow human beings.
Not everybody hates his job. Many people -- maybe even most -- feel they have a calling, no matter how insignificant or ignoble other may feel it is. We're accustomed to doctors, firefighters, even some policemen feeling this way about what they do. But I've met many a grocery store clerk, plumber, electrician, librarian, automobile mechanic, and garbage collector who feels exactly the same way.
It may surprise you to learn that I specifically include sales people in this. No matter how wonderful or technologically advanced our products may be, no matter how skilled or intelligent our effort, nothing can happen unless somebody sells those splendid products and services to somebody else. That's why writers, for example, need agents.
In any case, a majority of these hardworking individuals are fully aware that they are keeping the wheels of civilization turning -- sometimes quite literally -- and they're deservedly proud of what they do.
That's why I call them all the "Productive Class".
Because they're competent and conscientious human beings, they assume that others possess those qualities, as well, and this aura of trust they extend even to those in government. It's very difficult to get folks like this to look up from their work, or away from their families, and you can't do it by telling them they're comatose or stupid. In an ideal world, it wouldn't be necessary. It shouldn't be necessary. It should be safe for them to go about their business and trust others -- including those in government -- they way they do. To a very great extent, that's what America was supposed to have been all about.
Don't get me wrong. Despite their preoccupation with what's really important -- and as a husband and a father myself, I agree with them -- they already understand certain things with greater sophistication than you might expect. They know, for example, that the White House is occupied (and always will be) by someone who sold his soul to entities whose interests do not run at all parallel with the interests of most Americans.
They know perfectly well that elected officials -- Congressmen, Senators, state legislators, county commissioners, city councilmen -- tend to be lying, greedy, overfed, alcohol-powered, middle-aged shapeshifters in plaid polyester pants and white belts (the upper crust among them prefer thousand dollar Armani suits) whose primary focus, exactly as it has been since the dim beginnings of human history, is extracting every last dime possible from the Productive Class.
And they know that the same is true of most corporate leaders.
Unfortunately, because most Productive Class Americans place a high value on telling the truth (and reliably pass that value on to their children) they expect other individuals to behave similarly. As a consequence, all a politician has to do is pretend to be a political outsider (while pushing the same ancient, weary, discredited socialist agenda), and pretend to be critical of corporations (while continuing to collect campaign contributions from them with both hands) and the average Productive Class American will reward them with his or her vote.
And then he'll go back to work, never realizing that the new mouth he has to feed will always eat far better -- given the salaries and pensions politicians have voted for themselves -- than he himself ever will.
The most useful instrument that any politician, bureaucrat, or policeman can have is whatever can be represented publicly as a credible threat to home and family that, to members of the Productive Class, are everything. Such a threat seems to give government license to do all of those things the Constitution ordinarily forbids it to do.
The alleged Spanish sabotage and sinking of the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898 was presented as such a threat by the McKinley Administration, when, in fact, it was probably just an accident.
The German torpedo-sinking of RMS Lusitania -- a British luxury liner secretly equipped with deck guns and carrying tons of munitions in her hold -- was used to stampede Americans into the first World War.
People don't like to hear it, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor followed months of deliberately provocative behavior by the Franklin Roosevelt Administration -- including an illegal petroleum blocade -- in an effort to get America involved in the second World War.
A Tonkin Gulf "incident" -- that never actually happened -- was carefully engineered by one of Roosevelt's closest proteges, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, in order to widen and escalate a civil war in Vietnam.
When the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blown up in 1995, murdering 168 people and injuring about 800 more (a crime that was never properly investigated and about which there remain, to this day, many unanswered questions), then-President Bill Clinton's first, reflexive thought was to use the tragedy to justify denouncing -- probably with an eye to suppressing -- his critics in right wing talk radio.
And now most recently, the shocking demolition of the World Trade Center -- by commercial aircraft hijacked by Muslim terrorists, if you believe the government's version of the event -- has been exploited as an excuse to generate two brutal, unnecessary wars in the Middle East, while suppressing freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights here at home.
All of which adds up to a very disheartening conclusion that if you can frighten Productive Class Americans, afraid of losing whatever they love and have labored so arduously to possess -- exactly the way that Adolf Hitler used the Reichstag Fire to frighten Productive Class Germans -- they will keep on voting for you until the cows return to Capistrano.
Now despite all of this, the American Productive Class is neither asleep, nor are they particularly naive. They're just busy and tend to leave politics to those with the interest and motivation. What we non-socialist activists and ideologues need to do is not to wake them up -- they're already bright, alert, and chock full of Starbuck's -- but to persuade them, without resorting to the fraud or terror tactics of our opponents, to take a break and listen to what we have to tell them.
It won't be easy, but if it were, anybody could do it.
And we wouldn't be in this mess.
[TO BE CONTINUED] --
A fifty-year veteran of the libertarian movement, L. Neil Smith is the Author of 33 books including The Probability Broach, Ceres, Sweeter Than Wine, And Down With Power: libertarian Policy In A Time Of Crisis. He is also the Publisher of The Libertarian Enterprise, now in its 17th year online.
Visit the Neil Smith archive on JPFO.
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